Retired on $30,000 a Year and Loving It
How this globetrotting couple retired at 38 and manage costs shrewdly
We retired at age 38 in 1991. At the time, we were overwhelmed with owning a restaurant and with Billy’s job managing a Dean Witter brokerage office in central California. So we inventoried our assets and decided to travel the world while we were still young and vibrant. Now, 24 years later, we live on less than $30,000 net spending per year while hopping around the U.S., Central America and Asia.
We don't deprive ourselves, so what is our secret?
Here’s the answer: We have chosen not to devote our time or money to support a complicated infrastructure in our lives.
We have no U.S.-based health insurance, no mortgage and no monthly subscriptions such as a cell phone plan, cable bundle or country club fees. We are debt-free and don’t own any big toys, like a boat.
Instead, we use local SIM cards for our phones or we Skype. To get around, we walk, take public transit or hire a driver (we haven’t owned a car in years). We’ve been proponents of medical tourism for decades and choose to spend much of our time in low-cost countries to keep our expenses down.
Over the past two decades, we’ve lived in Guatemala, the U.S., Mexico, El Salvador, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand. Along the way, we had unexpected medical emergencies, full physicals, colonoscopies and serious dental work.
But we don’t live like monks, either. We’ve refreshed our wardrobes and purchased netbooks, cameras and other digital equipment. In some years, our costs have been more than in others, but, on average, our annual net total spending has been around $30,000.
How We Pull It Off
To give you a better idea of how we make it work, take a look at the pie chart of our spending categories. The percentages are based on our actual spending from Jan. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2014. We don’t work from a budget, but rather operate from the position that we are not conspicuous consumers.
The $30,000-a-year figure reflects our actual spending, not a paycheck amount from which taxes and savings must be drawn. In the last couple of years, we’ve taken on housesitting commitments in the U.S., Mexico and Guatemala and this has cut our housing costs by 45 percent. Our medical expenses reflect some emergencies we experienced abroad.
Generally speaking, housing, transportation and taxes are the top three areas of cash outlay in a person’s economic life. Modifying any or all of them — as we have — will have a significant impact on your annual expenses and just might let you retire earlier than you thought you could.
We have a great deal of fun living on $30,000 net spending per year, by getting the most from our money.
For instance, when we’re in the U.S., we live in an Arizona resort (and have since 1993), giving us access to a swimming pool, tennis courts and a workout room without having to lay out cash for their maintenance or memberships. Our housesitting periods have given us spectacular lake views, gorgeous kitchens to work in, outdoor barbeques and private gardens — all serviced by maids and gardeners. (When we’re not housesitting but traveling, we snag monthly rates for apartments or hotel suites.)
We eat high-quality meats, fish, fruits and vegetables because we shop at farmer's markets in the States and abroad. When possible, we take advantage of rotating grocery sales, too. We share time with friends either cooking for them or going out to lunch instead of opting for higher-priced dinners. And when it's time to hit the road, we take full advantage of current airline deals and travel packages.
For entertainment, we prefer low-cost options such as tennis, hiking, biking, swimming, museums, art shows, and e-books.
Do We Work?
During the 15 years since we left the working world, we’ve received so many questions about how we were able to retire that we started an ad-sponsored website, RetireEarlyLifestyle.com and wrote two books, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible. We consider maintaining the website to be our volunteer time, helping people create their own retirement path. (We also volunteer on projects in local cultures.) Income from the site is inconsequential, since we live off our investments.
Simplicity Is Key
In short, we place more emphasis on creating a life of meaning rather than a life of gathering stuff.
Paring down a consumer-based approach to living and choosing simplicity instead, doesn’t mean a world of hardship. Our uncomplicated life reflects the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. We think there is nothing shameful in choosing value over indulgence and shopping thoughtfully and with intention instead of on impulse.
In the long run, we’ve found, experiences make people happier than possessions. The initial joy of acquiring something new, such as a car, fades over time, but experiences continue to provide happiness through memories and re-telling tales for years into the future.
Amassing stuff leads to a sinkhole on your road to financial independence. Why not choose a simpler path to happiness?
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli have been helping people achieve their retirement dreams since 1991. They run the RetireEarlyLifestyle.com site and are authors of The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.