Living Way “Below” One’s Income

February 20, 2020

1 Comment

I’ve never liked cheapskates. I once worked with a guy who – when we went out to lunch – would make sure he only paid for what he ordered. And when it came to figuring the tax he made sure the other person paid the extra penny. The result was that, instead of just “splitting the bill” there was a lot of bookkeeping and figuring going on. After awhile no one would go out with him.

Because of this I was intrigued when I came across a piece in the New York Post titled, “The Richest Cheapskates” by Suzy Weiss. It sported a subhead that said, “They’re making salaries most of us can only dream of – and living like paupers so they can retire young. Meet NYC’s wealthiest penny pinchers.”

INCOME: $270,000, SAVES 70%

Daniel, 36, is a Harvard law grad, makes a six-figure salary as a corporate lawyer and has a next egg of $400,000-plus. He declined to give his last name but says he lives in Jersey City and has a monthly rent of $1,945. He has no TV (just books he buys—10 for $5 at a local church sale).

The incognito corporate lawyer who is a Harvard grad, photo courtesy of the New York Post

An armoire holds five suits that he had specially made in China for $100 each. His shoes cost between $20-$60 and are bought at thrift shops. He is doing this because he’s a member of the growing FIRE movement, which is short for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” Said differently it’s “Save fast so you can quit working young.” Followers combine investments with penny-pinching so they can quit their 9-to-5 jobs well before hitting 60. Right now, he’s on track to retire in three years.


Shang Saavedra, 34-years-old, is a FIRE follower and corporate strategy consultant. Saavedra and her husband have a $25 monthly entertainment budget, never buy drinks and could retire today if they wanted to or as she says, “Our savings rate right now is 50%, pre-tax.”

Saavedra is a FIRE hack, eight months pregnant and in a “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook. She says, “Most of the stuff I have has been given completely free. We’re buying one stroller. Parents are very generous and this is easy to do in a big city because there is always someone who doesn’t need something and is willing to give it away. (She has a point: I gave away a lot of costly items when I moved four years ago.)

A FIRE follower: $57,000 in debt

Carmen Perez, 32 stumbled onto FIRE three years ago while looking for ways to get out of the $57,000 she owed. She was so frugal, her friends at work jokingly offered to start a GoFundMe to replace her Oxford shoes. “I was making six figures and my shoes looked like they were going to fall apart,” she says.

But Perez was able to save enough to quit her well-paying job in financial services. She now plans to learn how to code while living off her savings. “I have the ability to pivot now and do what I love because there’s money in the bank.”


Daniel, who is single, admits that FIRE hasn’t helped his social life. “My ex-girlfriend never really got on board. Her concept of what I was doing was being cheap – depriving myself and her, too.” Relating to people in his office is also challenging. “They talk all the time about the fancy restaurants, bars and Broadway shows they’re going to,” he says. The bottom line is this: he looks forward to swapping his 60-hour workweek for leisure time that’s his to spend just as he wants.

Comment: In recent years, I’ve listened to endless complaining from recent college grads about the “staggering college loans they have and how long it will take to pay them off.” One wag weighed in with this: “If they stopped paying $8.00 for avocado toast maybe they could handle their debt better.” That’s a thought!

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

1 Response

Karen Armitage
Karen Armitage

March 05, 2020

A quick comment on this one. It’s called quality of daily life combined with goals, dreams and above all sharing. I wonder what their lives are like after the retire goal has been reached and there are no friends or family around to celebrate.

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