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

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

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!

getting started checklist

Feeling Overwhelmed?

Use this FREE Checklist to start your journey to Financial Independence

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.

Are you READY to TAKE ACTION today?

🔥 practical tips & strategies

🔥 step by step guide

🔥 cut the overwhelm, second guessing & paralysis by analysis

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?

The 5 Most Valuable Lessons from I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi

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!

I never wanted to be rich.

To be rich brings up a lot of negative associations for me and is one of my money limiting beliefs.

So I admit that the title itself – I Will Teach You To Be Rich – turned me off for a long time.

But through the internet, I am aware of Ramit’s philoshophy of “Spending extravagantly on the things you love and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t” and it has always resonated with me.

So finally, I decide to read I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Specifically I read the second edition, UK version.

getting started checklist

Feeling Overwhelmed?

Use this FREE Checklist to start your journey to Financial Independence

I loved it.

Even though the book is aimed at the youngsters – 20 to 35 year olds.

It’s a 6 week personal finance program – step by step guide on how to use credit cards, set up automation of savings, investments and retirement accounts, setting up a Conscious Spending Plan (no budget here … another of Ramit’s philosophy that resonates a lot with me, haha) and so on.

There is a ton of advice – how to talk to your partner about money; negotiating a raise; how to save for a wedding; should you pay off your student loans or invest; rent or buy a house and so much more.

I also enjoyed references to his Indian heritage as I relate to a lot of it. My Chinese heritage is not dissimilar ie parents wanting good grades, tertiary education a MUST for progressing in life and of course, marriage and kids (big fail here – which my Dad always reminds me every Christmas and Chinese New Year)

So, what lessons did I, a late starter, learn from I Will Teach You To Be Rich?

Lesson 1 - What does your Rich Life look like?

Ramit asks this question early in the book – What does your rich life look like?

I love, love this question!

Because without knowing the answer, it seems pointless to be saving, automating investments and salary sacrificing into retirement accounts.

After all, what is the money for?

It’s easy to think that I am saving for my retirement, that I want to be secure and that saving will give me options later. But options to do what, exactly?

I have been pondering a version of this question for most of the year. And will likely do so for the next 5 years as I transition to retirement at 55.

Questions such as – What do I really want to do once I fully retire? What will be my purpose? Will I still be productive? And useful? How will I use my free time? What will my lifestyle look like? And endless more ..

But Ramit challenges you to be SPECIFIC.

He wants you to have a vision for what to do with your money. To have that vision front and centre will motivate you when you make decisions to pay down debt, save and invest.

If you know what you value and what you don’t, it is much easier to “spend extravagantly on the things you love and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.”

And this is where I found it quite hard. I have never really wanted to dream or ask for specific things because I never want to be disappointed if I don’t get them.

Gosh, that is such flawed thinking, isn’t it?

So what does MY Rich Life look like?

This is my attempt to be more specific about what my rich life looks like. I look forward to expanding on this initial list as I learn not to be so afraid to have specific dreams.

In no particular order, my rich life looks like this.

  • Eat well – I can afford to use quality ingredients when cooking at home and be able to indulge in fine dining while on holidays. When I eat out, I always want to be able to afford desserts at the end of the meal. I want to eat what I feel like eating and not be concerned about the prices of the meals. I can eat all the cheese I want – not stopped by cost but by health reasons 🙂
  • Travel – I can afford to travel overseas at least once a year and enjoy experiences unique to the destination. I want to slow travel, staying put in a place for weeks or months instead of days and really getting to know the local culture, food and lifestyle.
  • Read – I have all the time in the world to read. Additionally, I am not restricted by what my local library has in stock. If I want to read a specific book that my library doesn’t have, I can buy it.
  • Continuous learning – I can afford to attend workshops and buy courses, cooking lessons and gardening classes.
  • Unfettered time to spend with family and friends here and overseas. If a family member needs my help overseas, I can drop everything and be there for them.
  • Wake up whenever I like, without an alarm clock – this would be HEAVENLY for me
  • Cook for others, whether that is having friends and family over or volunteering in a soup kitchen. Be adventurous and experiment with new recipes and ingredients
  • Visit museums and art galleries, attend plays, musicals and concerts – in my own city and not just while I’m on holidays elsewhere
  • Be healthy enough to do all the physical activities I want such as walking and hiking
  • Write in some form
  • Pursue any project or hobby without time or cost constraints
  • Not having to work to support my lifestyle ie I have sufficient passive income or a big enough investment portfolio that I can draw down ie working for money becomes optional
  • The ability to do my chores on weekdays instead of cramming everything into the weekends
 
While some of these activities require money, a lot don’t.
 
Writing this list has shown me that I am living some version of my rich life already, yay!
 
Full length of rich woman in elegant dress standing against limousine and private jet
No, this is not what my rich life looks like 🙂

Lesson 2 - Guilt free spending

I am a spender.
 
But after discovering FIRE, I’ve tried to reform my ways 🙂 The result of which is that sometimes I feel guilty spending money.
 
I realised while reading about how to set up a Conscious Spending Plan that I don’t have a splurge account for guilt free spending.
 
When I first found FIRE at 47, there were so many competing priorities for my money.
 
I felt so very behind in my finances – I didn’t have enough saved in my superannuation; my shares portfolio had languished for years; non existent emergency fund.
 
Therefore the last thing on my mind was an account for guilt free spending. Any inexpensive fun stuff was lumped with every day living expenses.
 
I suppose my travel sinking fund can be considered a splurge account. But because it is named as a travel fund, I feel guilty using it for anything else.
 
And lately, I’ve raided it to pay for blogging expenses, courses or memberships (so many skills to learn, lol!) It has been building nicely due to not being able to travel for the last 2 years.
 
I know the money is mine to do as I wish but I feel guilty nonetheless.
 
And of course I’ve reviewed my money allocation in the past. But it was to add more sinking funds – for a future car and home maintenance.
 
But now, my emergency fund has 6 months of expenses; my superannuation is at a point where I can reduce my contribution drastically; I am at Coast FI. More than 3 years down the road to FIRE, my financial situation has improved dramatically.
 
Therefore it is time to review my automated money flow again and make a few changes.
 
Before – a sum would be deducted from my pay and deposited in my investment account. Every 5 weeks, I would transfer it to Pearler, my brokerage platform where I had set up automatic investment.
 
Now – to simplify the process, I’ve set up a weekly transfer to Pearler directly. And when it hits a certain amount, it will automatically invest in my chosen ETF – VAS. I will miss out on miniscule interest to be earned in my bank account but it is much simpler this way.
 
Therefore I have renamed my investment account to “Invest in Myself” account. And automated a weekly deposit of $50 – it’s not a lot but it’s a start.
 
I will use this account primarily for buying courses, books, workshops etc totally guilt free. In addition, if there’s something I particularly want for myself, I’ll use the funds here.

Lesson 3 - Decide ahead of time what you'll do with a windfall or a raise

I never really thought about this before.

Any bonuses I received would go to my investment account. Or I’d use it to pay for upcoming expenses. For example, my tax refund was used to pay for my medical out of pocket expenses earlier in the year.

Ramit suggests you should spend some of it as a reward. So that you’ll always look forward to getting a once off unexpected income.

So  from now on, if I win the lottery or get an unexpected bonus, 50% will go to my Pearler autoinvest account, 40% into my travel fund and 10% into “Invest in Myself” account.

Any overtime payments go into having a one month buffer for everyday living expenses. Once this is funded, any overtime payments can go to my travel fund.

And any cash dividend under $100 will fund “Invest in Myself” account. Any single cash dividend greater than $100 will be transferred to Pearler. The vast majority of my dividends are automatically reinvested via Dividend Reinvestment Plans so cash dividends are minimal.

If I get a raise, I’ll just increase the contribution to my Pearler autoinvest account. The faster I build up my shares portfolio, the faster I can retire. But I don’t want to do this at the expense of my sanity.

Lesson 4 - Set some spending 'framework'

This one is a bit dangerous for  me, being a spender.

Ramit’s example is if he’s thinking of buying a book, he’ll just buy it. Even if he learns one thing from the book, it would have been worth it.

Here are mine – the first revolves around travel.

When travelling, if there’s an expensive experience or activity I want to do or a fine dining restaurant to visit, just do it – I may never return to this place again.

Time is precious – only look for direct flights or one connecting flight if direct flights are not possible.

My second spending framework involves food.

I never ever want invited guests to go home hungry or needing to buy McDonald’s on the way home. So I don’t mind spending a bit more and having more food than absolutely necessary – I love leftovers anyway and nothing is wasted.

I can’t come up with any more spending frameworks at the moment but it has made me think.

 

Discovering local parks in my area - trying to live life outside my spreadsheet

Lesson 5 - Live life outside your spreadsheet

Yes, I needed this reminder.

Lately, I have been charting many metrics related to my FIRE journey. I’m blaming this on seeing many pretty charts on Instagram. And on the current lockdown that seemed to drag on forever.

I keep checking my numbers to make sure I’m still on the right track. I’m driving myself nuts.

The truth is I have automated my savings and investments and I am on track.

It is time to live outside my spreadsheet and charts and just trust time to do its thing.

Final thoughts

I Will Teach You To Be Rich is essentially a 6 week step by step guide for managing your personal finances, aimed at 20 to 35 year olds. But it is so much more than that.

I am not the book’s target demographic plus I have already automated my savings, investments and bill paying before reading the book.

But even so, I loved it for the ‘higher level’ thinking it’s provoked in me.

To recap, the 5 most valuable lessons for me are:

– Be specific about what my rich life looks like

– Have an account for guilt free spending

– Decide ahead of time what to do with a windfall or a raise

– Set some spending frameworks

– Live life outside the spreadsheet

Have you read I Will Teach You To Be Rich? What lessons did you learn from it?