How living on less than $3K a month led to my early retirement
Jennifer and I retired together at 37 (we are now 39). We did not inherit money from wealthy family members nor hit the lottery. We made very wise decisions during our 20 years of marriage. One of the underlying keys that led our family of four to reach financial freedom was; living on less than $3000 a month.
When we were a struggling young couple years ago with a newborn; living on $3k a month would have been a luxury. In that early chapter of our lives, we were content to simply have a one bedroom apartment, food in the fridge, and gas in the car. After we both graduated college debt free , landed decent paying jobs, and moved up in our career paths; we obtained additional possessions, enjoyed vacations, and acquired a 2700 square foot house in that new subdivision everyone wanted to live in. We were able to pull this off while still living on only $3K a month, yet our salaries far exceeded this amount. The $3000 a month target we chose to live on came natural to us. It was not forced upon us, nor depriving. It was all we needed; we were comfortable.
Pick your target number to live on and stick to it:
Picking your target number to live on and sticking to its spending boundaries can yield incredible results towards ones pursuit to reach financial independence/early retirement. As your income increases over time and your monthly spending remains constant, you have an ever increasing surplus of funds to pay off debt (if you have any) and begin to purchase assets that will replace the income from your job. One easy method is to use your current monthly after tax salary as your target number. Sure, you can procrastinate and state you will pick a number once expenses are reduced further, or once you pay off that car note, etc. Why not just make a vow today to just use your current monthly salary. Freeze that number today, make it your target number.
Optimize your target number:
Maybe it was my training as a UNIX Administrator in the IT field that led to my thinking. My duties in this role were all about optimizing computer resources as best I could. Before adding disk space to a system, I asked myself; why was it being requested? Did I really need to add more? Could space be freed up, old items deleted, or compressed? Did a programmer write rogue code that filled up the drive? If the space was truly needed, could I reposition existing disk space the company already owned and not install a new hard drive?
Did I really need that new shovel? Could I use one of the other three shovels I already own? Could I borrow a shovel from a friend or neighbor? Could I purchase a used one from a garage sale instead of purchasing a new one? This line of thinking permeates most of my purchasing decisions and assists with optimizing my spending. I know I only have a finite set of dollars to work with, so I better use them wisely. The more I reduce the cost of a specific consumption item, the more I have to spend on other monthly outlays.
A few ways my family continues to stretch our dollar are; frequenting garage sales and thrift stores, sharing tools with friends, swapping services (I’ll fix your computer, if you fix my car), driving a car that gets 46 MPG, and subscribing to Netflix instead of cable TV.
Sticking to our monthly target number, my family was able to stash large sums of cash throughout the years and purchase rental properties to fund our living expenses today. It was not easy though, we turned down winter trips to Cancun with friends, kept the same car for 14 years, never had the latest gadgets, but yet never felt without. Our children have always attended the best schools in the towns we have lived in and were involved in sports and activities.
You will be tempted to diverge from your target constantly. Most of your friends will not understand why you will not spend every penny you earn just like they do every month. You must have the tenacity to hold strong to your goal of early retirement and the freedom you will enjoy once you reach it. Surround yourself with like minded frugal friends that will encourage you (and you them).
So what is holding you back from picking your number and sticking to it? If you have your number, how are you optimizing it? Have you started investing your surplus yet or are you still talking about it? Remember; pay off that debt, save and invest the rest, and join us on the other side and retire before you are dead.