- Kiersten and Julien Saunders retired in their 40s, and I want to follow their lead.
- Their new book encourages people to reexamine why they want to become financially independent.
- I’m revisiting my financial plan and adding 3 tips from their book, including talking to other Filipinos about money.
Because I have $96,000 in student loan debt, I never thought it was possible for me to retire early — until I read “Cashing Out: Win the Wealth Game by Walking Away” by Kiersten and Julien Saunders.
The book outlines the exact strategies they used to pay off $200,000 worth of debt, retire in their 40s, and create a lifestyle filled with ease and purpose. I had the pleasure of speaking to the Saunderses a few weeks ago about the their wealth-building journey and the idea of “cashing out.”
The couple said, “It’s completely countercultural, somewhat controversial, when we talk about ‘cashing out,'” which they describe as having enough cash on hand for emergencies, while investing the rest into the market to secure their retirement. They also describe the term “cashing out” as the option to work as little or as much as they want on projects that are aligned with their values and serve the communities they care about.
Speaking with the Saunderses felt like I just had a comforting conversation with older siblings who were cheering me on from the sidelines and giving me generous advice about the wealth-building challenges ahead. Here are three simple changes I’m making to my financial plan after our conversation and reading their book, “Cashing Out.”
1. I’m reevaluating why I want to achieve financial independence in the first place
As a reporter who speaks all day to people who have achieved significant money milestones, it’s hard not to compare myself to others who have paid down six figures of student loan debt in less than two years, or people who have made a fortune investing their money in the stock market.
In their book, the Saunderses say that assigning a purpose to your income helps you build wealth. They write, “If you don’t give your income a purpose, someone else will. And your purpose for your income may not be in your best interest.”
Personally, I’m not trying to build financial independence so I can buy a mansion or brag about a brand-name car. After some deep soul searching, I learned that I want to achieve financial independence so that I can:
- Become a stronger writer
- Travel the world with my blood and chosen family
- Give back to causes that I believe in, especially for the queer and trans community
- Pay annual six-figure reparations to Black and Indigenous communities, and encourage other non-Black and non-Indigenous people with wealth to do the same
The Saunderses also write, “The act of building wealth isn’t just a way for you to enjoy nice things; it allows you to leave the world in a better condition.”
2. I’m increasing my giving budget by $10 a month
Early in their wealth-building journey, the Saunderses cut back their living expenses drastically, at one point saving 70% of their income from their corporate jobs for early retirement. However, the couple consistently gave back to the Black community, whether it was monetary donations or by giving their time and energy to help others.
Equipped with self-knowledge that part of my wealth-building motivation is to give back to my community, I realized it would be powerful to increase my own giving budget incrementally — starting with $10 a month — so that I can get a taste of what it would feel like to spend my money when I do achieve financial independence.
3. Talk to other Filipinos about money
In their book, the Saunderses write, “Over the years, we learned that your greatest defense to avoid being trapped in consumerism is to have a solid foundation of values, a community you can lean on for support, and rock-solid beliefs that guide your thinking about money.”
The Saunderses also threw a virtual dinner party series called Money on the Table, where they talked to the Black community about their relationship with money and their financial goals for the future.
Coming from a community-organizing background, I can see why opening up these conversations helped the Saunderses stay motivated to achieve their financial goals. To follow in their footsteps, I plan on making more time to talk to my Filipino friends and family members about our collective relationship to money.
There’s a Jay-Z lyric that goes, “Around here, we measure success by how many people successful next to you. Over here, we say you broke if everybody is broke except for you.” That sentiment always stayed with me, but the Saunderses gave me the blueprint to actually incorporate my values into my wealth-building plan.