Reader Case: Retiring Early in Florida

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Wanderer

The Wanderer retired from his engineering job at a major Silicon Valley semiconductor company at the age of 33. He now travels the world, seeking out knowledge from other wealthy people, so that he can teach people how to become Financially Independent themselves.
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Another Friday, another Reader Case!

But before we start, we recently got this wonderful little note from a longtime reader who was featured in a previous Reader Case. I always enjoy these, if for no other reason than just to catch up and see how they’re doing.

This reader’s story was first featured in the reader case “Reformed Debt-Junkie Wants To Retire With Kids

OH HEI!!!

First up, congradjumafrickinlations on the book! I can’t get enough of yours and Bryce’s story as home-grown inspiration fodder, so it’s already on the to-read list! Major kudos on another book. You guys are killing it.

Fer seconds: Wanted to send a big ol THANK YOU for everything. Last time we checked in (“Reformed Debt Junkie Wants to Retire With Kids), we had about $5k in cash and $4k in investments. Once we hit $10k in our emergency fund, we followed Bryce’s investing tutorial like toddlers learning how to tie their shoes. (Seriously, if you were more Machiavellian, you could’ve told us to invest in ANYTHING and we would’ve been like “O, OK COOL, DONE.”) But actually, you did a great job explaining everything, so I feel I have a solid understanding of where our money is and why. 🙂

Despite an unattractive first year in a down market, we doggedly bought into our shiny new portfolio and are keepin ‘er going! This month we’ll be hitting a $60k net worth and we’ll be sailing into 6-figures around the end of the year (woo!).

First of all, I’ve never heard anyone say congradjumafrickinlations before, but now that I have I’m going to start using it as much as I can. And as there’s no time like the present, congradjumafrickinlations right back atcha! Going from $9k net worth to $60k, and then to $100k is damned impressive. It just goes to show you that when you understand money, life is easy, but if you don’t understand money, like is incredibly hard. The goal of this blog is to help people understand money, and it looks like you hit it right out of the park! Great job!

OK now on to this week’s reader case. We’ve been (randomly) doing a string of Canadian cases lately, so I thought I’d mix it up a bit and pick an American one. Don’t say we never showed you any love up here from the North!

Hi! I’m 26 years old and work as a program manager at a non-profit in Florida. I first found the FIRE movement when spending 3 years in a job that I absolutely hated, and even though I’m now at a job that I love (I took a tiny pay cut, but it was completely worth it to me to have some semblance of work life balance and not hate my life), I know that this might not last forever and would like to eventually have the freedom to spend my time volunteering, traveling, or even working a fun but low paying job. I think it’s super fun to optimize my finances so reevaluate things pretty regularly, but still feel like there are things that I’m missing or ways I can get to FI even faster! I’d love to hear any input you have! See my details below 🙂

  • Your gross/net annual family income
    • Gross: 55,000
    • Net: ~49,000 (after federal taxes and insurance – no state income tax; employer contribution of 5% to 403b added post-tax)
  • Your monthly family spending (around $2,300/month; $27,600/year)
    • All housing costs (rent, renter’s insurance, utilities): $840/month
    • Cell phone: $15/month (this is a prepaid plan that’s cheaper if you buy a year at a time, but I set aside this money each month in my high yield savings account)
    • Groceries: Roughly $150/month
    • Amazon Prime: $11/month (paid annually, money set aside each month)
    • Credit card annual fee: $8/month (paid annually, money set aside every month; I definitely get enough value out of this card to keep it despite the annual fee)
    • Gym membership: $35/month
    • Discretionary spending: Roughly $230/month (this is mostly a. going out to concerts/restaurants/bars with friends and b. taking Ubers if I’m going somewhere I can’t walk since I don’t have a car. Any excess at the end of the month goes into my HYS account)
    • Student loan payment: $1,000/month (minimum is $700)
  • For any debts you have, please include: I have one student loan remaining (starting balance across 4 loans was embarrassingly high for the fact that I didn’t go to any sort of graduate school, I was kind of an idiot about finances when I was 18 and choosing my college). No credit card debt, auto loans, personal loans, etc.
    • The interest rate: 4% (refinanced from an average of 8% across the 4 loans)
    • Your minimum monthly payment: $700, I pay $300 extra each month for a total of $1,000 per month
    • The outstanding balance: $35,000
  • Any fixed assets you have (house, car, etc.)
    • N/A
  • And investments or savings you have (cash, bonds, stocks, etc.)
    • Monthly savings (around $1,760/month; $21,120/year)
      • 403b: 15% of my salary; employer matches 100% up to 5%
        • $687 from me, $229 from my employer for total of $916/month
      • Roth IRA: $250/month
      • Traditional IRA: $250/month
        • For Roth+IRA together I’m contributing the max of $6,000/year
      • High Yield Savings Account: $350
        • I actually contribute $384, but $34 was accounted for in spending (annual expenses I budget for on a monthly basis: Amazon Prime, credit card annual fee, and cell phone)
    • Current balances
      • Checking account: around $1,500
      • High Yield Savings: $12,000
        • Until I refinanced my loans I was putting any extra income/savings into those; now that they’re at a more manageable interest rate I switched to using extra money to build this account to a 6 month emergency fund; once that’s done I’m going back to attacking my loans)
      • 403b: $3,000 (I’ve only been at this job for about 3 months)
      • Traditional IRA: $1,500 (rolled over from a previous job)
      • Roth IRA: $17,000 (I’ve been contributing to this account since I started having earned income in high school)
      • Brokerage account: $8,000 (not entirely sure why I decided to put this money into a taxable account instead of doing something else with it, but I kind of like the idea of having money invested that I can access easily if needed? I’m not regularly contributing to this account)
  • Total assets ($43,000) – total debts ($35,000) = Net Worth $8,000. Tiny, but positive! It was negative for way too long.

Thanks in advance, very much appreciated!

FloridaFIRE

OK so first of all, you can actually tell a lot about people just in the way they present their spending. Some people’s give their spending as a single high-level number, others break it down in broad categories, and still others show it in so much detail you know they track every single receipt in reams of spreadsheets with OCD-like precision.

Based on lines likes this:

Credit card annual fee: $8/month (paid annually, money set aside every month; I definitely get enough value out of this card to keep it despite the annual fee)

I can tell this person’s definitely the last category. Incidentally, we’re like that too! You should see FIRECracker’s spreadsheets. There’s so much detail in there that she can tell you in an instant how much more expensive bus passes are in Madrid versus Warsaw. FloridaFIRE’s definitely our kind of people 🙂

On To the Numbers!

So anyway, how is FloridaFIRE doing?

First of all, lets take a look at his spending. He’s reporting here that monthly spending of $2300, but that amount actually includes his student loan repayment amount of $1000. This is important because it’ll go away once his loan is paid off, and shouldn’t be used to calculate his FIRE target. So his actual spending is just $1300 per month, or $15,600.

That’s crazy low, even by Florida standards! And based on his statement “I think it’s super fun to optimize my finances” we can tell that that FloridaFIRE is most definitely an Optimizer like us. He obviously enjoys poring over his spending and finding tiny little micro-tweaks that can bring his spending down even further. Again, he’s definitely our kind of people 🙂

Now lets talk about the debt. $35k’s actually not too bad for an American. We regularly get emails from people being crushed by $100k+ student loans at 8% APRs, so count yourself lucky there that it’s “only” $35k.

We can also see that he’s refinanced his loans, bringing the interest rate from 8% down to 4%. This will lower his interest payments, which is great, but it likely means he’s now with a private lender, meaning he’s likely not eligible for loan forgiveness programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). So we want to kill this debt pronto since it’s one of those scary non-dischargable kinds.

Generally, whenever anyone has any kind of loan with an interest rate north of 5%, we recommend that you stop all other savings or investing and just direct all your cash at murdering the loan as soon as possible. FloridaFIRE has rather cleverly refinanced in order to take the pressure off. With a 4% interest rate, he has some breathing room and has redirecting his cash flow towards building up an emergency fund instead. Now that that’s done, he should go back to throwing his cash at the loan until it’s done, which as he’s noted is exactly what he already plans on doing. Ah, FloridaFIRE. What the heck are you writing in for if you’re already doing everything right?

Math Shit Up

So how long until FloridaFIRE can retire? Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s MATH SHIT UP!

Here are his top-level numbers:

Summary Amount
Income $55,000 (gross), $49,000 (net)
Expenses 1,300 per month, $15,600 per year
Debt $35,000 @ 4%
Assets $43,000

Well first, he’s planning on killing his student loan. By my calculations, that should take about a year.

After that, he’ll be able to resume his climb towards FIRE. How much will he need?

Based on his impressively efficient spending of just $15,600, as per the 4% rule he will need $15,600 x 25 = $390,000 to retire! That doesn’t seem too tall of a hill to climb, does it?

Let’s see what our trusty projection says…

Year Balance ROI Savings Total Notes
0 $43,000.00 $2,580.00 $0.00 $45,580.00 First year's savings spent paying off loan
1 $45,580.00 $2,734.80 $33,400.00 $81,714.80
2 $81,714.80 $4,902.89 $33,400.00 $120,017.69
3 $120,017.69 $7,201.06 $33,400.00 $160,618.75
4 $160,618.75 $9,637.12 $33,400.00 $203,655.87
5 $203,655.87 $12,219.35 $33,400.00 $249,275.23
6 $249,275.23 $14,956.51 $33,400.00 $297,631.74
7 $297,631.74 $17,857.90 $33,400.00 $348,889.64
8 $348,889.64 $20,933.38 $33,400.00 $403,223.02

Just 9 years. And given that he’s currently 26, that would put his retirement age at 35. Not too shabby at all!

Conclusion

Some people write in asking for help because they don’t know what to do. Others already have a pretty solid plan and just need a confirmatory thumbs-up. So here’s ours.

Great job, FloridaFIRE! You’ve clearly optimized the heck out of your expenses, you’ve found a way to get your student loans under control while at the same time building up an emergency fund, and you’re well on your way to the sunny beaches of early retirement. Congradjumafrickinlations!

So what do y’all think? Do you guys see anything differently he could be doing? Let’s hear it in the comments below!


Update: Chautauqua is now 100% sold out! If you missed out, don't worry, you can still add yourself to the waiting list here. To join the mailing list for 2020 click here.


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33 thoughts on “Reader Case: Retiring Early in Florida”

  1. Hi Wanderer,

    Nice write-up. I believe that the reader could have reduced his time from the projected nine years provided that he manage to secure increment in the income by changing the job once every two years. This may have reduced about two years based on the remuneration increment.

    WTK

        1. Yeah, I’m trying to figure that one out too. I mean, when I was climbing the ladder and changed jobs three times in five years, I nearly tripled my salary. Now, I’ll admit I’m never going to win the Fields Medal, but my math tells me that was a good thing.

          1. It was also three job changes for me in the past 5 years – plus a change of country. My current salary is almost 10x what I had 5 years ago, given it was a low starting point. And it’s given me the opportunity to get on this FI journey.

            But I’ve decided to slow down and focus on making side hustles since I probably need to move countries again to get a higher salary for similar work. :p Passive income (eventually) side hustles. haha!

  2. Great job FloridaFIRE! Maybe circumstances change with family/partner needs, but likely there will be salary increases so savings can increase. Wish we were all buddies starting our earlier in my career so we could have supported and encouraged each other, about 1-2 years away myself. Way to go!

  3. Well done FloridaFire. What jumped out at me was no car. That saves a ton of money. My oldest son did not even get his licence until late 20’s. Used saved money to buy a condo. Now he has a car, property, savings, fiance, good job and a net worth of 80K and he is not even 30. Vehicles are expensive. Hey there is the title of my next article. The Wealthy Public Transit Rider – ok needs work.

    1. whoa, good call. are there people who live in Florida without cars?

      impressively low housing costs too

        1. I do hope Auckland catches up with public transport upgrades. We still have a car for weekend trips since it takes a loooooong time to get from A to B on the weekends.

          No car would be awesome.

          1. Just curious – have you looked at whether just renting (or using a community car sharing service if you have them) for those trips would work out any cheaper than owning?

  4. Long time reader/lurker here. Thank y’all so much for continuing to post on occasion. I’m always thrilled when there is a new post.

    I’d like to suggest one change. I wouldn’t pay off my student loans in the next year if I was him. I think there’s more value in utilizing tax-advantaged accounts as he has been doing. I would continue investing in his retirement exactly as he has and just use the $350 per month (plus extra funds left over from the fun category.) Any future raises or side hustle income can be used to murder the student loans faster.

  5. Hey guys, Thanks for everything, you are great, and I have learned a lot -even having an MBA and an undergrad degree in finances.

    Some feedback on the page, I would like to “like” comments.

    That’s it!

    Best,

  6. Cool case study and I like the idea of “murdering” higher interest loans. Well done Florida Fire in getting in the black and extra kudos for living in a no income tax state. As Wanderer’s math shows, dedication and perseverance will be your key to financial independence. Continuous mindfulness of finances along the way and looking for additional opportunities will help. I did notice that while debt is below average and savings is above, it is worth noting that average household income in USA is $56.5K and you are ever so slightly below that. Every dollar extra of income can go directly to savings / investment. Maybe consider raising household income over time through side hustles or job advancement? You may not have to leave the job at the non-profit to do so (I never advocate leaving a job you love). Best of luck 😉

  7. As a native Floridian (and now resident of Canada) nice job FloridaFIRE way to represent! You’re one of the rare breeds if you’re anywhere in south Florida that is all about strip malls, shopping, and over consumption. My tip – Keep an eye out on Florida real estate and see if you can jump in if the crazy foreclosures hit the market again. I was able to make over $200,000 in 3 years from buying a foreclosure, renting rooms out while I lived in it, and then renting the entire place out when I moved to canad, to selling it. If I didn’t live across the continent I’d still have it. (I know Millenial Revolution aren’t typically all about real estate but Florida can be a gem for it!)

    1. True dat, but I think the days of foreclosure investing are long gone. When we were in Miami there was construction everywhere. And as for the flash over-consumptive lifestyle, oh my God yes that was everywhere. I was forced to learn a new term “Brickellista.” Shudder. Look it up.

      1. Yea true the foreclosure days are likely are gone but the cost of living in Florida is relatively low (unless you’re in downtown Miami) so it may make sense to buy a townhouse and rent out a few bedrooms there (vs Toronto). And haha Brickellista oh man. My partner lived just outside there for a year while going to UM for nursing school so I’d go down to visit often back in the day. Sure don’t miss that attitude or way of living!!!

    2. Hi, My husband and I are thinking go to Florida next Feb and live there for 1 month. Do you have any suggestion on where we can find furnished suites? (The ones we found online now is like $3000/month)
      Thanks a lot!

  8. How sustainable is it to live forever in Florida without a car ? Also those expenses will probably go up as they age and need more medical attention. Anyways, the path is right. Being 26 one still has a lot of room to grow professionally and get a better salary. Happy journey to FI !

  9. I don’t know about Florida health care since I am canadian but shouldn’t FloridaFIRE save a bit more to pay for healthcare he might need between age 35 to let’s say 90 years old? Maybe I am missing something and its already taken care in the 15600$/years budget but better be sure and double check that than be sorry later !

  10. Agree with the earlier comment that healthcare needs to be factored in, especially when reaching FIRE. In our experience, paying for insurance outside a traditional job is very expensive — we’re NYC but looking at FL and it’s not that much of a savings. In addition, with such a low expense rate (that’s great!) I would focus on building up a side hustle to cover that, cutting down time to FIRE considerably.

  11. Former Floridian here. It’s true the cost of living is pretty low there, and no state income taxes do help. However public transportation generally sucks (exception for downtown Miami). FloridaFIRE’s low cost of living is definitely helping. And as a former holder of 150k of loans at 7%, I do agree with the aggressive pay-down strategy. Even at 5% I would’ve paid down. I have a friend doing PSLF with still 5 more years to go but who knows if it’ll still be around by then given who is President.

  12. Loved the write up. Thanks for sharing guys! Gotta send ours in. It’s a real mess because of dual country assets…

  13. Why would you want to pay down the debt?Just because you can’t default on it is not a good justification to throw returns away. With smart investing, you should get around 10 percent (ie. The annual average S&P 500 return is 9.8 percent as an example).

    Reduce the payments to the loan as much as possible and divert cash to investments. Your advice is a disservice to the asker.

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