Reader Case: A Waiter’s Story of Financial Independence

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FIRECracker
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Now that the family health emergencies are behind us (knock on wood), we finally have time to go back to writing more articles and helping you, our readers, get to FI faster. That means it’s time for another reader case!

This one immediately caught my eye because this reader is not your stereotypical tech nerd FIRE enthusiast. I couldn’t wait to share their story to inspire as many of you to pursue FI as possible. You don’t need an engineering degree to save a buttload of money and this is proof.


Hi Kristy and Bryce.

I am a waiter in a busy high-end ski resort in North America.

I feel my case study could be interesting as I am on my way to FIRE in an unskilled job that a lot of people would normally consider low paid and also living in one of North America’s higher cost towns. There are a lot of unskilled tipping jobs out there that are highly paid, and it would be interesting to see how many people take advantage of investing rather than throw their money away on drinking and partying.

I’d love to share my story, so others in similar jobs could know that FI can work in many types of unskilled jobs/careers.

MY BACKGROUND / LIFESTYLE:


I am originally from Ireland but have lived in Canada for many years. I am in my 30s. Single, no kids, no debt, no property. I studied computer science and loved it but didn’t like the Mon-Fri 9-5 lifestyle. I had worked in hotels throughout Uni, spent one year teaching computer programming at the Uni while also working in bars. For the next 6 years I travelled the world and only worked a total of 1 yr and 7 months. I got serving/bartending jobs in more expensive countries that afforded me to travel to cheaper countries. I easily learnt to travel on a budget while doing everything I wanted to do. I didn’t need things, just experiences.

For many years I did think I would eventually go back to IT at some point but realised that the lifestyle of serving was way more flexible with regards to time off, hours worked and also in a lot of ways more lucrative.

While rent in this town is some of the most expensive in North America, I enjoy living with lots of people. I moved into a big shared house and took the lease in my name. My other housemates pay me, I pay the bills and the landlord. So overall I pay $375 for rent, $90 for bills per month. In my town people are usually paying $950 + bills to share bunk beds in large shared houses, or $2000+ for a studio apartment.

It takes me only 3 minutes to cycle to work in the summer and 10 mins to walk in winter. No commuting costs. We get free food while at work. Our uniforms are cleaned and provided for us. Ski passes (Shred passes) are mainly subsidized. And there are many benefits such as a really good extra health care package. So for me, quitting my job won’t necessarily cost me less, but should only cost me slightly more year by year.

MONEY AND LIFESTYLE GOALS:

While I know I can survive on $24,000 per year, I also do believe my lifestyle will change over time. I would like a partner and family at some point. I also will end up paying more rent eventually. However, while some costs will rise with that, other costs will lower such as socializing. My original goal was $1,000,000 to fund a $40k lifestyle per year with family. But I assume when I eventually do meet a partner most likely she will have a job or even hopefully be looking for a similar FI lifestyle to me.

So lately I’ve been thinking $500,000 might be more suitable. That should net me $20,000 per yr, plus my Dad is giving me 6000 EUR per year. In Ireland this is allowed to be given as a tax free gift to save from inheritance tax in the long run. So that’s $29,000 per year at the moment. I think just around that $30k mark is ideal both short term and long term.

Overall, I’ve read many finance blogs/books/podcasts and the lifestyle you two have with lots of travel and not wanting property is pretty much my ideal lifestyle as I did that in the past. I’d need roughly 6 more years to get to $1,000,000 and right now I’m very over my job at the moment and don’t want to work 6 more years. I’ve realised the freedom of not working sooner is more important.

I always loved the Food and Beverage work, but guests have acted rude, demanding, and inconsiderate, even though we were one of the few places in the world to stay open during COVID. Safety has been tough. Many people have quit for these reasons. I’m also ready for a break.

I’m currently setting myself a goal of May 2023 to quit. My family lives in Ireland. I want to spend more time with them but also more time doing stuff for myself. Travel, snowboarding, learning, reading, hiking, staying healthy, and time with friends. I want to take a year or two off and see how I feel. I could get server jobs again for a few months each winter to fund my lifestyle for a given year while I let the invested money grow

The other idea is to go back to IT work! (Would love to see your reaction to this) As I said I never wanted office work, or a set Monday-to-Friday work week. And while I have very little experience in it, I would be willing to take a pay cut for a remote job that was flexible. I’m browsing Google courses to replenish some of my skills such as Data Analytics.

Here’s is the breakdown of my finances:

MONTHLY SPENDING:

While there are ways to cut down on my costs, I don’t intend to. I’d always been quite tight with money. I budgeted hard but did everything I have always wanted to do. So, it never affected my lifestyle. Lately I’ve been a bit more slack with my budget and am OK with it.

Details about my expenses:

• My drinking costs were too high a few years back and I have halved this in recent years.
• The costs for “health insurance” are actually Irish insurance for people who live abroad.
• “Accommodation” here is listed separately to rent as it means accommodation when I go on vacation or weekends away
• I do have a car, and this is one of my hobbies. I don’t use it to commute, but for adventures.
• “Consumer items” are clothes, phones, laptops, things like that.

DEBT

I have zero debt. Never in my life have I owed money. Ireland was free for University as is a lot of Europe.

NET INCOME

I feel this is the bit that will surprise people and a lot of people without college degrees might be interested to know. For nearly a decade I have kept track of all tips, sales, selling food vs beverages, which days of the week pay the best, etc. to analyze how to get the best overall pay.

I have had years with a take home pay of $91k CAD after taxes are paid, and years with as low as $65k after taxes. Many years I take 6 or 7 weeks off to travel. Other times I have been injured from snowboard injuries and am off for 2 to 3 months. For injuries our work insurance covers our pay.

So overall even with time off/injuries and COVID stuff my average hourly over the last few years is about $61 per hour after taxes. Because the months I work each year vary so much, I tend to use $451 per working day take home after taxes as the best reference point. And I aim to work 9 to 10 months a year. So, all in all it would roughly average to $90k take home per year, with a max of $30k spending money per year to have a savings rate of $60k per year.

Since COVID, we’ve been so busy it has been harder to take extended time off and this could be for the foreseeable future and another reason I want to quit sooner rather than later.

INVESTMENTS AND SAVINGS:


Overall I have a total net worth of around $365,000. I have maxed out my TFSA and RRSP.

$262,146 is currently invested, of which the majority of this is broken down by: VUN (32.5%), VCN (32.5%), VAB (10%), XRE (10%), XEC (5%), XEF(10%).

$26,811 is invested in three separate peer to peer lending networks that avg prob 9% – 12% per year depending which network. I would love to hear more about your perspective on peer to peer lending (Mintos, Lendingloop, LinkedIn) but for me this is more of an experiment. It’s only been around 10 years so I don’t continuously add to this.

$76,301 in cash (HISA and similar accounts)(Yield Shield)

The aim is to invest a little more per month (Probably $6000 per month) in the coming months and get the emergency fund(Yield Shield) down to $60k in cash and the rest invested. $60k would be enough to cover me 2 to 2.5 years.

CONCLUSION

So, I guess overall I’m ruling out the option of working 5 to 6 more years to be fully FI, and debating between:

1) Quitting in May 2023 to live off around $30k per year with the option of maybe coming back some years for a few months (3 or 4 months), work in serving, and let the investments grow without withdrawals.
2) Take two years off initially and then take a pay cut to start in IT and do a few years in that until I become fully FI.

Overall, I will enjoy learning new skills, and IT will be beneficial in the long run as I get older over serving, but it would involve a lot more work for a lot less money. I also believe quitting is better for my current travel goals, mental health and short-term freedom, but it has risks as I would literally just be scraping by on the FI number. However, the option to work again is always there.

My main aim of posting my story was so other people in unskilled jobs could see it, but also so perhaps we could hear from other people in tipping jobs on what their FI plans are. I absolutely love your guys’ blog and book. It’s been amazing and has helped me out so much.

Thank you,

UnskilledFIRE


Wowza! Even though this reader refers to himself as “unskilled”, I would say he has mad organizational skills and kick-ass optimization skills. And not to mention serious hustle too. I don’t get impressed easily, but damn, UF, I’m impressed!

I did a double take when I read these words “$375 for rent, $90 for bills”, “take home pay of $91k CAD after taxes”, “net worth around $365,000”.

Say what? You managed to do that all by yourself, without a 9 to 5 job, in your 30s? Ok, no wonder you quit computer science. You’re making as much money after taxes as we did in engineering, while working fewer hours.

Also, let’s talk about your crazy low rent. You seemed to have figured out a house hacking system without even owning a house. By splitting up the rooms in your rental house efficiently, you got your roommates to cover most of the rent. Way to Math that Shit Up! I know some friends in Silicon Valley who managed to do this exact thing and pay a few hundred bucks instead of $3000+/month.

Now, let’s take a look at your finances overall:

Summary:

Income (Net): $65,000/year to $91,000/year; average: $78,000/year
Expenses: $18,955/year to $47,097; average: $33,026/year
Debt: $0
Net worth: $365,258

UF says his salary is $91,000 and can survive on $24,000/year but since both those figures vary over the years, I’m going to take the average of his lowest and highest earning and spending numbers.

When it comes to your FI number, don’t go at it backwards. Don’t look at how much you have, then calculate the 4% and say “yeah, I can probably live on it.” Actually live on that amount for a long enough period of time. Reality and concreteness is king. Don’t make financial decisions based on a fantasy and wishy-washy numbers. When we quit our jobs, we knew we could live on $40,000 because our we lived on that amount in Toronto for many years. I know we can live in Thailand for $27,000 because that’s how much we spent while we were there.

So, taking the average means he’s saving around $78,000 – $33,026 = $44,974 per year or 58% of his take-home pay. That’s amazing! This reminds me of our reader, Cassie, who went from homeless and unemployed to $100K in net worth, after bartending. Thank you both for writing in and proving to us that it’s possible to do it without an engineering degree!

Ok, so knowing that UF needs an average of $33,026/year in passive income, that means he will need a portfolio size of $33,026/year * 25 = $825,650.

He currently has $365,258, so by saving an average of $44,974/year after taxes, he’ll reach FI in:

Year Starting Contributions ROI (6%) Total
1 $365,258.00 $44,974.00 $24,613.92 $434,845.92
2 $434,845.92 $44,974.00 $28,789.20 $508,609.12
3 $508,609.12 $44,974.00 $33,214.99 $586,798.10
4 $586,798.10 $44,974.00 $37,906.33 $669,678.43
5 $669,678.43 $44,974.00 $42,879.15 $757,531.57
6 $757,531.57 $44,974.00 $48,150.33 $850,655.91

6 years!

So, he is quite accurate in his estimate that it would only take him 5-6 years to become fully FI. Well done, UF! Who says you’re unskilled? You’re full of skills!

Now, given that he says he can’t see himself working this job for another 5-6 years, what are his options?

I’m not surprised at all that UF, despite liking his job normally, is burnt out after the pandemic. He’s not alone. In fact, according to the Toronto Star, as many as 25% of employees are in the same boat: Burnt out and considering quitting the workforce! The pandemic has given people the time to reflect on their lives and what’s important. This is why, in addition to the Tang Ping/Lay Flat movement in China, the Western world now has the “Slow Down movement” and people are quitting in droves after re-evaluating their priorities during the pandemic.

So, given that UF is tired, does it make sense for him to partially retire in 1.5 years (May 2023, as he’s projecting), take a break before going back to work until full FI, or switch careers completely to use his Computer Science degree?

Ok, let’s explore these options one by one:

Option 1: Partial Retirement in May 2023

If UF retires in 1.5 years, he’ll have a portfolio of around $500,000, generating $20,000 a year at a 4% withdrawal rate. He mentions his dad would give him 6000 Euros/year, but I don’t like the idea of relying on your parents. Especially since they may get sick and need the money themselves and, as sad as it is, our parents won’t live forever, so he can’t continuously rely on this money. So, it really can only be treated as bonus money.

Just based on the portfolio income alone, he’ll have a shortfall of $33,026 – $20,000 = $13,026/year based on his average yearly spending number. That’s $1085.5 a month.

Could he generate this income by working as a server part time? Probably. Will he want to? That’s up to him.

Should he keep working for another 5-6 years and then stop completely to travel? Or should he prefer to quit 3.5-4.5 years earlier, but work a little every year to make up the shortfall?

Option 2: Switch to IT and fast track to FI

This year, Google Canada announced a $2 million program to train job seekers in Canada for new careers in technology in under six months . So, UF could take advantage of this program and find an IT job, just like this 30-years-old bar manager.

However, two things worry me about this plan.

  1. He’s already making as much as a developer in his server role and
  2. He hates the 9 to 5 lifestyle and that’s why he never used his computer science degree.

Given he’s only 5-6 years from FI anyway, why should he slow himself down to switch careers when he’s already has a high salary and high savings rate?

The only reason I can see this making sense is self-development. If he wants to expand his mind and learn new skills that’s useful for a remote job so he can travel, that might make sense. Maybe he can take 6 months off to de-stress from the burn out of the restaurant industry and try to learn data analytics to see if he likes it. If he doesn’t, go back to work as a server and continue on the FI path. At least you’ll have gotten a 6-month break.

Option 3: Take a Sabbatical

UF didn’t mention this, but I thought of another scenario. Choices shouldn’t always be black and white. Like the BDSM aisle in your local bookstore, there are always shades of grey. In this case, he could take some time off to recharge, and then get back on his original path to FI. That would extend his time to FI but would be better for his mental and physical health.

For example, taking half a year off as a sabbatical would only push his time to FI from 5-6 years to 6-7 years, after taking into account the fact that he would be spending down his portfolio during this time rather than contributing to it.

And during that year, he would be able to travel, spend time with family back in Ireland, and maybe re-learn how to code. Once he’s recharged, he could go back to his old job and work towards becoming FI once again. Or maybe during that time, he would use his newfound skills to work online as a freelance coder and discover he likes this remote work lifestyle better than being a server. Or maybe he would miss being a server and want to go back to work.

Take some time off to recharge and think about your priorities. You might surprise yourself with what you come up with.

What do you think? Which option do you think UF should pick?


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