VOICES: A Postdoc Who Aspires To FIRE Before 40
Mark is a postdoctoral research fellow who lives in the Chicago suburbs. He wants to be a millionaire and accredited investor by 35. He would love to FIRE before 40. He currently pursues a minimalist frugal lifestyle and is looking for new ways to increase his income while on his F-1 student visa.
We loved hearing about he approaches living frugally and all the fun things he does without spending any money!
*Name is altered to protect identity.
INTERVIEW WITH MARK:
Can you tell us more about pursuing a postdoc after your PhD? What other options did you consider? How do you think about your career and where does money enter the picture?
Towards the end of my PhD I wasn't sure whether I wanted to stay in academia or go into industry. The post-doc allowed me to try industry while still having the option to go back to academia if I wanted to afterwards. However, I think my experience was wonderful and I can see myself staying in industry at least for the foreseeable future. Other options at the time of my graduation were an academia-based post-doc or a permanent industry position. I chose the best of both worlds :). I was always good with saving money (no idea what wealth was, just knew how to live frugally) and it wasn't until about summer 2019 when I first started got interested in personal finance that a lot of things changed and now I allocate a job to every single dollar I have/make.
Did you negotiate your postdoc offer?
As a foreigner, I have nearly zero negotiation power in the US despite being at the top of my field - I wasn't able to get anything more than what they already offered, however the package (including bonus, relocation etc.) was pretty generous to start with. I was a little annoyed that there was no negotiation taking place but there was nothing more to be done. My company was generous enough to provide me with accommodation in the area during the move to secure an apartment, rental car for a week until I bought my own, took care of my relocation, and a few other benefits.
Can you talk more about your lifestyle? How do you manage to save 75% in Chicago?
I live a pretty minimalist lifestyle - I truly believe that if you pay full price for anything in the US you are being ripped off - so negotiations and sale prices go a long way. With that being said I don't go out of my way to spend more than a few minutes on this and I generally only make very intentional and planned purchases:
- Rent: my rent is about 17% of my salary (one bedroom apartment near work).
- Food: my food budget is 2-3%. Sales and loyalty points go a long way, average saving on grocery bill is 30-60% off from retail value with very little effort on my part; not really a big fan of eating out since most things I can make myself at home for a fraction of the cost, also big fan of Gordon Ramsay!
- Transportation: The only other big expenses are car insurance & gas. I drive a 23k out-the-door-price 2019 hybrid with 550 mile range on a 20$ fill up. In over a year only, maintenance was a 40$ oil change.
- Hobbies: I love spending time outdoors (hiking & biking are free and keep you fit!, double win!), ballroom dancing (only costs are parking at the dance studio since I don't really take lessons, just practice) and traveling (credit card points, deals, secret flying etc.), reading finance books (free library membership!) and we have employee perks such as free museum visits, etc.
YM: We love how many different activities Mark pursues without spending much money. When choosing hobbies, consider ones that might be free or low-cost. You may be surprised to find that you enjoy them just as much or more than ones you might have to spend more money on.
Do your friends or peers follow a similar lifestyle? How does your minimal lifestyle influence your social life and how you spend your time in Chicago
Most of family is back in Europe and I am still pretty new to the area (only moved here a year ago). I don't think many people I know follow a similar lifestyle but I also have no problems spending money (within reason of course) on a meal with friends from time to time (not really doing it for the food, mostly for the social event). However, with my friends being mostly college students and the with he recent quarantine, it's been even easier since everything has been closed for quite a while here.
Tell us more about minimalism. Do you ever splurge on anything?
Being on a visa and potentially having to move back to Europe on a 3 month notice doesn't really inspire me too much to own a lot of stuff. I did splurge on my laptop after my previous one got stolen (although I did get a deal on it, as well as a tax credit which made it literally free). I bought a new car in 2019 after moving to Chicago (didn't know much about personal finance then but oh well) but I got it well below MSRP - comparison shopped between dealerships. I really like it, it's safe and reliable, needs barely any gas and should keep its value pretty well. Accumulating objects doesn't really bring me joy. I'd rather spend my money on experiences that are worth it and be able to be financially independent earlier than standard retirement age.
What do you with the money you save?
I have a large cash buffer in a high-yield savings account which is both an emergency fund as well as a part of a potential down payment for a house/duplex/rental. I've been thinking of getting into real estate within the next 12 months or so. Let's see how that pans out. Rest of the money goes toward maxing out Roth IRA, HSA, 401k (with match) and the anything over that goes to a few brokerage accounts (main one is Vanguard with VTI, others are Robinhood & WeBull with some VTI and a few individual stocks).
YM: Check out our posts on investing at the end of the interview!
What are some ways you want to increase your income?
Definitely higher salary is the key here since I'm not eligible for any other wage-based income. My high-yield savings account makes some profit in interest, my stocks are appreciating in value & provide dividends, and if I were to buy a rental property I would be able to collect rent which is something I'm hoping to get into, within the next year.
I am motivated to hit my FIRE number as early as possible so that I can be work optional (although I do love my job so I wouldn't want to quit completely); and be able to give back to my parents who will be retiring about the time I'll be in my late 30s. I wouldn't be where I am right now without them. Not necessarily financially as I got a full ride scholarship for college and my PhD had a stipend that covered my expenses. But, they spent a lot of time during my childhood developing me into who I am today and supported me all throughout my career.
How does your F-1 student visa impact your choices? Are there any challenges?
Not having a green card/being resident ABSOLUTELY SUCKS! I can only work for one employer, no side hustles, can't found/co-found a company, can't work outside of my PhD major. The restrictions are never ending.
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