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This 29-Year-Old Super-Savers Earns $135,000 a Year and Plans to Retire in 35: I’m in the “Top 1% Most Frugal People”

Tanner Firl doesn’t understand why anyone would need a budget.

“It never made sense to me,” the 29-year-old told CNBC Make It. “Most people struggle with not spending money. We have almost the opposite problem.”

Firl and his wife, Isabel, who live in Minneapolis, are practically allergic to spending money on anything they don’t see as a necessity, a common attitude that plays into the couple’s financial strategy.

Firl is part of the FIRE movement – short for financial independence, early retirement – and specifically adheres to a strategy known as “lean” FIRE. Practitioners of this version of FIRE seek to increase their savings rate by cutting out as many unnecessary expenses as possible.

Tanner Firl with his wife Isabel and son Teddy.

Loonar City | Jack Davis and Sara Miller

So far, Firl has stashed about $380,000 and hopes to save at least $625,000 to fund an early retirement at age 35. A portfolio of this size would provide his family with $25,000 a year in annual income.

Currently, Firl is the primary breadwinner in her family, which also includes her one-year-old son, Teddy, and three cats. He earns $135,000 a year as a software engineer, and about half of each paycheck is spent on food and living expenses each month. He invests the rest.

Here’s how Firl says his super-thrifty lifestyle is preparing him for early retirement.

Pursuing FIRE from an early age: “It all seemed to make a lot of sense to me”

Tanner Firl goes for a run.

Loonar City | Jack Davis and Sara Miller

“It all just made a lot of sense to me: basically spending as little as possible so you can live your life as fully as you want to,” says Firl.

Firl graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2015 with a degree in math and landed a job with the National Security Agency that paid an annual salary of around $66,000 a year. That same year, he and Isabel, who had been high school sweethearts, were married.

Within two and a half years, the couple had saved enough to put down a down payment on a house in Minneapolis, where they lived upstairs and covered mortgage payments by renting the basement on Airbnb.

The frugal path to FIRE

The Firls bought their second home for $185,000 in 2018 and sold their first home soon after when managing it as a rental became cumbersome. They finished the basement of their new home for short-term rentals, but had to scrap that plan when Teddy arrived in 2021. The home’s floor plan is just 675 square feet — close quarters for a couple of new parents, one of whom works from home on and off.

As Firl’s salary rose to the $135,000 he currently earns, the couple resisted “lifestyle creep” and maintained their commitment to frugality. If the family needs something, they search for it for free on online marketplaces like Craigslist.

Tanner, Isabel and Teddy at their home in Minneapolis.

Loonar City | Jack Davis and Sara Miller

“We’ve also developed a reputation among our friends and family for being very frugal and thrifty,” says Firl. “We end up getting a lot of free stuff just because a family member will see something free on the side of the road, and they’ll think we might like it.”

Plus, the couple don’t have to shell out much for any of their hobbies. Tanner is an avid runner, podcast listener, and board game player, while Isabel writes and manages a Twitch stream. They both enjoy playing video games in the evenings.

Additionally, the couple slashed their pet food and supply budget to $200 a month by attending a food waste nonprofit to cover groceries.

“For $25 a pack – a pack is about half a carload – they just give you a ton of food and then you go and you probably have half your groceries for the month, if not more, depending on how much whatever you want,” said Firl.

Looking forward to a financially independent future

As for the future, Firl acknowledges that aiming to live on $25,000 a year may not seem like enough. But he’s confident they can make it work.

The figure assumes that the house will be fully paid off by then (he currently pays around $1,100 a month in mortgage payments, home insurance and property tax) and that he would theoretically qualify for deeply discounted health insurance in the state of Minnesota.

Still, given how his life has changed over the past few years, Firl understands he’ll have to be flexible about the exact dollar amount and timing of his early retirement. If he and Isabel decide to have more children and move to a bigger house, for example, that could change his calculation.

Tanner Yarn.

Loonar City | Jack Davis and Sara Miller

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