Podcast | Karsten – Early Retirement Now

Today I chat to Karsten from Early Retirement Now. Sometimes referred to as Big Ern, Karsten is originally from Germany and he moved to the USA to continue on his finance career. His blog Early Retirement Now goes into incredible detail into the numbers behind retirement and investing. Jump on board, there’s a lot we can learn from Big Ern!

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Introduction – Karsten – Early Retirement Now

On board the pod today is Karsten from Early Retirement Now. Sometimes he’s affectionately referred to as Big Ern due to his massive 6’6″ stature, but Ern isn’t just any old blogger. He’s originally from Germany, and he moved to the USA as an exchange student where he stayed after graduating to proceed on his finance career. He has a PhD in economics and has dozens of journal articles published in prestigious academic journals.

Karsten has worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Bank of New York Mellon Asset Management and holds a prestigious title as a chartered financial analyst. He is also a university lecturer where he teaches both undergraduate and PhD level economics. His blog, Early Retirement Now is a wealth of information and goes into some incredible details about the numbers behind investment and retirement. Big Ern is a family man and he and his family have enjoyed travelling around the world since he FIRE’d in 2018.

Jump on board! There’s a lot that can be learned from Big Ern!

karsten, early retirement now


Episode 50: Karsten – Early Retirement Now

Show Notes


Episode 50: Karsten – Early Retirement Now

Karsten from early Retirement Now

Captain Fi: [00:00:00] Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Welcome aboard the Financial Independence Podcast.

Gday and welcome to another episode of Captain Fire, the Financial Independence Podcast, where I open the cockpit to some of the best and brightest in personal finance, as well as those who have reached or are on their way to financial independence. Before we get started, remember nothing said here is financial advice, and you should always do your own independent research before making any financial choices.

With that being said, I hope you enjoy the episode and learn something new.[00:01:00]

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On board today is Karsten from Early Retirement. Now, although sometimes he’s affectionately referred to online as Big Ern due to his massive six foot, six stature mate, I don’t know how you’d fit in an airplane. Seriously. Big Earn isn’t just any old blogger, though he has a PhD in economics and also has dozens of journal articles published in a multitude of prestigious academic journals, including the Journal of Monetary Economics, macro Economic Dynamics, and the Journal of Money Credit and Banking.

Caston has also worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Bank of New York Mellon Asset Management. Anne holds a prestigious title as a chartered financial Analyst to top it off. Caston is also a university lecturer where he teaches both undergraduate and PhD level economics. His blog. Early Retirement Now is a wealth of information and [00:03:00] goes into some incredible details into the numbers behind investment and retirement.

Now look, I love numbers as much as any fiery, and my background is actually as an engineer or a rocket scientist you might say, but ERNs works really are in a class of their own, and honestly, I can’t do it justice. You’re gonna have to check out his site for having a look at his analytical optimization and retirement planning articles.

Carlson’s also bilingual, originally coming from Germany and moving to the USA as an exchange student where he stayed after graduating to proceed on his finance career. Outside finance, er is a loving father and a husband to his wife Crystal, and daughter Katie. And he and his family have enjoyed traveling around the world since he fired in 2018.

Thanks for your time and coming on the podcast cast, or should I say big rn, real common

Karsten: vi Gates Dunker. Thanks for having me on the show. Thank

Captain Fi: you. Oh, my pleasure mate. [00:04:00] It’s awesome to be able to speak to to someone like yourself. So before we get stuck into some of the questions hopefully I did that intro justice.

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? So whereabouts in Germany were you from originally, and what kind of hobbies do you

Karsten: have? So I grew up in Northwest Germany. It’s a small city called Bielefeld. It’s in the same state as Cologne and Dortmund. And came to the US in 1995 for grad school and after finishing my PhD in economics I wasn’t a hundred percent settled of staying in the US but I thought the job market was better in the us.

So in 2000 I got my first job in the US and then just stayed there. And then so 18 years of working in the US is what it took me to fire. So I retired in 2018, actually almost to the day five years ago. And I live in Washington state now. It’s in the Pacific Northwest, so it’s not the city of Washington, it’s the state of Washington.

So it’s to the north we have Canada and to the south we have [00:05:00] Oregon. So it’s a paradise for outdoor activities here. And so we. Make good use of that. So as you said, I’m married. My wife is an immigrant too. She’s from the Philippines and we have a nine year old daughter. And so for fun, what we do is, we like to travel a lot.

My daughter’s favorite mode of travel is by cruise ship. I think flying airplanes is a close second. And yeah, so we try to make the best out of our early retirement. And then when we are not traveling, and we are here in Washington State, we like to do a lot of outdoor stuff. So hiking, skiing, hanging out with friends.

There’s actually a bit of a fire community here too. And so we have, it’s not all of our friends are fired, but quite a few of our friends are also early retired. And it’s great to hang out with everybody here.

Captain Fi: Oh, what a wonderful community to be a part of. I’m noticing as well, even just through the Captain Fire blog and podcast, I’m actually meeting a heap of people in the fire community.

And we’ve been doing regular meetups. I’ve been actually traveling interstate to a few of the different cities around [00:06:00] Australia and been doing meetups and yeah, the people you meet are wonderful. Oh, that’s awesome. My partner’s actually Filipino too. She’s from Metro Manila and yeah, recently spent a few months traveling around Southeast Asia and actually, my first cruise, I, my first go on a cruise ship and I loved it.

I can see why your daughter places at number one.

Karsten: Yeah.

Captain Fi: Yep. Well, it also sounds like a really lovely place to live. I’m enjoying being able to get out and do some more outdoorsy stuff as well. I’m in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and it’s also, it’s a great spot. It does get pretty bloody hot in summer though.

So you, I guess you’ve alluded to it in your answer there regarding community and family activities, but if you could sum it up, what does financial independence mean to you?

Karsten: Yeah, so it’s mostly the freedom to spend more time with my loved ones, right? So, and that also means we like to travel and then visit family overseas, obviously.

And if you think back, you probably have the same experience as when you have a corporate job and you might take a [00:07:00] week off, maybe two weeks off maximum. And that’s not really. Enough to travel in a relaxed way, right? So by the time you get over the jet lag, it’s time to fly back And you can’t really immerse yourself in another country, in another culture.

And so we like this slow travel where we spent a week in the city speaking, spent a week in that city, spent maybe a month in some other place. And so , that was really our number one goal to spend more time together and then also have more flexibility and time to travel.

So in 2018 first year retirement we traveled seven months and then another four months in 2019. So it was optimal timing, obviously, before the whole travel restriction started. And yeah, so we Think that fire to us means that we have the time and money to do what we like and when we like it.

And I always think about fire in terms of opportunity cost, right? So thinking like an economist. So opportunity cost is the the thing that you can do, which is the second best [00:08:00] alternative that you forego. And normally you teach that to undergrad students saying that. So if you want to go to the movie theater on a Friday night, what is the cost of that?

Right? It’s not just the direct cost, the movie ticket and the soda and popcorn at the movie theaters. Also, your lost wages because. You could have gone and done another shift working at a restaurant or working or studying for your exams. So that’s your opportunity cost. But then once you get more assets, then I think the opportunity costs work the other way around, right?

So you have enough money already. Why do you keep working, right? So now your opportunity costs is the foregone opportunities to spend time with family and, you can travel while you are young and healthy. Why do you want to wait? When you’re really old and frail, you see that sometimes on the cruise ships, right?

So the, a lot of very old couples and you sometimes think, I hope , they did as much cruising as we did while we are young right now, because the you might be too old by the time you have the time and the money to cruise. And so that’s the nice thing about [00:09:00] fire that you can flip this opportunity cost equation and think about it in terms of so now I do it the other way around.

I have the fun and yeah, obviously the lost wages is the opportunity cost, but it’s small relative to what you gain and it’s small, potentially relative to what you already have in your bank account.

Captain Fi: Yeah, it reminds me of that sort of the tenant of project management where they say oh, you can have something on time.

On budget or it can be good. So you gotta pick two out of the three. But it’s a sort of a similar conundrum, isn’t it? Because when you are young, you’ve got lots of energy, but no money and you don’t really have time. Yep. And then as you get older, you’ve got the money, but you haven’t really got the time cuz you’re working.

And then when you’re old and you’ve got the money, And the energy, well, you don’t really have the time left, so, yeah. I’ve heard people talk about this in terms of like your prime spending years. I think it was Rams talks a bit about your prime spending years, and I know it’s been coming up a bit more in the fire community lately.[00:10:00]

Mad scientists and money mustache have both been posting a bit more about being better at spending and that is actually something that I’m really working hard to spend more freely now because I’m so used to this ingrained frugal lifestyle and I’ve gotta save to invest. It’s really interesting and I’m really trying to take that advice that you’ve just given and do it and flip the switch on that opportunity cost mindset.

Karsten: Yep. Exactly.

Captain Fi: , And you said in the intro you really became interested in fire about 18 years ago. And so that’s roughly speaking around a 50% savings rate or maybe just under say 45 which is awesome and that a lot of people are sort of saying that, around that 50% saving mark is actually quite a sustainable number.

Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to financial independence your tempo of investing and why you chose that savings rate?

Karsten: Right. So I was extremely lucky that I wanted to [00:11:00] be PHI before I even knew that PHI and fire communities existed out there, right? So, so even at a pretty young age, I knew that I didn’t want to work.

All the way till I’m 65 or 67 or what, whatever your traditional retirement age is. So even in my twenties, I knew that I wanted to retire probably in my fifties. And so at my first job at the Central Bank I don’t think I had a 50% savings rate yet. So it was probably somewhere between 25 and 30%.

And then after I moved into finance, I had a much higher salary and I kept my standard of living probably about the same. And of course you also, I had to move from Atlanta to San Francisco, so it was a little bit more expensive there. But that allowed me to basically save that magical 50% of my income, which still, by the way, left a lot of pretty nice consumption budget.

 Not just mandatory spending, but also a lot of discretionary stuff [00:12:00] that I could spend money on. So it never felt really too constraining to me that I felt like I was depriving myself or constraining myself. Yeah. So there’s a really, the 50% savings rate that was really mostly while I was working in finance and actually in finance it’s very easy to do that because there’s a very peculiar compensation agreement, right?

 You get your traditional salary, and then you get a year end bonus, which is usually paid sometime around February or March. And then that year end bonus is some huge chunk of money. And then the trick is basically you want to live just off of your. Regular salary, and then the bonus, you consider that as extra.

And because it comes in one big lump sum, don’t even look at it, just invest it right away. And out of sight, out of mind. There’s no way to spend it on anything frivolous. And so that definitely helped in getting that savings rate up. And yeah. So, and then in terms of how did I [00:13:00] invest it?

I did mostly index fund investing. So there were no genius moves. So no stock picking no early crypto investing just invested regularly even during bear markets. In fact, you could almost say that, especially. Keeping it up during the bear markets that’s almost the the recipe for success there.

Cuz that’s how you do the dollar cost averaging, right? So, and then you just set it and forget it. And if you do that for 18 years, from 2000 to 2018 it’s a pretty much foolproof way to reach fire and had a pretty big nest egg there.

Captain Fi: So listen, everyone, you heard it here from a literal finance doctor, Dr. Caston, PhD, university lecturer. You gotta continue regularly investing. He didn’t stock pick, he didn’t have some Hail Mary crypto, he didn’t sell an internet company. He literally just regularly bought index funds. So I think that’s a really powerful message.

Thank you so [00:14:00] much for sharing. Now Carson, having said that, you are not just any old blogger on the internet. As I said, you do, you have a PhD, you’re a chartered financial analyst you’ve got dozens of published articles and you teach this stuff at a university level. What got you interested in finance?

Karsten: I eat, sleep and breathe economics. So even after retirement, right? It’s not like you, you completely retire from that. So, you want to. In terms of opportunity costs may even in your life decisions, thinking analytically and quantitatively.

And yeah. So I’ve always been a more of a math geek. So, I was very good at math in high school. Wanted to do something more applied, so I didn’t study math or physics, so I thought I’ll start business in college. And if as a business and econ major, you have to take the same.

Courses for the first few semesters. And I found that economics was much more interesting, much more academic, and you have models and , you write down models. You you prove [00:15:00] theorems and propositions in models. So it, it is then felt almost mathematics again, which I liked a lot in high school.

And so I liked both the theoretical part of economics which I mean in some places boils down to some pretty heavy duty math, like topology and real analysis. It’s not just calculus, it’s actually past calculus. And so I always found that very interesting. But I also found That the data analysis tools are really useful.

So even if you are not staying in economics, right, if you move over to finance or marketing or any other quantitative field as an economist, you have , pretty good toolkit to to work on interesting projects. So yeah, I mean it’s, I definitely the subject. If somebody asked me if you could start over again, would you study economics again?

And I guess I, I definitely would. I think it’s a pretty cool subject and it’s it teaches you skills that even if you don’t use them in economics, they’re still pretty useful in, in other [00:16:00] arenas in including basically writing some MATLAB code or Python code to run some calculations for my block as is definitely very helpful.

Captain Fi: Yeah, I want to get into that and how I guess the jump between academic economics and your corporate jobs moving into the personal finance stuff. But actually, that’s a perfect segue, right? So you’ve held some pretty awesome jobs along the way. Can you talk a bit about those jobs, sort of how you went from a graduate.

To your graduate position and then working in universities and asset management. You’ve done quite a lot. So how have these differed? What was involved , and why did you wanna make the jump, , between the two?

Right. So, , in grad school,

Karsten: they actually train you to become a professor. Right? The normal path that your professors want to push you into is to get a tenure track professor position at a good university and then get tenure and write research and basically spread the good news about their particular field of economics.

And I had a [00:17:00] few academic opportunities, so I could have I had several offers from universities, but I found the Federal Reserve route a lot more interesting. So it’s a little bit more applied and always in the back of my head, I had this idea, well, maybe eventually I want to move to Wall Street.

 So right after grad school, I moved to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Did that for eight years. And so at the Fed I worked in economic research. So we would do academic research or we still write papers. So just say an assistant professor would do at a university, we go to conferences.

But we would also help with the monetary policy work. So instead of teaching students, you pretty much had one student, and that’s the bank president. That’s the policymaker that would meet go to the F O M C meetings and meet with well first Greenspan and Bernanke and as so as one of the policy makers that that would sit at the table with the big guys.

And so anyways, we had to advise the policy maker on anything related to economics and finance. So we would generate forecast, [00:18:00] write commentary on economic and financial data releases and so on. And I thought that was quite interesting. But then in the back of my mind, I always had this goal of moving to Wall Street.

And so, and then in 2008, I had an opportunity to move over to the private sector in asset management. And it wasn’t literally on Wall Street, and it wasn’t even in New York City, but it turned out in San Francisco. And I thought, well, that, that sounded nice. I always thought San Francisco was a beautiful place to, to live in.

And so I accepted the job there in 2008 and that was in March. So there was right as the global financial crisis went underway. So it was a little bit scary experience for me. Right. To leave your relatively safe job at the Central Bank and move to asset management right at the beginning of the financial crisis, but it actually worked out pretty well for me, so company did.


Captain Fi: I was gonna say. , right. As the, the walls are sort of falling in and everyone’s losing their jobs.

Yeah. They’re afraid to even [00:19:00] look at your screen in the morning, oh my God, what’s gonna go wrong today?

Karsten: But in hindsight it was a very good move. And so it’s, and bank of New York Mellon Asset Management is a very large organization, is very reputable, or they have this very large office in San Francisco.

And there our typical client would be large institutional investors, not retail investors. We wouldn’t have any ETFs or mutual funds or anything like that. But so institutional investors, pension funds, endowments, sovereign wealth funds, and so on. And I worked in global asset allocation. So asset allocation is not stock picking.

So we would be more interested in say relative attractiveness of different assets of different markets. So is Australia more attractive than New Zealand? Versus Japan versus Germany. And then we would go long and short in the different markets and then sometimes wouldn’t even have any long equity exposure net.

So just long shorts. And you can do that within the stock market, you could also do that across stocks and bonds and [00:20:00] commodities and currencies. And because of that, there is still a use for economics, right? So the kinds of signals that we would be working with would be just macroeconomic signals, right? So we would be trying to figure out where do we think growth will be the strongest? Where do we think inflation is going to be a problem? And it was still a very academic environment, and it was still relying on economics and economic intuition.

And it would rely on a lot of quantitative tools. So I think I, I made a lot of innovations and a lot of suggestions and approving the processes there. So, yeah people liked me there and I liked them. So I think it was a really good move to to go there for 10 years. And

so in, in terms of teaching yeah, I’ve taught at different places, obviously in grad school they make you teach some undergrad classes. I did that I also taught some I did the recitations for econometrics. So that’s that’s statistical [00:21:00] tools for economists. So that was a PhD level class.

That wasn’t my own class. I just did the recitation session for that. But then when I was in Atlanta, I taught some PhD macroeconomics at Emory University. And then the last two years I’ve been teaching undergrads at the extension program at uc, Berkeley. So that’s undergrad, microeconomics and macroeconomics.

It’s not rocket science, but I it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy teaching any level of economics. It’s very rewarding and and so I, I should stress, right? So I was never a full tenured professor at a university, right? So you really have to dedicate your whole life to that. You can’t do that on the side.

So I only taught a little bit on the side as a lecturer.

Captain Fi: Yeah, I find teaching to be a lot of fun. I’m actually a flying instructor and never done it full time. But again, it’s something I love doing on the side. I think that sounds like we might have that in common. That sort of education just kind of runs in the blood a little bit.

Right. And I think teaching

Karsten: you might have studied the [00:22:00] material yourself before, and I think you learn it better when you start teaching it as well. So I think that’s definitely something that helps you too, understand the subject.

Captain Fi: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I definitely felt that when I was able to teach flying sequences, whether that be like aerobatics, basic circuits instrument flying, , it really does reinforce those skills to you. And I think that’s why like instructor pilots are generally quite well regarded in the industry.

And it’s something that I always wanna do and I love it. And so it’s interesting now I’ve moved into this financial literacy education space. And it’s great. And it’s awesome cuz you’re in the same space now. Okay. So awesome to hear about your career.

So, you worked in the asset management for just over a decade. So something that a lot of people have trouble with and it was something that I struggle with, but I was The universe actually pushed me into into leaving my job because of some family health issues.

But I know a lot of people they struggle with this just one more year, or just six more [00:23:00] months. I just need another hundred thousand, more investment. And it’s sort of this. Where do you draw the line? So, as a talented academic, but also a very practical investor, how did you make your decision to retire?

Karsten: I could have retired maybe even as early as 2016, certainly in 2017. But I got a promotion in 2016 and I thought, I’m gonna milk this for a little bit more. So I stayed until 2018, and then 2018 was a good time to leave because there was some corporate restructuring.

And so basically that normally means that’s job cuts, right? So we had incentives to cut jobs, and I was ready to leave anyway, and I was able to structure my departure as being laid off. So I got an exit package basically a form of a severance pay, right? So I got paid for another five months after I left which was okay.

But what really made the big difference was that I could keep my deferred bonuses. So if [00:24:00] I leave on my own, then part of the bonus money that was paid in previous years that was held back for three years in each year I would forego that. Whereas if the company quote unquote, breaks the contract, And lays me off.

Then I get to keep the bonuses. And of course, they weren’t paid off and paid out all in 2018, but that means I got paid. It is not the full bonus, but a part of my previous year bonuses in 2000 1920 and 21. So I was already out of work. I was retired and then got three more big paychecks in February 2019, 2020 and 2021.

So, and that was awesome. And I hadn’t even planned for it, but I was able to to get that exit package. And so , that meant, yeah, Totally. I’m outta here. But you’re right, because there’s always this hamster wheel, right? Let’s try another year and then maybe this year’s bonus wasn’t that good.

But yeah, this year is already starting really great, so I’m gonna stay around for another year because next year’s [00:25:00] bonus is gonna be really good. And you can imagine how hard it is to escape this hamster wheel there. Okay then, so 2018 I pulled the plug and you almost have to force yourself to do that.

And so in January, 2018, we sold our apartment in San Francisco. And actually sold so quickly that we had to rent it back from the buyers. So, that was another good sign, right? So now it’s probably a good time to move because the real estate market was still really strong in San Francisco in 2018.

And so my hands were tight because we already sold the apartment, so I might as well quit my job now. And then the other thing I did was that I I volunteered to go on the choose of I podcast and basically because I had blocked anonymously before, and I basically did the reveal.

 So this is me. This is my name. This is where I live, and I did that podcast interview in February. So basically the week I gave notice. So, I I [00:26:00] had tied my hands. So after I had revealed myself who I am and where I work and I had sold my apartment, so hands are tied. So now I might as well give notice at work because now’s the time to leave.

Captain Fi: That’s awesome. It’s like youve made that commitment to yourself that yep, this is happening and I can’t go back. So look no one obviously has a crystal ball, but I’m just thinking, so you retired in 2018 and we often talk about this sequence of risk, well, the sequence of return risk in hindsight, 2018 Really it wasn’t too long after that that we saw the pandemic and there was, quite a big correction in the markets. , could you talk a little bit about , I guess timing, like would some say, oh my God, that turned out to be quite poor timing, or, , , has it turned out okay?

No, it, it was, , overall, , in hindsight, it was still excellent timing. , so 2018 was a little bit of a choppy market, right?

Karsten: First quarter there was a big blow up. The fourth quarter Federal reserve scared [00:27:00] everybody a little bit.

But then 2019 was a very strong year, right? I think the 2019, I think it was something like 28 or 30% returns for equities. Then 2020 you got the pandemic, but the stock market recovered within a few months, and then by the end of the year it was higher. Again, 2021 was really strong. So, we are, even today, as the market is still down from the 20 22, 20 23, A little bit of the drawdown.

We’re still way ahead where we were five years ago. So in a sense that our finances are now stronger than they were five years ago, and we have a retirement horizon that’s five years shorter. So in hindsight, it definitely worked out extremely well. So our sequence of return risk was pretty, much on the positive side, right?

Because the risk could be both sides, right? It could be negative, it could be positive. So our sequence of return risk was actually good because the first few years, the first five years of returns so [00:28:00] far have been above average. So I’m, yeah, we definitely struck gold there with that retirement timing.

Captain Fi: How good.

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Now, I hope it’s okay later on in the podcast, I do [00:30:00] want to ask a little bit more about your numbers. But now I wanna obviously talk about your blog. So you mentioned that retiring from your job it sort of aligned perfectly with your reveal on early retirement now. so for those that haven’t, , read your blog and can you tell us a bit about early retirement now and what you talk about and what people can, learn from your site?

Sure. Yeah. So I started my block in 2016. So back then I was anonymous. And you want to be anonymous because you

Karsten: You don’t want to advertise to your big corporation where you work that you’re planning an early exit because you still want to get bonuses and promotions. So anyway, so I started there in 2016 and I had almost enough. Money to retire at that time.

And by the way, only then I really found all the other blocks and I binge read a lot of the other content and it was very helpful, right? Because there was a proof of concept. Other people have done it. And I’m not doing anything completely [00:31:00] crazy. And so obviously what I thought is that with my background in finance and economics and number crunching that I could add something to the discussion.

And then especially once I got closer to my retirement date, I wanted to build some more confidence in the safe withdrawal math, right? So, and I was a surprise that there hadn’t been any serious analysis of retirement withdrawal strategies for early retirees. So say historical simulations for the fire crowd.

Because our problem is different from the traditional retirement, right? We have a very long horizon. We also have potentially some flexibility, right? Because if things go wrong yeah, of course we could go back to work and did a few more years of work, which probably a 65 year old, a 75 year old cannot do.

Then the other thing that’s very different is that for us, that later in retirement we get this additional income from social security. So that’s our US public retirement system, potentially private [00:32:00] pensions. Some people with say big houses, they sell their house and they scale down and they make some money and then some positive cash flows coming in.

Or some other people might have other constraints, and it it could be your, you are factoring in some nursing home care later in retirement. So, so the for example, the Trinity study, right? It’s a 4% origin. It’s actually the bangin study. So the Trinity study is not really that useful because that’s for traditional retirees.

They don’t have this two step process, right? Where you withdraw from your portfolio entirely, and then later on you get this additional cash flow coming in. And so I didn’t find anything that satisfied my academic standard. So I thought I, I should do this withdrawal math study myself.

So at least I know it’s done right? So, and so again the reason for me was that if you do fire, right, and you, me, and you leave the workforce 20 sometimes 30 years earlier than usual I would consider that your largest purchase ever, [00:33:00] right? So, because say for example, buying a house is maybe three to five x annual income.

Fire is multiple times that, and I thought that before I pulled the plug, I wanna really put all the i’s and cross all the T’s and do some very careful analysis to check whether this actually works. And I was actually surprised. So for example, right, I thought, well, maybe if we have a repeat of the Great Depression, right?

Is there even any withdrawal rate that works over say a 50 or 60 year horizon? And it turns out, yeah, I mean it’s, yeah, instead of the 4%, you just do a little bit less than 4% and it’s still works over a very long horizon. So I did a lot of the research on how to basically bulletproof your early retirement.

And what it normally means is that, well, maybe very early retirees say people that retire in their early thirties and their pensions and government retirement is very [00:34:00] far away. Maybe they have to be a little bit more conservative. It also means that for a lot of other retirees, say the average buyer person is not retiring in their twenties or thirties, right?

So people usually retire, say in their forties, maybe even early fifties. That’s still extremely early compared to the. Normal age but you’re much older. You have a shorter horizon. You’re much closer to getting government benefits and corporate pensions. So a lot of people in that crowd they would actually be really badly served with the 4% rule because the 4% rule is actually way too conservative, right?

So if you are a little bit older and you have very generous benefits later in retirement yeah, you shouldn’t use the 4% or you should potentially have a much higher withdrawal rate. , so basically on my blog, I go through all sorts of different scenarios and case studies and I have a whole safe withdrawal rate series where I write about all sorts of different topics and facets of safe withdrawal rates.

And I, what I’ve learned is that really the safe [00:35:00] withdrawal rate analysis should really be custom tailored to each person. Because it’s very different for a 30 year old versus a 55 year old. It’s very different for somebody who doesn’t expect much in pension income later, versus somebody who will get very generous government pensions, maybe even 10 or 15 years into retirement.

So you should take all of that into account. And so some people can withdraw a lot more than 4%. And then on top of that, right, this is again the economist and the little bit, the market timer and tactical asset allocation person talking as obviously also market valuations matter right after a long run in the stock market.

You probably have to be a little bit more cautious, right? Because the next bear market could be just right around the corner. Versus if a market is already down by 20%, well maybe now you can withdraw a little bit more than 4%, right? Because the market is already down. Doesn’t necessarily imply [00:36:00] that we are gonna tag on another great depression onto the already 20% drawdown.

 So both the idiosyncratic, the personal parameters, and then also the market parameters, equity valuations, bond yields should be taken into account in, withdrawal analysis. So there isn’t one size fits all. If somebody says the safe withdrawal rate is 4%, it just doesn’t make any sense.

It’s like we, we don’t all wear the same shoe sizes, right? We also should have different withdrawal rates.

Captain Fi: Yeah, that does make a lot of sense. And I know there’s been a lot of I guess dogma surrounding the, the famous Trinity study and the Forbes Center rule. And all you need is , 25 times you’re spending and you’re good to go. But actually before I found earlier retirement now a tool that I came across, it was literally I’m actually not sure of the name of the person who created it, but it’s on engaging data.com.

And it’s basically the rich broke or dead. So if you Google Rich, broke or dead you’ll end up on this website engaging data.com. And it’s got like a few little areas where you can input your [00:37:00] details. So like your spending what your portfolio is, your age. How many years you plan to retire for.

And it incorporates this really interesting thing called spending Flex. Which is basically your ability to tighten your belt, which we’ve all spoken about. But it’s again, it’s really hard to put a tangible number on it. But essentially what this person’s done is that they’ve done this calculator where if you are able to, if your portfolio sort of comes down in a correction you’re able to reduce your spending by say 10 or 20%.

It increases the chance that your portfolio will succeed. And it’s really cool. So you can put in your like, stock and bond allocation, cash allocation extra income or expenses. So as you mentioned maybe you’re getting social security or in Australia, your superannuation. Yeah. And then any extra expenses.

And then what I really like about the graph that they produce is it actually has the more mortality table on it as well. So, when I put my numbers in, it was basically Yeah, bro, you’re gonna die with five times the amount of money you have now.[00:38:00] Which is reassuring. Cause I know I’m not gonna run out of money, but I think it’s important to talk about the mortality aspect as well, because Yeah, we’re all gonna die and as you mentioned, yeah, when people are retiring older a they’re closer to these benefits, but two, you’re not gonna live past a hundred, realistically, probably not gonna live past, 90 or I’m not sure what the mortality tables here is saying that the majority of people die when they’re 82 years old or 57% of people die.

So, yeah. So maybe we don’t need these ridiculously huge portfolios. That need to last forever. And another really interesting thing, er, that I came across is this concept of the Die with zero. So, Die with Zero is becoming more popular now. I know a lot of blogs are really talking about it online.

And then, instead of having this portfolio that lasts forever talking about sort of drawing it down , to literally zero by the time you die. And of course that begs the question, when do you plan to die? Which nobody knows. It’s kind of like the age old conundrum in retirement planning, isn’t it?

Yeah. And, , [00:39:00] if we had a better annuity market, right, if we had annuities that, do automatic c p i adjustments ,

Karsten: We could probably get away because then die with zero means you just.

Annuitize your entire wealth. And you give away what you don’t want, right? You already give away something to your kids when they’re young, so they don’t have to wait until you die. And then the rest you just annuitize and you live off of that forever. The problem is in, at least in the us the only really competitive and liquid annuity market is for, it’s called S P I A, single premium Immediate annuities, right?

So you hand over your money and then you get a fixed amount, but nominal fixed amount forever, which means if we have a repeat of basically 10% annualized inflation for a year or a year and a half, so that, Eats away a lot of your purchasing power. And I don’t want to take that risk, right? How many more of these episodes of the last one or two years are we gonna have over the next 40, 50 [00:40:00] years?

So, yeah. If I definitely sympathize with that, right? Why have this huge amount of money left over at the end? Why not just annuitize it get a check every month and you just spend it all and don’t have to worry about anything. But is the inflation risk is the big gorilla in the room for at least for US investors?

I don’t know how you guys are doing in Australia with with annuities.

Captain Fi: Yeah, so, I think you can buy annuities in Australia. I was very fortunate in that my employer offered a defined benefit superannuation scheme, which is basically Australian finance took for in annuity. And so that’s actually quite a valuable part of my retirement planning is, income from the annuity.

 Yeah, so apart from that, I mean, in the US our retirement benefits, so the, the government run retirement benefits, they are, , CPI adjusted. So we already have a little bit of that.

Karsten: So what I plan to do is I plan to defer it and delay it for as long as possible. So the [00:41:00] benefits are higher, but they start later. And so at least have the retirement benefits as high as possible to hedge that longevity risk.

And if that means that I have to deplete my assets a little bit more aggressively Before age 70. So age 70 would be that maximum age when you claim benefits. And so yeah, if it means I have to deplete my assets a little bit more, then so be it. But yeah, die with zero for me doesn’t mean that I don’t want to give anything to our daughter.

So think there, is some societal changes, right? If you just look at how easy it is for young people to add enough money together to have a down payment for a house, right? So I think it was a lot easier for me by my first house than it is for young people today. So it’s definitely we want to give and support our daughter for a little bit.

But you’re totally right. I think we have way too much money to just hand that over and if that all lands in the lap of our daughter it might actually spoil [00:42:00] her incentives to work and get an education and everything. So, maybe help her out as much as we think is useful to her that doesn’t spoil her.

And then the rest yeah, I’m totally fine spending that all and then if there’s still something left over, maybe give it to charity. So I think that would be our plan for sure.

Captain Fi: Yeah, that’s a wonderful plan. I’ve heard before speakers say that, masses of unearned wealth one of the biggest burdens that you can actually place on someone. and most people find that very counterintuitive. Everyone, you know, would love to become rich or win the lottery.

But, , the studies all show that it doesn’t actually increase happiness, and it can result in ruining people’s lives.

I mean, especially lotteries. What you said, lottery winners, , it could ruin their lives is it’s not that many lottery winners that are happier afterwards. I totally agree. Yep,

Captain Fi: Yeah. In fact, there was a really awesome study that was done that compared people who won the lottery to people who had become paraplegics or they’d become wheelchair bound. And you think that winning the lottery [00:43:00] is a really awesome thing. And becoming a paraplegic is a really horrible thing.

But actually as people adjusted to their new life, the paraplegics became happier than the millionaires. So, which is really interesting. , I’ll find the study and put in the show notes.

and yeah, it reminds me of something that Warren Buffet said, which was, you know, he plans to leave enough money.

I’m pretty sure it was Warren Buffet. He plans to leave enough money for his children that they can do anything, but not nothing.

right, exactly. And again, so help with the down payment of a house, but they still have to pay down their own mortgage because I, I paid my mortgage, so I think it builds character and then, so yeah, probably helped a little bit with education.

Karsten: I think I had some lucky breaks along my life and maybe not everybody will have those, so I’ll definitely try to help a little bit there.

But yeah, it can’t just be some big money dump and that’s definitely gonna spoil the kid.

Captain Fi: Yeah. Look, there was another thing you mentioned before as well, which was the [00:44:00] drawing down your assets to pay so that you can achieve. Entitlements and that is basically part of the course here in, in Australian financial planning as well. So, we seem to have this love obsession with property.

And, like property assets. So prices of that property is a really high in Australia, which makes it again, really hard for young people to buy a house. But it also means that property becomes a store of wealth and like an investment vehicle. And so a lot of people will put all their money into their house or they’ll have a big house expensive real estate because primary place of residence is exempt from asset means testing.

So essentially if you want to sort of get the aged pension or some sort of benefit and you have a large portfolio of stocks and you’re receiving sort of dividend income, they’re gonna say, ah, no, your taxable income is too high. Your your asset test is too high. if you’d sold all those shares and just bought the same value in a mansion in, like Sydney or Melbourne then you would be eligible for the pension because it’s not means tested.

so that’s actually what a lot of people do. They [00:45:00] do tend to keep their retirement savings locked up in their place of residence so that they can achieve benefits. And I’m sure there’s a calculation and people online that have worked out how best to do it. But it’s just interesting how.

It’s not straightforward and you’d think it would be a straightforward, sort of fair system, but actually you do need to look at the numbers. And I think maybe that’s where a place like early, early time now comes in where you can actually access that information. Or the majority of people do end up consulting, like a financial advisor, a financial planner, to actually game that out for them.

Yeah. so speaking of retirement investments and numbers, did you have a fire number, was it a, an amount of investments or a passive income?

And if you’re happy, would you be able to tell us a bit about what you invest in and why?

yeah, so back in 2017, 18, I think I was targeting something like a 3.5% withdrawal rate. And, so

Karsten: Basically what I did was, so set aside a certain amount of money to buy a [00:46:00] house without a mortgage.

So own that free and clear, and then the financial portfolio, multiply that by 0.035 and look. Whether that budget makes sense. And so, by 2018, I found that’s gonna look like a pretty nice budget and especially after housing expenses are paid are taken care of, that we can definitely live pretty well on that.

And so I think about it, I think our net worth back then was something like maybe three and a half million us. And so you set aside maybe I think about $400,000 for the house and then the rest of the portfolio times 3.5%. So that looked like a very rich retirement budget.

And so, intriguingly, even though we had a lot of market volatility in between and we already took money out of our portfolio is actually, our portfolio has grown since then. So it’s a very very lucky timing with our retirement. So anyways our investments are, so we have. That one single family [00:47:00] home , that we live in there’s no mortgage on it.

I consider , my primary residence is still an investment. So it’s the price may not go up very much, but it pays us a dividend, right? It pays us housing services that we don’t have to pay for as rent. So in that sense, once you factor in the rental, quote unquote dividend yield from your house, it’s actually an extremely good investment.

You may not get, especially with a mortgage free home, you may not get equity like returns on that, but you be, definitely get better returns than with the bond portfolio. If you factor in the yield that you get as so you don’t have to pay rent. But anyway, so out of the rest of the portfolio we have about 10% of our financial net worth in real estate investments.

So that’s multifamily rentals. I don’t manage that myself. I’ve, I outsourced that. So that’s through private equity funds. And then the other 90% is liquid financial assets. So it’s about 75 25, so 75% stocks, 25% [00:48:00] bonds. And as I said before, so this is mostly passive investments in index funds.

And then on top of that I also do some option trading. And that would probably be a podcast all on its own, but so it’s probably not for everybody. So you need some options trading and options analytics skills to do that. So I don’t recommend that everybody does that.

But basically we. Try to get a little bit of extra return on our financial portfolio because options are trading on margin, right? So I don’t have to sell anything of my existing assets. So I can do the option trading on top of that portfolio and then generate just a little bit of alpha, maybe a percent or two of additional returns in that one account.

And that’s really all I need.

Captain Fi: Oh, wow. Yeah I’ve briefly heard about options before, but I’ve never done it myself. I’m aware that here in Australia about 78% of option traders lose money. But having said that, you are not [00:49:00] the average punter. Having worked at the treasury, PhD in economics, so you know what you’re talking about.

So basically the trick is, the people that are losing money, they’re the ones that are buying it from me. So I’m selling the options and I’m selling insurance. And then the people that want to gamble, people that. Either.

Karsten: There are two ways of, so you either, by your call option, this sort of means you bet on a stock to to rise or a put option you want to hedge against the stock falling.

Both of these purchases are probably going to bound to lose money because the people tend to overpay for these bets, right? So the people that want to buy just a call option are basically the one they’re looking for this lottery style payoff, right? Very little wager, but extremely high potential for upside.

And yeah, potentially you’re gonna lose money on average. And then the same is true for the downside protection. So if myopic investors that are too scared about losing money, they’re [00:50:00] potentially buying put options and they would probably overpay for that insurance. And so on both sides I would be the other side of that trade and on average I would make money off of that trade.

Captain Fi: Ah, see, you make it sound straightforward, but I think that’s cuz you’re a bit smarter than me in finance. Awesome. Well look thanks for sharing your numbers and just, I’m just doing some back of the envelope math here. So you basically, so you retired on, essentially around a 3 million liquid portfolio.

Now that’s US dollars. So here in Australia that’d be closer to 5 million. And with a three and a half percent draw down rate, , that’s around $160,000 a year Australian which is a very great retirement income. So that’s an awesome achievement. So congratulations, we well and truly put you in the fat fire camp.

And that’s how you and your family are enjoying jet sitting around the world. So, bloody fantastic.

you definitely, know your staff and on that, I guess that talk about, do we have [00:51:00] enough? I think you’ve definitely got enough there. And I mean, that’s your, that’s the tagline on your website, isn’t it?

You can’t afford not to retire early.

right. It’s an opportunity cost, so, yep.

Captain Fi: Yeah. Opportunity costs. Absolutely. So look, what does early retirement look for you now? You mentioned you really do enjoy going out, being active, hiking, you love traveling and cruising. What’s your day-to-day life like?

 we look like a pretty normal American middle class suburban family, right? So, if you just met us, we look no different from all of our neighbors.

Karsten: So we have a school aged kid.

So that means on weekdays I wake up at 6:15 AM and I. Take my daughter to the school bus and I pick her up again in the afternoon. And I do my option trading on most weekdays. Again, I don’t have to do that every day. And I actually have a buddy of mine so we sometimes join forces. So if I can’t trade on one day, so imagine I go hiking or skiing one day, then he can do my option trades.

[00:52:00] So we have each other’s trading permissions in our brokerage accounts. He can’t withdraw money and run away with it, but he can trade I trust him a lot, but I don’t trust him that much. And yeah, so I. We look just like a normal family. We look like a family where say the husband

works from his home office. And of course, I don’t really have to work from the home office.

But of course, I mean, I sit here, I do some blogging, I do some writing.

Karsten: I read the newspaper front to back. I do a little bit of option trading. If I feel like it, I would go hiking or skiing or something like that. And then of course, summer break, we do a lot of traveling and I don’t think I would be up for another one of these really long trips for seven months or four months.

So our travel schedule is maybe something like eight to 10 weeks a year. Most of it during the summer break and then spring break, and then maybe another week here or there. Sometimes we can take our daughter out of school. She’s still in elementary school. And yeah. So , it’s a pretty nice lifestyle and yeah, I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.[00:53:00]

Captain Fi: It sounds bloody perfect, mate. And I think also what it shows is you don’t really retire to sit around and do nothing. You do still need to have Exactly some creativity. And so I think, running early retirement now and doing the options trading is definitely for you. Sounds like it’s a really good thing to sort of scratch that itch and stay productive.

Exactly. Yep.

Captain Fi: So look thanks so much for your time today. And I’m gonna finish up on just a couple of questions, which everyone hates because they’re difficult questions to answer. They’re not that hard, but. It’s just about I guess prioritizing, right? So the first one is, What’s your favorite book?

So it doesn’t have to be about finance, but, I ask these questions because, we find that by, , looking towards people that are successful and that have achieved what we are trying to achieve, , if we look to copy, what they’re reading, what they’re listening to, and what they’re doing, , we give ourselves a much greater chance of success.

So the first one is, what is your favorite book?

So in the personal finance realm, it’s probably the millionaire next door. [00:54:00] I think I read that around the same time when I started my job in Atlanta, and it was really eyeopening, right? That millionaires are often the folks that, that practice stealth wealth, right? You’re not flashy.

Karsten: And so that was very useful, right? Because you come to the US and you see all of these people looking very rich, and then you find out, well, probably most of them are not really rich. They only look rich and the actual millionaires are relatively normal, frugal people. And so that helped me a lot because, for example, so I’m actually first generation affluent, right?

So my parents were not that rich. And then coming to the US and becoming an immigrant could go both ways, right? So you strike it really rich, and you want to show this and show this off, or you just want to be frugal and not show it off. And that book really helped me go that safe route, right?

Accumulate money, but don’t flaunt it. So I think that’s a, it’s a very good book very influential and I think lots of people in the [00:55:00] community like it a lot,

Captain Fi: yeah. I love it. And he, the series is really awesome too, although I think his first one’s probably the most powerful.

Secondly, and I think I know one of them because you mentioned that, , it was quite influential for you, which was the Choose five podcast. But do you have any other favorite podcasts and what do you listen to?

so Trustify obviously I like that a lot. The other podcast is called Two Sides of Phi, and I could share the link with you. So these are two guys. one of them is retired

Karsten: And the other one is planning retirement. I think initially he planned retirement in 2024. He might have postponed it by a year given market conditions. And so I really liked them. They had me on the show already twice. And so the retired guy, I share a lot of interest with him.

And then obviously the guy who is planning retirement he’s probably close to what a lot of my readers are, right? They’re looking for some some support on how to retire and what is your withdrawal strategy? What is your percent number? And they don’t really publish that [00:56:00] frequently, so, but I’ve definitely listened to everything they put out and every time they come up with a new episode I’ll listen to them.

Captain Fi: Oh, awesome. Thank you for the suggestion, cuz I hadn’t heard of that before. But I’ll definitely be having a listen. I’m always on the lookout for something cool that I can binge. I also really relate to that point that you just said about not publishing content for the sake of publishing content.

I know certainly on this podcast I don’t really publish very regularly and that’s more because I want to have good guests.

I don’t just want to be blabbing on for the sake of it. , so Awesome. , the last question, right, which sometimes it is the hardest, but, , it can be as simpler as, as long as you like.

What are your top pieces of advice for people that are pursuing financial independence?

Sure. Right. Oh, very easy. So one, start early two, save and invest regularly. So ideally automate savings and investment decisions. So this is what I mentioned earlier, right? So do the dollar cost averaging if the market is down. And then three, enjoy the ride, right? don’t.

Karsten: View this saving and frugality as something like a sport where [00:57:00] you squeeze every last dollar or so. It might save you a few months of accumulation time, but if you’re so miserable, you might actually lose the whole race, right? So I could have probably retired much earlier if I had been really frugal.

But what’s the point, right? This is really a very long race, a marathon, and you don’t want to hate yourself or being too frugal and so enjoy the ride. You can be frugal, but you don’t want people to talk behind your back. What’s wrong with that person, right?

So, that that’s very important.

Captain Fi: Yeah. Wow. Awesome advice. And I actually can super relate to that last point because I think I, I went way too overboard on my journey. I was using money and fire as a bit of a coping mechanism for a bit of a toxic work environment. Trying to regain a bit more control over my life.

And yeah, I was like, around the eighties percent savings rate and I wouldn’t say it made me miserable, but there was an opportunity cost there, there was definitely things that I missed out on doing that I probably should have done, like more personal travel, that kind of stuff.

So, yeah, I think don’t [00:58:00] squeeze it. Every penny is probably a fantastic lesson to finish on. And, have a look at yourself as an example under a 50% savings rate over, 18 year career, , and what wonderful results you’ve achieved. So again, thanks so much for your time, mate.

, it’s been wonderful to chat to you, your absolute inspiration. But before we finish up, , is there anything else you’d like to mention today?

sometimes people in the fire community, , they call me kind of the Grinch of fire because I, , do all of this retirement analysis and, warned about the 4% rule.

Karsten: I’m actually, I would say that I’m almost the opposite, right? So I’ve done a lot of case studies and often found that people can withdraw much more than 4%, right?

They can probably withdraw 5% or even 6% depending on these personal parameters, right? If you’re a little bit older, you are expecting big pension benefits. So if these people had just listened to the forks on the internet preaching this 4% rule they would still be working instead of enjoying retirement.

So I, I always make the point that doing the [00:59:00] analysis more carefully, Gave me the confidence to retire and retire early. And it’s actually doing the analysis carefully and doing it right might actually allow you to retire earlier, not later. So sometimes , I get this bad reputation and say, oh this guy he’s way too conservative, which actually I’m not, I think is more people reading my blog have found that they can retire with more than they thought than the other way around.

So, keep that in mind. So make sure you check out my blog.

Captain Fi: Yeah. Awesome. , absolutely. In the show notes, I have a link to Carson’s blog Early Retirement Now. I’ll also check in the links in the show notes to a couple of the podcasts that Carson has mentioned and that he’s been on. So that’s the Choose Fire podcast with his reveal and he retired in 2018.

And also a couple of episodes of two Sides to Fire. Awesome note to finish on. I guess what Carsin is saying is that personal finance is personal. And so, it’s important to really look at your situation [01:00:00] objectively and you know, if you need it, professional advice is available.

 It’s not really a one size fits all scenario. Have I got everything there Ner? Is there anything you’d like to mention where else can people find you? Do you do social media

Yeah, I’m, I on my blog Early Retirement now.com. I’m on Twitter, but I have a kind of a weird Twitter handle. I think it’s called Earn Retire Now, but I think if you just search for my full name, cars Eska, or you go to my blog and then find my Twitter handle there, so you’ll find me there.

Captain Fi: Yeah, awesome. Look , I’ll make sure to put a link to that in the episode as well. So, if you want to track down, big Earn, just , jump on the Captain five blog, look at the show notes, have the transcript and all of the links. Again, thanks so much for your time, mate. It’s been awesome to chat you and, expect a few more questions for me in the future, maybe on teaching about options trading.

Yeah. Alright. Thanks for having me.

Captain Fi: Cheers mate. Have an awesome evening.

Okay, thanks. You too.

Captain Fi: Thanks for listening to another episode of the Captain Fire Financial Independence Podcast. To read the [01:01:00] transcripts or check out the show notes, head over to www captain fire.com for all the details. If you have a question for the captain, make sure to get in touch. You might even make it on the airwaves.

You can reach me online through the Captain Fire contact form. Or get in touch through the socials I’m at, given on Facebook and Instagram, as well as a number of online finance and investing forums. And finally, remember the information presented on the show and the links provided are for general information purposes only.

They should not be taken as constituting professional financial advice. You should always do your own research when making any financial decisions and make sure it’s appropriate for your personal circumstance.[01:02:00]

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