If you ask Francis what is the best way to retire early, his answer is simple: don’t.
For years, the 42-year-old struggled to achieve FIRE, which stands for ‘financial independence, early retirement’. But in reality, a life without work isn’t really what most people want, he says. It’s a lesson he discovered himself after retiring at 37 in 2017.
“I think suing FIRE is probably a bad idea,” Francis, who asked that his last name be withheld for privacy reasons, told CNBC Make It. “I don’t think most people want to retire early. I think what most people want is some sort of sabbatical. They’re unhappy with their careers and they want to take a very, very long leave. Maybe a year or two.”
This same dissatisfaction caused him to quit his job as an electrical engineer where he earned a base salary of $120,000 plus $30,000 to $60,000 in stock and bonuses. But Francis describes life without work as “really boring”. In his case, he decided to devote himself full time to his YouTube hobby and now earns money by making videos for his 350,000 subscribers.
Francis quit his job in 2017 with $1.2 million in savings and investments. He first heard of FIRE in 2013 and decided to devote himself to directing it. His strategy for retiring early boiled down to one main factor: spending as little money as possible.
The first step was to pay off the mortgage on his house, which cost $22,000 a year. As he tackled this, he was also trying to cut spending wherever he could.
“I jumped through a lot of hoops in order to save money and keep my expenses as low as possible,” Francis says. His cost-cutting measures ranged from not paying for any streaming service to making sure he used every food in his fridge to even a short stint without a cellphone.
Going without a phone “didn’t turn out to work very well, but I think it’s important to push a little too hard, to be a little too uncomfortable,” he says. Eventually, with his house paid for, Francis was able to reduce his annual expenses to less than $15,000.
His experience in electrical engineering has also helped him reduce household expenses. He installed his own water heater and repaired his garage door in the event of a power outage. He has also built a solar panel system in his garden which provides a small amount of electricity for free.
“I never call a handyman because I’m the handyman,” Francis says. “All my devices are really, really old because they never break. If they break, I fix them and they’re like new.”
Francis is also a master at collecting credit card points. He uses a process known as churning, which involves switching between credit cards to maximize points, and has over 20 active credit cards at any one time.
“To churn these credit cards, you have to have a really high credit score,” he says, adding that his own score is 835. “A lot of people think that’s a problem, but for me personally, it gives me a lot of value.”
After two years of early retirement, during which he enjoyed his free time and made it a point to travel, Francis found himself facing the boredom he warns most people would experience if they left their jobs at a young age. His solution? Get back to work.
In 2019, Francis started doubling down on his YouTube channel and posting videos regularly. He originally started the channel in 2013, posting videos ranging from how to make imitation shark fin soup to strategies for beating the popular game “2048”.
He turned to financial topics, teaching viewers about credit scores and investing. As his views started to climb, so did his income. Although his workload fluctuates depending on his mood – some weeks he works almost full time while others he only works eight hours – he has amassed more than 350,000 followers.
In its best months, it brings in nearly $10,000 in YouTube revenue. He still keeps his same annual budget of $15,000 and uses the income to pay for his living expenses. The rest goes into his investment accounts.
It’s a project that brings him more joy than his old 9-to-5, and one he plans to stick to for years to come.
“Now I don’t call myself ‘retired’ anymore because I devote my full-time efforts to YouTube,” says Francis. “I would love to put a lot more work into it and develop it…I think it’s a work in progress.”
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