Immigrants on FIRE is a new interview series on Bayalis Is The Answer. In this series I chat with first generation immigrants to the United States who are pursuing financial independence and/or early retirement. Immigration requires a certain measure of boldness, and a certain aptitude for adventure. I find the stories of the folks who decide to undertake these adventures irresistible, and I hope you will too.
Without further ado then, I present to you LazyRetiree. We bumped into each other on the /r/financialindependence subreddit, and I am thankful to him for agreeing to be the first to take center stage in this series. He is very open about all his numbers, and he has made tremendous progress in a relatively short amount of time.
Which country did you immigrate from and how old were you at the time?
I moved to the U.S. from India in mid-2014. I was 32 at the time.
(Mrs. BITA: I am an old-timer here compared to this young ‘un. I’ve been here since 2008).
Why did you decide to move to the U.S.?
I’d lived in the U.S. before for a few years when I was doing my Masters. And I’ve actually grown up outside India (I’m Indian) somewhere in the Middle East. So I’d always been exposed to other cultures, other standards of living.
And even though I’m Indian, having spent most of my life (20 out of 34 years) abroad I always felt like I was an outsider looking in at India. Never truly felt like I belonged. So it was natural to seek options abroad, and I began by looking at Singapore and Malaysia as options before I considered the U.S.
We also need to bear in mind that the U.S. is hard to immigrate to! 🙂
(Mrs. BITA: I hear you. And even once you find an employer here willing to take a bet on you and sponsor a visa, a rainforest has to die to provide the paper for the mountain of documents you need to prepare to convince the embassy to actually grant you the visa.)
But the short of it is I wanted a better life for my son (who was 3 when we moved), and I felt like I could give him that in the U.S.
What was your net worth (in USD) when you moved to the U.S.?
When I moved to the US, my approximate net worth was 45,000 USD but I use 60,000 USD as a base (not sure why. Also bear in mind that I wasn’t tracking too much initially). So yeah I’d say between 45-60,000 USD is what I was worth when I moved to the U.S.
(Mrs. BITA: I was also worth about $60k when I moved to the U.S. I was about two months shy of my 30th birthday at the time).
Tell us a little bit about your life now
I’m based in a high cost of living (HCOL) area – the Bay Area (though I live an hour away from San Francisco in the east bay). I’m 35 years old, male, married, and have one 5 year old son.
I’m far from retirement, so I work in the hi-tech industry in the bay area. My wife (Mrs. LR) doesn’t work and raises our son to be awesome! 🙂
We rent a comfortable 2 bedroom place, costs a bomb, though neither of us want to downsize to a 1 bedroom. We are unsure at this point if we will.
(Mrs. BITA: Paying for housing in the Bay Area always reminds me of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. You can get what you want if you are willing to trade away your firstborn).
Since I was born in a country outside India (though I have Indian citizenship), I was able to get my green card within 6 months of arriving as U.S considers country of birth when issuing green cards, not citizenship. Lucky for us I guess.
(Mrs. BITA: Lucky indeed. I was in the India queue for an employment based green card a.k.a. the permanent resident card. It isn’t uncommon to stay on that queue for a decade. While I was waiting patiently in line I met and married Mr. BITA, who is a U.S. citizen, and that helped me jump the queue).
My annual salary (including bonus) is approximately $165,000 per year (before taxes or anything). I max out my 401k and also the ESPP plan offered by my company.
What is your net worth now?
As of writing this it’s approximately 211,000 USD.
(Mrs. BITA: Woohoo! Well done, sir! From ~60k to over 200k on a single income in 3 years).
What is your FIRE target number and date? Is your goal financial independence or also early retirement?
My primary intention is to attain financial independence. I’m not looking to necessarily, at this time, RE. I do have the goal of reaching 1 million USD saved by 2027. (Mrs. BITA: A worthy goal. We’ll be cheering from the sidelines). Once that goal is reached (through raising salary and possibly further cutting expenses), I’ll consider what the next stage is. I think I will retire when I’m at 2 million or higher in terms of savings. I say think as I’m still not certain beyond the 10 year time horizon.
Do you consider your move to the U.S. permanent, or do you plan to go back ‘home’?
It would depend on my family. My wife is attached to India, so we may (in the very long run, 15+ years from now) move to a place closer to India.. Though I’m happy and content and comfortable here in the US 🙂
(Mrs. BITA: I remember the moment, about four years ago now, at the end of a long vacation in India, when I turned to Mr. BITA and said that I was getting a bit homesick. I remember how surprised he was, because I had never before referred to the U.S. as my home. I felt guilty almost as soon as I said it!).
What was the most difficult part about migrating here?
Everything! It’s so hard to get here, it took me the better part of 10 years to make it out (after my Masters I moved back to India, a big mistake). Finding an opportunity here that offered sponsorship was hard. Having been from outside India myself, moving/leaving wasn’t as hard.
But for my wife, it was a big deal as it’d be the first time she was going to be so far away from family and friends, in a foreign land. It took her the better part of 6 months to get used to life here.. And once she started driving it became easier.. Now she loves it here! 🙂
What do you like the most about this country?
The freedom to do whatever you want, without too much of a judgement passed. Not to mention that most people would leave you alone if you’d like that, so that helps. I also enjoy the fact that most places are accessible to nature, and that nature here is treated well and is well maintained!
(Mrs. BITA: I love the easy access to gorgeous, well-loved natural beauty too. They certainly do that right around these parts).
I also find it easier to go through the daily motions of life, infrastructure is far better than India, and possibly a bit easier to achieve financial independence.
As someone pursuing FIRE, what do you think was your biggest disadvantage because of your immigrant status?
No real disadvantage in my case, as I was able to get a green card pretty soon after arriving.
As someone pursuing FIRE, what is the biggest advantage you have because you are an immigrant?
Quite a few I think:
- I’m willing to do whatever it takes to excel, in part due to a chip on my shoulder based on the struggle I had to go through to get here.
- I’m willing to take any opportunity to further my career, and don’t deem any job below my stature as long as it offers me some advantage over the next person.
- I know the value of making it and being able to live in this country, more than the next person here.
- I understand the pitfalls of debt, which have been drilled into me from the time I was a kid. This I feel is a huge advantage from most folks here, based on the horror stories I read on reddit about credit card debt among other debt. I avoid debt like the plague.
- Contrarily I also understand the value of saving, which has been drilled into me from the time I was a kid as well. This has helped me stay on point when it comes to savings, to the extent of denying myself some pleasures or at least delaying them while ensuring long term plans don’t take a hit!
- As part of my FIRE strategy I’m also building a college fund for my kid (in our culture it is fairly common for the parents to provide funds for a college education). I was able to get a good jump on it when he was 4.5 years old, and I already have $7000+ in it. I intend to seed it with $600 a month for the next 5-7 years and then let it grow till around the time I need it, at which time I’ll transition the funds to bond funds with the 529. So I see myself not only FIRE-ing myself, but also ensuring my son is able to FIRE as well when he’s of age (by helping him with college).
- I intend to pass on all these values to my kid as well, so as to give him a bigger boost on his own path to FIRE. We’ve started adding money and taxes into our kid’s daily life skills a bit.
Do you have words of wisdom that you would like to share with other immigrants (and everyone else) pursuing FIRE?
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, on reddit, in person (my email below)! Many immigrants find this whole concept of “investing” bad or confusing, with many cultures treating stock market investing as gambling (which it isn’t, really!).
- Read books, and educate yourselves on the concepts. Books like
are fantastic reads and will give you the tools to do it yourself (DIY)!
- Also a good resource is the Boglehead’s wiki.
- Definitely read the wiki page of the personal finance subreddit and refer to the 2 charts that will give you a good visual flow of what order you should use to save money! Start right away and make your way down the chain based on your earning levels!
- Doesn’t matter how much you are able to save, keep striving for it and don’t give up thinking because you can only save XX vs XXX dollars, you’ll never make it. As they say in Hindi “boond boond se hi sagar bharta hai” (“drops and more drops fill the ocean”). [My Hindi sucks and so both the saying and the translation could be a bit off but you get the idea :P]. (Mrs. BITA: He is right. His grasp of Hindi does suck. In the original text he sent me he translated sagar as river : ) So no matter how small you start, keep doing it!
- Don’t rely too much on financial advisors, which I see a lot of immigrants do, thinking they know more (a common fallacy from many immigrant countries where we treat people who have certain skill sets as gods, especially in India where financial literacy is fairly low). You CAN do it yourself, and if you are dead sure you can’t, find a FIDUCIARY based financial advisor (And not someone who takes 1-2% of your portfolio each year as fees. They have different goals and your financial welfare isn’t one of them!).
(Mrs. BITA: Some solid advice here. As an immigrant, so much about your new home seems alien to you. Dealing with your finances on top of everything else can feel overwhelming, and if you are making a decent living as a software developer it is easy to take the ostrich-with-head-in-sand approach to avoid having one more thing to deal with. Don’t. You’ve accomplished something really difficult by migrating. You can do this too).
Once again, thank you for sharing your story and your finances with my readers, LazyRetiree! You can contact him at email@example.com and he blogs over at http://www.lazyretiree.com, so head on over and show his blog some love.
Are you a first generation immigrant? Would you like to share your story? If so, leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.