Late Starter to FI Series #34 – Start Where You Are

Welcome to the Late Starter to FI series!

I am a Late Starter – I discovered the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement when I was 47. This was way later, I thought than others who seem to have it all together in their 20s and 30s.

Since I started to write about my own journey, I have discovered there are many more Late Starters like me, yay! It’s such a relief knowing I’m not alone. 

I want to share our stories, our unique perspectives and show that it is absolutely not too late for us.

So in this series, I particularly highlight those of us who start our FI journeys in our 40s, 50s and 60s. And explore questions such as ‘where do we start’, ‘can we still retire early(ish)’, ‘what are the specific challenges for us late starters’. We look at our past, not to castigate ourselves but so that you can learn from us.

Please join in the conversation in the comments below. I encourage you to share your story if you fit the profile of a late starter. You absolutely don’t have to be a blogger or podcaster to share your story. 

Please email me at info@latestarterfire.com or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram

If you’ve missed any of the previous stories, you can catch up here – Late Starter to FI Series

And if you can’t wait to start on your own FIRE journey, check out my step by step ultimate starter guide, Late Starter to FIRE Action Plan.

 

Disclosure: Please note that I may benefit from purchases made through my affiliate links below, at no cost to you. Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

Start where you are | Use what you have | Do what you can | superimposed on picture of tree and canoe in a lake

Today’s late starter is Maz, an Australian reader who has so generously shared her story. You can connect with Maz at Mazfires@gmail.com – here is Maz in her own words …

A little about me

My partner and I are in our early 40s and live in a large regional centre in Australia. We live on a suburban block with our beloved dog.

I enjoy exercise, reading and cooking. My partner loves making furniture and any sort of DIY.

We are both in essential services and value the security of these jobs, especially since the pandemic. We have kept our jobs and maintained our standard of living through Covid – probably saving more since we haven’t been able to go on holidays!

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Looking back ...

I’ve had a budget since I first moved out of home. I was on a basic wage starting out and learnt quickly that if I didn’t put money aside for bills, I wouldn’t have it when they were due. And I also learnt the hard way that credit card interest quickly adds up. Luckily, I learnt this quickly before I did any damage to my finances.

In hindsight, these principles really set me up. I worked throughout my 20s and put myself through university in my late 20s to complete my Masters degree.

At 30 I was starting a new career, with almost no savings, but improtantly, no debt except my HECS (a government funded student loan that covers tuition and is indexed to inflation but interest free)

Lightbulb moment

Like many others, I first came across FIRE via Mr Money Mustache several years ago (maybe 5 or 6). At the time, it did not resonate with me at all.

I thought I had to sell my house and buy a tiny apartment. And sell my car and cycle everywhere. This did not fit the lifestyle I had wanted. I like my house. I like my car. I like my life!

A few years later, I was at a different point – we had a home we love, had great relationships with our extended family but what was next?

We’d been unable to have kids and it led us to rethink the assumptions we had had for our life together.

Sometime last year, I was bingeing on personal finance podcasts and found FIRE and CHILL. Pat and Dave broke FIRE open with their emphasis on the underlying principles.

I remember listening to one of the early episodes and thinking – we already live well below our means, wait! – we already saved a good part of our income – wait! Is this something we could do??

 

Our financial situation at the time

We’d been sensible with our money – putting extra on our mortgage, always lived within our means and, mostly, saved up for the big things we wanted.

But apart from superannuation, we had no investments, just a small emergency fund.

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First steps on the path to FI

It really changed our approach to our finances – to think about how we could make our money work harder to give us more freedom and flexibility.

I looked at our budget and realised we already had the basics covered. We were already saving a good proportion of our income into our superannuation and extra mortgage repayments. I think it was around 30% at the time.

So the jump to FI wasn’t too hard – as compared to when I first read MMM. But it took some thinking and re-thinking about how to apply the principles to our situation.

How we think about our finances now

We think in terms of inside superannuation and outside superannuation. The last few years we’ve made additional contributions to our retirement funds. And with the recent high market returns, our superannuation has done well. It’s only been recently that I’ve realised how well.

Here are the calculations (not our actual numbers).

Let’s calculate our FI number using the basic 25x yearly expenses – 25x $50,000 = $1,250,000 allowing for a 4% withdrawal rate.

Then let’s assume half comes from my superannuation and half from my partner’s. To start drawing down at 60 years of age (when we can access our retirement accounts), we need $625,000 each in our retirement funds by then (half of $1.25 million).

If our current superannuation balance is $200,000 each, let’s use the rule of 72 to project that forward (or a compound interest calculator). If my superannuation makes 7% per year, it will double every 10 years. So if I’m 40 now, when I’m 50 it will be worth $400,000 even if I don’t make any more contributions.

Then double again between 50 and 60 years old to $800,000. Each!

So, our superannuation can just sit there for the next 20 years, and we’ll have enough! This is what’s referred to as COAST FI. We don’t need to add any more to my superannuation – the compounding and time does the work.

This is amazing! We could both go to part time work, just to cover our living expenses from now to 60, and not need to invest any more.

We can dream bigger!

So now we get to dream and be even more ambitious.

We can both go part time if we like.

We can risk a job change to something new, but lower paying, or less secure than our current jobs.

I’ve already had a conversation with my boss about changing to 4 days a week (we are still negotiating).

So how can we move our ‘work optional’ date forward, and forward again?

Maz's dog
My beloved dog

What are our new goals?

We have 2 big goals at present: the first being to pay off the mortgage. Our lofty goal is to have it completely paid off within 5 years.

I know mathematically we’re better off paying the minimum and putting the rest into investments. But for us, it represents security, and flexibility and will significantly reduce our expenses.

It’s also taking advantage of being fit and able to work full time while we can. You never know when life can suddenly change. One of us, or a family member, could become sick or injured. If this happened, we might not be able to work full time, or might need to take on an increased caring role.

Our other goal is to invest more, to be able to fully retire at 55. The strategy is simple, just low cost index funds. We’re not keen on property, because we don’t want to borrow large amounts, and that’s just our personal preference.

 

Our current budget breakdown

Minimum mortgage payment 15%

Short term expenses 15%

Yearly expenses 15%

Additional mortgage repayments 15%

Outside retirement investments (taxed brokerage account) 10%

Other long term lifestyle goals 20% (includes holidays, home renovations)

Additional superannuation contributions (like a 401k account) 10%

Specific challenges or advantages of starting late

I think for people just discovering FI, especially if you think you’re too old – my advice is just start where you’re at.

You don’t need to side hustle, or start your own business, unless you want to.

You need to spend less than what you earn and invest the difference. Even if all you do is add extra to your retirement, you are still ahead, in my opinion.

I use YNAB, which is a detailed budget tool. But the Barefoot Investor buckets might work best for you.

I was chatting to a friend about this. Late starters may not have as long for interest to compound, but we can still save.

I think later in life you have a stronger sense of yourself and your values, which makes it easier to prioritise the needs of your future self over instant gratification.

Resources I've found useful

Books:

The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape

An Aussie Finance Classic. If you really feel like you have no idea where to start with your finances, this gives you a step-by-step framework. It includes banking, getting out of debt, budgeting and starting out investing.

The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins

If the calculations I’ve included don’t make sense, this is your book. It’s in the title – the basics of investing and compounding for passive income. If you’re knee deep in analysis paralysis ot side hustle YouTube, it’s great for perspective.

Budgeting:

YNAB – You Need a Budget

This is an envelope style, or zero-based budget tool. It really helped me find the extra percentages to add to our savings rate. A great tool for prioritising your financial needs and wants.

Podcast

FIRE and CHILL

As I said above, it really emphasises the principles of financial independence over tiny details. Both hosts have their own blogs too.

Dave from Strong Money Australia

Pat from Lifelong Shuffle

What's next?

Once our home is paid off, we’ll turbo charge our saving and investing, to move our retirement date closer and closer.

We’re planning a holiday in Australia next year, as things open post pandemic. We’re also planning an overseas holiday in the next few years.

I love talking about this stuff and bouncing ideas around. Drop me an email if you want to chat about your own ideas – Mazfires@gmail.com

 

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you, Maz for sharing your story.

For me, your story highlights the importance of sharing our own stories with others. Even though reading Mr Money Mustache did not resonate with you at the beginning, it did many years later.

Another point that strikes me is that if you have the basics right from a young age, the stretch to FI is not big. It’s just a matter of tweaking a little here and there and you could be at Coast FI very soon.

And I love your advice to other late starters – just start where you are. It truly doesn’t matter how you start or what you do – the key is to start today.

Did FIRE resonate with you when you first found out about it?

8 Replies to “Late Starter to FI Series #34 – Start Where You Are”

  1. Your plan is exactly what I DID!
    I paid off my home first before starting to seriously invest. Like you, it was a security thing. I had 4 kids to protect and I wanted the security of having a roof over their heads that was always going to be there.
    Ironically, having a fully-paid-for property directly led to the property deal that gave me financial independence. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d followed the “mathematically sound” route.
    I retired last year at 57.
    Of course, your plan to me sounds eminently doable – because I’ve done it. (With a lot more dogs.)
    Well done on thinking things through and getting your super set up early. So important. 🙂

  2. What stands out for me is your mindset. Without the right mindset it is difficult to start or even recognize FIRE. Ironically even with the right behaviors you sometimes still haven’t put the puzzle together. Then it all comes together the mindset and the right habits and suddenly the FIRE path reveals itself. Great story, I’m sure you will achieve those goals sooner than expected

    1. Sometimes, we are just not in the right mindset when we first hear about FIRE. I know for me it sounded like a lot of deprivation and sacrifice but once I started, I discovered it was more about using money aligned to my values.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story Maz – it sounds like we have a lot of things in common. We too paid off our house first, but that was before I discovered FIRE. Even so, the security of a paid-off house was key for me. I don’t even consider tapping into the equity for anything due to the risk it could go wrong. You are well on your way with a bunch of choices now, keep going strong!

    1. I, too paid off my house early and before I found FIRE. As a single person, albeit without dependents, I just wanted the security of a paid off home – I’ll always have a roof over my head as long as I can afford local council rates. And after the mortgage is done, you have so much more up your sleeve to invest.

  4. A quick update from me. I’ve gone to 4 days a week at work, and I love it already! I have so much more energy, and less stress. I’m trying to convince my partner to do the same.
    Stay encouraged late-starters!

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