Welcome to my latest Interview Series – Finding FI
These special 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 #21
Today I have a really special guest. She’s an author, blogger, contributor, and much more! Her name is Kristy Shen and she retired when she was just 31. I love her story and message she brings to the FIRE community. And I think you’ll enjoy it too. Take it away, Kristy!
Finding FI Question #1
What’s your story?
My name is Kristy, a.k.a. FIRECracker, and I retired at the age of 31 and now travel the world. I co-founded the blog Millennial-revolution.com with my husband Bryce, and we co-wrote the book Quit Like a Millionaire that documents our journey so that anyone can follow along.
My journey started off in a medical waste heap in rural China. That’s where I grew up, and back then I lived in abject poverty. My entire family lived on the equivalent of $0.44 USD a day, and that medical waste heap is one of my earliest childhood memories digging around for toys.
If someone had told me that in my early thirties I would become a millionaire, retire, and travel the world on a permanent basis, I would have told them they were crazy, but that’s exactly what happened. And the interesting thing about my journey that’s different from other people’s is that I didn’t create the next Snapchat, or buy Amazon at $10. Everything I did to get here, anyone can do. It’s not easy, but it is reproducible. That’s what an editor at Penguin saw in us when she convinced us to write this book. It’s not easy, but if you just copy the moves we made that we describe in our book, you will become a millionaire.
Michael here – Wow, that’s incredible. $0.44 USD a day is hard to fathom, and yet it shows us perfectly the contrast of our existing abundance (it’s all relative).
Anyhow, I just listened to your Blinkist – Quit Like A Millionaire and it was a fantastic read. I especially liked the Rule of 150 to quickly determine how much house you can really afford and when it’s actually advantageous (or not!).
Finding FI Question #2
What types of routines and/or life hacks do you use?
Oh God, so many! But I think the biggest one that we discovered is the magic of travel.
When we retired, we decided to do a 1-year celebratory trip around the world. We were in the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and dozens of other countries. And at the end of the year when we arrived back home, we added up all the money we spent and were surprised to find that it costs about as much as staying in one place in a high cost North American city. When we realized that we both looked at each other and were like “Does this mean we can just travel continuously forever? So that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
Michael here – Yes, traveling is a beautiful thing. Being able to experience new cultures and food brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.
Finding FI Question #3
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 was obsessed with money. Growing up poor does that to you. When counting pennies is the difference between having enough food on the table versus starving, you become very good at counting pennies.
As a result, I was always the budgeting person in our relationship. I knew how much a pound of grapes was supposed to cost, while Bryce (who grew up middle-class) was pretty clueless. I say in the book that I had the Scarcity Mind-set, and to be honest I was quite proud of it.
That being said, while the Scarcity Mindset is super useful in helping you save money, it becomes a problem when it comes time to invest. To become Financially Independent, you have to invest your money rather than just let it sit there in a savings account, and that’s something I have a real problem with. But that’s where Bryce really saved my butt.
Because he grew up in a middle-class household, he didn’t have a Scarcity Mindset. Meaning he wasn’t paralyzed with fear. Theoretically, I knew that the stock market always goes up over time, but the gut-wrenching drops I knew I couldn’t handle. But that’s where he took over and I’m glad that he did because as a result of that from 2012 to 2015, our $500k portfolio grew to $1M (including the money we were putting into it during that time) and we retired soon afterward.
Michael here – Beautiful. I love it when a relationship enhances the lives of each partner from two different perspectives. Money is always an emotional beast!
Finding FI Question #4
Do you discuss money or financial matters with friends and family? Why, or why not?
I used to, but now I don’t. Money, I’ve discovered, is one of the most emotional topics out there, and you can absolutely lose friends (or in extreme cases, family) over money. And there’s even a cultural back-drop to this. A large part of how I was able to retire at such a young age is that I rejected homeownership in favor of renting. I’m Chinese, and in my culture, homeownership is considered the biggest sign of both success and status. When I told my Mom I was a millionaire, her response was “So what? You don’t even have a house.” That is thousands of years of Chinese culture I’m rebelling against.
But over time, I’ve found the best way to convince someone isn’t through lecturing them. It’s by living life the way you want to and being happy while doing it. Try it. Seriously, it freaks people out.
The first year, people scoffed at us. The second year, they were predicting we’d run out of money and have to come crawling back. The third year, the were mystified that we were still traveling. And the fourth year, they started asking us to look over their portfolio 🙂
Michael here – Fascinating. I agree. Living by example is the best way to share your philosophy. And if someone comes asking to do the same, the conversation is entirely different.
Finding FI Question #5
What is your household net worth? Income?
Finding FI Question #6
When did you first hear about FI/RE?
I had no idea about any of this stuff. In 2012, I was busy struggling with the decision to buy an overpriced house. But, again, this is where Bryce swooped in and saved me because at the time we had saved up a sizeable down-payment fund of $500k. He started to think “Hey, this is a lot of money. Can we do something else with this?” And that’s when he found blogs like MrMoneyMustache.com and JLCollinsNH.com.
From there, he learned about FIRE. And from there, he figured out the math. And from there he realized that we could either take our $500k, buy an overpriced house, and spend the next 25 years trying to pay off the mortgage, or we could potentially be retired in 3 years. It was a no-brainer.
Michael here – Haha, I had no clue about “FIRE” either! Who would have thought there’d be a whole movement around this?
Finding FI Question #7
Why does FI or FIRE appeal to you?
Three words: Freedom, Freedom, Freedom. I grew up in a totalitarian government. The idea of individual freedom doesn’t exist in China. A Chinese person’s role in life is not to do what makes them happy, it’s to do what the government tells you. The idea that by becoming FI using skills I honed living in poverty that means I could one day do whatever I wanted every day was the most intoxicating, sexiest idea ever.
FIRE = Freedom. If there’s one message I can get out on this article, that’s it.
Michael here – I went ahead and bolded that one for you. 😉
Finding FI Question #8
What does RE (retirement early) look like to you?
Michael here – That’s gotta be a bizarre and great feeling when meeting random people all over the world!
Finding FI Question #9
What are your favorite FI or FIRE websites, podcasts, blogs, etc.?
Finding FI Question #10
Do you actively speak with others about FI / FIRE?
Michael here – I’ve heard about those retreats and should definitely check it out one day. I love the work that Jonathan and Brad are doing at ChooseFI.
Thanks again for participating. Congrats on the book success!!
Readers, what is your favorite takeaway from Kristy’s story?