Individuals who retire early tend to share the same money, lifestyle and mindset habits.
December 9, 2019 12 min read
This story originally appeared on Business Insider
As the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) movement has grown, Business Insider has spoken to many early retirees over the years. They all tend to share some common habits that helped them get to where they are today and maintain their financial independence.
Early retirees typically begin on the same path: Assessing their financial state, cutting back on expenses, and diligently tracking their progress and spending habits. Once retired, they tend to spend even less and often move to lower cost of living areas, focusing on experiences and living a life they love filled with things like hobbies and travel.
1. They take inventory of their finances.
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Leif Daahleen, the blogger behind the Physician on FIRE who retired at age 43, said that all early retirees take the first same step: taking inventory of their finances. He told Business Insider’s Tanza Loudenback that there are two things one needs to do to plan for the future: calculate their net worth and find out how much they spend annually.
“These two puzzle pieces will help you craft a plan to reach financial independence,” he said. “It’s tough to reach any destination without knowing your starting point.”
2. They track their net worth and spending.
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Early retirees don’t stop at taking stock of their finances — they continue to track their net worth to ensure they’re on the path to financial independence.
Tracking net worth will “show you where the opportunities lie to improve your financial picture,” wrote JP Livingston, who retired early at age 28 with $2 million, in a post for Business Insider. “It is the cornerstone habit that helps build momentum for all the other things you do to grow your wealth.”
Sam Dogen, who retired at 34 and runs the blog Financial Samurai, also emphasized the importance of tracking your net worth. “Please track your net worth like a hawk so you know exactly where you stand and how much more you’ve got to go,” he wrote in a post published on Business Insider.
To stay in line with their net worth goal, many early retirees also track their spending. “I haven’t met very many early retirees who don’t have a precise understanding of how much they spend — AND ON WHAT,” Steve Adcock, who retired at age 35, wrote.
3. They’re frugal.
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Joe and Ali Olson, retired 30-something schoolteachers, made strategically frugal choices that allowed them to live on just $20,000 per year. “We kept driving the same cars … We also ate at home, a lot. Eating out was rare, and a treat,” Joe told Business Insider in 2017.
Over two years, aspiring early retiree Angela Rozmyn reduced her family of three’s food spending from $2,000 a month to $800 a month by cutting out expensive weekday lunches and minimizing trips to the grocery store, Business Insider’s Tanza Loudenback wrote. She and her husband are saving close to 50 percent of their income and plan to retire in their early 30s.
4. They underspend on housing.
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According to Tanja Hester in her book, Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, reducing your housing expenses can free up hundreds of dollars a month, which can then be funneled into investments.
She and her husband lived “in a dingy one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood that we rented for years, even though our earnings increased and we knew we could afford to move if we wanted to,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, the Olsons chose to live in a modest 416-square-foot condo in an affordable area. This allowed them to purchase rental properties and generate income, even while only taking in about $80,000 a year in combined salaries.
5. They focus on increasing their earnings.
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Planning for early retirement isn’t just about spending less — it’s also about making more money. “You can’t always cut more from your spending, but you can always earn more,” Hester wrote.
Aspiring early retirees increase their income by starting a side hustle, retraining for a higher-paying career, increasing focus in their current career, negotiating for more money, or by going to work for themselves, she said.
Grant Sabatier, who retired at age 30 with $1.25 million, is of a similar mindset: Increasing your income is more powerful than cutting back your expenses, he says, because you can cut back only so much. “This gives you the opportunity to invest more money more often, accelerating the rate of compounding and the growth of your money,” he writes in Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need.
6. They bank their raises.
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The more money you can make, the more money you can save, according to Sabatier. That’s how Livingston was able to save more than 80 percent of her income and Brandon of the Mad Fientist, who retired at age 34, saved up to 85 percent of his.
“Earning more and banking the increased earnings in investments is the absolute best way to increase how much you can invest year over year,” Hester writes. One of the best ways to do this, she says, is to “hide the money from yourself,” also knowing a “paying yourself first.” It’s a classic strategy in which you save and invest your money before paying other expenses and splurging on wants.
7. They create passive income.
Livingston at work.
Image credit: Courtesy of JP Livingston
Many early retirees create passive income through side hustles or investments. After retiring early, Livingston began a personal-finance blog, The Money Habit. It ended becoming a passive stream of income — she made $62,000 in its first year.
Sabatier also runs a blog, Millennial Money. “Once you have reliable monthly passive income that you can live on, you’ve effectively reached financial independence,” he wrote in his book. “Investing income is the ultimate passive income, and this is the main strategy the wealthy use to both get rich and stay rich.”
8. They’re comfortable living outside their comfort zone.
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According to Adcock, getting out of your comfort zone can help you make uncomfortable money decisions you’re not used to — like cutting back and saving more.
“Spending is an addiction, and people’s minds keep planting the seeds of comfort within the decision-making process,” he wrote. “In other words, early retirees make decisions that are in line and supportive of their financial goals and do not let society or friends/family affect their financial situation — even if those decisions are uncomfortable.”
9. After retiring, they spend even less.
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Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung, who retired at age 31 and run the website Millennial Revolution, have been traveling the world for the past four years and living on $30,879 a year. That’s less than the $40,000 they spent living in Toronto, they said in their book, Quit Like a Millionaire.
“Most early retirees find that they don’t spend as much money as they thought after retiring,” Adcock told Business Insider. “It’s because we no longer need things to distract us from full-time work. Once we no longer have those jobs, it’s very common for spending to decrease rather than increase.”
Since he no longer needs work-related items like briefcases or nice clothes for the office, he and his wife have decreased their wardrobe budget by 75 percent and spend $10 to $15 a month on average on clothes-related items, according to Adcock.
10. When they do spend, it’s on experiences.
Steve Adcock’s wife.
Image credit: Steve Adcock/Think Save Retire
He added: “Today, I would much rather take an inexpensive vacation to somewhere I love (like Sedona, Arizona, for example) than get stuff wrapped up as gifts. Early retirees are over ‘stuff’ and have often found that the less stuff they have, the more simple life becomes.”
He and his wife give each other “the gift of experiences,” traveling everywhere from Key West to Glacier National Park and visiting the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in between.
11. After retirement, money isn’t a huge motivator for them.
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Early retirees may spend less because they stop thinking about money. “The most significant way our finances have changed since retiring early is we don’t really think about money anymore,” Jeremy Jacobson, a 30-something early retiree and the blogger behind GoCurryCracker!, told Business Insider.
He continued: “We have enough passive income for everything we want and need, which is incredibly liberating. Even without the ‘retire early’ life, being financially independent provides a tremendous amount of inner peace.”
Brandon previously told Business Insider he wished he knew how “unimportant and insignificant” money would be after retiring early.
“I always thought that I would spend my early retirement doing entrepreneurial things, but now that I have enough money, doing things for the sole purpose of getting more money doesn’t make sense anymore,” Brandon said. “Money has been the primary motivator for my entire adult life, but now that I have enough, I’ve had to find new sources of motivation.”
12. They value happiness on living a life they love.
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“If you view money as the goal, then you miss the point,” Sabatier wrote. “Money is infinite, but time is not.” He explained that time becomes more valuable as we age because we have less of it left — but the concept doesn’t frequently align with people’s perspectives on valuing their own time or how they think about money in their lives.
Happiness comes from being satisfied with what you already have, according to Chris Reining, who retired at age 37 as a self-made millionaire. He planned his portfolio to support him with $48,000 a year, but after two years found he only needed about $30,000 a year to live.
13. They move to lower cost-of-living areas.
Image credit: Courtesy of Karsten, EarlyRetirementNow.com
Many early retirees move from an expensive city to a lower cost-of-living area, Business Insider’s Andy Kiersz reported. Karsten “Big Ern” Jeske, of Early Retirement Now, retired at 44. He told Business Insider that after retiring he and his family moved from San Francisco to Washington state to lower their living expenses and income-tax burden.
n 2017, Jason Fieber, of Mr. Free at 33, who retired the year prior at age 33, relocated to Thailand to take advantage of geographic arbitrage (or geo-arbitrage) — earning money in a strong economy (like the US) and spending it in a weaker economy (like Thailand), he previously told Business Insider.
In addition to making his money (earned in US dollars, spent in Thai baht) stretch further, moving abroad substantially lowered Fieber’s cost of living and allows him to “enjoy a wonderful culture.”
14. They develop hobbies.
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Justin McCurry of the blog Root of Good, who retired at age 33 with a $1.3 million investment portfolio, schedules in time for hobbies like taking a walk or reading. Sometimes he gets passionate about an idea and spends a few days absorbed in a new project, such as learning Adobe Photoshop or foreign languages, he previously told Business Insider.
15. They like to exercise.
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One hobby in particular early retirees engage in is physical activity. Sabatier practices yoga, McCurry likes to go surfing, and John also likes to hike.
“With ‘all the time in the world,’ you certainly have the time to exercise every day,” John wrote in a blog post published on Business Insider. “I have been working out for years, but since moving to Colorado (and then retiring), I now work out six days a week plus walk a good amount every day.”
16. They travel.
Shen and Leung in Japan.
Image credit: Courtesy of Kristy Shen
While some early retirees maintain their life at home, others decide to explore the world.
Consider Shen and Leung, who have been traveling the world for the past four years. Likewise, Jacobson and his wife now travel the world with their son after retiring from tech in their 30s. They do so while living on roughly $65,000 a year. And Adcock previously told Business Insider he and his wife travel in their 30-foot Airstream, which has decreased their living expenses.
17. They’re optimistic.
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“Early retirees take a glass half full approach to most things, from making life-altering decisions about work to picking the right wine to sip on during dinner — and everything in-between,” Adcock wrote. “They expect things to go well, and as we know from the powerful placebo effect, this phenomenon is very real.”
He continued: “Note: Of course, we are not talking about ‘blind’ optimism. Early retirees are always wise to plan ahead and account for when things do not go as planned. One must be a realist and understand the realities of the world while letting optimism take us to some truly amazing places in life.”