When 26-year-old Sara DeSantis found out about FIRE, the "financial independence, retire early" movement in 2017, the concept spoke to her immediately. At the time, the prospect of retiring early was appealing, but she had to deal with her student loans first.
While completing her master's degree, DeSantis was able to pay off both her undergrad and grad school loans by working a full-time job and two part-time jobs. Once that $50,000 debt was paid off in 2019, she began saving more aggressively.
She and her boyfriend, also a member of the FIRE movement, are working toward a FIRE number of at least $700,000. They believe if they invest that much, it will generate the $21,600 per year they need to live comfortably and cover their expenses. Their goal is to do it all within the next five years, which would allow DeSantis to retire at 32.
DeSantis has been able to save nearly $90,000 between her various retirement accounts and liquid savings. In 2020, she says she was "able to save about 86%" of all her earnings.
Here are some of the steps she's taken to save aggressively toward her early retirement.
Video by Courtney Stith
While DeSantis was paying off her loans, she elected to live at home with her parents in South Carolina, "so I didn't have to pay rent," she says. Groceries weren't a large expense. Her money mostly went to the lease on her car, which was $240 per month, and gas, which was about $150 per month.
"I didn't really have a huge social life outside of being with my family and my boyfriend," she says, "So I didn't spend money on going out to eat." She already had work clothes so didn't need to invest in a wardrobe for her various jobs, either.
After finishing her master's, DeSantis got a full-time job as a librarian at the University of South Carolina Upstate. "It was closer to where my boyfriend lived," she says, "so I just moved in with him." This enabled her to split living costs with him and continue setting aside a few thousand a month.
Altogether, she paid $512 a month for rent and water and another $60 per month on internet and electricity. "We split everything in the middle," she says, so even after moving out of her parents' house, "I had a very low cost of living."
When the lease on DeSantis' car was about to end, renewing it "just seemed like a lot of money for me to spend when my boyfriend and I were driving towards the same area and we get home around the same time," she says. So she elected not to renew, and the two agreed that "we should just carpool and save some money."
DeSantis' boyfriend owns his car, so the two split the cost of insurance, $341 each per year, and monthly gas bills, which ended up being $75 a month for her.
Long before DeSantis and her boyfriend moved to Indianapolis in February 2021, she created a meticulous food inventory system to plan out their meals ahead of time.
"I go to Costco and we get enough food for about 2 to 3 months," she says, including "food that can be frozen or that's pantry staples." The list includes frozen vegetables and frozen steaks.
While dinners vary in terms of the combination of meat and vegetables, "we have the same lunch every single day and it has a salad, romaine lettuce, onion, olives, sardines, feta cheese, and homemade ranch that I make. So that's supereasy and really low cost."
The two spend $500 to $800 every time they go to Costco, and DeSantis regularly pops into their local Whole Foods to buy things like fresh lettuce. Their cost of food ends up being about $300 per month, $150 for her. She says that with their meal prep system they also "don't waste as much food."
Having recently relocated, the two are letting themselves splurge a little to get to know the area. "We are going to a few concerts," she says. "We're trying to do a few fun city things. I think it's like $90 per concert for us. We sit in the lawn and we're going to about five this year."
Still, they're finding ways to be frugal as they explore, like going for walks around the city. "There's so many ways to save money," she says. "I think it's just being creative."
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