Retirement; like your parents, but way cooler
In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age
of 38. Now, into their 4th decade of this
financially independent lifestyle, they invite you
to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
Interview with Robert and Robin Charlton
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
We met Robert and Robin in
Vietnam where we enjoyed some
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
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 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
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
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
REL: Could you tell us how things have changed for you since you left your
jobs and began to live the Early Retirement Lifestyle?
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.
quotient is higher.
Skydiving in Wanaka, New Zealand
REL: How many years have you been retired now?
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!
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
the mix of travel with family time?
Bungee jumping Queenstown, New Zealand
The biggest reason we still
live in the U.S. is family.
We have close ties and spend time each
year in Maine and
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?
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
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
REL: Since you are still too young for Medicare, what do you do about
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
dental tourism overseas. We’ve had comprehensive wellness exams in
Malaysia that frankly put American exams to shame and at a fraction of the
cost. We’ve also had dentistry done in Algodones,
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
REL: What do you average in spending annually? Does this include health
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
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
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
REL: What’s the worst thing you deal with in this new chosen lifestyle? Your
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
India, Nepal, and parts of
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
REL: What is exhilarating beyond words? Something you would never trade
about your lifestyle to obtain “security?”
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
REL: What would you say to someone who is considering tossing the
conventional lifestyle and living one of travel? What advice would you give?
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?
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
REL: How do you contribute to the world?
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
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
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.
there a happiness mantra or motto that you've found to be very helpful?
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
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
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?
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!
To read about more Successful Early
Retirees and Captivating Characters,
What's Your Number? - How much money do you need to retire?
About the Authors
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person – the person who prizes their
independence, values their time, and who doesn’t
want to mindlessly follow the crowd.
Retire Early Lifestyle Blog
About Billy & Akaisha