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Thursday, 31 October 2019

Meet The Woman Who Got Herself FIRE'd At 42

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Alice out of chains. 
One of the best things about this blog are the interactions I have with some of the like-minded readers. A perfect example of this is Annamarie, who recently got in touch with me saying that she had managed to achieve financial independence at the age of 42 (that seems like the perfect age to find the answer to life, the universe and everything else right?)

I often hear from people who are on their FIRE journey (totally awesome), but it is not too often that I come across someone who has actually achieved FIRE, and who is now living the dream.

So after Annamarie got in touch, I was very keen to find out if she would be willing to answer some questions for me to put into a blog post while the information was still fresh in her mind (she FIRE’d around 6 months ago).

Fortunately she agreed, and I hope you find the interview inspiring, educational and motivating!

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1. Maybe let's start with a bit of an an introduction. Where are you from, your schooling, what was your upbringing like?

I grew up in Pretoria in a strict Afrikaans home. I attended a Model C High School in an average suburban neighbourhood.

2. And after school, what did you end up doing? Maybe talk us through your (short) working career? 

I completed a degree and a honours degree in Marketing at the University of Pretoria. After finishing my studies, I battled to find work (old story - you have the qualification, but no experience). So I sold tekkies in Menlyn and did food demo work at Woolies (R10 per hour). 

Eventually I found a job at Project Management Company in Sunninghill, but they closed the department I was in 6-months later, and I was retrenched. In hindsight this made me even more paranoid about saving for uncertain times. It took me almost 12 months to find permanent employment at a payroll company in Pretoria. But I just couldn't see myself doing "salary take-ons" and "payroll recons" and so I left after the 4-month induction period was over. 

I then found work at KFC. While I was there, I saw an opportunity to consult to the KFC franchise system and so I left 3 years later to open my own company at 27. I ran the company for 15 years with the plan to save absolutely everything, so I could ultimately FIRE in my early forties.

3. Why FIRE? What got you started? Was there a distinct turning point where a switch flipped and you knew you didn't want to go down the same road everybody else was going? Or was it more like a number of events that made you realise you wanted to do the FIRE thing?

My parents were extremely frugal and my dad was very financially savvy. If I have to pinpoint a turning point I'd say it was when he gave me a "Spaar Spokkel" from Volkskas Bank (probably at age 6). It was an A3 size printed placard with slots for R1, 50c, 20c and 10c. Once completed you had a full R50! 

I absolutely loved the feeling of collecting money. I guess I was a little bit like those kids in the Sanlam ad who collected the marshmallows. I'm capable of postponing gratification for a VERY long time to ultimately achieve a bigger goal. I also realised from an early age that being financially independent equals freedom.

4. Where did you learn about personal finance/investing? Was there an influential family member, a book, or was it more a case of Google is your friend? 

I have my dad to thank for that. He taught us about compound interest, budgets and debt from a very young age. He always spoke about money and the economy (even at Sunday lunch). He'd give me books about personal finance and encouraged me to start saving for retirement in high school already. It was only after school that I realised not everyone was as financially obsessed as my family. 

I also read everything I could find on money: blogs, books, documentaries on Netflix, Moneyweb, The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield etc.

5. Money and relationships – sometimes a toxic mix! Was your partner on board from the start, or did it take some convincing? Any tips for someone who wants to try get their significant other on board the FIRE ship?

Yes, luckily we share the same values and ethics, so it's easier to work towards a common goal. To get a partner on board I'd recommend that he/she reads Scott Rieckens' book "Playing with FIRE" and watches "The Minimalist" on Netflix. It will make you realise how valuable our time is on this planet and how we waste so much of our money and energy chasing materialistic things to impress others.

6. How did you figure out how much you would need?

When I started I didn't have a total in mind. At that stage I just wanted to save as much money as possible so I could one day live financially free. It was only later that I stumbled on articles about the FIRE movement and the 4% withdrawal rate.

7. And what did you invest in? 

I started off with a simple money market account and monthly annuity. I've since cancelled the annuity as I believe that the monthly premium can work much harder for me in another investment vehicle. I also invested money in stocks and unit trusts just after the markets crashed at the end of 2008. This netted massive growth for the 6 years following the crash (although growth over the last 5 years has been relatively subdued). I managed to counter this subdued growth by investing some of my cash in higher interest rate bearing accounts.

8. Any mistakes or regrets along the way? Anything you maybe would have done differently?

Yep - I would have avoided investing in a Retirement Annuity. Even though you get a substantial tax break, you're just postponing the tax burden till later. You also need to re-invest the tax saving portion to make up for it's lower growth. And don't get me started on the massive commission that your financial adviser earns upfront on this. In these uncertain times no one can be tied into a contract for 25 - 30 years. We also have no idea what our government has planned going forward for pension funds and annuities.

9. What did you struggle with the most on your journey?

Taking the path less travelled. I read a great saying the other day: "Live like no one else, so you can one day live like no one else". We definitely lost a few friends along the way who thought we're just plain stingy or had no sense of adventure. All our friends were staying in big houses and spending money on overseas trips, designer watches and fancy cars. You need to keep on reminding yourself why you're doing this otherwise its very easy to fall into the debt trap like everybody else.

10. Would you say you made a lot of sacrifices to achieve financial freedom at such a young age?

Yes I've sacrificed a lot to get to where I am today. Since I was young I've saved almost all of my pocket money, birthday money, Christmas money and over my working career ALL the tax refunds from SARS (no matter how small). I also saved R5 coins and would swap R10 and R20 notes for coins to save. 

I rarely used my December bonus money and even saved my "leave pay" when I left KFC. I definitely missed out on my youth. Most of my friends would go to Margate for the weekend, attend concerts and buy new cars. I stayed at home and drove a 1972 Beetle.

11. What was it like on your last day of work? What did your colleagues say? What sort of emotions did you experience?

It was extremely emotional - although I didn't give them the full reason for leaving.

12. And what was your first day of financial freedom like? Did you do anything special? 

It was truly amazing! I drove to Brooklyn Mall, ate breakfast at Tashas, and then bought a book (financial of course) from Exclusive Books. I spent the rest of the day reading and sipping Cappuccino's at Seattle Coffee.

13. The readers of the blog know full well that there is no financial advice here - but what are you currently invested in?

A significant chunk of my money is invested with Coronation (obviously in a number of different funds). I have also invested in a low cost ETF (Satrix). I have some money in a 48 hour notice account for emergencies. 

I personally don't believe in real estate investment in South Africa (the law is not on the landlord's side and I don't want to deal with tenants or pay monthly commission to an agent). We own just one house that is paid off (on which we'll hopefully pay very little capital gains tax one day). We plan to sell it in 12 - 15 years so we can downgrade to a smaller house. We'll use the rest of the money from the sale to supplement our retirement.

14. If someone wanted to start on their own FIRE journey, what should they do first?

Get out of debt (in particular high interest personal loans and credit cards). Start with the smallest debt and work your way up to the bigger ones.

15. What expenses do you think someone pursuing FIRE should focus on?

House, Car, Insurance (Medical Aid, Life Insurance, Car and House Insurance). We order pre-cooked meals online and have saved a ton of money!! The budget is the same every week and it prevents you from popping into Woolies after work. Bank Charges and monthly subscriptions.

16. What are your top personal finance tips for someone who wants to pursue FIRE?
  1. Focus on paying off your bond as soon as possible (every bit helps, even R500 extra per month can end up saving you thousands in interest over the full term.)
  2. Avoid buying a car with a balloon payment and avoid credit cards.
  3. If you can't afford it - don't buy it. 
  4. Run your own race (forget about the Jones's - they're living a lie).
  5. Live more deliberately - don't just buy stuff for the sake of buying it (think about how many hours you had to work to pay for it). 
  6. Buy a second hand car. Pay it off. Then drive it as long as possible. My car is 12 years old. I paid it off in 5 years and decided to invest the monthly instalment for the next 7 years. This amounted to ±R840 000 saving compared to if I had bought a new car for R10 000 pm over 7 years (not taking into consideration the increase in insurance premiums). 
  7. Read the book "Playing with FIRE" by Scott Rieckens - it will change your life!!!
17. Where have you ended up retiring? Any plans to change location?

We built our dream house 4 years ago just outside Pretoria, so for now this is my base. Long term I'd like to settle in a small house in a small town like Riebeeck Kasteel or Paarl.

18. Now that you are financially free, what does a typical week day look like for you? And a typical weekend day?

I'm currently busy with gardening, paintwork and general maintenance at the house. This takes up most of my days. I get to fix little things that bothered us when we first moved in, but never got round doing.

19. What do you spend too much money on?

Travel (but seeing that we didn't do much of that when we were younger I don't feel that guilty about it).

20. Looking a little bit ahead, what are your plans for the next 1-3 years?

Volunteer work (environmental) and helping educate people in becoming more financially savvy.

21. And for the next 5-10 years?

Mmmmmmm, to be honest I don't know. I actually prefer not to think that far ahead any more :o)

22. And finally – were the years of focus and discipline worth it?

Most definitely!!!! 

The feeling of being financially free is indescribable. It’s the biggest gift anyone could give themselves.

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Many thanks to Annamarie for sharing her incredible story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together!





Till next time, Stay Stealthy!
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