How a 44-year-old amassed enough ‘fk you money’ to take early retirement: ‘It’s not just about avoiding avocado toast’

Charmagne Chi is enjoying early retirement so much that she has to remind herself to take days off.

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If that sounds contradictory, it’s probably because Chi’s life, now two years after she retired from her 9-to-5 banking job 42, doesn’t reflect the image conjured up in some people’s minds when they imagine taking early retirement.

Chi doesn’t spend her days lounging on the beach, traveling the world, or Blog about early retirement (although she does Post updates to TikTok). Instead, she works part-time for a local theater company in her hometown of Buffalo, New York, and pursues writing and other creative pursuits. Her husband, who also quit his IT job two years ago, spends his time lifting weights, volunteering with the local search and rescue team, and caring for dogs.

“Now that my whole life is just things I want to do, it’s very difficult to take time off,” says Chi wealth. “Every day feels like, ‘Well, I’m just doing fun stuff,’ but then six weeks go by and I’m exhausted.”

Charmagne Chi is pictured on stage.

And so the 44-year-old is busier than ever. But you don’t have to feel sorry for her. That was always the point, Chi says, to save as much as possible in her 30s: It’s not that she didn’t want to work, per se. She wanted to be able to spend her days pursuing her passions without worrying about finances to have to worry about. Some might say that doesn’t really count as early retirement, but Chi doesn’t need the money she’s making in the theater. She is free to do whatever she wants with her time.

“If you don’t have to spend 40, 50, 60 hours a week earning a paycheck, which would fill that time, that’s reason enough to take early retirement,” she says. “All I want to do is do creative stuff all day, every day, and that’s what I do.”

Chi declined to say exactly how much the couple saved before they decided to quit their jobs, but she did call it that leanFIRE— in which someone aims for $1 million in savings before retirement — was “not enough” to make her and her husband feel comfortable taking the plunge.

‘question everything’

Chi first encountered the concept of early retirement on popular blogs like Mr. Money Mustache; She and her husband adapted the often extreme savings practices of the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) group to suit their own needs and values.

Chi was refreshingly candid about how She and her husband were able to retire decades earlier than some. Of course, the couple implemented a number of tried-and-true early-retirement saving strategies. They drive a vehicle, max out their $401,000 and IRA retirement accounts each year, and cut back on unnecessary expenses. They had no children, which she called “a huge savings.”

But all of that was possible, Chi keeps saying, because of the privileges she and her husband have, particularly their high-paying jobs, while living in a relatively affordable city. They didn’t have any major medical problems, she says, and there are no other major expenses to take care of. She have no student loan debt.

“I’m a white, heavyset person who was raised by middle-class parents and didn’t have to pay for college,” she says. “Yes, there was a lifestyle component. But it’s not just ‘avoid avocado toast,’ that’s such bullshit.”

Though many similarly privileged people feel they need to drive certain types of cars, live in certain cities, or use a certain brand of skincare, life doesn’t have to be like that, she says. That was a big mindset change that Chi herself made in her career a few years ago.

Someone who bikes everywhere to save money, like Mr. Money Mustache, might be on the extreme end, but Chi says that even realizing that not needing two cars was a possibility made her to reconsider their way of life. This led her to conclude that all the family really needed was a car. This wouldn’t work for every single household and every individual financial situation, but challenging habitual spending habits can help anyone who wants to save a little money.

“It made me question everything and evaluate every purchase and decision in a way I haven’t done before,” she says. At the beginning of her career, she bought the standard equipment of an upper middle class: new clothes and expensive bags, had her nails and hair done, and saw a beautician regularly. She cut most of it when early retirement became her priority. “Those things didn’t make me happier … I didn’t know I wanted to retire early, but I knew I was in a privileged position and I wanted to use that to be financially healthy.”

And none of that is to say that privilege stopped Chi from burning out at her previous job. She had chest pains from the stress; When she retired, she took six months to “rest aggressively” before fully pursuing her passions.

Charmagne Chi is pictured in costume.

Charmagne Chi is

“I was definitely lucky and privileged. But a lot of people are lucky and privileged,” she says. “They could achieve their goals and be a lot happier if they changed their lifestyle.”

Live a “little” life

Chi is often asked how her family would handle a medical or other emergency that might require a return to work. However, these kinds of questions don’t shake her; One of them would just find a job, she says. And a possible emergency expense is no reason not to pursue a dream like early retirement.

“What if one of us had an illness… that can happen, I think. But it could happen to anyone,” she says, noting that she had major surgery last year that didn’t affect her retirement in the slightest; They get health insurance through the New York State Exchange, which works for them. “Anything that could happen to us could happen to anyone who has planned to work their whole life and now can’t.”

Chi says she and her husband try to “live as small as possible” so they can minimize, or at least prepare for, larger expenses when they come. They love living in Buffalo, which offers community and access to the arts at an affordable price. They plan to live in their home for the rest of their lives.

Living small is something she wishes more people in a similar financial situation would try.

“Even a 10% adjustment could make you enough shit money to quit a job you hate,” she says. “If you belong to that privileged group, take a look and just do it.”

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