Extreme results oftentimes require extreme measures.
If you want to retire decades before most people, you’re probably going to have to operate way outside the norm.
In the following guide, I’m going to show you, via real math, what the implications are of making some extreme changes to your spending, and how these methods can lead to real and lasting wealth for anyone.
This real and lasting wealth can then be used to generate the passive income necessary to quit your job and become financially independent.
So if you’re serious about retiring early – I mean, really serious – consider implementing some of these real money-saving ideas in your own personal budget. They could substantially speed up retirement.
Money-Saving Method #1: Stop Spending So Much On Food
The first thing one should be looking at is how to cut back on food spending, especially how much one spends on eating out.
Food is one of what I call the “big three”: housing, food, and transportation.
These three budget categories together account for the majority of the average person’s spending. As such, it makes sense to attack and optimize this spending way before getting down to smaller, more insignificant budget categories.
When I first started taking a look at my overall spending way back in 2009, I noticed I was spending around $500 per month on food.
That’s just crazy.
Yet it’s not as bad as the average.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average consumer unit spends about $7,000 per year on food.
Of course, the average consumer unit is also retiring quite late in life, right?
So we need to do a lot better than average here, folks.
I’ve often spent less than $200 per month on food since aggressively focusing on cutting my spending, and this is about what I’m spending these days. I’m talking all food. That’s about $2,400 per year.
The difference (between average spending and my spending on food) is $4,600 per year.
Let’s consider for a moment just how much money $4,600 per year is.
You might not think it’s a lot of money. We’re talking just a few hundred dollars per month, right?
It’s actually a lot of money!
If you’re able to squirrel away that $4,600 per year and invest it intelligently for 20 years, it turns into approximately $227,000 at the end of that 20-year period. That’s starting from zero.
Now, this is assuming 8% compound annual returns (well below the average annual return for the stock market over the last 100 years). That’s also ignoring taxes and inflation.
Not a terribly high hurdle to leap, folks.
Yet the reward is pretty incredible.
However, maybe you’re not able to drop your spending as much as me.
But if you can save just $2,000 per year on food, the savings could turn into approximately $99,000 after 20 years (using the same assumptions as above).
You have to ask yourself if your regular restaurant visits are worth a hundred thousand (or two).
So just a few small adjustments to just one category of your budget can yield an amazing amount of wealth over time.
When I first took a real good look at my food spending, I noticed I was spending a lot of money on restaurants.
And much of it was just a waste.
I mean, what does food at a restaurant provide you that food at home cannot?
Satiation? Nutrition? Quality?
The answer is nothing.
In fact, food prepared at home can actually provide better nutrition and quality because you’re able to control the ingredients.
I can say that it was eliminating most of my restaurant visits that led to much of my spending on food being cut so dramatically. In fact, I visit restaurants very sparingly these days. There are many weeks that go by where I don’t even come close to sitting down in a restaurant.
Once you’re not eating out of the house so much, you can focus on saving even more money on your food eaten at home.
Buying in bulk helps. Planning meals out also gives you an idea of exactly what you need. That way, you’re buying just what you need (and not what you do not).
And I’ll share with you my favorite money-saving meal of all.
A classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
It tastes great. It’s not terribly unhealthy. And it’s super cheap.
I’ll eat a PB&J sandwich at least a few times every week. It’s my go-to lunch meal.
Sure, you can laugh at me. But at less than 50 cents per sandwich, I’m laughing all the way to the bank.
Don’t like PB&J? Well, no problem.
Get some rice in the 10-pound bags. Buy boneless skinless chicken breast in bulk. Throw in a few sauces and spices.
Wham! You’ve got meals for weeks.
Stir-fry. Slow-cooked chicken. Soups. Grilled meat and a side. Chili.
Another tip is to get protein powder in large bags (10 pounds, if possible).
I’ll mix up some protein powder, around six ounces of milk, 1/2 a banana, and a teaspoon of peanut butter. That’s a cheap, healthy meal that anyone can make in a pinch. I find it costs me way less than $1 a serving.
It’s not hard, folks. You just have to be thoughtful about your food. And you have to be thoughtful about your money.
Think about your money. And then your money will think about you.
Money-Saving Method #2: Stop Spending So Much On Transportation
I was spending $500 per month (all in) on my car back in 2009.
Transportation is one of what I call the “big three”: housing, transportation, and food.
I call these three spending categories the “big three” because they generally account for the vast majority of the average person’s spending. If one can attack these three categories and get them efficiently optimized, the savings rate should shoot through the roof.
That’s why this series doesn’t concentrate on talking about the “daily latte”.
I’ve saved well over 50% of my net income for many years now, yet I’ve never focused too much on the little things. The little things take care of themselves once you focus on the big things.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the average consumer unit spends about $9,500 per year on transportation.
So I was doing better than average, even before I started aggressively cutting my spending and focusing on early retirement.
However, we have to do way better than average if we’re going to retire way earlier than average.
Retiring years or decades earlier than most people doesn’t happen because you’re doing a little better than average in your spending. You really have to aggressively attack spending in order to generate the excess capital necessary to invest as much and as often to provide the passive income that will be enough to eclipse your spending at a young age.
The lower your spending, the more money you have to invest. And the less you spend, the less passive income that you’ll need in order to cover your bills.
It all works together.
Let’s just do some quick math here.
The average consumer unit is spending $9,500 per year on transportation.
I’m going to assume that you could take that money and invest it, achieving 8% compound annual returns (which isn’t a high bar to clear – it’s well below the average return of the stock market over the long run) over 20 years. You start from zero. And I’ll ignore taxes and inflation for the sake of brevity.
Using those assumptions, you’d end up with almost $470,000 after 20 years. Again, that’s starting from zero.
We’re talking half a million dollars… for transportation?
Of course, this number is assuming that one is saving and investing all of the money that would, on average, be otherwise directed toward transportation.
As such, my best tip for this category is to stop driving altogether. Don’t own a car. Don’t drive. Spend almost nothing on transportation.
You heard me right.
I’m saying our auto-centric culture here in the United States is literally killing us.
We have to work longer and harder just to pay for the wheels that gets us to the job that earns us the money to pay for the wheels.
It’s a cycle of craziness. Aliens from another planet would be looking at us and scratching their heads (if they had heads).
And driving isn’t good for our health. Not only is it eliminating more time outside, where we’d be likely walking or biking, but car accidents are one of the single largest causes of death in this country.
I already talked about eating PB&J sandwiches. People might claim that’s not the healthiest way to eat. But they’ll then get in a 3,000-pound hunk of steel and hurl themselves around at 70 miles per hour. It’s nonsensical.
I sold my car back in 2011. And I’ve been largely car-free ever since.
I currently do not own a car. And I have zero plans to ever own a car again for the rest of my life.
You might say: “It’s impossible to live without a car outside of five or six major US cities.”
I live in Sarasota, Florida. It’s a city of about 50,000 people. We have no rail.
But I get by. I’m just thoughtful about where I live and where I go. I’m purposeful in the way I plan and live my life.
And that’s how early retirement is achieved, guys. You have to be purposeful and thoughtful about it.
I believe almost every city in the United States has some public transportation.
Use it. Take advantage of it. And when you need to get somewhere it doesn’t go, be creative. Walk. Ride a bike. Or take an Uber. Or get a small scooter that costs less than $1,000 and achieves 100 miles per gallon of gas.
I spend $1.25 per bus ride here in Sarasota. I spent less than $20 on transportation last month.
And that’s a big reason why my real-life, real-money portfolio is well into the six figures.
Keep in mind that the major reason a lot of people need a car in the first place is to trot down to their day job. Once you can kick the job, you don’t need to drive so often. This makes using public transportation even easier.
So try not to get sucked into the cycle where you’re spending just to work, and working just to spend.
Money-Saving Method #3: Stop Spending So Much On Housing
Housing is one of the three spending categories that I call the “big three”: housing, food, and transportation.
These are the “big three” because, together, they account for the vast majority of an average person’s spending.
As such, it makes sense to focus most of one’s energy on these three categories, rather than take a bunch of time focusing on little things like finding the best deal on gas.
Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that housing, food, and transportation combine for over 62% of the average consumer unit’s annual spending.
And it’s housing that’s the biggest budget buster of all.
So we want to attack this one spending category more than any other.
Now, I can be a bit extreme in my ways, guys.
But I also retired extremely early.
In fact, I gave my old boss my two-week notice back in mid-2014, just before my 32nd birthday.
And my passive income started to exceed my core personal expenses at 33 years old.
I wake up without an alarm clock. I have no boss (except for myself, but I’m a great boss). I do what I want, when I want, with whom I want.
But this didn’t come about easily. And I certainly don’t live in a mansion.
When I first awakened to how much I was spending, back in late 2009, I realized that housing was my biggest spending (and problem) area, which is the same for most people.
As such, this is one of the first things I started to really think about in terms of how I could cut it.
Before we begin, let’s consider the numbers.
The BLS shows that the average consumer unit spends $18,409 per year on all housing-related expenses.
That’s over $1,500 per month.
I don’t know where you’re living, but that’s a lot of money to me.
In fact, that’s about three times my monthly rent.
I’m spending less than $600 per month on all housing expenses. That’s everything: rent, utilities, etc.
The difference is over $11,000 per year!
Want to know just how much money that is?
Saving and intelligently investing $11,000 pear year could literally change your life.
Let’s say you start with zero dollars. You invest this money for 20 years. Let’s also assume you could achieve an 8% compound annual rate of return over that 20 years (not that hard, considering it’s well below the average rate of return for the stock market over the long run).
We’ll ignore taxes and inflation for the sake of brevity.
Even if you start from zero, that money would turn into ~$540,000.
That’s over half a million dollars. Starting from zero. Like I said, life-changing money.
And all you have to do is avoid spending the average on housing.
So what do I do?
I live in a small, modest apartment.
It’s two bedrooms. Under 1,000 square feet. My significant other and I share the place with her younger son. We also split the rent.
We have no stainless steel appliances. No granite countertops. No crown molding.
What we do have, however, is a good roof over our heads. We have appliances that can keep our food cool and cook our food (when we’re ready to eat). Our air conditioning keeps us cool in the summer. Heat keeps us warm in the winter. The front door has a lock, keeping out would-be intruders. The floors sport worn but comfy carpet. It has all the appropriate accouterments that we need to live modern, quality lives.
Anyone who would walk into my apartment would not think I’m very wealthy.
Yet I control a portfolio of high-quality dividend growth stocks that’s worth well over a quarter million dollars!
Instead of spending my money on big house that I don’t need, I spend it on high-quality dividend growth stocks that generate enough (growing) passive income to pay my bills.
And pay my bills they do: the passive income I earn covers my core personal expenses.
That’s right. I’m retired in my early 30s.
The average size of a newly-built home hit a record 2,600 square feet just recently.
Does the average family really need 2,600 square feet?
What does a family really need 2,600 square feet for?
In my opinion, a big house is nothing more than a giant prison.
It’s a place that imprisons you to the work-earn-spend cycle that will keep you working to earn and earning to spend for the rest of your life.
So many people have these castles.
Yet they’re never home.
Because they’re spending all of their available free time at work.
The average size of a new single-family residence in 1950 was under 1,000 square feet.
It’s now more than 2.5 times that large.
Are people now 2.5 times larger?
Were people in the 50s tiny people that were okay living in tiny homes?
Of course not.
My best tip for spending less on housing is to downsize your home.
Easily said, but hard to do in real life.
But retiring really early is the same: it’s easy to talk about, but hard to do.
Look, guys. We don’t need 2,600 square feet. Unless you’re housing the circus while it’s in town, you just don’t need that much space.
Take whatever size your home currently is and start to think about cutting it in half.
You know what gets cut in half when you cut your housing in half?
Your mortgage or rent. Your utilities. Your spending on furniture to furnish the place. Repairs. Upgrades.
Said another way, your overall housing spending will go down dramatically. You’ll see a drop that’s pretty commensurate with the drop in the size.
Like I noted earlier, I’m spending about 1/3 of what the average consumer unit is on housing. But I’m also living in a place that’s about 1/3 the size of the average new-build SFH.
Of course, I’m also retired at an age that’s about 1/2 of the average person.
You can see how this all works together.
To be fair, I split the rent with my significant other. The rent is about $1,000 per month all together. Even so, this is significantly less than what most people are spending on housing. Consider, too, that I spend $0 on repairs, maintenance, or upgrades.
Downsize your housing and you’ll see that your housing expenses are downsized.
With that, the number of years you’ll need to spend in your life working will also be downsized.
Money-Saving Method #4: Stop Spending So Much On Television
I don’t have cable TV at home. Haven’t had it for years.
Guess how much I miss it?
Not. At. All.
I have a digital connection to my local channels (NBC, ABC, etc.) as part of my Internet access package.
But I couldn’t tell you what’s playing on TNT or Comedy Central… even if you paid me.
Nor do I care.
I’m too busy reading, writing, hitting the beach, and doing other (free!) things I really enjoy – consider it all part of the decades-long party that awaits a person who’s able to retire extremely early.
Indeed, I was able to essentially retire at 33 years old. And I didn’t get there by spending a bunch of time and money on TV.
A recent FCC study showed that the average American spends $64.41 per month for expanded basic cable.
Let’s run some quick numbers on that.
We’ll assume that you cut your cable tomorrow, save that $64.41 per month, and invest the savings at an 8% compound annual return for 20 years (ignoring taxes and inflation for brevity). Since the stock market averages a long-term rate of return above that figure, I’m actually using a fairly conservative estimate.
That $64.41 per month seems like a trivial expense, but it actually turns into over $38,000 (using the assumptions described above).
Is watching reruns of some legal procedure drama really worth $38,000?
I think not.
And we’re not talking just money here.
Recent Nielsen reports indicate that the average American spends four and a half hours a day watching television.
Four and a half hours? That’s practically a job!
Except this job doesn’t pay. You pay!
Just imagine what kind of productivity you’re missing out on by spending all that time watching television. This is productivity that could you that much closer to early retirement.
I’ll tell you what I did with my four and a half hours per day all the way up to my early retirement.
I spent that time educating myself on investing. I learned how to analyze companies and read financial statements. I read voraciously, improving myself as a person.
And then I spent those hours writing articles on how to save and invest so that others could follow my blueprint and potentially escape from the rat race decades before others.
So I’d say I quite literally changed my life with that time that I would have otherwise spent watching… The Walking Dead?
And the money also quite literally changed my life.
I was able to save that $60+ per month and invest it in high-quality dividend growth stocks.
The resulting real-life portfolio that’s now worth well over 1/4 of a million dollars is proof in the pudding, folks.
So what’s my advice here?
My advice is to cut cable television.
I’m not saying to just reduce your package. I’m saying to eliminate it altogether.
The money can then be used to intelligently invest in high-quality investments that will help you retire at a young enough age to actually enjoy all that life has to offer.
Once you do cut the cord, you’ll naturally find yourself spending far less time watching television.
And then you can use that newfound time to improve yourself, educate yourself, and learn about yourself.
After all, you’ll find yourself with a ton of free time once you’re actually retired. And so you should have a good idea of what you actually enjoy doing. No time like the present to learn that.
Or you could use that four and a half hours per day to get a (second) job that pays you, which could speed up your journey to retirement that much more.
That’s essentially what I did. I used my free time to write and help others, which had a way of financially rewarding me (even though that’s not what I set out for). And it helped me to get in a position to be able to retire in my early 30s.
Money-Saving Method #5: Stop Spending So Much On Your Phone
Mobile phones are ubiquitous these days.
Everywhere you look, you see someone on a smartphone.
People almost cannot operate without their devices.
This phenomenon is in part why I’m invested in companies like Apple Inc. (AAPL) and AT&T Inc. (T) in my personal portfolio – a portfolio that’s chock-full of high-quality dividend growth stocks that generates enough (growing) dividend income to cover the bulk of my core personal expenses, rendering me essentially retired in my early 30s.
You can argue the necessity of these devices, and you can argue whether or not it’s all adding to (or taking away from) our quality of life.
However, you can’t argue the expense of it all.
Before I started getting serious about saving money and retiring decades before most people, I was spending over $80 per month on my mobile phone bill.
This was way back in late 2009.
I had an iPhone 3G. And I had a nice data plan via AT&T that allowed me to perform world-saving tasks like looking up the calories in my dinner on the go.
Really important stuff, I know.
But I realized that this was such a waste of money.
And so I substantially cut my spending on this category.
Yes, I still have a mobile phone. But I spend very little on it these days.
I signed up for a cheap prepaid plan with Cricket Wireless.
I did this for a couple reasons.
First and foremost, it saved me a ton of money.
Their basic plan (which should really be more than enough for most people) offers unlimited nationwide talk & text, along with 1 GB of high-speed data access.
All this for $30. And that’s taxes and fees included. So $30 flat. Plus, no contract. You can leave any time you want to.
Let’s just take a quick look at what the savings add up to here.
Going from $80/month to $30/month is a savings of $50/month.
If you’re able to sock away that money and invest it at an 8% compound annual return for 20 years (ignoring taxes and inflation for brevity), it would turn into almost $30,000!
And that’s starting from zero. That means you start from zero and just invest the savings from reducing your spending on your mobile phone plan.
That’s pretty powerful, isn’t it?
One little change that probably isn’t even noticeable, yet you could end up with a very large chunk of money at the end of it.
So I mentioned I did this for a couple reasons.
The other reason is that Cricket Wireless is a subsidiary of AT&T.
I was using AT&T beforehand. And as a shareholder, I love contributing to the profit of the companies I’m invested in. In my opinion, that’s thinking like an owner.
After all, you don’t want to buy from the competition, do you?
Well, this move allowed me to save a lot of money while still being able to use the service that one of my investments provides.
That’s called having your cake and eating it, too.
Moreover, AT&T’s network is one of the biggest and best. I didn’t want to cut my spending if it meant that I wouldn’t be able to reliably make phone calls (especially in an emergency).
Now, there are countless prepaid options out there.
If you don’t want to use Cricket, that’s fine.
But I think you should give serious consideration to cutting down on the mobile phone spending.
That spending could be delaying your retirement.
Sure. You may have to cut down on the mobile data usage. Although you’re still getting AT&T’s excellent network with Cricket, the low-end plan means your speed will drop down after you hit your cap.
But is being able to look up the weather after you’re already outside really worth delaying your early retirement? Is that really worth thousands and thousands of dollars?
Keep in mind, too, that public wifi is practically as ubiquitous as mobile devices. As such, I try to use this “free” bandwidth as much as possible.
Food for thought.
I hope you enjoyed this guide. These are real-life, practical everyday tips that I actually used to retire decades before most people. Some of these ideas are extreme. But the idea of retiring in your 30s is also extreme. Can’t expect extreme output without extreme input.
So I hope you found value in the guide. And I hope you consider implementing some of these changes.
Early retirement is too amazing to keep all to myself. You should be enjoying this, too!
Think about your money. And then your money will think about you.
Thanks for reading!
— Jason Fieber