How We Reached Financial Independence In Our 30’s

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After posting the Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years post a few weeks ago, there’s been a huge amount of traffic visiting Root of Good (hello, new readers!).  The article received top billing at Rockstar Finance (thanks, J Money!).  Business Insider loved my story so much that they reprinted it and it’s received close to a million views in the last two weeks.  My own article has been shared over 400 times (that I know of) on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and the Business Insider article has probably been shared thousands or tens of thousands of times.

Along with great attention comes inane comments.  It’s the Law of the Internet.  Check out the comments at the Business Insider article if you don’t believe me!  I put together a response to a few of the frequent questions and comments generated by the Business Insider article.

 

Savings and Expenses

Lots of people called BS on our savings rate.  That’s understandable because it’s shockingly high.

But it really comes down to math.  There’s an irrefutable mathematical relationship between income, savings, and expenses.  Income goes toward three things: expenses, taxes, and savings.  Stated mathematically, Income = Expenses + Taxes + Savings.  Rearrange the formula and you get: Savings = Income – Expenses – Taxes.  In other words, you can save all of your income that doesn’t go toward living expenses and taxes.  Limit expenses and taxes and you increase savings.

We saved a lot by living frugally in Raleigh, North Carolina (a low to moderate cost of living area) and having decent incomes.  The biggest expenses for almost everyone are housing, transportation, and food.  We focused on saving money on those areas.  We still drive the cars we bought brand new 15 years ago while in college (three kids can fit in the back of a Honda Accord).  We never upgraded from our starter home.  And we don’t go out to eat very often, preferring to cook awesome meals at home instead.  It’s nothing radical at all, and something that pretty much anyone can implement in their own lives if they want to.  Saving our raises and bonuses instead of increasing our standard of living also increased the amount we were able to save each year.

While working, we spent around $24,000 per year on core expenses (not including mortgage).  Right now, we have a budget of $32,400 per year in early retirement.  This might seem low for a family of five, but remember our house is paid off.  During our ten years of wealth-building covered in this article, our mortgage varied from a monthly payment of $500 up to $1,250 as we refinanced to shorter loan terms.

 

Root of Good's Earnings and Wealth

 My SalaryMrs. RoG SalaryAdditions to PortfolioPortfolio Total
200448,000015,00064,000
200549,0005,000101,000183,000
200655,00040,00075,000295,000
200756,50049,00066,000371,000
200864,00045,00073,000304,000
200960,00046,00071,000478,000
201064,00056,00068,000662,000
201168,00063,00085,000697,000
201269,00062,000102,000940,000
201369,00069,00080,0001,244,000
201412,00074,00051,0001,351,000
Slow and steady wins the race. Go Team Tortoise!

(reprinted from Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years)

 

How can you save $75,000 on a $95,000 salary?

Some commented that the annual salaries don’t make sense compared to the “Additions to Portfolio” shown in the table.  Take 2006 for example.  We made $95,000 yet managed to add $75,000 to the portfolio.  Not included in our $95,000 combined salaries were 401k matches of maybe $8,000 (records are fuzzy here) plus another $8,000 to $10,000 in profit sharing into my Employee Stock Ownership Plan.  I treated the 401k matches and ESOP contributions as “additions to portfolio” but they aren’t included in our salaries since I didn’t want to give an inflated sense of how much we actually made at pretty ordinary jobs (for those with college degrees in engineering or business).

In 2006, our combined “grossed up” salaries including the 401k matches and ESOP contributions were closer to $115,000 (again, my records are fuzzy beyond the straight salaries).  This means we spent about $40,000 between payroll taxes, income taxes, and living expenses.  $40,000 is a lot more realistic for all that compared to $20,000 if you just glance at the table!

Nationally, the median household income is somewhere around $50,000 to $60,000 per year.  In other words, we were living a lifestyle just a little below median while enjoying salaries and benefits significantly more than the median (but still comfortably middle class I would argue).

Regarding taxes, we paid very little due to some hard core tax planning efforts, three kids, and plain old luck.  In the last year that both of us worked, our combined incomes were just under $150,000 yet we only paid $150 in federal income tax.  We maxed out 401k’s, IRAs, and an HSA.  As a government employee, I also had access to a 457 and a pension plan so I was able to contribute and deduct another $20,000 beyond what most employees can.

If you think what we did is impossible, just remember that North Carolina is still accepting new immigrants from other states, and the state government continues to hire people all the time.  However, I would suggest working for a different employer if top pay is a priority!

 

Does our lifestyle suck?

One commenter, Nutjobmoron, said: “Also, what is his life of “retirement” like now. He can only afford to get up, sit on the couch and eat pasta. No golf, no boating, no beemer and no expensive steak dinners.”

Another commenter answered Nutjobmoron very eloquently:  “The fact that he doesn’t have a boat, or go golfing or drive a beemer is the exact reason he is able to do this. Might not be the life you want, but it is the life he has and he seems super happy with it.

But you’re right – dude gets to spend time with his family and travel whenever he wants, doesn’t even have to go to work every day. Such a loser.”

That sums it up well.  We didn’t spend money on all that stuff which allowed us to save tons toward our financial independence.

We don’t own a boat and probably never will.  Preferring to rent instead of own, we do go on a cruise (a very big boat) once or twice per year.  The past two years we’ve taken multi-week international vacations including a two and a half week road trip to Canada last year and a seven week trip to Mexico this year.  Leaving the couch and my plate of pasta was required for all of these trips.  We did eat quite a bit of steak dinners while on these trips.

I acknowledge it’s impossible to dine at fancy steakhouses every night, own a yacht, a fleet of late model German imports, and a mansion while living on $30,000 to $40,000 per year.  But that lifestyle was never our goal and isn’t something we would get a lot of value out of anyway.  Our 15 year old Honda’s run very well.  Our house is perfect for our family of five and in a convenient location.  We budget enough to allow some pretty crazy travel (considering that we have three kids).  We also enjoy the freedom of not needing to work.

 

Accessing retirement funds before age 59.5

One commenter asked how we will withdraw from our investment portfolio in our 30’s when there’s a penalty for withdrawals before age 59.5.

Our strategy involves a number of different sources of funds with different tax treatment.

We have a taxable brokerage account with over $300,000 in it that will cover the first ten or so years of early retirement living expenses.

While we are spending down our brokerage account, we are setting up a Roth IRA Conversion Ladder.  It’s a method to convert funds in a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.  Five years after the Roth conversion, it’s possible to withdraw the amounts converted penalty free.  By the time we deplete our brokerage account in around ten years, we should have at least a few years of living expenses sitting in our Roths ready to be withdrawn as necessary.

In addition to the taxable brokerage account and the Roth IRA Conversion Ladder, we have two other sources of penalty free funds.  We have two years of living expenses in a 457 account that can be withdrawn penalty free any time.  We also have $60,000 in a health savings account that can be withdrawn at any time to pay for medical bills.

This took some planning to set up, but it’s going to allow us to live off our various investment and retirement accounts for the next several decades until we hit age 59.5 and all the early withdrawal penalties disappear.

 

 

Internet commentators.  They’re great, aren’t they?  🙂

 

 

110 comments

  • Justin, congrats on the viral success of Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years! I used to think I wanted to be featured on BI, but now I’m not sure…haha.

    It’s really too bad that a lot of those BI commentators can’t wrap their heads around FI possibilities when it’s laid out for them in plain sight. Nevertheless, you’ve surely given inspiration and hope to MANY others (they’re just not as vocal)!

    • The comments weren’t so bad. I mean, I’m naturally skeptical and would call BS on me if I read about me, too (and I knew nothing about striving for financial independence, taxes, savings, investments, etc).

      The reassuring thing is that there were some positive comments rebutting the crazy comments. All hope is not lost yet.

      • What shocks me most about the comments is how they all seem to think saving is so impossible. It’s a complaint that Mrmoneymustache and J Collins often take apart.

        People can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that they don’t have to go to bars every night and own expensive cars. Living frugally but happily just doesn’t compute in their heads.

        • It’s probably because they are so used to spending tons of money and always eager to spend any extra income that comes in the door. Like they are allergic to saving money (“why let good money go to waste in a savings/investment account?”).

  • Haters are gonna hate. One of the first requirements I read about starting a blog was having thick skin, because there will always be someone who disagrees with you, or just flat out insults you on the internet. Congratulations on your hard won journey to financial independence, and on the amazing success of the zero to millionaire article, which I’m sure will help hundreds, if not thousands of people wake up to the possibilities.

    • Yeah, I don’t really get bothered by the comments. It’s actually entertaining to read through them and try to figure out what they are thinking and going through in their own life. I’m picturing nutjobmoron towing a boat behind his immaculate beemer. Except he probably has an F350 quad cab 4×4 with lift kit to tow the boat. Then he’s pigging out on a steak dinner while driving golf balls off his boat’s leather seats. Winner…

      I’m still not sure where the animosity against eating pasta on the couch comes from.

  • One of the reasons I so look forward to your posts and responses is because you have so much grace in a world that seems to only lack grace much of the time. It’s obvious that none of this happened by accident but was well-thought out and planned. Thumbs up for not allowing vehicles, planes, trains, and whatever else to define your life or who you are! Remember, all the “yuck” comments are coming from people who still have to get out of bed at “0” dark thirty and work like dogs till long after everyone else has gone to sleep. Jealousy is a terrible thing but I know you’ll forgive them. You’re just that kind of guy!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Angelina!

      You have to work pretty hard if you’re gonna afford all the fancy things in life like beemers, boats, and expensive steak dinners. 😉 Fortunately some of us are happy with Hondas, kayaks, and inexpensive steak dinners.

  • Once again congrats on FI and on the viral success of that post. Just crank up some TSwift to deal with the haters.

    I liked the exchange from Nutjobmoron. Not boat no beemer…he’s not even living. But that’s precisely why you don’t have to work now. So often the internet commenters seem to project their own retirement dream on to others which makes no sense. We’re all individuals so why can’t my version of retirement be what I want and yours be what you want? It seems like NJM would bash anyone that’s just barely scraping by on SS in their old age as well because it’s not the lifestyle he wants.

    Kudos again on reaching FI!

  • You wrote something that people love. (Or sometimes hate!) Kudos.

    Ten years was about my timeframe from zero to FIRE but I started later and made the transition a few months after my 40th birthday. It’s totally doable if you have a high five figure base salary. I topped out in the low six figures but did it mostly in the five figure range.

    Loan me some mojo. My beleaguered blog needs a viral post!

  • Can’t believe you responded to the commenters! People are just to content settling with what they see “everyone else” doing. Now this can relate to money, lifestyle, diet, not working out, etc. I think this community is full of people who aren’t willing to settle with any of those things, and that’s just hard for people to grasp. Most of us are taught to follow the conventional norms all through our childhood, and it’s tough to break away. I’m okay with people thinking I’m weird for saving/investing when I could be spending, and that’s all that matters to me 🙂

  • Thanks for spreading the word and show others how this is possible. For those of us who is still in the workforce working towards that goal, your blog is inspiring and provides me hope, especially on a stressful work day. Please keep up the good work and Thank You!

  • Justin,
    I kind of agree with the folks about giving an incomplete picture of your full financial income vs savings- The best way to show the complete picture would be to get your gross earnings history from IRS website.

    Otherwise I think in general you are doing a great job of being transparent and being an inspiration to myself and others.
    Chef-

    • The only problem with that is that no one thinks in terms of gross compensation (except the HR manager where I used to work that tried to persuade us that we were “making” $75k on a $50k salary because of all the extra stuff they pay for us like payroll taxes). And I did use the gross salary for Mrs. RoG because I have that data available (her expanded W-2s include the gross amount). For my salary, I’m missing out on probably $10k in total bonuses that would have shown up in the IRS earnings history if I used that data source. However my FSA contributions and Mrs. RoG’s HSA contributions wouldn’t show up in the IRS/SSA earnings history, so we’re still beset with problems of data accuracy to get at “gross compensation”. See the problems we have? 🙂

      Almost all of us that are or were W2 employees get significant fringe benefits but I’ve yet to see anyone include those benefits in terms of how much they make.

      I suppose I could have added a separate column for 401k match and profit sharing contributions but I just don’t have great records for that.

      Point taken as to the confusion caused, but I don’t really see it as misrepresenting anything since many (most?) W2 folks have the same deal as we did.

      • I use the “hidden paycheck” all the time to describe what all the benefits are worth on top of the actual salary. Many people can’t or don’t understand all of the things that a company pays for. The smart ones use the company match for retirement and figure out how to get the most out of the other benefits. Others just complain they should get paid more.

        Another thing to point out is living on $30k is seen by some as the same as making $30k. Once you are living on money that has already had payroll (and sometimes regular) taxes paid on it, you can get buy on a lot less because the tax part of the equation is now zero.

        Glad for your success. Keep it up!

        • I’ve always thought in terms of total compensation and use that concept to explain to people that working as a 1099 contractor isn’t always beneficial when you look at what you aren’t getting.

          Good point on the $30k living expenses. Very different from working and earning $30k. Although for a family with kids, a $30k earned income would generate some huge Earned Income Credits ($4-5k probably) that would offset all payroll taxes and state taxes and possibly leave some extra cash to support living expenses too.

    • I’m with Chef, Thank You for fleshing out 2006/explaining the larger than expected “Additions to Portfolio” column.

      It would be great to see that column replaced with “our contributions”, “other contributions”, and “investment gain (or loss) year over year”. I don’t have these sorts of numbers on my own accounts, and I doubt you do, but it would make it more clear that “your” savings from your paycheck was only X of Y, a more palatable 50% of gross salary perhaps 😉

  • Congrats! I love the part about the old Hondas. I drive a 2001 Toyota Corolla with 215k miles on it. Friends and former coworkers have teased me about it for years (especially when I was in sales). None of them are willing to make my car payments or fund my savings accounts though…

    • Yeah, that’s the problem – they want to upgrade your car/house/TV for you, but they don’t want to pay for it. Funny how that works. 🙂

      I guess it’s like me telling them that they should probably get the company match by contributing to their 401k because it’s about the only free lunch they will get. I’m not actually going to give them the cash to put into their 401k but it’s still something I think they should do.

    • I drive a 2001 Chevy Prizm, which is actually a Toyota Corolla. Mine has 220k miles and I hope to get another 20-40k! Great reliable vehicle that is the perfect commuter. I bought it used for $5500 and have saved and invested a lot of money by not trying to keep up with the Beemer-crowd!

  • Congrats on being featured on BI! Just read the comments over there. Never ceases to surprise me how many folks look at something different than they know, scoff and move on without learning a thing. A little bit of digging, analysis and an open mind would change their life! Anyway, the good news for those of us with early-retirement aspirations is that this mass of economic inefficiency is valuable slack for us to efficiently absorb and fuel low-cost lifestyles.

  • I was hoping you would do a follow-up email to that article! After checking it out on Business Insider, in one way I couldn’t believe the comments and another way I could. Just like with most of our friends, if we told them what we were doing, they’d think we were crazy until the point where it wasn’t.

    Also, the vast majority of people don’t have any idea how retirement accounts, actual tax rates, or early retirement strategies work so seeing the naive comments just confirms it. You guys actually being retired though is a great example to point to so keep up the good work! Maybe we’ll see you on a cruise some day.

    • Hope to see you on a cruise too! We’re sailing out of Charleston in late January, though the prices on that cruise shot back up recently. Not too happy with the deals I’m seeing this year (I blame the great economy…).

  • If anything, those comments prove just how important a blog like yours is. Most people know very little about personal finance so they just assume that something like this isn’t possible. If they would just try to emulate what you’re doing, I think they would be pleasantly surprised. However, that requires dedication and I doubt that any of them would stick with it.

    My favorite comment was from the person who said he makes six figures, has no debt and no kids and there’s no way he could save 79% of his income. What on earth is he spending all that money on?? Clearly, lifestyle inflation has gotten the best of him!

    • I’m always puzzled by the six figure income folks who can’t hardly pay their bills each month. Or the “scraping by on $400k/yr in NYC” articles. These are generally very smart, talented individuals able to get a great salary from an employer or run a successful business/practice, yet how do they do it? Why don’t those skills translate into better saving and investing? Curious.

      • I was puzzled too when I hear about people making good money yet still not having enough to pay the bills…until I started meeting people who were in these very situations. It’s sort of an image conundrum. Whenever you drive across I-40 in Raleigh, you see a normal distribution of cars. I would get excited if I saw a Mercedes on the highway. If you drive across 101 in Los Angeles, you’d see a shockingly high number of $50,000+ cars and some even in the $100,000 range. Can all of the drivers actually afford them? Probably, but likely at the expense of their retirement and savings.

        • You didn’t see many luxury cars here in Raleigh? They seem to be all over. Plenty of them even at our kids’ school that has about 80% of the kids coming from lower income families. Maybe not brand new $100k cars but plenty of BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, etc. With cheap loans, it doesn’t seem hard for anyone with a job to get a luxury car. Whether they can actually afford them or keep them and eventually pay them off is a totally different issue like you say. 🙂

  • Love love love this post! We save a great deal of money each month and some think we are crazy. We are still living a great life (traveling all over the country in our RV!), and still save over 85% of our income each month. Yes, we do make a high income, but we actively try to save as much as we can.

    • That’s great, and proves that income and expenditures can be divorced. If one household can be happy on $X,000 per month, why can’t another household be just as happy spending the same amount of money even if they earn 3-4x as much?

  • Yup, I checked those comment on BI, and most of them explain why many people will never retire early. They’re giving themselves excuses as to “why it’s not achievable”. Misery loves company, so these people comment on BI in the hope that nobody will actually show them how wrong they can be, but rather hoping to find people to agree with their statements.

    Too bad for them 🙂

    • I get that feeling too. They’re just trying to pile on the pity party because it’s not cool to actually plan your finances, aim for something big long term, and achieve it. Much easier to complain it’s impossible then go back to poor money decisions. 🙂

  • Congratulation! It’s great that BI reposted your story. Great job with the tax. It’s no wonder people don’t believe you. 🙂
    The difference between rich and poor people illustrated with the commenters.
    Poor people – skeptical, try to shoot others down.
    Rich people – see what worked and try to maximize it.

    • Great point. We all know that the minute you say you can’t do something, that become true…unless you decide that you can do it.

      I’m not sure why people are so disbelieving in frugal millionairism but I will assume that they want to let themselves off the hook in terms of trying it out, so they just blah blah that it can’t be done.

    • The whole tax thing is a little unbelievable (but true!).

      I think if you’re a typical six figure earner and spending 95-99% of what you make, it seems impossible to save anything. I’ve known plenty of these people and they usually refuse to accept that there’s any way possible to make any cuts in their lifestyle without suffering an unbearable burden.

  • A few of the comments from BI that I enjoyed reading, besides those already pointed out above:

    1. “They are not millionaires, they just have assets worth of 1mil” (Umm, pray tell, how does this person define 1mil if not by assets?)

    2. “Can’t do IRA if you have an employee sponsored plan, i.e. 401k” (No wonder this financial genius is out there crying foul on others success at ER.)

    3. “People are optimistic it can be done, BUT human nature says he’s a LIAR!” (Guess this guy never reads the, oh, 1000s of examples out there on the web of people doing exactly what you have done, each and every day.

    As others have pointed out, haters are gonna hate. Just sit back, smile, and enjoy life while they continue to go the work. Think I’ll go catch an afternoon matinee with the wife (using Dealflicks, of course), although some of your critics would say I can’t, because they can’t!

    • I hope you enjoyed that movie!

      That “they aren’t really millionaires” comment is worth a million bucks by itself. Pure comedy gold right there. How else do you define millionaire? Does he really want me to have $1 million in cash losing money to inflation each year (as if real millionaires actually do that routinely).

  • Congrats on the fame and fortune! I mean, fame. Sorry you can’t own a yacht and eat steak dinners every night. Your life must be terrible! And I hope to follow in your tragic footsteps! Also, while we appreciate your consistent transparency to the details of how you did it, you have no need to explain yourself. You did it and no matter how much explaining it takes, there will always be naysayers.

    • The editor at Business Insider asked me to respond to a few of the frequently asked questions/comments so I obliged. The response accidentally grew into a full length blog post so I tossed it up here while I was at it. 🙂

  • What a fantastic response!
    I have always said that those with money only have it because they are not frivolous with it – to an extent obviously. Sounds like you’ve got your priorities right and I hope I’ll be where you guys are at in my financial situation one day.

    • It’s the classic oxymoron of money. Those that have flashy fancy cars and other accessories are usually not that wealthy. The actual wealthy people are hard to find exactly because they grew wealthy by not engaging in Public Displays of Accumulation.

  • Justin,
    The thing about your blog that I liked the most was the amount of transparency and details that you give. We ( a family of three ) live on $27,000 a year and we live in a HCOL area (NYC Burbs) and we are not deprived of a single thing. Even my best friend has trouble beleiving this. When I first stumbled on Mr Money Mustache and then you ROG I found your life stories inspiring and it turned a decent saver in me to a hard-core saver. No matter what the doubters and nay-sayers say your blog is truly an inspiration for people like me who want to achieve FI.

  • Congratulations Justin. Inspirational to put it mildly.

    Quick question – what amount of $ did you give to charity each year?

    • It was so tiny as to be almost zero. I think we averaged $53 per year the last I looked. That probably doesn’t include the random $10-20 here and there for small stuff.

      My goal is to have way more than enough money and give more to charity eventually. The idea there being to take care of ourselves and our families first (so we don’t become charity cases!).

  • I think your blog is great and what you have achieved is also commendable. I’d called you half FIRE as you still have a full time salary coming into the household, you are more like a stay at home dad. I’m sure having that additional income really takes the pressure off. We live recently FIRE’D and are both off with no additional income, simply our portfolio to support us. I’d love to have my wife still working but not an option. You’ll be a FIRE household soon I’m sure.

    • It takes a tiny bit of pressure off, but between dividends and my side hustle income from this blog, my occasional freelance gigs, and the early retirement lifestyle consulting, we’re more than covering our living expenses.

      But yeah, you can call me a stay at home dad. That certainly describes what I do at least a couple hours per day. But oddly enough that role won’t change when my wife quits work.

  • Justin, I’m thrilled to hear your post got so much attention! I haven’t read it in detail yet (will in about 5 mins!), but that 10 year table you’ve shown is both astonishing and inspiring! I’m motivated to create my own over the next 10 (15?) years, although it will be a very different picture for me giving our minimal savings rate and relatively high living costs here in Melbourne!

    • If you aren’t tracking NW/savings/investments, start it now! It’s great to know where you were historically. And you can write a sweet blog post in 10-15 years. 🙂

  • Anything is possible if you are motivated and have a plan. A few weeks ago I finished paying off my house mortgage and my Nissan Rouge. My wife and I don’t make a lot of money. The reason that I focused on paying my debts is because I am more concerned about leading a peaceful life and not focused on the latest gadgets and clothes (American consumerism). Thanks for a great article!

  • This just shows that it is possible to retire early if you plan, save, and invest.

  • Ah, the famous kneejerk reaction on something people don’t understand from their own perspective on life. Most people are very comfortable in their lives and have trouble understanding that others may no share that same view. It’s just too bad that instead of trying to learn, they start complaining. Ah well, their loss.

    Good on you Justin for getting to become financially independent and enjoying the hell out of it.

  • I think some of the clarifications that you added were actually very helpful. For example, the additions to the portfolio bit look absolutely insane, yes a family of 5 who isn’t working might be able to live on <$30K, but while working, this is particularly difficult.

    I'm not sure if you ever reviewed this, but did you guys pay for childcare during these years? I would have to guess that full price for two kids would be around $16K per year minimum (based on a home daycare situation). If so, huge kudos to you for keeping car and housing expenses so low during those years.

    • We paid Mrs. RoG’s mom to take care of the kids. We paid about half of the market rate for home day cares, with a discount for the 2nd and 3rd kids. I think when I checked into home day cares around 2005-2006 it was $530/month+ and probably double that for a 4-5 star corporate daycare/preschool. At $16k+ for childcare for 2 kids, it’s almost cheaper to hire a nanny and would certainly make life easier.

  • I think this is fantastic… you’re always going to have people who can’t accept this, but that’s because they would refuse to give up the champagne lifestyle to make something like this possible.

    Congrats to you guys!!

    — Jim

  • Yeah they are just annoyed and stuck in a bad life, that’s why they try to hurt you with words. It takes great dedication to save anything above 5K in this world, and most people cant fathom it because they live Paycheck to paycheck, and with debt. That’s why its important to get ahead while young and keep the good behaviors going.

    • There must be a lot of those folks commenting at BI. Living paycheck to paycheck just like all their friends and not realizing there’s another path to follow. If only they could read about others following a different path that leads to wealth! 😉

  • Out of curiosity what where you invested in during those years? You mention index funds elsewhere – were you 100% stock or did you have a mix of stocks and bonds? Looks like 100% stocks from the figures.
    Have you dialed down the stocks now that you are retired?

  • I believe that most of your internet NEGATIVE commenters are a bit jealous of your success. They aren’t willing to save for financial independence because they aren’t willing to give up any of their consumption lifestyle. They would love to be you but they aren’t willing to do the hard work. It’s easier to attack someone they are jealous of.

    Enjoy your wonderful life and keep up the good work.

    • Thanks!

      I don’t know – maybe they can’t imagine life without a golf club membership, a beemer, a boat, and frequent expensive steak dinners. To each their own I guess and hope they enjoy working till 70! 🙂

  • Congrats on the post being so popular. Naturally, when you said that it was reprinted on Business Insider, I immediately went to read the comments. I know I shouldn’t but I just can’t help myself. Great that you answered the naysayers here. It’s just a completely different mindset. When I hear people say that saving is impossible and point to “necessities” in life such as cable television and steak dinners, I just shake my head in disbelief. Sadly, it seems like that is the norm.

    • It’s definitely in the norm to blow all free cash on stuff like cable and steak dinners. On the flip side, there are a bunch of folks out there like us that go along in our every day lives saving and being conservative when it comes to spending (and then we go online and blog about being frugal ha ha).

  • Hahahahahahahahah, funny because you write this article as if you are some super succesful guy, a God with money saving. You are saying you aren’t phased by money, material purchases then fucking title the article how I saved a million in 10 years…… aka your a slave to the most basic of all materialistic wishes, being a ‘so-called’ millionaire. And you think your some hotshot because you’re a so called millionaire. Dumb article, I see no aim of this other than telling people to set their standards and ambitions very low in life. I’m ashamed to have even given this a click of traffic

    • Wow, you seem unhappy. I’m sorry about that.

    • @cameron – let me guess. YOU are not capable of doing what Justin did, so you attack the messenger. Judging by the responses to this articles I am glad to report you are in the minority. Another loser at a keyboard.

      • Now Chuck, that’s not nice! He’s already ashamed to have clicked on this page once, now you’re gonna shame him again by making him click on it a second time? 😉

        • 🙂 My bad, Justin. I should have kept it civil, but he set me off on a topic near and dear to my heart as well.

          BTW, Cameron, we retired early as well with decent assets, because we lived below our means. Am I also a “god” when it comes to money-saving? Sweet.

  • Hey Justin regarding your reply about how you plan to access funds before you reach 59.5 – does that explanation mean that your withdrawal strategy involved some draw down on investments so that overall you will slowly deplete your nest egg and die broke so to speak?

    Or do you plan to maintain a consistent balance and this is just a strategy for shifting between accounts and assets? I would like to see more detail articles from early retirees on their withdrawal strategy and contingency plans. Thanks!

    • Hi Peter,

      We probably won’t die broke and in fact our portfolio might grow significantly in real terms over the decades of early retirement. But I would be okay with depleting the portfolio some if that’s how it turns out.

      Our plan is more of the latter method you mention. We’ll be depleting the taxable account in the first 10-15 years (or however long it lasts) and doing Roth Conversions the whole time. Eventually we’ll have relatively little in the taxable accounts and just live off the Roth account funded through the Roth IRA Conversion Ladder.

      I’m hoping to dive into some more articles in 2016 that detail exactly how we’ll structure our withdrawals (using some assumed rates of returns). I also hope to look at different withdrawal rates and methods and some of the different retirement calculators out there (cFIREsim, FIREcalc, ORP, Personal Capital retirement planner, etc).

  • PS I highly doubt you plan is to “die broke” but it may involve a reduction in overall assets as you age.

  • Very cool! Did they just e-mail you and ask to reprint it with a link back?

    I wonder if folks don’t realize there is A LOT more wealth out there than people realize.

    • Yes, they asked if they could reprint it. The original article had already gone viral by that time (lots of facebook sharing).

      The Business Insider published this article too (I sent it to them as a response to the comments on the original article, at the request of the editor at BI).

      A neat 15 minutes of fame. 🙂 Some of Mrs. RoG’s facebook friends have seen these posts at Business Insider (mostly in Asia) so our Stealth Wealth cover is blown.

  • Congrats on your success……. Gotta tell ya taxes in this neck of the woods would eat up a lot of a $100K income. Your situation seems a bit complicated. Do you do your own taxes or do you hire a Pro? Best of luck in the future!

    • I do my own taxes. By hand! It’s more work than dumping numbers in turbotax but it helps me understand how all the moving parts fit together because I have to read the documentation behind the forms for new issues.

      Taxes aren’t too complicated. I have the schedule B and D for investment income and cap gains, and since I started earning some side income, I now have to file a schedule C. Total tax returns are usually 8 pages or less for me.

  • I loved your ‘Zero to Millionaire in 10 Years” post for the same reason you received some commenter slack—you were earning “normal” salaries and still saving like crazy. When I first started reading personal finance articles a few years ago, it seemed that everyone who was retiring early was earning an income of $200,000 or higher. And honestly, as a 21 year old humanities college student, that number felt impossible. Your journey shows that early retirement is attainable for everyone, regardless of salary. Yeah, work and planning is involved, but that’s true for pretty much any aspect of life. Great work. Also, your retirement life, even without the BMW and golf, sounds pretty idyllic to me! 😉

    • The main thing is to save early and save often. So even when you start working and don’t make a huge salary, any savings early on are important because of compounding.

  • Thanks for publishing the account of your life’s journey towards financial independence and early retirement. I’ve been enjoying — and learning from — your articles. Just a couple of thoughts:

    1. I would add a fourth item to what consumes income (which is an asset): inflation. In a way, inflation is like a tax — but a hidden one, to be sure, not unlike the hidden benefits you found it difficult to account for in your income/savings table. You may find it useful to use NPV as a way of thinking about your portfolio assets looking into the years ahead.

    2. Unless I missed it, you don’t break out portfolio-generated income vs. portfolio depletion anywhere, although you have at least a couple of asset classes that clearly pay out dividend income. While you’re in the process of doing your Roth conversions for the next few years, you may want to consider focusing to some extent on assets that will pay and grow dividends over time. With a portfolio of over $1.3MM, a very conservative dividend income of 3.5% on assets would pretty much cover your annual family budget without requiring selling off your principal. However, I realize that’s probably unrealistic, since a substantial portion of that income would be generated in tax-deferred accounts that you won’t be able to draw from for many years. Nevertheless, passive income is something to consider.

    3. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but it would be of interest to most of your readers to know how you budget ahead for large but infrequent expenses that are difficult to time. I’m thinking of unusual home situations like a new roof, or eventually needing to replace your venerable automobiles. Are you taking part of your monthly budget and putting it into “car” and “house” buckets that will grow over time and be there when those expenses are due?

    Thanks again for sharing your life story!

    • Hey Even Keel, thanks for the comments.

      1. I’ve never considered inflation to “consume” income each year, though it certainly erodes wealth. Losing 1% of my income to inflation then getting a 1-3% raise kept me at or above inflation most years. But inflation certainly destroys wealth! I keep track of inflation and have a line in my net worth tracking spreadsheet where I track the CPI so I can reflect back on our NW in real terms.

      2. I have an article on our dividends. I don’t focus on dividend income or dividend growth at all, but it certainly helps pay the bills so to speak. You’re right that much of the dividend income is locked away in retirement accounts (about $20k of it) but we do get $10k per year in our taxable accounts. That covers one third of our expenses so it’s definitely a significant source of income.

      3. I don’t have a separate bucket for “car” or “house” expenses and just pay them as they arise. I aim to keep 1-2 years worth of cash on hand to cover living expenses in the event of a market downturn, so I’m also protected against large unexpected repair bills or the need to go out and buy a new/used car if both of ours drop dead tomorrow. I do have a method for budgeting for house repairs over the long term if you’re interested. It basically works out to a $1500 per year average. Many years it will be zero, some years (like last year) it will be $5-10k. Next up is probably a roof replacement in 3-5 years and an HVAC replacement in 4-7 years.

  • Nay-sayers gotta nay say — especially when threatened or annoyed or sour grapey. Very much appreciate and enjoy your observations, ideas, and calm recitation of facts. Also admire your gracious responses to the snark. As my dad used to say, “You can cry all the way to the bank!” Oh, and the toilet paper castle — you don’t get that on every PF blog. Nice!

  • Just wanted to say thanks for adding additional explanation and answering some of the skeptic’s comments. I used to be a skeptic for years. My husband would try to get me to read mmm and sell me on the frugal way of life. It took time to wrap my head around things to see it was possible. Explanations like you gave in this post are the type of things that helped me become a frugal believer. Thanks for helping other skeptics; I hope they will come around like I did.
    It was encouraging to see you do so much with lower salaries. Thanks for the transparency. My husband was just reminding me today that slow and steady that works.

  • Saw the Business Insider article and headed over to your site. I love what I’m seeing so far, keep up the good work.

  • Thanks for all your articles Justin, you are one inspiration dude!

    Over the years I have become more appreciative of the importance of mindset in accomplishing this kind of change. The people that lash out have such a rigid set of beliefs with respect to this early financial independence idea that it threatens them. They just can’t wrap their minds around it, so they do what is a natural reaction and attack it. Cognitive dissonance is not a comfortable place to be, and the relative anonymity of the internet make it easy to lash out.

    It would be a fascinating study to measure the anger of a persons blog post comments and see how this correlates with things like depression, health, well-being, etc. Maybe in my next life as a sociologist 😉

    • Nice thoughts. Cognitive dissonance – I definitely see that in the angry knee jerk reactions. These folks can’t reconcile how someone can save, invest, and create more wealth then enjoy that wealth with the idea that everything should be consumed NOW NOW NOW. Since they didn’t do it, it must not be worth doing, else they aren’t so clever.

  • This was a very inspiring read. Thanks.

  • Being financially secure enough to enjoy your life in retirement is the last thing on the minds of those under 30.
    After all, with the stress of all the expensive “firsts” that often come about during this period, like purchasing a car, buying a house and starting a family, it’s hard to even think about saving for the future. Yet, you reach it and make it,
    were very happy for you. Keep it up.

    • Retirement wasn’t my #1 concern when first starting out of college, but rather “not wasting money” because I figured building wealth would help down the road. Eventually I figured out early retirement was within my reach so that became the aim.

  • I just started considering FI this year, at the ripe old age of 40. Hopefully my husband and I will be completely retired in 10 years which isn’t super early but earlier than the norm. My biggest naysayers are friends who think the only reason this is even possible is because we don’t have children. Yet these are the same people who buy their kids iPads, iPhones, and designer purses for Christmas after spending $150 on their daughter’s college boyfriend so he has enough gifts to open Christmas morning. Children are absolutely an expense we don’t have but we also rarely go out to eat, to the movies, buy anything that’s not on sale. Yet we still feel happy in our lives and never like we’re missing out. We prefer to watch a movie on our couch while eating something home cooked. How is pasta on the couch a negative thing?

    • We have kids but they don’t have to be incredibly expensive. Today’s entertainment was free – playing outside, playing on tablets ($70 each – hint: not ipads), watching netflix (we already pay for it for the family), and playing board games (technically $50 or so for the 2 of them but we’ve played dozens of times). Tomorrow, visit the library (free) and swimming at the city water park for $11 for the family.

      Sounds you have a wonderfully fulfilling life! I don’t see a problem with pasta on the couch either. We had some of that yesterday and it was delicious (with comfortable seating too).

  • Justin, I just stumbled on your website today. Thank you for inspiring us. I started reading Mr. MMM as well. Learning so much. Keep up the good work. I will follow your post. I am in my early 40’s and without children, I hope to retire soon too. I think it’s all about changing our mindset, forethought, and discipline.

    Thanks,
    Melissa.

  • What about in 2005, where you made $49,000 and Mrs. RoG made $5,000? How were you able to save $101,000?

    • I believe that was the year we sold our condo in Chapel Hill and invested the proceeds. We also did a cash out refinance around that time and invested the extra cash into our investments too. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to make $54,000 and use that salary to invest over $100,000 without selling real estate.

      The chart is really a summary of our income and how much we put into investments, but doesn’t cover things like buying/selling real estate or mortgage refinances.

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