Forgive the pun, but the FIRE movement is hot right now. In case you haven’t heard of it, FIRE stands for financial independence, retire early. The movement has a cadre of loyal followers who are ditching the 9-to-5 to live life on their own terms.
But, achieving financial independence to retire early can require sacrifices. Many in the FIRE movement live extremely frugal lives and work multiple jobs and side hustles to build up their savings. GOBankingRates spoke with nine FIRE believers about the extreme steps they took to reach their financial goals. Take notes — this is how you exit the workforce and retire early.
Last updated April 24, 2019.
Cody Berman Became Financially Independent at 22
Cody Berman discovered the FIRE movement when he was just 19 years old and a sophomore in college. He was sold on the idea of creating semi-passive and passive sources of income so he wouldn’t have to work a full-time job.
However, after graduating from college and taking time off to travel in Australia, he landed a job in corporate banking. But, he quickly realized that he wasn’t cut out for that lifestyle. “I didn’t like sitting behind my desk for 10 hours a day,” Berman said.
Seven months into his corporate job, he quit. He was only 22. He doesn’t have plans to return to a full-time job because he’s built savings and created semi-passive income streams.
Extreme Retirement Move: Saving 90% of His Income
To become financially independent and leave his job, Berman had to take some extreme steps. While working, he moved in with his mom to eliminate housing costs. Berman kept his food costs to a minimum — about $30 a week — by taking advantage of grocery store sales on items such as meat that was about to expire and then freezing it to make it last longer. The cost-cutting moves helped him save 90% of his income.
In the seven months he worked at his job, Berman set aside $35,000. He also had created sources of semi-passive income with his Fly to FI blog, The FI Show podcast and Arsenal Discs, a line of discs used for disc golf. His savings and that semi-passive income are enough to support his frugal lifestyle. “I’m living life doing what I want,” Berman said. “It was only possible by saving 90% of my income.”
Pauline Paquin Left the 9-to-5 at 29
Pauline Paquin realized at a young age that money can buy freedom. So she started saving money from the various jobs she had in her teenage years and in college. By the time she graduated, she had $25,000 in savings that she used to buy her first rental property.
By age 29, she had enough created enough passive income with rental properties that she was able to stop working full-time. “To me, it wasn’t as much retiring early as gaining financial independence and the freedom to do what I please with my time,” said Paquin who shares advice based on her experience at Reach Financial Independence.
Extreme Retirement Move: Moving to Morocco
“One of the most extreme things I did to escape the rat race was moving to Morocco,” Paquin said. The native of France had been living in the United Kingdom in a three-bedroom apartment that she owned. She could’ve continued to work at her corporate job but decided to rent out the apartment for about $1,000 a month. That was enough to support a low-cost lifestyle in Morocco.
Paquin now lives in Guatemala. The low cost of living there allows her to remain financially independent with the passive income her investment properties produce.
Jillian Johnsrud Retired at 32
Growing up in poverty inspired Jillian Johnsrud to become a follower of the FIRE movement. “I wanted more freedom and options,” she said. In her early 20s, she became even more determined to become financially independent. She was young and healthy and witnessed the toll that health problems were taking on her husband’s parents.
“We both always had big dreams of being able to travel the world, adopt kids, build a home and write,” Johnsrud said. “Becoming financially independent at 32 made so much of that possible.”
Extreme Retirement Move: She and Her Husband Lived on One Income, Saved the Other
The most extreme thing Johnsrud and her husband did to retire early was live on one income and save the other income. That meant living lean. “That first year, when we only made $12,000 together because we were in college, it meant moving into a camper,” she said. When they lived in Washington, D.C., the couple — which had two children at the time — had a housemate for three years in order to save half of their income.
“That one choice gave us the down payment on our first rental property,” said Johnsrud, who writes about achieving financial independence at Montana Money Adventures. “And the first rental property helped create the down payment for the second property. Those two rentals create 30% of our passive income right now.” And her husband, who served in the military, receives military retirement benefits that help support their family of seven that includes their two biological children and adopted children.
Elizabeth Willard Thames Retired at 32
Elizabeth Willard Thames retired at the age of 32 after working for 10 years in the nonprofit sector. She and her husband had a clear reason for wanting to ditch their 9-to-5’s: They wanted to live a simple life on a homestead in the woods of Vermont.
To get there, though, the couple had to let go of the desire to spend money and embrace frugality, said Thames, author of “Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living.” Living with less helped them save money at a very high rate and continues to allow them to be financially independent.
Extreme Retirement Move: DIY Haircuts
Among the most extreme things Thames and her husband have done to keep costs down and make early retirement possible are home haircuts. Thames has been cutting her husband’s hair since 2012, but she was terrified to let him cut her hair until 2015 when she did the math and figured out how much money they could save.
Her professional haircuts used to cost $100, so she’s saved $1,600 over the past four years having her husband cut her hair, Thames said. “When I add in the savings from my husband’s haircuts, it tallies $4,960,” she said. She also cuts her 3-year-old’s hair and will cut her 1-year-old’s hair once it’s long enough.
“While DIY’ing our haircuts isn’t the reason we’re financially independent, it is an element of our holistic, frugal lifestyle,” Thames said. “Coupled with all of our other [frugal] approaches, home haircuts add up to a fair amount of money over the years.”
Steve Adcock Retired at 35
After working in the IT industry for years, Steve Adcock decided he had had enough. “I hated the performance reviews, the stupid deadlines, the travel,” he said. “I needed another path through life, one that would allow me to control my own destiny much more closely.”
So he figured out how to retire early with his wife, who also worked in the IT industry. The couple saved 70% of their income, which was relatively high thanks to their tech jobs. “That adds up fast,” Adcock said.
Extreme Retirement Move: Living in a Travel Trailer
To make early retirement possible, Adcock and his wife decided to slash their biggest expense: housing. They sold the two homes they owned — which they had bought separately before marriage — and moved into an Airstream travel trailer. This saved them a combined $2,000 a month in mortgage payments.“We now travel the country full-time in this 200 square-foot RV,” said Adcock, who blogs about early retirement at ThinkSaveRetire. “This helps us to keep our costs down and practically allows us to live as cheap as we want.”
It might seem extreme to sell your house and live in a trailer, but Adcock doesn’t think of it as a sacrifice because he can go where he wants when he wants. “The freedom to control our time is a freedom that I can’t easily put into words,” he said.
Akaisha and Billy Kaderli Retired at 38
Akaisha and Billy Kaderli are proof that you don’t need to save $1 million to retire early. They were able to retire at age 38 with $500,000 in savings by opting to live outside the U.S. in countries where the cost of living is low.
Some might consider it extreme, but the Kaderlis have loved being able to spend their retirement going from one country to the next and blog about it at Retire Early Lifestyle. “Our traveling lifestyle is probably more luxurious than you might think,” they said. There’s actually something more extreme they did on their path to early retirement, though.
Extreme Retirement Move: Keeping Early Retirement a Secret
There’s no shortage of FIRE bloggers sharing their stories about what they’re doing to achieve financial independence and retire early. But when the Kaderlis retired in 1991, early retirement wasn’t all the rage. In fact, it was practically unheard of, they said.
So when the Kaderlis decided to retire early, they didn’t tell anyone of their plan for the two years they worked to achieve it. “Remember, this was 1991, and the idea of two 38-year-olds leaving perfectly good jobs and a beautiful home a quarter mile from the beach in Central California was very radical,” they said. It wasn’t until they put in their notices as their jobs that they told family and friends that they were retiring early.
Tanja Hester Retired at 38
Tanja Hester and her husband, Mark Bunje, started down the path toward early retirement in 2011. They had high-paying jobs as political consultants, but they were tired of long hours that left them with little time for each other and the things they enjoyed. So Hester and Bunje saved 70% of their income a year over the next six years to have enough to retire at ages 38 and 41, respectively.
Extreme Retirement Move: Extreme Couponing
To save as much as they did, Hester said she and her husband had to reduce spending. For the most part, they cut out mindless spending and things that didn’t bring joy to their lives rather than resort to extreme frugality. But, for one year, Hester said she resorted to a drastic measure that she wouldn’t recommend as a way to achieve early retirement: extreme couponing.
“And at one point, I got our groceries down to $100 a month in Los Angeles, where food costs more than many places, which was great,” said Hester, who is the author of “Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way.” “But it required spending hours a week finding coupons, comparing deals, shopping at multiple stores and keeping everything organized.” It freed up money for them to save, but it wasn’t worth the time and effort, she said. Instead, they could’ve used that time to side hustle to make more money to stash in savings.
Carl Jensen Retired at 43
Carl Jensen started saving as much as he could for retirement early in his career. But it wasn’t until a bad day at work in 2012 when he was 37 that Jensen decided that he wanted to retire early. “Before that day, I never thought about early retirement,” Jensen said. “No one in my family had stopped working before 62 or 65.”
He realized that by tweaking his family’s lifestyle to reduce spending he could boost his savings to have enough to retire in four years. By taking a few extreme steps, Jensen was able to retire at age 43 with more than $1 million in savings.
Extreme Retirement Move: Living in a Home He Was Flipping
To achieve his goal, Jensen said the most extreme thing he did was live in houses with his family of four while he was renovating them to sell for a profit. “It isn’t pleasant to live in a home where all of your possessions are covered in a fine layer of drywall dust or without a roof during the rainy season in Wisconsin,” Jensen said.
But living in construction zones paid off. Because he lived in the homes, he avoided having to pay capital gains tax on the profit from the sales. The IRS exempts up to $500,000 in profit from a home sale for married couples filing jointly if they’ve lived in the house two of the past five years before the sale.“These flips built the core of my nest egg. I’d take the profits and invest in another home or the stock market,” said Jensen, who blogs about early retirement at 1500days.com. “I wouldn’t be retired today if it weren’t for live-in flipping.”
Brandon Renfro Is on the Path to Early Retirement
Brandon Renfro hasn’t retired yet but is working toward it by becoming financially independent. “I haven’t achieved early retirement,” he said. “I’ll probably be in my 50s before I’m able to just wake up and drink coffee all day.”
But he’s created a variety of income sources with rental property, a financial planning business, a job as a finance professor and service with the Army National Guard to put him on the path to financial independence. “My income is varied enough that I don’t feel tied down,” said Renfro, who blogs at BrandonRenfro.com.
Extreme Retirement Move: Living in a Run-Down Foreclosure
The most extreme thing Renfro said he’s done to achieve financial independence is purchase a trashed house that was in foreclosure and live in it while remodeling it — all while his wife was on bed rest due to pregnancy complications. “One of the inside rooms had been used as a dog kennel by the prior owners,” he said. “All the floors were destroyed, there were holes in the walls, holes in the doors, the cabinets were filthy.”
Renfro bought it for just $45,000 and spent $5,000 fixing it up. His investment — and the sacrifice he and his wife made by living in the house during the renovations — paid off because it appraised at $97,000. He had enough equity in that property and another duplex that he owned that he was able to buy two more properties. If he had to do it again, Renfro said he would because it allowed him to increase his rental property holdings and passive income.
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About the Author
Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.
U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more.
She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.