Jeremy and Winnie retired a few years ago, in their thirties, and have been traveling around Central America ever since.
They were kind enough to join me from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to talk about their journey to financial independence and early retirement.
“From the day that early retirement and full time travel became a real goal to the day that I submitted my resignation, it was exactly 10 years and a day. This was during a horrible economy, a stock market crash, a housing crash, record low interest rates, and a record low dividend payout. Factoring in inflation, the stock market hasn’t even returned to its high in the year 2000, 13 years ago.”
Find out how they were able to achieve financial independence in spite of those challenges and hear why moving to a cheaper locale can be a great way to smooth the transition into early retirement.
- Meaning of Go Curry Cracker
- Suicide Showers and a $195/mo Apartment
- Pay $0 in Tax During Early Retirement
- Leave a Review on iTunes
Mad Fientist: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Mad Fientist Financial Independence Podcast, the podcast where I interview people who have already achieved financial independence to find out how they did it.
On today’s episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with Jeremy and Winnie from GoCurryCracker.com. Jeremy and Winnie are a married couple who retired in their 30s and who had been traveling around Central America ever since. They document their journey onGoCurryCracker.com and not only do they write excellent travel articles about their journey, they also wrote some really great financial stuff as well.
They’ve been kind enough to take some time to join me today via Skype from Mexico. So Jeremy and Winnie, thank you very much for being here.
Jeremy: Thank you.
Winnie: Thank you for having us.
Mad Fientist: For people that might not be familiar with your site, could you tell a little bit about Go Curry Cracker and about yourselves.
Jeremy: Sure! We left work roughly – well, Winnie left work three or four years ago. I left work about a year ago. We had this plan that we were going to go travel the world. And most of my peers at work were kind of surprised by this or thought it was crazy or that it couldn’t be done.
So I started writing it partly thinking of them as an audience because we didn’t do anything magical except save a lot of money (it’s definitely something that they can do) and then also for friends and family to keep in touch. It’s just grown from there as more people kind of getting interested in what we were doing and being able to see what our expenses were.
We received a ton of emails from people, “Hey, thank you for sharing your cost. This really helped me gain confidence that I could go to Mexico too.” and so forth.
Mad Fientist: Now, when you quit your jobs, did you intend on going back eventually or was this you financially independent and this was when you quit, that was it and you’re hopefully going to sustain yourselves for the rest of your life.
Jeremy: There was always the possibility that we could do things that are income in the future, but it will be optional. We don’t have to.
Mad Fientist: Do you mind me asking what your careers were before you both quit?
Winnie: I worked with Dell as a project manager.
Jeremy: I worked for Microsoft with hardware, architecture and platform building.
Mad Fientist: Oh, wow! I have two computer-based people like myself, which is good. It’s amazing! Did you guys read that article on Mr. Money Mustache, his survey of what people did, all his readers. I forgot the percentage, but it was something crazy like 60% or 70% plus of all his readers were something computer engineering-related or something like that.
Winnie: I think geeks have this in habit.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It must be, I don’t know, our need to optimize everything and our ability with math as well.
So how long were your careers, your working careers?
Jeremy: It took 20 years roughly.
Mad Fientist: Cool! I remember reading one of your articles. You mentioned that it was pretty much 10 years and a day from the date you decided that you wanted to become financially independent until you actually quit your job. Is that right, Jeremy?
Winnie: That’s the day he met me ten years ago.
Jeremy: Yeah, there may be some correlation there. Yeah, we could’ve done it sooner. There were probably a few years extra that I worked that from a financial perspective, I didn’t have to. We were able to save a ton over the last three years.
And it was totally coincidence. I just looked at the date, then I looked back at this business plan that I had written long ago about how to retire early as I was just trying to figure it out and it was literally ten years and a day from when I wrote that file.
Mad Fientist: That’s really cool! Speaking of the business plan, is this the 50-page business plan to scuba dive around the world or something like that? Is that…?
Mad Fientist: So tell me a little bit about that because that sounds really interesting especially the fact that it’s 50 pages long.
Jeremy: Yeah, I had gone on my first vacation as an adult. This was just before I met Winnie. And pretty much the whole first week, I couldn’t even think about vacation. My mind is just focused on all the stuff that’s happening at work.
And on the second week, I started to relax. Then this third week, I said, “This is fantastic! I want to do this forever.” But I had no idea how because mainstream thinking is that retirement is something you do when you’re 65 or something.
I knew I didn’t want to wait that long, so I started thinking, “Well, I have to have income and scuba diving is expensive, so maybe I could get a job as a scuba instructor or something.” So I just started working from there. “Well, how much money could I make as a diving instructor? Where are all the places I want to go and the seasons for it?”
And from there, it worked into, “Well, maybe I don’t have to work” as I started to understand more of the finances of it. I had all these fears around, “What about health insurance? If I leave my career, will I ever be able to go back?” So I addressed some of those things as well.
I haven’t looked at it for a long time. But if I were to go back and read it now, I’d probably think it was very naïve and very simplified. But it got me on the path of thinking about it and learning about it.
Mad Fientist: That’s really cool. So back then, did you have anyone to look up to at all? Did you find any books like some of the old classics like Your Money or Your Life or anything like that or were you just purely doing it on your own number crunching?
Jeremy: It’s kind of half and half. I read Your Money or Your Life and I think I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
Winnie: You read that crazy book, Possum Life?
Jeremy: Oh, Possum Living?
Jeremy: Yeah, there’s some old – I can’t remember. It’s like a free book online. Somebody wrote in the seventies about her and her father living off of the land. That was super extreme.
Winnie: And he showed me that book, I was a little worried.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, that sounds like my experience with my wife. The first thing I showed her was Early Retirement Extreme. And obviously, she wasn’t interested at all in any of that.
Winnie: He showed me that and I’m like, “Hmmm…”
Jeremy: She’s like, “I’m not going to live in an RV! What were you thinking?”
Mad Fientist: Exactly!
Winnie: And like eat the bugs off the rice and beans.
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah.
Mad Fientist: Exactly!
Jeremy: Yeah. But also, around that time – let’s see, I found the Kaderlis online. I read one of their books. And then I met them in Chiang Mai, Thailand maybe ten years ago.
Mad Fientist: That’s crazy! That’s really cool. So how did you get in touch? You just were in Southeast Asian and you knew that Billy and Akaisha were over there somewhere and just asked to meet up or…?
Jeremy: Yeah, exactly. I was in Thailand. I saw that they were in Thailand also from a recent blog post of theirs. I emailed them and said, “Hey, I’m in town. Would you be up for meeting?” They’re like, “Oh, yeah. We host a happy hour every week. Come by and stay and we’ll have drinks.” They’re wonderful people! They’re just wonderful, friendly and helpful. I was able to pick their brain a little bit and their book was very helpful also.
And also, around the same time, there’s like the early retirement forums. Nords…he’s the military guide. Winnie and I met up with him once when we were in Hawaii maybe six or seven years ago, five years ago.
There were a couple of people who had done it that we were able to look at as a reference and then adapt what they had done with their own means and needs.
Mad Fientist: Oh, that’s really cool, yeah. I can imagine, that would be pretty inspiring meeting up with any of those place and seeing them actually doing it especially when everybody is telling you it probably can’t be done. Just to see somebody doing it is always great and motivating I’m sure.
So you meet with the Kaderli’s, you meet up with Nords, you realize it’s possible, so I’m assuming you’re sticking somewhat to your plan that you came up with at the beginning. Did you share it with any of your colleagues at the time or were you just doing your own thing?
Jeremy: No, I was just doing my own thing.
Winnie: They know our lifestyle is different from theirs.
Jeremy: And then actively, I didn’t hide anything, but I also didn’t really actively share the long-term plan. That we were definitely living a different lifestyle was clear however.
Mad Fientist: So just as far as biking instead of having a bunch of cars and maybe not going out to eat as much. Was there anything else? Was it anything extreme or was it fairly normal, just a bit of tweaking that helps you save a lot of money?
Winnie: We rent apartment in the student district.
Jeremy: Compare it to my co-workers, it was probably extreme. The norm for the people I work with was they were living in a 3000 sq. ft. house…
Winnie: …having two or three cars.
Jeremy: Yeah. They probably have all brand new leased SUVs. So comparatively, we found a place to live that was on the bus line to work and in a walkable neighborhood. We were living in a neighborhood that was mostly students doing their university. I’d show up at work in a bicycle. They’ll roll their eyes and laugh at me.
Winnie: But at least we’ll go out to eat and hang out with friends. It’s not like sacrifice everything.
Jeremy: Maybe our main entertainment is food. We do eat out often, that’s our main social activity. But then we also balance that with preparing meals at home and hosting dinner parties. Winnie is an amazing cook and I’m probably several pounds too many primarily because of that.
Mad Fientist: Nice! So along the way, what are you investing in? Are you just mainly stock guy index funds? Did you get into any real estate? What was your strategy there?
Jeremy: Our portfolio overall is probably around 70% stock, 15% REITs and 15% bonds.
Winnie: And we did have a bit of real estate.
Jeremy: Yeah. We have some individual stocks, mostly index. And then I had a small rental property that I sold a few years ago with owner financing. So we had one private bond that’s still out there. But let’s see here, that will end two years from now because it’s got a 5-year pay-off period to it.
Mad Fientist: Alright! So that was pretty much the strategy from when you began? You were working for Microsoft, getting sucked into the technology stocks or anything like that?
Jeremy: Well, I still have some Microsoft stock. But for the most part, I have maybe about 10 different individual dividend paying stocks in fairly small quantities, but they help manage the cashflow. And then the rest is all in VTI, the all markets index fund from Vanguard
Mad Fientist: Nice. Okay. And recently, you just published a really good post about taxes (especially taxes) and early retirement. And as you know (and probably the readers know too) that I really enjoy that stuff because it’s just a great way to increasing your savings without necessarily sacrificing anything.
So can you maybe just talk a little bit about your recent experience going through your taxes and realizing what exactly you can do now that you have such a low income?
Jeremy: Sure! I’ve always done our own taxes partly because like you, I kind enjoy the deep understanding of how to work the system in your favor. And so from there, I was always trying to minimize our taxes in the past, but there’s only so much you can do when you have earned income.
So just recently, I was in preparation for filing next year’s taxes. I went through and looked at all of the dividend income and the interest income and wanted to figure out how much we’d have to pay. It’s like zero! I thought that seemed kind of – no, I wasn’t exactly surprised, but it was interesting to see that number and I went like, “Really?”
Comparatively to U.S. mean, we’re fairly wealthy and yet we won’t have to pay any tax of any kind whatsoever.
And then beyond that, it’s like, “Well, we have a ton of margin here.” Even if I were to sell some stocks and do some tax gain harvesting and push the rollover from the traditional IRAs and the old 401k’s to ROTH IRA’s, we can sell up to 70k of stock and get 70k in capital gains and pay zero tax and we can roll over to almost $20,000 of IRA and it still pay zero tax.
You look at how it’s all paid out and you can actually earn a tremendous amount of money coming from dividends or qualified dividends, long-term gains and pay zero tax. The tax system is definitely very favorable to people who retire early.
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing. I know I still get quite a few emails and questions with people concerned that if they are retiring early, they’re not going to be able to access that money and should they just go into the taxable accounts instead? All the math that I’ve done points that no, you can go ahead and max these things out and then end up in a situation like you. Do you regret not putting more towards those accounts when you were working now that you know what you know now?
Jeremy: I wish I could’ve contributed more, but we also maxed out our contributions. We took advantage of them where we could. But if we could put double or triple, I would have.
Mad Fientist: Alright! Well, that’s good to hear.
Jeremy: When you save the ten years and a day kind of thing, when you save enough money to fund 50, 60 for your retirement in ten years and then you look at the IRS limits for contributions to 401k’s and such, most of your money is going to end up in the taxable account.
So we definitely have enough money outside of the taxable accounts where that’s where all of our withdrawals are coming from. And then as the limits allow, we’ll roll over into ROTH IRA’s. I don’t know however many years from now when the taxable accounts are no longer technically there, but well have everything in a ROTH and still pay zero tax.
Mad Fientist: That’s great. So what is your withdrawal strategy? Are you doing a fixed percentage or you’re doing an inflation adjusted like the 4%? What did you guys decide on?
Jeremy: Well, let’s see. We really have no budget. We kind of just spend whatever we want. What we’ve been doing so far, we’ve been able to fund 100% from dividends and interest.
Mad Fientist: Ah, nice.
Jeremy: So part of the withdrawal strategy has nothing to do with the withdrawals itself. It’s more of the sizes of them. We started in Latin America rather than, say, Paris or Tokyo, so we would be withdrawing a low percentage of the total portfolio.
Just using the 4% number as a rough guide, we just knew we wanted to spend less than that. But we don’t really pay attention to what the withdrawal rate currently is and so forth. We just know that it’s less than 4%.
Mad Fientist: That’s great. And it’s great to hear you say, “Start in Latin America rather than Paris or Tokyo.” That’s exactly what my wife and I have talked about. There are obviously lots of places we’d love to go that probably are more expensive, but there’s also lots of places we really want to go that are much less expensive. So that’s exactly our plan.
We’re just going to start with the lowest cost ones and then start working our way up. And yeah, if we find ourselves having a lot more money than we expected at one point, then yeah, maybe we’ll spend six months in Tokyo or something. But until then, we’re quite happily planning Southeast Asia trips and South America trips and things like that.
Jeremy: Yeah. Like this last year, it’s probably been the most profitable year we’ve ever had just because of the stock market gains. We could take a year like this and be like, “Okay, we made a lot of money in the market. Maybe next year, we’ll do Western Europe.” And then if there’s a year when the market’s down, it’s like, “Well, we love Latin America. Let’s go there.”
Winnie: And when you have a little fear maybe the first year of retirement, maybe you go to a cheaper country and you feel more security about your spending.
Mad Fientist: Yeah! No, it’s a great point. Can you guys talk about the transition actually because it’s fairly recent? I’d like to hear how it was, finally quitting your job, what that was like? Did you worry about actually stopping your contributions to all these accounts after you’re spending so many years building them up?
Winnie: I think the first few months, we constantly check the number in our bank. Every day, we check three times to make sure it’s still there.
Jeremy: I had some irrational fear around the transition definitely. That’s, again, partly why we’re staying in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico instead of Paris, France because a lot of the target, that low percentage just partly as a comfort thing.
But there was probably six months from the day that we kind of had our last pay check to the point where I stopped thinking about work. When you go from working 60- to 70-hour weeks and lots of international travel, email during the off-hours and such, it’s kind of hard to transition from that to nothing.
And so maybe part of that mental focus was still kind of we’re out on a beach, but I’m still thinking about work stuff a little bit. And then, some of that mental energy gets applied to what’s happening in the portfolio. Is everything okay?
But kind of six months after, all those fears had been washed away. I don’t even really think about work or the finances anymore.
Mad Fientist: Oh, that’s great. So I’m going to switch gears a bit and start talking a bit about travel because you guys are perpetually traveling early retirees, similar to what the Kaderlis were doing in their Retire Early Lifestyle interview. So you guys have primarily been in Central America so far, is that right?
Winnie: Yeah, our plan was to use the year to travel through Central and South America. And so far, we’ve only been to three countries in Central America. We’re really moving really slow.
Mad Fientist: That’s nice. Yeah, that’s the type of travel that appeals to me, the slow travel anyway.
Jeremy: We had started thinking to spend six weeks in Mexico and then continue south, but we were in Mexico over five months. And then, we met people who were touring all of Guatemala in a week. We were there two months. We did some experimenting with different paces of travel. We’d spend two months in one place and two days in another and we definitely enjoy the slower pace travel. We don’t have to pack every day and move to a different hotel every day.
Winnie: Yeah, you kind of have the little routine.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, that appeals to me. That sounds like the best way to go. And you’re both learning Spanish as you live down there and everything?
Winnie: Si. We can switch to Spanish if you want.
Mad Fientist: No, my highschool Spanish is probably really bad, so it would be a very short interview.
Jeremy: Our Spanish isn’t great, but we’re functional. And before we started, we didn’t really speak any Spanish at all. We took a month of group classes in Mexico when we started. We did three weeks of private one-on-one lessons in Guatemala and we spent, I don’t know, nine months in Spanish-speaking countries.
So we’ve picked up enough of the language to be functional. Just before our conversation with you, we made a phone call to schedule an appointment for later today. That’s a 5-minute conversation all in Spanish.
I’m sure I don’t sound fluent to people. They know I’m obviously a…
Winnie: A gringo?
Jeremy: …a gringo butchering their language, but we can communicate.
Winnie: We can order food. We could do the daily activities.
Jeremy: The daily activities, mm-hmmm…
Mad Fientist: So Mexico and Guatemala…What was the third country?
Mad Fientist: Oh, nice. That’s right. Yeah, I remember actually commenting on that post because we hit up the same place on our honeymoon, Caye Caulker.
Jeremy: Caye Caulker, yeah.
Mad Fientist: Such a beautiful island, isn’t it?
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah. It is beautiful.
Winnie: All I remember is the lobster.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, we talked about this, Jeremy and I. I think we must have gone in completely different seasons because I didn’t see any lobster. There wasn’t any lobster on the menu. It was sunny and I think you guys got rain and lots of lobster?
Winnie: Uh-huh. At the end of the week, I’m sick of lobster. I’m like, “Don’t feed me anymore please. Take it away.”
Jeremy: I think we arrived just a few weeks after lobster season had started. You could get full lobster dinner
Winnie: Yeah, like a half pound lobster.
Jeremy: …for US$10.
Mad Fientist: No way, that’s crazy. Have you found that you’ve been surprised how little you have to spend to have a really good life since you’ve been on the road?
Winnie: Every day, we are like, “Wow! It is so cheap and the quality is really good.”
Jeremy: Yeah. What was the thing you just compared?
Winnie: Yeah, I was looking for some jewelry class in Asia and even in the United States because I wanted to continue doing that. The price is just like incredibly expensive, ten times more than what I pay here.
Mad Fientist: Wow! That’s crazy. So out of the three countries that you’ve been in, which did you like the best?
Winnie: We loved Guatemala. I think San Miguel is more livable because it has more activity. Not as a traveler. That’s if you actually live here.
Jeremy: Well, I’m not really sure how to answer that question. It’s kind of like, “What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream.” I like lots of them.
Winnie: They’re all different.
Jeremy: They all have their appeal. I think Mexico actually feels like home for us right now. It’s very comfortable here. It’s a very nice life. Guatemala had a lot of just natural beauty.
Winnie: The people in Guatemala are super nice.
Jeremy: They’re very friendly.
Winnie: Yes, yeah.
Jeremy: Belize had just the beauty of the water and the lobster.
Mad Fientist: When I interviewed Billy and Akaisha, they had mentioned that Panajachel in Guatemala was one of their favorite places. I know you guys were near there at least.
Winnie: Yeah. We were at the same lake at a different village, San Pedro, which was really beautiful. We stayed there for two months, right?
Jeremy: Around six weeks I think.
Winnie: Six weeks. We enjoyed it. Yeah, I think that place and San Miguel, I like the most I think.
Mad Fientist: And that was where you had the $195 a month apartment, is that right?
Mad Fientist: So $195, you had views of the lake and the mountains.
Winnie: Yeah, probably the home is a – how do you say it? A shit hole? But the view is magnificent.
Jeremy: Yeah, it definitely wasn’t four star living, but…
Winnie: It’s four star in the region, yeah.
Jeremy: Comparatively to what else was available, it was definitely a nice place.
Winnie: And when you live there, you realize how little you need. You appreciate the things you own more.
Jeremy: Yeah. But the one thing definitely that I like better here is the shower. Most of the showers in Guatemala are these so-called suicide showers. It’s like a local heater attached to the shower head.
Winnie: There’s this 10-kilo thing right above you.
Jeremy: Yeah, with the exposed electrical wire sticking out and sometimes hanging down into the water stream.
Winnie: It’s kind of like massage therapy. It actually shocks.
Jeremy: You get a little shock.
Mad Fientist: So it’s much better over in Mexico?
Jeremy: Well, there are places that are equivalent to Guatemala. The place we’re staying now is definitely almost like a five star hotel.
Mad Fientist: Oh, nice. And this is a three bedroom house that you’re renting for like a thousand dollars a month?
Jeremy: Yeah, exactly, including all the utility and the cleaning and everything.
Mad Fientist: Oh, really? So four star service and quality for a grand a month.
Jeremy: Yeah, there’s a cleaning woman who comes back twice a week for three hours. There’s a gardener who comes and takes care of all the plants. It’s definitely upscale. By comparison, there’s a friend in Winnie’s jewelry class who rents a two bedroom place for $200, was it?
Jeremy: $350, it’s definitely cheaper.
Winnie: Cheaper, yeah.
Jeremy: We partially got this place just so that we could have the extra rooms for people to come visit.
Mad Fientist: Oh, that’s cool. That sounds really nice. We’re getting to near the end of the interview and I always like to just ask everyone I talk to. If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking about pursuing financial independence and early retirement, what would it be?
Winnie: Find a frugal wife.
Mad Fientist: That’s a good point. I’ve had to slowly convert mine, but luckily, I’m there. It took ten years, but I got there eventually. How about you, Jeremy?
Jeremy: That’s a good answer. I don’t think I can beat that answer. I think not getting sucked into the lifestyle inflation is a key. So basically, learning to live on an income that you start out with. That way, you can get to incredibly high savings rate, which in a 10-year kind of timeframe for many people, you could be free to do whatever you want for the rest of your life.
Mad Fientist: That’s great. Thank you both so much for taking the time out of what, I’m sure, is a beautiful day down at Mexico to talk to me. If anyone wants to get in touch, do they just go over to GoCurryCracker.com and send you an email from there?
Jeremy: Yeah, exactly. GoCurryCracker.com, there’s a contact form on there or you could just email us at [email protected].
Mad Fientist: Excellent! Well, thank you both. It was great talking to you. And hopefully, I’ll see you down in Central or South America in the next couple of years.
Mad Fientist: Alright! Thanks, guys.
Winnie: Thank you.
Jeremy: Thanks very much.
Mad Fientist: Bye.
Mad Fientist: Alright, thanks again to Winnie and Jeremy for speaking with me. Definitely go check out GoCurryCracker.com if you haven’t already. Also, if you’re a fan of the podcast and wouldn’t mind leaving me a review over on iTunes, I’d really appreciate it.
Anyway, thanks for listening and I’ll see you next time.
Outro: Turkey, mashed potatoes, fience!