How to retire by 40 on 40k per year
Today’s post is from Cashflow Cop, and was originally published on The Money Mix.
Ignore all of the noise and fancy words like tax-loss harvesting and geo-arbitrage. They can be off-putting and make things sound more complex than they need to be.
I’m going to show you in four steps how it can be possible to reach financial independence by the time you’re 40 years old while earning $40K a year.
This is the ultimate beginner’s guide to financial independence!
FIRE has a PR problemBut first, let's take a step back.
There is this thing called “FIRE” that’s been mentioned in some mainstream media outlets lately. This is happening both in the US where it originates from and also across the pond in the UK. It’s actually spreading quickly and there is now a global FIRE community.
So what is FIRE?“FIRE” stands Financial Independence, Retire Early. However, there are those who prefer Financial Independence, Recreational Employment instead.
Surely this is a good thing. Knowledge is spreading that there is another way to live the life you want. People can learn to improve their finances. They can provide in the present whilst also preparing for the future. Great right?
Not so fast.
The reception towards the FIRE community has so far has been mixed, to put it mildly. Just check out most of the comment sections and you’ll see what I mean.
The reasons people can be annoyed with the concept vary. Sometimes, they are literally keyboard SHOUTING as they vent their frustration.
It has been labeled too upper middle-class, to male, too white, too unrealistic, too impractical, and even selfish. That’s right. Selfish. How dare people withdraw themselves from the workforce at such an early age!
Truth is, I’m part of the FIRE community and I believe it has a PR problem.
I try to avoid the term and I dare not utter the words ‘retire early’ when talking to colleagues or family. It’s as if there is a degree of shame attached to it.
“FI” and “RE” are two different things. FI being the enabler and the RE being one of many different options you could pursue. The problem is that they are lumped together and to anyone new to the idea, it can be a massive turn-off.
I think it’s time the acronym ‘FIRE’ took early retirement.It did its job by being catchy. It ignites the imagination and provides a hook for people to be intrigued.
We now need to be able to relate to the average Joe. Those who might not want to retire early. Those not earning six-figure salaries. People who might have children and childcare costs to contend with.
This article will do just that. It will show you in four steps how you can have the option to retire by 40 while starting on $40K a year.
Bear with me here. $40K is not a small change. I get that. However, it is far from six figures and a more realistic figure to aim for as a starting salary for most. The reason why I want to just get that point made now is so that you can read the rest of the post with an open mind.
Since I live in the UK, I will compare the numbers between the US and the UK.
The Four Steps To Financial Independence Are:
Step 1 - EarnAim: Maximize your earnings and develop multiple income streams.
Here’s the situation then. Let me introduce to you Amy and Adam. They are 25 years old and both earning an after-tax income $40K a year. Amy lives in the US and Adam lives in the UK.
They have a student loan debt balance of $40K.
For the first few years out of university they were getting themselves settled. They managed to pay off all their credit card debts, bought a used car for cash and lived with parents to save some money.
Amy and Adam both annihilated their consumer debts by using the ‘debt snowball’ method.
They don’t start their financial independence journey until 25 years old with an after-tax income of $40K.
Amy and Adam clearly had parents who taught them how to manage money and not to take on too much debt.
|Student Loans Debt||$40,000||£40,000|
|After-tax Annual Income||$40,000||£40,000|
|After-tax Monthly Income||$3,333||£3,333|
How did they secure such an income?
Action - Preparing to get a jobThey both placed themselves in the best position to be employable in a competitive job market. This does not always mean getting a degree, although for some trades that’s a necessity.
I wouldn’t want someone to do brain surgery on me by learning through Youtube videos!
You could seek out internship programs, volunteer your time to shadow someone who works in an area you’re interested in, read and go on training courses.
The list is endless.
It is about self-development and improving yourself so that you have skills that are in demand.
Skills which someone is willing to pay for.
“Make sure you have a very particular set of skills. Skills you have acquired over a very long time. Skills that make you invaluable to employers.”
That last part sound familiar?
Action - Getting A JobThis is the traditional route to earning money. A contract between yourself and your employer; you sell your time and effort in exchange for money. It’s a straight forward transaction.
However, this first step can feel disheartening at times. Be prepared for the rejection letters or never hearing back after you send your resume (CV) off.
Remember, you only need one job out of the millions out there. Don’t give up!
After finishing university and waiting to join the Police, I needed a job to tie me over. I applied to lots! I even got turned down for a job as a binman (garbage collector). A large part of why I kept getting rejected for jobs was because I didn’t tailor each resume to the job I was applying for.
Why would a graduate of finance want a job as a refuse collector? Surely this person isn’t serious or there is something wrong with him.
Looking back, I can completely understand why I got rejected so much.
Amy and Adam were smarter than me. They were better prepared and practiced the art of crafting a resume. They knew they had to stand out from the crowd and were confident and comfortable doing so.
Once they were happy with their main resume, they went out on the job hunt. I use the word ‘hunt’ deliberately.
Unless their skills were highly in demand and they already created a solid reputation for themselves, they knew that sitting at home in their sweatpants just wasn’t going to work.
A job was not going to look for them. They were far too inexperienced to be head-hunted.
They got out there. Networked, used social media, let friends and family know they were looking for work. They were being proactive and intentional about.
They were hungry for a job!
Once they found a job that could be the right fit, they researched the company. They tailored their resume to be specific to that particular job and that particular company.
They did this for every job they applied for.
Once they got offered an interview, they did more research. Joined forums, found people who were already with the company, got to understand the company culture and found out about the individuals who were likely to be interviewing them.
This helped them to be better prepared and be confident at the interview.
Amy and Adam clearly put in the work, smashed it out the park and got offered their jobs.
Action - Do Some Overtime, Get Promoted Or A Pay RaiseMany people on the path toward financial independence can quickly become distracted with new money making ideas. The reality is that our ‘job’ is likely going to be the source of most of our income for a while.
One other thing Amy and Adam weren’t shy about was working when there was paid overtime on offer. They were doing their employer a favor and not only were they getting more money, they were storing away goodwill for when the next promotion or performance review came up.
Not all jobs offer paid overtime, but if they are available, they are a great starting point to earn extra income.
They also adopted a growth mindset. A strive for continual personal and professional development. This way, when it came to the annual performance review, both Amy and Adam were in a much better position to ask for that pay raise or promotion.
It is not about doing the minimum required and generally coasting along. If they can demonstrate that the value they add exceeds the amount that is paid to them, then it greatly improves their odds at the annual review. It places them in a much stronger negotiating position for a pay raise.
It seems so straightforward, but I see people everyday expecting a pay raise just for turning up to work on time.
Action - Never Turn Down Free Money!Amy and Adam understood the terms and benefits of their employer pension scheme. Yawn! Yeah, it’s downright boring!
However, they wanted to make sure that they were not missing out on any free money from employer matching. For example, Amy put 5% of her salary into her company pension and her employer did the same. The exact percentages vary between employers and pension schemes.
If they’re in the public sector, then the amount that is contributed by their employer is likely to be even more generous compared to the private sector.
When faced with the choice of opting out of a company pension scheme; Amy and Adam thought about it very carefully.
They were both very tempted to opt out of the scheme because it meant more money in their bank account at the end of each month. After a momentary weakness, they snapped out of it and said to themselves:
“I’d be stupid to turn away free money!”
They didn't want to get used to the extra money because they knew what they would be like. They’d no longer be able to go without it and the chances of them joining the pension scheme later on would be pretty much zero.
They started contributing from day one and learnt to live with slightly less money each month in exchange for much more money in the future.
Action - Generate A Second Income (a.k.a The Side Hustle)Amy and Adam were killing it at work. They were getting pay raises and contributing into their pension schemes.
However, they were young and there was only so much Netflix they could handle before their brains turned to mush. They decide to start looking for a second income.
Amy decided to find a flatmate and started to make some pretty good money from it.
Adam on the other hand was a bit of an introvert and couldn’t stand the idea of having a stranger living with him. Instead, he started to look for a side hustle that would allow him to work from home. He’d actually become somewhat of an ebay expert.
As a result, once they were in their 30s, they were both making an extra 20% on top of their salary. This was in the form of paid overtime, bonuses and side hustles.
They might even decide to charge their kids rent later on in life!
Summary of Step 1
- Prepare well to get the job you want.
- Get a job.
- Stand out from the crowd.
- Maximize your salary through sales commission, bonuses, overtime, pay raise or promotion.
- Understand your pension scheme and take advantage of the benefits.
- Diversify your income through other business interests (a.k.a the ‘Side Hustle’).
Step 2 - BudgetAim: Reduce your expenses, optimize your taxes and increase your savings rate.
From my experience, the word ‘budget’ can send shivers down many people. People see it as:
1) too restricting. We all work so hard, who wants to live life constrained?
2) too boring. I’m weird and love spreadsheets. Most people hate them.
3) too time-consuming. Life is busy enough as it is. Sitting down once a month to go through the budget? Ain’t no one got time for that!
4) too honest. We like to bury our heads in the sand. Ignorance allows us to continue spending. Tracking our expenses is such a buzz kill!
5) too difficult. The truth is, budgeting is a skill which needs to be taught and practiced.
Action - Spend with intentionEvery time Amy and Adam spent their money, they do so intentionally. There were no accidental or spur of the moment purchases. They had an idea of how much they spent on average each month for different things.
It looks like this:
|Type of Expense||Amy (US $)||Adam (UK £)|
|Rent / Mortgage||700||700|
Amy and Adam sure as hell don’t want to be typical!
They intend to avoid lifestyle inflation. So as soon as they get that bonus or pay raise, most of it is immediately invested.
Lifestyle inflation is when spending increases with income. Before you know it, the food bill is over $1k a month for a single person and you’re buying a new car every few years!
Action - Giving Money A Clear Job DescriptionThey both budget to ensure that they do not take on any more debt.
Amy uses YNAB (You Need a Budget). It’s a budgeting app which I’ve personally used myself and recommend when first starting out.
Adam on the other hand made his own spreadsheet which at first he updated on a weekly basis, but over time found he only needed to refer to it once a month.
The process of keeping a budget is especially vital in the early stages of building wealth. Amy and Adam are effectively giving the money they earn a performance review.
They treat money like an employee. They make sure every pound or dollar earned is working hard to create value with minimal waste.
To come up with the above budget, they had thought about what they ‘need’ and what they ‘want’.
Needs are things like a roof over your head; food on the table, electricity and so on.
Wants are things like eating out, socializing and holidays.
The goal in setting a budget is to strip away all the noise; all the wants. Then slowly add them back in one by one until they have reached a balance that is right for them.
Interestingly, it would appear that Adam has the upperhand by living in the UK due to zero medical costs and lower student loans repayments. This is because student loans debt in the UK is repaid based on the amount a graduate earns. In fact, 83% of graduates never repay their loans before it is written-off by the government.
Action - Tax OptimizationWith their income maximized and expenses minimized to a level they are comfortable with; that alone is not enough. Amy and Adam makes use of all the tax-efficient accounts.
For Amy, they are accounts such as ROTH IRA and 401(k).
For Adam, they are account such as ISA, LISA, and SIPP.
Once they begin to accumulate assets and their net-worth starts to grow, they will be considering the implications of inheritance tax and estate planning.
Action - Staying Out Of DebtLike Amy and Adam, I don’t prescribe to the notion of ‘good’ debt vs. ‘bad’ debt. I am of the view that debt carries a certain degree of riskiness, from low risk to ridiculously crazy risk of losing money.
Getting a car on finance would be classed as being ridiculously crazy when framed this way. As soon as someone drives that car out of the forecourt, they have instantly lost money.
Getting rid of the idea of there being such a thing as ‘good’ debt from their mindset has helped Amy and Adam make better spending decisions.
Be careful of using the term “it’s an investment” to self justify a spending decision that is a “want” and is a depreciating asset. It’s okay to want something and to buy it. Just do it intentionally.
Action - Geo-ArbitrageIt’s a fancy word which basically means move somewhere else that’s cheaper to live. Amy and Adam have decided to do just that. They live in a LCOL (low cost of living) area. For some, this could also mean moving abroad. Here are a few highlights when it comes to geo-arbitrage:
- Housing Costs - this is the main cost for most. This is about moving to an area or country where accommodation is cheaper. It could also mean moving in with parents for a few years even if they charge a bit of rent.
- Taxes - in some countries and states, you simply don’t get taxed as much. Of course, this might mean public services aren’t as good but that’s not always the case. It would depend on what you’re used to since everything is relative.
- Childcare Costs - these costs can truly delay early financial independence dreams. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A country or state which subsidize childcare costs or even moving closer to family who can help with childcare can save thousands.
- Education - it is an unfortunate reality that the quality of teaching can differ widely depending on the school and area. When contemplating private education, it is worth bearing in mind that they rarely provide value for money. It also holds true that education in many LCOL countries are actually much better than in the US or UK.
- Medical - the US is infamous for its medical costs. I’m based in the UK and consider myself very lucky to not need to worry about this cost. It definitely makes reaching financial independence less complicated. The UK is not alone here; there are many countries with universal health care.
- Safety - a LCOL area does not have to mean danger. It’s about striking a balance. Moving to a country that is on the government black list is not something I would consider no matter how low the cost of living is. It’s about finding the right balance for you and your family.
- Earning - sometimes geo-arbitraging to a LCOL area can actually result in earning more. My point earlier about standing out and providing value to an employer can give immense leverage. Picture this. Earning a city salary, but able to work from home in the countryside, or move to the far east.
- Quality of life - what is important to you and your family? Are there public parks nearby? Will geo-arbitrate result in less time spent commuting? Is the air quality good? Is there a community spirit?
Action - Turbo Charge Savings RateThe ‘savings rate’ is a number that provides a snapshot of how much someone saves as a proportion of their income. The higher the rate, the less they spend relative to their income and the quicker they will reach financial independence.
Due to Amy’s health insurance and student loan repayment, her savings rate is much lower than Adam. This is a clear example of geo-arbitrage in action. If Amy moved to the UK for work or through marriage, she could eliminate her medical costs.
|Amy (US $)||Adam (UK £)|
Summary of Step 2
- Be intentional with your spending - don’t be typical.
- Budget - give your money a clear job description.
- Be tax efficient - keep more money in your pocket!
- No such thing as ‘good’ debt.
- Geo-arbitrage your way to financial freedom.
- Maximize your savings rate.
Step 3 - ProtectAim: Protect your path to financial independence with an emergency fund and insurance.
This step is often neglected or missed out altogether. Amy and Adam learnt from their parents that having adequate protection is important to safeguard their path to financial independence.
As a Police Officer, we are taught to have multiple contingency plans. In other words: what’s your backup plan to your backup plan?
The last thing Amy and Adam wants is to start making good financial progress only for it to come crashing to a halt, or worse go back to square one because something unexpected happens. Unfortunate events in life such as losing a job and a sudden long-term family illness not only drastically increase your stress levels, but could seriously scupper plans for financial independence.
There are a number of ways to mitigate against some of these risks.
Action - The Emergency FundStart off with an emergency fund worth three months of expenses before overpaying on any debt. This gives Amy and Adam an invaluable safety net for surprise expenses without the need to take on any more debt.
Once that’s done, consider increasing it to six months worth of expenses. This will help cover for larger unexpected expenses such as a period of unemployment.
The money saved needs to be what is called “liquid”. This means it can be easily accessible. If it isn’t then it’s not much use in an emergency.
Don’t get back into debt because of an emergency!
Action - The Freedom Fund, a.k.a The FU FundThe Brit in me prefers the more toned down terminology of the Freedom Fund as opposed to the F U Fund. For me, this is one or two year’s worth of expenses saved.
This is when Amy and Adam can start to feel truly liberated. A boss not giving you the time off to be with your family? Company won’t give you a sabbatical to care for an elderly relative?
Say hello to the freedom fund.
It gives you the power to hand in your notice. It’s amazing how differently employers treat valuable staff who they know are willing to walk away. They will do all they can to keep them.
There is no such thing as idle threats with a freedom fund. They can sense it in your confidence and body language. Having a freedom fund can completely change your outlook on life.
Action - Ignore The Insurance MythsThere are some in personal finance who are against insurance. Their reasons are many, but it mainly boils down to the following points:
- Myth 1 - Money down the drain if a claim is not made.
- Myth 2 - Better to self-insure by having an emergency fund and a freedom fund.
- Myth 3 - All policies are expensive and provide poor value.
- Myth 4 - Insurance companies can’t be trusted - they will try to avoid paying out by referring to tiny clauses hidden somewhere in the terms and conditions.
Myth 1 - remember that insurance is not an investment or a savings plan. There are certain hybrid products which try to do a bit of both, but they are generally poor value for money. Understanding what the product is aiming to achieve will help you come to terms with the fact that if you don’t claim, it has still done its job. It was there to cover you in the event of a disaster. Be grateful that you didn’t have one. Don’t wish for one!
Myth 2 - what would you do if you had a young family and your partner was struck down with a long-term illness or worse? What size of emergency fund or freedom fund would you need to cover such an event? Six figures at least. That money should ideally be liquid, but even if it was invested, you would be at the mercy of the markets. Maybe forced to sell during a crash.
Myth 3 - certain policies certainly cost more than others. That’s because they cover more eventualities and therefore increases the probability of paying out. For some, it might be totally worth getting a policy that is more expensive because their circumstances are more unpredictable than most. Someone who goes skydiving every weekend will have a more expensive insurance policy. A policy that costs more than others does not necessarily mean it will always provide poor value. For some, a policy might be over-insuring whilst for others it could be just right.
Myth 4 - everyone will have heard stories about how someone had their insurance claims denied. For the most part, the story has been sold by the claimant to the news outlet. Chances are, they either failed to be truthful on their application or did not read the terms. The insurance company cannot defend themselves in the article because the information is confidential.
How many people do you know go to the press to tell them about that time they made a successful insurance claim? Stories about insurance claims are biased and unreliable.
Even if a claim has been unfairly turned down, there are appeals procedures and they are rare.
Action - Get Life InsuranceThis is the main protection so I will go into a bit more detail about it. This type of insurance pays out in the event the person insured dies.
You can go for a term level policy which pays out a set amount if you die within a certain period of time for a set premium.
There are increasing term policies which increase the potential payout each year in line with inflation. However, your premiums will go up by at least the same percentage.
There are decreasing term policies, which are usually taken out with a mortgage. This is when the life insurance pays out just enough to pay for the outstanding balance of your mortgage.
Finally, there is also something called whole life police. As the name implies, they are guaranteed to pay out because it covers the whole of your life until you die. These are generally poor value for money and should be avoided. They tend to be used to cover any potential inheritance tax, but there are other avenues to explore first because this is considered.
Once you have decided on the type of policy you want: 1) Term Level; 2) Increasing Term; and 3) Decreasing Term, you then need to decide on how long you would like the insurance to run for.
Longer term policies are more expensive. This is because as you get older, the chances of you dying increases due to ill health.
Unless you are choosing a decreasing term policy to cover a mortgage, you will then need to decide how much you want to be insured for. This is the amount that will be paid out.
There is no set rule to decide on this, but a general loose guide is 10 times the main earner’s income. You need to decide for yourself what amount would help your family get through what would be an already difficult time. A few points to help:
- Cover mortgage debt.
- Cover other debts
- Cover dependent expenses, such as children until they are adults
- Cover education expenses for kids
- Cover loss of income
Indexation - this is when you choose to have the amount of cover that increases every year based on inflation. By choosing this option, your premiums will increase by at least the same percentage as your cover increases. Any life policy with an indexation option is also called an ‘increasing term’ policy.
Waiver of Premium – this allows you to stop paying your insurance premium if you become seriously ill or disabled. In other words, you continue to be covered by the life insurance even when you cannot work.
Guaranteed vs Reviewable Premiums – guaranteed premiums mean that the premium you pay will not change for the entire duration of the policy (unless you select indexation). Reviewable premiums mean the insurance company reserves the right to review your policy every few years and adjusts the premiums you pay. Reviewable premiums tend to start off lower than guaranteed premiums but can increase significantly. It may be suited if you are currently very price sensitive but expect your income to rise significantly in the future.
When taking out insurance as couple, the natural tendency is to take out a joint policy. This is a policy which insures two lives, for example for yourself and your partner.
However, this type of policy will only pay out once. So, in the event one of you dies, the policy pays out once and then terminates. However, when taking out single life policies instead, it means that each person being insured have their own policy. So, in the event your partner dies, the insurance pays out, but your life remains insured. This is perhaps useful if you have children.
What I have found is that getting two single life policies works out just the same as a joint policy.
On occasions, it has even been cheaper!
Action - Consider Critical Illness InsuranceThis is a type of insurance which pays out when you fall very ill.
What does very ill mean?
They call is a critical illness.
The list of critical illness changes quite regularly based on medical advances, but think of it as a very serious medical condition. An add-on you can have to this type of cover is called ‘Total and Permanent Disability’ cover. This means the insurance company will pay out if you are unable to work in an occupation which you are suited due to training, education or experience.
Action - Consider Income Protection InsuranceThis is a type of insurance provides a regular payout until you retire, die or return to work in the event you become too ill to work. There are several differences between income protection and critical illness. The three main ones being:
- Critical illness payout a lump sum whereas income protection provides a regular