In 2008, Grant Sabatier was a 24-year-old with $2.26 in his bank account. He’d been jumping around from job to job, and was ultimately laid off in the great recession. Finally, he was forced to move back in with his parents.
It’s a story that rings true even today for many Millennials, who are saddled with massive student debt — 2020 graduates borrowed 20% more than the class before, averaging $29,927 — a challenging job market, and a global pandemic that has thrown nearly everyone off-course.
But Sabatier’s story contains a twist: Five years after his move, at the age of 30, he became a millionaire.
It turns out that the home he returned to also provided him with a source of inspiration. Not long after his return, Sabatier found himself at his parents’ annual 4th of July picnic in Falls Church, Virginia. Many of the guests were older — and the conversation seemed to revolve around retirement.
Listening to this, all he could think was, “gosh, I’m so far away from that.”
Sabatier wasn’t wrong. Like many of his generation, he’d been buying into the “American dream” of his parent’s generation: work hard, study hard, and go to a great college.
He did all of that. So, he assumed that this hard work at school would translate into a successful career — it didn’t.
“Welcome to the real world,” his dad had told him.
Traditional estimates, from financial firms like Fidelity, recommend saving 10-15% of your income to prepare for retirement.
But this made Sabatier question: “How do I even know how much money I’m going to need?”
The conversation happening at the picnic sent him “down the rabbit hole into building a completely new life, and choosing to live differently with my friends and my family,” he said.
Interested in the kind of freedom he could achieve by reaching the financial goals required for retirement, Sabatier went about reimagining his American dream — and discovered a growing financial movement known as FIRE (financial independence, retire early).
Sabatier now belongs to a new generation of Americans who are viewing retirement as “an enduring lifestyle,” moving away from the 9-5 grind.
“I learned the simple math around financial independence — that if you save up enough money, then the interest on that money, whether it’s invested in stocks or bonds or in real estate, covers your living expenses and more,” he explained, “so you don’t have to work.”
He wanted to save a million as quickly as possible.
How to FIRE
The “FIRE number” is the amount you need to live on for the rest of your life. That number depends on several factors, like how much you save, the amount earned in investments, and how much you spend.
To figure out your FIRE number, first calculate your savings, including retirement contributions as well as other investment accounts.
Then, multiply your expected expenses by 25. Finally, try to predict investment returns and savings to see how quickly you can reach your goal. Here’s a helpful calculator.
If he could live on $50,000 a year, Sabatier calculated, his FIRE would be $1.25 million.
“I started saving 50 percent of my income immediately. I got a crappy apartment and a crappy car,” he said.
For Sabatier, a crappy apartment and a crappy car were tradeoffs he was willing to make — but, another person may choose a different tradeoff. FIRE has three general levels, depending on how much someone wants to save and the kind of changes they’re willing to make to reach their goals:
- “Fat” FIRE is for those who want to retire while maintaining their current lifestyle. That means they need to do the most in terms of savings and investing.
- “Lean” FIRE is for those who can live with less. That could include ditching their home for RV living, for instance.
- “Barista” FIRE offers a middle ground for those who want some creature comforts and are willing to reach this through savings and a side hustle or two.
“FIRE is really just about living life on your own terms,” Sabatier explained. “It’s like a choose-your-own adventure, where your life likely looks different than my life. And the tradeoffs that I’m willing to make are likely different from the tradeoffs you’re willing to make.”
But he didn’t just lower his costs, he increased his earnings, too. He took on new side hustles, which included constructing websites for lawyers in Chicago. Sabatier did a ton of other things as well — everything from cat sitting to helping people move.
He also started investing money smartly. (Research, assuming investments that yield a 6% annually, shows that a 35-year-old today should invest at least $1,050 a month to reach $1 million by age 65.)
The financial freedom he achieved through this hard work, savings, and investment has ultimately led Sabatier to his goal: Having more time to enjoy his life.
“At the end of the day, we don’t know how long we’re going to be here,” Sabatier said. “Why wait to live the life that you want? So how ultimately do you go to live today while still investing in this uncertain future for yourself?”