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FIRE Crossroads 023: Single & Frugal Equals FI by 40

When you’ve got a family, your financial independence plan must cover not only your own expenses, but also those of your partner and any children you might have. Expenses for two, five, or eight are obviously much higher than those of a single individual.

Planning for FI as an individual would seemingly be simpler, but then you’ve got the possibility that your expenses, and therefore your FI number, could double or triple from your original projection. Of course, your household income could also increase significantly if you partner up.

Our interviewee, Gary Grewal from Financial Fives, is about halfway to a reachable FI goal, and if he maintains the status quo, he’ll likely reach his number by his fortieth birthday. We’ll see what life has in store for him!

We’re getting quite low on interviews in the queue! If you’re interested in participating in one of three interview series, please download the most appropriate form for your life situation: FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes. To see other posts in the series, visit our Q&A archive.




Getting to Know You

Where are you on your financial independence journey? Have you crossed the halfway point in terms of net worth and/or passive income?

I would say that I’m about 50% there on my way to financial independence. My goal is $1,500,000 and I have just over $750,000 in cash and investments. Passive income is the next goal that I working on.

So far, I have a side business related to my passion for zero waste, a self-published book on Amazon, and about $400 per month in brokerage account dividends (not including dividends from qualified 401(k)/Roth IRA accounts). My goal for passive income is $3,500 per month.


Tell us about your household. How many people and at what ages? Are you supporting anyone outside of your home? Where do you live?

Currently, I am not married and don’t have children, though that may change here in the near future. I also don’t support anyone at this time financially, though I would like to take credit for my parents becoming millionaires from my advice and intervention (if only I followed my own advice — funny how much risk you’re willing to take when it’s not your own money!)

I live alone in an urban area of a suburb in Northern California, though I have been “nomading” to different states and cities and hope to continue to do so later this year depending on what direction life takes me.

If anyone has any suggestions on places left to live that have a good quality of life yet don’t cause palpitations when looking at prices, let me know!


In what field are you working? How is your career going? What do you like best and least about your chosen profession?

I work as a Financial Planner, as an employee of an East Coast company. In college, I thought I wanted to be a dentist, took the test, got in, and then decided not to go after being terrified of the debt load and 4 more years of not making money.

I think what motivated me to change directions is that I hated paying landlords good money to pay off their mortgages when I wasn’t even earning anything. I just wanted to start making a living. I knew money interested me, so I joined a life insurance company as a full-commission insurance agent. [PoF: NOOoooooo!!!]

If you ever want to thicken your skin about people not returning your calls or avoiding eye contact at an event, become a life insurance agent! I then obtained my Master’s degree, securities licenses, and CFP and from there was able to find salaried positions leading up to my current tole.

I love that we can have such an impact on people’s lives/mentalities in just under an hour, and how we change the trajectory of their financial stability.

The aspect I don’t like as much is the fact that our industry is still skewed to being more available to wealthy clients, and sometimes it just feels like we cater to them and help the rich get richer, while others don’t have anyone to tell them that cash advances and 401(k) loans are not a good idea.


Do you feel you’ve come to a crossroads of sorts? If so, tell us about it. What options are you contemplating?

I feel at this point in my life, even though I am in my early 30s, I don’t see myself being a financial planner for the duration of my working career.

I’ve always wanted to start a nut butter company as that’s the one item at the grocery store that I could live on if another pandemic happens.

I also love making gourmet smoothies, as that’s what I have during the workweek, and I would love to open a juice shop as cool as Juiceland in Texas, while grinding fresh nut butter in the back. (Maybe a post-FI-plan?)




How is your nest egg invested? Approximately what percentage is allocated to stocks, bonds, real estate, and alternatives?

I have just over $200,000 in cash (a jaw-dropping amount for some, I know 😉 ), a brokerage account with about $160,000, and the rest in Roth IRA, 401(k)s, IRA, and index funds.

The reason I have so much in cash is that I want to buy a home in the near future, however, I am absolutely not getting into a desperate bidding war while the seller sits back and relishes on their pile of cash. So, this market is not for me.

People can say whatever they want about how inventory doesn’t go up overnight, but personally, I have come across enough people who are taking way too many risks just to buy a home.

I would rather wait until I find the right one, whenever that time comes. And if it doesn’t, there will be a market correction at some point, so I can pick up some stocks on my watchlist.

Overall, the percentage is about 80% stocks (including 15% international equity and 10% small/mid cap growth/value index), 8% Real Estate, 5% bonds, and the rest in sector/alternative investments.


Are your investments primarily in tax-deferred, Roth, or “taxable” post-tax accounts?

About $400,000 of my investments are in tax-deferred and Roth accounts, then about $200,000 in cash, and $160,000 in brokerage “taxable” accounts.


Do you have investments in an HSA? How about 529 Plans?

I do have an HSA. Excellent tool, especially when you can use it for things like LASIK which I had done last year. However, I only invest the amount above my deductible in balanced funds in case I have to actually use the HSA for something.

No 529 plans at this point. I just haven’t come around to having one without kids in the picture yet (though Olaf the MileHigh Finance Guy made a compelling post about it last year!)


What has been your best investment?

Brokerage account: Waste Management was my best investment. I bought 100 shares on a whim in 2015 and it has almost tripled since then, not to mention a healthy dividend!

Tax-deferred accounts: Sad to admit it but probably the American Funds mutual funds that the greedy credit union financial advisor put me in back in 2009 (Class B shares with CDSCs), yet thankful I held on because they’ve outpaced many other returns in my portfolio.


Your worst investment?

Host Hotels (HST) was my worst investment. I love hotels and figured they are very high-margin and resilient businesses. I always wanted to have some kind of ownership in luxury hotels just so I can say “I own part of the Ritz in…” and bought this stock just before the pandemic, and it has not yet recovered. I’ll hold onto it until it does unless they completely take a nosedive in strategy.

On the other hand, Marriott (MAR) did very well!


Into the FIRE


Numerically, what is your FI goal?

$1,500,000 is my FI goal.


When do you suspect you will achieve financial independence? Will you retire from your career once you’re comfortably FI?

Conservatively, I think I will hit my goal by age 40. I think I will retire from being a full-time financial advisor unless something regarding equity vesting discourages me from doing so.

Then, hopefully, the commercial real estate market is soft enough for an entry point for me to open my juice shop in a walkable entertainment center or neighborhood, and I can get cracking on making it an inviting, different place to get your smoothie fix.

I also plan to ramp up volunteering more than I do so now, primarily in environmental conservation, trail-building, and zero-waste policy advocacy.


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What are your post-FI plans? How will your life change? What do you look forward to the most?

Other than the juice shop and volunteering plan, I just plan to spend time writing, reading, and maybe being more involved with the community/future kids.

I grew up appreciating the hard work of volunteers putting on amazing events in our schools and community, and want to pay it forward to make it special for kids and neighbors now.

Sometime after FI, I also hope to come up with a plan to buy my dream car, a Porsche Taycan, and travel more. As much as I love hotels, I don’t like staying in them too much, as it feels indulgent and there are so many people treating you like their job depends on your mood, so it makes me feel bad for them as some take advantage of that.

I hope to do a lot more nature-related road trips and camping, though I think the days of camping in my Prius at that point may be limited.


Have you made any major changes in your lifestyle or investments to accelerate your FI path?

I’ve always been pretty frugal, as my parents often disagreed about money, and that had an effect on me. I also just did a lot of self-development and introspection in my 20s (while working that discouraging insurance job – I often hid in the public library when clients no-showed, which sadly was often) and learned that the things I love don’t cost much, such as being in nature, going to friends’ homes, volunteering, biking, swimming, volleyball, and tennis.

I also, like many on this path, enjoy reading books (that’s why I wrote one!) and listening to e-books on my phone while going on walks.

When I graduated college, I read somewhere that if you live on less than 50% of what you make, you’ll be set for life. Not knowing any better, I set up automatic savings, and haven’t made changes to that since. (I promise I tip well, donate to charity, and wear clean, questionably-fashionable clothes!)


Are you facing any unique challenges making FI or RE more difficult?

I’ve struggled with two things. One is deploying my large cash amount in a way that is strategic and be a boost to my FI journey, not a hindrance.

I missed out on putting more in the market in March of 2020 because I really wanted to buy a home. When home prices didn’t drop like I thought they would, and only increased, I’ve sat on the cash.

I still don’t understand how the market could be so hungry for homes all of a sudden that they are appreciating at 30% or per year in some areas. I ask myself “where were these people 10 years ago?!”

The second thing that’s been a challenge for me is creating some kind of side-business or passive income that is substantial. I make several hundred per month “passively” which funds my discretionary budget, however, I’ve seen some others make thousands per month, in addition to their job, on things like consulting or even making YouTube videos.

I struggle with the balance of enjoying life outside my full-time job and side businesses with spending more of my free time creating income streams. In the end, there are always more ways to “hustle”, and we’re all here for a limited amount of time, so I hope I’m doing my best.


What advice do you have for others who are seeking financial independence?

Seek financial independence for the right reasons! Seek it because you have a plan of what you would do when you get there, or why it would have an impact on your life.

Don’t seek to make an obscene amount of money and then just stay in the cycle of always wanting more. I’ve read too many comments of people seeking FI that are stressed out about taxes or wanting to spend their weekends obsessing over their budget spreadsheets when they already have millions of dollars. What’s the point?

Money has to have a purpose in your life, and you can’t take it with you when you’ve reached the top of the escalator if you know what I mean. Enjoy your money, and make a plan for giving it away during your life so you can see the impact it has!


Tell us About Your Side Gig.

I started a zero-waste moving box rental company years ago that has remained a small enough operation for me to manage but still brings in enough money to be profitable. We rent out commercial-grade plastic totes to customers who are moving, renovating, or reorganizing.

We primarily work with residential customers but have also worked with law firms, retail store renovations, construction companies, and home organization boutiques.

We deliver the boxes to our customers, or they can pick them up, and then pick them up anywhere from 1-4 weeks after, sanitize and clean them, and then start over with the next customer.

[PoF: Oddly enough, you’re not the first Crossroads interviewee with a zero-waste moving box company — see FIRE Crossroads 012]


Finally, is there anything under the sun that you’d like some help with? The hive mind would be happy to weigh in.

Yes! It would be related to my challenge around FI above. How do you balance the side hustle culture and feeling the pressure to earn more with enjoying life?
I can’t concentrate on my side business as it is when the sun is out. I have read about others, like YouTube creators or online course creators, who make a hefty sum from their work. Yet on the weekends, I work on my blog/business, and during the week, I just want to get my adulting errands done, cook, do yoga and read.
Is it just a mindset barrier to overcome, that the more I work now will be worth it if I can move the FI goal post closer?


PoF: Catch all the future interviews from those just getting started, at a crossroads, or at the end of their FI journey with a free subscription to Physician on FIRE.




I thank today’s interviewee for sharing their story, and I’ve shared my feedback privately with them. I wouldn’t want my opinions to influence yours. Please give your take and answer any questions they have had in the space below!

Again, if you’d like to partake in a future Q&A, please download a FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes interview form.


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12 thoughts on “FIRE Crossroads 023: Single & Frugal Equals FI by 40”

  1. Dude great job so far man! ?- how much of your portfolio is individual stocks? I would recommend only 5-10% of your portfolio to scratch the itch. Anymore then definitely taking on a lot of Uncompensated risk that can torpedo your FI plans

    • Thanks Rikki! Yeah about 8% is individual stocks. It’s money that I can afford to lose and want to have some fun with. I’ve never lost money on them, I only hold on until they are profitable and then sell. Might need to harvest some losses based on how things pan out this year.

  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. Just playing the devil’s advocate. First- cool article and congrats on your journey! Second – while I love articles about being single, childless and heading into FIRE (I fantasize about this-believe me), I also think it’s a bit premature. You may be reaching FIRE now but once you partner up and have a cute kiddo, the picture changes completely! The FIRE number you had, now doubles or even triples! Well worth it however, even though I fantasize about being single and having no kids. Wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Happy to triple the FIRE number in order to have the kids I have….but I’ll never retire early…haaa haaa.

  4. I recommend reading the book Die with Zero. It made me realize how much we should take advantage of life during our younger years while our health is optimal. So I am more open to doing mini retirements now while I am young and pushing the FIRE date later.

  5. Why don’t you pay out of pocket for medical bills and save the receipts for future reimbursement from HSA? (stealth IRA)

    As far as your side gigs and passive income streams, I don’t see the problem if you’re enjoying them. Everyone has hobbies or interests- if yours happen to make you money, even better. If you were missing golf or expensive hobbies, I’d say you should cut yourself some slack and spend some money on doing things you enjoy (because like you said, we only have so much time) but seems like you’re doing fine entertaining yourself and side hustling.

    Personally, I’m the same way – love hitting the gym and keeping it simple so I don’t feel FOMO when a buddy says they’re chillin on their boat or cruising around in their sports car. Always gonna be a bigger fish so I don’t mind bumming it and keeping the targets off my back. Similar spot early 30s and close to a frugal FI life. Cheers homie!

    • Hey Jay, thanks for reading! We sound like we have similar mindsets/interests. Do you blog or are you in Northern CA?

      Great point on the HSA. Appreciate the encouragement, I agree with you that there is always going to be a bigger fish. We have to just roll with what we can and find the balance that brings us happiness or optimism in our life. I hate to call it a side “hustle” as that indicates I spend all my free time on it, and that’s certainly not true!

      • Definitely similar mindsets/interests. Thought it was funny you were almost a dentist. I’ve been practicing since 2016 and I was lucky enough to start reading PoF and WCI early in my career.

        Now I have the golden handcuffs and I’d love to dive into my own practice or some other business to feed my entrepreneurial side. The days of being an associate are coming to an end and I want to work for myself and set my own schedule. Just not sure where and when but luckily I have the financial flexibility to figure that out. I’m not in Northern CA but it’d be cool to connect and brainstorm, if you’re interested.

        • Oh man, good for you going all the way. Dental School wasn’t for me so glad I pulled the plug early. Definitely understand the desire to have your own schedule and manage your own practice. I have some other friends who are associates for corporations and love it, but others that crave the ability to work for themselves.

          Yeah let’s connect! Where are you located? Feel free to send me your email via financialfives.com and we can sync up.

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