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.
For this interview, we have Matt, aka the Financial Imagineer, and his trip through life to achieve FIRE with his family of 4.
Let's read about how this couple works together to create their FIRE life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
We’ve been together since 2004; we are currently 38 (she) and 41 (me). I’m Swiss, while my wife is from Taiwan. Together we have worked and lived in three countries, Taiwan, Switzerland, and Singapore, and were experiencing each other's cultures and lifestyles head on. From 2006 onwards, we have worked on executing 5-year plans as a couple and are super proud to share with you that somehow we have crushed every goal ever set. Our third 5-year plan comes to an end in 2021, and we have achieved everything we planned for once again.
What would your jobs be? Bouncing off on that, What does a day in your life look like?
After having obtained my Masters's in Economics, I ventured out to Taiwan, where I worked as a Sales Engineer and learned Mandarin Chinese on the side. In 2005, I was offered the opportunity to join Private Banking in Taipei as a wealth manager, and I said yes. From then on, I’ve worked in that role till 2017 – in the corporate field – and thereafter as a truly independent advisor for a handful of great clients as of 2021.
I love most about our life design because we are lovely location independent; we can travel the world and work from anywhere as long as we have a good internet connection. We live between Singapore, Taiwan, and Switzerland and spend some time in each place regularly. Geographic arbitrage is just one of the extra wins for us.
Learning about FIRE
How did you two find out about FIRE?
It wasn’t called FIRE back in my childhood, but I knew some people who lived off their wealth since I was a kid. I’ve got to know people who quit their jobs in their early forties to travel the Mediterranean in their boat after a productive career. I’ve always looked up to these kinds of people who were in charge of their own lives. They seem to be happier than the other ones.
Were you two on board with the idea of FIRE from the beginning? Or did it take some convincing on one part?
It has always been the ultimate goal for me to reach a “privateer” status, a person who can decide how to spend his life. Somehow I was work-in-progress since pretty early; my wife bought in shortly after we met.
If so, how did you go about selling the idea of FIRE to your partner?
We set ourselves up pretty efficiently when I had income from a job; one part we were careful with was that we constantly optimized our money and delayed gratification. The big test was to see if our plan worked in 2017. That took courage and conviction from both of us, but eventually, if it wouldn’t work out, the worst case would have been to find a job again.
It worked out, though.
How long have you been working towards FIRE? (If already FIREd, how long did it take you to FIRE?)
We probably could have claimed FIRE slightly earlier but kept going until I reached age 37 to keep more options open for later. Ultimately from starting our life planning, it took us roughly a decade getting there; we didn’t go hardcore after it, had two kids on the way, and enjoyed our time, though.
Which type of FIRE are you aiming for?
I’m not a big fan of these categories as I believe more in the “50 shares of FIRE” approach. Personal finance is personal. Very personal. We all have our needs, wants, and dreams to fulfill. That’s why I called my blog Financial Imagineer – to help others imagine their dream lives using money as a tool. The amount and constellation of your assets will depend on the kind of life you plan to have. For us, it means having real-estate, investment assets, and sufficient passive income.
How did you achieve FIRE?
Our approach was a rather balanced one. We did it all. We managed to earn more, save more, and invest more, and with real estate purchases in three countries, we also unlocked the power of leverage through mortgages and rode the wave for almost 20 years now.
What has your savings rate been through the time you have been working towards FIRE?
It was around 50-60% in the past five years to FIRE. Eventually, the assets took over to contribute even more upside.
What changes have you made to improve your savings rate and achieve FIRE faster?
Increase earnings, reduce expenses, add additional income streams, build more assets with leverage, optimize these and keep feeding the machine aggressively.
What are your investments like? Do you invest in the stock market, real estate, crypto, etc.? What is your strategy?
We invest in the stock market, buy mutual funds and ETFs, bought real-estate but didn’t touch crypto yet. The core-satellite approach consists of a first few assets contributing constant cash-flow, that passive income covers our life-style. Beyond that, we invest more into more aggressive stuff, such as growth funds and a momentum-based strategy that I’ve started together with a friend.
When do you plan to reach FIRE? (If already FIREd, when did you reach it?)
We should have reached it back in 2015/16 but waited to let go of my 9-5 until 2017.
Life after FIRE
What do you do now that you are FIREd?
Once you let go of your job; the first is the “do nothing anymore” for a while. But honestly, that can get somewhat boring eventually. I’ve been a starving person when it comes to learning and growing, that’s why I started my blog, reached out to other bloggers in the space, and as some of my favorite clients reached out to me, I still do help them as well. My work is more focused on what I love to do and is completely location-independent. I do spend a lot more time with my family ever since.
What has FIRE taught you?
Money can and shall never be the only reason to work towards FIRE. FIRE itself is not the end, it’s instead of the beginning. Once you’ve FIREd your real-life starts, you will spend more time thinking about life and become more intentional with your time and energy. I regularly indulge in “Jacuzzi Beerstorming Sessions” (my way of meditation) – which is great fun and helps me to get better constantly, newer ideas to get on the way.
Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
I assume walking the path towards a goal must be part of the story. Just look at people who get rich super-quick, lottery winners, the vast majority of them will not be able to hold their wealth and oftentimes even go bankrupt a few years after their jackpot. I’ve had a jackpot event in my life as well and luckily managed to utilize this to super-charge my path. I would do nothing different than I did at all. No regrets.
What would you say to a young couple just learning about FIRE?
First and foremost, FIRE in itself is one of the most rewarding goals to have in life! Have a big goal, but a number and a timeline to it. However, don’t just live for the purpose. Make your path towards the goal enjoyable; this is your life. Live it! Take a break every once in a while, reflect, brainstorm, and figure out more or better ways to make the best use of your own time.
I’ve written a post about “If Youth Knew, If Age Could” on that topic as the biggest catalyst is probably to learn from others, learn from them who’ve walked this path before you, don’t try to do every possible mistake yourself. Follow bloggers like Steve or myself (on Facebook, Twitter, or directly subscribe by email on my blog to get more ideas and reach out if you have questions, we’re a rather passionate bunch!
Any final words?
If you’re a couple and plan to work on financial independence together, try to understand each other as well as you can. Take some time to talk about it regularly. Plan for it. Read how we did it with recurring 5-year plans since 2006 to reach our goal within a decade by 2017. If you take some quality time to share your dreams, ambitions, and motivations, it’ll help you tremendously advance your journey to FIRE and financially imagineer your life as a dream team!
I was able to meet Matt through some online interactions. We instantly connected from me living in Taiwan and Matt having lived in Taiwan. It is truly amazing to see how he and his wife have worked together with creating goals to accomplish. Even with them still, at the prime of their life, they can enjoy their time with family and work on other projects.
When you decide to FIRE, you are not just doing nothing, you are deciding to create a life where you have the freedom to do as you like with your time. Matt blogs about creating a life that you can dream about. A life that has no restraints and allows you to focus on the things you have a passion for. That is the great thing about FIRE. We may not all retire, but we will have the financial freedom to choose what we want to do.
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.