Welcome to It Takes Two to FIRE. This interview series has been developed in collaboration with my friend Cristian Ferrier from the Financial Alien.
Both of us are quite excited about this opportunity to learn from FIRE couples and see how their journey has been as they have tried to achieve their FIRE lifestyle.
If you are new to FIRE, it stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. In 2008, around the financial crisis, a new trend started to pop up. It was a trend about retiring early and being financially independent.
To learn more about the FIRE movement in general, head over to this article: Retire Early and Experience Freedom by Reaching Financial Independence.
Today, we are going to learn about Cristian and Elizabeth Ferrier's FIRE journey. Cristian writes the blog Financial Alien.
Introduction into the Lives of Cristian and Elizabeth
Hello everyone. We are Cristian and Elizabeth and run the Financial Alien blog. I am originally from Bolivia and moved to the United States in 2006 at the age of 19. My wife Elizabeth is American, but her mother is Bolivian as well.
We met while she was on vacation in Bolivia. I had just turned 19 at the time, and she was only 17. We dated long distances for about six months until I came to the States and decided to stay and build a life with her.
We have been together for 15 years now, 13 of those as a married couple. We have two kids, ages 12 and 6.
We moved a few times over the past couple of years, mainly for my job. For about ten years, we lived in Florida, then moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for one year, to San Antonio, Texas for almost three years, and came back to Florida last year to be closer to family, hopefully for a long while.
What Does a Day in Your Life Look Like?
I am a Systems Engineer for a U.S. Government agency, and Elizabeth is a Budget Analyst for a private university.
A day in our lives these days is much more relaxed than it used to be not too long ago. Both of us are permanent work-from-home employees, which means we don’t have to commute! I love it. It has given us back time that we can now use to spend together and do other things.
On a typical day, we start work at 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM, respectively, and leave by 5:00 PM. By that time, both kids are back from school, so we can then do anything we need or want, like making dinner, go for a walk, go to the gym, play with the kids, or go out somewhere.
Learning about FIRE
We are going to learn a little bit about how Cristian and Elizabeth learned about FIRE.
How did you two find out about FIRE?
I originally found FIRE through the ChooseFI podcast. Initially, when we first started getting our finances in order and paying off debt, we followed Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. From within one of Dave Ramsey’s Facebook groups, I was introduced to the ChooseFI group and the idea of Financial Independence (FI).
I started listening to the podcast and learning everything I could about FI and the FIRE movement.
Even before finding FIRE, I always knew that I didn’t want to work until my 60s. My goal was to retire at 50, but I didn’t have an actual plan to make it happen. Finding FIRE answered all my questions and allowed us to develop a plan which puts us on the path to retire by the time we are 39 and 38.
Were you two on board with the idea of FIRE from the beginning? Or did it take some convincing on one part?
I would say it took some convincing, but it wasn’t too hard. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be on board with the idea of building wealth, becoming financially independent, and having the option to retire early?
The little convincing that was there to do was mainly with me laying out the plan to Elizabeth and showing her how the numbers would work. “If we save this much per month, for this many years, we can retire at this age.” type of thing.
We had always been somewhat frugal. We were not always in good financial shape, but most of our financial mistakes came from student and car loan debts. We had never been the type of people who loved spending money on useless material things or going out to eat all the time, and so adapting to a FIRE lifestyle was almost seamless. We just needed some direction, and FIRE provided that.
How long have you been working towards FIRE? (If already FIREd, how long did it take you to FIRE?)
2021 is our third year since we found FIRE, and that we have been working towards it. We were already heading in the right direction even before that time, having changed our mindsets on how we viewed credit and debt and following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. However, 2019 was the first year we went all out on the FIRE idea, maxing out all of our retirement accounts and more.
Which type of FIRE are you aiming for?
At the moment, we are aiming for regular FIRE, which we are projecting to achieve in 5 more years in 2026. However, things can change from now and then. Maybe we find a side hustle that produces enough income for our wants, in which case we could shift to more of a Barista FIRE type. Or perhaps we are still enjoying our jobs in 2026 and decide to continue working a little longer, which would put us in Fat FIRE territory.
We shall see. I think we’ll have a clearer picture in the next 2-3 years.
We each have different strategies and ways to achieve FIRE. Here is the section in which Cristian and Elizabeth lay out the way they will achieve FIRE.
How are you planning on achieving FIRE? What is your strategy?
Our strategy is simple: live below our means, save and invest the difference, and let compound interest do the work for us.
We paid off all of our debt, except for our mortgage, a few years ago. Around the same time, I changed jobs, and my wife got a raise on hers. All that combined left us with quite a bit of disposable income. Instead of raising our standard of living, we chose to raise our savings rate and invest as much as we could.
As of right now, we are projecting to reach FIRE within the next five years by 2026. Whether we stop working at that time, it’s something we’ll have to see, but the option will be there.
What has your savings rate been through the time you have been working towards FIRE?
Right now, our savings rate is 69%, which is a pretty good number, but it wasn’t always that high.
I wish I had tracked our savings rate in the past, but if I have to guess, I would say it started at around 30% when we first got serious about FIRE.
As our salaries increased, because our lifestyle remained the same for the most part, our savings rate also increased.
What changes have you made to improve your savings rate and achieve FIRE faster?
For those who don’t know, the personal savings rate is the percentage of your total income after taxes that’s going towards savings or investments. You can improve it by increasing your income, lowering your expenses, or both.
Many of those pursuing FIRE focus too much on the “lowering expenses part.” This is fine, but it can also lead to some degree of deprivation, where you feel unhappy in the present trying to reach a future goal that you could potentially never see.
Instead, Elizabeth and I focused on increasing our salaries. This allowed us to maintain or even improve our standard of living while at the same time increasing our savings rate.
What are your investments like?
Most of our investments are in Index Funds by far, accounting for around 90% of our portfolio. The other 10% are Mutual Funds in sectors that we like and believe in, such as Technology and Healthcare.
Now, you can buy VTSAX or the equivalent Total Stock Market Index Fund and keep it as simple as that, but we like to diversify a little more. And so we hold a good mix of large, mid, and small-cap, plus international and real estate index funds.
Our investment composition is 60% Large Cap, 15% Mid Cap, 15% Small Cap, 5% International, and 5% Real Estate.
Why index funds? Because of the simplicity. Index funds are indeed a set it and forget it type of investment. If you understand how the Stock Market works and has worked for the past century in the US, and understand compound interest, then index fund investing is a strategy that makes sense. It simply works
When do you plan to reach FIRE?
We are projecting to reach FIRE in another five years, in 2026. Of course, this is dependent on how the market performs within the next five years.
As I mentioned earlier, we could potentially shift to a Barista FIRE strategy, which we could reach by 2024.
Life after FIRE
Life after FIRE is different for each person. Some like quitting work to never touch it again. Others may work on side projects. Life is different for all.
What do you plan to do once you reach FIRE?
As projected right now, we would reach FIRE by 39 and 38. That’s still pretty young if you ask me! I don’t think we can just stop working altogether and sit at home for the next few decades of our lives. Actually, I don’t think I have ever heard of anyone who has reached FIRE and just stopped working altogether.
The whole point of FIRE is to have options. To have the freedom to do what you want, when you want.
And so to answer the question, no, I don’t think we will stop working once we reach FIRE. We will most likely stop working at our 9-to-5 jobs but will pursue another adventure. Whether that might be a side hustle we do 5 hours a week or a business in which we put 50 hrs a week, we don’t know.
But that’s the beauty of FIRE, to have the options to do and try different things. If you try something and don’t like it, no harm, no foul, you can try something different.
Lastly, these are those much-needed tricks and tips we can learn from each couple. Cristian and Elizabeth have a couple of things to share with us.
What has FIRE taught you?
That there is more to life than what society tells us. Since kids, society teaches us that to be successful in life, we need to get good grades in school, go to college, get a degree, and get a good job. Then we need to work for the next 40 or so years of our life to retire and enjoy life a bit more finally.
FIRE has taught us to break that norm. We don’t want to be your traditional couple who works for 40+ years for someone else to see a retirement maybe one day. We want to live a life on our terms—a life of freedom. And FIRE can give us that life.
Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
Knowing what I know now, I would start much sooner than we did. We didn’t get on board the FIRE train until three years ago when we were 31 and 30. Seeing the tremendous progress we have made financially over those three years, I can’t even imagine where we would be right now had we started in our early twenties.
Maybe we would have already reached FIRE; who knows.
But other than that, I don’t think I would do anything differently, as I feel right now we are maximizing our investments the best we can.
What would you say to a young couple just learning about FIRE?
First and foremost, understand that you are a marriage, and as such, you must work as a team. Talk often about your finances, set goals, make a plan, and take the appropriate action.
Don’t wait to start. As the Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.” It doesn’t matter where you are in your financial journey: whether trying to get out of debt, looking for ways to save money, or learning about investment options, today is the best day to take that first step.
And keep it simple. Don’t get caught up on the next get-rich-quick scheme. Understand that investing in the market is a long-term game. Slow and steady wins the race.
Any final words?
You can do it. Five years ago, my wife and I were $80,000 deep in student loan debt. If you had told me then that by today I would not only have paid off that debt but built a $600,000+ Net Worth, I would have laughed. Not even in my wildest dreams, I would have believed that was possible.
But we did it. And all it took was that first step, that desire to change our financial lives for the better.
Some Last Thoughts
Cristian and Elizabeth have an amazing story of going from $80,000 in debt just 5 years ago to a net worth of $600,000. This is amazing.
As we reach FIRE remember what Cristian had said earlier, that FIRE gives us options. It allows us to have the financial freedom to be able to do what we would like.
I am so glad that Cristian and Elizabeth are part of this series. They want to help people to create their own version of a FIRE life. Not everyone will have the same story or strategy, but if you can learn anything from these stories then we have brought some great value to your life.
Feel free to check out the Financial Alien. Cristian writes some really great content about personal finances.
Do you have a FIRE story? If you do please feel free to reach out via our contact page, and we will be back with another great interview soon enough.
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” Spend less than you make, stay out of debt, and invest the rest”
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.