Tag Archives: financial independence

10 Years in a Life

Bronx River
10 years ago today, I turned 27 years old. I was working full time while attending law school part time. It was my fourth and final year of school and I was getting a little nervous. I would have about $90,000 of student loan debt, which included some loans from my undergrad, when all was said and done. Fortunately, I did have some money saved in retirement accounts and savings account since I had been working and saving. That amount, however, was dwarfed by the student loan debt. Life was a little stressful, but life was also very good. I was going out with a girl who would soon be my wife. I was preparing to go on a Rotary Group Study Exchange to Mexico for a month, while also preparing for the Bar Exam.

10 years before 10 years ago, I turned 17 years old. I had just gotten my learners permit and was hoping to learn to drive. Exciting times! I was in my junior year of high school and preparing to take my SATs soon. I was browsing through college catalogs wondering what school I’d end up going to. I wasn’t sure what I was going to study but the world was my oyster. I was optimistic about my future and thought that I had all the potential in the world. I also worked on the weekends and had some spending money. I dutifully saved some of that in savings accounts that my parents had opened for me. I had my eye on the future. Although my definition of future was my college years. I was looking forward to leaving high school and going to college.

And 10 years before that, I turned 7 years old. That was thirty years go and my memory is kind of foggy as to what was going on in my life. Luckily, I was frugal even back then, eschewing toys and saving my money and stickers for the future. I was 7 years old. Everything was possible. I could be President of the United States, but my dream was really to be the starting point guard of the New York Knicks. I dreamed of building a futuristic car since Knight Rider was one of my favorite shows and even made notes about what features it would have. I could have been a young Elon Musk!

Today, I have been working as an attorney for almost 10 years for the same employer. I work in the public sector so the pay isn’t the greatest but I do have really good benefits and the hours aren’t too bad. My wife and I have been married for about nine years and we have two wonderful boys ages 3 1/2 and 9 months. I have paid off over half of my student loans but there’s still a chunk left to pay. They are all ultra low interest rates so I’m not in a rush to pay them off, but I’ll try to throw some extra money at it when I can. Life is good, but pretty hectic with two little ones.

10 Years from now, I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing. I don’t have a crystal ball to tell the future. I hope to have reached financial freedom by that point, but I don’t know if I will, being that I don’t plan on leaving this high cost of living city called New York City. If I am still working, I’ll probably be with the same employer. The benefits and pension are golden handcuffs! My kids will be entering the teen/pre-teen years…that might be a rough phase! I don’t foresee being in the co-op that we bought as we will probably have outgrown it. What neighborhood will we move to? Will we opt to rent versus buy? I don’t know.

A decade. 10 years. 120 months. 3650 days. You can do a lot in that time span. It is a long enough time to accomplish pretty much any of your goals if you put your mind to it. If you are in debt, it is plenty of time to get out of the red and into the black. It is enough time to reach financial independence, according to the Groovies. Ten years is a long time, but 10 years goes by in a blink of an eye. Time flies. If you want to accomplish your goals, whatever they may be, you need to start now to work towards it. Where do you want to be in 10 years? What are you doing today to get there?

The Secret Recipe to an Extremely Early Retirement

beach

Working in government, I have the benefit of a pension which makes it possible for many employees to retire at around age 55. The mainstream media always talks about how it’s impossible to retire so I counted my lucky stars that I would not only be able to retire, but retire at an early age. However, when I discovered the blogs, Early Retirement Extreme and then Mr. Money Mustache, where the bloggers wrote about retiring in their 30s, that sounded even better than retiring at age 55. (For purposes of this post, I’m going to say retire but I really prefer financial independence. Retiring doesn’t mean you stop working, just that you no longer NEED to work for money.)

Early Retirement is Simple

One of the most important blog posts I’ve read since learning about the possibility of early retirement is “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement.” Basically, it says that how long it takes you to retire depends on how much you can save. According to the math here, which assumes a rate of return after inflation of 5% and that you live off 4% of the nest egg in retirement, it will take 45 years to retire if you save 15%. However, if you save 50% of your income, you can retire in just 16 years! You can play around with the calculator here, but I think the early retirement/fi spreadsheet on Budgets Are Sexy is more detailed and a better predictor of when you can retire because it takes into account projected expenses in the future. Your expenses today may be greatly different from your expenses in the future, especially when some early retirees do so before they even have children.

Being obsessed with the Financial Independence and Retire Early movement (FIRE), I’ve read countless blog posts from various bloggers who have reached early FIRE or on the way there. While everyone’s journey is unique, you start to see some commonalities between those who are able to accomplish this awesome feat. Early retirement is simple…but it’s not easy! It takes discipline and dedication. Here are the factors that I’ve noticed in the journey of extremely early retirees:

Income

Now that the FIRE movement is getting more mainstream, the media has featured a good amount of stories focused on early retirees. Most people assume that you have to make an extremely high salary to retire so young. It cannot be disputed that earning a high income makes saving a larger percentage of your income easier. The gap between your income and your expenses are the two determining factors in how much you can save, and ultimately, how early you can retire. If you earn $100,000, it is much easier to live on half, compared to someone making $30,000 trying to save half and living on $15,000.

A couple of the early retirement bloggers are pretty transparent with their income in their explanation about how they reached early retirement so you can get an idea of how much they earned and how much they saved. Justin who blogs at Root of Good retired at age 33 and during his career, he made between $48,000 and $69,000 while his wife made between $40,000 to $74,000. Mr. Money Mustache started off making $41,000 and reached $125,000 while his wife’s income ranged from $44,000 to $70,000. Yes, they earned good incomes but many people earn this level of income or higher, yet live paycheck to paycheck and are no where near ready for retirement.

Resources

If you make a healthy income then you need to assess whether you are spending money on things that really bring you happiness, otherwise you probably have a lot of excess spending you can cut out to increase your savings rate. If you are not making much, then you need to work to increase your income or work on a side hustle. Here’s a list created by Mr. Money Mustache of jobs where you can earn over $50,000 which do not require a degree. Read it part 1 here and part 2 here.

Great Reads

Steve from Think Save Retire wrote a blog post titled Financial Independence is not Just for the Rich or Wealthy which really encapsulates the idea that high income isn’t the only way to reach FIRE.

The bloggers at Millennial Revolution have a couple posts breaking down how they reached FIRE which is very informative.

Also, listen to this Mad Fientist Podcast about Joe (aka Arebelspy a Mr. Money Mustache forum moderator) and his wife, who are both teachers and were able to reach FIRE.

Frugality

Having a good income is very helpful, however, if you don’t “mind the gap”, and constantly upgrade your lifestyle, you’ll never retire no matter how high your income is. Being frugal with your money is also an essential part of the equation. Some of the tips to save money that many early retirement blogs suggest are to live close to where you work to cut your commuting costs, bike to work, cook food at home rather than going out to eat, cut out cable and other excesses that don’t really add value to your life. The bloggers at Millennial Revolution argue that renting versus buying in overpriced housing markets is the key to retiring early.

Another assumption that many outsiders make about the FIRE movement is that these early retirees are living like paupers so they can save up enough money to continue living like paupers. They argue that they would rather continue working and “living” their life, buying nice cars and a big house, and filling that house with big screen TVs, and going on vacation once a year when their employer allows them to do so. What they don’t understand is that frugality has nothing to do with depravation and sacrifice, and everything to do with finding what is important to you, and living a rich life. A rich life doesn’t have to be life filled with consumption and spending. Clearly they need to change their mindset.

Great Read

Check out this great post by Mrs. Frugalwood explaining that frugal living DOES NOT mean deprivation: Frugality is not Deferred Spending.

Low Cost of Living Area

Living in a high cost of living area is probably my biggest obstacle in reaching early retirement. It is harder to have a high savings rate if you live in a location where everything is more expensive…especially housing. Of course, the reason most people live in high cost of living areas is because the income is often higher. The reason I live here is because it’s where I grew up and where our family and friends live. Because of the higher income in high cost areas, there are many early retirees or prospective early retirees who there, but most of them move or plan to move to lower cost of living areas after they retire.

The bloggers Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods lived in Boston, but moved to a homestead in Vermont. Jeremy and Winnie from Go Curry Cracker used to live in Seattle, but now travel the world, and often live in low cost areas in Southeast Asia and in Mexico. Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution lived in Toronto and also now travel the world. The bloggers at Freedom is Groovy credit their move from Long Island, New York to Charlotte, North Carolina as one of the main reasons they were able to reach FIRE.

There are also bloggers who live in low cost areas and continue living there. Mr. Money Mustache lives in Longmont, Colorado and Justin from Root of Good lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. There is a common misconception from many people who live in high cost of living areas that moving to a low cost area means taking a significant pay cut and having to worry about the availability of jobs. They also picture low cost of living cities as some rural town in the middle of no where with nothing to do except going to watch high school football and the local bar. That’s just not true. There are many cities in the U.S with vibrant economies, a plethora of entertainment activities yet a much lower cost of living. According to Investopedia, a couple of cities with high paying jobs with a low cost of living are Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, Denver, and Austin.

Resources

The blogger at The Frugal Vagabond created the website The Earth Awaits which is a great tool to find great cities you can live in based on your budget and you can filter based on other preferences like crime rate, pollution, and lifestyle.

For those living in high cost areas, check out my post Is NYC Really That Expensive? and the Frugalwoods’ post The Ultimate Guide to Frugal Boston Living.

Kids

Deciding whether to have kids and how many kids you want to have are very personal questions. While the cost of children may not be as expensive as some may have you believe ($241,080 or $446,100 in the Northeast), having children will no doubt add to your expenses. Having kids will also affect the amount of time you have to work on side hustles or to work overtime. However, having kids may also motivate you to reach FIRE at an early age. Mr. Money Mustache states that he and his wife wanted to retire early so they could be there to raise their child.

Great Reads

My wife and I love kids and always knew we wanted to have them. The delay in reaching FIRE because of those little ones is fine with me, but if you are not sure about having kids, you shouldn’t let societal pressures make that decision for you. Also, some parents feel like they should have a second child so the first child has a friend. Read the following posts if you’re struggling with those decisions.
Great News: You’re allowed to have only one kid! from Mr. Money Mustache
Why My Wife and I are Choosing to Remain DINKS from Think Save Retire

And if you think children are expensive, check out this post from Mr. Tako Escapes:
The Myth of the Expensive Child

Smart Investing

Stocks

Having a high savings rate is very important in determining whether you can retire early, but no matter how high the savings rate is, you’re not retiring if you stuff your savings under a mattress. You’ve got to let your money work for you. The early retirees who got there through investing in the stock market are mostly proponents of index investing. A lot of people probably assume that trading high flying stocks or that trading options or other complex investing strategies is the way to riches, but more often then not, you’ll likely lose more money than you’ll make.

Resources

To learn more about index investing, go to the Bogleheads wikipage which is investing advice inspired by Jack Bogle, creator of index funds. You can also get the book The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing

I also recommend reading the Stock Series on Jim Collins’ personal finance blog or get his book The Simple Path to Wealth: Your road map to financial independence and a rich, free life

Real Estate

Investing in rental properties and living off the income produced by them is a great way to reach financial independence. Admittedly, I am a lot less familiar with this avenue but I am learning more about it and bought my first rental property a year ago. At first, I thought investing in real estate would be intimidating but the more I learned and the more I saw the benefits in the use of leverage and tax advantages, it became clear that investing in real estate is a viable path for many to reach FIRE.

Resources

Paula Pant who blogs at Afford Anything has a lot of posts relating to real estate investing. She has a fantastic post answering the most frequently asked questions about real estate investing, she has monthly income reports, and recently launched a course about this topic.

Another excellent resource is the Biggerpockets website and they also have a free beginner’s guide to investing, podcasts, blog, calculators and a plethora of other useful tools at your disposal.

Others who have used the power of real estate to reach FIRE are Chad Carson, Eric Bowlin, and Joe (aka Arebelspy).

Smart Tax Planning

Saving a large percentage of your money is great and so is investing it wisely, but if you can keep Uncle Sam from taking a big chuck of your money away, that is another big win. Taxes are definitely not an exciting topic and many people avoid it like the plague but not strategically planning your taxes is ignoring big savings. Make sure you do your best to keep your hard earned money!

Great Reads

Definitely read $150,000 Income, $150 Income Tax and Never Pay Taxes Again.

Also check out the Mad Fientist’s blog posts: HSA-The Ultimate Retirement Account and How to Access Retirement Accounts Early.

Work in Retirement

What? Isn’t the point of reaching FIRE to NOT work? No, it means that you don’t need to work but you certainly are welcome to work on things that you are passionate about and that are fulfilling. Since most early retirees are still young, capable, and intelligent (you’d have to be to reach FIRE early right?), it is likely that they may continue to do some type of work, and sometimes they will earn income from it. Mr. Money Mustache likes building things so in his retirement, he has earned some income building/renovating houses…he’s also earned a good amount of money from his very popular blog.

If you are as excited about the FIRE community as I am, check out the following lists of bloggers who have reached or on their way to FIRE:

Early Retirement Blogs for Everyone created by Joe from Retire By 40 and The Secret Fire Cult- And Why You’ll Want to Join It created by Julie from Millennial Boss.

Are you on the path to early FIRE? What other factors do you think are common among those who reach early FIRE?

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Financial Freedom

credit: Flickr, Tony Fischer

credit: Flickr, Tony Fischer


Back in May, I went to Florida with my wife and our then almost 2 year old son. We just wanted to get away for a few days for some rest and relaxation, plus, we wanted to take advantage of not having to pay for our son’s airfare before he turned two. It was a little difficult for us New Yorkers to get accustomed to the change of pace, as we’re used to rushing around everywhere. One evening when we went out to dinner, my wife was grabbing some stuff from the car and was blocking a gentleman’s path to his car which was parked next to us. She apologized and said that she would just be a moment. He responded by saying, “don’t worry, I’ve got all the time in the world. I’m retired.”

I’m definitely envious of that. My normal schedule consists of drop-off and pick-up of my son, and in between is my 9 to 5 job and the hour plus commute each way. Then there’s dinner, dishes, maybe some TV and work on my blog (yea, I know I haven’t done much work on my blog), shower and sleep. The next day, I wake up and get to do the same thing all over again. Over the weekends, there are errands to run like grocery shopping, laundry, and visits to our parents. Sometimes with all the things on the “to do list,” I wonder where we find time to work! The last year or so, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with reading about those who have attained financial freedom/financial independence/early retirement. It would be amazing to have the time to do what I choose to do. For all the early retirement critics, it is not just have about NOT WORKING, rather it is about having the option to choose what to do with your time (which may include work, but work you enjoy or which is flexible).

During that trip to Florida, we also met a man who drove the trolley, busing guests to different parts of the resort grounds. He was excited to see my NY Giants t-shirt and said that he used to live in NY but that he is now “retired.” “If you’re retired, why are you working here?,” I asked. “I like working here, I get to meet people from all over the place and I enjoy it,” he responded.

Jim Collins wrote in a guest post of Mr Money Mustache: “It has never been about retirement. I like working and I’ve enjoyed my career. It’s been about having options. It’s been about being able to say “no.” It’s been about having F-You Money.”

I’ve noticed a lot more blogs and articles about people who have attained this elusive financial freedom at a young age, or who are on track to do so. It seems contrary to all the articles in the mainstream media which contends that most probably won’t be able to retire even at age 65. However, after reading the journeys of those who have attained financial freedom or who are about it reach that goal, I’ve realized that it is possible. I have never mentioned my goal of reaching financial freedom at a much younger age than the traditional age of 65 or even 55, which was always within reach for me as I luckily have a pension (though many of my colleagues still do not retire at 55 since they are unable to live on the generous pension amount). I want to reach financial freedom at age 45 in a little over 10 years. Yes, by April 2026 (before I turn 46), I want to have the option of not working if I choose not to. I have never mentioned this goal on this blog because I have many doubts about whether I can pull it off and I fear failure. But sometimes you need to have ambitious goals. “When you reach for the stars, you may not get one, but you won’t come up with a hand full of mud either.” – Leo Burnett.

One final anecdote from our trip to Florida. On the flight home, I overheard a little girl a few rows back crying. Fortunately, little LRC did pretty well on the flight. The little girl yelled to her mom, “I want to do what I want to do!” I chalked it up to a little girl’s temper tantrum, but then when I thought about it, she said what we all probably think inside. We want to do what We want to do. It’s just that we’ve grown up and realized that that just isn’t possible. But what if you found out that if you attain financial freedom, that sometimes, you CAN do what YOU want to do.

Are you doing what YOU want to do? Are you pursuing financial freedom?

Recommended reading:
Check out this inspirational cartoon which starts by saying, “Creating a Life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.”

David Cain writes on his blog, Raptitude: How Much of Your Life Are You Selling Off?

Paula Pant is doing what SHE wants to do by designing her lifestyle to fit her passions

An attorney leaves her big law job to pursue her passion as an illustrator.

The blogger at Tawcan writes about his fight for financial freedom.

Justin from The Root of Good writes about how he has spent his 2 years of early retirement.

Are You Afraid to Take the Leap?

Impala AdeFrias

“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” – Louise E. Boone

Impalas are majestic creatures that can leap as high as 10 feet in the air, and in one leap can travel 30 feet. That’s amazing! However, in captivity, when the impala is kept behind a fence that is only 3 feet high, it will not escape. Why? The reason is that their inability to see where they’ll land prevents them from making that leap.

I really enjoy watching Shark Tank, and I love the entrepreneurial spirit and passion of those who come on the show. Many of them left their jobs to devote their life to something they believe in. I truly admire those who were willing to take that leap in their career by leaving their jobs to do something they are more passionate about. J. Money from Budgets are Sexy and Holly and Greg from Club Thrifty took the leap and have successful blog(s) as well as other online businesses. Likewise, Shannon from Financially Blonde, left her job in Wealth Management to start her own company. She also wrote a blog post recently saying that she urges her mentees to be brave and to not fear the gap. Leaving a steady paycheck and working for yourself no doubt takes a big leap of faith. I haven’t yet found something that I’m passionate about which would also earn me an income, and my blog probably made less money in its almost 2 years in existence than I probably make in one day in my regular job. Though I know that working another 20 years at my current job is not something I see myself doing. But even if I find my passion, I question whether I’d have the courage to leave a steady paycheck and benefits.

I also admire those who were able to save up enough money to call it quits and leave the workforce at the prime of their earning years because they’ve decided there are better things to do with life than working until you’re 65. Justin from Root of Good quit his job at 33 and spends much of his time relaxing, learning new things, and spending time with his family. Jeremy and Winnie from Go Curry Cracker left their jobs in their 30s to travel the world. Who doesn’t want to have more time to do the things they want to do, to spend more time with their family, to learn new things, and to travel more. While I am no where near taking the leap into early retirement or early financial independence, I know that even if was, I’d be worried whether the money would last and what others would say about such an audacious plan.

Never let your fears get in the way of your dreams

In high school, my sister bought me a t-shirt that said “Never Let your fears get in the way of your dreams.” Those words inspired me and they appear next to my picture in my high school yearbook. I was young and the world was my oyster. Anything was possible! I could accomplish anything if I put my mind to it. Sometimes I miss the enthusiasm and confidence of youth. Although, I was always optimistic about the future at that age, I was also always risk averse and still am.

I am sure many of those who have taken that leap into the unknown have moments of panic and experiences of failure. Ultimately, no one has a crystal ball to see into the future. You do your research and your due diligence. You take calculated risks, but you take that leap. YOU TAKE THAT LEAP. Too often, many of us, myself included, will succumb to analysis paralysis where we overthink things and never do anything. Planning and being prepared is a good thing. But never taking action is not. So stop doubting yourself and do what it is that you know deep inside you were meant to do. Don’t worry if you fail. There are no failures in life, only life lessons. Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

What’s holding you back from taking that leap?

Changing Your Money Mindset is the Key

credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

When asked the first step to financial freedom or to get out of debt, most people will say that it is to make a budget or to cut out expenses. The next step is to save and invest. These are the basic steps to having success in reaching your financial goals. However, without changing your money mindset, it will still be difficult to attain and maintain those goals. One of the reasons why I really enjoy reading the blog written by Mr. Money Mustache is because his guide to financial independence is not a mere how-to guide to saving by budgeting and cutting expenses. He has made Mustachianism into a way of life! He explains that you can have a good life living frugally or said in other terms, you can be living rich cheaply! Whenever opponents deride his extreme sacrifices to reach “retirement,” he contends that he has a nice house, eats organic foods, and has plenty of “toys.”

In an article by Laurie from the Frugal Farmer, she wrote about getting out of debt and said that you should view it as a “lifestyle change” rather than a “diet.” I think that is an excellent analogy, whether you are talking about getting out of debt or pursuing financial independence. With a diet, you inevitably get off the diet once you’ve reached the desired weight. This is one reason why almost all diets fail. Once you’ve reached the desired weight, if you go back to your prior lifestyle, you’ll gain back the weight and have to diet once again. Not so with a lifestyle change. If you change your lifestyle to one where you eat healthy and exercise, you will very likely be able to maintain that desired weight without ever dieting.

Similarly, dieting in the personal finance world would be akin to cutting expenses by making “sacrifices.” If you see cutting expenses such as cable television, fancy clothes, eating out or other luxuries as a “sacrifice” and self-deprivation, then it will be very hard to reach your financial goals. Changing your mindset where buying fancy clothes and eating out all the time is not a sacrifice is key in making strides in your money goals. You have to learn the difference between a want and a need. You have to prioritize and do some soul searching and figure out what really brings you happiness. Is it spending quality time with your loved ones or is it buying an luxury items? But once, again, changing your lifestyle does not necessarily mean not having many of the things that the Joneses have. This is living RICH cheaply, not living cheap cheaply.

Instead of buying a luxury car such as a BMW or a Mercedes Benz, I bought a Hyundai Sonata used. Both cars get you from point A to point B. I’m sure the luxury cars have some fancy features, but I don’t really know what they are nor do I care because my car is perfect for me. It has all the latest safety features, it is comfortable, it is reliable, it gets me where I need to go, and I do think it is a pretty attractive car.

A lot of people need to have the latest tech gadgets such as the newest iPad which costs about $500. I already have a laptop, so there really is no need for an iPad. Actually the laptop has more functionality and was cheaper than that iPad. But I am a little ashamed to say that, I did buy a tablet as well recently. What can I say, I indulged myself. I bought the Google Nexus on sale (as the model has been out for a year), with a coupon, reward points, cash back for $125. I figured at that price, I could afford to indulge a little.

Fancy clothes? I’m not a slave to fashion and rarely need to buy new clothes. I like to think that I have a “classic” look so my clothes don’t go out of style.

Going out to eat? When I’m busy and tired I might not enjoy having to cook, but in general I’ve learned to love it. (My wife and I love watching cooking shows and competitions like Master Chef). I like trying new recipes and I like that the food I make is healthier. But yes we do go out to eat. We don’t dine at fancy restaurants that charge an arm and a leg. Why? Is the food better? Not always. Maybe the decor is nicer, but when I eat out, I’m there for the food not the decor. And of course, we always find deals when we eat out.

Instead of going out to watch the latest movie, my wife and I watch Netflix in the comfort of our own home. So no, I do not think we are depriving ourselves. We are still enjoying life. We’re just not spending as much doing it. We are Living Rich Cheaply!

How did you change your money mindset? When you cut out expenses in your budget, do you think you are depriving yourself something?