A few years ago, I achieved FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) at 33 years old. My goal wasn’t to stop working altogether. Rather, it was to have the freedom to do the things I wanted — like travel for six months out of the year — and pursue passions instead of worrying about how I could pay the bills.
You may think I had a huge salary, but that wasn’t the case. Neither I nor my wife earned six figures at our day jobs — but we didn’t reach FIRE on our salaries alone.
I did three simple things — earned more, spent less, and saved more.
Want to know how you can FIRE, too? Here are the three steps I took in more detail.
1. Earn more
Thanks to a treasure trove of side hustles — you name it, I’ve probably tried it — I was able to earn a lot more money and put it into savings, real estate, and investments, helping me reach FIRE. Believe me, I’ve been involved in lots of side hustles. Some of them included being a mystery shopper, participating in focus groups, and reselling items.
Buying and reselling items helped me earn a ton of money — I bought things from garage or estate sales as well as new items if I found them at a deep discount (often using coupons). Items I’ve sold include electronics, gift cards, wooden furniture, and even daily essentials like toilet paper and shampoo.
At times, I also took second and third jobs. I did everything from working odd jobs as a handyman, dealing cards for a local event company, and even social media consulting.
Earning more doesn’t have to be hard, either — my easiest gigs were focus groups where I made up to $125 an hour. Plus, I typically was given free stuff.
To find different types of side hustles, join communities online or do a quick online search to see what’s available in your area. You’d be surprised at how much money there is to be made with side gigs.
2. Spend less
I have a confession to make: I was really bad with money in my early twenties. Like, the perfect example of what not to do. I bought anything and everything I wanted with no regard for my budget. I ended up broke and $25,000 in debt when I was 22 years old.
Thanks to my now-wife, who gave me an ultimatum — figure out my financial situation or she’d break up with me — I became debt-free. How? I sold my cars (yes, I owned multiple vehicles) and stopped buying stuff I didn’t need, which included an expensive cell phone plan, cable, clothes, meals out at restaurants, and even haircuts.
Getting out of debt can help you funnel your money into savings and investments, which is what I did. Being responsible with money is necessary if you want to FIRE. Take a careful look at your expenses and see where you can cut back. Be honest — are the things you’re spending on really necessary?
Taking advantage of credit cards is another way to save money. When I was buying and reselling items, I used rewards credit cards to rack up points. The points and miles I earned were used for travel — most recently, I cashed them in to buy a rental property.
We built up our rewards points from different credit cards by earning sign-up bonuses, using cards for everyday spending, and getting referral bonuses. I also stacked my rewards-earning potential by using shopping portals and cashback apps to earn even more points and miles. We then redeemed our points for checks (aka cold, hard cash), which we used toward the down payment of a rental property.
There is so much opportunity to earn rewards points and miles using credit cards. It depends on the card, but you can score free travel, merchandise, gift cards, or cash back, like we did.
I will say, be responsible with how you use credit cards. Only spend what you have and never carry a balance — or else you’ll negate all the rewards you earn.
3. Save more
Saving is an important component to FIRE, but it’s not enough to stash money away in any ol’ account. For long-term savings, I chose a brokerage account that offers low fees, a solid track record, and many options.
If you have a 401(k) through your workplace and your employer offers to match a certain percentage of your contributions, don’t leave free money on the table. Contribute as much as you can to your 401(k) account, at least up to the point of your employer’s match. Start with a small percentage of your paycheck if you have to and work toward increasing that amount.
For short-term savings, consider using high-yield savings accounts. Many online banks offer high rates that can help you earn a decent return and still provide the liquidity you need, like for an emergency fund or when you’re saving for a large purchase. Many of these accounts don’t charge monthly fees like big banks, so you can save even more.
Wherever you choose to park your money, automating your savings ensures that you’re setting aside money each month toward your goals. You can easily do this by setting up a recurring transfer to your savings account that automatically happens on your paydays. You can increase the amount you save over time, which can help you reach FIRE faster.
I don’t blame you if you think reaching FIRE means you need to have a high salary to succeed. But you now know that’s not the case. With some careful planning, hard work, and shifts in your budget, you can get closer to having the freedom you crave without worrying about how you’ll pay the bills.
Author Bio: Brandon Neth is a credit card and reward travel expert. He runs social media and audience growth for FinanceBuzz, including the FBZ Elite Facebook travel group. He’s spent the last 11 years using credit card points and miles to travel the world, taking him to 600 cities in 76 countries and counting. Through side hustling and starting small businesses, maintaining a frugal lifestyle, and careful budgeting, Brandon achieved leanFIRE at age 33 and is on his way toward fatFIRE. Brandon also owns real estate investment properties, most recently purchased with the help of credit card points.
The information is provided for discussion purposes only and should not be considered as advice for your investments. Investing involves risk. Your investments are subject to loss of principal and are not guaranteed. Investors should consider their ability to continue investing through periods of fluctuating market conditions. Please consult an investment advisor before you invest.