Reader Case: Fellow Poverty Sibling

Wanderer
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Time for another reader case! This one really jumped out at me for reasons that will become obvious in a minute.


Hi Kristy and Bryce,

I want to first say y’all are awesome! 

I’m writing after finishing the book and I pretty much related to every chapter regarding your upbringing Kristy. Your can of Coke for me was Chikifila. My parents would give me gas money every month and if I was lucky I would have some money left over to buy Chick Fil A during exam weeks. I stopped eating-out recently because 1 it’s expensive and 2 because I’m no longer getting the same dopamine hit like I used to lmao. Growing up a 1st generation college student my parents instilled in me the value of che ku in the form of helping with yard work and other maintenance around the house. My dad would always tell me this is the life I would have if I didn’t go to school and get an education: a life of manual labour in the heat or cold. We planted many Asian vegetables in our backyard and one of them is called pavakka, also known as bitter melon, which is my dad’s favorite. The best way to eat them is fried imo ;). 

Background: I got a summer internship in 2020. I was supposed to move to Arizona for work. But quarantine hit and we were told to work from home. In other words, I made a lot of money from my internship just by sitting at home. I graduated in 2021 accepted the job offer and moved to Arizona for work. This is around the time I started reading JL Collins book A Simple Path to Wealth. He talks about how in his career his company did really well and everyone got a bonus but in a few months he and his boss were yelling at each other and he got the boot. I had a similar experience. Within 9 months of my first big boy engineer job, VP’s flew out from HQ to announce to my team specifically that we were being shut down and relocated to Dallas in an attempt to “consolidate” the labs. In reality, they just wanted to shut down the California Lab cause it was too expensive to run.  Fortunately, people pushed back and we were saved but it was a wake up call to what corporate America is like.

Below are the numbers describing where I’m at financially. I am also a nerd like y’all being an Electrical Engineer working in a semiconductor company. I became an EE because I knew my passion to be a Paleontologist or Astrophysicist wouldn’t pay the bills. 

Numbers: 

  • 24 yo male
  • Income: Gross: 105,000 Net:80,000
  • Monthly spending: 3,500 – 4,000$
  • Debt: 0$
  • fixed assets : 2022 Honda Civic Kelly Blue Book value: 20,000$
  • investments or savings you have:
    • Cash: 8,200$
    • Company Stock: 12,200$
    • Taxable Brokerage: 13,200$
    • Retirement: 
      • Roth IRA: 18,800$
      • 401K: 28,400$
      • HSA: 13,000$

I am currently saving about 40k annually and should be on track to FI; however, at the rate I am saving it will take 15 years not accounting for raises and bonuses. I want to FI/retire in 11 years when I’m 35. I have been at this company for 3 years now and it is stable but I have started looking around at other jobs to maximize my earning potential. I am also considering tutoring math at a community college.

Real Estate: I had a similar experience to y’all when looking for a house. It’s like it’s never a good time to buy because of high prices and interest rates now more than ever. My manager was able to lock in a house before the high interest rates. He got his house for 400-450k. Looking now, 400-450k will only get me a townhouse at 6% interest *^*. The real estate agents aren’t of any help either. Most of them congratulate me and are impressed with my money, They say how smart I am for getting a house at my age. After hearing that the 3rd time it smelled like bs to me. No one is telling me what I don’t want to hear. No one was asking if I had 3-6 months of emergency fund or if I knew that I’d be paying more interest than the principal for the next couple of years. I get it, they also need to make money. I knew it was time to MATH SHIT UP ;). Crunching the number best case scenario I’d be paying 2800$/mth, an extra 1000$ in taxes and fees. Ye I’m good I’ll stick with my 1800$/mth in rent and utilities. That way I can continue saving and maybe even move to a higher paying job.

Rant: Best advice JL Colins gives in his book imo is that “you don’t have to go far to find someone who will tell you about all the things you can’t live without.” Ever since elementary school my parents would buy me 2 pants and 5 shirts for the year…I was made fun of for it (I buy my own clothes now 😉 ). My first phone was a flip phone Motorola… I was made fun of for it. Senior year of high school my sister bought us the new Iphone 7 plus. My friends “ooh” and “ahhed” at it. 6 years later I’m being made fun of for it because I “still got the home button” on my Iphone. But you know what else I don’t f’ing got…debt :P. And now yesterday a friend teased me because I only have 1Tb of space on my computer instead of 3Tb lmaoo. It’s no wonder US credit card debt is over 1 trillion.

Conclusion: I envy you two not for your money but because you had each other during this whole journey. Having someone to bounce ideas off and double check the math is soo helpful. My dog is smart but she’s not the best at math lol. Finance is definitely a subject I would like to discuss with the future wifey but not a first date topic xD.

Questions: Any advice/tips would be greatly appreciated

  • Regarding Travel hacking, does it not affect your credit score when you cancel a credit card and reapply for them? I’m considering getting the Chase Sapphire. I read that Chase has blacklisted people for canceling the card repeatedly.
  • Regarding the Roth IRA conversion ladder. In your book you state to start this process after you retire but I would have to wait 5 years to start pulling money out. How do I pay for expenses during those 5 years? By using geographic arbitrage? Yield Shield? Selling Stocks? Combination of it all?
  • Know any good Financial advisors that can help with F.I. and the early retirement part?

Best Regards,

Mr. T 


What jumped out at me when I read this reader case is how much Mr. T’s experience mirrors FIRECracker’s. Alas, she didn’t have access to Chick Fil-A’s in rural China. If she wanted some tasty fried chicken, she had to kill the thing herself, an act she loves to re-enact at parties in gruesome, bloody detail, complete with gurgling and high-pitched squawking sound effects. I know, she’s the best. That’s why I love her!

Another thing that jumped out at me was a very similar attitude towards other peer pressure, specifically in how neither of them cared about it. No matter how much classmates would mock her hand-sewn and hand-me-down clothes, she didn’t care. It’s an attitude that persists to this day, and was a big reason why we managed to get to FIRE so quickly. Mr. T’s similar attitude to other people’s judginess will serve him equally well on his journey.

So without further ado, let’s get down to MATHING SHIT UP!

Pathway to 35

As Mr. T has figured out, his current trajectory gets him to FIRE in about 15 years, which, for a 24 year old, is already pretty fricking great. But his ambitions run a little hotter than that, and he wants to get out by the time he’s 35. Let’s see how we can get him there.

Generally, there are two ways to speed up your pathway to FIRE: Increase earnings, or decrease spending. Let’s see how the first method might work.

Mr. T’s reports his monthly spending as between $3500 and $4000. To be conservative, we’re going to go with the high end of that range of $4000, which means that his FIRE target is $4000 x 12 x 25 = $1.2M.

Right now, he is saving about $40k per year, and that gives him a 15 year time horizon to get there. But what would his savings needs to be to get there in 11 years?

YearBalanceSavingsROITotal
1$93,800.00$68,258.35$5,628.00$167,686.35
2$167,686.35$68,258.35$10,061.18$246,005.88
3$246,005.88$68,258.35$14,760.35$329,024.58
4$329,024.58$68,258.35$19,741.47$417,024.40
5$417,024.40$68,258.35$25,021.46$510,304.21
6$510,304.21$68,258.35$30,618.25$609,180.81
7$609,180.81$68,258.35$36,550.85$713,990.01
8$713,990.01$68,258.35$42,839.40$825,087.76
9$825,087.76$68,258.35$49,505.27$942,851.37
10$942,851.37$68,258.35$56,571.08$1,067,680.80
11$1,067,680.80$68,258.35$64,060.85$1,200,000.00

Without changing anything else, his annual savings would need to be $68,258.35. This represents an increase of $28,258.35.

Can Mr. T make this work with a side hustle? Maybe, but it could take a while. Speaking from personal experience, creating a side hustle from scratch isn’t simple or easy. It takes sustained effort over time to gain the customer base necessary to generate a steady income.

What about if Mr. T were to lower his expenses? Remember, lowering expenses does two things: It lowers your FIRE target since you need less money to maintain your living expenses in retirement, and the saved money can be redirected into your investments, so you get the double whammy of more wind at your back and the finish line moving closer to you. What would his expenses have to be in order to make this happen?

I did a bit of Excel jujitsu to find the answer, which is $3117.97.

At this spending level, his FIRE target is $3117.97 x 12 x 25 = $935,391. The additional money saved gets added to his annual savings, which becomes $40,000 (old savings) + ($4000 – $3117.97) x 12 = $50,584.36. Plug these inputs into our projection spreadsheet, and…

YearBalanceSavingsROITotal
1$93,800.00$50,584.36$5,628.00$150,012.36
2$150,012.36$50,584.36$9,000.74$209,597.46
3$209,597.46$50,584.36$12,575.85$272,757.67
4$272,757.67$50,584.36$16,365.46$339,707.49
5$339,707.49$50,584.36$20,382.45$410,674.30
6$410,674.30$50,584.36$24,640.46$485,899.12
7$485,899.12$50,584.36$29,153.95$565,637.42
8$565,637.42$50,584.36$33,938.25$650,160.03
9$650,160.03$50,584.36$39,009.60$739,753.99
10$739,753.99$50,584.36$44,385.24$834,723.59
11$834,723.59$50,584.36$50,083.42$935,391.37

…we hit our new, revised FIRE target right at year 11.

A reduction in spending from $4000 to $3117.97 represents a reduction of $882.03, or 22%. Can he find $880 a month to cut that won’t drastically affect his lifestyle? Maybe, but it’ll likely be easier than building a whole new side hustle earing almost $30k from scratch.

And while every person’s spending decisions are personal, $4000 a month for a single person likely has some fat that can be trimmed. When we retired, our total spending for the two of us was about $3333 a month. There are a couple areas that I would look into. The first is the car. Cars are notoriously bad deals when it comes to ongoing costs, since gas, insurance, and maintenance costs just keep increasing over the lifetime of the car. I don’t know how accessible public transportation is for Mr. T, since I don’t know what city they live in, but if it’s at all possible to reduce his car usage, that would help a lot.

Another possibility is that this is this higher spending is caused by the dreaded “singles tax,” which hurts single people because they can’t combine their expenses like rent with another person to save money. Of course, as our reader notes, your partner has to at least be amenable to FIRE in order for this to work. Might I suggest a visit to our friend Viktor’s FIRE dating app firedating.me?

And of course, our reader can always use a combination of the two approaches. Build up a side hustle that makes some money, and cut expenses where they can. The two approaches can get him to his 11 year goal by meeting in the middle, so that it doesn’t rely on building a $30k business right out of the gate or overly painful cuts.

Questions

Now onto the questions.

  1. Does travel hacking affect your credit score?
  2. Yes, but you don’t just cancel and reapply for the same card, you spread out your applications across different companies and rewards programs. Check out sites like ThePointsGuy.com (USA) or PrinceOfTravel.com (Canada) for new offers.
  3. How do I fund my retirement while waiting for the 5-year Roth IRA Conversion ladder to kick in?
    1. By the time you hit your FIRE target you’ll have significant funds in your 401(k), Roth IRA, and taxable investment accounts. Use the funds in your taxable account first.
    1. You can use also the Cash-Asset swap strategy outlined in our book to access dividends/interest income that’s generated in a 401(k) or other age-restricted retirement account at any time without incurring early withdrawal penalties
  4. Know any good financial advisors that understand FIRE?
    1. Sean Mullaney runs the blog https://fitaxguy.com/, and he actually helped us out by reviewing the tax chapters in our book, so he definitely knows his stuff. If you reach out to him, tell him we said Hi!

Conclusion

Because he started early, nerdily makes decisions using spreadsheets, and doesn’t give a crap when other people around him give him shit for his spending decisions, Mr. T will reach FIRE before the age of 40 at his current trajectory. It may be possible to push that to 35, but it will require either starting a side hustle, cutting some expenses, or a combination of both. What approach would you take? Let’s hear it in the comments below!


When FIRECracker proofread this article before it was published, the following conversation took place.

FIRECracker: Ooh, you should tell them about my collection of chicken corneas!

Wanderer: Your…what?

FIRECracker: You know, my chicken corneas! The ones I kept in my room after sucking them out of the chicken eyeballs!

Wanderer: You know, sometimes I can’t tell whether you’re a financial genius or a serial killer.

FIRECracker: Why can’t I be both?

Wanderer: *sigh*


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30 thoughts on “Reader Case: Fellow Poverty Sibling”

  1. I think he’s on the right track with applying for other jobs. As an electrical engineer who is able to move (no house tying him down, no kids to worry about schools for, and hopefully no need to be in a state where he can get an abortion if he needs to, etc.), he should be able to get a big bump in wage every 1-3 years, right? And if he can keep his expense ratio the same or better, he should easily meet his target. Much more easily than doing a side hustle.

    Companies punish loyalty, so go get that next best job and then the one after that.

    1. Hi Jill. That’s the plan. I’ve been moving positions within the company every year and received mini pay bumps while also meeting new people and networking. I’m very grateful to be in the position that I’m in today. And agreed there’s not much incentive to stay at a company longer term other than to flex on the interns hehe.

  2. Let’s just hope inflation on apartment rent doesn’t blow up the expenses or cause OP to live in squalor in early retirement! Buying a place to live, as painful as it might be right now, fixes this unknown..

  3. Totally agree. In your situation if you have a single unit of time/energy to invest in something, invest it in your career. The ROI of travel hacking or side hustles does not even come close. Take it from me, a fellow engineer (mechanical, but went into software): at age 25 and 100k of TC you should be able to pull off a 20% raise every 2-3 years for the next decade. If your current company isn’t raising your pay that quickly, jump. Move if necessary to NY or SF where 250-300k total comp for a 30 year old engineer is commonplace. When they ask your expected comp, in many places they cannot ask your current (e.g. NYC). Just name your price and be aggressive. If you are thinking “they will probably laugh me out of the room when I say this number” then that’s the right number to ask for. Do not by any means buy a house that will tie you down and prevent you from taking the next salary jump if it means moving! Apartment living means more free time to invest in yourself and your career. OK? Now go and math THAT shit up and tell me you won’t be fired by 35! Good luck to you! (I know of what I speak, I’m FIREing next week, at 38 🙂

    1. Hey Roger thanks for the advice man! That’s exactly the plan. I just got done with the last round of interviews for a company in Austin and if I don’t get it if anything it was a great learning opportunity. It showed me the topics I knew very well and the ones I didn’t know at all. Allowing me to get better for the next interview and then next. I have a few colleagues that have moved to Cali and got compensated nicely and they are maximizing it by rooming with one another. But they WORK you over in the Bay Area. So I’m gonna need to know my stuff before I attempt the final boss.

  4. Can you ask Mr. T if i can contact him.. for my daughter. Haha, i love nerds, married one. My daughter is 22 and is working on being an RN. My husband is a CPA and my daughter is surely becoming molded in his frugal ways. If MrT wants a partner who is also into finance, retiring early.. they will be a good match. She is just a shy girl but very pretty..

  5. If Mr T still lives in Arizona, by which I assume Metro Phoenix, then a car is almost a necessity. There are other options for transit, but the city is very spread out. Bikes can be okay in the winter, but not summer, and I wouldn’t trust drivers in Phoenix anyway. Source: lived there my entire life.

  6. I got excited about the title “fellow poverty sibling” because I was hoping for a readers case on somebody with a more modest income. Can you feature somebody who makes more of an average/below average income? Sometimes I feel left out because it seems like all FIRE folks are engineers or in tech. Thanks!

    1. As someone who earns a more modest income, I can tell you for a fact that people on average-ish incomes simply don’t retire by 40 unless they start saving at age 18. If I want to, I’ll be able to retire in one year by age 55. My maximum income from my job was 61k. I did take a year off to travel in 2022. Went back to work at a crappy retail job last year and will probably make 28K this yea. I moved back in with my mom in late 2022. A 3k a month pension, plus current investments of 850k (34k using 4% rule + 36K pension = 70K) should allow me to get my own place and retire next year if I want to. If I’d started just 2 years earlier, I’m certain I could have retired around 2022.

      1. Thanks @Mysticaltyger! Congrats on your hard work and being so close to retirement! I am 36 and was recently salaried for the first time in my life- $60k/year. I feel very grateful have my income triple- but FI still feels so far away since I wasn’t able to start sooner and I’m not earning a tech/engineer salary 🙂

  7. This young person has already made some incredible progress ! If this person is like most people, he’s probably surrounded by broke friends (who are all buying houses and also have negative equity on their multiple cars) who would eagerly rent a room, which would instantly drop his living expenses significantly. Even if he did this for a few years it could put him way ahead.

    1. Thank you Bill. I considered having a roommate but quickly learned I don’t have the patience for one haha.

  8. Rather than focusing on maximizing income at all costs, I recommend maximizing job pleasure. Continue to aim for financial independence 15 years or better, but spend efforts figuring out how to have the most fun on the job and off the job while spending as little money as possible. Also, rather than spend extra efforts working two jobs, I would start developing the lifestyle you want to live after retirement, now! Find or create social groups that have a lot of fun while spending almost nothing. Hiking, non-competitive cycling, discussion groups, outdoor sports. Meetup is good for this. Focus more on the life you want to have in the future and on creating that now. Otherwise, you will be training yourself to work like a maniac on a job you hate (because you optimized only for income), without leaning how to become the person you want to be. You are a multi dimensional human being. Learn what you like.

    Also, I recommend you set a goal to interview once a month for a job you think you might like. You might find something you love to do, which would make your 15 (or less) years towards financial independence much more enjoyable. Plus, even better, having a strong sense of options and agency will give you confidence in your current position, which will make your current job more enjoyable.

    1. Totally agree! FIRE is the tool not the goal, and the process needs to be sustainable and fun enough. You don’t want to sacrifice mental and physical health just to reach an arbitrary number then you think you don’t have to work. By then, it is likely you would be so exhausted and burned out, and lose the flexibility of going back to any form of income-making activities if life situations change.

    2. Agreed. I had a good life balance but that was before I started working night shifts. I’ll be changing my schedule to hang out with friends more on Saturdays once I’m done with interviews. Completely right about creating the life I want to live now. For a solid month all I worked on was my budget and cutting expenses which was necessary to lock in financially but now I that got it down I gotta go touch some grass lolol.

    3. Agree- I started taking on a lot of side gigs (on top of full time work) in order to save more for retirement, but now I’m so exhausted and miserable I don’t have time or energy for the hobbies and friendships that bring me joy. I told myself I’d stick it out for this year but realize it’s not sustainable or worth it.

  9. I don’t think Mr T needs much advice but it’s always good to hear different opinions and form your own. Mr T already has his shit together.

  10. Hey, I’m getting close to starting a phased retirement, and guess what? I haven’t bought new clothes in about a million years!!!! My commute to work today will be on a YouBike (rental bike system in Taiwan), and I’ll be wearing hiker shorts with the extensions off (instant shorts!). At my teaching job, I’ll zip the extensions back on (instant long pants!). When I see something that needs to be mended, I see a seamstress at a market near my favorite coffee shop (inexpensive workplace when I want to hide and camp out with the laptop for a while)–near a YouBike rental.

    Hooray for frugality!

    Dan V
    Taipei, Taiwan

  11. Wanderer. Can you briefly explain how you can take 401k dividends early as you mention? I’ve never heard of this and haven’t been able to find a resource on the web that covers it. Other than using an sepp or a hardship withdrawal I am not aware of any other way for a 35 year old to access 401k money penalty free. Seems like a very interesting option for many!

  12. Hi,

    Life is simple with a minimalist approach. Focus on changing jobs once a few years and it makes life interesting whilst maintaining or reducing the annual expense (where possible).

    One achieves Financial Independence with the option of Retiring Early.

    WTK

  13. Odd, I hadn’t heard of Culdesac before – it sounds great! Tempe is definitely easier to get around in, as is downtown Phoenix. I think if someone is moving to the area, then a car might not be necessary; for those of who’ve been around a while, we have friends and family scattered all over the valley, and a car becomes pretty necessary. On the other hand, if those trips were infrequent, an Uber or something would work just as well. I hope Culdesac is popular and that more places like that spring up, our family would gladly move there!

  14. Hi Mr T and thanks for your story!

    I second all of Wanderer’s suggestions and most of those in previous comments.
    I will add a suggestion on the savings side of the equation.
    Your costs are certainly high by my standards (forget about rural China, lmao), and they might get higher when u move to a high COL area (but the salary bump will compensate in that case).

    But assuming that you will spend 4k USD/mo AFTER you retire is not reasonable.
    From personal experience and talking to people in the community, you can negotiate with yourself a much lower number. The car may be safely dumped, your rent may be a fraction of what you’re paying now, and so on.

    You can play with the idea on a spreadsheet now, keeping your savings on your current level and accepting a lower FIRE target.
    Or, in 11 years or when you really, really feel you’ve had enough, you can check how far you got with your net assets, divide by 300 to translate it to monthly expenses, and see if the result can afford you an acceptable lifestyle in a place of your liking.
    I found this approach described in JL Collins’ Pathfinders book 😉

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