Apache is functioning normally
My monthly Extraordinary Lives series is something that I really enjoying doing. First up was JP Livingston, who retired with a net worth over $2,000,000 at the age of 28. Today’s interview is with Jeremy, Winnie, and Julian, also known as the family behind Go Curry Cracker.
With the goal of traveling around the world, Jeremy and Winnie were in their 30s when they retired around six years ago. Their 3-year-old son travels with them and has already been to 29 countries as well!
They were able to do this by saving intensively – over 70% of their after-tax income.
In this interview, you’ll learn:
- How they retired in their 30s.
- What made them want to retire early.
- How they live comfortably, rent houses with private pools, fly business class, and travel a ton – as opposed to the myth that early retirees are boring and just eat beans and rice to survive.
- How they decided on the amount they needed to retire.
- What they do about health insurance in early retirement.
And more! This interview is jam packed full of great information!
I asked you, my readers, what questions I should ask them, so below are your questions (and some of mine) about their story and how they accomplished so much. Make sure you’re following me on Facebook so you have the opportunity to submit your own questions for the next interview.
1. Tell me your story. When did you retire and HOW?!
We are Jeremy, Winnie, and Julian, also known as the family behind Go Curry Cracker!
Winnie and I retired about six years ago with the goal of traveling the world. Traveling more in retirement is a pretty common goal, so I suppose the interesting bits are that we were still in our 30s and our 3-year-old son has now been to 29 countries.
What made our location and financially independent lifestyle possible was a decade of intensive saving – we were literally saving 70%+ of our after-tax income. Instead of buying stuff or experiences, we were investing in our future freedom.
Alas, we had already succumbed to some lifestyle inflation so we sold the house and moved into a small apartment, sold the car and started walking and riding bicycles, and turned our home kitchen into the best restaurant in town.
Unwinding lifestyle inflation is a huge mental challenge, but we both grew up on the edge of poverty so we had some experience with prioritizing purchases and finding solutions that didn’t require money. Nowadays, our investments pay all of our bills, and we could buy a house, buy a car, live a typical life… we just happen to not want those things.
Instead, for the past many years, we’ve basically spent the summer in Europe, autumn in the US, and winter in Asia. It’s not quite a perpetual summer vacation, but close.
2. Was early retirement always something you were striving for? What made you want to retire early?
Prior to 2002, we were both essentially following the normal life script – go to school, get good grades, get a job, etc… Maybe the only unconventional thing is I had student loan payoff as the #1 priority. Every story I heard about debt while growing up had a tragic ending, so I wanted to be debt free ASAP. I even cashed out all of my vacation time for five years or so to get extra pay. We also did crazy things like using 0% interest credit card offers to accelerate student loan payoff. Literally every extra penny went to the student loans.
When I finally got my head above water, I took a vacation, my first as an adult. After three weeks of scuba diving, fresh seafood, and tropical drinks, I looked back at where life in the real world was headed and thought, “This is it? This is the American Dream?”
Within six months the house and car were gone and the early retirement plan was underway.
3. Would you say that you live comfortably?
If by comfortably you mean do we rent houses with private pools, fly business class, and enjoy an occasional Michelin Star restaurant, then yeah, that sounds about right. Combined with 52 weeks of vacation per year and full autonomy, we are probably at an above average comfort level.
That may sound a little smug, for which I apologize, but I think it is important to truly understand the power of deferred consumption. We can only live as we do today because we didn’t live like this yesterday.
By living well beneath our means for just a small part of our total lifetimes (10 years +/-), something many would consider “uncomfortable”, we are now able to live well above the standards of even high-income households – just without the need to consume all of our waking hours with a high-income job.
In summary – yeah, life is good.
4. What career did you have before you retired? Did that career help you to retire earlier?
Winnie was a Program Manager for a large PC company, and I was an Engineer at a large software company.
I do wish we had those insane technology salaries that I sometimes hear about in the news, but our average combined income over our hardcore saving years was only about $135k. I guess I should have studied harder.
I think more than the job, my degree helped us retire early. I basically applied engineering principles to our finances and our lifestyle, trying to optimize for quality of life and low expenses. I then used that same mentality in designing our investment portfolio (100% index funds) and minimizing our taxes ($100k income with $0 income tax.) If I had studied art history or interior design, I probably would have thought about these things from an entirely different perspective, perhaps one that required more expensive furnishings.
5. What advice do you have for the average person that doesn’t make six figures a year who wants to retire early?
The core principle to follow is living well beneath your means, aiming for at least 50% savings rates. Or in 1950s parlance, live off one income and save the other. This recipe for financial success has worked for much of recorded history.
Of course, this is easier when making $100k than it is when making $10k, all else being equal.
For many average income households, it helps to change perspective:
It isn’t that we can’t afford to save 50%, it is that we can’t afford our current lifestyle.
This is where we were when we got started, and some tough choices are ahead… it is necessary to either earn more, spend less, or wait (much) longer. Or all 3.
For households with incomes well below average, such as our families when we were growing up, it is absolutely necessary to grow income. Public assistance can help for a while (I’ve eaten a fair amount of government cheese), but ultimately skill development and probably even relocation to a job center are necessary.
6. Do you still earn an income in retirement?
We do. With all of this free time, it is fairly difficult to NOT do something that brings in some extra cash.
Last year Winnie published her first book (in Mandarin / Chinese) which was on the bestseller list in Taiwan for a while. About three years ago, Go Curry Cracker accidentally started to earn some affiliate income. I now actually try to run the site as a business, but limit myself to just a few hours per week.
I also employ a pretty aggressive long-term tax minimization strategy, which saves us thousands of dollars every year in taxes. I suppose that can also be thought of as extra income. We’ve actually reported about $100k annual income each of the last five years with income tax bills of $0.
For anybody who is interested, I do publish our full income statements and tax returns (business and personal) every year (linked to above). A lot of people have found those helpful to optimize their own finances.
7. How did you decide how much you needed to retire?
We set a target to have an investment portfolio worth 25x our desired cost of living in Seattle, where we were living at the time, although we were spending much less to turbocharge our savings.
25x is just the standard 4% Rule, which (in oversimplified terms) says you can annually spend an inflation adjusted 4% of your portfolio, probably forever. So, say if you wanted to spend $40k/year, you would need $1 million. That was our minimum.
When we hit that target, Winnie stopped working, and I continued on for about three more years, during which we were just living off dividends, so we were essentially investing 100% of my paycheck.
We also wanted the portfolio to continue to grow so we could leave a bit of a legacy, so even after we stopped working, we wanted to continue living beneath our means. We did this by living large in Mexico and Guatemala rather than Paris or Tokyo. And as luck would have it, the stock market performance over the past five years has been pretty good, so our portfolio just continues to grow, and we can’t spend it fast enough.
8. What sacrifices or hard decisions did you have to make?
This may sound cliché, but I don’t think of anything we did as a sacrifice – we just employed a suggestion my grandmother used to make all the time, “Hey there, you hold onto your britches now young man!” Roughly translated from the original Minnesotan, I think that means “slow down.” In other words, hold off on the lifestyle inflation for a while.
When people rush out to buy their dream house (with rented money) or a new car or a big vacation, they are sacrificing their future for immediate consumption. We just waited a little longer, and along the way we discovered that none of those trappings of success have any real meaning to us.
But of course, when society and advertisers are screaming at you that you need to consume and upgrade, it can be difficult to pause and reconsider. We avoided a lot of that by not owning a television and using the great outdoors for entertainment.
9. What do you do about health insurance in early retirement?
For many years, we were self-insured and just paid cash for any medical needs. We paid $3 for a doctor visit in Mexico, $20 for some dental care in Thailand, $50 for a chest X-ray in Taiwan, and $90 for a visit to the emergency room in Portugal. Medical tourism is your friend. What we weren’t spending on health insurance, we invested in more index funds, building our own healthcare fund.
If we were in the US, we would buy health insurance on the State or Federal Health Exchanges. The US health system is all kinds of messed up, so without insurance you are only one minor incident from total financial devastation.
As of about six months ago, we are now all covered by the Taiwan national health system, which is a single payer universal healthcare provider. We pay about $25/person/month for great coverage, which includes dental. (Hot tip: marry somebody from a country with a good health system.)
10. Will you be planning a place for your child to make long term friendships and connections? Do you plan to continue travel when your child is school age?
We like the idea of homeschooling up to age 10 or 12 or so, but we are still figuring it out. Even so, it probably won’t be all or nothing (Julian is enrolled part time in a Montessori pre-school now.)
The pros/cons of life-in-place vs nomadic living is such an interesting discussion for us, because we are inherently a global family (our nuclear families are spread across 2 countries, 3 States, and 6 cities) and despite our very different backgrounds, we independently concluded that the idea of “home” for us isn’t really a place.
Our thinking comes from our existing communities – Winnie grew up in a big city (Taipei), and she has friends from back in the 3rd grade who all have kids around the same age as Julian. When we are in Taiwan, we all get together and it is like they never missed a beat. It’s a beautiful thing.
I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, and 99% of my childhood / high-school friends and family moved away for college and career. There is literally no one place I can go where all long-term friendships and connections exist, and yet I have them, just spread around the world. It’s also a beautiful thing.
We try to get quality time with all of our family every year, which is much easier now that we don’t have jobs. 2 years ago, we had 4 generations together for a week on a lake, with Grandma, my parents, my sister and 2 brothers and spouses, and their 9 kids. This year we took my Mom and Grandma on an Alaska Cruise, and also spent a couple weeks with all of Julian’s cousins. Next year will be something special again, and we all stay in touch via Skype. We also plan on having more kids, which means sibling connections.
What we do will change and evolve as we learn more and figure things out, but overall, we’ll listen to our kids, make sure we have regular quality time with family, and stay connected with friends and family via Skype. And everywhere we go, we build community with friends, family, and other adventurers. I think it will be the same for the next generation.
11. What hardships come up when traveling with a child and what do you do about it?
The hardships of traveling with a child are largely the same as the hardships of parenting. Kids have needs and wants, and if they aren’t addressed in a timely fashion then chaos ensues. As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – and even then, things go awry.
Where most families have to balance child rearing with a career and fixed schedules, we have a great deal of flexibility. Seldom are we schedule driven, and when we are (e.g. a flight departure time) we avoid other commitments. We also aren’t doing the quick 1 week vacation thing, with a lot of time getting from A to B and a whirlwind of tours and activities; that’s much too intense and exhausting. We are more so living our normal lives, just in different locations. We play at the park daily, take naps, explore by foot, and enjoy the local delicacies. If we are having too much fun at the park, we can always see the museum tomorrow. Somehow, we usually manage to see the highlights.
Since we aren’t always in one location with a regular schedule, we focus on having routine in the absence of routine. We have regular toys, regular nap time, and a bedtime ritual which involves a bath, songs, and books. Plus we all co-sleep, so we are together 24/7. It’s hard to provide a stronger sense of security than parental presence.
It all seems to be going well; Julian is a happy, healthy, normal kid. He loves being outside exploring, enjoys meeting new people, and is always ready for the next plane, train, or automobile.
12. If you were starting back in the beginning, what would you do differently from the beginning?
We made a lot of mistakes… buying a house, buying a car, spending money without a long-term plan, but I don’t know if I would change any of them. Those mistakes helped us grow and appreciate where we are today. For example, we are Renters for Life, but we probably wouldn’t really appreciate the total joy and financial advantages that come with not owning a deteriorating wooden box.
If I could go back in time and tell my younger self, “Hey, read this Go Curry Cracker blog, you’ll learn a lot!” we could probably have become Financially Independent 3 to 5 years earlier. That’s a lot, considering my entire career was only 16 years, but it’s not that that much in an 80 – 100 year life span.
But, what I would do differently:
- invest only in index funds from the beginning
- not waste my time dabbling in rental properties
- always live within biking distance of work and prioritize biking and walking
- always rent
- learn to cook well sooner
- start travel hacking sooner instead of paying for vacations
13. Lastly, what is your very best tip (or two) that you have for someone who wants to reach the same success as you?
Design your life so that saving a high percentage of income is the natural and ordinary outcome.
Aim for saving 50%+ of after-tax income, and minimize taxes
Do you have goals of retiring early?