A common concern for single-income earners is whether achieving FIRE is a feasible option for them or not. It definitely adds to the challenge a bit more but coming from a single-earner family myself, I can vouch that it is possible and not way more difficult than two income earners.
Let’s first divide FIRE to FI and RE. I am not going to talk much about RE as that is a factor of a lot more things than just FI. Independence is more of a technical factor but the retirement part is more of a personal factor.
The key to achieving FI on a single income can be summed up with the following factors.
- Get your spouse on board. – It is imperative in all scenarios to have your spouse on board with the FIRE plan but in the case of a single income, it becomes way more critical. Now, the good part is that spouses, in this case, are easier to convince to be onboard compared to two-income households. This is because a working spouse may not care as much about you being able to stay at home but a spouse that is at home would really love having you around.
- Determine a realistic retirement age – This is another important consideration to have an achievable goal in mind. Everyone has a different ideal retirement age. For some, a 10 year earlier retirement is enough whereas some may want to retire 20 years earlier than the full retirement. Start off with the calculations to see where exactly your expenses and income come up to give you financial independence. Most experts suggest 25 times annual expenses as an ideal sum to retire but I would recommend going a bit more conservative. The rule that I try to follow is to add 5 years of expenses more for every 10 years of early retirement. I.e. if retiring at 65, 25 times the annual expenses are enough and you want to retire at 55, you may want to save 30 times the annual expenses. Trying to retire at 45 means you should have 35 times the annual expenses invested away to be able to live without concerns in the later part of life. It is definitely better to be on the conservative side, even if it requires you to work for a year or so more. That one extra year of slogging may save you a few years of sleepless nights in the later part of your life.
- Increase your income and reduce expenses – It is the most obvious recommendation of the lot but sometimes the most misunderstood one too. A lot of people try to increase their incomes by working more but generally reducing expenses goes twice as much towards FI than a higher income. Every expense reduced reduces the amount you need to save and increases the amount that you are saving. The best place to look at reducing expenses is to look at the following:
- Frivolous expenses – Changing the habits slightly can reduce expenses hugely. For example, packing your own lunch to the office instead of buying outside should save about $1500 a year. This could be one of the commitments you can get to work with your at-home spouse. At the end of the day, money saved is money earned. Another area to look at would be eating out. Again a slight change of habit e.g. doing a potluck with friends compared to eating out would easily save a hundred dollars for a family, not to mention would be healthier.
- Repetitive Expenses – Reducing any repetitive expense goes a long way as just a one-time effort helps in a long-term cost reduction. E.g. getting rid of cable and instead, having Netflix or Hulu would easily save $60-80 a month. There are hidden benefits of doing so as well in terms of watching lesser ads and thereby splurging less. Other expenses that occur just because of inertia can also be looked at. e.g. do you really need a landline telephone? Similarly, most cellphone providers have a good enough service in cities and suburbs. Try to move to a cell provider that offers a lower price point than the current provider. For that matter, why not switch to a pre-paid provider or a provider like Google Fi. Even changing habits slightly like using Wi-Fi at home may help you to switch to a lower data plan. Similarly, if you switch your car insurance provider, it may save you.
- Healthcare Plans – If you are in decent health, switching to an HSA plan would help you save a few thousand dollars each year. I have written about HSA before here. In-fact, I checked the HSA plan offered by my company, and it was cheaper for a family of 3 or more to go with an HSA plan vs a medical plan for every scenario. Even if you are not in your best health, it works cheaper net to go with HSA than a medical plan. And this wasn’t even taking into account the tax and Social Security Tax benefits of the HSA plan. The cherry on the top by HSA is that it allows you to do a triple tax-advantaged investment and for anyone looking for FI, it is the holy grail of investments.
- Invest Early – The best time to invest was mid of 2009. The second best time to invest is today. Start investing right away to be able to give investments time to grow. The key consideration here is investing and not speculating. Purchasing a share of a company anticipating it will go up is speculating. Investing is purchasing the whole asset class so that you can achieve market performance. Also, every month you wait to invest means you delay your retirement by at least a month.
- Plan Taxes Better – Taxes, the more these can be avoided, the better it is for retirement in the later part of life. There are several techniques to plan these better, esp. using the Roth IRA and its backdoors and Mega Backdoors. Once money lands in a Roth IRA account, it is away from the net of taxes
- Have a Family Emergency Binder – In situations of a single income, generally, the interest in investing and planning also lies with one individual. It also means that a lot of work can go down the drain in case of emergency, lack of knowledge, and poor decision-making. Ensure that an emergency binder is created and is available to the spouse with details of where the money is and how to access it in case of a need.
If needed, contact a financial advisor (ideally an hourly charged fiduciary) and talk to them about your plans. They may be able to help offer some ideas and strategies for you to reach your goal. Early retirement is possible and a lot of individuals are able to achieve it.