Today I’m excited to bring another interview in my FIRE for Noobs series to the blog. The family over at Slowly Sipping Coffee is here sharing their path to early retirement. Mr. and Mrs. SSC are different from my first two posters, Our Next Life and ThinkSaveRetire in that they have children. I was super curious to learn what their plan is for FIRE with kids!
The SSC’s have included a lot of wonderful links to their own blog, so make sure to click on over there for more detailed looks. I learned a lot from this interview. Enjoy another look at what early retirement looks like!
Our FIRE journey began with Mrs. SSC stumbling across Mr. Money Moustache and 1500 Days’ blogs about their journey to FIRE. When she first approached me about it, I thought she was crazy, because I didn’t work really hard to get to my position now making a good salary and living comfortably, just to throw it all away so I wouldn’t have to “work.” That’s where it started in terms of the FIRE concept being introduced to our family.
In terms of application, we’d been working at being more frugal before she came across this idea. We realized our monthly credit card bill was around $4k almost every single month. We paid it off every month, but it was ridiculous to spend that much. So we started tracking our spending, and had a challenge to drop it by 10% – meager I know, but it was baby steps.
We also started asking ourselves, “Do I WANT this or do I NEED this before making a purchase. That alone had a huge impact. The first month we dropped our bill by over 20% by barely even trying. Then we tried to get it at/below $2k each month, and it was relatively easy to do. That move alone freed up an extra $2k per month we could now invest instead of fritter away.
After a year or so, Mrs. SSC revisited me with the ER plan and I still balked. It wasn’t until she showed me that we had been living off of our FIRE estimated income for the last year that I finally got on board with it and realized we really don’t spend a lot, and we still live comfortably. Our current plans have us reaching FIRE by early 2018, but with my company’s incentive programs and the like, I will stick around here until then, which is Summer 2018. Our plan is to live off of savings, solely, however, we both have pretty strong work ethics so we see ourselves doing something with our free time, and if it makes any money, it will just help buffer our savings withdrawal rate.
Our biggest change was starting the blog a year or so ago. This helped keep all of our FIRE thoughts at the forefront and introduced us to a lot more people around the PF and FIRE community. We use it as a way to keep ourselves accountable and track our progress, and if others can get something positive out of it, that’s even better! We also decided that we weren’t looking for ER as much as a Lifestyle Change from what we have now. We call it our FFLC – Fully Funded Lifestyle Change.
What is the single most important step someone looking to reach FIRE can take?
The single most important step someone can take is tracking their spending. If you don’t know how much you spend on utilities, groceries, car (maintenance, upkeep, insurance, licensing), rent/mortgage (insurance, maintenance), and more, you will never know how much money you need to achieve retirement, whether it’s early or at a later age. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself, in my opinion. I never did that and ended up with over $15k in credit card balances, and wondered why I was always broke. I was spending more than I was making, I just didn’t realize it then, because I wasn’t tracking any of it. I even used student loans to help buffer my spending, and I still felt broke because I wasn’t tracking my spending and did not realized I was spending more than I was making.
How did you formulate your FIRE plan, and what tools did you use?
We formulated our FIRE plan starting with some basic assumptions based on our typical spending habits. Mrs. SSC created a spreadsheet that tracked our yearly spending and what number we wanted to live off of per year that would fit that lifestyle we wanted. Then, it’s a matter of back calculating how much of a nest egg you may need to generate that amount each year in dividends, profit, etc… We used a software tool called Cfiresim that helped ballpark the number assuming 4% withdrawal rate, rebalancing the portfolio, and some other factors like a conservative stock return rate. This tool lets you find what number your scenario would need.
We have our investments dispersed in a 401k through our work, some modest “pension” style retirement with work, and then the rest of our investments are in Vanguard funds. Most of our investments are in low fee index funds, or low fee mutual funds. We use Personal Capital to track those, but as I said before most of those funds are through Vanguard. For a great breakdown of investing in what, how and why for people scared to invest, I would recommend reading this great article from Afford Anything. Paula breaks it down way better than I can, so for those interested, bounce over there and check this article out.
I’m a low income earner, at 35K a year. How would you approach FIRE on that income?
I would approach it the same way as if I earned $135k/year. I would track my spending and see where the leakage is, and where I can reduce costs. We found going to Target and Costco, for instance, was a big leakage for us. We’d overspend every time we went there, so we limited our Target trips to once a month and got rid of our Costco membership. Now we rarely go to Target, and if we do, we don’t stray from our list. My point is, find your “Target” spending leakage and turn it into savings/investment. If you do that and there still isn’t any left over, try something like Digit.co, where it will save a little for you each month without you doing anything. Once you know what free money you have to invest, then use that to invest and save for FIRE. Another favorite approach is to start a side hustle or work on developing some passive income.
Children and FIRE
Our savings goals are probably different from yours because we have kids. They’ve affected our FIRE plans in the sense that when we look at places to relocate, we have to account for being in a good school district – which is usually more expensive, more money for food, clothes, activities, college, etc… We’re attacking the big stuff like college now<, but in terms of planning for increases in food and clothing, we have added that into our budgets for those years, essentially Middle School onward.
We also don’t want them to feel deprived due to our choice to quit our jobs and live a more modest lifestyle, (well, continue our modest lifestyle without jobs.) We’ve also built in some extra for activities like sports, music, or whatever they may want to get into. As far as Healthcare, some of the states we’ve looked at have CHIP programs that the kids would qualify for, since our “income” would be so low. We’ve taken into account if we move to a state where that isn’t the case, and then our budget would see an increase, but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker in terms of adding them onto our Healthcare plan. Unless things change, we’re planning on using the Affordable Care system, or what version may be available when we enact our Lifestyle Change.
Finally, if you want more on our series about Financial Independence and Early Retirement (FIRE), check out the following articles:
Steve, from ThinkSaveRetire.com
The ONL couple, from OurNextLife.com
Matt, from TheResumeGap.com