Finding FI Interview #17: How Brandon Defied the Odds & FIRE’d at 33

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Finding FI - Brandon Neth

Welcome to my latest Interview Series – Finding FI

These interviews will highlight individuals focused on achieving financial independence and the strategies they are using.  Everyone is at different stages of their FI / FIRE (financial independence, retire early) journey, so let’s learn from their personal stories and be inspired.

It’s a great day to become FInancially Alert!

Finding FI Interview #17

Today’s special guest is Brandon Neth.  He FIRE’d when he was just 33 years old and has certainly defied the odds in comparison to others with similar backgrounds.  He has a fascinating story you won’t want to miss, so I’ll let you get to it. 

Take it away, Brandon…

Finding FI Question #1

What’s your story?

Finding FI

My name is Brandon Neth. I’m married and recently moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, with my wife and our weiner dog, though we spend at least half of the year traveling.

I’m the Audience Growth Manager at FinanceBuzz, where I get to work around two of my passions everyday – travel and finance.

I graduated from college in 2006 and entered corporate America for 2+ years. Like many others at the time, my wife and I both experienced layoffs within one month of each other. That’s when my wife convinced me to move to Thailand. Within a month, we had sold most of our belongings and landed in Thailand. There, I learned about the value of points and miles versus cashback credit cards. I also met travelers who were renting out their houses back home and using that income to travel. Both of these lessons would soon become a huge part of my life.

We spent the next few years traveling through Asia and Australia while running a small business. By traveling frugally and saving our profits, we were able to invest wisely and get into real estate upon our arrival back to the U.S. We bought our first condo in 2014. Between the rental income and managing a few small businesses back at home, we were able to achieve FIRE in 2015 when I was 33 years old (and my wife, 32).

Michael here – I just visited Thailand for the first time last year.  What a beautiful country! That’s so cool that you were able to travel and run a small business simultaneously.  Congrats on hitting FIRE at such a young age.      

Finding FI Question #2

Describe your past relationship with money. How has it evolved into your present views today? How do you want it to change in the future?

I come from a very humble background — one that brought me through social services, foster care, and living in a car with my mom for a period of time. I didn’t understand money, and I learned no financial literacy in school.

Then, at 18 years old, I received an unexpected inheritance of $100k+. I managed to blow threw it – and up in debt – within 4 years. There were two things I did right, though: I made sure my credit was good and I got a college degree.

About one year post-graduation, my now-wife looked me in the eye and said, “If we’re going to stay together, you have to get it together. Quit overspending, get out of debt and learn how to save.” That was my wake up moment.

My wife says she created a monster following that conversation because now I’m extremely frugal. I drive a 1995 Toyota Corolla, my clothes are mostly secondhand or bought on sale and with coupons, and I focus on saving and investing properly rather than having stuff. It’s made me a minimalist. I can live with less, and experience more. This is why we spend so much time traveling – and even when we do that, we’re using credit card points!

Michael here – That’s neat how your back story serves you today. I commend you for working your way up through the system and “figuring it out” so to speak.  I certainly respect the minimalist lifestyle, though I must admit I’m nowhere near that.   

Finding FI Question #3

Who taught or influenced you about money when you were growing up? What was the impact?

Because of my upbringing, I didn’t have anyone teaching me about money when I was growing up. My parents worked hard, typically 10-15 hour days, 7 days a week. We could just never get ahead. When they did have money, we’d go out and spend it.

I realize now that they did influence me, it just wasn’t in the form of good money habits. I attribute my work ethic to my parents!

Michael here – Wow.  10 – 15 hour days x 7 days is intense!  Good for you for keeping the strong work ethic, and breaking out of the bad money habits.   

Finding FI Question #4

Do you discuss money or financial matters with friends and family? Why, or why not?

Growing up, we always talked about money, but mostly about the fact that we were struggling. I was 11 years old and knew we couldn’t pay the rent, so I would hustle. I bought baseball cards and sold them for profit, caught frogs and sold them to classmates. I still have this same drive and I think it’s allowed me to get where I am today.

My parents, friends and most people around me know my net worth. Everyone knows how passionate I am about FIRE, points/miles and real estate. I talk about it nonstop, and I’m a living example of the importance of financial literacy. If you learn the right thing to do, you can completely change who you are.

The more people I talk with, the more I’m able to help others, and the more I learn. While I do love sharing my knowledge, I also make sure to listen to what others have to say as well. We can all level-up our financial lives together.

Michael here – That’s great, Brandon.  I love that you’re willing to talk with anyone and be an example of possibility for others.   



Finding FI Question #5

How far along are you with your FI or FIRE (financial independence, retire early) journey?

I achieved leanFIRE at 33 years old (2015), and I hope to fatFIRE by 40.

Multiple income streams is crucial. I’ve gotten here by a combination of income from my full-time job, real estate properties (which we recently used credit card points for), small business income and investments.

Michael here – Love it.  Multiple streams is key!   

Finding FI Question #6

When did you first hear about FI/RE?

When I started getting my financial life in order, I spent a lot of time on personal finance websites and blogs.

Mr. Money Mustache really hit home with me. For the first time, financial freedom seemed obtainable to me, even probable. It was more than wanting to do it, I knew I could. It led me to make small changes that made a huge impact.

Michael here – It’s incredible to think about just how many people Pete (MMM) has impacted.   

Finding FI Question #7

What does RE (retirement early) look like to you?

I think there’s a big misconception about retiring early among people who aren’t FIRE.

It’s important to understand that many people who reach a place to retire early don’t actually stop working. And we certainly don’t sit around collecting social security. We just have the flexibility to change what we do and how we do it because money is no longer the driving force.

For me personally, it’s allowed me to pursue my passions of travel, finance and real estate.

Michael here – Well said, Brandon! I’m right there with you.  Although I don’t need to work technically, work keeps me growing and providing value for others.   

Finding FI Question #8

What type of FIRE are you pursuing (i.e. leanFIRE, FIRE, fatFIRE)?
I am currently leanFIRE, and thanks to my frugal lifestyle that means I’m living on $2,500/month of passive income. It’s my goal to reach fatFIRE by age 40, which would be $12,500/month of passive income. If I reach this point, it would equate to more than double any salary I’ve earned. You don’t have to be a high-earner to FIRE!

Michael here – Yes!  You don’t need a lot to FIRE if you’re willing to live a below you means at any income level.

I’m targeting fatFIRE myself, though I’m trying to reach it when I’m 50.   

Finding FI Question #9

Do you believe sacrifice is necessary in order to achieve FI? Why, or Why not?

In my opinion, there’s two ways to achieve FIRE: make more money, or spend less money and save. I went with the latter.

I had to give up a lot when I started pursuing FIRE. I owned a nice car, expensive electronics, a lot of clothes and I ate out whenever I wanted. I was also in debt and had next-to-nothing saved. Sacrifice was crucial, and it taught me the difference between necessity and want. I made a complete lifestyle change, and even if I reach fatFIRE I’ll continue living frugally. I’ve gained so much more!

Michael here – Fascinating insight. I’ve always focused more on the income side, but it’s interesting to see your perspective here.   

Finding FI Question #10

Is a side hustle a key component of your FI / FIRE journey? (i.e. second job, side biz, real estate investing, etc.)?

Absolutely. In pursuit of FIRE, there was a time I was working two full-time jobs and a part-time job, averaging about 100 hours per week. I had a goal in mind and was committed to reaching it. I credit it back to my parents and my upbringing. Knowing how to work hard was a key component to achieving FIRE.

Frugality also played a huge part in reaching FIRE, along with real estate investment properties, small businesses and a full-time job.

Michael here – HUSTLE.  Do now what others won’t so you can live a life that others can’t.   

Readers, what is your favorite takeaway from Brandon’s story?

Michael Quan
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