Why would someone on $250,000 a year never be able to retire? Because they’re spending $260,000. They’re always chasing debt.
At a certain level of income, your basic needs are met – food, housing, clothes, utilities,
public transport. If you earn beyond this level of basic needs, it’s up to you as to how soon you reach financial independence. Every dollar you earn above your basic needs is a choice between spending the dollars today, and investing the dollars in your future. It is a careful balance, requiring some planning and a little bit of willpower. The truth is that most people on an average income can reach financial independence or retirement a lot earlier than they may assume and it all comes down to expenses.
Here are some very basic calculations I did to see how my expenses would impact my
financial independence. For these, assume a withdrawal rate of 4% (ie. how much you withdraw from your wealth each year post-retirement) and a real interest rate about 3% (ie. how much return you receive on investments above inflation). These are true for all levels of income after you first begin saving:
- If you spend 100% and save/invest 0% of your earnings, you will never retire!
- If you spend 90% and save/invest 10% of your earnings, you will reach financial independence in 70 years
- If you spend 75% and save/invest 25% of your earnings, you will reach financial independence in 40 years
- If you spend 50% and save/invest 50% of your earnings, you will reach financial independence in 19 years
- If you spend 25% and save/invest 75% of your earnings, you will reach financial independence in 7.5 years
- If you spend 10% and save/invest 90% of your earnings, you will reach financial independence in 2.7 years
After seeing these numbers and adjusting for different incomes and expense levels, I realised two key things:
- Your savings rate is key to financial independence. Depending on your situation, improving your savings rate (% of income not spent) may be more easily achieved by either earning more and maintaining expenses or by spending less and maintaining earnings. My current income as a full-time teacher allows me to easily meet my basic needs and more, so I have found that cutting $100 from my regular expenses is more easily achieved than regularly earning an extra $100 (up to a point!). For an extreme example of expense minimisation and achieving early retirement, check out http://earlyretirementextreme.com/ . This level of cost-cutting is not achievable or desirable for everyone, but it does give some insights into the importance or the savings rate and how to find ways to significantly reduce expenses.
- An additional dollar saved is more powerful than an additional dollar earned, in
the quest for early retirement. To understand this requires a little maths. Lets say you’re saving 0% and then you cancel your unnecessary, expensive cable and gym memberships and now you’re only spending 80% of your income, your savings rate is 20%. But your mate who also saves 0% thinks that’s a terrible idea and instead takes on additional work which increases their income by 20%, and they don’t increase any expenses, their savings rate is only 16.5%. Looking at the calculations above, its clear to see you will be retiring before your mate, even though they’re on an income 20% higher than yours.
What is best for you will depend both on your current level of income and expenses, and which approach to increasing the savings rate is most easily attainable whilst maintaining a sufficiently good quality of life. Though for many people, myself included, there are ample opportunities to reduce expenses and improve our savings rate to achieve our wealth and retirement goals sooner.
A simple calculator play around with to understand the impact of savings and expenses can be found here – http://mustachecalc.com/#/calcs/time-to-fi and I have a bunch of other useful tools described on my page: 10 great tools for crunching the numbers.