Fourteen years ago this month, The Motley Fool published the very first issue of Rule Your Retirement, a newsletter advised even then by Robert Brokamp.
In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, his "What's Up, Bro?" segment harks back to the second issue of that newsletter, in which he profiled Billy and Akaisha Kaderli, a couple who had retired in 1991 when they were just 38. In the years since, he's checked back in on them many times, and they have had the sort of happy and secure lives that many people with early retirement goals are dreaming about. So, Bro and Alison Southwick take a trip down memory lane and reveal what the Kaderlis consider the most important strategies for their success.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on July 3, 2018.
Alison Southwick: So, Bro, what's up?
Robert Brokamp: Well, Alison, this month marks an anniversary. 14 years ago The Motley Fool published the first issue of Rule Your Retirement.
Southwick: Are you serious?
Brokamp: Yes! With yours truly as the advisor. And as so often happens with first issues, it was followed by a second issue. And in that issue, I profiled Billy and Akaisha Kaderli, a couple with a pretty extraordinary story. After careers in the restaurant and financial services industries, they retired in 1991 at the age of 38.
And their story generated a lot of interest in Rule Your Retirement. People wanted to know how to retire that early and how they were faring, so every few years I get in contact with them and get an update to see how things are going and I did that just this week. So how were they able to retire so young and how are they doing now at the age of 65? There are seven lessons from their story.
No. 1 is determine how much you really need. Right before they retired, they figured that they could live on $20,000 a year. This is 1991, so adjusting for inflation that's $39,000 today.
Southwick: Still not a ton of money.
Brokamp: No, not a ton of money. What they figured out was that once you cut out the costs of home ownership, car ownership, work-related expenses and the high taxes associated with their careers, you could get by on a lot less. At that point [this is 1991, again] they had saved almost $500,000, so $20,000 would be a 4% withdrawal rate. They figured out they could make that work. And by the way, this is a few years before the 4% safe withdrawal rate became a thing, so they figured out on their own that that was a good withdrawal rate.
One thing they told me was that they constantly recommend going into retirement with zero debt. No mortgage, no car loan, and no credit card debt period.
No. 2 is live around the world. How could they live such a relatively low-cost lifestyle? They do what they have called a nomadic lifestyle living in low-cost parts of the world. They're either renting furnished apartments or staying in hotels, but this does not mean living in boring parts of the world.
Their first retirement destination was Nevis, a gorgeous island in the Caribbean. Here are some of the other places that they've lived either longer term or just visited: Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Vietnam, China, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Panama, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Ecuador.
And they love this. They love moving all over the world. They really enjoy immersing themselves in the cultures of the places they visit, so in a small town in Mexico they taught English. They built tennis courts. They imported a basketball scoreboard. In Thailand they took cooking and massage classes. In Venezuela they ate giant black ants... which is apparently a local delicacy. And they've been doing this on $30,000 a year or less ever since they retired. Even in this past year. And despite all that, their net worth has grown since 1991 even adjusted for inflation.
No. 3 is track everything. So every morning when Billy wakes up, he fires up his spreadsheets, tallies their daily expenses, and calculates it as a percentage of their net worth. He also manages their spending weekly, monthly, and annually.
As he told me in an interview a few years ago, if you do this for 30 days it can change your life. Also that feeling of being in complete control of your finances is a real boost to your self-confidence. That fact, alone, is motivational.
He told me that it's been important for them to have all this information so when the market goes down or if their costs are a little higher than expected, they have it all planned out and they know how their spending will change. If for some reason expenses go up or they decide to stay in a higher-cost space like Australia, they just then decide to go live in a lower-cost place like Vietnam or Cambodia. They adjust their expenses that way.
No. 4 is start early to retire early. They had saved $500,000 by the time they were 38. That would be pretty amazing today and it was even more extraordinary back then. They were able to do it because they owned a restaurant that they started and then they sold it. And Billy was also a manager at a brokerage firm. They obviously accumulated a good amount of money, but still when I ask them if there is anything they would have done differently, they said they would have started earlier. They also said they wouldn't have bought a house, like they did early, because houses delayed the amount of time for them to be able to retire. Their lesson is constantly regardless of your age, just start saving now.
No. 5 is let the stock market replace your paycheck. The S&P 500 closed at 312 when they retired. Today it's around 2,700 and of course that doesn't count for dividends. So during their retirement they endured the two bear markets, the dot-com crash, and the Great Recession, but their portfolio still returned about 10% a year and they've been heavily invested in the stock market throughout. Now that they're 65, they've pared back their risk a little bit and he says right now they're about 50% stocks and 50% cash and bonds.
No. 6 is get comfortable with international healthcare. They said this is one of the questions they get the most. How do you handle healthcare if you're living outside the United States? Basically they say the healthcare outside the United States in many places is just as good if not better. Especially in Mexico and Thailand, many of the doctors are trained in the United States and it's much more affordable.
They've been through all kinds of experiences, including one situation where Akaisha almost lost her finger in an accident [I think it was in Guatemala], but they received perfectly fine medical care. And what they do when they travel the United States is they buy catastrophic insurance just because they don't want to be uninsured in the United States and also now that they're 65 they have Medicare. But it's important to know that you can only use Medicare when you're in the United States, so if they ever need Medicare, they just come back to the United States and use it there.
No. 7 is their final tip -- give it a try. If you're interested in doing this, pare down your budget and learn to live off that for a year or two; visit some of the places you're interested in without selling everything you own, first, just to make sure that you're happy with it. They have encountered people that try it and find out they don't like it.
They have this term called "early retirement depression." There are people that find they leave their lives in the United States. They leave their families, they leave their jobs, and they find it wasn't quite for them. Or they didn't really have a plan for what they were going to do. They suggest that you give it a try for a couple of years. But for them, they don't have a single regret and they're very happy that they left the working world at age 38.
Southwick: It's awesome that they were able to retire so young because those are such good years of being able to be mobile. Like we say, the last few years of life are not the good years.
Southwick: What is their plan for when they get to the "not such good" years?
Brokamp: I've asked them what their biggest fear or anxiety is. It is basically losing one of them. I mean, they're best friends. They've said one thing is that end of life care is actually much cheaper in other countries. They do have a very small home, and I believe it's in Arizona that they go back to every once in a while, so that's also a possibility. But basically one of their biggest anxieties is what's going to happen later on in life.
If you'd like to learn more about their exotic and inexpensive adventures, you can visit their website at RetireEarlyLifestyle.com.
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