September 23, 2023

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Catie T., who goes by the name Millenial Money Honey across her various social media platforms, plans to retire when she’s 35. At 29, she’s only six years away from her goal, according to documents viewed by Insider. And about 30 years ahead of most other people her age. 

Catie is part of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community; it’s a movement that stems from a 1992 book called “Your Money, Your Life,” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. 

According to Investopedia, millennials — who were only just children around the time of the book’s publication — are increasingly the generation embracing FIRE. It’s characterized by aggressive saving and investment practices that allow participants to be work-optional earlier than the traditional age 65. 

“I was just living your average LA millennial life, hanging out with my friends, getting my hair done, trying to keep up with all the latest fashion trends,” Catie says of her lifestyle before embarking on her FIRE journey. 

But at 26, she was at a point in her career where she was earning enough money to build up decent savings and starting to consider her financial future more seriously. 

“I was like, ‘If people are investing, I know I should be investing. I should look into that and figure that out,'” she says. She started researching personal finance and eventually learned about the FIRE ideology. “I dove in headfirst,” she says.

She recently reached an impressive milestone known as “Coast FIRE.” With $375,000 invested in various accounts, assuming regular market trends, her savings will grow enough that she wouldn’t need to invest another dollar to reach financial independence by 65. As is, she can easily “coast” into retirement. 

While this is a big accomplishment and an important step within her larger journey, Catie plans to continue saving and investing at her current rates so that she can reach her retirement goal — $1.5 million saved and invested — by 35.

As she gets closer and closer to her ultimate goal of retiring at 35, she’s sharing her journey and the strategies she implemented in hopes of inspiring financial independence for others, too. Here’s how she’s gotten so far so fast.

How she set her retirement goal

To figure out how much she needed to save, “I estimated my annual expenses were around $30,000 a year, and then just to account for a margin of safety, I doubled it,” she explains. 

Assuming she’ll need $60,000 for every year of her retirement, she used the 4% rule to determine her target retirement portfolio amount. An easy way to calculate this number is to multiply your desired annual income by 25, which Catie did, giving her $1.5 million. 

“For me, it would only be like $750,000, but I’m just on the nervous and cautious side,” she said. Doubling her annual amount provides her comfort and a safety net. 

1. She tracked — and changed — her spending habits

Before making any major changes to her lifestyle, she tracked her spending for a few months to get a better picture of where she stood financially. “I didn’t even really know where my money was going prior to this,” she explains. 

After doing this, she was able to be more strategic with her choices. It’s figuring out those “little tweaks,” she says. 

For example, Catie quickly realized she was spending more than she wanted on grooming and aesthetic services. Between a $230/month Equinox membership, a $30 eyelash appointment every three weeks, and about $600 twice a year on hair treatments, she realized she was spending about $1,000 every three months or so on these purchases. 

So, she got creative with how to minimize them. For starters, she grew her hair back to its natural color instead of maintaining a bleach blonde coloring she had before. She quit Equinox, stopped getting her lashes done, and ditched the fancy hair salon in favor of a local spot with a $15 cut. 

2. She increased her income

A graphic designer by trade, she made a strategic career move to increase her income quickly and save more money by default. Prior to FIRE, Catie had been working at an ad agency, an industry known for lower pay.

“I was able to pivot my same skill set towards a higher-paying industry,” she says. Now she works as a graphic designer at a tech company. “I didn’t realize how much more lucrative it was to be a designer in that field, even though it is the exact same skill set.” 

It wasn’t a big pivot, it didn’t require going back to school or investing in additional training, but “it was about being creative about how I could add to my income,” she says. 

3. She puts her money in various investment accounts 

While a big aspect of being successful at FIRE involves cutting expenses and saving aggressively, arguably the most important part is investing that money. 

Because of inflation, the path to retirement for most people involves at least some form of investing, whether through a 401(k), 403(b), IRA, or another chosen account. The same is true for those who wish to reach FIRE. 

Catie had about $30,000 saved up before her FIRE journey that she invested in a Wealthfront

account. Now, the majority of her income is invested between her employer-matched 401(k), her Roth IRA, and her HSA (health savings account). 

Outside of these accounts, she invests almost exclusively in index funds. “I’m with Schwab total stock market fund,” she says. 

4. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she moved back in with her parents

While it was never originally part of her plan, because of the pandemic, she moved back home with her parents. Since she’s living rent-free, she’s been able to drastically reduce her expenses the past year. 

“‘I’m very fortunate that my parents let me live rent-free to help me with this dream of mine,” she says. This change has helped to expedite her invested income. 

5. While she saves a big portion of her income, she still enjoys life

Catie saves about 80% of her income, a common percentage for many who participate in FIRE. But for some, this high savings rate is one of the most unattractive qualities of the movement.

There’s often the assumption that to put aside such a significant amount, it must also mean depriving yourself of present-day pleasures. 

But she doesn’t live like this. “I’m just extremely intentional with my spending,” she explains. She’ll still go out to eat and grab drinks with friends. She’ll spend money on travel — pandemic permitting. “I’ve figured out what makes me happy,” she says. 

To do the things she loves, she cuts out other things, like expensive clothes or hair treatments. She doesn’t budget her day-to-day spending, but knows her expenses and makes sure she always has enough in her checking account to cover those.

She also makes sure to use some of her money to celebrate her wins and milestones. “It’s a long journey, it doesn’t happen overnight, it’s gonna take years and years,” she says. But, she says, she’s determined to enjoy the ride as much as the destination.