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How to Retire in Your 30s With $1

Million in the Bank

By Steven Kurutz,
Setembro 1º, 2018

Fed up with their high-pressure jobs, some millennials are quitting and
embracing the FIRE movement. (It stands for nancial independence, retire

Carl Jensen is 44. He retired in 2017.

Foto de: Ross Taylor for The New York Times

Carl Jensen experienced what he calls “the awakening” sometime around


He was a software engineer in a suburb of Denver, writing code for a

medical device. The job was high-pressure: He had to document every step
for the Food and Drug Administration, and a coding error could lead to
harm or death for patients.

Mr. Jensen was making about $110,000 a year and had bene ts, but the
stress hardly seemed worth it. He couldn’t unwind with his family after
work; he spent days huddled over the toilet. He lost 10 pounds.

After one especially brutal workday, Mr. Jensen Googled “How do I retire
early?” and his eyes were opened. He talked to his wife and came up with a
plan: They saved a sizable portion of their income over the next ve years
and drastically reduced expenses, until their net worth was around $1.2

On Tuesday, March 10, 2017, Mr. Jensen called his boss and gave notice after
15 years at the company. He wasn’t quitting, exactly. He had retired. He was

Hacking Your Way to Retirement

Although Mr. Jensen’s story may seem exceptional, a more modest version
of the stockbroker who makes a killing on Wall Street and sails o to the
Caribbean, he is part of a growing movement of young professionals who
are intently focused on quitting their jobs forever.

Millennials especially have embraced this so-called FIRE movement — the

acronym stands for nancial independence, retire early — seeing it as a way
out of soul-sucking, time-stealing work and an economy fueled by

Followers of FIRE tend to be male and work in the tech industry, left-
brained engineer-types who geek out on calculating compound interest
over 40 years, or the return on investment (R.O.I.) on low-fee index funds
versus real estate rentals.

[[Could FIRE work for you? Find out.]]

Indeed, much of the conversation around FIRE, on Reddit message boards
or blogs like Mr. Money Mustache, revolves around hacking one’s nances:
strategies for increasing your savings rate to the hallowed 70 percent, tips
for cheap travel through airline rewards cards, ways to save nickels and
dimes at the grocery store.

Some practice “lean FIRE” (extreme frugality), others “fat FIRE”

(maintaining a more typical standard of living while saving and investing),
and still others “barista FIRE” (working part-time at Starbucks after retiring,
for the company’s health insurance). To be “ ring” is to slash one’s
expenses to maximize saving while amassing income-generating
investments su cient to support oneself. To have “ red” is to have
achieved that goal.

“A lot of people think you’re a new-age hippie,” said Mr. Jensen, who sold
his four-bedroom, four-bathroom house, downsized to a more modest
home and maxed-out retirement accounts while ring. “They can’t even
wrap their minds around it.”

Let's stay home.

Foto de: Ross Taylor for The New York Times

In retirement, Mr. Jensen and his wife and two daughters plan to live on
roughly $40,000 a year generated from investments. Because his wife
currently works, they have yet to draw on those accounts. But already, it’s a
life rich on time but short on luxuries: Groceries are bought at Costco, car
and home repairs are done by him.

“People always assume there’s an external circumstance: ‘Oh, you must

have received an inheritance,’” Mr. Jensen said. “We’ve just chosen to live
far below our means. That itself is a radical idea.”

Equally radical is opting out of the work force in your 30s or early 40s, a
time of life when men and women are normally leaning into their careers,
or, less happily, enduring the daily grind to pay the bills until Social Security
kicks in.

How does all of this really work?

Meet the FIRE folks.
Your Questions About FIRE, Answered
Readers had lots of questions about our recent story about the FIRE
movement ( nancial independence, retire early). Here are some answers.
Sept. 11, 2018
Jason Long, a pharmacist in rural Tennessee who retired last year at the ripe
old age of 38, said his father had a hard time understanding why Mr. Long
couldn’t continue to work and collect his $150,000 salary.

But Mr. Long said he was deeply unhappy in his job, where over his career
he witnessed drug costs skyrocketing, sick people battling with health
insurers and the over-prescription of opioids and the resulting addiction
crisis. His customers, angry, confused, nancially stretched, often lashed
out at the person behind the counter.

“There were days when I had 12- or 14-hour shifts where I didn’t use the
restroom, where I didn’t eat, because so much work was piled up on me,”
Mr. Long said.

Like Mr. Jensen, he had been saving a sizable portion of his income over the
past decade, and he and his wife had a paid-for house and an investment
portfolio worth a little more than $1 million. Why stick around?
“The reality is the numbers are there for me,” Mr. Long said. “To go to a job
that’s making you miserable every day, it doesn’t make sense to pad the
bank account at that point.”

Why These Millennials Hate Work

Quitting the rat race isn’t a new concept. From the Shakers of the 1700s to
the back-to-the-land hippies of the 1960s and ’70s, a strain of Americans has
always embraced simple living. One of the bibles of the FIRE movement,
“Your Money or Your Life,” which teaches readers to reduce their spending
and value time (or “life energy”) over material gain, was published in 1992.

But Vicki Robin, who wrote that nancial guide with Joe Dominguez, said
the FIRE crowd is a di erent breed of dropout than those in the ’90s. “Our
aim was not just to have a whole bunch of people quit their jobs,” Ms.
Robin said. “Our aim was to lower consumption to save the planet. We
attracted longtime simple-living people, religious people,

The FIRE adherents are, by contrast, “very numbers oriented, fascinated by

the minutiae of taxes and accounting,” Ms. Robin said.

They are also bene ting from a lengthy bull run in the stock market and, in
some cases, the privilege of class, race, gender and background. It’s di cult
to retire at 40 if you work a minimum-wage job, say, or have crushing
student-loan debt, or did not have the same opportunities as others because
you grew up poor in a crime-ridden neighborhood.
After one especially brutal workday, Mr. Jensen Googled “How do I retire early?”
Foto de: Ross Taylor for The New York Times

But if, as Ms. Robin said, FIRE adherents “don’t have the aspirational part”
of earlier generations, why are they so determined to quit the work force?
Many millennials haven’t been working longer than a decade, if that.

It’s about having agency, Ms. Robin said: “The worker in this economy has
very little sense of control over their existence. People are expendable.
You’re a young person and you look ahead and you say, ‘What’s there for

That accurately describes how Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung felt. The
married couple from Toronto became minor celebrities (and the target of
online haters) when they retired from their tech jobs in 2015 to travel the
world full time. They were in their early 30s at the time.

Ms. Shen’s wake-up moment came when she watched a fellow I.T. colleague
collapse at his desk after clocking 14-hour days and get hauled away in an
ambulance. For several years before that, she and Mr. Leung, following the
path laid out by their parents, had tried to buy a house in Toronto’s ever-
escalating real estate market.

But, Ms. Shen said, “It didn’t matter how much you saved, it was a goal post
that kept moving. And I was seeing people stressed out paying their

Though they had good educations and well-paying jobs in the booming
tech sector, Ms. Shen and Mr. Leung faced the looming threats of
outsourcing and arti cial intelligence, and had no hope of a retirement
pension, or even that their employers would exist in ve years.

At the same time, their jobs were all-consuming, their work hours basically
24-7. Rather than chain themselves to a costly mortgage, and therefore to
high-pressure jobs, the couple decided to pour their money into an
investment portfolio and peace out.

“The rule books our parents have given us is advice that’s perfect for 1970,”
Ms. Shen said. “We have to throw out that rule book and write a new one.”

Mr. Leung spoke of the challenges his generation faces more bluntly. “We
don’t have jobs that will take care of us,” he said. “We have to take care of

Go Where It’s Cheap

By ditching a big city, Ms. Shen and Mr. Leung exemplify another
underlying reason for the popularity of FIRE: the high price of urban life,
especially in places like New York and Southern California. There’s the
insane housing prices, the high cost of child care, the temptations of so-
called lifestyle creep.
“We were spending nearly $3,000 a month on rent, and that was considered
a good deal,” said Scott Rieckens, 35, who, along with his wife, Taylor, 33,
and their infant daughter until recently lived in Coronado, Calif., a pricey
beach town across the bay from San Diego. “We made something like
$160,000 between the two of us, but we didn’t have a whole lot left over.”

After hearing a podcast interview with Mr. Money Mustache, a.k.a., Pete
Adeney, who The New Yorker called “the Frugal Guru” (he retired at 30),
Mr. Rieckens became red up. He told his wife they should ditch their
leased BMW and quit eating out several nights a week.

But even with those lifestyle cuts, the couple couldn’t increase their savings
rate substantially unless they relocated to a cheaper community, a
deleveraging tactic the FIRE crowd calls “arbitrage.”

The idea, Mr. Adeney said, is “to reap the high salary” of a place like Silicon
Valley, “then take that nest egg out to any of the thousands of nice,
a ordable cities and towns we have in this country and begin a second
stage of life on your own terms.”
Scott and Taylor Rieckens, who moved from California to Oregon.
Foto de: Leah Nash for The New York Times

Ms. Rieckens, who works in recruiting, was initially reluctant to give up her
BMW and beachy life and the prestige that went with it, until she saw a
retirement calculator that showed they could retire in 10 years if they
adopted FIRE and moved, or when they are 90 if they continued their
upscale lifestyle in Coronado.

“I never paid attention to the nances, I thought it will all work out,” Ms.
Rieckens said. “After I had a baby, I had stress around how I could spend
more time with her. I was almost a slave to my job because of the way we
were living.”

Last year, the couple left Southern California in search of a community that
would give them more nancial freedom, a journey Mr. Rieckens, formerly
a creative director for a creative agency, is chronicling in a documentary,
“Playing With FIRE.”
They ended up in Bend, Ore., where there’s no state sales tax and they
could a ord to buy a house. Gas for their used Honda CRV with 186,000
miles (they got rid of the BMW and downsized to one vehicle) is a dollar-
per-gallon cheaper than in San Diego, although Mr. Rieckens often rides his
bike around town.

“The whole retire early thing is unimportant to me. It’s more about gaining
control of your time,” Mr. Rieckens said. “If you dive into the de nition of
retirement, what you’re retiring from is mandatory labor. It’s not
necessarily about piña coladas on the beach.”

When You Retire Before Your Parents

A retirement that starts well before you go gray and lasts 40, 50 even 60
years is an anomaly in modern life. How do you ll all those days, months,

On a recent weekday afternoon, Mr. Jensen was taking his two daughters,
ages 8 and 11, to the Boulder County Fair. “I told them, ‘O.K., we’re going to
wait until Thursday for half-price day,’” he said. “And by the way, we’re
walking there. It’s two miles from our house.”

Fearing boredom, Mr. Jensen at rst took on way too much, and he found it
strange to be at the local rec center exercising alongside senior citizens, or
shopping at empty big-box stores on a Tuesday. He also beat his own
mother to retirement, which made for awkward family get-togethers.

But one year in, he has settled into his life of leisure, enjoying time spent
raising his daughters, making sure they never see him vegging in front of
the TV. Mr. Jensen also practices an activity that for many FIRE achievers
seems to be the new golf: writing a nancial advice blog.
Other FIRE retirees turned bloggers include Early Retirement Dude; the
husband and wife behind Our Next Life; the Frugalwoods, a young married
couple with children, who wrote a book about their transformation from
suburban Boston high earners to retired Vermont homesteaders; and Ms.
Shen and Mr. Leung, who when not traveling the world are calling for a
Millennial Revolution (“Stop working, start living”).

It’s hardly surprising that a tech-savvy generation would proselytize on the

internet. Also, blogging can provide the holy grail of early retirement, an
additional income stream.

Mr. Rieckens at home.

Foto de: Leah Nash for The New York Times

Perhaps Mr. Long, the pharmacist in rural Tennessee, has given the most
detailed, thoughtful account of someone who has red. In a series of posts
to Reddit’s nancial independence message board, Mr. Long chronicled
with dry wit and self-e acement his rst year in retirement.
One month into FIRE, he wrote of the guilt he felt spending money (on
video games), and his concern that he would be over his household budget.
He spent his days with family, at the gym, doing housework, exercising. He
had no regrets so far: “I made the right decision. This is life.”

In the second month, Mr. Long reported a 2.8 percent increase to his
portfolio over the rst two months, even after living expenses, and listed
his accomplishments as more reading, more cooking, volunteering and
“faster Rubik’s cube solves.” Stress levels were way down, he wrote: “A
friend of mine said the sense of dread from my face was gone.”

In the months that followed, he rewatched the mini-series “Roots,” lost all
interest in talk of FIRE now that he had achieved it, feared a looming stock
market crash, had nightmares that “I’m back at work and arguing with
morons,” nished a marathon in a personal best sub-three hours, felt
moments of social isolation, took a two-week road trip across the heartland,
and went twice to the beach in Florida with his wife and watched their net
worth reach its highest point, despite not working, which he attributed to
“the passage of the tax cut for wealthy job creators like myself.”

Oh, and he started a blog.

“My life is so much better than it was before,” Mr. Long wrote seven
months in. “I hope everyone here nds this peace.”

Speaking by phone, Mr. Long acknowledged it was possible that he’d simply
burned out, that all of this FIRE stu was just a needed break until he found
a more satisfying career. When he was recently o ered a job back in the
pharmaceutical eld, it induced a mild panic attack.

That morning, he’d woken up on his own, “not when an alarm clock told
me that I had a responsibility.” He’d read the news online for 30 minutes,
went on a seven-mile run, took a nap and “watched the ceiling fan spin
around for a little bit.”
He had been watching the movies from They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? a
website that ranks what it calls the 1,000 greatest lms. He’d watched 600 or
so. He had work to do.

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