Dec 16, 2019
3 Days with a Vancouver Couple Who Plan to Retire at 35
Are you familiar with the FIRE movement? Financial Independence, Retire Early is all about living an extremely frugal lifestyle, socking away the money you save and putting it into investments, so that you can “retire early” and live off the interest from your investments, instead of a salary.
It’s not for everyone. Committing to the FIRE principles requires extreme discipline. But for some, the potential payoff far outweighs the sacrifice.
Stephanie Williams is one of those people. She and her boyfriend Cel live in Vancouver and plan to retire in two years, when she’s 35.
The two discovered the FIRE movement while working what they described as “pretty awful” jobs. They were looking for a light at the end of the tunnel and were wondering if FIRE could be it. An overseas trip to England, pushed them to turn the idea of FIRE, into a plan. They were drawn to the appeal of gaining complete control over their time, so that they could spend more of it travelling, exploring, and doing things they love.
To give you a peek into what it’s really like to live the FIRE lifestyle, we asked Stephanie to keep a diary of all the ways she spends, and saves, over three days:
Stephanie is 33 and lives in Vancouver with her boyfriend, Cel. Together, the two have embraced the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early) and are planning to retire at age 35.
Receptionist, Personal Bankruptcy
Freelance Editor (editing novels about video games, sci-fi and fantasy)
Combined net worth
$60 for two phones with basic talk & text plans
Utilities & internet
$38 for internet, other utilities are included in our rent
Other monthly costs
$400 – This covers public transit, personal care, cat expenses, entertainment, and things like clothing, electronics, video games, etc.
Monthly investment contributions
$4000-$5000 – We fund our TFSAs and RRSPs in large lump sums once per year by transferring it from our CI Direct Investing non-registered accounts, so our monthly savings only go into our taxable accounts.
Money Diary: 3 Days in Vancouver
7:30 AM: I wake up and start getting ready for work. My routine is pretty locked down by now—shower, get dressed, and pour myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I also grab my food for the day, which is portioned out and ready to go already. Weekend bulk meal-prep is a real lifesaver on weekday mornings.
Today I throw a sesame garlic stir fry and a couple of (small) oatmeal-bran muffins into my purse. I also have a big glass of cold-brewed green tea, which I’ve recently gotten hooked on.
8:10 AM: My boyfriend Cel is still asleep when I leave the house, one of the many perks of his freelance business. I walk to work, which takes about 15 minutes. I’ve been walking to work for my last three jobs, and it’s a great experience – it not only saves me money versus a car or a transit pass, but it guarantees a good 30-minutes of exercise a day, and it’s a really good stress reliever.
8:30 AM: I unlock the office, turn on the phones, and start my workday.
12:00 PM: I trade off the reception desk with one of the other admins and go for lunch. I heat up my stir fry, which is really good. After lunch I find somewhere quiet to read and go on my tablet a bit—I don’t have a smartphone, so that’s my only portable internet-connected device.
5:00 PM: I lock up the office and walk home. Within 20 minutes, I’m at home eating dinner, which is leftover tofu stir fry. We both really like stir fry, so I tend to make a few different types as part of the weekend bulk meal prep. We take a short rest after dinner every night—my boyfriend has a nap and I cuddle my cat, Anthony.
6:00 PM: It’s time for my evening routine! Every day after work I try to do some housework, some learning, and some exercise. Today I tidy up the apartment a bit, do an online Spanish class (free) and then fire up my boyfriend’s Switch for a session with my virtual boxing instructor, Evan.
I finish off my jar of iced green tea after boxing, and start brewing a new one for tomorrow. It’s really easy—fill an old spaghetti sauce jar with cold water, stick a teabag in, and leave it in the fridge for 12 hours.
8:00 PM: It’s a quiet evening and we don’t have any plans today. We just hang out together, go online, read, and chill out.
11:00 PM: Bedtime!
Thursday spending: $0
7:30 AM: My morning routine is the same as Thursday, except I also put together supplies for grocery shopping after work. I’ve been working on implementing more zero-waste principles, so I try to bring reusable shopping and produce bags wherever I can. I walk to work at 8:10 sharp, as usual, with my food packed for the day.
8:30 AM: Work is a little chaotic when I first get in, because for some reason all our systems are down—phones, internet, even the debit machine. Once IT gets everything operational, the day goes smoothly.
12:00 PM: Lunch time! Today I brought tofu stir fry, same as last night’s dinner. It’s by far one of our most affordable dishes to make, because we generally buy wonky-shaped tofu at a steep discount directly from the manufacturer.
5:00 PM: I head straight from work to Chinatown to go shopping for our fresh ingredients for our weekend meal prep. Cel meets me halfway with the produce bags and a backpack.
The Chinatown markets all close quite early compared to chain grocery stores, so we’re always cutting it pretty close to the wire after work, but we’re very fast shoppers. I work out a rough meal plan for the weekend while I’m shopping—it’s impossible to plan it ahead of time, because what they sell changes week to week, but that keeps our meals interesting. We buy soy sauce, cabbage, onions, zucchini, radishes, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, basil, and our veggie “meats” for the week—vegan Italian sausages, sesame garlic “chick’n”, and tofu. We’re in and out right as they’re closing, as usual, and the bill comes to $30.49.
5:45 PM: We’re home from shopping and I hit the ground running, since we’re going out tonight and I have a pile of work to do first. I put the groceries away and down some iced green tea while heating up chili for dinner.
After a quick rest, I check in with Evan, the virtual boxing instructor for a quick workout. He said my hooks were great, by the way.
6:45 PM: We’re going to a friend’s place tonight to watch the new FIRE documentary together, and I generally like to bring home-baked goods when I visit people. I whip up a batch of blondies and do my Spanish lesson while they’re in the oven. I’ve been doing online Spanish classes for about two months now, and it’s going pretty well—we frequently travel to Spanish-speaking countries, whether it be Spain or Guatemala, so I’m hoping that this will be quite useful going forward.
7:45 PM: We head out to our friend’s place, on foot, fresh blondies in tow. The documentary is really good. We go halfsies on a bottle of expensive imported coconut water ($6) to see what it’s all about. It wasn’t bad, but not worth $12/bottle.
A lot of people pursuing FIRE find they feel kind of isolated socially, and don’t feel comfortable talking about financial stuff with friends and family—we haven’t really experienced that, and are fortunate to have a number of like-minded friends who are either pursuing FIRE themselves, or are pretty familiar with the ideas and don’t get weird about money talk.
11:30 PM: Bed time! I start brewing a jar of looseleaf oolong tea overnight in the fridge for Saturday morning.
Friday spending: $36.49
9:30 AM: A couple extra hours of sleep is a great way to start the weekend. I get up and immediately down an entire jar of cold-brewed oolong. On weekends I double my consumption because it’s more convenient to run to the washroom than when I’m on the main reception desk. I start a second jar of green tea to have in the evening, and get right into a morning boxing session.
On weekends I normally do my boxing workout first thing when I wake up—I tell myself it’s because then I only need to take one shower that day, but the actual reason is because Evan says “Good Morning!” in a very charming way, since he’s apparently programmed with an internal clock. I’m curious what he’d say if I did a workout at 3AM or something, but I think my boyfriend would revolt if I tried to do a boxing session in the middle of the night.
After my workout, I shower, have breakfast, and spend some time online checking my financials and browsing Reddit.
11:15 AM: It’s time to start bulk meal prep! One trick I use to be more time-efficient is to make two meals at the same time using similar ingredients. Today I make vegan meatball sub filling, as well as spaghetti and “meatballs”. I don’t use recipes, because I prefer to customize my cooking to match the produce and veggie-meats available each week.
The filling makes enough for six meatball subs next week, and we also have three portions of leftover spaghetti after lunch, bringing our total portion count up to nine—this is pretty good because we only need 20 for the week (lunch and dinner for both of us for five days).
I finalize the rest of my meal planning for the weekend, and have a Diet Coke after lunch while I get caught up on my money diary.
1:00 PM: We’re out of rice, which I’ll need for dinner, so we head out to Chinatown again. We’ve recently started buying our rice out of an unsuspecting local warehouse. We go to a surprisingly secure “order desk” where you pass cash under a barrier (that looks suspiciously like bulletproof glass) and get a little slip of paper back, then head out into the alley and give the slip to another guy, who disappears and comes back with a sack of rice. It’s a little unusual, but the price is excellent. The sack of rice is $8, cash only.
2:00 PM: Back at home I settle in for a Spanish lesson, then vacuum the apartment and do laundry ($1 to wash one load). I hang-dry all my laundry and have for many years, which saves money both on the cost of coin laundry, and also the cost of buying new textiles—a lot of my clothes are 10+ years old, but are still in great shape because they have never seen the inside of a dryer.
We typically spend less than $100 a year on clothing for both of us combined, and what we do spend is almost entirely socks and underwear. This year we’ve spent $86 so far, with no plans to buy anything else.
4:30 PM: I get out my foam roller for some physio exercises. Normally I do them at the same time I do my boxing workouts, but I forgot this morning. I’m working on rehabbing a hiking injury from a few weeks ago, and it seems to be going well. I’m on a three-week hiking ban right now, or else I would be hiking today, since it’s nice out—but at least I’m still allowed to box! While I’m doing my stretches, Anthony (the cat) steals my jeans and makes them into a nest, and has the nerve to look sad when I take them back before starting dinner.
5:00 PM: Dinner tonight is a double batch of sesame garlic “chick’n” stir fry made with onions, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, and radishes, which feeds us and makes an additional six portions of leftovers.
Between the food I made earlier and this stir fry, we’re now up to fifteen portions for next week, which is pretty good. I’m finished cooking for today, but tomorrow I’ll make tofu stir fry, and “sausage” pot pie, which will nicely polish off the fresh ingredients and leave us with the perfect amount of prepped food for the upcoming week. This weekend’s cooking is pretty typical—I usually make about five or six different dishes, which gives us a good variety of options so we’re not eating the same things over and over during the week.
I down a jar of iced green tea after dinner and kick back for the evening to read, play video games with Cel, and do some Sudoku.
Saturday spending: $9
Now that you’ve had a glimpse into the FIRE lifestyle, you might be wondering how all of these spending decisions put Stephanie on track towards early retirement. Here’s what she had to say:
What is your savings goal and when will you know if you’ve hit it?
Our goal is to have enough money in our investments to cover our current standard of living without needing to work, about $700,000, ideally by somewhere around age 35. For us, this number is lower than a lot of people’s would be, because our cost of living is very low by design.
What would early retirement look like?
It would really depend whether we were travelling or at home, since we do intend to travel much more post-retirement! At home, we would be likely spending time pursuing our hobbies, like hiking, reading, video games, working on various projects, and spending time with family and friends.
We’re considering setting up an island homestead, which would involve its own set of daily chores, such as gardening, chopping wood, and so on, but that route isn’t set in stone.
If we were on the road, the sky’s the limit as to what our days would look like, depending where in the world we were. The common themes regardless would be lots of time to relax, as well as lots of time outdoors and pursuing interests.
Are you ever worried the money will run out in your extended retirement? How do you account for that possibility?
We have a few different layers of security in this regard.
First, Cel intends to continue freelancing a little, which would provide a small amount of income regardless.
In addition, our budget is 45% fat according to most recently calculations, so if our funds were declining faster than we wanted, it would be very easy to temporarily reduce our spending, particularly our almost $10,000 per year of overseas travel.
Third, in retirement we’re not tied down to any one place, so we could very easily just move somewhere cheaper as needed. Fourth, we’re pretty confident our money is in good hands with CI Direct Investing. In any case, running out of money is a slow process, so if things were not looking good, we would have many years to change course, so it’s not a huge concern for us.
Even if you’re not ready to dive head-first into the FIRE, cutting down your day-to-day spending can go a long way towards achieving financial independence down the road.
Stephanie suggests starting with meal prep, paring down your subscription services, and learning to fix things that you already have. Learn more about the FIRE lifestyle on Stephanie and Cel’s blog: Incoming Assets.
And once you’re ready to invest all that money you’ll save, CI Direct Investing can help you do so easily. Open an account online in minutes.