Christopher Guest Post: Retire by 40
Today, I am honored to bring you insights from one of the first FIRE bloggers on the internet. Joe Udo started Retire by 40 a full eight years ago, retired from his engineering job with Intel 6 years ago, and has been sharing his journey as a husband, father, and blogger throughout this decade.
Joe has been a friend of this blog since its inception. I had a guest post appear on his site entitled Can Doctors Retire Early? on March 4, 2016, less than two months after my site was founded. I saw a lot of traffic that day (800 pageviews!) and made it my goal to grow my site as big as his while also helping other fledgling bloggers get a dopamine hit of their own by sending some traffic their way.
It took more than two years, but I was able to get Joe to write a post for me to share with you all. I hope you can help me return the favor by spending some time visiting his site, Retire by 40.
What’s a Christopher Guest post?
If you’re not familiar with the scene, take 50 seconds to watch this video and enjoy the dialog between Nigel and Rob Reiner.
I decided I’d start a Q&A of my own. Not satisfied with just ten questions, “this one goes to eleven”. Just like Nigel’s amplifiers.
I also enjoy responding to the answers provided by the interviewee, which makes the interview flow more like a conversation. And conversation is what we’re after.
What do you do (or did you do) for a living? What do you like best about your job? If you were a physician, what type of a physician do you think you would be? Why?
I designed and validated computer chips at Intel for 16 years. If you have a computer, then you probably use a little piece of what I worked on. I studied chip design in college so the job was a great fit at the start of my career. As you may know, the corporations demand a lot from their engineer. New grads routinely work 60-80 hours per week. Of course, you don’t get overtime because young engineers are exempt employees. Well, I can’t moan too much about the long hours here because physician residents work more and are paid less at this stage of their career.
Working long hours was fine when I was in my 20s because I was learning so much. Besides, all the young engineers were working long hours and we had a camaraderie. We’d work hard then hit the town or go snowboarding on weekends. It was a fun time in my life and I look back fondly on it. Then again, it might just be youth that I have a fond memory of. Life is good now, but you really can’t beat being 22, single, healthy, and having money to spend.
The thing I like best about my old job was when we got the physical computer chips back from the factory. Engineers worked on the design and validation for several years, then we sent it off to fabrication. The plant usually took 6-10 weeks to make the first batch. It was really exciting to get the prototype back.
One time, the plant was in Israel and they sent someone to hand carry the first few chips back to the US. When the chips landed, they were driven straight to the huge validation machines in the lab. It was all hands on deck at this point as we tried to bring the chip to life. It didn’t matter what time it is, you had to be there.
This process was great fun the first few times. Once the initial frenzy died down, everyone went on call just in case your little area didn’t function properly. I worked swing shift (3 pm until midnight) many times and I didn’t mind at all. That was actually way better than regular shift. Most of the people in regular shift worked 8 am to 8 pm for months on end. Anyway, this was a lot fun for young engineers.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. I got promotions and became more senior as the years went by. More money was good, but the employer also demanded more responsibilities. Once you’re a senior engineer, you need to be a multiplier. It’s not enough to just excel at the technical work anymore. You need to increase productivity in other ways too. This was not my forte and my job satisfaction plummeted like the subprime mortgage securities in 2008. The timing was uncanny.
I started to dislike my engineering career just as the housing bubble popped. The economy crashed and our investment followed suit. At that point, there was not much I could do except to keep working and be thankful I had a job. Oh, I think I started reading more personal finance blogs at that point and discovered financial independence. I never considered early retirement before the 2008 financial crisis.
If I was a physician, I’d probably go for a job that doesn’t involve a lot of blood. I don’t like blood and guts so it’ll have to be the anesthesiology or something in the recovery program. They don’t see much blood, right? I really don’t know that much about the medical field.
[PoF: Do you ever look back on the anticipation of the latest chip and wonder how you could ever geek out so massively? I kid. I kid.
It seems most people have said, or at least felt, that they loved their job at some point. It’s not at all unusual for that feeling to fade, and you were obviously not immune. I think it’s important to impress upon people who couldn’t care less about financial independence because they love their job that there’s a decent chance that will change someday.
If you don’t lke blood and guts, you need to stay far away from the O.R., so that rules out anesthesiology and the recovery room. Aiding in recovery from an injury or addiction standpoint could be an option. Psychiatry, rheumatology, sleep medicine, allergist… just about any strictly outpatient doc should avoid blood and guts on all but their very worst days.]
Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.
When I first started in 2010, Retire by 40 was about my journey to early retirement. It was all about how I save, invest, and plan for early retirement. I retired from my engineering in 2012, but the quest continues for my wife. She still enjoys working so she is sticking with her job for a few more years. Now, I blog on a wider range of topics including kids and various aspects of financial independence.
Engineers and physicians have quite a few things in common. Engineers make a good income and it can ramp up quickly in the early part of our career.
Physicians start a bit later with more debt (most likely), but they also make a better income. The biggest challenge for both careers is lifestyle inflation. It’s easy to increase spending to make life more comfortable and fun.
However, many high-income engineers and physicians spend too much and don’t save enough for the rainy days. Our careers are stressful and there is no guarantee we can do it forever. These careers have a high burn out rate. On Retire by 40, physicians can see how much life improves with less stress.
[PoF: I see the parallels. I also see the value of a working spouse. That gives you health insurance, additional income, and now that your child is in school, the house to yourself all day!
My wife has stayed home to raise our boys, and we’ll have to be ready to cover our own insurances and live off of our investments once I retire and stop earning an income (including online income). I anticipate retiring from medicine before next summer is over, but plan to continue writing for this blog.]
What inspired you to start a blog of your own? Was there a particular event you remember that made you feel your blog had arrived? Any big plans for your blog in the future?
It’s been a little while since 2010, so it’s starting to get hazy. I remember sitting in my depressing grey cubicle and reading personal finance blogs. It probably was Early Retirement Extreme or Financial Samurai. Suddenly, Retire by 40 popped into my head and the rest was history. I figured if these guys can do it, why can’t I?
Unfortunately, Mrs. RB40 didn’t take it well this when I told her about Retire by 40. She was 5 months pregnant and she didn’t want me to retire early. Eventually, I convinced her to come on board the FIRE train by tracking our cash flow and showing her that it would work.
Arrived – Right before FinCon 2012, I was interviewed and Retire by 40 was mentioned in the Denver Post. I asked Eric @ Personal Profitability to save a clipping for me. We met at FinCon and I brought him a drink. I had interviews and mentions before, but being in print made it more real. I guess that’s old-time thinking. Online publications are much more influential now.
Currently, I don’t have any big plan for my blog. I post twice per week and this schedule is just about perfect at this time. I spend about 20-30 hours on Retire by 40 and that’s enough. Eventually, I’d like to cut down to about 10 hours per week. Once our kid is done with high school, we plan to travel much more. That’s a long way off, though.
[PoF: I met your buddy Eric at FinCon five years later. And I’ve been hoping to meet you at one some day, but Orlando couldn’t be much further from Portland. Next year, I imagine the conference will be held much closer to home for you.
I know at some point, I will want to slow down as well. It’s tough to fnd time for other projects and everything else in life when publishing four posts a week!]
Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.
5 years after early retirement – See how good early retirement is after 5 years.
Can you retire with 5 million dollars? Most of us don’t really need that much money to retire early.
What if you always maxed out your 401k? This one shows compound interest in a real-world situation.
Why engineers should plan for early retirement – A lot of this probably applies to physicians as well.
Secret to building wealth – It really isn’t a big secret. You need to buy assets and avoid liabilities. Assets generate wealth for you, liabilities don’t. Your car is not an asset.
How much money do you need to feel wealthy? – Do you feel wealthy? How much money do you really need?
Build a Roth IRA ladder to minimize tax in early retirement – Yes, you can access those retirement account without paying the 10% early withdrawal penalty. It just involve some planning.
Are you worth more than you earned? – This one is really tough for everyone. High income earners pay a lot of taxes and it’s not easy to achieve this goal.
Why the pursuit of happiness is misguided – Happiness is a moment, contentment is a state. Check it out.
What was your lowest point financially? – Most of us have been through many challenges. They aren’t pleasant, but they build grit. See if you can top my lowest point.
One Engineer’s perspective on early retirement – Some people say I’m not really retired because I have a blog. Here is my answer. Everyone has to define their own retirement.
[PoF: I like how five of your posts pose a question. You’ve figured out how to get readers to click and engage, haven’t you?
I once calculated how much I’ve earned compared to how much I’m worth, and the results (using after-tax earnings) were favorable. That led to my guest post at InvestmentZen, I Have Every Dollar I’ve Earned In My 10 Year Career.
I appreciate your sentiment in the “engineer’s perspective” post. I’ve been saying for some time now that I plan to retire from medicine. Whether that makes me a retired person or not can be up for debate, but it doesn’t much matter how other people choose to define your status, does it?]
At what age are you most likely to retire (or at what age did you retire) from full-time work? What are you doing to help realize your retirement target?
I retired from full time work in 2012, when I was 38 year old. I started blogging about early retirement in 2010. Did it take just 2 years to retire? No, it took me 16 years.
We were already saving, investing, and living frugally way before I learn about financial independence. Financial security was important to us and we wanted to save for the rainy days. Blogging about early retirement helped tremendously, too. It gave me focus and we were able to cut back our expenses, increase our investment, and plan better.
One of the first things I did was to track our spending closely. We always lived below our means, but I didn’t track expense very closely. I think all of us tend to spend aimlessly when we don’t track expense. Blogging really helped me stay on track.
[PoF: Believe it or not, I didn’t track spending until just before I started blogging. I wanted to be sure I could honestly tell people that we were indeed financially independent.
You won’t find many physicians retiring any younger than 38, although I did feature one OB/Gyn who retired at 37. Personally, I was not quite FI at 37 or 38, but did cross that threshold at 39.]
What does an ideal retirement look like for you? What will you do with your time when full-time work is in your rearview mirror?
An ideal retirement? I’d be in Hawaii at the RB40 villa with family and friends. The beach would be less than 10 minutes away so I could go kayak fishing and paddle board surfing anytime I want. (Of course, it’d be even better if the RB40 villa is right on the beach, but I’m trying to be realistic here.)
Visiting friends and family can stay at the huts and socialize at the central workshop, kitchen, and entertainment area. Hmm… Now that I think about it more, this sounds like a commune. Anyway, I’d spend my time improving the property, cook delicious food, make artwork, and improve the local community through volunteering. It’ll be a busy, but relaxing life. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
Actually, my current early retirement lifestyle is already pretty damn good. I get to spend a lot of time with our son and I keep busy with my Retire by 40. Blogging keeps me busy so I don’t feel bored. Our son is growing up fast and pretty soon, he won’t need us anymore. Life changes. Retirement will too.
[PoF: Count me in for one o’ them huts. We love Hawaii despite our slow travel fail there. Maybe we could pool our resources along with another blogger who dreams of Hawaii (I’m lookin’ at you, Sam) and get that beachfront place after all.
Until then, keep livin’ the good life as you are.]
I’ll give you eleven sentences to dish out advice to a young physician. Any and all advice is welcome. We talk about personal finance, so money is fair game, but if you have advice on being a better doctor, a better parent / spouse / friend / human, we’re all ears.
Most PoF readers probably already heard this one, but you need to keep lifestyle inflation under control. Physicians make a lot of money and spending can get out of control fast. You don’t have to keep up with Dr. Joneses.
Second, save and invest for your future. You never know what’s going to happen. Life is good when you have a high income, but things can change. I loved my engineering career for many years, but it turned sour surprisingly quick.
I had more choices than other people my age because I saved and I don’t mind being unconventional. You can give yourself that option if you save and invest diligently when you’re happy with your work. Physicians get burned out too, right? [PoF: Definitely.]
Lastly, be a better human being, of course. Look at yourself through the eyes of your parents and kids. Would they be proud of who you are and how you behave? I need to do better here too. Life is good for my family, but many people are struggling. We all could help improve the world.
(Sorry, that’s a bit over 11 sentences. I read it is better to write shorter sentences.)
[PoF: I’ll let it slide. And I won’t count the two-sentence apology against you, either. Great advice, all around.]
You’ve got eleven days to visit anyplace in the world with an $11,000 budget. Where do you go and what do you do?
11 days is way too short. We like slow travel and we no longer rush around like someone with 15 days of vacation per year. That’s in the past. Now, we prefer to travel a bit slower so we can experience each location more thoroughly.
With this in mind, I’d take the family to New York. I’ve never been there and I always wanted to visit the statue of liberty and other famous sites. Mrs. RB40 went to NY on a school trip 30 years ago. I believe it was for some kind of band activity. $11,000 budget is huge and we can blow it all in the Big Apple. We could stay at a ritzy hotel, go see a bunch of shows, eat at Michelin 3-star restaurants, hire a personal guide to show us around, and see the city from a helicopter.
I can’t imagine spending $11,000 in 11 days anywhere else. Maybe London or Tokyo?
[PoF: I agree — 11 days is way too short — but that’s about all many of my full-time friends can take off at one time.
New York is a great city, and you should definitely check it out. You could be there for 11 years and not run out of things to see, places to explore, and restaurants to sample. I’ve been there about five times, including early this year when I was present for the closing bell at the NYSE. That was a neat experience despite the 362 point drop in the Dow that day — I even made an appearance on live TV.]
Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.
- IPA – I moved to Portland in 1996. That’s right at the start of the craft brew movement. I tried some local IPAs and they were so different than the cheap beer I had in college. I got hooked on the hops after a few tries. Nowadays, I rarely drink beer because of health reasons. My triglyceride level is unusually high (over 1000mg/dL if I don’t take the medication.) Some kind of genetic issue.
- Water – The stuff of life.
- Mimosa – Mrs. RB40 loves mimosa. It goes with pretty much anything.
- Coffee – I just learned how to make cold brew coffee at home. It’s awesome.
- Tea – Mmmm… I love premium hand-picked loose leaf green tea. I don’t see these at the grocery store in the US, though. The last time I got a nice tin was from our Taiwan trip years ago.
- Wine – I’m not too picky here. Mrs. RB40 likes muscato and prosecco. My favorite is Chianti.
- Smoothie – Mrs. RB40 likes to make smoothies at home. I enjoy it whenever she makes a pitcher.
That’s about it really. Drinks aren’t a big part of our lives anymore.
[PoF: Bummer about the issue with the IPAs (and other alcohol), particularly when you live in the epicenter of all things craft beer as you point out. But those are exceedingly high triglyceride levels — you gotta do what you gotta do. What good is an early retirement if you’re not around to enjoy it?
Water is the stuff of life. Cheers!]
Now, eleven foods.
There are so many delicious things to eat and I’m willing to try almost anything. Narrowing it down is going to be tough. I’m partial to Asian food because that’s what I grew up with and cook at home.
- Thai – Sticky rice with Chiang Mai sausage, nam prik ong, pork rinds, and a piece of nicely fried pork chop. Mmmm… This would be the top candidate for my last meal. I ate this all the time when I was a kid. Now, I only get to eat this when I visit Thailand.
- Thai – Khao Soi. Curry noodle. This one is mind-blowingly delicious. Don’t miss it if you ever visit Chiang Mai. Fortunately, I can make this one at home.
- Thai – Sticky rice with Thai grilled chicken and Som Tum (papaya salad.)
- Thai – Khoa Kha Moo. Braised pork leg on rice. This stuff is way better than pork belly. It’s amazing from a really good shop. If you’re in Bangkok, go find this 60 year old hole in the wall restaurant – Charoen Saeng Silom. It’ll be the best $5 you ever spend.
- Japanese – Omakase sushi at a good sushi restaurant. The best we ever had was at Sushi Dai at the Tsujiki market in Japan. Someday, I’d like to try one of those super highly rated sushi restaurants in Tokyo.
- Japanese – Hoba miso, grilled Hida beef with miso on hoba leaf. This is a regional dish in the Hida Takayama region in Japan. It was the best beef I’ve ever eaten and I’m salivating now. I’d love to go back and visit again someday just for the food.
- Chinese – Sichuan hot pot. Mmmm… So good and warming on a cold winter day.
- Chinese – Dim sum. Most dim sum restaurants in the US are mediocre. Hong Kong would be your best bet for dim sum.
- Korean – Kimchi jjigae. Kimchi stew. Yumm!
- American – NOLA oysters. I have no idea why oysters are so much better in New Orleans.
- American – A meal at the French Laundry. We went about 15 years ago. It was an awesome experience, but I doubt we’ll return. I’m too frugal now.
[PoF: You’ve got quite the palate, and quite the exposure to Asian foods of a wide variety. I’ve heard from others that the food in Thailand is wonderful and ridiculously affordable.
I don’t know if I could bring myself to pay French Laundry prices for a meal (like you or our friend Michael), but I can’t imagine you’ve become too frugal to consider it again. What good are your millions if you can’t bring yourself to spend them? You don’t have to live the fatFIRE lifestyle every day, but you can afford to splurge on occasion.]
How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me?
I don’t remember. You must have left a comment on Retire by 40. The earliest comment I can find is from early 2016, around the time you turned 40. That sounds about right.
I don’t have a specific advice. It looks like you’re doing very well with everything. Just keep at it and don’t screw up. 🙂
[PoF: That sounds about right. I was reading your site for some time before I started to start one of my own. Commenting on other blogs is a great way to get noticed. I think it worked!
Thanks again for publishing what I believe was my very first guest post and for taking the time to allow my readers to get to know you a little better.]
Interested in hearing how other top personal finance bloggers have answered these questions? Check out a few of these Christopher Guest Posts:
- Chief Mom Officer
- Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks
- Our Next Life
- Crispy Doc
- Distilled Dollar
- Coach Carson
- Think Save Retire
- Financially Alert
- Life of a Med Student
- The Wall Street Physician
- Dads Dollars Debts
- Full Time Finance
- From Cents to Retirement
- Gen Y Finance Guy
- Get Money Got Money
- Mr. Tako Escapes
- My Money Wizard
- Senior Resident
- Big Law Investor
- Ten Factorial Rocks
- Family Money Plan
- My Money Wizard
- ESI Money
- The Green Swan
- Smart Money MD
- The Retirement Manifesto
- J.L. Collins
- Johnny K. Johnson
- Early Retirement Now!
- Son of a Doctor
- The Happy Philosopher
- Future Proof MD
- Dr. Wise Money
- The White Coat Investor
- Mr. 1500 of 1500 Days
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