This couple retired at 29 years old — here’s how

Posted: 17 April 2020 1:44 pm

Couple smiling at each other as they clink glasses.

Today, they’re living in Mexico on just $15,000 a year.

Our new series highlights stories from real people who’ve joined the financial independence, retire early (FIRE) movement. Some have successfully reached FIRE, while others are on track to do so over the next few years. Answers are edited for length and clarity.

  • Names: Alexandra Davis and Ryan Gleason
  • Age retired: 29 years old
  • Former profession: Materials engineers
  • Post-FIRE gig: Cofounders of Ryan and Alex Duo Life, a wellness site for couples
  • Time in FIRE movement: 8 years
  • Strategy used to achieve FIRE: Vanguard index funds, working abroad and geographic arbitrage
  • Net worth: $1.2 million

When did you begin aggressively saving and investing?

I (Alexandra) was fortunate enough to graduate college without student debt in 2010 and started saving around 60% to 80% of my salary from 2010 to 2017. From the get-go, my money was invested in Vanguard index funds.

Ryan, on the other hand, graduated with $37,500 of student debt in 2010. By 2013, he had paid off his student debt and began investing as well.

The most critical aspect of our savings was an unanticipated one: We moved abroad with our engineering jobs. Once I graduated from university, I accepted a position to work as an engineer in a Minnesota chemical company’s China office.

With my three-year expatriate package, which included housing costs and maintained a US-level salary, I was able to practice geographic arbitrage and save the vast majority of my money without a loss to any quality of life. Ryan, my then-boyfriend in the US, convinced his company to send him to their Shanghai office under a similar package.

After we returned to the US, we continued saving money, mainly by not accumulating many things. We knew we wanted to live abroad again one day and therefore didn’t make substantial investments in our home, furniture or vehicles.

After our wedding in 2017 and at the age of 29, we left our corporate jobs and retired!

We started traveling abroad while focusing on our fitness coaching side-gig, moving it into a full-time couple’s health and wellness site.

Since we’ve retired, we have not yet dipped into any of our Vanguard investments or dividends, mainly by continuing to employ geographic arbitrage by living in South America, Central America, and now, Mexico.

What’s your specific investment strategy with Vanguard?

We ironically started with Vanguard’s Target Retirement 2045 Fund (VTIVX) as we anticipated, like many, to retire when we were in our 60s.

Most of our money is invested in that fund, and now we also have various other funds, including the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX), balanced out by the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VBTLX).

How long have you been on this journey?

Our savings journey nearly spanned over a decade, from 2010 until 2018. Now, for the past two years, we have been retired.

Living abroad now in Mexico, our monthly expenses for two people clock in at $800 per month. For a full year, including a few extravagant trips like cruising through the Galapagos Islands and spelunking in the Amazon, our yearly budget for two is $15,000.

We have saved over $1.2 million, now in investments, and keep separate living and emergency funds liquid in Aspiration Bank’s savings account.

What inspired you to join this movement?

When we first started saving and investing our money in 2010, we had never heard of the FIRE movement. After our wedding, we decided to leave our jobs to travel and focus on our passion project business in helping couples become healthy together.

At first, we only allocated enough money to travel for one year and believed that we would return to corporate life the following year.

By chance, our very first day abroad in Ecuador, we met a woman who told us about the blog Mr. Money Mustache and the FIRE movement. It was then that we realized that we never needed to return to corporate life with our current savings and budget.

It immediately took the financial pressure off of our business, and we felt more comfortable and confident in taking risks with our company and continuing our personal development.

Advice for others looking to join the FIRE movement

Below are a few tips for others looking to retire early:

Saving for early retirement doesn’t mean depriving yourself of the things you love.

It just means putting time, money and energy into your favorite hobbies and potentially cutting back on spending that doesn’t directly link to your happiness. From the get-go, Ryan and I prioritized traveling and often indulged in more lavish vacations.

To counterbalance it, however, we skipped out on the “typical” things Americans love. We never owned a TV, opted to work out at home instead of at a fancy gym and got in the habit of borrowing or renting big-ticket items only used a few times a year, like skis, boats and paddle boards.

Surround yourself with friends who love the same free activities you do.

Hiking and backcountry backpacking are two of our biggest loves, and some of our favorite memories are when we hike with a group of friends and explore a new national park.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to make new friends! Perhaps the friend you always meet up with for cocktails would love to go on a walk with you instead.

House- and pet-sitting are fantastic ways to vacation while saving money.

And actually, you can often house-sit in your hometown! When Ryan and I started traveling in South America, we hadn’t heard of websites like TrustedHousesitters. Every time we moved to a new country, we spent the first week looking for a place to rent.

It was incredibly stressful, kicked us out of our routine and often the rental properties we found were in rough shape. Plus, it was hard to find a short-term rental. In Ecuador, we found one in a Facebook group. In Argentina, we had to use a realtor. And in Peru, we were looking in the printed newspaper classifieds!

After Peru, we signed up to be house-sitters and have not paid rent in over a year. We have now lived for free in Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. Through housesitting, we’re integrated into a community, made lifelong friends, have cared for over a dozen amazing cats and dogs, and have lived in well-loved homes.

Above, I mention that we spend $800 a month on our budget in Mexico. That doesn’t include rent, but the truth is, it still stands because our spending usually averages $500 a month. And it’s possible to rent a studio for $300 a month here. So, the $800 a month is accurate.

Photo credit/source: Alexandra Davis and Ryan Gleason

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