Late Starter to FI Series Progress Update 2022 Part 1

stacks of golden coins on a bed of soil with seedlings growing on top of each stack

I started the Late Starter to FI Series to highlight those of us who began our FI(RE) journeys later than the ‘traditional’ FIREes; specifically those who started in our 40s, 50s and 60s.

And if you know my back story, you already know that I started this blog because I didn’t find many late starters when I first discovered FIRE at 47. There were many in their 40s but they had either retired for many years or about to retire. No one was just starting out.

So I am eternally grateful to the 34 Late Starters who have so generously shared their stories. This proves that there are late starters out there. And the more we read each other’s stories, the less alone we feel; the more achievable our goals are when we see others like us accomplishing them.

We are a community and I want to also share our progress. Because being on the path to FI is not a get rich quick scheme 🙂 It really is like a journey – with setbacks, roadblocks and detours along the way. And we want to celebrate any wins along the way too, of course!

The first progress update was published last year.

This year, we’ll divide the progress update into several parts. We’ll feature 3 Late Starters in Part 1 – here are their original stories:

Late Starter to FI #6 – Fire For One

Late Starter to FI #21 – Vinnie

Late Starter to FI #27 – Pursuing Slow FI as a Late Starter

Do you have a Late Starter story to share? Please connect with me via email (info@latestarterfire.com), TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

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. Thank you for your support

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Inflation

Inflation hasn’t really affected my strategy, at least not yet. But who knows what will happen?

I do have some concerns about the rising cost of electricity, although a change of provider last year has actually reduced my bills from what they were.

But I do think it might be time to investigate solar options. I’d also like to get rid of my gas hot water and oven – it seems a bit pointless to be paying supply charges for both gas and electricity.

Any strategy changes?

Last year I changed my investment mix in my superannuation (retirement account) from the default settings to an all-equities mix. I just checked my super balance last night to discover it’s dropped by about $15000!

Thanks so much, Vladimir Putin, for your invasion of Ukraine and consequent market upheaval. Luckily I have at least 8 or more years until retirement, so I’m sitting tight for the moment on that.

It’s slightly uncomfortable to see the that drop though, and if I was just about to or had already retired, it would probably bother me more. But all the wonderful blogs I read that show clearly that the market recovers mean that I can watch this development without freaking out.

I suppose the other change I’ve made is that I was originally planning to pay out my home loan as soon as possible. But now that it’s fully offset, I’ve decided to just relax about that and start investing instead.

 

What can we celebrate?

I have been able to start investing in ETFs finally, now that the mortgage is fully offset.

3D of word PAID with pic of house

On the path to Financial Independence ...

I’m still on the path to FI, although admittedly over this current financial year, I’ve been a bit slacker on the savings side and have loosened the purse strings a bit. I probably should rein it in a bit!

I think I got a bit bored and also, because I haven’t had a specific financial challenge for this year it’s also reduced my focus a lot. I do have some repairs that need doing around the house, so I’m focusing a bit more on saving up to have these done.

I’m still working. At this point, I have no idea what I will do in retirement but I’m sure there will be a lot of reading involved.

Any strategy changes?

I have the same strategy ie keep saving as much as possible and continuing to live frugally.

Stock market and housing prices have slumped in New Zealand. I put money in but I’m losing more than I’m putting in. Quite depressing. Having approximate $170-$180k of investments overall (including super) and here’s what has happened per calendar year (investment gains / losses):

Year 2019 $7991.13

Year 2020 $15236.32

Year 2021 $12603.29

Year 2022 -$15053.39

I started investing on April 30th 2018 but didn’t keep the stats at that point.

 

Side hustles

I started a YouTube channel ProjectFrugal on 28/12/20 – 427 subscribers so far with 110+ videos – hard work for no reward!

Also started a blog – Project Frugal a couple of weeks ago to attempt to drive some traffic to the YouTube channel which I’m hoping will eventually get monetised. But early days on that …

What can we celebrate?

Something we could celebrate is that I achieved a net worth of $1M NZD a few months ago. Then it dipped below $1M and is slightly above it again. It includes house value etc – it was a good milestone though.

numerals 100000 candles with sparkles

On the path to Financial Independence ...

I’m still pursuing FIRE, charging ahead as much as possible and still knuckling down despite what’s happening in the market(s).

We were also looking to move to Portugal to hopefully become missionaries or semi retire but due to the recent downturns etc, we have put that on hold until the market recovers. Could be 1 to 3 years away yet.

 

Inflation

To be honest, inflation has not impacted my strategy much. Though I am really surprised by how quickly prices of goods have ballooned. For example, flour used to be RM1 per kg and now it’s RM3! That’s quite an increase! Also, recently the ringgit slid down against the US dollar, so this adds fuel to the fire.

I live a frugal lifestyle – I cook most of my food, bake my own bread and even grow my own leafy greens. I barely take overseas holidays (even local ones lol) and hardly drive (in 2021 I drove a grand total of 3000km), and my hobbies are simple and low cost – reading and gardening. Most importantly, I have no debt to service. So, I’ve not really felt the pinch of inflation nor has my lifestyle been impacted much.

So I’m currently just maintaining the same budget, though I expect my investing dollars to shrink thanks to the weak ringgit. Sniff.

Any strategy changes?

I spent most of Nov 2021 – April 2022 learning about investing. Before, my investing strategy was basically “throwing money at an investment asset and hoping for the best”. Then, frustrated that I kept hitting walls or unexpected pitfalls, I deep dived into every book and YouTube channel I could find on investing. I realised that my foundation was weak, so I was not able to evaluate which investment vehicle was right for me.

Sifting out the weeds was a challenge, however. There’s so much content out there that is written with an angle or ulterior motive, that it’s difficult to decipher what is “truth”. For example, in the Malaysian financial sphere, cryptocurrencies and roboadvisors are heavily promoted. I vaguely realise that there’s more than meets the eye and I don’t have the whole picture nor am I sure if they were right for me.

So I read books like Investing 101, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, The Elements of Investing, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing to finally understand what sound investing principles are about. Then, and only then, could I define my financial goals, investing style and even design my portfolio. I realised I should have done this before investing my money. Still, better late than never!

My current strategy: Besides contributing extra to my retirement accounts (called EPF in Malaysia), I’m also investing abut 30% of my salary each month into total stock market funds using the Boglehead method. As a Boglehead, I believe in low cost, widely diversified index funds. I also favour a passive investing strategy where I stick to a portfolio of 70% equities and 25% bonds (or bond-like instruments) and 5% REITs + stocks. No timing the market for me, though I do buy a selection of stocks and REITs on the side with “fun money”.

I’m currently busy rebalancing my very messy legacy investing portfolio to the new strategy. Untangling my legacy investments is probably going to take me the entire year or more. The process is painful but I’m glad I’m doing it now rather than at 65!

 

Any epiphanies?

Received a big a-ha moment a few months ago that made me realise that I really should stop being so hard on myself in terms of managing my finances. Gaining clarity about why I did what I did was healing, and I realise I’m doing quite well despite the mistakes I made in the past. And although I don’t know what the future has in store for me, I’m confident I can survive and figure out things in the future.

Side hustles

Currently, I have no side hustle, though my blog seems to be attracting attention from surprising places. I think it’ll benefit my career in the long run to be seen as someone who can write about financial topics!

Still, I’m currently hustling, writing numerous personal finance essays for the blog – for free, lol. My journey learning about investing has fuelled my desire to write something that can help people like me to make informed decisions about their finances.

As I said, there’s so much noise out there, and it was super hard for me to educate myself because a lot of content (at least in the Malaysian finance world) has an agenda. It frustrated me how tough it was to get the whole, unbiased picture of sound investing. A lot of times I feel like I’m pushed financial products without a solid reason WHY I should take it up in the first place.

Before this development, my website was just a place to record my financial journey, but now I feel more galvanised to write content that will help people. Wish me luck!

 

What can we celebrate?

I’ve gotten over my fear of investing!! That’s such a big deal for me. The last time you spoke to me, I was largely paralysed by indecision and confusion. Now I feel like I’m heading somewhere.

colouful lines on chart

On the way to Financial Independence ...

I’m definitely still in pursuit of FI. I’m still aiming to retire at 55, which is the old retirement age in Malaysia. (It’s 60 now) I’m more confident, judging from my calculations, that I am on track.

Before, because investing felt like such a weird, complex subject, I felt like I was flailing in the dark and that retiring at 55 is a big “maybe, hopefully”. Now I am more confident of my strategy.

Technically, I’m Coast FIRE but I’d like to add more wood to the FIRE plan for now.

And I also hope to gain clarity on when I can stop worrying that I’m REALLY safe to Coast FIRE.

 

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you Fire For One, Vinnie and Elizabeth for sharing your progress updates. It’s so exciting to read that you’ve all had wins in the last year from paying off your mortgage, getting to $1 million net worth to conquering the fear of investing.

I love that all our strategies are evolving and we’re all still on the path to Financial Independence even though the markets are volatile and inflation is affecting our cost of living.

It’s going to be an interesting year ahead! Looking forward to next year’s progress updates already, haha 🙂

What is your progress on your FIRE journey? Update us in the comments below!

What is my FIRE number as a Late Starter? It is NOT my Net Worth

A new summer day dawns, natural background with the sun just behind
A new summer day dawns, natural background with the sun just behind

The two most commonly tracked metrics on the way to achieving FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) are net worth and that magical FIRE number.

Every time I post about what I include in my net worth calculations on social media, I get comments like – oh I don’t include my house because it doesn’t generate an income.

So I want to clarify here that my net worth is NOT the same as my FIRE number.

Let me show you why.

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What is Net Worth?

I’ve written about net worth before but I’ll recap here.

Net worth is a measure of your financial wellbeing. It captures a moment in time of where you stand financially.

Net worth is calculated as your assets minus your liabilities.

A positive net worth is what we are aiming for.

This means that we own more assets than what we owe to others.

Conversely a negative net worth means that we owe more than we own.

The larger your net worth, the more financially stable you are.

There is much debate among the FIRE community as to what assets to include or exclude in the calculation of net worth.

I like to include all my assets (not furniture or personal belongings) – my paid off home, superannuation (retirement account), investments outside of retirement account and cash in bank accounts or brokerage account.

Why?

Because I want to know my TOTAL net worth.

This informs my strategy of how to achieve financial independence.

I’ll explain how later.

 

What is a FIRE number?

Financial independence is defined as having enough investments that can support your lifestyle for the rest of your life without depending on a wage.

And then you can choose to retire early. Or not.

But how do you calculate that magical FIRE number? The number that signals you’ve reached financial independence and that you don’t have to work for a wage from now on?

Most in the FIRE community define it as 25 x expenses based on the 4% rule. So if your expenses are $40k a year, you’ll need 25 x $40k = $1 million to be financially independent. Or to put it another way, you can draw down your investments by 4% every year (plus inflation thereafter) forever. 

The Trinity Study

The 4% rule is based on a study by 3 researchers from Trinity University, popularly known as the Trinity study in 1998. It confirmed what Bill Bengen found in 1994.

This original study had nothing to do with the FIRE movement. The researchers were looking at what a safe withdrawal rate is for retirees, ranging from 3% to 12% based on a portfolio of stocks and bonds using historical data from 1926 to 1995.

What they found was that based on a 4% withdrawal rate the first year and increased by inflation in years thereafter, on a portfolio of 50% stocks and 50% bonds in the US market,there was a 95% success rate that there was money left in that portfolio after 30 years.

It follows that the lower your withdrawal rate, the longer your money will last.

The good news for late starters is that our years in retirement are a lot closer to the study’s longest time frame ie 30 years. If you retire at 30, your nest egg may have to support you for another 70 years.

If you are interested in more in depth analysis of safe withdrawal rates, please head to the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series from Early Retirement Now.

 

My FIRE number

For me, the traditional 25x expenses rule is a good place to start; a good guide to aim for, when we are starting out on our FIRE journey.

But I believe our FIRE numbers are more nuanced than that.

For example, are we talking about current expenses? Or projected expenses when we retire?

That is why I started tracking my expenses – firstly to know how much my current lifestyle costs and secondly, so I have an idea of what this amount buys me today. And if I’m happy with what I’m getting now.

Will I be happy with my current lifestyle when I eventually retire? Will I need more? Less? Answering these questions gives me a number to work towards.

Ok, so that’s the expenses part taken care of.

Now on to the 4% draw down strategy –

What if we don’t want to draw down our shares portfolio? What if we want to use the income generated from the portfolio? And what if we use real estate investment to achieve FIRE? We can’t sell 4% of a property each year.

As a late starter, there are added complications.

I have less time to save and invest the amount I need and for compound interest to work its magic and grow that portfolio.

So what are my options?

pie chart of investments
What makes up my net worth in April 2022

Net worth calculation to the rescue

This is where I value calculating my net worth. And tracking it over time.

From the chart above, I note that the largest contributor to my net worth is my paid off home. In second place is my superannuation. And in a far off third place is my investment outside superannuation.

 

1. Paid off home

One option to reach financial independence is to sell my home and use this equity to invest in a shares portfolio from which I can withdraw 4% for the rest of my life.

Another option is to sell my home and buy a property of lesser value and invest the rest into a shares portfolio.

Or I exclude it from my FIRE number as I don’t want to sell my home. Because I can’t deal with the insecurity of renting for the rest of my life. And because I don’t want the hassle of looking for a smaller property or one that is located further afield. For now.

But I know that if I run out of options, I do have the option of selling my home. Or at the very least, release some equity from it.

Or I could look at ways of generating income from it – renting out rooms either on a more permanent basis such as getting a roommate or renting out rooms on AirBnB.

 

2. Superannuation

My superannuation is the next biggest portion of my net worth. This was already the case when I first discovered FIRE, thanks to being in the work force for more than 20 years.

So my strategy was to make use of generous tax concessions to invest the maximum allowed into superannuation and grow this portion of the pie.

The complication here is that I cannot access my superannuation until my preservation age – 60 for me as I am born after July 1, 1964.

I knew this and still chose to focus on investing the maximum into my superannuation until I reached Coast FI (not that I knew that was what I was aiming for when I first started pursuing FIRE). Because I wanted the security of knowing that from aged 60, I’ll be taken care of financially.

My reaching Coast FI as a late starter is totally based on how much is in my retirement account.

I used the 4% rule as a guide here. And worked out 25 x my projected retirement expenses. This was my target number for aged 60 when I can access my superannuation.

I discovered I was half way there last year because I was tracking my net worth. Using the rule of 72, I worked out that the annual return on investment has to be 7.2% every year for this balance to double to my target number in 10 years.

I felt this was possible based on historic returns but it’s not a guarantee. Knowing that even if I never contribute another cent to my superannuation, it should grow to the amount I need at 60 has been freeing.

3. Bridge the Gap fund

But if I want to retire before 60, I will need extra funds outside of superannuation to support me.

This is what I’m building right now – my bridge the gap fund. According to my net worth calculations, this fund comes third overall – my cash and shares portfolio.

It is entirely appropriate as this fund has to support me for 5 years only.

Back to my FIRE number

If my FIRE number is not my net worth, then is it my net worth minus the value of my house? We’ve established that I don’t want to sell the house in the foreseeable future and you can’t sell 4% of a property.

So that works out to be the total of my superannuation balance, shares portfolio and cash minus liabilities (which for me is monthly credit card bills). But a large portion of this is in my superannuation which is not available until I’m 60. Therefore even if this number equals 25x expenses now, I still can’t retire early.

Therefore is my FIRE number the value of my bridge the gap fund?

Right now, because I plan to retire at 55, my bridge the gap fund is intended to support me for 5 years. If the fund grows to the desired amount tomorrow, I can’t retire because it can’t support me for 9 years until I can access superannuation.

In other words, I need to reach my target number at the 5 year mark, not before or after. Argghhhh!

To add another spanner into the works, I now don’t want to draw down from the shares portfolio if I can help it. This will help ensure I don’t totally rely on my superannuation being able to double in 10 years (from last year’s Coast FI value).

So I’m now planning to live on dividends and cash during the 5 year gap. And preserve as much of my portfolio as I can until I access superannuation.

However I’m not sure how much my portfolio needs to be in order to generate the amount of dividends I need. Therefore I’m just investing as much as I can including reinvesting my dividends to grow this portfolio. Dividends is now my favourite metric to track.

My current plan is that I’ll stop investing when my dividends can support half my annual expenses. I’ll then switch to saving as much cash as possible to make up the difference. Because I just don’t have enough time to grow the portfolio to be able to generate enough dividends to pay for ALL my expenses.

Did I tell you that my FIRE number is complicated? 🤣

 

Final thoughts

Aiming for a FIRE number as 25x expenses and living off it forever with a 4% withdrawal rate is a good guide. And if you don’t own a house or if you live in the US, with ways to access your retirement account before traditional retirement age, then yes, your net worth can be your FIRE number.

Unfortunately as a late starter, I have no choice but to depend on superannuation because I don’t have time to build up a substantial shares portfolio outside superannuation. And in Australia, there is no backdoor method to accessing it any earlier.

Therefore my FIRE number is a tad complicated and does not equal my net worth.

But I am grateful I took action back in 2018 as I now have options even though they are not as straightforward as those of the youngsters. It is the inevitable complication of starting later.

I will continue to track my net worth every month to be aware of where I’m at financially (specifically – is my strategy working?) and to inform me of my options. I’ll also track dividends to see how soon I can retire.

How do you calculate your FIRE number? Have I over complicated my calculation? 🤣

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