- Kiersten and Julien Saunders retired in their 40s.
- Now, they’re teaching the Black community how to do the same.
- Their 15-year plan maps out how to “cash out” from a cycle of burnout and live in alignment with your values.
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Because Kiersten and Julien Saunders met in 2012 while working for the same company, work had always been a “third wheel” in their relationship.
After getting married, they even pushed back their honeymoon to make room for their business travel plans. When they finally took that honeymoon, they still found themselves compulsively checking their work emails on their phones. Seeing how their corporate jobs were affecting their relationship, the Saunderses decided they needed a drastic change.
In their new book, “Cashing Out: Win the Wealth Game by Walking Away,” the Saunderses write that one of the reasons they wanted to retire early in the first place is to ensure a long, happy, and healthy marriage.
They write, “Building wealth was also a means to protect our marriage by insulating it from the leading cause of divorce (money) and giving us ample opportunity to nurture our love without distraction.”
Here’s their 15-year plan for leaving their corporate jobs for good, which they shared in a chapter of the book titled “The Fifteen-Year Career.”
Years 1-5: Pay off debt
The first five years of the financial independence journey are about creating discipline and strong financial foundations, the write. The Saunderses used the snowball and avalanche debt-payoff methods to pay off over $200,000 of debt between 2013 and 2018, according to records reviewed by Insider.
“We were obsessed with debt payoff and wealth building, having completely immersed ourselves in the personal finance community churning through books, podcasts, documentaries, articles, and blogs,” they write. They continued to modestly celebrate milestones along the way to help them sustain a minimal lifestyle to pay down debt.
The Saunderses also used this time to redefine their idea of wealth, shifting from a mindset of excess and glitz, to simply enjoying what they already have. “Most of the rich people we know live remarkably predictable lives,” the couple adds.
Years 6-10: Create income streams outside of your 9-to-5
At first, when the Saunderses were brainstorming how they’d increase their income, they would fantasize about higher salary ranges at other corporate jobs. After paying off $200,000 in debt, the allure of making an extra $30,000 a year on a job that might add more stress to their lives just wasn’t as strong.
The couple instead spent years creating passive income streams. They maxed out their retirement account contributions. They invested in rental properties. They fired their financial advisor and started independently managing their own investments, putting most of their money in index funds.
Eventually, the Saunderses realized they were passionate about sharing financial freedom tools with the Black community. They started hosting events, traveling the country to meet more people, and writing blog posts. Soon, they started to generate a modest income from their creative pursuits.
Years 11-15: Decoupling from your full-time job
At this point, the Saunderses say habits like maxing out your 401(k), IRA, and HSA contributions should feel like “muscle memory.” Cultivating these habits will completely change your relationship to work, they write. You might even find you have favorite ways to earn money that are far more enjoyable than what you’re doing full-time.
Without a clear vision for what you actually want to do with your time and energy after retiring early, it’s difficult to know when to leave. You may ask, Is there a specific number I should have in my retirement account? But the Saunderses say there’s no right or wrong answer.
They write, “In our case, we walked away from one job after having two positive cash-flowing rental properties, having paid off a mortgage and with years of living on half our household income under our belt.”
They add, “Your title won’t be on your tombstone. In your final years, you’ll need to begin the process of decoupling who you are from what you do.”