My Version Of Financial Independence As A 17 Year Old

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Half a lifetime ago I developed a financial independence plan before I knew anything about financial independence and early retirement.  My 17 year old self scribbled out a poorly refined plan to never work again and live off of savings from a minimum wage job.  The bottom line: I thought I needed $120,000 to fund a perfectly adequate lifestyle forever by living on $600 per month in interest.

The year was 1997, the place was North Carolina in the wonderful United States of America.  The federal poverty level back in 1997 was $657 per month, which meant that I was planning on living below the poverty line (before I even knew what a poverty line was).

 

My First Financial Independence Plan

My rough plan as I originally sketched it out on the back of a napkin:

  • Save up $120,000 by working extra shifts at a minimum wage job (you get paid time and a half for overtime!)
  • Invest the $120,000 at my credit union in a CD earning 6% interest
  • Earn $600 per month ($7,200 per year) from that CD
  • Live on $600 per month forever

How could I live on $600 per month?  Easy!  Rent a three bedroom apartment and get my two best friends to move in with me so we can split the rent and utilities three ways.  Having my two best friends living with me would also mean plenty of free entertainment in the comfort of my own home.  And we could split video game purchases three ways, too.

I had a rough idea of utility costs and an exact idea of rental prices thanks to those free Apartment Finder books at the grocery store.  The other budget items were educated guesses based on my 17 year old self’s consumption habits.  Groceries meant frozen pizzas and tater tots.  Entertainment included video games and computer games, coffees at the independent coffee shop near the university, fast food with friends, used paperback books, playing pool at the pool hall and everything else 17 year olds bought in 1997.

Gas was about a buck.  Taco Bell still had decent menu items under a buck.  Times were good as a 17 year old.  To put costs in perspective, a dollar in 1997 buys $1.46 worth of stuff today.  Or put another way, a $1 burrito today would only set you back $0.69 in 1997.

 

The perfect budget for a 17 year old

From my vague recollection, here’s the monthly budget I developed for the future adult me (try not to laugh):

  • Housing – $200 ($600 rent split three ways)
  • Utilities – $50 ($150 split three ways)
  • Groceries – $100
  • Car and gas – $50
  • Dining out / Entertainment – $100
  • Miscellaneous – $100 (pretty clever of 17 year old me to include some wiggle room!)

That comes to a grand total of $600 per month ($876 in 2015 dollars) to live in my own totally awesome bachelor pad with my totally awesome best friends and drive my very own totally sweet car and do anything that I could imagine as a 17 year old.  Pretty avant-garde stuff.

 

What crazy ideas will these three develop by age 17?

What crazy ideas will these three develop by age 17?

 

The perfect FI plan, deconstructed

Ah, the misguided plans of my youth.  At 17, I figured I wouldn’t need to go to college because it wouldn’t take that long working extra shifts at my minimum wage job to save up the $120,000 required to fund a lifetime of Cheeto-fueled video gaming.  Yep, that’s the mind of 17 year old me.

I also had a dream of moving to rural Mexico and growing my own beans at my little finca in the countryside and surviving on the rough.  I blame the Guide to Mexico I ordered for free through my parents’ AAA Auto Club membership plus whatever classic lit they made us read in high school English class.

Moving to Mexico to become a farmer is a worse idea than retiring on $120,000 here in the US.  However, dreams of Mexico led me and the future Mrs. RoG on an interesting six week odyssey through Mexico once we were in college.  Although I never grew a single bean while there.  Mrs. RoG doesn’t even like beans, so staying in North Carolina was probably a good move for our marriage.

Back to my $120,000 FI plan.  Would it work?  No, probably not for a number of reasons:

I failed to account for inflation.  If I earned 6% in a CD and spent all of that interest each year, then the $120,000 would lose its purchasing power over time.  I would have to reinvest 2-3% of the interest to counteract the impact of inflation.  Or invest in something that pays a better return (like stocks!) that tends to keep up with inflation.

My $120,000 nest egg in 1997 has the same purchasing power as $82,200 today.  Phrased another way, I would need $876 today to live as well as I could have on $600 per month in 1997.

I didn’t account for taxes.  Who knew you had to pay taxes as an adult?  Go figure.  In this case, $7,200 wouldn’t incur any federal tax but I might have owed a small amount of state tax in some years.  With such a small budget, losing even a few hundred dollars per year would be rough.

I didn’t account for lifestyle inflation.  This is really where I would have failed.  At 17, the world is your oyster.  I was single, unattached, and full of piss and vinegar (to borrow a line from John Steinbeck).  As it turns out, adults do things like get married, have kids, and buy houses with yards.  Those things cost money.

But there are also benefits to growing up and getting married.  Spouses bring a second income to the household.

I didn’t budget for replacement costs.   I didn’t even budget for purchasing a house since I included $200 for rent.  But once I bought a house, it became an ongoing liability.  Appliances, the HVAC, the roof, and exterior finishes occasionally need replacing.  I figured out I needed to budget around $1,500 per year to cover a routine replacement program for my house.

Cars don’t last forever either.  I figure another $1,000 per year to replace a worn out car with a new(er) car.  As you can tell, 17 year old me didn’t think years into the future to budget for routine things like car replacement or major house maintenance.

I ignored important costs like healthcare and dental care.  At 17, we’re invincible.  As we get older, we need the occasional check up for our bodies and teeth.  Once the invincibility wears off, we can get sick and our teeth might decay.

 

How close was I?

In terms of expenses, my $7,200 per year budget would be $10,500 per year today.  Let’s be generous and assume we each combined our $10,500 FI income streams once we got married.

$21,000 wouldn’t afford us the lifestyle we enjoy today.  In fact, we would have to make some very serious sacrifices to get to that level of spending like move to a much smaller house in a crappier neighborhood.  Next we would cut vacation spending and switch out fresh veggies and fruits for more ramen and beans.  No thanks.  I’ll stick with our $32,400 per year retirement budget!

 

Ignoring my 17 year old self

I’m pretty fortunate that I never executed on my plan to skip college and room with my best friends and scrape by on $600 per month.  That would have grown old pretty quickly.  Eventually my friends would move on with their lives, leaving me to fill my apartment with strangers for roommates or admit defeat and get a real job.

That initial hastily sketched financial independence plan gave me a very loose outline of how early retirement and financial independence is feasible for a regular person like me.

The bigger lesson is to think and dream big, and refine those dreams as you gain experience and wisdom.  Lucky for me, I never abandoned the sense of exploration from boyhood.  Nor did I abandon the desire to live differently and achieve financial independence – the ultimate freedom.

 

 

I’m looking for the most revolutionary money idea you came up with as a kid.  OK, go!  

 

 

photo credit: Kevin Thai @ flickr

51 comments

  • My early, early version of an earlier retirement plan was centered around the idea of living on a boat. More specifically, of DIY converting some smallish (and cheap!) cabin put-put so I could live in it. You can just imagine the horrified expression on my rooming house landlady’s face when I actually had such a boat brought onto her parking lot so I could work on it. THAT didn’t go so well. I guess my idea was too “revolutionary” for her.

    Later, I actually bought and lived on a 28-foot sailboat. So I can say I did try to actualize my plan. But that didn’t go so well, either.

    Let’s just say I’m much happier being earlier retired in a comfortable house.

    • The sailboat idea hit me somewhere between age 17 and today. Like growing beans on little farm in Mexico, the living on a sailboat idea never took root. But who knows what the future holds, right? 🙂

      I think it was reading the Bumfuzzle blog that first introduced me to boat-living. And they even have kids (though seemed to be more land-based once the kids came along).

  • I love that you had a plan for financial independence at that young age! I’ve always been frugal, but at that age, it never even occurred to me that a person could retire early.

    • I don’t think I would have called it a financial independence / retire early plan back then. The plan was motivated purely by laziness, and arose out of a desire to maximize my lifetime ratio of video game playing to work. 🙂

  • Yes, there were lots of reasons the 17 plan didn’t pan out. AND YET, with a few minor adjustments and refinement, your plan has worked and you are living it. Great job!

    While my plan is still a work in progress, it’s roots included inspiration from reading books by Louis Bromfield, and Scott and Helen Nearing. It began to take form after reading Charles Long’s How to Survive without a Salary, and Paul Terhorst’s Cashing in on the American Dream, How to Retire at 35, and later Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin. At one point, it became a plan to take six months off to live in Mexico, funded by about $50,000 savings then earning a double digit interest rate. Later, the plan was to sell our house and use the proceeds for a small farm with older house (in the 80s, Midwest farms became very cheap – by now that would have been a great investment), to pay it off, to save a hundred thousand or so in 401k, and then to earn land rent, work parttime, and let the retirement account grow. The plans weren’t carried out, derailed in part due to a partner with different goals. But they also didn’t go away, and while I’m rapidly approaching the age when retirement isn’t early anymore, the plan is still there, changing and morphing at times, but still there and ever closer. And one day it will fall in place and work – doubtless different but still a legacy of the earlier plans.
    I very much enjoy your posts and also enjoyed your RPF interview. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for sharing your journey, Jeff. The awesome thing about working toward financial independence is the fact that you can redefine goals as you go along, but the progress is still there in the form of dollars in your bank account or investment account.

  • That’s pretty awesome. I love that you had it all mapped out. And, it’s pretty neat that you had the inkling back then that you’d want to live a life outside of the ordinary.

    I had quite a few ridiculous schemes/ideas as a kid, but the worst was definitely when I was 6 years old and hatched the plan to sell my parents things they already owned. I’d go around the house collecting what I thought were valuables and then put price tags on them and attempt to hold a sale. Surprisingly, I never made any money from this venture… 😉

    • Yeah, you have to wait to inherit all those things before you can tag em and sell them! 🙂

      I’m glad I thought like I did back in high school. It led me to continue on to college and pick a major with a reasonably good entry level salary. Although in hindsight, I should have picked electrical engineering or computer science since I think those majors offered starting salaries closer to $60-66k back in 2001 compared to $40k for civil engineering.

  • In HS I used to perform a similar “how much do I need to retire?” calculations. I had hire “aspirations” than I do now with fancier cars and a big house. So my number I needed 10 years ago is higher than what I calculate I need now from what I remember. Interest rates were not that high when I was in HS, but I used 7% returns as my basis for returns in the stock market. Probably at that time I also thought I would be trading my own stock portfolio to earn those returns 😉

  • Great story. Reminds me of when I lived on beans and rice for four months. Spent less than 100 dollars overall. Fun experiment but out of touch with reality. Thanks for sharing.

  • That’s really neat that you already had plans on FI when you’re that young. Just shows that planning is very important. Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re welcome! I guess it’s kind of weird for a 17 year old to think about FI but, hey, it worked out well for me. Sometimes different is better.

  • I wanted to be a stock broker. I job shadowed at one point and realized it was sales, not finance, so I decided Wall Street was a better fit for me. While in college I visited NYC and found out about the 100 hour work weeks for the new analysts. Corporate finance it was (and still is)!

    I never thought about getting out, only making a lot of money.

    • Ruling out careers that you wouldn’t like is just as important as figuring out what you DO want to do. Good thing you had the chance to see what a few careers would have been like before making a choice.

  • At least you new the direction you wanted to go. You started with building the foundation to your SOP. Now after a few iterations you ultimately made it to financial independence.

    Good work my friend.

    • I think that’s the key – starting with the right mindset of building wealth helps to reach that goal, even if the original plans to gain wealth were foolhardy!

  • I didn’t think about FI until I started working. I did have dreams of owning a mansion, fancy cars, fancy clothes when I was a kid. Now, not so much. I have learned that things don’t make me that much happier.

    • I used to want to own a castle. Now that I realize how much it would take to maintain such a large piece of real estate, it doesn’t sound very fun. I’d rather work less and keep housing costs more moderate.

  • Hahaha, great story!

    Yes, your 17-year-old idea of early retirement may seem like a joke now, but hey, you had some sort of plan didn’t you? You also had a remote idea of investing and financial planning, which is FAR more of a clue than I had at 17 years old.

    But it is funny to think back to our mindsets when we were younger. I found a letter from my 12-year-old self recently where I explained that my biggest dream was to own a candy shop. Now, I hardly even eat candy. Ha!

  • At least you had a plan.

    • Ha ha, true enough! I guess I could have ended up as a 25 year old with $120,000 in CD’s and 2 layabout roommates who never chipped in their fair share for groceries.

      Which is exactly $120,000 richer than many 25 year olds. 🙂

  • Somehow I ended up in a corporate gig, but I’ve always enjoyed the hustle.

    I owned a lawn care company, sold car audio equipment that I bought wholesale, and on Valentine’s Day I would set up a stand in a local shopping center with balloons, stuffed animals and other items and usually pocket a couple thousand over 48 hours.

    • Awesome side hustles! I might have to let the kids set up a Valentine’s day booth in our driveway and see if they can snap up a few thousand $ in 48 hours.

  • You found some flaws in your early plan for FI that weren’t so obvious to you at the time. What are you doing now to ensure you don’t see the same type of oversights in your current plan when you look back at the blog in the year 2030?

    • Some basics, like watching the portfolio value, watching our spending compared to our budget, and watching inflation rates.

      In 15 years, I’ll be 49, the youngest kid will be graduating from high school in a couple of months, and the oldest 2 kids will be finished with college. Life will be very very different in 15 years. So I’m keeping an eye on the big picture and planning on enjoying the ride. Maybe things go really bad and I go back to work, but probably not!

      I’ll also add that I spent around 15 years refining the FIRE plan between age 17 and age 33, so it wasn’t without a lot of planning and forethought. I’m also open to new ideas or new data that could change my mind on what the most optimal course of action is. This blog is also a great source to get people to call me on my BS if I’m doing something that doesn’t make sense or is wrong. And I learn new things here and elsewhere online to help me optimize my finances and lifestyle even more.

  • The interesting thing is…I think people who are thinking about financial independence at 17 are the ones who are much more likely to actually achieve it, even if their initial plan is seriously flawed.

    • You got it. It’s the general mindset that tends to lead to FI and not necessarily having every detail nailed down when you start the plan.

      It’s like starting with investing. You don’t have to be an expert to put your first $3000 into a vanguard index fund or open an IRA with that amount of $. Even saving $3000 in cash underneath your mattress or in a 0% checking account is better than blowing it all because “you don’t know how to invest”.

  • At least you had a plan at 17 and were thinking about your finances and your future. I remember focusing on getting in to college, chasing girls, driving my hideous cream colored 1978 Dodge Diplomat, and figuring out who would actually sell me alcohol with my terrible fake ID.

    At that age, we were young and inexperienced in the ways of the world – wouldn’t have traded them for all the money in the world.

  • I want to see that napkin!! Upload it here 🙂

  • Eesh, I don’t think I even considered retirement when I was growing up. People in my family work until they just can’t anymore. Partially due to the difficult economy where most of my family lives (rural area = few jobs and even fewer ones that pay well).

    I knew I would live carefully. My mom raised me to be frugal. But I guess I just assumed I would work the normal amount of time and save while I worked. I couldn’t have told you what kinds of retirement accounts there were, even.

    This is why we need financial education in schools.

    • I’m not sure if I knew what an IRA was at age 17 or why anyone would even want to contribute to one. I think around 17 is when I first discovered that taxes must be paid on income.

  • I had some crazy money schemes as a teenager, too. The craziest was living at home for a couple years after college so I could bank all my real job income and buy a house in cash. Crazy because I never could’ve kept living at my parents and in fact moved out at 17. It’s funny that some people seem naturally inclined to think this way and we end up as PF bloggers! That Walden except you read in American Lit. about spending less so you can work less really got to me, too.

    • I read Walden (or parts of it anyway) and didn’t appreciate it the first time around. I’ll have to put it on the re-read list!

      I remember reading Walden Too (a punny sequel to Thoreau’s original Walden) by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. In that book, he explores a supposedly utopian society that intentionally focuses on having ample leisure time and has a social structure that doesn’t require 40 hour work weeks. I won’t ruin the ending, but there’s a disturbing twist to the society in the end. That idea of working less than 40 hours per week stuck with me. Especially since it was a summer reading assignment that I completed while riding around in the back of a car while working on a survey crew!

  • Wow I had the same thought as you when I was around that age. But at that time I had no idea how I was ever gonna achieve FI (something that I didn’t even knew exists).

    It’s strange how I’ve got a more solid plan towards FI today.

    Great post!

  • Impressive. I never thought of planning my financial future when I was 17. All I cared was really saving money and spending in dating and some cool clothing and shoes. Haha

    BSR

  • Ironically I had a pretty decent ISA savings stash when I was 18, about £6,000 from memory, however I then blew it all when I went to University. D’oh!
    It was also all in cash as I didn’t really know about stocks and shares, if only I’d come across YMOYL or another one of those books all those years ago, maybe my escape plan would have been formulated!

    Instead I trod the usual path whilst dreaming up hairbrained schemes to avoid the 9-5… amongst which was to:
    Be a professional golfer
    Be a professional DJ (I didn’t get very far with these two!)
    Be a professional gambler (Actually some success here but too stressful to call this passive income… it’s not!)

    And a variety of others that I can’t quite recall right now!

    Setting my sights a bit lower now and reaching for a much more attainable dream… living off dividends! 🙂

    • Nice! I was 18 before I bought my first stock and 24-25 by the time I got really serious about low cost index fund investing (the horse that I rode to FIRE).

  • Not proud of this one, but you shared so feel like I should also…

    Buddy and I created a website claiming that you could download stolen software. Instead this clicks were links to adult websites where we would get paid a couple cents per click. Well we executed it on it! Then we received a check with absolutely no way to cash it and not at all interested in telling our parents how we earned it lol

  • Isn’t it hilarious how at 17-18, we thought we knew it all. We thought we had it ALL figured out. And now when we look back – we realize that we didn’t know jack!

    I remember being 17 and telling my mom that I could apply for a student loan. That all my friends were doing it, and you get all this “free” money and it covers your tuition and other expenses. I was so excited to get one. (not fully knowing what the hell the future ramifications were). Thank God – my mom had much more common sense than I did. She looked into her crystal ball, and told me ever so nicely (I remember it like it was yesterday)
    “You’re not getting a student loan. I don’t want you graduating from school and to starting off your life in debt. ”

    I had no understanding and didn’t even comprehend really what she meant. But that was the end of the conversation. There was no changing it. She set the foundation for me to be debt free for the rest of my life!

    To this day – I am ever so grateful and thankful for her knowledge and wisdom to look into my future and have a plan to start me off in life on the right path.

    And IF, my kids decide to go to University, then I will do the same for them as well. But… if they decide to pursue a passion and follow the entrepreneurial path, I will support them the same way.

  • LOL! That’s a good point.
    I guess you don’t consider yourself “young and foolish” until you get a little older and then look back on your life

  • When I was 10 I thought I could buy comic books from the comic book store, and basically resell them at a higher price point by going directly to people’s house to sell them the comic.
    Could have worked, but I wasn’t a very good salesman and I sold most stuff at a loss ultimately

    • That sounds exactly like something my 10 year old would think up! I think she’s mentioned selling her own artwork door to door. I’m just afraid she’s a better businesswoman than artist. 🙂

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