DR 171: How to Retire at 40 – Interview With Chris of Eat the Financial Elephant

Since launching the podcast in 2013, I’ve had the chance to interview folks about early retirement. It started with Mr. Money Mustache, who retired at the ripe old age of 30. Then we had Todd Tresidder on the show, a former hedge fund manager who retired at 35. More recently, we talked to Jason of Root of Good who retired at at age 33.

Today we have another early retiree. Our guest is Chris who blogs over at EatTheFinancialElephant.com. Chris and his wife write about their financial journey toward early retirement. Chris is 38 and his wife is 37, and their plan is to retire at age 40. They feel confident that they’re on the right path, even though they have a two year old daughter to raise.

What may come as the biggest surprise is that Chris and his wife didn’t start out with the intention of retiring early. They graduated from college, and had some debts to pay off, and followed a simple strategy to make it happen. Once that task was completed, they just continued along the same path. Only instead of paying off debt, they concentrated instead on saving money.

We’re talking serious savings here…

Their simple strategy was built around living off of one paycheck, and banking the other. Since Chris’s wife started working earlier than he did, they started out living on her income alone. It was actually an ordinary income level – in the mid-30s. They grew accustomed to living on that single paycheck, so when Chris finish graduate school and started working, they decided to devote his entire paycheck to paying off their debts.

Chris started working full-time in 2001, and they managed to accumulate a substantial amount of money in the past 14 years. During that time they managed to save an average of about 50% of their combined incomes each year. Some years they save less, but in others they save more.

As an interesting side note, along the way they have been able to travel extensively. We’re talking all over the world–Africa, Ecuador, Australia, and all over the US. That’s the kind of thing that becomes doable when you live well beneath your means.

Avoiding debt was an important sub-strategy

Like so many other people who are committed savers, Chris and his wife had to swear off the trappings of middle-class life that can be a serious detour for those who seek financial independence. They typically drove older cars and were careful to pay off their mortgage as quickly as possible.

When you have no house payment, no car payment – no debt of any kind – it’s easier to commit a larger percentage of your income to savings. And as their savings grew, they felt less need to keep up with their free-spending friends.

Success hasn’t been a straight line

Chris is quick to point out that he and his wife made many mistakes along the way. For example, by prioritizing paying off their mortgage – in just seven years – they missed out on significant investment opportunities, both in stocks and real estate. They traded higher returns for the elimination of a 4% mortgage. Chris sees this as a strategic mistake.

With the birth of their child two years ago, they also bought two new cars, considering the possibility that their long-term plans had fundamentally changed. In response to pressure from others, they abandoned their long-term practice of buying used cars, and driving them into the ground.

But despite their mistakes, Chris and his wife are well on their way to retiring at age 40. When you are a committed saver, able to bank an entire salary each year, you can make mistakes and get back on track quickly.

EatTheFinancialElephant.com

Chris and his wife are using their blog to describe their trials and tribulations on the path to early retirement.

Some of the posts on the blog that are particularly interesting if you hope to retire early in life include:

You’ll want to listen to the podcast before checking out these links though. Chris gives a lot of insight on investing and the many mistakes he and his wife made in that area. You may see yourself in some of those mistakes, and if you do, you’ll also realize that they aren’t terminal. Chris’s advice is simple, straightforward, and can work in just about any situation.

Enjoy the Podcast

Transcript of Interview

Rob: Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris: Hi Rob, I’m excited to talk to you.

Rob: Well, I appreciate your time today. So we’re going to talk about a number of things, your financial journey and your blogging at eatthefinancialelephant.com. Just to kind of jump right into it, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, your family and what you do?

Chris: Yeah, sure. My names Chris, and my wife and I started our blog talking about our journey to early retirement. I’m 38 and she’s 37, and our goal would be when I’m 40 to be able to cut back to at least part-time work, or just completely retire if that’s what we choose to do. We haven’t completely finalized our plans yet but that’s where we’re at. And we also have a 2-year-old daughter.

Rob: So you said you’re 38?

Chris: Correct.

Rob: And you’re looking to retire or go part time in 2 years?

Chris: Yeah. When I say part time, it would be pretty casual. I’m basically looking to retire early.

Rob: Okay, so that raises a whole host of questions for me, Chris. Let’s start with when you first decided that early retirement was something you wanted to aim for?

Chris: Honestly, I never really even knew that this even was possible or how you would go about doing it. I just kind of intuitively— my wife and I both come from California in middle class to lower middle class backgrounds so as we started working… Let’s put it this way— I had a conversation with my dad who revealed that the money I was making alone was as much as he and my mother had made in their best years. They had done fairly well for themselves so we just figured if we could make more than that, why couldn’t we just save half of it and see what happens. So that was our thought. To see how short of a career we can have and how much time we can just enjoy life.

Rob: And you’re a physical therapist?

Chris: Correct.

Rob: Okay. So is that what you did? You started saving half of your total income?

Chris: We never really had a plan so that wasn’t really our intention. My wife started working one year before me, when I was still in graduate school so she was basically supporting us. As soon as I got out of school, she still had a small student loan and a small car loan. We were living fine, getting by on her salary. I think she started at about $35,000 to 36,000. So, we weren’t making a lot of money but we were doing okay but I figured if we could just use my money, since I started to actually have a real paycheck and an actual career— we could finally pay off our debts. So it worked fine and we were happy. We just kind of kept doing that. We would use my money to either invest, save or put towards housing. We never really spent my salary as long as I’ve been working.

Rob: Wow, okay. So you were living off her salary. You graduated, started making money and rather than spend the money or upgrade your lifestyle, you just took that income, paid off some debt that you had, then started investing?

Chris: Correct.

Rob: And how long ago was that?

Chris: I got my masters degree in 2001, so my career started in May of 2001.

Rob: So 14 years ago. You’ve basically done that and saved your income for 14 years?

Chris: Yeah, more or less. And again, I think people consider 50 percent as extreme frugality and they look at it as sacrificing, but I guess we’ve never really looked at it as such because we’ve been happy all along. We’ve never made huge money but we made enough that we were very happy. Along the way we’ve traveled extensively—and I’m occasionally I’m sure there’s been years that we’ve been at 40 percent because we’ve spent some money if we’ve splurged. And there’s probably years where we’ve saved 60 or 70 percent savings rate just because we’ve paying more attention to it. But there was never really a big plan that we were going to spend exactly 50 percent and save exactly 50 percent. It’s never really been like that.

Rob: Where have you traveled to? Any exciting places?

Chris: Oh, we’ve been all over the world. Our most unique places have been like Africa. We’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. We’ve been on safari. We’re into mountaineering. We’ve been to Ecuador. All over the States. We’ve been to Australia. So basically whatever we’ve wanted to do we’ve always done. I’m a big football fan so we’ve been to the Super Bowl. Kind of wherever…

Rob: Alright. So what Super Bowl did you go to?

Chris: I’m a Steelers fan, so—

Rob: Yeah baby! Woohoo!

Chris: So we went to the one in Detroit, Super Bowl 40. And that was just something I always said I wanted to do. When I was in college— I went to the University of Pittsburgh. So when I was in college I worked at Dominoes Pizza. And the Steelers made the Super Bowl and they made me work that day. And I always said if they made it back, I was going. So when they went, it was in Detroit. I have some family there and it was drivable. So we just decided we were going to do it. And I actually scalped tickets in the bathroom of a bar. It was interesting.

Rob: Who did they play? I don’t even remember.

Chris: That was Seattle.

Rob: Oh, okay. They lost, right?

Chris: No! They won that one. I would have been upset if they lost.

Rob: See, I’m a Steelers fan and I can’t even remember that one. But I was a Steelers fan when Bradshaw and Stallworth, Swan and Mean Joe were playing. So how much did you pay for scalped tickets from the bathroom in a bar?

Chris: [Laughs]. I don’t know how legal that is so we’ll just say it was well over the $400 face value. Well, well over.

Rob: Okay. Well how do you do that then? How do you go on all these incredible trips when you’re living primarily off just your wife’s salary? I’m sure it’s gone up over these past 14 years but it started at $36,000 or whatever. How do you manage to pay for these trips?

Chris: Basically, I think the key is to develop a high savings rate. For us, we were able to do that just by controlling our living expenses and our housing expenses. We’ve done way better than average people on cars. We each have three college degrees and we’ve done it with a total of about $15,000 of debt. As we talk to people and learn about this stuff, I think a lot of people just have this huge— I call it a ‘noise in the background’ where no matter what you’re doing you have this big mortgage payment, car payment and you’re still paying student loans. We never had any of that. So by having this high savings rate— some years we’d splurge, some years we’d save even more. And we never really thought too much about it or viewed it as sacrifice so we didn’t even think it was very hard. I think it’s just a matter of if you get the big things right, everything else is kind of easy and there’s enough income. We started at about $36,000, but over the years we’ve tripled our salaries. We’ve each maxed out at around $85,000 to $90,000.

Rob: Wow, okay. So when you say you keep your car cost and housing cost down compared to the average family, give us an idea of what that means. What kind of cars do you drive? How long have you owned them? And what did you pay for them?

Chris: Currently we both drive newer Subaru’s. But we had this early retirement idea and thought we were getting close. We paid our house off completely. We thought we were kind of just going to take a plunge. We had no plans because this was about 3 years ago. We found out my wife was pregnant and everybody said, “Oh, everything is going to change.” And we kind of bought into that hype a bit. So we went out and splurged on new cars which was a stupid mistake. But prior to that, we’ve always just had older, used cars so we never really had a payment. Even with our new cars, we just paid cash for them even though they were new cars. But prior to that we just drove the same car into the ground. I had a Chevy Malibu that I drove for 8 or 9 years and my wife drove the same car she had in college. It was a Chevy— whatever that little sedan is. I can’t remember off the top of my head. But we always just kept our expenses really low. We always pay cash and we’ve always bought used cars up until these new cars now.

Rob: You made a comment that you paid your house off. Was that much of a debate for you as to whether you should pay your house off. I assume that you paid it off early?

Chris: Yeah, we paid it in about 7 years. I think the reason we started sharing our story which is one of the things that makes it interesting is, we really had no plan. As we get into the things that we’ve done spending money, we’ve made a lot of big mistakes. We definitely didn’t optimize. We finished paying our house off in 2010, so the last 2008, 2009, and 2010, we were just pouring money out for mortgage at a 4 percent rate of interest. At the same time, we were passing up as the market. You couldn’t have made a bad investment whether you bought real estate, foreign stocks, domestic stocks, even bonds— anything would have been better than that. But just the mistakes we’ve made along the way have been not optimizing versus getting crushed with debt or filing for bankruptcy or things like that. So no, we didn’t have a plan. Looking back, I wish we would have. We probably would still be carrying our mortgage and have double our net worth but we made mistakes along the way.

Rob: Yeah. But you make a great point. The real fundamental mistakes are not saving in the first place or as you said, going into debt. The whole question of pay your mortgage off early or investing is an important topic but it pales in comparison to the kind of mistakes that folks make when they don’t save and they go into debt.

Chris: Oh, absolutely. And that’s one of the reasons we started our blog. And it’s one of the main things we talk about. I mean, you’ll hear the same things over and over such as should you do a Roth versus a traditional IRA? Or should you cut your cable or you shouldn’t go to Starbucks. And I don’t disagree. Any little thing you can do helps. But the things we’ve done, we’ve gotten the big things like housing, cars, education and gotten those right. If you do that, you can make a ton of mistakes and not sacrifice and still build wealth very, very quickly. I can see where people think that it’s sacrificing where people struggle. If you’re focusing on these little things, it’s a lot of effort and you get little reward if you don’t get it right.

Rob: That’s a great point. I wonder, was it ever hard? Was there ever something that you really wanted but you had to deny yourself? Was there ever part of you that felt like it was a real difficult thing to kind of, stay the course?

Chris: No, I would say not at all. I think a lot of that is my wife and I both have really strong family backgrounds and we’re just happy people. I think there’s just something said for just being content and I think a lot of that is because we came from that. We started with only $36,000 between the two of us. But quickly we were up to both making that salary and then up to over $100,000. And we just realized that we could spend more but it’s not going to make us any happier. So we focused on the things that we really wanted. Like I said, when you’re going to Super Bowls and you’re doing international travel… We’ve hiked the Grand Canyon. We’ve climbed the Grand Teton and we’ve been all over the states. When you’re doing the stuff you really want to do— I guess I could drive a BMW if I wanted to, but it’s never been a desire. I never really cared about that. So no, I never really felt sacrifice.

Rob: Where do you live, what state?

Chris: We live in Pennsylvania.

Rob: Oh yeah, the Steelers fan. Okay. Just from a practical, month-to-month kind of consideration, do you guys use software to budget your money? How do you keep track of the money you do spend?

Chris: No, since we’ve started our blog we’re trying to put hard numbers to things. We’re trying to figure things out more. And also just for our own retirement planning. One of the things that we never really thought about, I guess kind of intuitively, we knew that your spending affects how much you have to save but we never really got down to tracking that or paid any attention. We just always kind of just stayed off of my wife’s and just spend that. But now we just use Excel spreadsheet. I guess we’re weird in the blogging world because everybody—they use Personal Capital to get people to do the affiliates and stuff. But we just still use the regular old Excel.

Rob: Actually, for me, from a budgeting point, I love Personal Capital. But from a budgeting perspective, my favorite is YNAB. But you use whatever works and if Excel works for you, or even a piece of paper for that matter… I mean, in some ways it sounds like what you really did was kind of paid yourself first. You kept your salary separate. And that’s what went to savings. Then you spent your wife’s income.

Chris: Oh, absolutely. That’s what we’ve always done. Like I said, when you’re living with that much of a savings rate, you can splurge from time to time. But generally we didn’t. I mean, we generally just stayed with that. And we were happy with that so that’s what we did.

Rob: Right. How about investing? How do you invest your money that you do have?

Chris: Currently we do everything we can to max tax deferral. That’s just one of the things that we’ve learned from reading early retirement blogs. I would say, if you’re doing that long term, it makes a big difference. But we’ve only just done that the last two years. We never really realized the affect of that. We tried to keep our investment costs as low as possible so we’re do-it-yourselfers. We do low-cost passive indexing. But again, that’s just I think over the long term that will make a huge difference. To get us to this point, honestly, we’ve done it with huge mistakes. We were using an advisor. We were buying loaded mutual funds, actively managed investing in taxable accounts. We’ve even rolled over— when my wife switched jobs we rolled over to a variable annuity in a taxable account. So, for people who know and do pay attention to this stuff, we basically have done everything wrong that you can do wrong.

Rob: Let me go back to that for a second. You took a retirement account and rolled it into a taxable account?

Chris: No, no. We rolled it with our advisor. He put it into a variable annuity with really high fees. Now that we do read and look at this stuff and understand it, the only real benefit of a variable annuity that I can ever find is the tax deferral and we already had that. So it’s just the way to get more fees out of us, as we now see.

Rob: Right. That’s terrible!

Chris: Yeah, like I said, we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and we’ve definitely not done things optimally. But that’s where I think and hope our message can inspire people and educate them. But seeing things now, we definitely could have been retired if we would have not made the mistakes we made investing. If we would have learned from the get-go and done things correctly… Also, if we would have optimized with our housing then we probably could have increased our net worth by another half a million dollars very easily. So it’s amazing what these little mistakes and little decisions that people don’t realize, can do. That being said, if you get the big decisions right, even despite making those big, massive mistakes, you can still get there.

Rob: Did you fire your financial advisor?

Chris: Yeah, very quickly.

Rob: This would be uncomfortable for a lot of people, but did you ever have a conversation with him or her, where you said “Hey, you recommended that I do this with the variable annuity. That’s horrible advice. Why did you do that?” Did you ever have that conversation with him?

Chris: Oh yeah, we absolutely did. This is one of the key messages that we get out with our blog. Understanding your investments and understanding the financial industry. I think basically— you just don’t pay attention to these things. Everything is a percentage of your assets, a percentage if you’re paying commissions a percentage of what you put in. Some of these things, like the commissions we did see on our statements— and things like the expense ratios— you don’t see that on your statement anywhere. All of the fees. We didn’t even understand we owned a variable annuity. When we started to sit down and break down line-by-line, item-by- item which fees we were paying, we realized our one accounts had a surrender fee. We didn’t even know we owned a variable annuity. So yeah, we definitely confronted him about it and we definitely brought it to his attention.

Rob: Did he have an answer? What was his response?

Chris: His response was that normally we’re buying things with commission. Hence, by buying a variable annuity we didn’t pay commissions. He said that was better for us. But then on the back end, you’re paying a full percent more every single year. So if we would have not found that and kept that in there for a long time, over time it would have absolutely crushed anything that you would have paid in commission. But that was reasoning for it and why he said it was a suitable investment for us.

Rob: I guess I don’t understand that you’re not going to pay commissions. He’s not suggesting that he’s not making money off of this variable annuity. Or was he?

Chris: I’ll tell you… we went round-and-round with it. In retrospect, we made big mistakes and that’s what it comes down to.

Rob: But you know the great thing about all of this is that you mentioned a number of things that you would have done differently. Mistakes that you made or others that led you down the wrong path and yet you’re still doing great. It’s really a testament to if you get the basic things right, you can make a lot of other mistakes and still be okay.

Chris: Yeah, and I think that’s one of our key core messages. And another thing is, the reason we started this blog is just to help educate and make people understand these things because the financial industry has a lot of things that are done to deceive people. I think just looking at things academically. My wife and I have a total of 6 college degrees. And just looking at the amount of wealth we’ve been able to build, when you pay attention to finances, this stuff is not intuitive. There’s a lot of smoke in mirrors I think and people need to understand that the financial industry is an inherent conflict of interest. They make money off of your money and you are looking to make money off of your money. There’s only one pile of money. So they’ve got to make decisions and from time-to-time. And often times they’re going to choose their own interest over yours and you have to be aware of that! It’s really hard if you’re not willing to sit down and educate yourself. It’s just something that you have to do.

Rob: Let me tick off a few more questions about your finances and then I want to turn to the blog. I’ve got four things I want to ask you real quick. First, when you’re both retired, what are you going to do for healthcare?

Chris: That is the single biggest question that we have. We’re kind of like everybody else in this country—waiting to see which way they kick the political football which is, Obama care. I don’t know, that’s the big scary thing. Right now we’re young. We’re in good health. But that’s the big hang up and we’re not 100 percent sure. That’s one of the reasons that one of us may continue to work at least part-time to do that. I think at least one of us will work part-time just to have some income so if it’s more than we thought, then we’re not overly relying on our investments. But we don’t have the answer to that right now.

Rob: Okay. Spending retirement money. You mentioned that you have a fair amount in taxable accounts as well as retirement accounts. Maybe that will answer this next question. How do you plan on spending? And will you need to get access to your retirement accounts before you’re 59 and a half? If so, how are you going to do that?

Chris: Unfortunately, we got that pretty bad advisor. But on the positive side of that, we have a lot of money in our taxable accounts so I don’t think that will be too much of an issue. We’ll be able to let our other money grow and spend off of our taxable. We should have enough to get us a good ways. We also anticipate some small income here and there along the way. So I would anticipate we probably won’t even need to do that.

Rob: Okay good. Asset allocation. What is your allocation between stocks and bonds?

Chris: We look at it as we don’t keep a set amount of cash. We just look at 80/20 fixed versus equity. So we’re like 80 percent equity, 50 percent bonds and we try to keep something like 5 percent cash, give or take. I don’t ever want to go over two years in expense. That’s a lot of cash and drag but I’d probably never want to go under 6 months either. Cash is a little bit fluid.

Rob: That’s a good allocation. Are you mainly in Vanguard or who do you invest with?

Chris: Yeah, as much as we can get into Vanguard is what we’re doing. We have a little bit in a retirement account that isn’t Vanguard. But everything else is.

Rob: Okay. And the last question before we get to your blog— for planning purposes, are you assuming a 4 percent withdrawal rate?

Chris: For deciding when we’re going to financially independent, yes we’re using a 4 percent withdrawal. Then the inverse of that. So we’re figuring out 25 times our expenses. I would definitely say that as we’ve read, learned and educated ourselves, I think with interest rates being so low and markets being relatively high I would be very nervous about starting at that. That’s another reason why we’ll probably try to make some part-time income to keep our withdrawals closer so maybe we could do dividends and interest to start. Or maybe even not withdrawal at all for the first couple years. But if you’re saving 60 or 70 percent of your income, you can cut way back on your work anyway and make enough to get by without saving, but without spending. So that’s kind of more our strategy to start.

Rob: Right, good. So, eatthefinancialelephant.com. When did you start it and why did you start it?

Chris: We just started it in May. I think the big reason is, like I said, when you go on the internet to any of the major publications, you just see the same stuff over and over. Like your Roth versus your traditional, cutting back on Starbucks and the stuff we’ve already talked about. What really has just been tremendous in opening out eyes—when we first started planning our early retirement, I had no idea if it was possible. When we opened our eyes to how bad our financial advice was, I just went in and Googled early retirement. And there was a blog called Early Retirement Extreme. I started reading that and it just blew me away. From there I kind of went over to a site called The Mad Fiantist. I’m not even sure how I came across it, but it’s a really good early retirement blog. He did a podcast and from there I found a couple of really good ones like Mr. Money Moustache. I know you’ve had him as a guest. And there’s a guy named James Collins. I think it’s JLCollinsNH.com. He gets into investing. So these blogs just totally opened my eyes to how stupid we were being and how big of things we were missing and I also just found them really interesting because they talked about totally different things. They talked about focusing on your spending, focusing on costs and tax efficiency and stuff I just never understood. They helped me so much. It was kind of my way of just saying I think our message and story is pretty interesting. It’s just a way for us to pay it forward. That’s why we started the blog.

Rob: Okay, that’s great. Now, did you know anything about blogging before you started it?

Chris: [Laughs]. I still don’t know that I know anything about blogging. We started in May of last year and I think through about June we had maybe 150 people look at our page. I think it was basically just me and my family. There’s a site called, Rock Star Finance and he’s helped me immensely with growing a blog. He’s featured me a few times so that’s gotten me some subscribers. Then I’ve recently reached out to you and a few other people to try to start spreading my message and I’m seeing how you can grow your blog now. But yeah, I’m learning. I knew nothing about blogging at all. I would say 3 years ago I didn’t even know what a blog was until I found Early Retirement Extreme and the other blogs I just mentioned.

Rob: Have you heard of FINCON, the annual conference?

Chris: Yeah, I have heard of it. I actually looked at it and considered it last year, but with our young child it was just something that we were just getting started. But I think in the future it’s something I would look at doing. It’s something we have considered doing.

Rob: Yeah, it’s in Charlotte, North Carolina this fall. One of the things I tell folks who are considering starting a blog, of course, is, how important it is to connect to other bloggers. It’s huge! If you’re in the personal finance and investing space, FINCON is the place to go. I think last year there were 600 bloggers there. The other interesting thing about the conference is folks from the financial industry are there. Vanguard is there, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, Chase. Companies like that. You get to meet a lot of the folks in the industry as well so I highly recommend it. If not this year, when you can. Certainly with a young family I know that’s always tough. Our kids are grown and out of the house now so I’m kind of at the other end of this. But, I remember what it was like to have little ones running around the house. So, is traffic to your site growing?

Chris: Yeah, just last week we were featured on a site called, White Coat Investor. It’s more targeted towards doctors but a reader of mine turned me on to it and I just contacted him. So that was pretty big. We got a ton of new subscribers and new traffic there. As we’re trying to spread the message, we’re seeing it consistently grow. Still by blogging standards we’re teeny, tiny. But I hope as I continue to get my message out there and reach more people it will continue to spread.

Rob: Well that’s great. I had not heard of White Coat Investor. I just looked it up as you mentioned it. For those listening, I will include links to all of the sites that Chris has mentioned in the show notes. So no worries about trying to write all of this stuff down.  Well that’s great. Do you see yourself some point trying to make money from the blog, or perhaps writing a book about your own experiences with early retirement?

Chris: Yeah, in talking to people I think to make money off of a blog what I’ve kind of learned is that you really have to have a ton of traffic. Then advertising and I don’t really want to do that. But I’m looking at some different ways. It’s something I’ve kicked around. I think more of my target right now is just to see if I continue to like it and I continue to want to write. I think long-term it would be really interesting to try to write a book. If I can build a large enough audience through my blog that people would then want to buy my book, that would be a way I would consider monetizing. But that wasn’t really my intention getting into it, to turn it into a career or something. That being said, as I retire— to me retiring is not about hating your job or hate working. I actually like the idea of working. So if I can find something that I can help people, yeah, I think that it would be really appealing. If I could make money off of it at some point without compromising my message, that’s certainly something I would consider. And it’s certainly something that I’m kicking around.

Rob: Okay. Well that’s great. I wish you the best of luck with the blog. They can be a lot of fun. Just kind of thinking through, I’m curious— is there any part about retiring at 40 that scares you?

Chris: I think the only thing that really scares me is that we’ve gotten really comfortable. We’ve never felt that we sacrifice at all. We’ve never really had to experience that paycheck-to-paycheck and worrying about money since the first year I finished school and we both had an income. So I certainly want to be very careful that we’re not jumping in too soon and not considering all of the contingencies of things that could happen. That’s the biggest thing in my mind. I think a lot of people just think that we’re going to just get bored and we’re just not the kind of people to get bored. We always have 50 different projects on our table and I’m sure we’ll find thing to bring value to others and to be rewarding so I’m not really worried so much about that. But just really it’s just the financial aspect. Particularly healthcare. It’s the biggest fear because it’s so hard to predict. Other things we can cut back on. Whereas healthcare is something that I would not want to go without. I work in the healthcare field. I’ve had some illness in my family and it’s something I take seriously. I think a lot of times having good healthcare is almost as important as having good health.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, well I appreciate your time today. Before I let you go, one last question. You mentioned a number of websites that you found very useful in your own journey and I’m going to link to those in the show notes but are there any books that you’ve read that have really resonated with you and helped you understand early retirement, personal finance? Anything like that?

Chris: Yeah, I think the saving and the early retirement is kind of just more intuitive. But for investing it’s very not intuitive for me. So I’m going through and putting resources for people and beginning investors, and I have four of them up as of now. The first one is just the JLCollinsNH.com and he calls it the Stock Series. It’s a segment of his blog I try to promote because it was extremely helpful to get me started and he includes that as an intro to that series. You can find that from my page or from his page. The second one, we just talked about how I’m a Vanguard guy—I wanted to read John Bogle and the book I found that really spoke to me is called, The Little Book Of Investing, and I review that on my site. Other people have recommended other books, but to me it really simplifies all of the tactics and the marketing that goes on in the investment industry. It kind of let’s you see through that and lays out the case for index and investing, if that’s something that you’re interested in and the approach you want to take. And the last two books, the thing I don’t like about those two sources is that they focus on you just having one fund. The research I’ve done, I want a more diversified portfolio, so I reviewed, The Intelligent Asset Allocator. I believe is the name of it. It’s by William Bernstein. He’s a physician who wrote the book.

Rob: Yeah, that’s a good one.

Chris: And then the last one that I should have up, it’s called, All About Asset Allocation, by Rick Ferri.

Rob: Yeah, that’s a good one. I’ve had Rick on the show before.

Chris: So that’s the four. And I think if you have those. There are a ton of good books out there but those are the four that, to me, if you read those three books and that one blog, there’s a lot of overlap between them and a lot of stuff starts to get repetitive. There’s a lot of other good sources I’m sure. But those are the four that I recommend.

Rob: Right, that’s great. Those are excellent resources. I appreciate you sharing them with us.

Chris: Absolutely.

Rob: I appreciate your time on the show. I wish you the best of luck with your early retirement and your blog.

Chris: Thank you. I’m really glad that you had me on. And hopefully I’ll be able to reach some new readers. I appreciate you helping me get my message out.

Rob: You bet! Thank you so much.

Topics: PodcastRetirement Planning

11 Responses to “DR 171: How to Retire at 40 – Interview With Chris of Eat the Financial Elephant”

  1. I loved this interview!!!!!! You and your guest nailed the key point…SAVINGS! Like your guest I made a lot of mistakes: borrowed from my 401K, fired 3 different financial advisors, and leased a lot of luxury vehicles when I was young. But I saved something each and every paycheck and never withdrew from investments, even when it was scary. By paying yourself first, you can make a lot of mistakes and still retire “early”. My first retirement (read burnout) was 50-54. Went back for final 5 year push at 54, and am now very comfortably retired.

    • ChrisEE

      Thanks for the positive feedback Nancy.

      Mastering the basic concept of learning to be happy and satisfied while living below your means is the key to building wealth and obtaining financial independence. Only once you master that does anything else in personal finance really matter.

      Chris

  2. Yeah, with 3 kids under age 7, day care, groceries, mortgage, student loans, car loan, etc., I’m out. Good advice, I think as understood almost none of this, that I’ll start giving to my 7 year old right now so she has a leg up.

  3. ChrisEE

    Aaron,

    That’s awesome that you’re already listening to podcasts like Doughroller and thinking about giving your kids a leg up. If you read our “Starting on the right foot” post that Rob linked in the show notes we acknowledge that unfortunately your situation is much more common than ours and many people can’t relate to our message (though if you read between the lines, it is equally applicable to those deep in debt as those preparing for early retirement.)

    I would encourage you to keep learning about personal finance and realize that it is never too late to better your situation. Also, for your kids, remember that much more is caught than taught. Our parents were certainly not wealthy and knew little about technical issues related to personal finance. However, we both learned from them that money can make life easier but it can’t buy happiness. That simple philosophy and knowing how to live below our means has been the key to our financial success.

    Best of luck to you and your family.

    Cheers!
    Chris

  4. I do not wish to diminish the success of your guest, because they have done what few are willing to do. Yet, anyone that makes $180k a year can well afford a high savings rate. Yes, they saved in their early years when they made much less, but it’s the high income, not the savings rate that is making early retirement possible. Let’s hear from families with average household income of $50 – $60k.

    • Jim,

      I absolutely agree that having a high income makes early retirement much easier. That said, with all do respect, I have to ask this question. SO WHAT?

      I don’t want to come across as a jerk, but I think it is an important question to ask.

      I have listened to all of Rob’s prior episodes with early retirees such as MMM, Todd Tressider and Justin of the ROG blog. When I listen to them, I could easily pick out the reasons that I couldn’t do what they do. For example, MMM is very handy and makes a significant portion of his income from fixing up and then renting or reselling properties. I can barely tell a hammer from a screwdriver. That doesn’t mean that I can’t use his bigger idea of finding something you enjoy and are good at to make some money to help support your retirement. Todd presents himself as an investment guru. Justin focuses on his tax planning. Our investment and tax planning history is so bad that when I share it, people at times don’t even believe me. See this post for more on that:

      http://eatthefinancialelephant.com/the-worst-investment-advice-ive-ever-heard-everywhere/

      That doesn’t mean we can’t educate ourselves and become competent DIY investors and learn to manage our own money. One of the main purposes of starting our blog was to provide extra motivation to do so.

      At the end of the day, when I listen and read what other people are doing, I try to learn the things that others are doing and use that to my advantage to improve. It does us no good to dwell on what we don’t have or can’t do.

      Our constant desire to learn and better ourselves has a far greater impact on our story than the amount of money we make. That amount of money is simple a reflection of the skills and value we developed over the years.

      Chris

  5. Thanks for this article and great review. Indeed, savings could help a lot and only if we could save 50% of our income, that would be awesome! Living within your means is a rule of thumb that we should strictly observe.

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