How to retire in 15 years, from a couple who retired in their 40s
- Kiersten and Julien Saunders retired in their 40s.
- Now they are teaching the black community how to do the same.
- Their 15-year plan outlines how to “coast” a cycle of burnout and live according to your values.
Because Kiersten and Julien Saunders met in 2012 while working for the same company, work has always been a “third wheel” in their relationship.
After getting married, they even postponed their honeymoon to make way for their business travel plans. When they finally took this honeymoon, they found themselves compulsively checking their work emails on their phones. Seeing how their corporate jobs were affecting their relationship, the Saunders decided they needed a drastic change.
In their new book, “Cash Out: Win the Wealth Game by Walking Away,” the Saunders write that one of the reasons they wanted to retire early was to ensure a long, happy, and healthy marriage.
They write, “Building wealth was also a way to protect our marriage by isolating it from the primary cause of divorce (money) and giving us ample opportunity to nurture our love without distraction.”
Here’s their 15-year plan to quit their jobs at the company for good, which they shared in a chapter of the book called “The Fifteen-Year Career.”
Years 1 to 5: Repay the debt
The first five years of the journey to financial independence are all about creating discipline and a solid financial foundation, writing. The Saunders used the snowball and avalanche debt repayment methods to pay off more than $200,000 in debt between 2013 and 2018, according to records reviewed by Insider.
“We were obsessed with paying off debt and building wealth, having fully immersed ourselves in the personal finance community by browsing through books, podcasts, documentaries, articles and blogs,” they write. They continued to modestly celebrate milestones along the way to help them maintain a minimum standard of living to pay off their debts.
The Saunders have also used this time to redefine their idea of wealth, shifting from a mindset of excess and pomp to simply enjoying what they already have. “Most of the wealthy people we know live remarkably predictable lives,” the couple add.
Grades 6 to 10: Create income streams outside of your 9 to 5
At first, when the Saunders were considering how to increase their income, they fantasized about higher salary ranges in other corporate jobs. After paying off $200,000 in debt, the allure of earning an extra $30,000 a year for a job that might add more stress to their lives just wasn’t as strong.
Instead, the couple spent years creating passive income streams. They maximized their contributions to the retirement account. They invested in rental properties. They fired their financial adviser and began managing their own investments independently, putting most of their money in index funds.
Eventually, the Saunders realized they were passionate about sharing financial freedom tools with the black community. They started hosting events, traveling the country to meet more people, and writing blog posts. Soon they began to generate a modest income from their creative activities.
Grades 11-15: Decoupling Your Full-Time Job
At this point, the Saunders say habits like maximizing your 401(k), IRA, and HSA contributions should feel like “muscle memory.” Cultivating these habits will completely change your relationship to work, they write. You might even find that you have favorite ways to earn money that are much more enjoyable than what you do full time.
Without a clear vision of what you really want to do with your time and energy after early retirement, it’s hard to know when to leave. You can ask, Is there a specific number I should have in my retirement account? But the Saunders say there’s no right or wrong answer.
They write, “In our case, we quit a job after having two cash-flow-positive rental properties, paying off a mortgage, and living for years with half our household income under our belt.”
They add, “Your title will not be on your headstone. In your later years, you will need to begin the process of dissociating who you are from what you do.”