Achieving Financial Independence Through Living Abroad – Millionaire Interview 26 (Gillian)

November 19, 2020

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If you're open to retiring overseas, financial independence can become a reality for you a lot sooner. You still need to work hard, control your expenses and plan for the future, but your early retirement path may be easier than you originally planned.

This is the reality for our next young millionaire in our series, Gillian. She hit young millionaire status, became financially independent and is now enjoying a life of early retirement with her partner Stephanie abroad. While her destinations change every couple of months, she's enjoyed locations like Singapore, Greece, Italy, and many other destinations.

Check out our interview below and learn more about this adventurous and financially independent couple on their YouTube channel called Our Freedom Years.

How to Become a Millionaire in Your 30’s: The Details

How old are you? If you have a family, tell us about them and their ages.

I'm 39 years old. My partner is 47 and, while we don't have children, we do have two adorable dogs.

What part of the country do you live in? Do you own your home or rent?

As of 2019, I'm a financially independent full-time traveler. I usually spend a couple of months in each country, renting AirBnBs as I go. I'm currently based in Greece with Croatia as my next destination.

Prior to setting off on my world travels, I was an ex-pat based in Singapore.

When did you start tracking your net worth? What was it at that time?

I started tracking my net worth from the first dollar I earned at the age of 15. I have my parents to thank for introducing me to financial concepts at an early age, which gave me a strong start towards financial independence.

What is your current net worth? What are your assets and what are your liabilities?

My current household net worth is enough that my partner and I could comfortably retire from corporate careers in Singapore at ages 38 and 46 respectively. Our annual living expenses represent less than 3% of our total net worth. 

We have no liabilities. We owned a condo in Toronto but sold it when we relocated to work in Singapore. Once sold, we were able to put this equity towards our investments. Our assets consist solely of our investment portfolio.

Become a Millionaire in your 30's: The Process

Gillian Our Freedom Years

What are your current sources of income? If married, does your spouse have other income sources?

Now that we're retired, returns from our investments are our current source of income. Previously our corporate jobs were our only source of income. I worked in healthcare quality while my partner was in marketing. Our jobs were very demanding and didn't leave room for side hustles.

What has been the single best thing you’ve done to increase your income up until this point?

My very best financial decision was to relocate my life and career to Singapore, which is a high growth country with lots of jobs and opportunities. It also happens to have very low personal and business taxes.

It was a big risk to move somewhere completely new where I had no friends and no network. However, it was a risk that paid off as moving to Singapore not only helped grow our careers and our salaries, it also helped us hold onto more of our earnings. 

What ways do you invest your money?

I have a portfolio that includes equities and fixed income investments. The equities are in the form of a low-cost global index fund while the fixed income investments are made up of syndicated mortgages.

My portfolio is purposely quite boring.

I spent too many years tinkering and trying to do better than the market. I have since learned that a simple buy and hold approach with a highly diversified portfolio will perform just as well or even better in the long run. That’s the strategy that enabled me to get to financial independence and it’s the one that will keep my finances on course into the future. 

Did you receive an inheritance or windfall of some kind during your life so far?

If only! All the wealth that I've accumulated is the result of being a salaried employee who did a good job saving and investing over many years.

What debts do you have (if any)? If so, what are they? Which have you paid off?

I've had the good fortune to get this far in life without any debt. One of the ways I accomplished this was by choosing to go to Canada’s Royal Military College, which provided me with a fully subsidized university education plus a good job once I finished school.

Instead of starting adult life saddled with thousands of dollars in debt, I graduated with zero debt, a business degree, and a job paying the equivalent of $30K USD a year.

Beyond university, I have only ever owned one car, which was a used car I paid for in cash. I use credit cards to collect points but always pay bills in full. I have never borrowed from a bank except to purchase my first home, which I have since sold.

How do you track your net worth?

I track my net worth manually on a spreadsheet. At the end of each month, my partner and I sit down together, plan our budget for the upcoming month and update the value of our bank and investment accounts at the same time.

On a quarterly basis, we also review our investment strategy and decide whether any adjustments need to be made.

Do you live on a budget?

Living on a budget is one of the keys to being a financially independent early retiree. I knew I would be able to retire from corporate life once the passive income from my investments was more than enough to cover my living expenses (including inflation) on an ongoing basis. 

However, in order to ensure my money lasts for a lifetime, I need to monitor my spending closely and ensure that I'm living within a spending cap. One of the best ways to manage my budget is to spend time in low cost of living countries, where my dollar goes much further. 

What are your typical expenses?

Since I’m traveling full time, my expenses vary quite a bit from month to month depending on where I’m living. We share all the details in our cost of living series on our YouTube channel.

To give a few examples:

  • In Istanbul, we spent $2,357 for a month and that got us a spacious apartment in a traditional neighborhood and we had meals out once or twice a day and a few tours and attractions.
  • In Florence, we spent $2,506. We cooked lots of meals at home, enjoyed great Tuscan food when we ate out, and experienced the best of Renaissance art and architecture. 
  • Meanwhile, in Toronto, we spent a total of $2,632 and for that, we had a decent apartment at a very steep discount due to a lack of tourism during the pandemic. We cooked almost every meal at home with just a few exceptions and we didn’t really go anywhere or do anything that costs money.

I also have additional expenses that round out my annual spending, including international transportation, out-of-pocket medical expenses and caring for my two dogs. 

What is your favorite fintech tool that helps you grow your wealth?

My favorite tool is You Need A Budget.

Even though I've always been a frugal person, it was only when I started tracking my spending and managing my budget with this tool that I was able to increase my savings rate dramatically.

Become a Millionaire in your 30's: Young Millionaire

Gillian and Stephanie Our Freedom Years
Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Why is it important for you to build up your wealth?

For me, wealth equals freedom. Although I did get a lot of satisfaction from my work, I didn’t enjoy being in an office environment for 8 hours a day.

Once I understood the concept of financial independence, I realized that I could have the life of my dreams. I just needed to accumulate enough net worth through saving and investing so that I could live comfortably on the passive income. 

What is one financial mistake you’ve made during your young millionaire journey?

My biggest mistake was in real estate. When we got married, we decided to do what every other young couple does and immediately buy a home that we could just barely afford.

We had a very specific idea of what we wanted to buy, specifically a warehouse space converted into a loft. We never really considered resale value or whether such a specific type of space was a good investment. Instead, we bought a home that expressed our unique style and taste. It was a spacious, open concept loft that was really only good for a single person or couple. 

Once we moved to Singapore, only then did we realize how difficult it would be to sell our condo because it really only appealed to a limited number of buyers. Even in Toronto’s sizzling hot real estate market, it took six months to sell, by which time we had already moved to Singapore so we were paying both rent and mortgage.

In the end, we didn't lose money but we just barely broke even after five years of home ownership. 

What book has been most influential to you?

The book that has been the most influential for me was one I came across during my career as a healthcare quality professional. The Improvement Guide is a bit of a slog but the tools it contains have been invaluable across all aspects of my life, including financial.

It provides a framework to move from setting a goal for something you’d like to improve through to testing and finally implementing ideas for how to make changes for the better. 

What is one financial hack that has helped you that you think most people don’t know about?

One financial hack that has paid off time and time again is to get multiple quotes every time I need a service. And I don’t just mean settling on quotes from the top three results in a Google search.

I will typically go very deep into Google searches, forums, and Facebook groups to come up with at least four or five vendors who are often overlooked but still have good reviews.

I can often save half or more off the price of the vendor that comes up first in Google searches. 

Where do you find the most joy in your life?

Exploring the world with my partner and our dogs. I love seeking out new landscapes and experiences; trying new foods; interacting with people of different cultures. However, of all aspects of travel, my favorite is when I'm hiking someplace quiet and beautiful. Being out in nature always brings me joy so I try to build it into each day.

For the 20-something with a $0 net worth, what advice would you give them to become a millionaire in their 30's?

Unless you receive a big inheritance or win the lottery, you will need to do the hard work of earning and saving money over many years to become a millionaire.

Try to build a habit of saving a specific amount of money each month, and then increase that amount as your income rises.

That said, I don’t believe in being so frugal that you struggle to enjoy life. The key is to spend money in the areas you value, and save the rest.

What do you think about retiring overseas? How would your life be different if you become a millionaire?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Gillian Our Freedom Years

Andy Hill

Andy Hill, AFC® is the award-winning family finance coach behind Marriage Kids and Money - a platform dedicated to helping families build wealth and happiness. With millions of podcast downloads and video views, Andy’s message of family financial empowerment has resonated with listeners, readers and viewers across the world. When he's not "talking money", Andy enjoys being a Soccer Dad, singing karaoke with his wife and relaxing on his hammock.


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