[Welcome to the new Early Retirement Series we’re starting here! Profiles of hustlers who have cracked the code and now living the dream on their own terms. We’re starting with my boy Jeremy from GoCurryCracker.com who not only shares the intimate details of his journey, but also how – exactly – he was able to reach this financial freedom while now traveling the world with this wife. Enjoy!]
It had only been an hour since I sent my “Retirement” email around the company, and my inbox was already nearly 400 deep. Even the guys that were always triple booked wanted some one on one time.
“Dude! Can we get a coffee?!”
“When I get back from China we have to get a beer. This is crazy!”
“WTF bro! Let’s get lunch, I’ll cancel my lunch meeting.”
What’s a guy to do with such overwhelming demands for his time? Milk it for all it’s worth, that’s what. I scheduled as many free coffee dates as I could!
Just 2 weeks earlier, thanks to a little encouragement from my employer, we had finally built up the courage to quit our jobs and travel the world.
How it Came To Be…
“This is bullshit”, I said as calmly as I could muster, before walking out of my manager’s office.
I felt like I had just been kicked in the nuts. In a game of corporate politics, I had made a calculated decision. And lost.
A year earlier, I was the golden child. I had been pulled in to save a failing project, and delivered. Afterwards our Vice President had come to my office, “If you want or need anything, anything… just tell me. I will make it happen.” I cannot even begin to describe how incredible that felt.
I was asked to take on a greater challenge. We were severely understaffed, our schedule was completely irrational, and yet… after a year of 80-hour weeks, sheer determination, and a great amount of luck, I had under promised and over delivered.
My manager struggled to get the words out, doing his best to avoid contact. “We love what you are doing. I don’t know how you got the team to deliver the way you did. It’s just… we need you to be more of a politician.” I felt the life drain out of me.
I had ruffled some feathers. I said “No” to the wrong person. For the first time in a long time, my performance review went from an A to a B.
I used to get B’s fairly regularly. I did my job, doing what was asked to the best of my ability. Then one day it finally sunk in: I didn’t need this job. I had enough money in the bank to fund several years’ worth of expenses. I was more confident to take risks. I challenged things, offering ideas, a better way, a faster way.
Now I had just been punished for what was once a reason for praise. I felt betrayed. It hurt in my gut.
The Day it All Went Down.
My wife Winnie was out of town visiting family, so I called. “We’ve been planning for me to quit working… How do you feel about today being that day?”
We talked and talked. And talked. A lot of people have disagreements at work, should I just man up and accept it? We thought I would quit 3 years ago, should I work 1 More Year to be safer? Could we really retire this early? It’s one thing to think you can, and another thing completely to actually do it.
They say you should sleep on a big decision, although I didn’t sleep much that night.
I understood the politics, even the specific issues that brought us to this point. I even knew how I could make improvements, resulting in much stronger relationships. I would have even been a better person for it. It’s just… I had no interest in doing so. And more importantly, I didn’t have to.
The next morning I made myself a nice breakfast, rode my bike 23 miles around the lake into the office, and had a long shower. My manager was right. I was not enjoying work anymore, and it showed. I had been too aggressive in getting things done, and stepped on toes and hurt feelings. I was impatient and quick to anger.
The time had come. I went to my manager’s office, apologized for my rude behavior the previous day, and submitted my resignation.
Coffee Dates, Questions, and More Coffee Dates…
The next week was a blur, one coffee meeting after another. I didn’t know if I was high on life for finally taking the plunge, or overdosing on caffeine. Probably both. The accountants at Starbucks were certainly confused about the surge in coffee sales.
But for so many unique conversations, the questions were surprisingly similar
“You aren’t really retiring, are you? Which company are you going to? … Are they hiring?”
No, I’m definitely retiring. We really wanted to start traveling a few years ago, but I got sucked into this project at work and we just kept finding excuses.
“You must have made a killing in the stock market! What’s your secret?”
Haha, that is really funny. We “lost” about $400k in 2008 in the Great Recession, and are just now getting back to whole. We did normal stuff, contributing the maximum amount to my 401k and our HSA, and saved the rest in a Brokerage account. We primarily invest in index funds, so our performance has just tracked that of the broader market. Interestingly enough, when you save a high percentage of income, things like investment return, inflation, interest rates, and dividend yield matter a whole lot less.
Most of our financial success can just be attributed to a high savings rate.
“Isn’t there a penalty on 401k withdrawals before Age 59.5? Plus, aren’t withdrawals taxed just like income? You’ll get murdered on taxes!”
You know, US tax law is very kind to retirees, especially ones that retire young. There are several ways to get funds out of the 401k penalty free, and for many people dividends and capital gains are taxed at 0%. I’m formulating a plan to have $3 million in income over the next 30 years, and pay absolutely ZERO dollars in tax.
It’s almost like Uncle Sam wants us to retire really young.
“Wow, that is crazy! Wait, how old are you?! You are at least 10 years younger than me and I don’t think we can ever retire?!”
Well let’s see… I just turned 38 and Winnie is 5 years my junior… Retiring in your 30’s is conceptually quite simple, albeit not easy. We made improvements in our spending until we were saving 70%+ of our income, and did so for the past decade.
If you think about it, the math makes sense. Save 50% of your income, and after 1 year you have enough saved to fund a whole years’ living expenses. Saving 70% of your income, it takes only about 9 years before your investments can pay most of your cost of living. These past 2 or 3 years, our dividends and interest have paid for all of our expenses, so I’ve just been depositing my whole paycheck into our brokerage account each month.
“Wait a second, how is it even possible to save such a high percentage?! With the mortgage and car payments, we barely manage to save anything.”
Yeah, we live in a high cost of living area. We did somewhat unconventional things in order to save.
Houses around here are pretty expensive, and after doing the math we decided that renting was much better financially. Houses have a way of surprising you with expensive maintenance or upgrades. Remember when you were telling me about how much you spent on your kitchen remodel? I didn’t say anything at the time, but that remodel cost about the same as a year of rent for us.
We were very careful about where we rented. You remember our little apartment near the University when you came over for a dinner party? We are only a block from a grocery store and weekly farmer’s market, a few blocks from the library, and a short distance to a large park. We can walk everywhere, and it is right on the bus line to work although I bike most days. It’s so convenient we don’t own a car.
We’ve easily saved $100k+ over the past 10 years by riding bicycles, walking, and taking the bus. It’s also been really kind to our waistlines.
I remember how much you loved Winnie’s beef bourguignon and home baked bread. That’s our normal daily life, eating great food at home with fresh ingredients from the Farmer’s market. The local grass fed beef, free-range eggs, and organic local and seasonal produce are fantastic. I’m certain Winnie’s cooking rivals anything you can get in a restaurant, and at 1/4 the price. That’s also why I bring my lunch to work everyday.
Really, I think we lived a much more luxurious lifestyle than many of our peers, we just did so much more efficiently.
“But without a job, what will you do about health insurance? (This was pre ACA)”
I just bought a HDHP (High Deductible Health Plan) on the open market. It’s only $233 a month. But in practice, we will probably never use it and will just pay cash. Healthcare outside the US is really affordable. I went to the hospital in Taiwan once for a chest X-ray and EKG and the bill was only $50. I think that is the price of one aspirin in the US.
When the ACA becomes law, we’ll just get a similar plan on the Health Exchange if/when we return to the United States for longer periods.
“You are just going to travel around the world, doing whatever you want whenever you want?!”
Exactly! That’s the plan. We’ll start in Mexico and go wherever the mood takes us.
Unlike a typical vacation, where you jet in and stay in a nice hotel, filling every hour with high excitement activities, we intend to travel slowly, immersing ourselves in the local culture for up to a year. We want to study local language, art, and music, eat local cuisine, and become a part of the community.
Traveling in this way can cost a lot less than a typical life in the US, and even less than our own relatively low cost of living.
“Really? How much do you think you will spend in a year?
I’m not 100% sure. I did a lot of research on this, and it was hard to find good examples of people doing long-term slow travel with clear budgets. It will cost us a lot more to travel through Europe and Australia than it will through Central America and SE Asia, but I’m not sure what the total bill will be. We are starting in Mexico instead of Paris because we know it will be under our budget, which will allow us to get used to spending instead of saving.
Along the way we can make adjustments based on investment returns, and even balance time in expensive countries with time in low-cost countries to average out our costs. If next year the stock market is through the roof, maybe we will spend the year in Western Europe. If the economy isn’t as strong, we can explore South America. We can even take advantage of currency fluctuations as we decide our next destination.
Maybe I’ll share all of our expenses on a blog to make the planning process easier for others.
“No, really. Which company are you going to? Maybe I’ll go with you.”
A Few Weeks Later… (and The Start of Our Blog)
A few weeks later, we started our blog www.GoCurryCracker.com, to answer these questions and more. Some of my coworkers made a bet, guessing how long it would be before I returned to work. Now I have to keep writing or they will think I just went to another company :)
That was over 2 years ago. We’ve since been through 6 different countries, made some incredible friends, swam with whale sharks and rescued baby turtles, studied Spanish and Mandarin, guitar and flute, oil painting and jewelry making, climbed volcanoes, biked around entire countries, witnessed incredible sunrises and sunsets… and decided to have a baby!
I’ve continued to study the concept of Financial Independence and Early Retirement. You can do a lot of thinking when you have the time. I’ve hacked the US tax code and now plan to Never Pay Taxes Again, and put together a fool-proof way for anyone to Retire 20% Faster.
When we were ready to have a baby, we used our location independence to our advantage. We were able to save 80% off US prices for our IVF treatment, a great example of Medical Tourism. When our son is about 6 months old and ready to don his own little backpack, we’ll hit the road again.
I have no idea how we ever had time for jobs!
– Jeremy (and Winnie)
UPDATE: Jeremy and Winnie’s story just landed all over the internet starting at Forbes.com and onto the front pages of Yahoo and MSN and more… About time everyone catches on! Who’s article is better? ;)
PS: Looking back, the journey to financial independence was longer than it should have been, and more difficult than it needed to be. Most unfortunate of all was continuing to work in a job I no longer enjoyed out of fear; fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of failure. Unfortunate because anybody with the fortitude to save and invest a high percentage of income for many years can overcome any problem that comes his or her way.
By the way, what was in my Retirement email that caused so much excitement in the first place?
See for yourself:
From: Go Curry Cracker <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: for the tldr crowd. Rated R. I’m retiring
Date: October 3, 2012 at 2:16:40 PM GMT+8
To: Company – All
My last day at work is Oct 5th. I plan to take a few months to decompress, after which I intend to do absolutely nothing.
As I began explaining my future plans to a few friends, I found that I was having the same conversation over and over again. It seems the idea of just doing nothing is a bit difficult to grasp, since it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. To save myself time answering Frequently Asked Questions, I decided to film one of these conversations to share with others.
Unhappy with the quality of the film, I hired paid actors. Playing the role of me is Samuel L. Jackson. Playing the role of you is John Travolta. Enjoy.
If you are offended by foul language and adult themes, or otherwise disinclined to participate in activities HR may disapprove of, do NOT click on this link. You have been warned.