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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Our Interview with Robert and Robin Charlton

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We met Robert and Robin in Saigon, Vietnam where we enjoyed some weasel coffee with them (!)

If you have a "normal" job and an average salary, can you retire early? YOU BET! Fun-loving, adventurous and independent this couple has some great advice to anyone who might be looking to FIRE.

Enjoy this interview with Robert and Robin Charlton below.

Retire Early Lifestyle: Could you tell our Readers a little about yourselves?

R&RC: Hi, we’re Robert and Robin Charlton and this is our story in a nutshell.

Back in 1991 we had $16.88 to our name. We managed to retire 15 years later in 2006 with a nest egg of $926,000. Our average annual combined salary was $89,000, but by living frugally and investing consistently we managed to reach our goal. We have no kids (we suggest adding 5 to 10 years of savings if you do), but we think our experience serves as a good road map for what others can do who have normal jobs with average salaries.

Our net worth has since grown to $1.4 million despite withdrawing funds each year for living expenses. The road map we followed (and wished we’d had ourselves) is captured in our book How to Retire Early.

Robin and Robert Charlton

Robin and Robert shortly before Early Retirement

REL: When did you decide to FIRE, and how did you know you were ready to interact with the world differently?  

R&RC: I first started dreaming of early retirement in the early 1990’s around age 30. I was unhappy in my job at the time and hated the thought of working in a cubicle for another 35 years. I came up with a plan to retire at 55 and got buy-in from Robin. We started investing with a vengeance and kept lowering our retirement age, first to 50, then to 45, then to 43.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Billy and Akaisha for serving as role models to us back then when there weren’t many others doing this sort of thing.

This was well before the FIRE movement so we had to figure out most of the how-to details on our own. But from the moment we started investing for early retirement it changed our whole outlook on life. We felt like we were living and working with a purpose once we had a clear goal in mind.

REL: Could you tell us how things have changed for you since you left your jobs and began to live the Early Retirement Lifestyle?

R&RC: Less stress, more fun – that about sums it up!

We enjoy an easier pace of life with longer journeys overseas and the ability to stay put as long as we want in a country. We have more time to be creative and more quality time with family and friends. Of course we still have a few “life headaches” (like Hurricane Harvey flooding my mom’s home) but at least we have the adequate time and finances to deal with them. There’s no need to dress up for work or commute, and we get to be snowbirds and follow the sun.

Our happiness quotient is higher.

Skydiving in Wanaka, New Zealand

Skydiving in Wanaka, New Zealand

REL: How many years have you been retired now?

R&RC: We’ve been retired for over 12 years now. We retired in December 2006 at the age of 43. We have absolutely no regrets about leaving our traditional jobs behind. We think retiring early is one of the best things we’ve done. We love the freedom to travel and choose our own path in life. We still work in the sense of being productive, but at things that matter to us personally and without particular reference to money.

 

 

 

 

REL: We know your love for travel. Can you mention a few of your favorite places where you traveled in the years since your FIRE?

R&RC: That’s a hard question to answer: it’s like picking your favorite child!

New Zealand was our first trip after retiring early so it holds a special place in our hearts. We had a lot of pent-up travel energy at that point so we hit the ground running and filled our time with adrenaline adventures, Great Walks, and fun experiences like zorbing and swimming with dolphins in the wild. We stayed four months in New Zealand then spent another month kicking back in Fiji. So yes, that was a good trip! We also loved our time in Spain (Camino de Santiago), Cambodia, Jordan, Nepal, Kenya & Tanzania (safari), Patagonia, and the Galapagos.

REL: How do you balance the mix of travel with family time?

Bungee jumping New Zealand

Bungee jumping Queenstown, New Zealand

R&RC: The biggest reason we still live in the U.S. is family.

We have close ties and spend time each year in Maine and Texas to be with family. Good friends also keep drawing us back to Colorado. Over the years our international trips have shortened to six or seven weeks on average instead of three or four months, in part to make room in our lives for other important things like family. “Balance” is a word we think about a lot since retiring, and we’re still trying to find that right balance between travel, creativity, family time, and simple downtime.

REL: Since housing is a big expense, how do you manage lodging on the road? Do you house sit? Rent apartments? Stay in hotels?

R&RC: We like to see the best sights each country has to offer and that usually means moving around a lot, so we don’t save as much on lodgings as some do. When we’re in “explore mode” we tend to stay in hostels found on Hostelworld or flashpacker, hotels found on TripAdvisor and typically stay for 3 or 4 nights at a time. For extended stays we use Airbnb, whose hosts sometimes offer discounts of 50% or more for stays of a month or longer. That’s perfect for early retirees who have the time to explore the world at a slower pace.  

REL: Do you own a home or have a home base?

R&RC: When we first retired we sold our home, invested the proceeds in a bond fund, and traveled as nomads without a home for two years. In 2009 we bought a small condo in Boulder, Colorado at the depths of the Great Recession for $95,000. That’s unheard-of cheap in Boulder. It’s tiny, only 380 square feet, but it gives us a base when we’re not traveling. In 2015 we decided to rent the condo out since we knew we’d be traveling a lot and didn’t want it to just sit empty. The $1,500 monthly rent has helped fund our travels over the past four years. Now we’re ready to reclaim it and settle down for a bit (but not too long knowing us).

Holi Festival, Agra, India

Holi Festival, Agra, India

REL: Since you are still too young for Medicare, what do you do about health care?

R&RC: We know health care is a hot button issue for a lot of early retirees so we’ll try to provide some detail here about what we do. We have a bronze-level plan (the cheapest) with Kaiser Permanente in Colorado under the Affordable Care Act. The plan is subsidized so it’s inexpensive, less than $100 per month for both of us. If we spent more time in Colorado we’d also consider a silver plan for better value (higher premiums but lower deductibles and better coinsurance). Our bronze plan offers better value than the catastrophic plan we were on before the ACA and at a quarter of the cost. The subsidies are what make the difference. A couple with an adjusted gross income (AGI) under $65,840 per year (2019) qualifies for subsidies – but go even one dollar over this limit and the subsidies cut off completely. That’s why the ACA can be great for some early retirees on a budget but not so great for others.

We’ve also learned to take advantage of medical and dental tourism overseas. We’ve had comprehensive wellness exams in Thailand and Malaysia that frankly put American exams to shame and at a fraction of the cost. We’ve also had dentistry done in Algodones, Mexico (just over the border from Yuma, Arizona) that was both very high quality and affordable. You might think of medical tourism as a safety net of sorts that takes some of the fear out of that first leap into early retirement. Between it and the ACA we’ve gotten along just fine.

Robin at Annapurna Circuit near Manang, Nepal

Robin at Annapurna Circuit near Manang, Nepal

REL: What do you average in spending annually? Does this include health insurance?

R&RC: During our 12 years of retirement so far we’ve lived on $42,000 per year on average or $3,500 per month. That includes all forms of income and covers all living expenses, travel expenses, credit card bills, health insurance, and so on. Over the years our annual income has increased slightly to keep pace with inflation (we started at $40,000). The increases have been in line with our investment returns so we’re still only withdrawing 3% to 4% of our nest egg each year.

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REL: Can you share with us anything about how your portfolio is structured? Did your retirement affect your allocation at all?

R&RC: We keep it simple with equal amounts invested in three Vanguard stock index funds: the 500 Index, Extended Market, and Total International Stock funds (VFIAX, VEXAX, VTIAX). We also have a Total Bond Market index fund (VBTLX). The bond fund grew dramatically once we retired early and sold our home. Our current split is about 80/20 stocks to bonds. The bond fund is our safety net. When the Great Recession hit, it helped us ride out the storm until markets improved. We avoid withdrawing from stocks when markets are down.

REL: How do you manage your finances while on the road?

R&RC: We use a Capital One credit card with no international fees whenever possible for the best exchange rate. In countries where credit cards aren’t commonly used, we start with U.S. cash and exchange it for local currency at banks (never at airports except token amounts). We use ATMs once the cash runs out. A small PacSafe lets us store our extra cash, passports, etc. securely in our room. Our bill paying is almost all automated. If necessary, transfers from Vanguard into our checking account only take 2 to 3 business days.

Robert at Annapurna Circuit near Yak Kharka, Nepal

Robert at Annapurna Circuit near Yak Kharka, Nepal

REL: Do you own a vehicle?

R&RC: Yes, we own a 2005 Toyota Matrix with 140,000 miles on it and expect to drive it until it finally conks out someday. It gets good gas mileage and has plenty of storage in back for road trips. We’ve taken it to the tip of the Baja Peninsula and back (best road trip ever!) and made several loops through the U.S. and Canada. We usually rely on public transport in other countries but it’s hard to live in the U.S. without a car, especially if you love to travel.

REL: What’s the worst thing you deal with in this new chosen lifestyle? Your biggest challenge?

R&RC: We can’t think of much that’s bad about being retired early because it’s financial independence plain and simple and who wouldn’t want that?

But you do have to structure your own time once you retire early since there is no 40-hours-per-week job giving structure to your life. You’re in charge now, so how are you going to fill your time and give it purpose? We find it helps to build productive time into most days and have a general plan of attack for the year ahead. It also helps to remember to build the equivalent of weekends into your life (preferably midweek when everyone else is working). A different challenge for perpetual travelers is being separated from some of your stored belongings for long stretches of time.

REL: What has surprised you the most about your Early Retirement Lifestyle?

R&RC: We were surprised to discover you could actually live more cheaply while traveling overseas than simply staying put in the U.S. Of course this depends on the destination, time of year, lodgings, etc., but in places like Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, and parts of South and Central America where the exchange rate is good, it can actually be cheaper to travel than stay home even after factoring in airfare. It’s good to know world travel isn’t out of reach, especially if you stay in an inexpensive country long enough to justify the airfare.

Finishing the Camino de Santiago, Spain

Finishing the Camino de Santiago, Spain

REL: What is exhilarating beyond words? Something you would never trade about your lifestyle to obtain “security?”

R&RC: We recently did some hiking in Iceland’s Landmannalaugar highlands that left us exhilarated beyond words. The colorful rhyolite mountains there were like nothing we’d ever seen. We’d never trade the chance to explore new places and have once-in-a-lifetime adventures for so-called “security,” which really does belong in quote marks since it’s questionable how much more secure you are anyway just staying at home and doing nothing. That comes with its own risks: obesity, bathtub accidents, and being bored to death come to mind!

With reference to financial security, we’re not quite clear why people think early retirees are less secure than those with jobs. After all, we have no debt and about $1.4 million in the plus column, which we think is far more secure than having a job but living paycheck to paycheck with debt and a mortgage as so many others do. Perhaps it’s just doing something different than the norm that strikes some people as risky, even when it’s not.

REL: What would you say to someone who is considering tossing the conventional lifestyle and living one of travel? What advice would you give?

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R&RC: If you want to toss convention to the winds and travel then we’d say go for it! In his book Vagabonding, Rolf Potts cites a line from Charlie Sheen’s character in Wall Street: “I think if I can make a bundle of cash before I’m thirty and get out of this racket, I’ll be able to ride my motorcycle across China.” Potts goes on to say, “When I first saw this scene on video a few years ago, I nearly fell out of my seat in astonishment. After all, Charlie Sheen or anyone else could work for eight months as a toilet cleaner and have enough money to ride a motorcycle across China.” Too true! The takeaway: Don’t limit yourself.

REL: What are your greatest passions in life?

R&RC: Nothing grabs us like a long walk. The 500-mile Camino de Santiago is a great example. Hut-to-hut tramping in New Zealand and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru are two others. Any scenic mountain hike or beach walk is a winner in our book, and exploring new places always gets our juices flowing. Losing oneself in a really big project – like writing a book or doing something else creative – can also satisfy in a way little else can.

Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

REL: How do you contribute to the world?

R&RC: Robin has done meaningful volunteer work as a nurse and spent four years caring for her mother after her stroke. My biggest contribution to the world so far has been trying to show others by example how to make their early retirement dreams come true. Even those with debts and smaller salaries can get there. We support Kiva Microfunds, Nature Conservancy, Unatti Foundation (Nepal), and other causes we believe in and hope to do more hands-on volunteer work going forward.

REL: What is a secret fact about you?

R&RC: I spent two consecutive months backpacking in the Montana wilderness and living in a tent. Two of the happiest months of my life! If you want a crash course in living simply this would qualify. Robin’s secret is that she loves to sing and has performed in numerous musicals over the years including The Mikado, Grease, Godspell, Once Upon a Mattress, Gypsy, and High Spirits. Her guilty pleasure is singing songs from Disney movies (but don’t tell anyone).

REL: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

R&RC: We’re in what you might call “adventure travel mode” right now and expect that to continue for the next 5 years as we try to see and do as much as we can while we’re still (relatively) young. To those who dream of seeing the world, it’s a big world out there so be prepared for a lifetime project! At some point we expect to slow down – to still travel but with less intensity. I’d love to write more, maybe even try my hand at fiction, so that could become a bigger part of my life as travel and documenting travel become less time-consuming.

 

 

 

 

REL: What is your biggest splurge?

R&RC: We tend to live big when traveling so on most trips we splurge on some kind of awesome adventure. In Kauai for example we splurged on an amazing doors-off helicopter tour. In New Zealand we splurged on what we’ve come to call Adrenaline Week. In Morocco we splurged on a camel trek through the Sahara. Time splurges are also important to us: just slowing down and doing nothing seems like a splurge to us after a big trip.

REL: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you've found to be very helpful?

R&RC:  “A ship is safe in harbor but that's not what ships are for.” To us this means the point of life isn’t just to live safely but to take some risks and get out there and make the most of this life. So live big! Have some adventures! Go see the world!

REL: Are you still chronicling your travels on your blog?

R&RC: Yes we are. Where We Be is our labor of love. It’s like an enormous travel book that keeps growing and growing. Printing it out would be pretty much impossible by now! We actually enjoy perusing it ourselves to remind us of our own trips. Is that weird?

REL: What do you do for fun or entertainment?

R&RC: Is it too obvious to say travel at this point? Probably so. Well, we also love hiking beside mountain streams, strolling white sand beaches, and binge watching Netflix shows. Two years ago we went vegetarian and are learning to cook up some mean Mexican, Italian, and Indian dishes. I splurged on NFL Game Pass this past season, and Robin has been using Ancestry.com to trace her family genealogy. Writing, photography, and website stuff are also what we’d call fun forms of work.

REL: Where are you going next?

R&RC: Australia!

We have a 7-week trip planned from March to May, including 10 days each in Sydney, Tasmania, Brisbane & the Great Barrier Reef, and Melbourne and Victoria, finishing up with 7 days in the Australian Outback. We’re especially excited about snorkeling Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef and having up-close encounters with kangaroos, koalas, wombats, echidnas, and Tasmanian devils. For more details you can check out Where We Be.

 We at Retire Early Lifestyle would like to thank Robin and Robert for taking the time to answer all of our questions, and for their willingness to share their lives with our Readers. Thanks to both of you!

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About the Authors

 
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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