Welcome to It Takes Two to FIRE. This interview series has been developed in collaboration with my friend Cristian Ferrier from the Financial Alien.
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We are excited to bring you a series in which we explore real-life stories on how couples work together to reach or have already reached FIRE.
For this interview, we have Dragon Gal and Dragon Guy, a 40+ couple that reached FIRE in 2019.
The Dragons on FIRE realized that following society’s script of life, “go to college, get married, buy a house, have kids, work a job for 40+ years, and then retire.” was not the script they wanted for themselves. And so they wrote they own one.
Interviews will be conducted on an ongoing basis, with new interviews being published bi-weekly on Wednesdays. You can find past and future interviews in the series Main Page.
And without further ado, let’s get to the interview. Enjoy!
Introduction to the Dragons
Tell us a bit about yourself
We are Dragon Gal and Dragon Guy, a 40+ couple who have been married for over 19 years, together for almost 23 years. We met in college and live in the U.S. We have no children but have two cats. We’ve both been early retired together for more than a year now.
Dragon Gal retired in 2017, and Dragon Guy in late 2019. Dragon Guy is chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) survivor, currently in treatment-free remission (yay!). One of the key issues surrounding early retirement for us (and many others) is having good access to healthcare, but we have figured out a plan that works for us.
What would your jobs be? What does a day in your life look like?
Dragon Gal was an educator before quitting full-time work. She taught high school English, elementary school, and as a creative writing teacher and tutor. Dragon Guy worked in finance for 20+ years.
We’re both early retired and have fairly relaxing days. We follow a daily health routine that involves exercising, cooking, sleeping well, and yoga (on most nights).
Dragon Gal has volunteer projects involving teaching and food distribution; Dragon Guy is involved with voter registration. We both started a YouTube channel in early 2021, promoting healthy living for cancer survivors and caregivers. Dragon Guy likes to work on various Excel spreadsheets to keep his skills sharp and ensure we’re on track with our retirement budget.
We spend our evenings reading and playing word puzzles.
Learning about FIRE
How did you two find out about FIRE?
When Dragon Gal turned 40, she started re-evaluating her whole life. She was tired of working full-time and wanted more freedom. So one day during her lunch break, she googled “Early retirement” and found Mr. Money Mustache’s blog.
Dragon Gal knew if she wanted to quit, she needed to present a compelling argument to Dragon Guy, the family’s finance expert. Luckily, Dragon Guy supported Dragon Gal retiring but wanted more information, so Dragon Gal told him about MMM’s blog.
Were you two on board with the idea of FIRE from the beginning? Or did it take some convincing on one part? If so, how did you go about selling the idea of FIRE to your partner?
Dragon Guy got on board very quickly with the idea of early retirement. After Dragon Gal shared MMM’s blog, he read all of MMM’s posts and then started the process of reading multiple other FIRE blogs. Using MMM’s formula, we discovered we were FI! Dragon Guy took diligent notes and started implementing what he learned. Practically overnight, Dragon Guy cut over $2,000 in costs by changing cell phone providers, cutting his XM radio, his gym membership, and our cable TV.
How long did it take you to FIRE?
This is a complicated question. When we learned about FIRE, we’d already been in the workforce for 18 years, and we’d already been saving and investing diligently every year. So by the time we found FIRE, we had already saved enough for both of us to retire, which Dragon Gal did. Dragon Guy worked 2 years longer before getting a severance package.
Which type of FIRE did you aim for, and why?
We are currently living Regular FIRE. For 2021, our budgeted expenses in early retirement are $60,000. A third of our expenses go to having good healthcare for Dragon Guy and ensuring he has continued access to his oncologist and cancer hospital. Travel is also a priority for us, and it’s 17% of our budget. Otherwise, we might be more LeanFIRE as we’re able to be fairly frugal at this stage in life: we do not need to buy work clothes or any more furniture, for example.
How did you achieve FIRE? What was your strategy?
Our basic strategy for achieving FIRE was:
- Save consistently and aggressively
- Live frugally
- Max out retirement accounts
- Invest consistently in mutual/index funds
What has your savings rate been through the time you have been working towards FIRE?
Unfortunately, we didn’t always keep the best records about our finances before we found FIRE. In general, we maxed out all of our retirement savings. We also tried to save about 80% of Dragon Gal’s earnings every year and live off Dragon Guy’s earnings.
What changes have you made to improve your savings rate and achieve FIRE faster?
After learning about FIRE, we re-evaluated our “needs” and cut about $2,000 from our annual spending by changing our cell phone plan and getting rid of XM radio, gym membership, and cable TV.
After Dragon Gal retired, we also let go of our cleaning lady, decreased our lawn service, and stopped taking tennis lessons (we play at the park for free now), saving us almost $5,000 per year.
At this point in our lives, we are no longer in the “accumulation” phase. We already have all the clothes/accessories and furniture we need, and we have enough “things.” So, moving forward, we’ve committed ourselves to borrow or buy used as much as possible.
We began tracking every dollar we spent, and just by doing that, we dramatically decreased our crossover point (the point where investment income equals expenses).
What are your investments like? Do you invest in the stock market, real estate, crypto, etc.? What is your strategy?
When did you reach FIRE?
Ironically, we’re not sure when we reached FIRE. By the time we learned about FIRE in 2017 and then crunched our numbers, we realized we’d already reached FIRE! At that point, we were in our early 40s.
Life after FIRE
What do you do now that you are FIREd?
We have both stopped working full-time. We have each taken contract work here or there, but only if we want to. Neither of us has done any paid work in 2021 so far.
We do a variety of things in our early retirement:
- Volunteering – We love volunteering, and we’ve done work in food distribution, voter advocacy, cancer survivor support, and teaching.
- Wellness – We have to take our health very seriously because Dragon Guy is a cancer survivor. So we devote a chunk of our day to a daily health routine we have set up, which involves: cooking, yoga, exercising, and getting enough sleep (though we aren’t always perfect!).
- Household Chores/Tasks – We agreed to do our own cleaning when we retired early and sadly let go of our cleaning lady. We spend about 30-60 minutes everyday cleaning and maintaining our home.
- YouTubing – We started a channel in 2021 to promote wellness for cancer survivors and caregivers. It’s been fun to work together on a creative project.
- Entrepreneurship – We started a new business in conjunction with our YouTube channel. We haven’t had any clients, but there’s no pressure since we’re FIRE!
- Reading – Dragon Gal has read about 75-100 books every year in her retirement; Dragon Guy read 50 in his first year of retirement. We read a mix of fiction and non-fiction books.
- Traveling – We celebrated Dragon Guy’s retirement with a month-long trip to New Zealand. The pandemic has put a pause on our international travel, but we’ve pivoted to taking road trips in the U.S, mostly visiting state and National Parks. Reaching Goals – We create yearly goals. For example, Dragon Gal always has a goal of decluttering 1k items from home, and Dragon Guy often has the goal of creating different financial models.
What has FIRE taught you?
FIRE has also taught us about the meaning of “enough.” Dragon Guy used to think we needed a lot more in investments to be able to retire. When we learned about the 4% rule, that changed his thinking. We had enough and didn’t need anymore. And in early retirement, our needs are much simpler, as we don’t need to buy many things. We have what we need and can instead use our money on experiences.
Teamwork is everything! Being on the same page about how we spend our money has helped. Before we discovered FIRE, we were naturally saving and miraculously rarely got into any fights about money. But Dragon Guy was the expert, and Dragon Gal was content to let him take the lead.
Since learning about FIRE, we’ve realized it’s important that Dragon Gal be much more involved with finances. Now, we’re much more intentional in our communications about money. Dragon Guy has taught Dragon Gal a lot about finances since her retirement. We created a “retirement manual” that describes how we’ll spend our money in retirement and how we’ll fund it. This ensures that we’re both clear about our finances in early retirement.
It’s important to live our lives according to our values. We’ve learned to listen to our own voice in regards to what we want in our life. “FIRE” is out of the box thinking (though it is definitely catching on!)–We grew up following society’s script of “go to college, get married, buy a house, have kids, work a job for 40+ years, and then retire.” But in the end, we didn’t totally follow this script. Sure, it’s important to read other people’s scripts for inspiration, but in the end, only some of their scripts might work for us. We’ve learned it’s important to follow our own script and not just blindly follow society’s or others’ scripts.
Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
We would have bought fewer things. Instead of buying new things, we would have borrowed or bought second hand (especially clothes, furniture, and housewares). There are also so many options for getting things for free (for example Buy Nothing FB Groups).
We might not have bought a house–we bought a house thinking we’d have children, but we didn’t. The house is too big for us, but now that we’ve paid off the mortgage and Dragon Gal’s parents live down the street, we feel compelled to keep the house.
And we might not have had a traditional wedding, which cost us about $10,000.
What would you say to a young couple just learning about FIRE?
Decide for yourself what’s most important in your life, and feel free to spend money on those things. What do you value your money for? Spend less on things you don’t really care about. Spend time creating a set of values as a couple of how you will or will not spend your money and when you will agree to disagree.
For example, we really value travel and our health. About 17% of the budget this year is devoted to travel, and we are willing to spend more money to buy good quality food and access to good healthcare.
We don’t care as much about clothes/accessories, cars, and tech gadgets, and the budget for those things is about 10% of our budget combined. So what’s most important in our lives are not things, but each other!
Any final words?
Wealth is not just about our net worth. We believe wealth can be several other things:
- relationships (with ourselves, each other, and friends/family)
- mental and physical health
- knowledge and experiences
- a life of gratitude
- and much more!
We’ve learned to cultivate these additional “wealths” in our early retirement through the activities we are involved in. Feeling rich in life is not just the dollar amount we see in our bank account. It’s also the joy of our life together.
This article originally appeared on Financial Alien and has been republished with permission.
Cristian Ferrier is the founder and author of Financial Alien, a site that promotes financial literacy in people. He is a husband, father, and IT professional. A 34-year old immigrant who went from having $80k in student loan debt, to building a Net Worth of $600k+ in less than 5 years, and is now on the path to retire at the age of 39. Learn more about him on his About Me page. He loves learning, talking, and teaching about personal finance, and wants to inspire others to create their own path and follow their dreams. Contact him on his Contact Me page.