You’ve reached your 30s, and from here, it’s all corporate climbing and suburban barbecues, right?
Sure, if that’s what you want. Or you can get serious about financial independence and replace your 9 to 5 job over the next five or 10 years, achieving complete freedom to spend your life however you like.
Your 30s are a time to stop trying to live by other people’s standards. Trying to impress the world is a trap for 20-somethings; dig yourself out of it and start focusing on your own unique priorities.
You can have any life you want, but if you don’t get intentional about creating it, you’ll just end up living the default life of everyone around you. Here are six steps to break that mold, live your own perfect life, and make your job optional in the bargain.
Step 1: Track 3 Critical Numbers
When you get serious about building real wealth, not just running on the financial treadmill, there are three crucial numbers you need to start tracking every month.
Your savings rate is the percentage of your income that goes toward savings, investments, and/or debt removal. For example, if you earn $5,000/month and put $2,000 of it toward investments, your savings rate is 40 percent.
The FIRE ratio is also referred to as the FI ratio. This is the percentage of your monthly expenses (not income!) that you can cover with your passive income from investments.
The acronym FIRE stands for financial independence, retire early. If your monthly expenses total $3,000 and you currently bring in $300/month in passive income, your FIRE ratio is 10 percent.
Your net worth is the sum of your assets (not including your primary residence), minus the sum of your debts and liabilities. Exclude equity in your primary residence because it’s not an investable asset—you can’t access it without selling your home or taking on personal debt.
As a sample net worth calculation, if you have $50,000 in an IRA, $75,000 in a regular brokerage account, $125,000 in rental property equity, and $25,000 in student loans, your net worth is $225,000.
Step 2: Pay Off Unsecured Debts
Unsecured debts, such as credit card balances, personal loans, and student loans, tend to be expensive.
Consider that the average interest rate on today’s new credit cards is 19.24 percent, according to WalletHub. And some cards charge as much as 25 percent!
Student loan debt is usually cheaper, but it’s still expensive. As a general rule, you want to pay off any debts that cost more than you’re likely to earn on investments.
For example, if the stock market historically returns around 7 percent, and your student loan debt charges 7 percent interest, it makes more sense to pay off your student loan debt than invest in stocks.
Why? Because you can get a guaranteed effective 7 percent return by removing the debt, compared to a possible 7-plus percent return on stocks.
No matter what your personal financial goals are, unsecured debts hanging around your neck will slow your progress. Pay them off as your highest financial priority if you still have any by your 30s.
After all, being debt-free is a sign of financial stability and helps you devote more of your money to savings and investments rather than lining a banker’s pockets.
Step 3: Set Your Priorities
Life involves tradeoffs. If you want to lead a happier, more meaningful life, you need to prioritize what you personally want most.
That’s the crux of lifestyle design. While the term is often abused and misunderstood, lifestyle design revolves around intentionality and prioritization.
You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything. You can spend every penny you earn on a big house and a fancy car and look rich to your friends. Or you can live in a modest home and drive a beater and accumulate real wealth through investments.
And sure, if you earn $500,000 a year, you can have the fancy house and still accumulate wealth, but you’re probably working 70-hour weeks.
These are the tradeoffs.
What are your priorities? Put every piece of your life under the microscope here: your career goals, your dating and family goals, your financial goals, what city you want to live in, your work schedule, and so on. Take some time to write out all of your goals—then put them in order of priority.
Spoiler alert: you will almost certainly have to sacrifice lower-priority goals in order to achieve higher-priority goals. And if you don’t prioritize, life will prioritize for you, and you’ll end up sacrificing thoughtlessly rather than intentionally.
I sacrificed a six-figure job with great benefits in order to start my own business, set my own hours, and spend most of the year traveling internationally. Years later, I still don’t earn what I once did. But my priorities are flexibility, independence, and travel, which meant giving up security.
Step 4: Boost Your Savings Rate
It takes money to grow your net worth and passive income. And that money comes from your savings rate.
Before you go crazy on coupon-ing and trying to save a dollar here and a dollar there, start with the top three expenses that eat up 70 percent of the average American’s budget: housing, transportation, and food.
I go about it differently: my wife intentionally took a job overseas that provides us with free housing.
For transportation, find ways to get rid of cars. According to AAA, the average car costs nearly $9,000 a year—an enormous encumbrance on the road to financial freedom.
My wife and I chose a home where we can each get to work without driving. Walking, biking, carpooling—find a way to get around that doesn’t require every family member to have a freakin’ car.
Finally, there’s food. This one’s simple but not easy: stop eating food prepared by someone else. Or rather, file it as an entertainment expense, not a food expense.
When you eat meals prepared by someone else, you’re outsourcing the labor and paying extra for it. Prepare every meal for every family member—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and watch how much less money you end up spending each month.
Step 5: Avoid Lifestyle Inflation
Over time, you’ll earn more money.
Great! Cause for celebration, right?
Nope—at least not if celebrating involves moving into a more expensive home, buying a more expensive car, or spending more on entertainment. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn, you will never build wealth if you spend most of it.
As both your salary and your passive income rise, hold your spending steady. This is how you accelerate your savings rate and investments and how you can compound your returns.
Every 30-something I’ve ever interviewed who reached financial independence has mentioned this point. They kept funneling their income into investments, even as their income started snowballing. It’s how the Hoefler twins replaced their 9 to 5 job in a few years. It’s how Brady Hanna went from $0 to $40,000/year in rental income in a few years.
It’s how you can do the same.
Step 6: Replace Your 9-5 Job
If you no longer want to rely on your job to pay your bills, you need to reach a 100 percent FIRE ratio, which means having enough income from investments to cover 100 percent of your monthly expenses.
That passive income could come from rental properties, from stock dividends, from private notes, from crowdfunding investments. It can even come from selling stocks. As long as you keep the withdrawal rate under 3.5 percent, stock portfolios should theoretically keep growing forever (at least based on historical performance).
I recommend investing in rentals and stock index funds—rentals for ongoing income, index funds for diversification and long-term appreciation. Start with the part-time investor’s guide to generating passive income from rentals.
Once you’re financially independent, you can quit your job, travel the world, stay home with your kids—or not. You could keep working, or volunteer full-time for your favorite cause, or simply work less and do more of, well, whatever you want.
FIRE by 40?
If your 20s are about learning how to be an adult and moving beyond proving yourself to the world, your 30s are about learning how to create your own uniquely perfect life.
Rather, they should be. Most people simply keep doing more of the same—an endless cycle of working, spending, sleeping, and vacationing two weeks a year.
What would it take for you to reach financial independence before reaching 40? It’s not a rhetorical question. As an exercise, spend the next five minutes writing out your own plan for what it would take.
Remember that lower personal spending helps you get there doubly fast. It boosts your savings rate while also setting a lower threshold for FIRE. Spend less, invest more, and avoid lifestyle inflation, and you’ll find yourself financially independent in no time.
What’s your target FIRE date? What’s your plan to get there?
Let me know in the comment section!