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.
Early Retirees Kevin & Valerie Cooper
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
Peaceful Lake Chapala,
One sunny afternoon in
Chapala, Mexico, I was sipping coffee, relaxing on a bench overlooking the Lake
and letting my mind drift when a couple walks past me. Noticing my stylish
Retire Early Lifestyle Tee shirt, they turn around and introduce themselves to
me as Kevin and Valerie Cooper. They made a point to tell me that they purchased
Guide and said they found it helpful.
I had more questions
than we had time for as Kevin and Valerie were exploring Chapala, and had plans
for moving on to Morelia in the morning.
Wanting to know more
about them and thinking their story would attract the interest of our Readers,
we contacted Kevin and Valerie and submitted the following questions to them.
Please enjoy this
informative and practical interview with Kevin and Valerie Cooper.
REL: Could you tell
us a little about yourselves?
Kevin: I was born
and raised in Kentucky. I got a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from
Murray State University, lived in worked in Northern Virginia for about 15 years
before moving to Southern California in 1986. For 10 years prior to retiring in
2010, I was an independent contractor working for American Honda Motor Company
headquartered in Torrance, CA in their Information Systems Division. My career
was spent in various roles related to Information Technology.
Adventurer's Guide to the Possible Dream
Valerie is a third
generation Japanese American whose parents both moved to California from Hawaii
prior to getting married. After high school Valerie got married and started her
family, raising 2 sons and 1 daughter. Prior to leaving the working world,
Valerie was a Regional Specialist with the cosmetics maker Merle Norman
Cosmetics, headquartered in Los Angeles, CA.
Valerie and I have been
together since 2006. When we retired, I was 57 and Valerie was 49.
Coffee Plantation in Columbia, South America
REL: How long have
you been retired?
Coopers: Our last
day of work was the day before Thanksgiving, 2010.
REL: When did you
know you were ready to retire and what motivated you?
Coopers: To me,
it comes down to this. You have to find the right balance between time, money
and expectations. You can choose to work longer in order to save more money but
you’re trading time for money. Working an extra 5 years doesn’t extend your life
by 5 years; it shortens your retirement time by 5 years. Expectations have to do
with the type of retirement lifestyle you envision for yourself. Once you can
match your expectations with your retirement income, then you’re ready to
We wanted to be able to
experience life in other parts of the world and to do so while we still had the
energy and curiosity that would enable us to fully enjoy that experience.
Financially, it’s about
taking all of your retirement planning and turning it into a sustainable income.
That’s the point when the idea of retirement freedom becomes real.
REL: What has been
your greatest challenge in pursuing Early Retirement? Your biggest lesson?
the greatest challenge is simply to understand that there’s no one to hand you a
check, give you a handshake and tell you how to make this happen. Not only that,
in my opinion, 99% of “financial planners” can’t show you how to do this either.
Most of them only have some magic annuity to sell you or can only give you a set
of asset allocation models to choose from. None of this will lead you to a
fulfilling sustainable early retirement.
Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua, Central America
REL: Do you have any
advice for someone looking to do the same?
Coopers: Have a
plan. And not just a financial plan. Figure out what you’re going to do with
your time. It has to be about more than just not going to work the next
day. It’s all about expectations. Understand your budget and set your
expectations. Then go about creatively meeting or exceeding your expectations.
REL: What do you like
most about being early retired?
Coopers: It’s the
sense of freedom and self reliance. We are living solely on the income we are
able to create for ourselves and we can make that life anything we want it to be
within our budgetary limits.
REL: What style of
retirement are you creating? Do you have goals?
Coopers: We are
trying to create a retirement in which we can have new experiences and see
places that are new to us. We’re studying Spanish and want to reach
conversational proficiency. Who knows, this may inspire us to explore additional
languages. Also, we are expanding our base of references for house sitting and
are planning to go outside of the US for house sitting opportunities:
Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
REL: Where have you
Coopers: In 2011,
we spent 3 months exploring Ecuador (including the Galapagos Islands) and 4
months going through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Currently we
are traveling in Mexico, beginning in Guadalajara and working our way across to
Beach in Costa Rica
REL: Do you have a
prior to retirement, we sold our home and virtually all of our possessions. This
put us “all in” for a travel lifestyle. We like to think of it as being
“creatively homeless.” This may not work for everyone but it certainly
eliminates a whole set of expenses and potential anchors that can hold you to a
particular place. While in Southern California, we are able to spend some time
with Valerie’s mom. Also, we have been using house sitting (WeSit4You.com)
as a way to travel that also gives us a place to stay. As a bonus we get an
occasional “pet fix” by being able to provide pet care along with house sitting.
REL: What do you do
about transportation? Do you own a car?
Coopers: We do
have a car for when we are in the US. When we travel outside of the US we use
the bus services. We have found them to be an efficient, reliable and
inexpensive way to get around.
Guide to Early Retirement, 3rd Edition
REL: What do you do
Currently, we have U.S. based health insurance. We have a high deductible so
that we sort of pay as we go for routine care and would count on the insurance
to cover the extreme cases, should they occur. I still debate this issue in my
head and consider not carrying any insurance, but with the current confusion
regarding the Affordable Care Act who knows how things will shake out.
Enjoying Quito, Ecuador
REL: How do you
manage your finances on the road?
Coopers: We have
most of our investments and banking with Charles Schwab & Co. The Schwab Bank
has a debit card that can be used with any Plus or Interlink ATM in the world
and Schwab will reimburse any ATM fees, plus there is no fee for currency
exchange. So when traveling we simply withdraw cash for routine expenses.
Naturally, we can manage these accounts including bill pay on the internet.
Also, we have a “virtual
mailbox” for any mail that needs to reach us. When mail is received at this
address, the service provider scans the envelope and we get an email to let us
know that we have mail. We can view the envelope and request that the item be
forwarded to some other address or that they open the envelope and scan all of
its contents which we can then view, save to our local hard drive, print or ask
to have shredded. And of course any credit cards we use can be managed online
with electronic statements. So as long as we have access to the internet it’s
quite easy to manage our finances from anywhere.
REL: Can you share
with us anything about your portfolio? Did the market declines affect your
retirement nest egg?
Coopers: We were
still working during the 2008 dive in the markets however we have structured our
investments to rely upon dividend growth holdings along with MLP’s, REIT’s and
preferred stocks. Our spending comes from the income generated from these
holdings and generally speaking, the income is not affected by market swings. So
the fluctuation in the value of the holdings becomes secondary to the income
generated. In fact, many of these reliable payers (eg. McDonalds) are able to
continue increasing their payouts during downturns. Also, these payments provide
inflation protection since they are generally able to increase distributions at
the same rate as or faster than inflation.
(I have written some
articles for the website Seeking Alpha, one of which provides a
bit more perspective on this,
Percent Withdrawal Retirement Plan.)
REL: What do you
budget annually for your retirement?
spending budget for 2012 is about $40k. This is our "all-in" budget. Actual
spending for 2011 was several thousand less than this.
REL: Share with us
your best money-saving secret.
owning a home is a money saver. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that we don’t have
any housing expense, it just comes in different forms and we have no fixed cost
for something we don’t use.
When traveling, eat
local. Find the local market, there will be food stalls there with a good
selection of inexpensive dishes. Also, stay in places with a kitchen you can use
so that you have the option of keeping food on hand for a snack or breakfast.
A note about budget
travel: We don’t deny ourselves completely. We frequently pay for tours to
better explore a unique aspect of the town or its surrounding area. But
sometimes we will find local bus transportation options that will allow us to
see an outlying attraction when a tour would offer little additional benefit.
Also, we allow ourselves
certain special excursions. For example, when visiting Ecuador, we spent 8 days
on a boat touring the Galapagos. And, to get from Panama to Colombia, we paid
for passage on a private sailboat which allowed us to spend 3 days sailing and
snorkeling among the San Blas Islands. Both were unique experiences that we
would not have wanted to miss.
REL: What is a
typical day for you?
breakfast and get some exercise. This could be a 3 or 4 mile walk and/or work
out with an exercise band. Get on the internet to check email and the news. If
we are traveling, we will generally have some plan for the day to explore the
town or visit some points of interest. Towards the end of the day we will upload
and organize any new photos, update
blog and maybe
update plans for the next leg of our trip.
Also, we try to spend a
little time each day working on our Spanish. We are using the Rosetta Stone
course that is web based.
Remarkable San Blas Islands, Panama
REL: What are your
greatest passions in life?
to learn, grow and explore. Maintain a sense of adventure and curiosity.
Flexibility is a must.
REL: Where do you see
yourself in 5 years from now?
Honestly, I don’t know where we’ll be – physically. We intend to continue to
travel and explore as long as we are still enjoying it. We have already found a
few places that we want to return to for more extended visits but so far no
plans to “settle down” in some foreign address.
I’m working on
developing a sideline career as a travel writer. Hey, we have to continue to
All of our books lead
to adventure. Don't miss out on yours!
REL: Where are you
Coopers: In the
near term, after Mexico, we have a couple of house sitting assignments this
fall, Hawaii and Hermosa Beach, CA. We enjoy snow skiing so we’ll reserve some
time for that early in 2013. After that? We haven’t decided. Maybe Peru and
Argentina. We haven’t been to Machu Pichu or Iguazu Falls, two “must see”
We would like to thank Kevin and Valerie Cooper for their time
and willingness to answer all of our questions.
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.