An Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence

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40 min read. Financial Independence, Interactive, Investing .

Let’s talk about early retirement and financial independence! These phrases alone have a lot of weight associated with them, and you might have an immediate gut response to just hearing these terms.

You might love your job and wouldn’t think about leaving it. Maybe you hate your job and can’t wait to leave it. Maybe you’re looking for a change. Maybe you feel you never want to retire because you’d just “be bored”, or maybe you plan to work until you can’t work anymore. For this post, I’m going to ask one thing…

My request for you:
Don't assume financial independence
means retirement.

Instead, for this post, think of financial independence (abbreviated FI) as the point where if for any reason you stopped working, you’d be set for the rest of your life at your desired lifestyle. What you choose to do with your life at that point is up to you!

After making your way through this post and filling in your numbers, you’re going to know what you’ll need to do in order to make it happen. Here’s a rundown of what we’ll be talking about.

Part 1: Where am I now?

The most common question when it comes to financial independence and early retirement is the big one:

How much money do I need to retire?

This is going to be the core question we answer in this article, exploring it in a number of different ways. My goal is that after reading this post, you know exactly how much you’d need to retire in your current state, but also give some advice on small tweaks to your lifestyle that could hugely impact this number.

The first step is understanding your financial footing today and where your current path would take you. Depending on your financial health, this can range from a breath of relief to a sobering realization. Please, bear with it. I guarantee that knowing your financial health is better than not knowing.

This Article Is Interactive!

This whole article is a bit of an experiment. Whenever you see green dotted unlined text yes! just like that! , that indicates this is a place that needs your input! Just hover over it and it'll tell you what to do. The content of this post will change based on your input. Consider it an old-school choose your own adventure blog post like you read as a kid. Give the one in this paragraph a shot. Also, consider these estimates rather than hard numbers.

Next, let’s dive into your numbers starting with some basics.

Savings Rate Calculator

Try changing the underlined values and see what happens!

My yearly after-tax income (w/401k included) is $ and I save $ total for retirement – including 401k and all other means. Using these figures, my savings rate (SR) will be about .

This is calculated with the following formula:

( / ) * 100% = Savings Rate

Adam Says: These values will NOT be stored in a cookie in your browser and NOT be anonymously aggregated will be stored in a cookie in your browser and be anonymously aggregated . If you revisit this page, you will NOT will see the same results. If you want, you can reset all values to the defaults at any time.

When working towards retirement and financial independence, your savings rate is one of the most important numbers. The more you save each year, the faster you’ll be able to retire – that’s obvious – but how much faster? See where your SR falls on the following chart:

Years to Financial Independence by Savings Rate Calculator

Years of savings needed vs savings rate. 100% = saving every penny.

Adam Says: Assumptions abound! This assumes $0 current savings, you save what you don't spend, /yr investment growth, WR, and that your spending will be the same when you retire. If you don't know what these terms mean, don't worry -- we'll get to them.

For your savings rate, , you can see on the chart that you would need to earn enough to be financially independent if you were starting today.

If you were to continue saving and investing every year during that time, eventually you would have saved up. At that point, you would be able to retire and withdraw every year.

Throughout this post, we'll be diving into the math behind these numbers, why this is enough, how can you lower this number and what's required of you (and the world) to hit it.

Part 2: How much should I save?

What floors me about the above chart is that a 10% SR, is often sighted as a “good” savings rate. In practice, it will take you 41 years to save up enough to retire, and that’s only if your spending stays the same! If your income and spending go up, it’ll take even longer.

If you double that savings rate to 20% though, you can retire in 30 years. That’s 27% less time working for 10% of your salary.

If you want to retire before you're 65, the common wisdom "save 10% of your income" is terrible advice!

If you’re hoping to be financially independent before collecting social security, you’ll need to save more than 10%. Let’s look into ways to reduce this number. These estimates are making a LOT of assumptions. We can refine this a little, but for that, I’m going to need your help – in the form of answering a few more questions.

hiking
Get ready for a long journey.

Saving Money is a Hike

You’re starting with a time period of based on just your savings rate. Saving this much isn’t a sprint, or even a marathon but a hike. Depriving yourself for a few months, only to be exhausted, or spend more the following months, isn’t going to have a positive impact. Pace and progress are the keys.

I’ve personally tried maxing out my savings some months – spending the least amount I possibly could to get that SR formula looking better. The problem was that the next month I’d reward myself for doing so and things would balance out.

Favor lifestyle changes that help you save over changes that feel like deprivation.

Instead, make changes that make your life better, and that you look forward to week after week and year after year. If you’re spending money on something that brings that kind of joy into your life, to me that’s well worth it.

Find a way to enjoy saving the same way you’d enjoy a hike. Make it effortless, make it relaxing, make it feel right.

You could be reading this and think there’s no way I could save up . I know when I was growing up, at times my mom was scrapping to make ends meet, and saving was the last thing on her mind. For those reading in that situation, I empathize with you but struggle to find the best advice. You know your situation better than I ever could, as well as what you could do to make it better.

Part 3: How much do I need?

In order to understand how much you need, we’ll need to learn a little more about you.

Let's Talk More About You

I'm a and old man woman trans person* other undisclosed and have a total combined savings & investments of about $. Right now, I'm retired saving money for retirement paying off debt .

Each year I spend about $, but when I retire I'll likely spend of that (equal to about /yr).

I'm hoping to retire when I'm years old.


Minafi's Take On Your Finances

Given your SR and a net worth , if you continue to invest /yr, then you're on track to be financially independent in – at age .

At age , you would need in retirement savings and can start withdrawing /yr.

Adam Says: For these numbers, I'm assuming /yr investment growth and a withdrawal rate. If you're not sure what these numbers mean, don't worry! I'll explain them later on in this post.

This is where things start to get fun! There's now enough information to know a rough estimate of when you'd be financially independent – in at age . Let's dive into how we got to this number.

Retirement Age Calculator

This graph shows your future net worth given your current & future savings.

Adam Says: This assumes you're years old with $ in savings. You spend $/yr and save $/yr. /yr investment growth and you'll use a WR.

The dashed horizontal line in this graph is how much you’d need to be financially independent given your current numbers. The other line is your net worth at each age. The point where these lines intersect is your FI Age — the age in which you’d have enough to be financially independent.

Financial Independence (FI) is different from retirement. Think of financial independence as the amount of money you’d need in order to never need to work again. Retirement (RE), on the other hand, generally means not being employed, but being self-sufficient.

It’s possible for people to be FI but continue working – you see it all the time. From CEOs of companies to quiet employees who have saved huge amounts to bloggers talking about retirement (well, some – not me). There are also people who are retired, but who may need to return to work someday down the line when their savings run out, or if social security fails.

To be FIRE (financially independent + retired) is an aim with the goal of minimizing stress from external sources. It does rely on stock markets to perform in a similar pattern to the last 100+ years, but aside from that, it’s not based on too many assumptions.

hot air balloon over lake
Financial Independence (FI) is a freeing idea and a beneficial goal.

Part 4: How much could I spend then?

Up until this point, we’ve been a little rosy in our withdrawal rate (WR). The withdrawal rate is the percent of your savings you withdraw each year. This can be calculated as follows:

Withdrawal Rate Calculator

A percentage of your total investments you'll need each year.

This assumes that you'll spend of your current spending of about $/yr in retirement, which would be /yr.

(Yearly Retirement Spending / Retirement Savings) * 100% = WR
( / ) * 100% =

In other words, at a WR , you'll need to save up before you stop working completely. At your current pace, this will take - allowing you to be financially independent at age .

The lower the withdrawal rate, the less of your total investments you'll withdraw every year. In order to withdraw more, you'll need to raise your withdraw rate or raise your investments.

Adam Says: This uses the same /yr investment growth as before. According to the Trinity Study, a 4% WR works 92% of the time over 40 years, while a 3% WR works out 100% of the time.

Withdrawal rate is one the most talked about (and heavily debated) topics when it comes to early retirement. I’m only going to introduce the topic in this article, but if you want to read more here’s a great post on Where’d the 4% Rule Come From Anyway?

My personal withdrawal rate I use for calculations is somewhere between 3% and 4%. The fewer unknowns in your life, the higher your withdraw rate can be. When I say unknowns, I include many things that are notoriously difficult to plan for: your health, insurance, home situations, family health, changes in your spending, lawsuits against you – anything that could throw a wrench in your plans.

The more of these edge cases you can have a plan for, the higher your withdraw rate could be. I don’t know what will happen with insurance (or many other things) and so I lean towards a 3.5% withdraw rate.

The math does add up, with some additional work.

Part 5: How is this enough?

When I first saw these numbers and did the math on it, I immediately asked the following question:

If I retire with and spend /yr when I retire, doesn't that mean my cash will run out in / = ?

If you put your money into a savings account, then this is exactly how long your investment would last. There are better places to put your money though!

Factoring In Inflation

There is some bad news here, unfortunately. Each of those , your spending power would be slightly less due to inflation, which is generally around 3%. Inflation is something we have no control over individually but is something we can plan for.

Inflation means that each year, what you can buy with your money is going down by some small amount. If you've seen prices rise since you were a kid, that's potentially a result of inflation.

In , in order to spend in today's dollars, you would need in the year .

Because of this, we need to increase our total funds by each year just to have the same buying power as today. If you add in your WR, this means that your savings need to increase by /yr in order for you to draw from it long-term!

So why are we using for these numbers rather than ? The reason is that inflation doesn't mean all of your expenses will rise by this much every year, but that the Consumer Price Index and Product Price Indexes indicate that this shift in prices.

Your net expenses may even go down! I would recommend setting your percent of spending to be higher if you are farther out than 10 years to FI to buffer for potential increases due to inflation.

Enter Market Investing

The missing piece here is that you can invest that money in the stock market — both while you’re growing it and when you’re drawing down from it.

Stock markets in the US have returned on average 7% a year since their beginning. This is an important number! If you’re withdrawing at most 4% of this, and 3% of it is going to inflation, then your net worth will last forever. Unfortunately, the stock market has ups and downs, so we can’t make predictions quite that bold, but we can use it as a baseline. This is why 4% is often sighted as the maximum WR to use in calculations.

Learning how to invest and earn ~7% will sound intimidating at first. It will take trial and error, but more than that it’ll take being brave and putting money into the stock market. Using a simple 3-fund portfolio is a great place to start learning how to invest.

Your Numbers with Market Investing

If you put your money into a savings account and withdrew some of it each year, the total amount you'd withdraw would be around . However, if you invested this and it grew at a pace of /yr, and you withdrew an inflation adjusted /yr, then this amount could provide you with before your 100th birthday.

That wouldn't be all at once but in the form of /yr. This is the true power of compound interest! Imagine how many more years you'd need to work to save this amount without investing. Actually, no need to imagine -- it's ! If you learn how to invest, you can retire earlier.

This is the number one difference between people who retire early and those who wait until social security — people who retire early learn how to invest.

When I first did the math on compound interest I was floored. The idea that I’d make more money during retirement than during my working years seemed counterintuitive, but the numbers were right there.

Become an Investor

If you’re not currently investing, learning enough to feel confident can be intimidating. It takes time, patience and the occasional leap of faith. I’ve put together a free 10-week email course to help you get started.

The Minimal Investor

I'll send you an email a week for 10-weeks. By the end of this hands-on course, you'll know enough to invest for the rest of your life.

In this course, I’ll email you a new set of tasks to accomplish each week. Sometimes this will include articles to read, or activities to perform on Vanguard.

By the end of this course, you’ll have a balanced understanding of investing and confidence to invest for the rest of your life. If you’ve been putting off learning how to invest, this is where you should start. If you’d like to learn more, you can read about The Minimal Investor Course and take the entire course for free (Really. I just want to help you learn to invest).

Speed up your FI hike with a few small lifestyle tweaks.

Part 6: What can I do to retire sooner?

Now that you have a baseline of until you’ve saved up enough at your current pace, let’s see what small steps you can take to lower that number!

There are only 2 ways you can affect this number:

Make more money.
Spend less money.

The savings rate calculation we looked at is based entirely on these two numbers (spending/savings). Let’s look at a few scenarios and see what impact they have on your FI dates.

What If: You Reduce Spending & Save It?

If you reduce your spending by (saving a year more), then you could be FI earlier once you have saved .

By reducing your yearly spending by , you'll need less to retire. Upon retiring, you'd be spending a year.

Adam Says: Are there things in your lifestyle that you'd be happy to cut? Would you rather cut spending by /yr or work for an additional ?

The less you need, the less you’ll need to save. If you reduce your spending to $0/yr, you’d need $0 to retire. That’s likely unrealistic, but the less you spend, the less you need.

The art is not in making money, but in keeping it.

Taking steps to reduce your lifestyle can pay off by reducing the time you’ll be required to work to maintain it. Be careful not to go overboard though. Build a life you want, then save for it.

What If: You Earn Money In Retirement?

You're on track to spend /yr during retirement. What if you still spent this exact same amount, but of it comes from income in retirement? This would involve you finding a way to make /yr in side income.

In that case, you can retire earlier!

Adam says: What can you start doing today to add another income stream? It would reduce your time until retirement, but also add stability for later on.

Finding a small way to supplement your income can reduce the amount you’ll need to save. The concept of a side hustle has grown a bunch in the last few years, with people opting to find ways to control their financial destiny. I like Side Hustle Nations description of a side hustle:

A side hustle is something you do to earn money outside a traditional job.

If you’re like me and haven’t made money outside the boundaries of a W-2 for your career, this might just seem like more work and not FIRE. The distinction to me is in having a side hustle that you love doing. One that you look forward to waking up to work on.

At that point, this additional revenue stream can become another challenge in your life or another form of self-expression.

Lowering expenses and earning money in retirement are three very clear ways to reduce the time until you are financially independent.

What If: Reduce spending & earn income?

You reduce spending by while replacing of your income during retirement ().

This would result in you reaching FI in . That would be earlier than your timeline of by .

Adam says: It's crazy to think that these 2 things could result in a reduction in your working years.

Making more money and spending less while investing is the key to achieving financial independence sooner.

There are 291k subscribers to /r/financialindependence/ alone.

Part 7: Who is actually doing this?

You might be surprised by who is pursuing FI. It ranges from people in debt to multi-millionaires who have retired already. There is likely someone who is in a similar situation to you out there.

I was lucky enough to chat with a number of people who are in various states of financial independence and get their takes on the subject.

Adam from Minafi

36m, married, working and saving money in Orlando, FL. $1.25m in savings. Spending $65k/yr now and in retirement. FI by 38 in a major city. RE date TBD.

That's me! I'm a long-time programmer, product manager, board gamer and cocktail lover who is exploring personal finance and related fields. I've worked for years teaching people how to code at Pluralsight, and want to educate others on financial independence while learning more myself. You can read more of my story if you'd like the full details.

How did you learn about FI?

Reading The Bogleheads Guide to Investing set me on my journey. It made it clear how little I needed to retire if I was investing it in the stock market.

What was your financial status when you began?

2 months after I graduated college (age 23), my mom passed away and left me her house and $100,000. A few years later I was 28, had experienced investing during the recession and bought my first home. After selling her house, I had $150,000 in investments and -$100,000 in home equity when I started while making about $52,000 a year.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Learning and executing on a long term investing strategy. When I look at my total investments today, more than 1/3 of it is from investment gains alone in the past 7 years. This, coupled with controlling lifestyle inflation.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

Does buying Bitcoin count? For me, I underestimated the financial impact of buying a house. I did this prior to learning about FI, and I undertook it without enough thought and planning. The extra yearly expenses (1-2% of the home price every year), the additional time for maintenance and improvements, yard work, cleaning - it's a lot to handle. In retrospect, I would've just continued renting.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Save up $3,000 and invest it in your 401k, a Vanguard IRA or a Vanguard Roth IRA. Use that account to learn the basics of investing - how to buy and sell, what investments to pick and how that works. Starting small in an account where you don't have to worry about taxes helped me gain confidence before jumping in completely.

Following that, keeping your spending in check year after year and not letting it grow out of proportion with your happiness.

Read more about Adam Collapse

Adam outside Niko Japan during our honeymoon.

Gwen from Fiery Millennials

27f, working and saving money in the Midwest. $170,000 in savings. Spending $40k/yr now, $25k in retirement. FI by 28 in a ruralish area. RE by 30.

Hey, I'm Gwen! I'm a 26 year old IT professional on my way to early retirement. I enjoy playing sports, cuddling my cat, reading and working on my real estate properties.

How did you learn about FI?

I found Mr. Money Mustache's blog my junior year of college and was immediately hooked. I spent the rest of my time in college soaking up information from blogs, prepping, and strategizing.

What was your financial status when you began?

I graduated from college with $10,000 to my name, a paid off car, and no debt at the age of 23.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Not allowing lifestyle inflation to creep in. Keeping my spending low has been an enjoyable challenge.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

I wish I had gone for slightly cheaper housing in 2016. I spent a lot of money to live close to work. It would've been better for me to live slightly further away, but I wanted to bike to work.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Keep your expenses low and focus on growing your income as much as you can. You can only cut your expenses so much, but the sky is the limit when it comes to earning more money.

Read more about Gwen Collapse

Gwen somewhere awesome.

J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy and Rockstar Finance

37m, married, working and saving money in Washington, D.C. $657,837.01 in savings. Spending $72k/yr now, $48k in retirement. FI by 45 in an expensive city. RE never. 🙂

I'm a daddy of two, blogger of two, and been a self-employed blogger since 2010. Love to see all the new faces coming up in the community as we need as much help with this $$$ stuff as we can get out there.

How did you learn about FI?

Oh man, from the original OG of the FIRE movement before it was even a "thing" - Jacob Lund Fisker of EarlyRetirementExtreme.com! Although I sorta thought he was nuts until Mr. Money Mustache came around and blew it up even more 😉 From that point forward I started actually applying myself and it's been an interesting 5+ years ever since. Super thankful for them all.

What was your financial status when you began?

I had about $50,000 of net worth when I came onto the blogging scene back in February of 2008, but really wasn't that great - nor horrible - with money then. I was kinda so-so and going with the flow until we bought our house at the peak of the market with no money down and 100% financing, and that was the wake-up call to start paying attention more and get on my $hit. I stumbled across the financial blogging world from there and it completely transformed both my wallet and my mindset. Not to mention my friends and career and outlook and everything. Huge game changer for me.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Probably that I went from chasing millions just to be able to say that I'm a millionaire, to chasing "enough" just so that I can be financially FREE. That was the biggest change of everything for me over the years. Realizing that it's not about the money at all, but how it can be used to set yourself up for a most beautiful lifestyle.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

I would have stopped working on 10 billion blogs and projects at the same time, and instead focused on only one or two and just really KILLED those to have a more relaxed lifestyle from the start. The more I've been in this blogging/career world, the more I realize that pouring your efforts into one main slot can powercharge your goals vs spread out over time.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Remember that it's not about the money!! And to try and enjoy your lifestyle today vs always being obsessed with the future. A lot of this stuff requires TIME in order to have your $$$ marinating and growing, so you have a lot of living to do before that magical moment of hitting your "number." Soak it up!

Read more about J. Money Collapse

Texting with Warren Buffett....

J. from Millennial Boss

28f, married, working and saving money in the Pacific Northwest. $300k in savings. Spending varies by location, $60k in retirement. FI by 35. RE by 40 in a city metro.

I'm J and I love dabbling in various side hustles, travel hacking, and reading personal development books. I plan to retire with my husband and my dog near family but the truth is that I love dabbling so much that I always see myself bringing in some sort of income. I'm currently an Etsy seller and make a few hundred dollars per month through that.

Call the Early Retirement Police I dare you. I'm also an early retirement podcast co-host, former collegiate athlete and wannabe current athlete but I get so swept up in my side hustles that I don't have time to workout. I go to FinCon, Chautauqua and all the FIRE conferences and meetups because I love this community.

How did you learn about FI?

I found Mr Money Mustache through the blog No More Harvard Debt which encouraged me to pay off nearly $100k in student loans in 18 months.

What was your financial status when you began?

I was nearly $100k in debt when you consider my husband's student loan debt and my car loan/credit cards.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

I took career hacking to the extreme in the last 5 years and increased my income exponentially. I also switched into the tech field which helped with that. I love my job now. The biggest challenge is cutting back on housing in a high cost of living area.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

I believe the Rascal Flats lyrics "God Bless the Broken Road That Led Me Straight to You," and I truly wouldn't change a thing about my life - both the good and bad. It led me to where I am today. I'm one of those people who thinks that something as small as a sneeze could change the path of your life. I wouldn't go back in time and change anything out of fear it wouldn't bring me here.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

I have two pieces of advice. First, the first step is the scariest. My husband and I sold our home, new car, all of our stuff and left our friends and family to chase career opportunities out West. It was hard but that first step is the hardest. It gets easier once the debt is gone and you start accumulating. Second, meet other FI-ers in person as it affirms your path.

Read more about J Collapse

One of the epic road trips I've taken along the West Coast

Early Retirement Dude from earlyretirementdude.com

48m, married and retired in the Southeastern US. $2.3m in savings. Spending $55k/yr. FI & RE at 36 in a ruralish area.

I'm a Deadhead-type GenX'er. Love running and bicycle touring. Averse to the toxicity of consumer culture and the modern workplace. Trying to wake people up to the idea that financial independence/early retirement A) exists, B) can be an antidote to that toxicity, and C) is actually achievable.

How did you learn about FI?

Honestly, I came up with my own version of it in a vacuum. I graduated from MBA school and went corporate in 1993, so I didn't have access to the web-based resources available today. Found myself immediately miserable. At the time defined-benefit pensions were being killed off by 401(k) plans, so between the financial modeling tools I'd learned in school and the idea that I'd have to fund my own retirement, I cooked up a plan to get out of the workforce much earlier than 57 1/2.

What was your financial status when you began?

Started with a few hundred bucks and a beat-up car and a couch from Goodwill that was covered in suspicious purple stains.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

When I was twenty-six I got passed over for a great job because I'd stirred up some political problems through sheer arrogance. I really wanted that job, so I called up the hiring managers and asked them if we could get together for a feedback session. What could I learn/do differently/etc. to earn an offer during the next round of hiring? Asked them that in all humility. They gave me straightforward feedback, I got the training and made the changes they recommended, and ended up getting hired. If I hadn't asked for that meeting I'm convinced I'd still be working.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

I wish I hadn't put so much pressure on my wife to be frugal. Twenty years into our marriage, now, and she still feels guilty when she spends money.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Understand that it's not just a numbers game. If you focus on FI/ER to the exclusion of all else, you can wreck things that are very important to you--relationships, pastimes, creative outlets, etc. It's a serious commitment. Know what you're getting into.

Read more about Early Retirement Dude Collapse

Actual photo of the author.

Amy Blacklock from Life Zemplified

49f, married, working and saving money in Michigan. $900k in savings. Spending $75k/yr, $50k in retirement. FI by 53. RE by 55 in an rural area.

My current day job is in the automotive industry as a project analyst with additional responsibilities in office management. On the side I'm a nutrition and health coach, blogger, and freelance writer. I enjoy a variety of sports and fitness activities, and I love learning and trying new things.

How did you learn about FI?

I stumbled upon Mr. Money Mustache at the age of 45 and realized I wasted a lot of money and time.

What was your financial status when you began?

I was newly married after being divorced for a couple years. We both had some money in 401k plans and IRA's but nothing to brag about. I think we were both saving around 10% in our 401s at the time. We had some debt, car loans and a mortgage, but no plan to eliminate it other than making the monthly payments.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Increasing our incomes by changing employers. Maxing out any and all retirement savings accounts that we could. Eliminating all debt other than our mortgage. Selling our sexy vehicles for older but dependable cars.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

Started saving more so much sooner! Not fall into lifestyle creep and try to match what others were doing to achieve a so called status.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Try different methods to find out what works best for you. If you hate debt eliminate it. Earn as much as possible, without sacrificing your health and time with your family. Save just a bit more than you think you should every month. Automate saving and investing. Don't give up. If you need to modify your plan, that's okay. Forgive yourself for any mistakes, make corrections as needed, and keep on going.

Read more about Amy Collapse

Amy, under her backyard grape arbor, trying for a good pic...

Darrow from Can I Retire Yet?

57m, married and retired in Santa Fe, NM. $1m+ in savings. Spending varies. FIRE at 50 in a city metro.

Early-retired civil and software engineer, author, investor who loves outdoor sports like climbing, biking, and hiking.

How did you learn about FI?

By pursuing my dream of freedom from a 9-5 job.

What was your financial status when you began?

Frugal, relatively high-earning engineer.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Not inflating lifestyle (houses and cars) as I received raises and bonuses in my career.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

Hindsight is always 20/20. In reality I think I made the best decisions I could to reach the goals I had at the time.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Spend in the few areas that matter to you. Cut back everywhere else. Avoid big houses and cars. Learn to invest prudently for the long haul.

Read more about Darrow Collapse

Early Retiree Darrow Kirkpatrick in the Pecos Wilderness

Jane from Cash Fasting

25f, working and saving money in New York City. $65k in savings. Spending $25k/yr now. FI by 35. RE TBD in a city metro.

I'm a VA native trying to build wealth in the Big Apple. I'm relatively new to the idea of FIRE, but I've jumped on board and I'm eagerly tracking my progress. I enjoy dancing, cooking, trying out new restaurants, and telling my friends to invest more in their retirement accounts.

How did you learn about FI?

I've always had an interest in personal finance. In my first job out of school, I did market research for credit card companies, and was the go-to gal in my friend group for the knowing the best credit card offers, terms, and bonuses. In 2015, my boyfriend introduced me to Mr. Money Mustache. That sparked the idea of FI for me; that I could take all this PF knowledge that I was accruing and apply it to my future in a way that wasn't just building the biggest nest egg possible.

What was your financial status when you began?

I finished graduate school $35K in debt. I don't think I had more than $2K in my checking account, but let's be real, that was my parents' money. Luckily I didn't have to pay for any large expenses like a car and I lived at home straight after graduation, which allowed me to focus on my debt right away.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Increasing my income. I'm not the most frugal person (though I try to be), but you can only decrease your expenses by so much before it stops making sense to do so. At the beginning of 2017, I negotiated a 20% increase in salary, which helped me pay off my debt earlier than expected.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

Lived at home longer. After a year and a half at home, I moved out to live with a couple of friends. It made my commute longer, and increased my expenses by a lot. I definitely enjoyed the experience, but I wasn't unhappy at home. The nine months I lived with friends before moving to NYC probably cost me a good $10K.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Set short-term goals. Pursing FI is more of a lifestyle change than it is pursing a long-term goal. Ask around; people who have reached their FI number don't have an accompanying revelation or giant increase in happiness. If you set smaller goals like "pay off loans by 2018" or "save $5K by the end of the year", the boost you get from reaching those goals will help you stay focused on the bigger one. Also, don't forget to enjoy the journey.

Read more about Jane Collapse

Jane enjoying fall views in NYC

Ms. FAF from Frugal Asian Finance

30f, married, working and saving money in Washington, D.C. $320k in savings. Spending $50k/yr now and in retirement. FI & RE by 50 in a city metro.

I am an Asian personal finance blogger, a full-time working mother of one, a devoted wife, and a real estate dreamer. I am passionate about saving money while living a fulfilling life.

How did you learn about FI?

I learned about FI after joining the personal finance blogger community on March 21, 2017.

What was your financial status when you began?

My only debt was the mortgage on our house, which we’re aggressively trying to pay off. My husband and I have always been frugal. We’ve been conscious about saving and investing whether we’re trying to achieve FI or not.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Dedicating myself to my blog (FrugalAsianFinance.com) to show myself and others that I am serious about financial responsibility.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

I wish I could have started my blog sooner to join the amazing blogosphere earlier.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Saving money and investing is great, but don’t forget to enjoy life.

Read more about Ms. FAF Collapse

Photo of a $300 gift my husband gave me. I later urged him to return it for a refund. This is a constant reminder that we don't need to show our love and build our family w/expensive gifts.

Jim from Route to Retire

41m, married, working and saving money in Ohio. ~$1.08m in savings. Spending $60k/yr now, $45k in retirement. FI & RE by 49 in a rural area.

I'm currently in IT management and have been at the same company for over 18 years. While they've always taken care of me, I don't enjoy the day-to-day anymore. When my daughter was born, I hated having to go to work every day - I felt like I was missing out even though this is common for dads to do. Since then, I've been on a mission to be free from the financial burden shackling me to an office every day. We now have three rental units and are hoping to purchase 2-3 more before I quit my job in a few years.

How did you learn about FI?

My big wake-up call to FI was reading Robert Kiyosaki's books ("Rich Dad Poor Dad" and "Cashflow Quadrant") years ago. It wasn't that they were step-by-step guides, but more of a realization that I don't have to be stuck in the rat race forever.

What was your financial status when you began?

I had just finished working hard to get myself out of around $35k of credit card debt. I had a clean slate and was ready to make things happen.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Changing the funds in my 401(k) from managed funds to a low-cost Vanguard index fund is likely to save me over $60,000 in fees just over the next 8-9 years.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

I wish I had started earlier. If I had house-hacked or started in real estate years earlier, I would be much further ahead than I am today.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Start early, find a high-paying job you enjoy, live a very modest lifestyle, and save and invest a very large percentage of your income.

Read more about Jim Collapse

Jim spending time on the beaches of Panama with his daughter.

Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme

41m, married, retired in Chicago. Enough in savings and spending $11k/yr (<$7k/person). FI by 30. RE at 33 in a city metro.

Renaissance man and an intellectual gunslinger with an attention span of 3-5 years. I enjoy thinking about hard interdisciplinary problems and finding practical solutions. I've worked with problems in nuclear astrophysics, energy resources, sustainability, algorithmic trading, and extreme FIRE.

How did you learn about FI?

The rudimentary concepts of FI aren't exactly rocket science, so I largely figured it out on my own before I realized there was an actual term (FI) for it. In 2000/01, I started reading different websites that questioned hyperconsumption, the debt-based financial system, and the sustainability of natural resources. At the time, I had two goals: 1) Living with a very low ecological footprint (see Mathis Wackernagel); 2) Save enough money to buy a house without needing a mortgage.

At some point I read RDPD's cashflow quadrant book (one of the few books available to me from the library at the time) and learned about the idea of using investment-income instead of job-income to make a living. Since I already had $100k saved, I hacked up a small fortran program to see when my capital income would exceed my expenses so I no longer depended on a job.---And realized I was almost there already. I had also heard about YMOYL, so I knew low cost living was possible in practice, but I hadn't actually read the book yet.

What was your financial status when you began?

Before I decided to lower my footprint and save to buy a home, I always had around $0-1,000 in my savings account (no debt) being in the habit of spending all my savings on new tech gadgets. Quitting my useless gadget addiction cold turkey meant it was easy to save more than 80% of my stipend. A sustainable lifestyle costs very little! As a result, I had nearly $100k saved when I finally graduated (PhD).

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Always question the prevailing paradigm! Feynman (one of the gods of physics) insisted that insight was best achieved by working out the solution to a problem on your own rather than studying other people's solutions.

During the 2000s, the conventional dogma stipulated or rather demanded that early retirement was reserved for high-income millionaires; that it was easier to make more money than to spend less; that spending less meant "doing without or learning long lists of frugality tricks; and that being officially retired required one to permanently renounce any and all kinds of income.

When I did the math and graphs showing the highly nonlinear relationship between early retirement and high savings rates. I published it in 2010 and it has since been copied many times by other bloggers. I used the Pareto Principle (as popularized in the 4HWW) focusing on the biggest costs of housing, driving, and eating instead of the long tail of frugality tips and tricks that mostly follow the same overall principles anyway (think "reduce, reuse, recycle"). We moved into an RV before it was the cool thing to do. I began to deliberately design my lifestyle using systems theory concepts realizing that if activities were valued for their productive potential, it should be possible to spend very little and even make money almost automagically. Of course, the Internet Retirement Police did not approve of anyone calling themselves retired when they still accepted money here and there from multiple sources but to me it seemed crazy for anyone (under 99 years of age) to refuse all future income out of principle. Why refuse money? Why be unproductive? Look at Steve Jobs, who didn't need to work but still did it anyway: Why don't all humans do this albeit on a smaller scale when it's completely possible? I don't know.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

When breaking trail/mapping out the territory, it's hard to know where to go, because you're always learning as you go along. This is similar to doing research trying to answer questions not yet knowing what the questions are. Research is the proverbial 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, but I find it personally interesting not just theoretically but also practically, so I try to experience things by living them as much as possible.

I wrote the ERE book (2008-2010) to provide the intellectual ammunition and map for metaphorical lieutenants and sergeants to teach future soldiers. I think most [soldiers] prefer the ""I did it and so can you""-type stories and books latching onto leaders they want to follow and be like. These stories are what generates mass appeal when it comes to outreach. I'm happy to see so many practical examples now and how those unconventional ideas that were considered crazy and unrealistic ten years ago are now commonly accepted in the FIRE community.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

One of the concepts that hasn't been widely adopted is the web of goals concept. It still seems commonly believed that the only way to radically lower expenses is through simple living and deliberately doing without and "sacrificing". Web-of-goals is a systems theoretical concept that ties together all one's assets, skills, and resources by looking at each of them as a potential input and a potential output to each other. By "closing the loops" between them, expenses can be lowered by increasing complexity to maintain the same output. Under the consumer-paradigm, expenses indicates "standard of living" because you get what you pay for. Whereas under the web of goals paradigm, spending is only used to reduce friction, so here you get according to your design skill level.

It's advanced stuff but I think it's worth looking because lower expenses will shave years off from one's FI projections and increase one's safety to adverse economic conditions. I think if it was widely adopted, we'd see a lot more FIRE blogs where spending is under $15,000/year/household.

Read more about Jacob Collapse

Part of the low expense equation

Working Optional from Working Optional

40~45, married and living in Southern California. Half way to FI. Spending $90k/yr now, $60k in retirement. FIRE at 53, RE in 50s in a city metro.

Self-employed, work in IT, newbie Personal Finance blogger. Looking to increase semi-passive income via real estate, informational products, SaaS apps etc.

How did you learn about FI?

Came across a few blogs while browsing Bogleheads, Reddit and then it took off from there. Having a minor mid-life crisis helped.

What was your financial status when you began?

Arrived in the US with a $2,000 loan ~18 yrs ago. Worked full-time, got an MBA from a top 15 school part-time. Paid off all student loans, got married, had kids, got a mortgage (twice) etc over the next decade. The last ~7 years have had a nice positive impact on my finances.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Earlier: Becoming self-employed. There are highs and lows, but it has taught me to be naturally frugal and "save for a rainy day". The highs jumpstart my savings.

Recently: Changing my mindset i.e. deciding to pursue FI and realizing that it *was* possible, and that it was what I wanted but didn't know how to describe it.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

Could have been smarter about some investments made in 2010-11 and should have jumped on the real estate bandwagon as well.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Save & Invest - the two items that you can control even if you can't switch jobs/careers. Live a modest lifestyle.

Read more about Working Optional Collapse

Cape Tribulation, Australia - Going to revisit after we FI/RE

Zed from zencents

32m, married and saving in Boston, MA. $150k in savings. Spending varies, $20k/yr in retirement. FI at 40, RE at 45 in a rural area.

Engineer by day. Financial engineer by night! Suburban dwelling, home owning millennial looking to take back my life, by taking back my time. Love the four seasons, love to be outdoors, love my wife and love my puppy! (She's my puppy, even if she is approaching 7 years!)

How did you learn about FI?

I first came across Financial Independence in early 2015 when I fell into the Mr. Money Mustache wormhole. When I came out the other end I realized I needed to strive for FI myself.

What was your financial status when you began?

Back then I was a silly-spender. I purchased too many little "trinkets" and wasted my income, mostly because it didn't have a better purpose. Strangely enough, I had "ONLY $30,000" left in student loan debt. Coming from over $100k in student loan debt, that $30k seemed small. Someone should have slapped me upside the head and told me to use my extra cash on that!

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Focused on paying debt! My debt was such a hindrance to working towards any financial goal. It was always there, never shrinking, and basically just a monkey on my back. Finally realizing that FI is possible, made me rethink my lifestyle to work on destroying my debt. It didn't take long after that to finally wipe out the final $30,000!

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

Oh boy! I wish I didn't inflate my lifestyle as soon as I got that first engineering paycheck. I "saved" in my 401k. I "saved" for an emergency fund. Looking back, I barely accumulated anything because paying myself was not my first priority. Save early. Save often!

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Realize that FI is primarily a waiting game. And all that time waiting to reach FI, that is what they call YOUR LIFE! So, don't get too focused on saving and racing towards Financial Independence that you let your life slip by. Get out there, explore, and discover your true passions! Life is better when you're having fun!

Read more about Zed Collapse

Zed admiring the strange cloud formations on Mt. Etna.

Mr. and Mrs. Frugal Hacker from Frugal Hackers

27f/30m, married and saving in San Francisco, CA. $480k+ in savings. Spending $56,845.07/yr now, $36,568.63/yr in retirement. FIRE 30 (Mrs) and 33 (Mr) in a super expensive city.

We are two young married Canadians of Indian origin living and working in San Francisco making $300k in annual income before taxes and expenses. Mr. Frugal Hacker is a Software Engineer and Mrs. Frugal Hacker is a CPA. A typical weekend is usually some combination of long-distance cycling, hiking, walking around San Francisco, board games with friends, building personal finance spreadsheets and working on our blog, frugalhackers.com

How did you learn about FI?

Paul Graham retweeted a blog post by Mr. Money Mustache. Followed that link to MMM's blog, and we had our aha! moment.

What was your financial status when you began?

It was June 2016, and we had just bought a 3BR/2BA condo apartment in San Francisco. We didn't have any debt other than the mortgage and had ~$200k in net worth at the time.

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

We started investing all of our savings in index funds. We've always been good at frugality and saving money. However, we didn't start investing in the stock market until we turned 26 and 29 (excluding some 401k investments).

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

We wish we started investing in the stock market earlier in our careers. We also wish we had maxed out our 401k contributions every single year since we started working. We had the savings, but simply didn't take advantage of our employers' 401k plans.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Pay attention to your savings rate. It's the single most important metric that determines how quickly you can reach FI.

Read more about Mr. and Mrs. Frugal Hacker Collapse

Frugal Hackers at Milford Sound, New Zealand

Philip Taylor from PT Money

41m, married, working and saving money in Frisco, TX. $709,500 in savings. Spending $80k/yr now, $50k in retirement. FI by 47 in a super expensive city. RE... What is this 'retire' that you speak of?

Married, father of three, former practicing CPA turned full-time blogger, podcaster, and conference/event planner.

How did you learn about FI?

I first learned about FI when I read David Bach's Automatic Millionaire. He showed me what was possible. I further developed my understanding of it in the mid 2000s when reading personal finance blogs like Consumerism Commentary and Blueprint for Financial Prosperity. Then I found Jacob's ERE and it changed my whole understanding of what was possible.

What was your financial status when you began?

When I first began my wife and I had some college debt (roughly 30k), car loans (around 25k), and little savings ($40k).

What has been the most impactful change you've made towards FI?

Automating my savings and maxing out my retirement accounts each year has had the biggest impact on my finances; along with starting my own businesses which have fast tracked my wealth and given me the feeling like I'm no longer working.

What, if anything, do you wish you could have done differently?

I'm pretty happy with how it's all been laid out. But it would have been nice to kick start things a bit sooner. I stayed too long in Corporate America - 10 years.

What advice do you have for others going down the path of FI?

Find the life you want to live first - then save aggressively for it. The "why" is so much more important and interesting than the how.

Read more about Philip Taylor Collapse

PT hanging out on the steps at Bryant Park in NYC.

Common Similarities In This Group

When reading over everyone’s answers to these questions, a few themes start to stand out real quick.

They avoided lifestyle inflation

Nearly everyone mentioned avoiding lifestyle inflation as an essential component. If your expenses increase with your income, you’ll never save more. All of the numbers in this post assume that your expenses do not go up. If you spend more each year, you’ll need more money to retire, and it’ll take you more time to accumulate it.

They didn't start with everything

No one I talked to got lucky with the lottery, an inheritance, a business acquisition or a lucky Bitcoin investment that accounted for a sudden retirement. There are some out there who hit the jackpot, but for most people, it’s going to take hard work and time.

They spent in areas that matter to them

Going overboard on saving can make you miserable. Focus on spending money on things that will what bring joy into your life and makes you and those around you happy. This may seem at odds with lifestyle inflation, but it’s important to strike a balance between these two.

Adam says: Thanks so much for all the people who agreed to be interviewed for this post! Their time and support mean a lot to me. I recommend you check out their blogs and events!

Part 8: Where can I learn more?

There are a few amazing books on the topic of financial independence and early retirement that go into these topics with much more eloquence and depth than I could ever explore. If you’re curious to learn more, these are all amazing resources.

Minafi Email List

Here at Minafi, I write about the intersection of minimalism, mindfulness and financial independence. I’ll also be releasing more interactive posts like this one in the months to come. Sign up to get one email each month, or each week with what I’m writing about.

The Minafi Magazine

A dose of financial advice, minimalism and mindfulness delivered just for you.

Books

Here are some of the top sources in different mediums to learn about financial independence.

Your Money or Your Life

Your Money is an amazing exploration into developing a relationship with money that goes deeper than just buying things. This book is the origin of many articles and concepts that you'll read about in the FI world, told beautifully.

As great as Your Money is, it borders on self-help as opposed to finance - which actually helps its topics connect deeper for me.

The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing

This is the book that personally got me into investing and thinking about this subject. By introducing things like the 4% for withdrawal rate, understanding investing, diversification, fees, fund types, account types and more, this book served as my education on investing.

The Bogleheads Guide consistently ranks as one of the 3 most influential books I have ever read in my life - serving as an introduction and education all in one.

The Millionaire Next Door

The term "millionaire" has a connotation of lavish spending and abundance in popular culture. This book looks at a different side of that - working millionaires who worked hard to create a life they wanted.

In order to achieve FI, most people will need to earn more than a million dollars. This book put that number into perspective for me, bringing it down to earth.

Communities

There are a number of thriving communities focused on financial independence and early retirement. I can’t include them all, but here are a few that I’ve participated in and enjoyed.

This is a place for people who are or want to become Financially Independent (FI), which means not having to work for money.

This was the first forum I discovered when investing. I asked extremely basic questions and people were helpful and welcoming. If you’re learning how to invest, and want to do it the smart way, this forum, the associated wiki, is an amazing source of knowledge.

While Bogleheads leans towards investing, the MMM community ranges from “do it yourself” to “real estate investing” to “taxes” and “entrepreneurship”.

The Early Retirement Extreme community (created by Jacob interviewed above!) focuses on all parts of retiring early with a slant towards extreme lifestyle changes that can make the process go faster.

Calculators

The graphs in this post are only a starting point for understanding your financial future. The best tool I’ve found for digging deeper into these numbers and incorporating many more variables is Personal Capital. They have a Retirement Planner tool that I’ve been using for years to understand my own finances. Check them out if you’re hoping to dig deeper into graphs.

A scenario I was running on my own finances

What I really like about Personal Capital is it goes beyond the averages used in this post to group scenarios by percentile. In this screenshot above, you can see a line for my median case, but also the worst 10 percentile. The little blocks are me playing with life events: buying healthcare, taking social security and when Mrs. Minafi stops working.

Part 9: Recap

You made it to the end! Let’s recap a little about where you are now and where you’re going.

Here's A Snapshot of your Financial Health

You're a year old man woman trans* other undisclosed currently earning $/yr and saving $/yr for a savings rate (SR) of about .

You've managed to save up $ so far. Right now, you're retired saving money for retirement paying off debt and spending $/yr.

In retirement, you're hoping to spend of what you spend today (equal to about /yr) and retire at age years old.

You're on track to be financially independent in – at age once you've saved up

You're assuming markets will rise /yr and that your withdrawal rate will be .

If you permanently reduce your spending by (saving /yr) then you could be FI in .

If you earn a little money in retirement, say , then you'd be FI in .

If you permanently reduce spending by and earn a side income of , then you'll be on track to be FI in -- earlier than your current path.

Adam Says: This is a dense area, but it includes all adjustable numbers in this post. If you're wanting to just play around and see the results of any scenario, this is your chance!

Part 10: What Next?

If there’s one takeaway you get from this post, it’s that the concept of financial independence isn’t solely for those who are extremely wealthy or for those who are nearing social security.

It’s a path that starts with understanding what you want out of life and figuring out what you’d need to do to get there. The fastest way often means removing excess from your life that isn’t increasing happiness in proportion to the amount spent. Beyond that, it’s about understanding how much you need to save to live the life you want and making a plan for it.

There is no predetermined group that financial independence is for. It could work well for people in extreme debt who want to get out and work towards a different future — or for people in their career looking for what comes next.

My Recommendations For You

  • Track your spending for a month. Learn where every cent is going.
  • Sign up for my free Minimal Investor Course and learn how to invest.
  • Find a community of people to learn from. This could one of the above places, a blog you enjoy, a podcast you jive with – anything that keeps you learning.
  • Make a plan for when you’d want to be financially independent, and work backward to understand when you’d get there and how to get there sooner!
  • Read more about minimalism, mindfulness or financial independence here on Minafi.

If you enjoyed this article, or have any thoughts on it, please share it and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you!

Credits

Special thanks to the following people for helping out on this!

  • My Wife for reading over various drafts and ideas.
  • Bret Victor for Tangle, the JS library for data binding.
  • Mike Bostock for D3.js. I want to make more chances to use it.
  • John Bogle and The Bogleheads who gave me a great foundational education in investing.
  • Mr. Money Mustache for introducing me on to the idea of financial independence.
  • All of the bloggers who agreed to an interview.
  • Everyone who’s shared this post to help spread the word of FI!
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