We got a comment on the million dollar club page a while back that I thought was pretty interesting … so I dug a little deeper and found a cool story to share.
Below is the original note, followed by my nosy questions and the replies (with edits for length and clarity).
Great tips and information here that might help you on your own path to hitting $1M!
We got to $1 million (as a couple) around 2015 after about a decade of focus. Our maximum after-tax salary after 15 years in the job was only about $100k combined.
How did we get there — when in 2001 I had $50 in my bank after arriving in Sydney with only what fit into my backpack? It was a slow start, as I had to get my AU degree to be able to stay in the country. We have managed to retire at 43 and are now full-time parents to our toddler twin boys.
1) frugality (don’t buy it if you don’t need it), used furniture, used cars…
2) no debt ever (except mortgage)
3) reasonable pay but nothing special (as an accountant working in public sector)
4) great wife (also frugal and on the same page)
5) house hacking (housemates, subletting, multiple occupancies..)
6) leverage (you pay only 20% deposit for house but you get all the capital appreciation)
7) sensible investment in index funds
8) no gambling, no lotteries, no Bitcoin, no “special investment tips,” there is no easy money for 99% of us
9) we were lucky enough to live in rich country (Australia) with not much of a hard time on our way toward 1mil. Not everyone is so lucky.
Dude!!! You rocked up to Australia with only 50 bucks and a backpack of clothes!!? That’s crazy! Can you share the backstory and how old you were and stuff?
I was just out of university and had done one year of work in Prague. I was 26 when I arrived. I actually arrived with about $800, having paid for accommodation for a month and for a business college course for about 7 months.
It was just after the Olympics and there were no jobs in Sydney in early 2001. I had a master’s degree under my belt but I couldn’t find even any shelf-stacking or dishwashing jobs. It took me a month to find my first job in Sydney … washing dishes at Taco Bell, where I stayed about 3 months until I “upgraded” to stacking shelves in a supermarket. That $50 net worth relates to my bank statement a month after my arrival. It was just before I got my first paycheck from Taco Bell. Uff that was close. Actually I owed about $3,000 to my mum, who helped me pull off the Ozy trip. I paid her back by the end of the year. So my net wealth at that point was actually negative.
Awesome you had no debt. How did you pay for university? I know AUS and USA have different prices and payment programs … What was it like for you?
Ok. First I will start with my studies back in Prague. I had completed my Bachelor and Master of Commerce. It took about 5 years. I was lucky that my parents covered food and accommodation, and my casual jobs covered discretionary spending (most of that was of course beer). Universities were free in the Czech Republic in the 1990s. So I finished the degree without any student debt.
In Sydney, I had prepaid about 7 months of Business College. After a year or so I decided I would love to stay in Australia, and one of the ways to stay permanently was to complete the Australian University degree. It was about $20,000 for me to get the degree. I asked mum if she would lend me half. She did but of course a couple of years later I had to pay her back.
Luckily any other kind of debt was not common when I was growing up in the 90s in my country. So I never really had a credit card, personal loan, car loan or store cards. Cash was king and I never could understand, what’s the point of borrowing money when you have to pay it back with interest? I did not buy anything until I had the money ready. That made my life a bit easier. It still does. I was poor student but I did not get pushed around by the debt payments.
I hear real estate in Sydney is wicked expensive. Can you share your approx house figures? And how much did house hacking save you?
This is a complex question because of various house hacks we did. Rough answer is a few hundred thousand. At the beginning I just shared a room with a roommate. Later on I got the lease of the flat in my name and made sure that the other 3 rooms were rented out, the place was furnished and my sharemates and landlord were happy. That gave me free room for myself because the sharemates just about covered the rent and bills.
At one point we tried to sublet other apartments for a small cash flow. We used to rent a flat unfurnished, buy second-hand furniture and then sublet it — by room — usually to international students who stayed 3-6 months. After paying rent and bills we used to be couple of hundred bucks ahead. Also we were giving students safe, clean, furnished, flexible rent places in a great location.
Once we finished our degrees and got full time jobs about a year later, we bought our first flat. The living room was so big that we subdivided it and made a 3rd bedroom ready for students. I was making about $36k, wife similar, and the place was $395k in about 2005. That was heaps of money, and the students were a crucial part of the plan to cut stress with the mortgage. Due to this we were able to save up a deposit for another flat nearby in a year or so. Then we got one more.
After that we sold the first place for small profit (about $50k) and bought a house ($665k). The house was old but in a good location, and previous owners made an accommodation downstairs for their daughter. We of course used that area for students and later for a long-term rental. Yes it was like having a duplex and there were occasionally noise problems, but it beats getting a second job, in my mind.
Eventually we wanted to cut our mortgage debt (which at one point exceeded $1mil) so we sold both remaining flats. That might not have been the best decision on my part (wife wanted to keep them – smart woman) because markets powered ahead and they would be worth almost double what we got for them. Also transactional costs are high in Australia. Transfer (stamp) duty, agent fees and legal would be in vicinity of 10% of the property value.
Now we live semiretired (at 43 in my case) on the beautiful Sunshine Coast in South East Queensland. The property has about 10000sqm and 2 houses. So yes, more house hacking because we are letting out the second house to a very nice teacher. I write about house hacking more in detail in couple of my posts.
I gotta say, my favorite thing on your first list was #8… “no gambling, no lotteries, no Bitcoin, no “special investment tips,” there is no easy money for 99% of us.” Have you ever made a bad investment or lost money along the way? What happened during the global financial crisis? Did you just stay the course and keep investing?
Well first I would like to say that gambling and lotteries only look like good opportunities if you’re bad at math! Saving and investing takes time but works for 90% of people.
The financial crisis actually impacted us positively because the first house we bought was originally on the market for $780k, but we were able to buy it for $665k. Probably our worst decision was to sell the flats. The first sale was fine because we upgraded to the house. But selling the second and third flats was not a wise financial decision. But to be honest we are currently in quite a sweet spot and who knows where we would be if we had not sold the units. So even mistakes can still take you to the desired goal.
After we sold the units I got a bit risk-averse and we have not been investing for 6-7 years (except a bit of ETFs). Luckily we went quite hard in my early 30s. Most people get more risk averse as they grow older, and that stops them (or slows them down) from getting ahead.
I checked out your blog, why 9 to 5? How far along in your FIRE journey were you when you took your sabbatical? What financial impact did taking time off work have?
We took sabbatical about 4 years before retiring. In Australia many employers will let you take 3 months of long service leave after 10 years and often also let you take a portion of it if you have served at least 7 years. So actually at the time of the sabbatical, my wife got paid for 5 months from long service and annual leave. Me too, but I had to use 1 month of unpaid leave. Also we were debt free (including no mortgage) and still some money coming from our housemates. So no financial issue at all. When I returned to work, I was moved to new duties and my salary got nicely upgraded!
I thought of sabbatical as dealing with the standard mid-life crisis (I was 39) and I haven’t found a reason why people should not take it if they can.
Huge congrats on passing the $1M mark! And thanks for spreading the word about FIRE and helping others. Anything else you want to add?
My main goal with my blog is to spread the word. FIRE is reasonably easy in most first-world countries, but it seems to be only a little bit popular in the US, not much in Australia at all and unheard of in places like South Korea or Japan. I think it is great if someone loves their job and wants to do it forever (as long as they spend time with the family). But they say about 70% of workers don’t like their jobs (my wife and I were in that group).
By spreading the word, we can give extra options to these people — aside from the lottery. We all live only once. It is sad to see the majority of people doing things they don’t want to just to put bread on the table. You can spend your time doing what you don’t want or doing what you like. Rarely both.
Mr. Why 9 to 5 retired at 43 and lives in Sunshine Coast, Australia! He likes to surf and hang out with his wife and twin boys. He writes about his FIRE lifestyle at Why9to5?