Steve the owner of Think Save Retire, retired at the age of 35! We loved his story so much we reached out to conduct an interview with him and his wife. Lately, we have been fascinated by so many couples in their early 30’s achieving early retirement so we thought we would get an inside scoop. Enjoy! – T$C
“We are not rich. We are not powerful. In fact, we don’t even consider ourselves to be “smart cookies”. Instead, we saved. We downsized. We sold both of our homes and moved into an Airstream that we’ve named Charlie. Early retirement is possible”.
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1) Tell our readers a little about yourself, your blog, and your early retirement?
I’m 35 and my wife is 32 and we both quit our jobs to pursue a life of full-time travel. The blog was designed to chronicle our journey and will continue to do so as much as possible. We both retired from relatively high paying jobs in information technology, and those salaries definitely had a significant impact on our ability to save. We saved around 70% of our salaries, and that adds up very quickly.
2) Walk me through the step-by-step process that you went through to get to where you are today. What was the first thing you did? Next?
The first step was to decide what we are retiring to. The retiring “from” part was easy, but without something to retire TO, you’re setting yourself up for extreme boredom. A lack of purpose. For us, it was to travel our nation and document it as much as I can. We do that through our blogs (ThinkSaveRetire.com and FullTimeExplorers.com) as well as our YouTube channel at A Streamin’ Life. The next steps were actually fairly simple – stop spending money. We cut out anything from our lifestyle that wasn’t critical, but we weren’t savages about it. We still went out to eat, but only a couple times a month rather than a couple times a week. The more that we cut from our lifestyle, the easier it became to cut even more. It’s amazing how little most of us actually *NEED* to survive…and be happy.
3) If a recent graduate walked up to asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give ‘em your best tip, what would it be?
I’d ask him or her a question: Do you plan on working in a fluorescent hell hole until you’re 65? Does that sound pleasant? If not, don’t live like your friends. Prioritize your future. Save your hard-earned cash because you never know when that flow of money will stop, and that’s the cash you’ll be living off of…perhaps in only a few years!
4) At what point in your life did you get the “wake up” call, that working 9-5 until social security kicked in was not for you?
It was soon after I entered the working world about 12 years ago, actually. I just didn’t do anything about it until a few years ago, which happened to coincide with marrying my wife. We decided to combine finances and focus entirely on saving as much as possible so we can quit work and enjoy our lives.
5) What changes in your life did you have to make in order to start saving so aggressively to have an early retirement?
Simple changes. We cut out those things we didn’t feel were critical. No magazine subscriptions. No cable television. No yearly cell phone upgrades. We paid attention to the things that we bought and asked ourselves if buying such-‘n-such item was worth working longer in order to pay for it. Nearly 10 times out of 10, it wasn’t worth it. We wanted to retire MORE than we wanted the stuff. The cars. The big house.
Related: 100+ Easy Ways to Save Money Today
6) How did you decide to live out of an air stream? Why not an RV? How much different is your life living on the road?
My dad was the first one to suggest the Airstream to us. My folks full-time RV’ed on the road for 12 years and are huge proponents of this lifestyle. Life is definitely different, but nothing that we can’t handle. It’s a difference in routine, really. Once we establish our new ways of going through our lives, living in a 200 square foot RV was really no big deal. It’s easy to live in one of these. You don’t have all the space, but we also don’t want all the space, either. It takes a good three minutes to clean the floors, now. 🙂
7) Do you plan on continuing to “work” digitally through your retirement for extra income? Does your blog or any social media following currently make you any substantial money?
I don’t plan on holding a full-time job, either in-office or remote, for the rest of my life. That said, I am involved in a couple side projects that I can do online, but that’s only because I happen to enjoy them. The second I stop enjoying them will also be the second that I stopped contributing my time. We have planned our lifestyle so we never need to depend on any additional income. Of course, anything extra is just icing on the cake. I do make some money with my blog and other projects, but nothing even close to substantial. We’d be lucky if we pull in $10,000 a year at this point. But, that’s okay. $10k a year actually funds a third of our lifestyle.
8) I’m sure some people are wondering about your net worth. How did you know for sure that you could retire with less than the “golden standard” of 1 million in the bank? What calculations did you have to do?
We’ve used a slew of calculators that use something akin to the 4% rule. FireSim, cFireSim and the Personal Capital Retirement Planner are a few examples. All calculators put us in the high 90s, which is more than enough for us to pull the plug. While a million bucks would be nice – I suppose – we believe it’s a completely arbitrary number. We are flexible people and are willing to make the necessary adjustments to ensure our lifestyle continues to hum along in a way that makes us both happy.
Check out our Financial Calculators to help you make difficult financial decisions.
9) On your website, it stated your investments are actually still growing although you are retired and pulling money out of them. Can you explain in detail more about your investments?
We withdrawal less from our investments than their typical capital gains. We withdraw around 3.5%, and our investments grow, yearly, anywhere from 5 to 8%. 🙂
We keep things super simple. We have a targeted retirement plan with Vanguard that we keep the majority of our money in. We don’t invest in individual stocks. We let Vanguard diversify our money, letting their track record speak for itself. It’s worked well for us thus far. Fees are very manageable: Vanguard Fees.
We pay normal income tax on any income that we receive, but we aren’t actually selling off our investments yet. We have about three years of living expenses in an Ally savings account, so that’s the account that we’re currently living on. Withdrawals from Ally are, of course, 100% tax-free. We will begin using the Roth conversion ladder once we deplete our Ally savings, which will allow us to take out our contributions from our Roth accounts that were contributed five or more years ago – penalty free.
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10) Have your efforts in downsizing affected your happiness?
Yes, very much so. The less we have, the happier we seem to be. I think we’ve all heard the phrase “Mo money, Mo problems”. In many ways, it’s true. We like to keep our lives very simple. Needing to buy, maintain and store fewer things makes a huge difference in our ability to sit back and enjoy life. We don’t miss a single thing that we cut out of our lifestyle. I still love going out to eat, though – but we do that very sparingly.
11) Tell our readers something interesting about yourself. Do you have any kids? What are your passions? What drives you? How do you stay motivated?
We have no kids and plan to keep it that way. No kids had a huge impact in keeping our costs low and retiring as early as we have possible. I am a fitness fanatic and love the movie, Erin Brockovich. 🙂 Photography is my biggest hobby, and that now includes videography as well with our YouTube channel. I stay motivated by recognizing how nice we have it. The last thing I want is to be forced back into holding a full-time job.
12) We are motivated by your early retirement story, it’s truly remarkable! Help us motivate or readers. In a few sentences, what does early retirement mean to you?
Early retirement is the freedom to choose what to do with your time before you hit 65. The freedom to make your own schedule. Pure freedom!
What are your plans for retirement?
Are you going to work until you die?