How a 44-year-old saved enough ‘f–k you money’ to retire early

Charmagne Chi was enjoying early retirement so much, she had to remind herself to rest.

If that sounds counterintuitive, it’s probably because Chi’s life today, two years into retirement from his 9-to-5 bank job 42, doesn’t reflect the image some people have in mind when they picture it. which is early retirement.

Chi doesn’t spend her days lounging on the beach, traveling the world, or blogging about early retirement (although he post updates on TikTok). Instead, he works part-time for a local theater company in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, and practices writing and other creative activities. Her husband, who also left his IT job two years ago, spends his time lifting weights, volunteering with the local search and rescue team, and fostering dogs.

“Now that my whole life is the only thing I want to do, taking time off is very difficult,” Chi said luck. “Every day it’s like, ‘Well, I’m just having fun,’ but six weeks go by and I’m tired.”

“All I want to do is creative things all day, every day, and that’s what I do,” Charmagne Chi said.

Courtesy of Charmagne Chi

And so the 44-year-old is busier than ever. But you don’t have to feel bad for him. That’s always been the point of trying to save as much as possible in his 30s, Chi says: It’s not that he doesn’t want to work, per se. He wants to be able to spend his days pursuing his passions, without worrying about finances. Some people might say that doesn’t really count as early retirement, but Chi doesn’t need the money he earns from the theater. He is free to do whatever he wants with his time.

“If you don’t have to put in 40, 50, 60 hours a week to get a paycheck, whatever you fill that time with, that’s a reason to retire early,” he said. “All I want to do is creative things all day, every day, and that’s what I do.”

Chi declined to say exactly how much the couple had saved before they decided to quit their jobs, but said that so-called follow the FIRE—where one person aims for $1 million in savings before retirement—”isn’t enough” for her and her husband to feel comfortable taking the plunge.

‘Ask everyone’

Chi first came across the concept of early retirement on popular blogs like Mr. Money Mustache; she and her husband adapted the often extreme frugal practices of the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) crowd to fit their own needs and values.

Chi is very straightforward about how she and her husband were able to retire decades ago than others. Of course, the couple implemented a number of tried-and-true early retirement money-saving strategies. They drive a car, max out their 401k and IRA retirement accounts every year, and cut back on excess spending. They do not have children, which he called “a big savings.”

But everything is possible, Chi repeatedly says, because of her and her husband’s privileges, especially their high-paying jobs while living in a relatively affordable city. They don’t have any major medical issues, he said, and there aren’t any other major expenses they have to account for. they no student loan debt.

“I’m a white, straight man who was raised by middle-class parents and didn’t have to pay for college,” he said. “Yes, there’s a lifestyle component. But it’s not just ‘avoid avocado toast,’ that’s bullshit.

That said, while many equally privileged people feel they must drive certain types of cars, live in certain cities, or use a particular brand of skin care, life it doesn’t have to be that way, he said. That’s a big change in mindset that Chi himself made a few years into his career.

A person who cycles everywhere to save money like Mr. Money Mustache may be on the extreme end, but Chi says that even realizing that not needing two cars is a possibility has made him rethink how he lives. That led him to decide that the family only needed one car. That won’t work for every single household and individual financial situation, but questioning habitual consumption behavior can be helpful for anyone looking to save a little money.

“It made me question everything and examine every purchase and decision in a way I never did before,” he said. Earlier in her career, she bought the standard trappings of an upper middle class: new clothes and expensive bags, getting her nails and hair done, seeing a esthetician. He cut most when early retirement became his priority. “Those things don’t make me happy…I don’t know that I want to retire early, but I know that I’m in a privileged position and I want to use that to be financially healthy.”

And this is not to say that privilege prevented Chi from burning out at his previous job. He experienced chest pain due to tension; when he retired, he took six months to “aggressively rest” before diving into his passions full-time.

Charmagne Chi is pictured in costume.
Charmagne Chi retired early and now spends her days performing and working part-time in a theater.

Courtesy of Charmagne Chi

“I am lucky and privileged. But many people are lucky and privileged,” he said. “They can achieve their goals and be happier if they change their lifestyles.”

Live the ‘small’ life

Chi is often asked how her family would handle an emergency, medical or otherwise, that might require one of them to return to work. Those kinds of questions aren’t about him though; one of them was just looking for a job, he said. And a potential emergency expense is not a reason not to pursue a dream like early retirement.

“What if one of us gets sick … it can happen in my mind. But it can happen to anyone,” he said, noting that he had a major operation last year and it did not interfere with their retirement even a little; they buy health insurance through the New York state exchange, which works for them. “Anything that happens to us can happen to anyone who plans to work their whole life and now can’t.”

Chi said she and her husband try to “live as small as humanly possible” so they can minimize bigger expenses, or at least prepare for them when they come. They love living in Buffalo, which provides community and access to the arts at an affordable price. They plan to live in their home for the rest of their lives.

Living less is something he wishes more people in the same financial position would try.

“Even a 10% adjustment can give you enough money to leave a job you hate,” he says. “If you’re in that privileged group, look and do it.”

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