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An Interview with the Lawyer who Retired at 33

TGretiredI accidentally began research for this article about 2.5 years ago, when passing through Chicago on the long drive home from a summer in Canada. There was a gathering of Mustachians downtown and we kept a pub and eventually the neighboring Falafel place open late. One of the group was a young attorney in a prestigious law firm and she generously offered me a spot in her apartment’s guest room.

As we got to talking, it turned out that my new friend was not your average lawyer. In her early 30s at the time, she was living in a tidy but simple place with a matching decor. She owned no car and used a bike to get to work. Hosted roommates and couch surfers like myself occasionally as a way to cut rent bills and meet new people. Her $100,000 law school debt was long gone, and she claimed to be only two years from retirement.

Anita and I have kept in touch over the years since then, and I was really interested to see if she would follow through with this plan. Having reviewed her financial numbers (a normal and uninhibited behavior among us money nerds), I knew that the idea was solid – she would have plenty of money to live on. But when the moment of truth came, would she really give up a job at the very top of the income scale? Untold years of school and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition – all for a legal career that lasted only five years?

But eventually those years passed, and in August I saw the following picture pop up in my Facebook feed:

freedom_day

And I knew it was real.

Anita has always been an avid world traveler. So since her retirement date I have seen more photos pop up from Australia, Europe, Asia, South America, and other interesting locations. I knew we had to review her inspiring story here on MMM, because there are thousands of less fortunate attorneys in the audience who may be able to benefit from her help.

I caught up with her by email and phone recently as she was spending time in Santiago, Chile. For the purposes of this interview, we’ll call her Thriftygal, as that is the name she uses on her blog (more on that later).

My Interview With The Quitting Lawyer

 

Mr. Money Mustache: So, I read on your blog that you stumbled into law school in 2006, less than a year after I retired. There, you racked up over $100,000 in student loan debt but at least graduated with a relatively powerful degree that found you an immediate job. How did you accomplish this, when most lawyers tell me there are too many graduates chasing too few jobs?

Thriftygal: The oft publicized secret about law school is that only the souls who went to the top law schools (or those who graduated at the very very top of their class at lower ranked law schools) have a relatively easy time finding an absurdly high paying job. I also happened to job hunt in the sweet spot of the naughts before the recession hit.

So, in a nutshell? Luck.

MMM (aside): Got it – luck. Thriftygal not only got a normal economics degree in her early 20s, and did some full-time work in various industries to pay the bills. But she then went back and got a law degree from the University of Chicago law school on her own dime, which is apparently one of the country’s top five, with tuition currently listed at $55,503 per year. A pretty grinding kind of luck that sounds suspiciously like hard work, but I admire the modesty.

MMM: OK, so now you are a 27-year-old graduate working with an unusually high salary. Most of your peers are out buying big cars and houses to celebrate, but instead you feel a radiating evil coming from your mountain of debt. At less than a year’s gross salary, I wouldn’t personally perceive this debt as huge, but it is traditional among doctors and lawyers to stretch out the repayment over 10 years or more. In those intervening years, some people spend more than that on a single car or boat. Why were you so different from your coworkers?

TG: I love the phrase radiating evil! I thought of it more as a game though. These banks loaned me this exorbitant amount of money with the idea that I would pay them a crap-ton in interest over the years. I wanted the better end of the deal. If I wanted to pay them less interest by throwing a bunch more money at the principal, there was nothing they could do about that! I felt like I was winning whenever I calculated how much less interest they would squeeze from me.

Also, I’m a bit embarrassed to think about it now, but I remember distinctly worrying that my firm would realize I was a fraud and ask me to leave. I couldn’t fathom why exactly they thought I was qualified to earn $160,000 fresh out of law school. I realized after reading an article years later, I was feeling something called “imposter syndrome.”

MMM: A year later, the debt was dispatched. You were still in your 20s with no kids, no debt, high salary and low cost of living. Surely THEN you were ready to cut loose? What living conditions did you choose at that point?

TG: Oh, I cut loose alright! I bought a bunch of really expensive coconut water. I went out with friends a bit more often and let myself travel internationally for vacations. I still had a roommate because we were good friends and I enjoyed living with her. I still took my lunch to work most days because I liked peanut butter and jelly. I still accepted my sisters’ hand-me-down clothes because I hated shopping. I still biked to work because it was fun. All the things I did that were frugal were also good for my health and good for the environment, so I saw no reason to change just because I didn’t have any more loan payments.

MMM: What was the defining moment (place, time, age, maybe a story of a critical frustrating event) when you decided to go for early retirement rather than the traditional 40-year law career? What did you imagine your life would be like after retiring?

TG: I remember talking to a friend while we were in law school after interviewing with these giant firms. I asked him if I made four times what the average person made, why couldn’t I retire four times earlier? He assured me it didn’t work that way*, but I wasn’t sold on his reasons. I’ve never been a materialistic person, so the idea of stuff didn’t appeal to me. The idea of freedom and having my time be my own, sleeping in, reading and traveling, now THAT was the life I craved.

MMM: I remember when I was about 26 and my girlfriend (now wife) and I made the decision to really go for early retirement, there was still a period of several more years of hardcore working, earning and saving, while the rest of the world (for example our coworkers) continued on their merry way. I was getting more efficient and motivated, and this contrast made standard consumer culture seem more and more bizarre and extreme in contrast. Did you notice anything similar?

TG: The consumer culture never really appealed to me. I’ve never been a fan of shopping. I’m rather petite, so finding clothes was always a chore and not a fun activity. I like wandering and the idea of baggage and having a lot of junk to cart around was out of the question. I would much rather have the money than the stuff that I knew was destroying the planet and didn’t bring me much joy.

MMM (aside): Wow, at this point in the written interview I became a little worried: Thriftygal sounds much less materialistic than me.  After all, I am into fancy houses, nice audio equipment, I bought a nice car in my early 20s, and so on. In our subsequent phone call she reassured me she still has vices: a brand new Toyota Corolla bought on credit before law school, lots of international travel, great food and more than a few dollars on expensive drinks while out on these travels as well. And she likes to have enough money to be generous with others without regret.

MMM: Somewhere in this period, you were reading blogs – first Early Retirement Extreme and then Mr. Money Mustache after it came into the picture. How did you end up reading here, and then later providing me with a guest room in which to crash on the way through Chicago?

TG: I gobbled up every personal finance article I could find when I was paying down my debt and after a while I wasn’t learning anything new. I liked ERE, but thought it might be a little TOO extreme for me. My friend introduced me to your blog shortly after you started it and described it as “the PhD of personal finance” where everything else was “high school personal finance.” I thought it was pretty apt. :)

MMM (aside): Hmm, I would have thought ERE is the PhD while I’m more of the basic Computer Engineering degree with an apprenticeship in the construction trades. But sure, I’ll take the compliment.

TG: And then I saw your post about the first Ecuador retreat! I was out of debt by that point, infatuated with travel, about to move to Sydney, had a major blog crush on you and Jim Collins, so naturally I jumped at the chance of attending. It was one of the best vacations I’ve been on and it was so wonderful to meet so many like-minded people who didn’t scoff when I said I wanted to retire in a couple of years.

MMM: How much money did you figure you would need to retire on (either in terms of dollars or a multiple of expenses?) And did you quit when you reached exactly that amount of money?

TG: I read Your Money Or Your Life and started my own wall chart. As soon as my average monthly expenses for the past few years were less than my projected passive income, I knew I could live the same lifestyle I currently had (and loved) and wouldn’t need to work anymore. I stayed a bit longer than I needed to because I was living in Sydney and under contract, which I absolutely don’t regret.

MMM: Once you cut off the income stream, how do you keep the money allocated so that most of it remains at work for you , yet you have a reasonable amount flowing into the checking account for monthly expenses?

TG: I have a little over a year’s worth of expenses in my checking account. The rest of my money is tucked away in investments. When my checking account money starts to run out next January, I may look for a part-time job if the stock market is still in the meh range, but that’s a problem for future me.

MMM (aside): Uh-oh! You just said you might work again, I’m calling the Internet Retirement Police! I followed up with Thriftygal on this point and she said work would still be totally unnecessary from a financial perspective. She just likes the adventure of new and unusual jobs – one of her earlier stints was as a flight attendant!

If you have saved enough to meet the 4% rule and have the money stashed in low-fee Index funds, you’ll get 2% in dividends alone which can flow straight to your checking account. Then you simply set your account to automatically sell a tiny amount shares once per quarter to keep your checking balance where you want it. This is what I have done on years when my post-retirement income from miscellaneous hobby work was less than our spending.

MMM: I saw a picture of your packed bags in August 2015, and I knew you had pulled the trigger and actually retired. What have you been up to since then? And what unexpected challenges has retirement presented you with? Would you offer any cautionary words to other people who are striving now in the equivalent to where you were in, say, 2011?

TG: I’m on a never-ending quest to see the world, so I’ve been soothing my wanderlust and traveling. I spent a month in Asia, another month bumming around Sydney, a month+ visiting family in the States, a month+ in the Caribbean and now I’m wandering around South America.

The unexpected challenges question is my favorite one because I honestly thought that when I retired my life would be all fairies and unicorns dancing in the rainbows. And while I do indeed love love love my life right now, I’m surprised by how lonely I often feel. Most of the people I know work and can’t hang out during the week. I’m traveling, but it’s mostly solo as normal people can’t up and gallivant around the globe for months at a time.

I also struggle with laziness and worry that I’m wasting my lucky place in the universe. My advice to people who are striving is to be sure to have a clear idea of what you want your life to be post-retirement. Have lists of things you want to do and accomplish because if you’re the type of person who has the discipline to retire early, you’re probably the type of person who won’t be happy as a couch potato.

For me it was never about discipline because I never wanted the stuff, the things, the junk, the consumerism. I could be perfectly happy smoking pot on my couch. :)

MMM:  That point about everybody else being stuck in work is a good one – some early retirees feel like a kid skipping school and finding an empty town, and there was a recent New York Times story on the idea.

I have a different perspective since family life keeps me busy, then I have my carpentry addiction (plus more recently this blog) and a good number of local friends who are semi-retired or self employed without real work schedules as well. Everything always boils down to having good times with people you like.

So anyway, the entire world is now open to you. What do you see in your future? Would you ever take a job just for the fun of it? Start a company? Work part time? Settle in a different country?

TG: My short-term goal is to travel and tick off other items on my life bucket list. I’m learning to cook authentic Indian food. I want to write. I want to read lots and lots and lots and lots of books. I like to set my alarm clock for when I’d normally wake up for work and then cackle when I shut it off and go back to sleep.

My friends tell me I’m taking more of an extended sabbatical as opposed to retirement as I know for sure that I’ll take another job at some point. On my life bucket list, I want to see what it’s like to work in a factory. I want to start a business. I want to start a nonprofit. There is so much to do and see and explore and I just hope I can find the motivation to do it all!

MMM Conclusion: That sounds just right to me. When I retired 10 years ago I didn’t know exactly what was in store – I only knew that I wanted my weekdays to be as fun and productive as my weekends seemed to be.

But it turned out that I really love to create stuff (houses, sentences, events, designs, adventures, music, whatever), and these activities are often labeled as “work”. But if I have to endure even a single day without the opportunity do this “work”, I can get into a depressive funk. Sure, I like a leisurely breakfast and a mostly unscheduled life. But I can’t deal with too much ass-flattening inactivity.

One time I took a week-long trip on a cruise ship and it was hell for me. It was all consumption with no opportunity to work on anything at all. No tools, no Internet, no food planning or preparation, and no Nature. I had to resort to running up and down the 14 storeys of staircases, standing on the empty, windy top deck to look out at the ocean and using the gym between lineups at the buffet.

I wrote more about the connection between early retirement and continued work in a story for Vox Magazine.
It’s called “What Early Retirement Taught Me About Life (and Work)“, so please ignore the incorrect title that somebody there made up for it and slapped on.

 More from Thrifty Gal

Thriftygal

It turns out that Anita has had a personal blog all along and just didn’t tell me about it. She is a pretty catchy writer and has used her site called The Power of Thrift to document the battle between her savings and expenses since 2013.

 

 

 

 

The Thriftygal book.

Update: almost two years later, she ended up writing a book and publishing it.  Operation Enough: How to Retire Remarkably Early is available on paperback and Kindle at Amazon. Way to go Thriftygal!

 

 

 

 

* Thriftygal’s skepticism was warranted here. Making four times more than average does indeed allow you to cut your career at least four times shorter, but that doesn’t mean hope is lost for those of us with normal salaries. Your time to financial independence depends not on your income, but on your savings rate, which means living efficiently is more important than earning more. It is very feasible to retire in your 30s after never earning more than $40,000 per year, but equally possible (and much more common) to make $300,000 and have nothing to show for it at age 60.

 

 

  • Cookie January 14, 2016, 2:55 pm

    Awesome inspiring story.

    Regarding the loneliness while traveling, I think we need to set up a MMM travel club so we can find others with whom to “up and gallivant around the globe for months at a time”. :)

    Reply
  • Frugal Bazooka January 14, 2016, 3:20 pm

    As strange as it sounds saving a lot of money quickly even while earning $160k is not guaranteed, but obviously much easier than most of us would experience with our dismal average incomes…so kudos to Anita.

    the one thing that jumped out of the article was she mentioned she was lonely. I wonder if she feels that her frugal lifestyle or goals of early retirement and the sacrifices she made to get there are in part to blame for that loneliness.

    Reply
    • Schmidty January 22, 2016, 4:01 pm

      I doubt that her frugal lifestyle or early retirement goals created loneliness. In my experience frugality leads to fun community and good times more than spendy habits tend to. I suspect that her loneliness is due to not having a travel buddy because most people that age are caught up in the spending/working cycle.

      Reply
  • horseymo January 14, 2016, 5:39 pm

    Like some other commentators, I’m struck by her comment on her loneliness:

    “The unexpected challenges question is my favorite one because I honestly thought that when I retired my life would be all fairies and unicorns dancing in the rainbows. And while I do indeed love love love my life right now, I’m surprised by how lonely I often feel. Most of the people I know work and can’t hang out during the week. I’m traveling, but it’s mostly solo as normal people can’t up and gallivant around the globe for months at a time.”

    This summer holidays (in Australia) I took an longer break than usual of 3 consecutive weeks with nothing planned and told myself that this was a mini dress rehearsal for early retirement.

    I really struggled with the lack of structure and the fact that all my friends were away or working and so the bottom of my social world fell out.

    This made me realise that getting away from the 9-5 wage slavery is still a great goal, but you need structure or goals or some meaning outside of it to make the most of not working full time. MMM acknowledges this and mentions his carpentry and blog and other pursuits as keeping him from going nuts.

    This has meant I’m going to step back a little from obsessing about early retirement and perhaps take a look at building other goals/hobbies/interests/objectives/business that will need to fill the gap to make the most of my life/give the most back to my community.

    One problem that 9/5 wage slavery creates however is a constant sense of grind that inhibits your natural creative ambition and stops you from imagining what life outside of the work treadmill might be like. This is why a resource like MMM has been so invaluable to me. To show what life can be like!

    Perhaps dipping a toe in the water with a open ended sabbatical is one strategy, and then trusting things will work out from there?

    Reply
    • HeadedWest January 15, 2016, 4:16 pm

      I left a job at a big corporate law firm last February with sufficient savings and no concrete plans. I was excited to try new things with the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I read a lot, built some (very crappy) software, and lost 50 pounds, but after about six months had gone by I was bored as hell.

      As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I struggled with mental health issues throughout my legal career. What my time off helped me realize was that I don’t want to give up on the law and retire early – I want another shot at it, clean and sober. It is going to be difficult to work my way back in – corporate lawyers are not supposed to just take a year off of work – and right now I am just doing some low-level temp work. I’m optimistic that in the long term I can get back to where I was and further. But I might never have had this insight if I hadn’t saved money and been able to walk away. The pursuit of FI is totally worth it whether you hate working or hate being idle. You need the freedom and the option to be able to check whether the grass really is greener on the other side.

      Reply
      • Kathy Abell January 16, 2016, 8:28 pm

        I guess I dodged the loneliness bullet since hubby had already retired in 2005. So I had a built in partner in crime when I retired in 2013. Because I loved my job and was always busy doing stuff, hubby was worried I would find retirement boring. But when I was on disability for 6 months in 2009, I figured out I would have no problem being retired. From that point on, I planned to retire as soon as I was eligible to do so (my pension was too lucrative to walk away from, so I had to wait a few years – good thing I loved my job!). Now it surprises me how fast the time flies by!

        Reply
  • Mrs Lewis January 14, 2016, 8:47 pm

    With my spouse just 4.5 months from graduating law school, I would be over the moon if we could sock away enough to live off of by the time we’re 40 and 45 years old. With $191,00 in loans I hope to be rid of them in 5 years if he gets a decent paying job. decent being $50k/year to start. Everyone has to start somewhere and wherever you are in the journey is the right place.

    Reply
  • Cindy January 15, 2016, 5:43 am

    I’m also traveling the world after retiring at age 42, and have found a great way to find like-minded people is to enroll in language classes, especially ones at a university, because those typically attract long-term, serious students like expatriates, early retirees, or university exchange students who will be there for several months or a year. My Español para Extranjeros (Spanish for Foreigners) classes at the University of Costa Rica are weekday mornings, and then I have the afternoons free to live life and can take weekend trips with my classmates to enjoy the rest of the country. Yesterday one of my classmates invited me to start a book club with her. I also attended a private language school called ILISA near the university where I became friends with another 42-year-old early retiree as well as several other awesome and fun people from around the world (although most were there for shorter stays). The schools can also put you in touch with volunteer opportunities–I volunteered in English classes for Costa Rican Senior Citizens which was super fun and also gave me more friends. The Senior Citizens always take me out to lunch after class, invite me to their Country Club, and some of the younger ones even invited me to go camping with them. Speaking Spanish also made possible several great experiences with local people.

    The psychologist who coined the term ‘mid-life crisis’ said that people need three things to be happy: 1. a purpose, 2. a community, and 3. structure. Taking language classes is a great way to add all of these to your life. Plus, it puts you in a great position if you decide you ever want to go back to work, just for fun.

    I’m toying with the idea of learning a few of the six United Nations languages (French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and English) and also getting a masters degree at the United Nations University for Peace (located in Costa Rica), to have a worthwhile and fun challenge. And then maybe I’ll apply for some of the 1-year-long IT jobs the UN has in Geneva Switzerland (or not–that’s the great thing about being FIRE).

    Congratulations Anita and best of luck to you!

    Reply
  • Lost in Space January 15, 2016, 6:37 am

    “It is very feasible to retire in your 30s after never earning more than $40,000 per year, ”

    Not sure if you’re reading the comments any more or not but perhaps you should showcase people who’ve done this, that is FIRED while earning under 40 grand with kids, car and mortgage. What did they do different from the rest of us. I know it can be done because I’ve seen many stories over at your forums.

    Reply
  • Florida Mike January 15, 2016, 2:40 pm

    I always wish some of these articles, claims and comments had real dollar amounts attached to them. I know that’s virtually impossible to provide as a measure for everyone but for financial dummies like me, what kind of amounts are we talking about?

    i.e. those who said they were late 50s and called it quits after working at any job. How much did you have in the bank\investment? $250k, 500k, 1 mil, more?

    I know its different for everyone and the 4% rule is helpful but for someone like me who is almost 50 and debt free, what real number do I need to stop working??? My estimation even being debt free puts me working for at least another 10 years… urgh

    Reply
    • AnOldFoolAndHisMoney January 16, 2016, 9:36 am

      You should give Personal Capital’s retirement planner a try. You can easily model your yearly expenses, projected social security benefits and investment returns to compute your likelihood of a successful retirement. You may be closer than you think.

      Reply
    • Frugal Bazooka January 18, 2016, 11:20 pm

      Hey Florida,

      It’s hard to give an exact answer to the question “how much will I need to retire” because of all the variables involved. Here’s a short list of my own important variables: 1. Where will I live in retirement and what will the cost of living be – food, taxes,etc 2. how much are my other bare bone expenses – electric, gas etc 3. How much passive income can I generate from my investments – dividends etc 4. How much extra income do I want above my basic expenses.

      So to reach that magic number will be different for each person, as you mentioned. The way I came up with the number was to work backwards by adding up the variables I mentioned as a per month/year number and then multiplying it by my life expectancy plus a few more decades (wishful thinking).

      So as a pretend example all my variables added up to $1500 for living expenses per month for 2, plus the amount over that I want to be able to spend on fun was $2000/month my total living expenses would be $3500/month x 12 or $42,000 per year. If I was to live 40 more years under those circumstances I would need a minimum of $1,680,000 assuming I never earned another paycheck OR never earned any capital gains.

      The cool part is when you add in the dividends and gains you’re likely to earn on the amount of money that remains invested over those 40 years, it will actually reduce the number. For the sake of argument let’s say that I have $800,000 invested in various cash/stocks/bonds/REITs and my investments are generating on average $25,000/year in dividends. If I subtract that $25,000 from my $42,000 that leaves just $17,000/year that I need to generate thru other “fun” income – side hustles, or using the “4% rule”, i.e. cashing out a small portion of my original investments. Without getting too deep into the math, the point is that you probably need to come up with some hard numbers that represent the amount of money you feel you will need. Then you can better understand how much you need to have saved and/or invested to meet those goals.

      Reply
    • Florida Mike January 19, 2016, 6:18 am

      Thanks you two. Both good information as I will admit, I am a newbie to many of these ideas.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  • Ricky January 15, 2016, 2:46 pm

    “For me it was never about discipline because I never wanted the stuff, the things, the junk, the consumerism. I could be perfectly happy smoking pot on my couch. :)”

    I found this part to be a bit contradictory/confusing. One obviously has to have discipline to plan for their next steps and stick to them, even if it’s quitting your job to travel the world. And she obviously wouldn’t be happy smoking pot on her couch since she just said that she would be miserable sitting still.

    Interesting read though. I don’t think any human being can stand being alone/doing nothing for too long. It’s just about impossible. The great thing about FI is being able to pick and choose what you want to do and take extended periods of time trying to get to the places you want to get. I don’t have any super specific things I want to do at this point – but just having the option to do so many things is much better than not.

    Reply
    • kaz January 15, 2016, 8:43 pm

      Nope, I love being alone and doing nothing all day. In fact, I forced myself to get a job working one day a week for no other reason than it made me get out of bed and connect with other humans. Otherwise I’d happily be at home in my pyjamas on the internet all day with just my pets for company :-)

      Reply
  • Fuzz January 16, 2016, 6:29 pm

    I am an attorney and don’t have Anita’s credentials, obvious brainpower or discipline. I am not as idealistic as she is (I don’t want to start a non-profit, I like the idea of making a lot of money). Yet I appear to find much more meaning in my small law practice than she found in her impressive, if short, legal career.

    I wish she didn’t feel the need to leave the law to do good. That is buying into one of the stupider, cynical, biglaw narratives. Attorneys do good all the time. Being a small firm attorney, taking cases where you have “normal” clients (not Fortune 50 legal departments) is emotionally rich. You can make a tremendous impact as an attorney, and she appears to have treated her legal career solely as a means to an end (though if you’re doing doc review, how can you not?). If she wants the experience of starting a non-profit, or a business, then put that big brain to use as a solo attorney.

    A financially independent attorney can take cases irrespective of whether the client can pay. That’s a unique force for good in the legal system. You can be a wandering knight of legal justice. That’s cool. Powerful. Meaningful.

    If you’re reading this, Anita, I hope you take a good long break from the law, enjoy the beaches in SE Asia, and then come back to Chicago and kick some ass John Grisham style.

    Reply
    • The Vigilante January 16, 2016, 6:37 pm

      Hey, I like the way you think, Fuzz! I am a young attorney pursuing financial independence. I work in a small city, practicing mostly family law (bit of criminal, civil litigation, and estates as well) and I feel that I have an extremely rewarding and exciting career. But as soon as I hit my financial independence goals, you can bet I will stop working 80 hour weeks! And one of the doors I am leaving open for my post-employment life is potentially continuing my attorney registration/CLE credits just to be capable of taking the occasional client and, as you so elegantly stated, becoming a Wandering Knight of Legal Justice.

      Reply
    • Frugal Bazooka January 18, 2016, 11:29 pm

      Good post. I know it’s fun for most people to slam lawyers, but all of the lawyers I know are hardworking people and by no means rich. They work insane hours and do lots of good work for society, government and for average people as well. Part of the slam comes from the fact that the rich use lawyers more often because it’s in their interest to have an expert wade thru the cesspool of nonsensical gov’t regs and tax mud that their success has wrought. I’m not rich, but it doesn’t bother me at all that there are rich people and they are willing to pay for lawyers to do their busy work.
      I always felt the biggest problem with the law is it hasn’t been modernized enough to make it more accessible to average people…notwithstanding small claims court.

      Reply
  • Luke January 17, 2016, 4:15 am

    can someone break down this retirement math for me? I’m failing to see how she was even within 10 years of retirement. Is there some huge inheritance not factored in?
    5 years of income starting at $160k/year (for the same of this mathe let’s use $200k/year average salary). That’s $1M in gross wages.
    After taxes, let’s assume this single person with no dependents creatively pays only 20% of her income in taxes. That leaves us with $800k.
    Let’s say she only spends $2k/month in living expenses. That’s $24k/year = $$116k. Now we’re at $786k.
    Subtract $100k for student loans and $20k for the car, and we’re at $666k.
    how does one retire with $666k in their early/mid 30s? please tell me. I’d love to walk away.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 17, 2016, 7:43 pm

      Luke, that amount is more than enough for a single person to retire (see my article on the 4% rule). Plus, you underestimated the pay increases in this case.

      5 years is a really extreme example and the math gets wacky as you noticed. I encourage regular people to think more in the 10 to 15 year range.

      Reply
      • Jenny February 4, 2016, 12:08 pm

        FWIW, as another “big law” lawyer, I can add some color to the standard “market” base salary increases over time. This does not include bonus.

        1st year – $160k
        2nd year – $170k
        3rd year – $185k
        4th year – $210k
        5th year – $230k
        6th year – $250k

        This is not to claim these were her numbers, but these are market figures.

        Reply
    • Megan January 21, 2016, 1:35 pm

      Don’t forget market gains though. She likely wasn’t putting that hypothetical $666K under her mattress losing value at the rate of inflation.

      Reply
  • Mathias January 17, 2016, 7:25 am

    Great post. However, everyone seems pretty hung up on the $160k starting salary. Am I the only one who feels like I make a ridiculous stream of income? I make about $55k and my wife $61k. We’re paying off debt at a very fast clip, even with full time daycare. I have to kick myself at how lucky we are periodically. Maybe being a legal services attorney, seeing how most folks struggle with income and expenses every day colors my view.

    Reply
    • Mr. Frugal Toque January 18, 2016, 8:04 am

      Indeed. $116k is already a lot of money. Congratulations for noticing. Many people with your firehose of income don’t recognize it for what it is.
      Undoubtedly, working with people who are bad with money has helped you. It’s the same with watching other people raise children before you have your own. You can scratch your chin and learn from their mistakes (and disasters).
      You’re right not to get hung up on the income of others. You can still do whatever you can with your own level of income, instead of resigning yourself to failure.

      Reply
  • Brian Robben January 18, 2016, 6:24 am

    One of the reasons I didn’t go to law school is because of the absurd six-figure debt you have to take on. But, Anita is clearly a case of the debt not getting in the way of her long-term mission toward financial freedom. Inspiring interview and story!

    Reply
  • anon January 18, 2016, 8:30 am

    The 160k salary is also not that big of a deal when you consider the 3 years of working lost due to law school, the debt, and the likely higher taxes and COL in cities where law firms pay that much.

    For example, take two single people at age 22. A starts making 50k, increases his or her pay at 5% a year, lives somewhere with a 23% total tax rate (e.g., Florida), and spends 20k with 2.5% inflation. B is 100k in the hole when work starts at 25, works 5 and a half years at the NYC/DC/etc. biglaw salary scale, and given the salary lives somewhere with a 10% higher tax rate and a 25% higher COL. Both earn 8% on the ‘stash.

    A has half a million at age 33. B gets there only 3 years sooner. Not a big difference relative to a typical lifespan of 70-100 years. Plus A’s path is probably less stressful (and more achievable for the average person) than B’s, and 150k is a more realistic figure for the debt if you don’t have parental support or scholarships.

    Reply
  • Stockbeard January 18, 2016, 12:19 pm

    “I like to set my alarm clock for when I’d normally wake up for work and then cackle when I shut it off and go back to sleep.”

    This sentence gave me goosebumps. I’m totally doing this when I RE!

    Reply
  • Dave January 18, 2016, 5:16 pm

    Anita wrote: “TG: I’m on a never-ending quest to see the world, so I’ve been soothing my wanderlust and traveling. I spent a month in Asia, another month bumming around Sydney, a month+ visiting family in the States, a month+ in the Caribbean and now I’m wandering around South America.”

    I don’t understand how one spends a month bumming around Sydney, a month in the Caribbean, wandering around South America? Where do you stay that does not chew up huge amounts of money? I get the part about staying with family. That is easy.

    Reply
    • Dan January 19, 2016, 10:41 am

      A couple thoughts:

      (1) camping is almost free virtually everywhere,
      (2) if you must go to a city for a short stay, some economical options include staying with friends/family (free) or a rented room through AirBnB or Homeaway (often very cheap). Hostels and couch-surfing are also cheap but I think most people, no matter how frugal, get too old for that.
      (3) if you’re traveling for a long time, why not sell your house (or end your lease) and get an equivalently priced rental in that new place? No money lost out of the budget this way!

      Reply
  • Lemuel Gulliver January 19, 2016, 4:20 am

    Great story!

    I’ve been reading your MMM blog for a long time now, and I love it. I’ve always been frugal but not always a good investor. I think I’m better now. I really hate my job and I want to retire early, but I think it’s harder for us Europeans.
    However, I have a perfect plan:

    1. Keep saving +60%
    2. Keep investing
    3. Get a job from MMM to write for the “MMM Europe” website :D
    4. Retire from the old, cubicle job.

    What do you think? Flawless, isn’t it?

    Anyway, thank you for your great blog. I keep coming almost everyday for my motivation pill.

    Reply
  • Emily January 20, 2016, 10:47 am

    I have read this post twice and still can’t really believe the story! As a freshly-minted lawyer, the idea of upping and starting a new life and career at some point in the future scares me, since I, and my family, invested a lot to get me here now. I am fascinated by the freedom that comes through from this interview though, and the discussion of interest in working different kinds of jobs in the future (I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of working in hotels or as a wedding planner) really spoke to me. I really appreciated the different type of success story than the one often sold to me at work – work hard (80+ hour weeks), make senior associate by 30, make partner by 35…. Do little else. My perspective has really shifted. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Vistahermosa January 21, 2016, 7:11 am

    Awesome post. Trust me, Anita’s going to be working again soon. A graduate of University of Chicago Law School has the intellectual curiosity and drive that will make it impossible for her to sit on the sidelines for too long. She will start her own business or start that non-profit and work crazy hours bc she’s passionate about what’s she’s doing. Having the desire to retire early is reflective of having not found something you are passionate and good at.

    Reply
  • EnjoyIt January 21, 2016, 8:49 am

    I am very very curious what her Yearly/monthly budget looks like.

    Reply
  • dave January 21, 2016, 10:38 pm

    My parents always told us this. It’s not what you earn it’s what you spend and save. We have more control on our spending choices than our earning. The economy can be bad we can lose jobs be downsized ect but our control over what we buy is always there.

    Reply
  • TechHistorian January 23, 2016, 10:39 am

    Whew! Made it through all the MMM articles and what a nice one to finish and be caught up on. It is nice to hear someone who used the YMOYL spreadsheets to keep track.

    Reply
  • sarah January 23, 2016, 5:10 pm

    My cousin just posted this article – A Story of a Fuck-off Fund – and I thought it apropos to your interview with Thriftygal, Anita! I’m so glad to have found her blog – thanks for interviewing her MMM! So inspiring! “A Story of a Fuck-Off Fund”: https://thebillfold.com/a-story-of-a-fuck-off-fund-648401263659#.xhu5pj8al

    Reply
  • E.E.S. January 24, 2016, 10:39 am

    Congrats to Anita for putting herself in a position to do this. My only concern for her is making the leap too soon, but that is more about me than her. A few extra years slogging it out could have obviously given her more cushion, but when you gotta go (so to speak), you gotta go.

    I’ve been out of law school for over 15 years now, the last 10+ as an in-house corporate lawyer. I’ve had years of 80-90 hour work weeks. I echo those commenters about law being a challenging career in a lot of ways. It takes a toll. Most lawyers I know are pretty unhappy, but due to lifestyle inflation are now stuck (or feel like they are).

    I hope to exit the rat race at 48 (41 now). My wife has stayed home the last 8 years to raise our young sons, which has delayed FIRE (not being as frugal as I could have been has also played a roll).

    Good luck to all.

    Reply
  • Ryan B. January 24, 2016, 8:52 pm

    I like the article! I’ve been following MMM for a couple years now. Admittedly though, I haven’t done as well with the saving and investing part that I would have liked up to this point. I get a little better at it each year, so I used my man MMM as my motivation to do better and better financially. I’m one of the punks the whole blog is aimed at: I make 136k per year from my job, well more than I need to live on… But I drive a new BMW and live in a beautiful house. I feel like a jerk just saying that.

    So MMM actually gave me inspiration (indirectly) to do something else. I’m sorry, but my wife and I love nice things. We love to eat at nice restaurants and travel. Maybe because we grew up damn near destitute. Not an excuse, just an explanation. So what I did was figured out how to bring more money in, which would allow me to save more without living like I’m in a 17th century Austrian village. I started a side business a few years ago, and then another one. They bring in about 12k and 23k respectively, after expenses. I’m looking at starting another one this year. So my strategy for living is a bit different from many subscribers to this blog. I just wanted to highlight that there are many ways to skin a cat. It’s not imperative that one lives in complete austerity in order to retire early. Just get creative. I was told years ago that two jobs are for two people. So calling yet another person boss was out of the question for me. I’m not even all that talented, to be honest. But I know what I like and what I don’t like. I like to be comfortable and I don’t like being broke.

    So that’s my story. One disclaimer though – while many of the subscribers of this blog seem to be in their 20’s, I’m 40. So obviously I don’t have all the answers or else I would have retired years ago like Thriftygal. But I’ve set myself up for retirement at 46. Hey, it works for me. You have to find what works for you. All I can say is learn who you are, get creative, and find a way to capitalize (monetize) on that wonderful combination of the evolutionary process that is called you.

    Reply
  • Marcus January 25, 2016, 11:03 am

    MMM this article was great. I haven’t finished the archives yet but have you discussed some reasons why most people don’t like or avoid talking about their finances in detail? I now want to find a community where people encourage each other to discuss their spending habits in the open.

    Reply
  • Skippy January 26, 2016, 4:25 am

    So MMM:

    I’ve just read a small portion of your blog (up to saving with manual transmission, dropped a rather long winded comment there) and i’m curious what you would do if for some reason your ‘stache suddenly grew to the point that you earned $80k/yr from it without ‘working’. You obviously have the house you want and more than enough to do the things you enjoy. Would you finally indulge your inner car nut and buy a new Toyota 86 the same year that you flew to europe for month long velomobile tour?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 27, 2016, 12:27 pm

      Keep on reading Skippy! Unexpected wealth has continued to happen every year. So far my indulgences have included moving to a smaller house, continuing to eat really fancy food.. oh, and buying LED light bulbs for ALL fixtures in the house rather than just the most frequently used ones :-)

      I would definitely consider buying anything that would genuinely increase my family’s happiness. So far I haven’t learned of any such things or experiences yet, beyond what we already own or do.

      Reply
  • Jenny February 4, 2016, 12:02 pm

    Love this article. I’m a few years behind her but am a very similar path (expensive JD/MBA; big international law firm job). Thanks to ideas first picked up here at MMM I will make my last and final payment on what was a $174,000 student loan balance this month. This is exactly the post I needed to read to help me refocus post-student loan payoff (a point where there’s a strong temptation to splurge!).

    Thank you so much for sharing her story.

    Reply
  • Jaymee February 10, 2016, 10:02 pm

    Oh I love this story! I relate to Anita when she said she would rather have her time be her own, sleep in, read and travel (it was the “sleeping in” part that hooked me!). It would be so nice to sleep in and not have to wake up at 5am for a 12hour shift at the hospital :P (my personal dream!).

    It makes me think about how true it is that people are attached to their “stuff” (I still am but I know it’s a habit I picked up from society and can be changed) and have been so busy acquiring said stuff when that money could be going towards early retirement… what a waste I think! Me, I will be buying less stuff and upping my savings rate :)

    Reply
  • chigs February 12, 2016, 11:10 am

    great blog! I’m in a similar position to Anita, nearly 33yrs old, am working in banking (middle office) for nearly 10 years and have saved enough for an early retirement through saving hard and investing (although not as much investing as I would have liked). I’m actually about to “retire” in a month or so. I wonder what Anita does with housing costs, does she own her own property or rents? I personally have bought a few years back in London and despite having a mortgage (albeit small) I feel a lot safer thinking I have my own property, once I leave work.

    the thing is the absolute worst case when I need some cash flow I can always do random jobs here and there and ones I like. but that’s quite far away! note said cash flow – I may still have enough investments/savings but if I feel I don’t want to spend this, I would want some sort of job to provide earnings.

    Reply
  • Curtis February 23, 2016, 9:51 am

    Mr. Mustache,
    Discovered the site through the New Yorker article. Very interesting, and motivational to a lot of younger folks.
    Having said that, I would take issue, in a mellow and minor way, with the frequent use of the term “retirement” as it applies to yourself and the young lawyer you profile here. I am much older than you guys, but did basically the same thing in my 30’s. Left a lucrative law practice (my own small shop, not an (ugh!) big firm) invested my savings in real estate, and made that my new career. Never thought about it as a retirement, but always said that I was using the money to “buy back my own time.”
    Like you, I was (and am) still very busy, but I could call own shots and not respond to a boss (be it clients or judges, they were still the boss.) I’ve traveled widely, took a year to go around the world, pursued a love affair with the out of doors, (and my wife), etc, etc.
    Now at age 74, I’m reaping the rewards of a super active lifestyle, still mountaineering and traveling. But I’m not “retired”, never have been and never will be. Retirement is for sissies, but what I’ve done since the day I was discharged from Law School and then roped into 3 years of draft service (Vietnam), was to work for myself with a goal toward using my time as we see fit. (My wife is a ex-teacher, a writer – no boss now – so she loves the freedom and mobility.)
    I did basically what you do. Build a house and sell it. Buy a dump, fix it up yourself, rent it out, do it again. Do it 10 times, let the rents pay off the mgt, and later in life that’s a very robust cash flow. (Or start a really cool and unique website. Or both.)
    Anyway, great message. Keep it going!!

    Reply
  • Kristie Jonsen March 1, 2016, 9:43 am

    Early retirement can be quite lonely, especially if you are involved in a serious relationship, a marriage. When one partner or spouse chooses to retire while the other continues to work, problems will likely arise. This has been my experience.

    From working woman to the role of housewife, something I never thought would happen, but it did. And I don’t get paid.

    Travel the world? A married woman . . . alone? Three years into retirement, and I have yet to leave the country, let alone the state of California on a regular basis.

    I am grateful to have been able to pull the plug early (I was 45), but I feel stuck, stagnant at this point in my life. (My fault, I know.) More than anything in this world, I would have loved for my spouse to join me in retirement, join me in experiencing all the world has to offer. But to retire early was my dream (since 23 years old), not his. He loves his work, and he’s good at it.

    Prior to retiring I read every article I could get my hands on. Finances, finances, finances — I knew I’d be just fine in that area. But retirement is so much more than money management.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 1, 2016, 4:54 pm

      Great point, Kristie – I think early retirement works best for those who have a plan for what to do with all that free time.

      As a little test for non-retired people, look at what you currently do with your weekends. If you’re building and creating stuff and being challenged, you’ll probably flourish in retirement. If you’re watching TV and cleaning the house, it might not work out so well.

      This is why I use the term ‘Retirement’ so loosely: I don’t think many people would be happy doing nothing. Being away from home and working alongside other people is a key part of a happy day for me. I just prefer not to have money get in the way of what type of work I choose to do.

      In my case, I’ve alway

      Reply
      • hunter March 2, 2016, 4:06 am

        i agree, ya gotta have a plan. I retired early from OB/gyn and worked full time in OB/gyn in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and now UAE for “retirement”. BTW the article the “Scold” was comprehensive but the title didn’t catch the just of it. It’s not “scold” but “hey, look what you can do too, if you want, you are not a victim you have choices.”

        Reply
  • lifetimeandmoney March 21, 2016, 9:30 pm

    Very inspiring article! Thanks for sharing! I see how most folks on these blogs are able to reduce their spending to such low levels, which I always thought was mostly because they lived in less expensive cities. Hearing success stories of folks living in larger cities is indeed very inspiring. I live in San Francisco and have a hard time avoiding all of the expensive distractions that cause one to want to live here (i.e., drinks, good food, social events, outdoor activities, etc.). I think I need to eat more PB sandwiches for lunch! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • ZJ Thorne June 5, 2016, 5:55 pm

    Thriftygal sounds like a wonderful woman to know. I’m so glad that you interview interesting people and share your conversations with us. This community is incredibly supportive of one another.

    Reply
  • Everett July 6, 2016, 1:38 pm

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  • Keagan December 11, 2016, 12:02 pm

    Reply
  • Finances With Purpose March 23, 2017, 5:48 pm

    You know, it was my old pal Thirftygal (yes, from real life) who motivated me to jump into this whole adventure myself…

    I’m excited to see where saving and blogging and adventure takes me.

    Reply
  • David October 11, 2018, 10:38 am

    “Imposter syndrome!” I thought I was unique in experiencing that! As a fledgling engineer fresh out of school, I felt uneasy that my salary exceeded that of my father, who had been toiling at his job for decades.

    About two years in, I was working in the U.S. home office on a project to add major equipment to an existing offshore oil & gas production platform in the Middle East. People with more seniority came back from a field trip, and circulated their hard-copy photos among the troops. (This was before the internet.) I was the last one on the team to see the photos.

    On one of the photos, I saw an electrical cable tray inches above a blind flange. I instantly determined that we were planning to route a huge pipe through that cable tray, which did not appear on the drawings we were working with. I sounded the alarm, and the plans were altered to eliminate the conflict.

    If that project had gone to construction without the correction in plans, the cost of down time in construction equipment and manpower would have amounted to several years’ worth of my salary!

    I’ve never felt “imposter syndrome” again.

    Reply

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