The FIRE movement has become increasingly popular among millennials who, rather than waiting to enjoy life, are making small sacrifices and taking on side hustles in order to retire earlier and pursue their passions. Target retirement ages vary, but the goal remains the same: financial independence and the opportunity to live the life one desires sooner.

We sat down virtually with Catie of Millennial Money Honey to learn about her lifestyle and plans to retire at age 35! Catie comes from a humble upbringing and started her career making just $22,000 a year as a visual designer. Today, she works as a graphic designer for a tech company while also freelancing and running her own blog focused on educating those who also want to follow the FIRE lifestyle.

Q: Tell us more about the FIRE movement and your approach to it.

The FIRE movement stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” The strategy is to intentionally maximize savings by finding ways to increase income and/or decrease expenses. The ultimate goal is to retire early. 

There are different levels to how conservative or vigorous you increase income and/or decrease expenses:

  • There is “fat,” where you save enough so that your lifestyle is not altered into retirement.
  • There is “lean,” which is where you save enough to live a scaled-back lifestyle into retirement.
  • And there is “barista,” which falls in the middle.

I am definitely in the middle!

Q: Do you need to make a six-figure income in order to implement the FIRE lifestyle?

No, you don’t. I haven’t always made six figures — in fact, this has been the first year that I’ve achieved this level of income between my work as a visual designer for a tech company and my work on my blog itself. My retirement goal is not to live lavishly or stop working completely, which is a common misconception. For me, “retiring” just means that I will have more time to devote to my family, particularly my aging parents, while still pursuing the passions that I love, aka my blog, and thus still generating income.

Q: Did you come from a financially literate home?

Education was a huge emphasis in my household growing up, and my father’s investment in my future was to pay for my education. I am eternally grateful (and privileged) for this!

The truth is, I have never been good at budgeting; however, I track my expenses meticulously with a simple spreadsheet that you can find on my blog. Once I started seeing expenditures broken down, it became harder to spend on nonessentials when I was aware of what it was actually costing me in time for work. The tradeoff didn’t seem worth it for the fleeting joy — a retiring early tip I can share with confidence. I re-evaluated my savings and investment strategy; I maxed out my 401k and chose low-cost index funds as a means to diversify. I also finally decided to consult with a tax-savvy CPA this year.

Q: Have you given any thought to benefits such as health insurance upon retirement at such an early age?

I actually previously worked as a freelance designer and was paying out of pocket for my health insurance. I utilized Oscar Health, which is available in most major cities, and was paying $200 a month for insurance. I have accounted for this in my retirement calculations.

Q: Have you had to make any significant sacrifices in order to work toward your retirement goal?

Fortunately for me, I am very extroverted and have always enjoyed having roommates. I’ve made it a point to significantly reduce my overall cost of living by paying no more than $800-$900 a month in rent (which is a steal in Los Angeles). I also made the decision of giving up material purchases like handbags and became more in touch with the things that truly bring me joy. Saving and working towards this goal far surpasses the instant gratifications of material temptations.

Q: Are there any misconceptions that you would like to clear up about the FIRE lifestyle?

Most people think that you have to be really good at math in order to live this way. One of my tips to retire early has always been to keep it simple. I utilize spreadsheets with the formula to keep track of my budget each month. One important thing to keep in mind is that minimizing high-interest debt such as credit cards and loans will help immensely in working towards this goal.

Final thoughts

Catie’s goals and journey show us that enjoying life and financial independence can come much sooner than the traditional age of retirement at 65+ years old. The strategy certainly takes dedication, as it does come with some concessions. But for many, the reward far outweighs the sacrifices when you can live a life of financial independence with youth still on your side. Catie turns what sounds like an unattainable dream into a very tangible reality.

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