finance

'My husband and I saved $500,000 in eight years. Here's how we did it.'

When I was younger, I took issue with working until the age of 70.

Even as a child, the concept was uncomfortable. I knew people who died before they were 70, yet no-one ever seemed to think of working as anything other than a necessity, and a “preservation age” retirement as anything other than normal.

This niggling feeling lasted until I started working, at which time it became very profound. I was now part of the masses; the so-called rat race. Working until 70 was now my reality, and if I was lucky, in between I could afford some nice experiences to make it worthwhile.

After a pretty pivotal couple of years in my life, I discovered the FIRE movement, which stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. I’d always been an average money manager, saving a little, never owning a credit card – that kind of thing – but this community of people took saving to a whole new level.

How Canna Campbell saved $32,000 in a year. 

This was the super-frugal elite, essentially buying their way to freedom decades before anyone else by saving and investing. In fact, some of the people who adopted this lifestyle not only got out of serious consumer debt, but were completely financially independent within ten years.

Suddenly, I had found my people.

My husband and I are now trying to buy our freedom, too. Over the last eight years, we have saved and invested almost $500,000, putting up to 75 per cent of our after-tax incomes away for a very early retirement. We have a plan to continue doing this for five more years; at which stage our savings and varied investments should generate enough passive income for us to live off of indefinitely.

We are average Australians. We don’t have trust funds, a major inheritance awaiting us or a generous benefactor. It’s just us, our incomes, a bit of diligence and money-savvy.

Here’s how we’re doing it, and how you can to.

Live within your means

At the core of the FIRE movement is learning how to live for the paycheck you have, not the one you want – because ultimately, if you spend like a sailor on leave every week, you’ll never get anywhere except into debt. You can’t put any money away if you’re living a lifestyle where you don’t have any cash leftover.

All signs point back to the trusty budget for money management 101, and if you’re new to the saving game, start with only a little bit. You might only be able to save five to 10 per cent of your income the first month, but over time amp it up, allowing your lifestyle to adjust in the process.

Make minimalism a part of your life

The concept of living with less and buying consciously opens you up for a whole new level of personal abundance. Sounds totally woo-woo, but the best thing I could have done for my finances is cut out the consumer noise.

I buy only what I need, and that’s it – I don’t let businesses frantically email me, I don’t amble around the shops to kill time, and if I’m on the cusp of a purchase, I research, compare and always pay in cash. Experiences over things, it’s better for the wallet and the soul.

Invest, invest and invest some more

Your savings account is only going to get you a return of a few per cent, at best. You need to be working on a growth strategy that yields higher returns. Spend some time on this and see it as an ongoing process – our portfolio has taken years to optimise and even now, we’re still learning.

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We invest in property, shares (predominantly Australian and US exchange-traded funds), superannuation, and a few other things as they take our fancy. The savings we accumulate are offset against the interest on our mortgages, and in the future, we may look to invest seed capital in startups.

Diversity is very important when investing, because when markets fluctuate and even crash, the more diversified you are, the easier you can ride the wave through. Although we plan to retire early, investing to us is a long-term strategy.

Cash is queen

On this journey, cashflow can make or break your efforts, so having an emergency fund that gives you quick access to your own cash for unexpected curveballs is very important.

Piling all of your money into investments is great in theory, but their lack of liquidity (and market-dependent volatility) can put you in a sticky situation should you need actual funds.

Every paycheck, syphon some into an emergency fund – and don’t touch it unless you have an actual emergency. For us, payday often means mortgage, bills, emergency fund and then savings/investments, in that order, with a little left over for fun (of course!).

Maximising your super

Superannuation will be a big part of our strategy long-term, purely because it’s so tax-effective – and in this game, compounding is your friend. As a small business, I make regular and generous contributions to my superannuation, and my husband salary sacrifices to bump his up. Of course, we won’t be able to access this until we’re of retirement age, but it’ll be a great booster for us on top of our investment income when we get to that stage.

Be charitable

The secret to living is giving. Factor in generosity to your plans, even if it’s only a little bit, or your time – and your life will be 10,000 per cent better by sheer virtue.

So, that’s our plan. My husband and I sometimes laugh about the fact that when we reach FIRE, we might decide we don’t want to retire after all, or continue working sporadically. I love my business and my clients, and he really enjoys what he does for a living, too. But that is what is so beautiful about this movement; it’s centred around choice and endless possibility. What will you do with yours?

Want to dip your toes into FIRE?
* Mr Money Mustache’s blog is THE place to start. He’s considered the official leader of the movement.
* Podcasts like Journey To Launch, Clever Girl Finance, Afford Anything and Radical Personal Finance are great commute listening (they often interview everyday people who achieved it).
* Aussie Firebug has a great retirement calculator he’s put together, so you can work out your FIRE date and work towards it.
* Canna Campbell of Sugar Mamma.TV is a wonderful female mentor for financial literacy, and of course Scott Pape of The Barefoot Investor offers amazing contextually-relevant financial advice.

Michelle Ives is the Founder and Chief Word Nerd at strategic copywriting house, Wordy and Smith. Previously she was the Head of Communications at Sendle and the Head of Brand and PR for Loocl. She’s on Instagram at @thatgirl_onfire where you can follow her journey to FIRE.

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