How I Retired At 30
I can’t remember how I first found about financial independence, but I remember the feeling.
I had stumbled upon the secrets of the rich. In fact, I had discovered THE BIGGEST SECRET – how you could use money to buy your freedom.
I was completely gobsmacked!
I immediately got to work on my financial independence plan. I crunched the numbers, and I worked out I could have enough money to live off investment income indefinitely in about ten years. I would effectively be retired… at 34 years old!
In December of 2018, I handed in my resignation. I was 30 at the time, and I’d hit my goal four years early!
I was inspired to write today’s post after reading Mr Money Mustache’s “A Brief History of The Stash”. Similar to Triple M’s post, I’ll be sharing my exact money saving techniques, investment strategies and everything I’ve done that’s allowed me to retire at 30.
Why I Pursued FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early)
Retiring at 30 is an extremely unusual thing to do, so I feel I should delve into “the why” behind why I embarked on a such a “weird” goal.
It wasn’t that I hated my job. I was actually enjoying my career.
At the time I discovered financial independence (FI), I was working on construction projects to help rebuild the city of Christchurch, New Zealand after the 2011 earthquake. It was meaningful work – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by all accounts.
But everything about financial independence just made sense.
We’re all working towards retirement, so why not drastically shorten the time it takes to get there? Instead of having 20 years to live out your golden years, why not enjoy the good life for 60 years?
Retiring young would mean I’d still have the time and energy to do all the things that I wanted to do.
And at the same time, I’d be growing my wealth, I’d have no more money worries, and I would be creating financial security for my family and me.
But more importantly; I WOULD BE FREE!
I would be in control of my schedule. I could decide how I spend every minute of every day. I would be in the driving seat of my life.
I would have all the time in the world to do and experience all the things that I wanted to.
I had plans to backpack through South East Asia, ride a campervan through Europe, become fluent in Spanish, learn BJJ, write a book, start a business, start a family, and learn to cook all my favourite meals – using my homegrown produce of course.
My bucket list was full and growing by the day.
Becoming independently wealthy was the only way I could see of experiencing everything that life has to offer. Ticking off my bucket list just wasn’t possible while holding down a 9-5 gig.
I valued my career, and I had worked bloody hard to get to the position I was in. But ultimately, being free to choose how I live each day was more meaningful than the satisfaction, prestige and esteem that any job could offer.
And so, I set about saving furiously and making the lifestyle changes that would allow me to buy back my freedom in as few years as possible.
Deciding To Become Wealthy
I graduated in the midst of the UK recession. Struggling to find meaningful work, my wife and I decided the next best thing we could do was to travel around the world.
We had the time of our lives backpacking through Thailand, Malaysia and Australia… and then the money ran out.
Our next port of call was Auckland, New Zealand. We arrived with nothing apart from a rucksack full of clothes, a portable speaker, a laptop, an iPod (remember those?)… and £3k worth of credit card debt.
After a couple of gotta-make-ends-meet jobs, we both landed career roles, which resulted in us relocating to the city of Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island.
We arrived in Christchurch in May 2011, three months after the devastating earthquake which flattened the city. Being a civil engineer to trade, there was an abundance of work.
It was around this time that I discovered personal finance. Like a moth to a flame, I was fascinated obsessed with the world of finance. I devoured book after book on money management, investing and business.
I also discovered blogs that delved into personal finance topics that weren’t mainstream. The blog that had the biggest impact on me was Early Retirement Extreme (ERE). As the name suggests, the financial advice offered was a tad radical.
The blogger behind ERE, Jacob Fisker, had managed to accumulate enough assets to retire at 30 after just five years of saving on a very modest researchers salary.
Reading about other people who had “cracked the freedom code” culminated in my own holy-fuck-this-shit-is-actually-possible moment.
Right then and there, I made the decision to become financially free within the next ten years.
I committed to my goal. It was a no going back decision.
In the words of rapper 50 Cent, I was going to “get rich or die trying”.
With a bit of coaxing, my wife reluctantly agreed to my mad plan 😊
Progress Update 2011
|Net Worth Estimate||NZ$0 - NZ$2,000|
|Monthly Passive Income||Zero|
Note: We may have built up a little savings by now after paying back credit card loans, and we had a dribble of cash in our retirement accounts (thanks to auto-enrolment). I remember money being incredibly tight around this time and using the envelope system to ensure we had enough to get by.
Throughout this post I’ve kept some values in New Zealand Dollars and converted others to British Pounds – a tad confusing, but it’s helped me to keep a more accurate record. The GBP to NZD exchange rate for most of the time I lived in NZ was 2, so £100 was worth NZ$200.
The Slow Beginning
Things were slow in the beginning.
We had debt to pay off, and the cost of setting ourselves up in a new country.
We saved what we could, while also having fun exploring our new home.
After ten months of saving – which felt like a lifetime at the time – I was finally ready to buy my first investment. I invested NZ$1,683 into an index fund that held the ten largest companies in Australia.
I was 24, and it felt like a huge accomplishment at the time.
After we were off the starting line, things started to accelerate.
I continued to invest in shares, but I was also extremely interested in another type of investment; property.
From what I’d read about property, it seemed way easier to make money.
There was the opportunity to negotiate a good price, increase the value by renovating, and I could leverage the little money I had to buy a lot more property by using a mortgage.
I changed tactics and decided that property was going to be my vehicle to freedom.
But with such large amounts of cash at stake, I was hesitant to pull the trigger on my first deal.
To put my nerves at rest, I reached out to an experienced investor through an online property investors forum. He kindly agreed to my offer of coffee, and we spent a couple of hours going over my situation, strategy, and analysing deals.
I’m eternally grateful for the time and knowledge that investor shared with me. It gave me the confidence to make offers, and two weeks later, I bought my first investment property!
It was a run-down 2-bed unit in a somewhat sketchy neighbourhood, but it was a decent deal:
|Property Type||2-bed unit with attached garage|
|Purchase Price||NZ$160,000 (asking price NZ$179,000)|
|Refurb Cost||NZ$8,000 (actually NZ$0. see below)|
|Profit||NZ$70,000 (no capital gains tax in NZ)|
Note: We received NZ$8,000 from the earthquake commission for repairs and the refurb ended up costing us nothing.
When I made the offer to buy the property, I barely had the 5% deposit required (NZ$6k), I wasn’t yet a New Zealand resident, and I didn’t even know if I’d get a mortgage.
But I had a nothing-to-lose-everything-to-gain attitude; and after a hectic month of scraping together funds and the required paperwork, I completed on my first property deal on 27th July 2012.
We moved into the property and spent our evenings and weekends fixing up the place. We did most of the work ourselves and ended up becoming fairly handy – YouTube is a great teacher.
The previous owner was the epitome of a crazy cat lady – I’m talking 20+ cats!
The first week of the refurb was hell; all I could see, smell and taste was cat piss. Everything we ripped out was saturated with urine or covered in hair.
But the hard graft was worth it.
After six months, we applied to remortgage the property, and we’d increased the property’s value that much, that we released enough equity to buy our second property while renting out the first.
Progress Update 2012
|Date||End of 2012|
|Net Worth Estimate||NZ$61,683|
|Monthly Passive Income||NZ$3.76|
Note: The piddly little stream of passive income we had came from a dividend payment and savings interest.
It was a prosperous time in New Zealand while we lived there, especially in Christchurch due to the construction boom after the earthquake.
My wife and I both worked for construction companies, and our incomes were steadily rising. To give you an idea of the salary progression; I started on NZ$52,000 in my first role in May 2011, and four years later, I took a manager role that grossed NZ$140,000 (including bonuses).
Although our incomes were rapidly growing, we didn’t succumb to lifestyle creep. Many of our friends and colleagues were also making decent dough, but they were choosing to blow the lot living the high life.
Experimenting With Frugality
Our high salaries and relatively low living expenses meant we were advancing to our FIRE goal rapidly. Our savings rate averaged around 50% at this time.
I was convinced we could do more to up our savings rate, so I decided to push the boundaries of frugality. I bought a bike and cycled to work (nice win), started growing our own vegetables (fun and rewarding), and also shaved my own hair (terrible decision).
Most of the furnishings and decorations for our home were also bought second-hand, and I would do all decoration and maintenance work myself.
Experimenting with frugality made me realise that I’m not as frugal as I like to think I am. As much as I value saving money, I also like to live comfortably.
I’m not going to refuse a coffee date with my wife or a few beers with the lads for the sole purpose of adding a couple quid to my bank account.
Life is short, and you’ve got to enjoy it to the full for the limited time we’re here.
Discovering Side Hustles
I also discovered the world of side hustling during this time, which I had varying degrees of success with.
My first side hustle was purchasing tablets from Alibaba and then reselling them on Trademe, New Zealand’s version of eBay. It was a slog. The quality of the tablets could only be described as shit, and it took me six months to offload them all. And to make matters worse, I only made NZ$50 for all my trouble.
The next side hustle we tried was Air BNB. We lived in a two-bed bungalow and never really used the second bedroom, so we decided to rent it out. We made a success of Airbnb and netted a couple of grand over the six months or so we hosted guests. Plus, it was interesting to meet travellers from all over the world and listen to their stories.
Online business also caught my eye. I loved that you could create assets with little to no money that could end up generating thousands. I learned how to build websites, and the basics of SEO, graphic design and affiliate marketing.
I built numerous websites – most of which were a disaster and looked like a 5-year-old experimenting with clip-art – but I did end up having some success with two of my sites. One was focused on boxing and the other on kayaking.
I was making around US$700 per month from affiliate marketing from both niche sites at their peak. At the time, Amazon was still paying affiliates by cheque. The first ever cheque I got in the post was a surreal experience. Here I was getting paid for something I built on the internet – BONKERS!
Building niche sites also polished up my writing skills, and I decided to try my hand at freelance writing. I was by no means a talented writer then, and I’m still no Ernest Hemingway, but I somehow managed to get paid for writing articles.
I sold my services on sites like Fiverr and Upwork, and I also managed to bag a couple of private clients from reaching out to local digital marketing agencies.
I wrote about everything and anything from driverless cars, to toothpaste for dogs. I was clueless on most topics, but good ol’ Google provided me with enough knowledge that I could bang out a 1000-2000 word article on most subjects. In total, I made about US$1,000 from freelance writing over a three month period.
By far, my most successful side hustle has been property. The way I do property is very hands-on and is more like running a business than owning an investment.
I’d work at least 50 hours a week at my job, and then I’d spend most weekends and evenings viewing properties, renovating or managing tenant issues.
Our hard work and sacrifices was certainly paying off, and our net worth and passive income was on an upward trajectory. In October 2014, we also achieved another significant milestone and added a third property to our portfolio.
Progress Update 2014
|Date||End of 2012|
|Net Worth Estimate||NZ$194,900|
|Monthly Passive Income||NZ$523|
Note: The majority of our passive income was coming from property but I also earned NZ$18.83 / month from dividends (on average) and a small amount of savings interest.
We were happy in New Zealand, and things were going well. We had good jobs, great friends, a lovely home with plenty of Kiwi sun to enjoy BBQs, and we also had a couple of dogs by this point.
Life was good.
Starting with nothing, we’d managed to build a great life for ourselves in just a few short years. I was immensely proud.
BUT, as good as things were, there was always a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Homesickness is a funny thing. Sometimes I wouldn’t think about home for months, and then other times, I would be on a downer for days as I reminisced about the laughs I had growing up with my mates, or the cherished memories of time spent with my nearest and dearest.
My wife was also suffering from bouts of homesickness, and we would talk plenty about the things and people we missed.
After much humming and hawing and weighing up the pros and cons, we decided to make another big life change and move back home to Scotland after six years in New Zealand.
Over the next few months, we went through the ball-busting process of selling everything we owned.
We left New Zealand exactly as we arrived; with nothing but a backpack filled with the necessities and a few treasured possessions.
But the big difference between our arrival and departure was that six years of hard graft and saving had netted us NZ$360,000 (around £180,000) for a new start back home.
Progress Update 2016
|Date||End of 2012|
|Net Worth Estimate||NZ$359,890|
|Monthly Passive Income||NZ$852|
Note: After selling up everything, we had almost NZ$360,000 in the bank!
Approximately half of our passive income came from rental income, dividends and savings interest, and the remainder came from being an Amazon affiliate. I was super stoked that my niche site side hustle was starting to gain some traction!
Building A Property Portfolio In Scotland
We arrived back home in Scotland in March of 2017. We broke up the painful 30-hour direct flight from New Zealand to the UK by stopping over in Vietnam for a couple of weeks.
Experiencing the madness of Ho Chi Minh City and then the chilled-out vibes of Hanoi reminded me how much I love travelling and sampling new foods and cultures. No teacher or book can ever provide you with the life lessons and experiences you get from travelling.
When we arrived back home, I wasted no time on my FIRE plan.
Two days after touching down on a rainy Glasgow runway, I attended a four-day intensive property training seminar. I was jetlagged, sleep-deprived, and heavily reliant on caffeine to make it through each day, but at the same time, the strategies I was learning were keeping me on the edge of my seat.
They opened up my mind to a whole new way of investing and making my funds stretch further.
Property in Scotland was much cheaper, and yields were higher compared to New Zealand.
In Ayrshire (my hometown and target market), a typical 2-3 bedroom ex-council house could be picked up for £40k-£60k. After some refurbishment work, the same property could revalue at £60k-£90k.
In Christchurch, you’d be lucky to pick up a two-bed unit that needed work for £100k – the construction boom had driven property values and also meant there was little scope for negotiation.
And the cashflow for UK property was good too. A two-bedroom house could fetch between £400-£475 rent per month, and a three-bed home would go for between £475-£550 per month.
After all expenses, you’d be left with £250-300 positive cashflow per property every month!
That cashflow is yours to do with as you please. You can choose to pay down the loan, reinvest it, or live off the income – which was my plan.
Building My Portfolio in 6 Months (or so I thought)
The total cost to buy one of my target properties is around £25k, which includes cash for the deposit, solicitor, mortgage broker and minor fix-up costs.
With some quick back-of-the-fag-packet maths, I worked out that our £180k savings could be spread across seven properties.
And with each property earning around £250 a month, I could quickly build a portfolio that was earning £1750+ a month.
My living expenses were around £1,800 per month, so I could be a full-time property investor – living my financial freedom dream – as soon as I acquired seven buy-to-let (BTL) properties.
Overzealous from coming off the back of a property training course, I set myself an ambitious target of building my portfolio in six months.
In hindsight, I’m an idiot. My plan was way too simple and fraught with unforeseen challenges.
Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, sums up my lack of foresight nicely in this line from the poem To A Mouse:
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”
For anyone not familiar with the poem, the phrase roughly translates to:
“Whatever you plan, will likely turn to shit.”
This couldn’t be truer than when I applied for my first BTL mortgage.
As we hadn’t lived in the UK for the past six years, we had no credit history. No credit history is worse than having an awful credit report.
In the eyes of the banks, we were aliens from another planet that had never handled money before and were completely untrustworthy borrowers.
However, my mortgage broker did manage to find a couple of lenders willing to take a punt on us, but the rates were exorbitant, and the other terms of the agreement were high risk bullshit.
Undeterred, I pressed on with my empire-building mission and decided to buy my first couple of properties with cash.
The first property we purchased was a 2-bed cottage flat in a four in a block building – known as a two-up, two-down cooncil hoose in Scotland.
We bought the place for £39,500, and after spending £15k on the refurb (which was way over budget), we got it revalued at £60k. The flat rents for £475 a month and our return on cash invested after refinancing is 36.5%!
It was a sweet little deal for our first one back home.
Note: I choose to manage all my own properties to increase cashflow. If I was to pay a letting agent to manage my portfolio, they would charge 8-10% of the gross rent.
After remortgaging, around £10,500 was left in the deal, which gives me an ROI of 36.5%
The “after” pics of our first project in Scotland – not too shabby
Things were also improving on the lending front. Holding down a job for a few months and doing all the usual stuff that builds your credit rating – getting a credit card, paying utility bills, getting a contract phone – opened up the mortgage market for us.
After six months, I managed to get a mortgage with a good rate, and we released £45k from the first flat we bought for further investment.
Buying property below value, fixing it up and then getting a new mortgage on the higher value is known as the BRRRR strategy (buy-refurb-rent-refinance-repeat).
It allows you to achieve insanely high double-digit returns on investment and can turn a relatively small pot of cash into a large portfolio.
Creative strategies like BRRRR is why I LOVE property investment! Sure, it takes more work than other forms of investing, but I don’t mind putting in sweat equity if it allows me to reach my goals faster.
In my opinion, property investment (done right), is by far the easiest way of achieving financial independence.
Achieving Lean FI (Financial Independence)
Over the next 18 months, I added six more properties to our BTL portfolio, and we also bought our family home (so, we now had eight properties in total).
I’m not going to bore you with the details of every deal, but I’ve summed up the key figures in the table below.
Building my portfolio was no easy feat, as I was working full time in a demanding civil engineering role, and also spending all my free time hustling on the side.
I would be a regular attendant at networking events and property courses. And I was also trying to earn a little more money on the side by deal sourcing (finding deals and selling them on to time-starved investors) and managing refurb projects for other investors.
But once again, the hustle paid off.
In December of 2018, I was making enough money from rental income that I was able to quit my job!
After years of grinding it out, I’d reached my goal of becoming financially independent. I’d retired… at the ripe old age of 30!
And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Two months before I handed in my notice, my wife gave birth to our first child.
I now had all the time in the world to dote on my beautiful baby girl and spend time with my family.
Life After Retirement
This new chapter of my life was awesome! I had a new zest for life and woke up excited every morning.
After achieving a goal I’d been working towards for years, I took my foot off the gas and lived life at a much more relaxed pace – doing what I wanted whenever I felt like it.
I got back into weight training at the gym, read a lot more, caught up with series’ on Netflix, played a shit ton of Call of Duty, and spent a lot of time just chilling with my wife and daughter. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be around to witness all her “firsts”.
But soon, the little novelties of retirement – waking up without an alarm, shopping on a Wednesday afternoon, going to the gym in the middle of the day – began to wear off.
I already knew it, but early retirement made me realise that I’m the kind of person that craves routine. I need to be working or doing something daily that makes me feel useful, or I tend to slip into a depressive funk.
So, I have had a couple of jobs since “retiring”.
I tried a part-time work from home sale-based role for a car rental company. I wanted to learn sales skills, and the extra pocket money was nice. But after six months, I realised that customer service is not my forte – I could taste blood from biting my tongue that hard to stop me from hurling back abuse at arrogant, abusive customers.
I’ve also done the occasional labouring shift for a local housebuilder. It paid peanuts, but I like manual labour – hard graft brings a satisfying feeling to the soul.
And I’ve also made some additional income from a property business I started with a friend. We find investors deals that suit their criteria, project manage the renovation, and then set them up with a local letting agent.
We’re also looking at ways we can take on bigger projects (buying entire portfolios, conversions) either by ourselves, or by partnering with our clients. Who knows what will come of this venture – I like to keep optimistic about most things in life.
Addressing The “Retirement” Critics
Now, I know that there’s going to be some people that are going to call me out for not “really” being retired.
“He makes ends meet with odd jobs.”
“He still works as a landlord.”
“He’s just on a career break! He’ll be back at work, just wait and see.”
These keyboard gangsters, also known as the internet retirement police, feel it’s their job to point out that my “retirement” doesn’t match their view of traditional retirement, and I’m therefore a snake oil salesman peddling a fake dream.
But whether you call it retirement or financial independence or independently wealthy, the fact is, I don’t have to work if I don’t want to.
My investment income covers my living expenses, and any form of work I do is ultimately my own choice and not out of necessity.
And if you’re wondering why I still choose to do the odd gruelling manual labour shift and not just binge-watch Netflix all day, just wait till you reach financial independence.
You’ll find you’ll have way more energy than you had when holding down a job, and there are some aspects of work that are fun and rewarding.
The point I’m at in my FIRE journey right now would best be described as lean FI. Although I’m financially independent, my income and expenses are closely matched.
There’s not a lot of excess money for nights out, family holidays or to just blow on dumb shit.
And as I mentioned, I’m not as frugal as I think I am, and I do like to indulge in life’s little luxuries.
There’s also an entrepreneurial streak in me that I need to keep on exploring. I feel most alive when I’m building and growing something.
What I’m getting at, is that there’s a high chance that I’ll go back to work in some form. I may try my hand at another business (this blog may even take off), or switch careers to something that interests me, or find a part-time job that provides the disposable income that will allow me to live a little more and keep on investing – uh oh, here come the internet retirement police.
If I’ve learned anything from being retired for a year and a half, it’s that I actually enjoy working.
I like learning new skills and feeling productive. I need to work in some capacity every day – even if it’s just writing or mending something at one of the rental properties – to feel satisfied and to give my life some sense of meaning.
Wrapping It Up
Although early retirement didn’t quite work out as I thought it would, becoming financially free early in life has been the single greatest thing that I’ve done.
It’s been an incredible experience. It’s opened up so many opportunities and allowed me to spend precious time with my family.
It’s provided me with the freedom I was so desperately in search of when I decided to embark on the path to FIRE all those years ago.
As I write this on a Wednesday afternoon when most people are working (at jobs they probably hate), I couldn’t be more grateful for the time freedom I have.
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Hi! I'm Jamie
I’m a 30-something money blogger that writes about saving, frugal living, investing and entrepreneurship.
I achieved financial independence at 30 through hard work, saving and learning to invest.
On this blog, I share everything I've learned about money to help you build a life you love, free from money worries.
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