PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Most people work hard to scrimp and save for retirement, but how do some make it happen early?

At age 63, Sarah McKean is practically a full-time volunteer at Animal Friends, and it was her passion for animals that led her to plan an early retirement and give up a sales job at AT&T.

“Becoming involved with Animal Friends was really the driving factor behind my retirement,” McKean told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

McKean began saving to retire early in her 30s, and then in March of 2000, she left her job.

Delano: “You retired at age 47?”

McKean: “Yes, I did.”

Delano: “Unbelievable.”

McKean: “That’s why I’m smiling.”

Retiring at age 47 is well below what most people say is the ideal retirement age — between 60 and 65 — although some dream of retiring earlier.

“My husband and I are planning at least by 60, but if we could make 55 that would be our ultimate goal,” said Julia Howard of Ohio Township.

Howard is a 32-year old mother of two, and she and her husband hope to retire at 55 by pumping money into various retirement accounts.

“Absolutely save now. I feel like there is no other choice. I don’t think there is really going to be enough social security for us when we are ready to retire. I think that’s really the only answer,” added Howard.

Instead of spending all their paychecks, this couple is saving dollars most people spend.

“We have two 401Ks, we have a Roth IRA, we do have separate savings accounts as well that I don’t even want to see,” she said.

They’ve learned that in the 21st century, it’s pretty hard to retire early without some professional advice.

One thing we found with all those who retired early or want to retire early is that they consulted with a financial planner, an expert who could advise them about their personal situations.

“We make a mistake if we assume we are an expert in all fields,” said Bob Fragasso, a certified financial planner. “We wouldn’t plan our own court case. We wouldn’t remove our own appendix. We’d need to have a professional guide to get through it.”

Fragasso, who assists Sarah McKean in her retirement, and he said — first — you need to know your numbers.

“Retirement security is an algebraic equation,” he explained.

How much monthly income do you need to retire comfortably at whatever age — where does that money come from — and will it last your life expectancy?

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Second, lower your basic cost of living, says financial planner Walter Willoughby who advises Julia Howard.

“You want to lower your costs, live below your means, and that’s just extra money right there,” says Willoughby.

Third, pay off your consumer loans and then stay out of debt, especially credit card debt.

“Put your Hawaiian vacation on your charge card and pay minimum payments at 18 percent interest and your vacation will triple in cost,” notes Fragasso.

Fourth, save, save, and save some more — but be smart about investing — not everything makes money.

“I think the overall perception in investing is that it’s easy, just put the money away and it’ll do that. But there’s a little bit more to it than just putting money away,” says Willoughby.

Fifth, if you retire before age 65 and Medicare, plan for health care costs, which for McKean exceeded her mortgage and taxes until Obamacare was enacted.

“Absolutely made a difference for me,” says McKean. “Absolutely. It saved me probably a thousand dollars a month.”

So while McKean enjoys her volunteer work with animals and Howard dreams of an early retirement, it’s not for everyone.

“I’m going to wait it out,” says Marlon Woodard of White Oak. “I think I’d be a little bored without anything to do. I enjoy going to work, so I’ll continue to do it until I can no longer do it.”