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.
Billy and Akaisha
What a lifetime of travel taught these early retirees over 3
Andrew Chen from
Hack Your Wealth
People spend way too much time scrutinizing
examples of early retirees who just recently FIRE’d and not nearly enough time
on early retirees who actually made it
That’s why there’s a whole cottage industry
of blogs and books by recent retirees dispensing advice (and downloadable
spreadsheets) on how to save a million bucks, retire to Southeast Asia, and sip
mango juice all day and get cheap massages.
But there’s nothing to actually scrutinize
in these examples because no one really miscalculates their nest egg so badly
that they have to go back to work within a few years.
We should spend more effort analyzing
examples of people who actually successfully
STAYED retired for decades. (And I
don’t mean folks with
$10s of milliions.)
That’s because the shockingly simple math
to get TO early retirement is different from the shockingly un-simple math to
get THROUGH early retirement.
Yet there are few and far between examples
of early retirees who actually made it through decades, weathered all the ups
and downs intact, lived a good and fulfilling life, and are still in good
physical and financial shape.
So you can imagine how excited I was to
speak with today’s guests, a senior couple who achieved precisely this.
This week, I chat with
Billy and Akaisha
Kaderli, a husband wife couple who early retired
DECADES ago in 1991 and are
still going strong. With one full 30-year retirement already behind them and a
nest egg that is bigger than ever, Billy and Akaisha have
across decades, lived a great life, and have tons of stories and advice to
• Their varied career path before
retirement (French chef, stock broker)
• Why they decided to retire
early long before a FIRE community existed
• Why they decided not to tell
anyone about their early retirement plans
• Why they defined their FIRE
number based on only a subset of their expenses (and which expenses those were)
• What they invested in before
there were ETFs, and how big their portfolio was on the day they retired
• How they planned their travels
via a multi-year loop over the decades, and how they chose regional “home bases”
around the world
• When they decide to travel
together vs. solo
• How large their portfolio is
now 3 decades later
• How they afforded healthcare
over the decades (including emergency surgeries) with no health insurance…and
without bankrupting themselves
• How they dealt with downturns
and recessions over the decades…including the one time they briefly considered
going back to get a j-o-b (and why they decided against it)
• What they would have done
differently if they could do it all over again
Does Billy and Akaisha’s story change your
view on what it takes to get to FIRE? What it takes to successfully live a good
and full retirement life for decades? Does it influence any choices you might
make in your retirement planning plans?
My guests today are husband and wife couple Akaisha and Billy Kaderli. I’m
really excited to bring them on the podcast today.
Akaisha and Billy early retired three decades ago in their 30s to travel the
globe. They’ve remained retired this entire time, and they are recognized as one
of the early participants and experts of the FIRE movement even before there was
such a term.
has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, Motley
Fool, MarketWatch, Forbes, Fox Business, U.S. News and World Report, and many
other newspapers and radio and TV shows.
numerous books and guides about early retirement and nomadic
travel strategies, and they share much of this information as well on their
Akaisha and Billy, thanks so much for joining us today to share your insights
and wisdom about early retirement and nomadic travel.
Yes. Thanks for having us.
Thanks for having us, Andrew.
Just to set context for our audience so we can understand a little bit better
about your story, in what year did you early retire?
In 1991. We were 38 years old.
What was your career path before you guys pulled the trigger?
We did lots of different things.
I was trained as a French chef. In 1979,
Akaisha and I went to France. I was trained in the U.S., and then I got more
training in France.
And then we came back to
California, and we bought a restaurant because that was my dream: being a chef.
We owned and operated that for 10 years. During that period, I was approached
twice by the branch manager of a local Dean Witter Reynolds office, which is now
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, to join Dean Witter.
I refused the first time because I was
enjoying what I was doing. But then years later, he came back to me again and he
asked me if I’d be interested in doing it.
By then, I was getting burnt out on
cooking. I had been cooking for so many years.
So, I gave it a try. I became a stock
broker. After a few years, they gave me my own office and I was the branch
manager of the Aptos, California office, and doing quite well.
And then Akaisha, once we sold the
restaurant, she became an executive secretary for a civil engineering firm in
Scotts Valley, California.
Now, because I was a broker branch manager
in California, the stock market opens at 6:00 in the morning and closes at 1:00,
so 1:30pm I’m at the beach. Well, that didn’t work out real well with Akaisha.
No. It wasn’t working for me, especially
when I was still running the restaurant and when he was a stockbroker. That was
five years long or so.
I’m working nights, weekends, and holidays.
He’s off at the beach at 1:00 in the afternoon. No, no, no.
So, we started taking a look at things. We
realized that we were starting to drift apart. Anyway, it just happens.
We’re two Type A personality people, and
we’re both gung ho into our own careers.
So, he comes to me with this idea that he
writes down on the back of an envelope. “Hey, I got an idea. Why don’t we quit
our jobs and travel the world?”
I’m going, “Yeah, right, sure.”
He goes, “No, really, we can do this.”
So, I penciled it out. We had a computer
that we ran our restaurant on, but it was nothing like the stuff we have today.
I penciled it out, and for two years, we
knocked around this idea. We tried to poke as many holes in it as we could, both
financially, emotionally, and any other way we could, just trying to take the
balloon down out of the sky. Well, everything kept working.
our spending and found out what
we were spending on ourselves, not for things work-related. And we found out
that our money at the time could support that.
The amount of money
we had invested in the
Was there a single moment of recognition when that came? And if so, what caused
that? Or how did you guys gradually realize that you wanted to make this big
How it happened was it was a process. Like
I said, he came to me with this idea.
We had a beautiful home a quarter-mile from
the beach in Santa Cruz, California. My parents and sisters lived in the same
To be honest with you, I was hoping he’d
forget about it. “Okay, we’ll track our spending. Yeah, sure, we’ll do this.”
I just assumed that, at some point, he’d
let it go, but he didn’t.
So, this is the process part. When the
numbers started lining up, he said, “Look, we could travel.”
I’m a big traveler. He’s a big traveler.
So, I had to work out the family thing and the house thing.
But once we did that, and again, that took
two years or so, then we moved into making that happen.
Now, during this period, Andrew, we didn’t
Not our parents, not our friends, no one.
We kept it to ourselves because we didn’t want those people to try and to
pressure us into thinking that we were making a mistake or whatnot.
Remember this is 1991. There’s no FIRE.
There’s no forums. There’s no Amazon.
There’s no Facebook. There’s no email.
So, it’s just us two, and we kept it quiet.
And that’s when it all happened.
We gave our bosses a two-week notice. Two
When you guys were making this plan, was the life you envisioned one of long
term travel even from the very beginning, or did that unfold in a more gradual
Both. We both are travelers, and we wanted
to go to places that we didn’t have to go back in a four-day weekend or a
I studied anthropology in college. I like
native peoples and cultures. And we both enjoy food.
We wanted to go places and stay months at a
time. So, we did envision that as an expression of our life away from work.
There was no FIRE at that time, so
retirement was the only word we used. There was no “financially
word at that time. Michael Jordan and Bill Gates were financially independent, but that was
not what regular people did.
So, we just said we were retired, and that
is how we saw that lifestyle for us.
When you guys were tracking your budget, the budget you would need (I guess that
means your expenses), it sounds like you were doing that daily. Were you
factoring in the budget you would need during travel or the budget you were
spending in Santa Cruz? Which one were you trying to beat?
What we did is we tracked our spending, and
then we excluded all housing-related expenses, all work-related expenses,
property taxes, car-related expenses, all this stuff. And we found out that we
really weren’t spending all that much on ourselves.
So, then I took that number and I said,
“How much do we have to have invested in the financial markets in order to
generate that kind of income?” And that’s pretty much the process that we did.
Now, we don’t separate traveling from the
lifestyle. I know a lot of FIRE people do that. They say they want to travel, so then they go somewhere else
other than where they live or they do separate travel.
Ours was a travel lifestyle. That’s what we
did. We’d go and we’d live in hotels or apartments.
We’d go back to the States and refurbish the wardrobe,
but we’d be gone a year at a time. That kind of thing.
Mostly, our time constraints are visas. I’m
sure your people are familiar with it, but when you go to a foreign country, you
have to have a visa. You have to have permission from that country to enter, and
then they typically restrict you to a certain number of days or months, and then
it’s time to move on.
Now, there’s ways of dealing with those
things by either going to the embassy and re-upping, or to go to a neighboring
country for a week and then come back.
But we never planned this out. It has been
Yeah. It’s been organic.
It just came about.
What I’m trying to get my head around is when you guys were planning for long
term travel, if you were planning to live in, say, Thailand versus in London
(I’m sure there’s many places you want to go), the budgets will vary widely.
How did you factor in what you anticipated you would need for things like
airfare and the cost of living differential between high and low-cost countries
and make sure that it would work essentially forever from the vantage point of
What we did was we tracked our spending. We
had an annual amount and we had an average cost per day. So, we managed that every day.
When we’d go to a higher-priced country,
London or Australia or New Zealand, our daily average would go up. And then we
would just arbitrage that amount by going to Thailand or Mexico or Cambodia or
something like that, and then that average would go down.
We didn’t budget. We just monitored our
cost per day.
And the more you do that, the more
comfortable you get with knowing that you can bring it back down to where you
need it to be.
We’re going back some years, but I think
when we were in Australia, we were spending well over $100 a day, and when we
were in Thailand, we were spending $40 a day. We get back to Thailand and, all
of a sudden, we start seeing our averages come down and we’re all good.
Gotcha. Once you realized that your investments would cover your average daily
spend, how long was it from that point, that realization, to actually pulling
I think Billy pretty much said, “When we
take the house mortgage out, the car insurance, and the house insurance,
property taxes, we’re spending this amount.” So, our finances, our investments
generated that amount plus a little more.
So, we had to sell the house. We had to
sell our stuff. We had to get stuff in storage.
One thing was I got an annual bonus from
Dean Witter, so I wanted to make sure that I was there long enough to get that
bonus. It was pretty much two weeks into January I got the bonus. We’re gone.
Yeah, it was January 14th. He went down to
Nevis, and I had to finish the house. I’m still going to the flea market and
Goodwill, giving things away.
Nevis, West Indies in the Caribbean.
Nevis, West Indies. Right. So, then I just
met him down there as I tidied up what was left of the house.
What did you guys invest in to build this retirement fund? Literally, what were
the type of stocks or bonds you were holding?
At that time, we were 100% long in equity
funds. At the time, we were using Dean Witter funds because I was loyal to the
company. But then once I got away from there, we switched things over to
Vanguard and bought into the Index 500 and pretty much 100% long for years.
VTI wasn’t around. It was the S&P, what’s
now SPX. But it was the mutual fund, open-ended fund, because ETFs weren’t
around at that time.
Got it. And you guys were 100% long on stocks for the growth and no fixed
Let me just tell you how that works in
rough numbers. Say the markets average 10% a year with dividends reinvested. If
you’re spending 4% of that and you’re making 10%, that leaves 6% to be put back
in or just left into the market.
Exponentially, it’s just going to
continue to grow. That’s what has happened in our situation.
How much did you guys have saved up before you realized it was enough?
We had about $500,000.
In ’91 dollars?
In ’91 dollars.
Gotcha. Now you guys have been retired for over three decades now technically,
or you’re right on three decades?
Over all those years, how many have you lived abroad versus in the U.S.?
I would say that we have probably lived,
especially now, about 80%.
I would say that because we spent a lot of
time in Arizona.
Yes, but we’ve mostly been overseas.
Yeah. 60/40, something like that.
It’s hard to say. Because what was
happening for a while there is, of course, my parents were still alive and we’d
go visit home and family.
And then we’d have a three-year loop where
we’d go to the U.S. and then we’d go to
Thailand and then we’d go to
That would take two or three years to do that. And there is a place in
that we have.
But then for when we would do that loop, we
would just branch off to other countries while we were in those areas, because
it doesn’t make sense to be in the U.S. and then fly to
Vietnam and then come
back to the U.S. and then fly to
Thailand. That’s ridiculous.
I see. So, then you had multiple home bases from which you would launch out to
do more regional travel.
And it sounds like
Thailand was the home base for Asia,
Mexico for Southern
Latin America, and then Arizona for North America?
Mai, Thailand specifically.
We would go for a year. We’d leave Arizona
and go to Thailand for a year. And during that time, we’d visit Bali,
China, all those areas.
And then we’d maybe go to Mexico next or
something, and then we’d visit
Central America and all those places and stay
there for a year.
And then once we got to Mexico, we could
easily shoot up to Arizona or
California to visit
her family or mine were in
Florida at that time. So, we just tried to coordinate that with airports and how
easy it was to travel.
Yeah. The earlier years, we spent more time
in the States.
our parents passed.
days I go back for a month at a time, five weeks, to visit family. And then
we’re mostly overseas.
Gotcha. Chiang Mai is beautiful.
I’ve been there. It’s quite lovely.
Where are you guys currently based at the moment?
Mexico. It’s near Guadalajara.
About an hour south of Guadalajara.
We’re about 5200 feet in elevation.
Great. So, your loop from Thailand, Mexico, U.S., how do you guys proportion
your time between these places now that you have even fewer obligations?
Do you mostly spend your time now outside of the U.S.? How do you guys think
about the loop these days?
We do spend most of the time outside of the
U.S. We probably did the Asia loop for about eight years, from about 2000 to the
Great Recession, 2008-2009.
Billy wanted to be on the same time zone as
the markets. When you’re over in Asia, when we’re sleeping, the markets are
open, so we went to this side of the time zone. We started doing more
America, Mexico stuff to be on the same time zone as the markets.
Got it. How did you guys choose these home bases? I’m sure cost of living had
something to do with it, but there’s certainly other places that have low cost
How did you guys choose the specific home bases you did? What were some of the
other factors or considerations that went into the decision?
In between all this time, we brought a
fifth wheel trailer and we were traveling around the Western United States:
Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Texas.
When we were in Texas, we met another
couple who mentioned Chapala, Mexico, and they invited us to come down and visit
them. The plan was to come down for two months, and
stayed four years.
We really liked it.
We got caught into a “Mexicoma” is what I
call it, and it has just worked out really well for us. So that’s how we
Chapala. We’ve since discovered many places throughout Mexico.
Years prior to that, before I met Akaisha, I had been in
Guatemala and I told her I wanted to take her down there.
So, then we started basing out of
Panajachel, Guatemala, on
stayed down there for four or five years.
Yeah, much longer.
So, if we like a place and we get a good
vibe out of it and things are what we call easy living or we can shop easy
locally and the place has little hassles and easy to get to an international
airport, we’re good.
Yeah. We like to look for good weather,
good cost of living.
We don’t need a car.
We don't want to
have to have a car. We like to have access to excellent food, friendly people, have
it be safe.
We do have a list. And like Billy says, we
look for easy
When you say that you stayed in Chapala for four years and Guatemala for four or
five years, was that cumulatively, like a year at a time when you were doing the
loop, or actually altogether?
For Chapala, it was altogether. Back then,
you could get into Mexico with a driver’s license and a tourist card. They
didn’t stamp your passport.
So, we had a way to extend our visas. It
wasn’t exactly the most legal thing to do, but it worked.
Things are a lot more digital now.
Yeah. They know right where we are today.
I’m not a crook. (fingers in the Peace
So that’s how we stayed in Mexico. In
Guatemala, we had to leave every 90 days.
So, we’d go to
What we did there is we would give our
passports to a travel agent who would run them through the border and bring them
back with stamps in and out of Guatemala. That’s how we did it down there. But
that’s risky because you’re giving your passport away to somebody else.
We never had a problem with it, but there
were times when other people were stopped at the airport and said, “This is an
illegal stamp” or “We don’t have you in the system.”
But we’d also go to Panama or the
Republic. We'd travel.
We just recently went to
Colombia. You can
get out of the country and get re-stamped.
How do you guys do
accommodation? Do you rent an apartment for a year lease, or
do you do short term accommodations to have the flexibility to travel regionally
and locally so that you’re not then paying hotel costs when you’re away as well
as apartment costs holding the apartment? How does that work?
We used to travel for a year at a time, and
we’d have to bring beachwear and mountain gear. That got to be really heavy.
But as time has moved on, we have a
residence here that we rent. But on those other years, we often would hire a
hotel, get a room. You get a monthly rate.
Or you can do an apartment hotel. They come
in and clean. You could have three, four, or six months of that type of stuff,
then you leave.
If you go to a hotel and you ask them the
price for a night, it’s one. If you ask them the price for a week, it’s another.
If you ask them the price for a month, it’s a third price.
You can usually get a pretty good deal if
you go for a monthly rate. You can get benefits thrown into it as well. “Okay,
I’ll pay a little higher price, but I want this, this, and this.”
Yeah. And this was before
And we’ve done
sitting. That wasn’t
necessarily available in the earlier years either.
Those things all affect your housing costs.
It makes it a lot easier (to keep housing costs down).
Gotcha. At this point, how many countries have you guys gotten to visit in the
last three decades of nomadic travel?
I don’t know.
Dozens. We’ve never really had a list.
We don’t count it like that.
Not like if you go to Europe and you visit
all those little countries, is it just the EU or is it all those little
We’ve been to almost every island in the
Does that count?
Yeah. We’ve been all through Europe.
We lived on Nevis.
Yeah. Canada, U.S., Mexico, lots of places
in Asia. We’ve not done anything in Africa yet or Middle East.
Right. We’ve not been to Russia.
We’ve not been to Russia. We’ve been to
Yes. And Ecuador. South America, we’ve done
What are the most memorable places you’ve traveled?
Gosh. It depends on what category.
Weather makes a difference. Food makes a
We have memories from all of them.
We’ve discussed recently, because China has
been in the news, that our time, we were in Western China. We didn’t go to
Beijing or anything like that. We were in Western China, in a place called
Jinghong which is on the
There was only one other English-speaking
person in that town that we could find. Boy, we were on her like glue.
Yeah. “Help us here. Help us there.”
But people everywhere are wonderful. Food
everywhere is interesting.
We do prefer good climate. The
sounds really romantic, but it’s flipping cold and wet and damp.
I’m glad I went there. That’s a good memory
in that I went there, and I would choose not to go back.
Vietnam is great. We’ve been there twice
now. Last time, I think we were there for three or four months.
Saigon. Talk about a happening city.
It’s going there.
Did you guys always travel together from the very beginning of early retirement
as a pair? Did either of you travel solo without the other?
Sure, we do that. I’ve got a funny story.
Recently, in early March of just this year,
a friend of mine that I met here in Chapala, I said, “I’ll take you down to
Guatemala” because he’s never been there.
It’s Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, which is
where we go. It’s a beautiful lake. It’s like Lake Tahoe, which I’m sure you’re
familiar with, only warmer and surrounded by three volcanoes.
We left on March 11th, and about four days
later, the entire country shut down because of this virus. That means the
airports were closed.
I’m not with her. We’re communicating
daily, but I’m telling her, “Look, things are getting bad here. They’re starting
to shut this place down.”
“I’ve got Plan B going here for us to get
out of here.” But I wasn’t going to be flying at that point because they closed
the airports, they closed all public transportation, and they closed the
I’ve got a private driver down there and
I’m talking to him, and he’d go, “I don’t know. They got roadblocks all over.”
I said, “How much do you need?” So, we paid
him quite a bit of money and we left. It’s a six-hour trip to get to the
About four hours out, we got stopped. The
police held us up for 45 minutes and asking all kinds of crazy questions. At one
point, they wanted us to go back to Guatemala City and be quarantined.
I just told the police, “Look, that’s just
not going to happen.”
I said, “We’re Mexican residents. We’re
going to Mexico. You can’t deny me exit out of this country.”
This went back and forth. Finally, they
said, “Okay, you can go, but he’s going to turn back.”
So here we are, my friend and I. We’re
standing there in the mountains of Guatemala hitchhiking when there’s no public
transportation. Well, we got to the border.
No. You know what a “tuk-tuk” is?
Two hours in it with a series of tuk-tuks.
Our asses were sore.
One guy would take us so far, and then we’d
stop, and he says, “I don’t go any further.” So, then we get off and find
another one, and then another one.
Finally, we got to the border. Once we got
into Mexico, all was good.
Gotcha. Have there been other times, not counting pandemics, when you guys
decided to split up?
What I’m curious to understand is how did you guys make the decision of when to
go together, when to go solo? Was it just one wanted to go one place and the
other didn’t? How did those things happen?
One time, I did
end-of-life care for my
parents, and that was a two-and-a-half-year period. So, Billy did a lot of
travel with friends on his own during that time. That’s when he first went to
Asia, and that’s why he wanted to bring me there.
And I really like it when he does these
reconnaissance trips because I’m older now, so I like to have a little bit more
comfort. So, I really like it. He can do a guy trip and stay in crummy hotels
and figure out where he can take me.
I love it.
Yeah, because I did all that when I was
younger. I can’t tell you the hotels and the bugs I’ve seen. But I figured I’ve
So now I love it when he goes with the
guys. And I tend to do more family trips and stuff like that because I see my
down to the
beach all the time by
myself or with other guys, or I meet other people down there. We rendezvous at
some western beaches here in Mexico.
And I might stay home.
She might come with me.
Gotcha. At this point, it sounds like you guys have a familiar loop. You guys do
Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, U.S.
Did those home bases emerge organically where you started out just continuously
traveling and then realized, “We want to stay in this particular place for a
longer period of time”?
Or did you guys already plot out even from the very beginning the strategy of
having home bases to then branch off from?
It was just organic. One of the things,
like Billy said, is we like being close to an international airport. That’s one
of our easy
Chiang Mai, it’s a short flight to Bangkok.
But then from Bangkok, you can go anywhere in the world. The same thing here,
Chapala to Guadalajara Airport, you can go anywhere.
It’s 30 minutes from here.
That was organic. We didn’t plan
The thing that speeds us up is usually the
visa. We’ve been trying to get back to Europe since 1979, and we were planning
on being there right now. We were ready to book tickets to go to Italy.
And then we decided, “Maybe we should hold
off a little bit.”
“Well, the flights are really good prices.”
I said, “Yeah, then we’re stuck over there.”
Yeah. But if we like a place, and like I
said, if we can get comfortable in a place, we’ll stick around.
In what ways does travel feel different as a
long-term traveler versus a vacation traveler? Because I imagine there are going to be really big
differences when you’re going for
weeks versus going for a year.
The size of your suitcase. Ours is much
Interesting. The longer you go, the smaller it is. I guess you buy a lot of
Exactly. If you need something, you buy it.
We’re down to carrying just day packs.
If a day rains, or if one of us gets ill,
like we catch a flu or something, we don’t have to go, “Yes, but it’s Tuesday,
we have to get to Belgium. We’ve got to get going.”
No, it’s not like that at all. We just stay
another four or five days. Or if we get into a bad weather pattern, we just move
We wait it out.
Or wait it out. So, we have a lot more
freedom. We’re not glued to a schedule.
If we can’t make the museum today or the
beach today, we’ll do it tomorrow or Thursday or something.
We’ve given up a fair amount of return
Do you guys typically buy round trips or just buy one-ways now everywhere?
We buy one way if we can. Some countries,
you need to have an ongoing ticket to go through it.
And again, there’s ways around that. There
are ways of doing these things and making them work for you.
Yeah. What if we decide to go to X place
and then take a bus from that country to the next place?
We often will say that we’re going to
overland from this place to that place, so we don’t need a round trip ticket.
And that works too.
Gotcha. Did you guys ever have to
loneliness on the road over the
years and decades? I guess you had each other, but not everybody has that.
In the early days, I missed my family a
bunch. With my parents both gone now, that change in connection has opened things up.
With my sisters, I talk to them every week.
I visit them once a year for five weeks at a time.
My girlfriends, I get them all on Zoom or
Skype, and we do email and that kind of stuff.
We do a lot of WhatsApp. I’ve got friends
Loneliness not so much. We really
I’m an artist. I can just zoom into my
artwork for days.
And since I was trained in French cooking,
since we’ve been “locked down” here in Chapala, which is a loose term, I’ve been
these great gourmet meals.
Beef Wellington and blackened salmon and
tenderloin pork encrusted in parmesan.
Good for you, Akaisha.
We could still buy wine. There’s no beer
here in town anymore. The Mexican government had this great idea to shut down
the breweries because they weren’t essential, but
factory is going.
You can’t make any sense out of any of
I’m just curious because you mentioned in the early years for you, Akaisha,
homesickness for family was somewhat of a struggle. Were there ever any moments
for either of you where you had a twinge of regret and thought, “Did we make the
Even if not financially, just life path. Were there ever any moments where you
second-guessed? And how did you guys grapple with that?
I never second-guessed. I never wanted to
do anything different. Once I got the communication together with my family and
friends, then I was set.
I’m a traveler. I’ve been moving around
was a young kid.
Andrew, when you travel to a new location,
being reborn. Everything is new.
It could be
new cultures. There’s new
stores and restaurants. You’ve got to get familiar with it.
New transportations, situations. It just
pretty much occupies all of your time just negotiating things early on there.
So, no, I haven’t had any regrets about this.
I wish we had
even younger than we did, but it’s worked out well for us.
Yeah. I like to bring the stories and the
insights back to my family. That makes me feel like I’m
including them in all my travels.
So, I’m good. They’re good.
What is the community of long term nomadic travelers like, as you’ve experienced
I’m sure there are other people you’ve met on the road over the years who are
doing a similar type of early retirement long term travel. I’m just wondering if
you could help us understand the community that you guys have met.
I would say that most of them are
freedom-oriented, freedom-loving, independent, self-reliant, creative,
interesting, intriguing, constantly learning. It is a great community.
It doesn’t even matter the age, because we
started early. We were 38, but not kids.
Now people are that same age and they’re
traveling. Young women are traveling, which is just great. I just think that’s
And everybody has a story. There’s many
occasions when we meet somebody and they go, “Are you Bill and Akaisha?”
bought your book 10 years ago" or
That’s always fun.
So, then we sit down and have coffee or
dinner or whatever. But we want to hear their stories. We want to hear what
motivated them and how they got to this point.
Plus travel tips because everybody has
“When you go to this town, you got to stay at this hotel.”
That’s how you learn about, I call it, the
Yeah. It’s a great community. It really is
because there’s no one-size-fits-all.
There’s no flavor that’s the same.
Everybody is different. Different sizes, ages.
Is there a mailing list that you guys can keep in touch? Or is it more transient
where you meet people but then they drift away after you guys go your separate
We do have long term friends who are also
world travelers, whether they’re in Asia or whether they’re in South America or
they’re in the Philippines or whatever. That’s where WhatsApp comes in because
it’s free. You can call or chat or send a photo.
Right. I’ve been communicating with a
friend of ours from our book because he bought our book. I’ve probably known him
for 20 years or so.
He’s in the
Philippines right now and he’s
stuck, so he has to decide whether or not he wants to get out.
Yeah. We have other friends in Portugal.
We had a friend that just got out of Peru
because he was stuck down there. Billy helped him get out of Peru. We’ve got
some friends that just came back from Asia who are now in Southern Mexico.
There’s a group that sometimes we just
check in to see how they’re all doing.
We travel together if they’re around. We’ll
say, “Do you want to go to the beach? Do you want to go to the mountains?”
In all the time, how have you guys weathered the economic ups and downs since
you retired? Because there have been really big recessions during your
Even in the early ‘90s, there was one. 2001, “dot-com” crash. 2008, Great
Now in 2020, there’s been a big one.
Were there times when your portfolio took a beating and you feared potentially
having to return to work?
I was a stockbroker in October of 1987 when
the market went down 23% in one day.
Oh, yeah. Black Monday.
Yeah. It was all of a sudden. That scarred me. I
saw how fast this
So then when we retired, there was the
1989-1990. There was one I think in 1995, and then Y2K in 2000, and then
2008-2009, and then now this. We’ve been through a few ups and downs.
What we did was, in the ’07-’08 recession,
as we’ve gotten older, we talked about “Let’s move a little bit more into
dividend type funds or ETFs” so that we had a better cushion on cash flow and so
that we weren’t forced to sell in a bad market.
We made that move back then. And we also
used that opportunity to move out of Vanguard open-ended funds into VTI and SPY
because I wanted real-time trading. With the open-ended funds, I was stuck with
the end-of-day pricing.
Back then, the market was falling 5000
points a day, so it would put a sell order into suicide. Then you wait until
tomorrow, it drops another 5000.
With the ETF, you just sell it real time.
So, we used that opportunity to do that and do some tax harvesting back then.
Since then, we’re only about 60/40, 55/45
stock equity to cash or bond equity or bond portfolio.
Earlier on, when you guys were doing the math of what your expenses were and
whether your investments had covered those expenses, how much of a buffer were
you guys factoring in to prepare for some of these market dips, which the only
thing you know is that they’re going to come but you just don’t know when?
True. They’re going to come.
We’re going to have another bear market.
Well, we just had one.
What we did back in ’91, we figured our
living expenses were about $20,000 a year. I multiplied that times 25 and I came
up with half a million dollars. At that point, that’s when we realized we were
about there because that’s basically the reverse of
Are you familiar with the 4% rule, Andrew?
Okay. That’s pretty much a backwards way of doing
you're spending that
year and multiply that times 25. That’s what you need to have invested. So
that’s pretty much the way we did it.
In spending $20,000 a year, we had a
buffer. If the market is performing 10%, we could have done it on $200,000. So,
we had a buffer of twice that plus.
Does that answer your question?
Yeah. You mentioned you’re 60/40, 55/45. Now you have a much bigger buffer, I
In the earlier half of your retirement, did you guys have a withdrawal strategy
so that you could avoid selling investments at a loss? For example, having two
years’ worth of cash or bonds, liquid investments, or a bond ladder, etc., so
that you wouldn’t have to touch equity investments in case there was such a
Or did that emerge only later, more organically?
It emerged later, more organically. In
fact, like I said, we were 100% long for a long time, and we rode these things
If I had a crystal ball and I could say
“The market is going to drop next month,” we would take more money out this
month so that we could get through that period.
We had a small amount of cash back then,
but nothing like we have now. Now we’ve got about five, six, seven years of cash
to buffer it.
I think that’s important to have a couple
of years’ cash. As you get older, you get a little wiser.
There was nobody to guide us on this stuff,
Andrew. We were on our own trying to figure this out the best we could.
But we wanted to maximize growth at that
time. It all just evolved.
Yeah. There were no forums or anything.
There was no Skype nothing like that.
Nobody to knock these ideas around with.
What does your portfolio look like now, three decades later? Is it larger than
when you started out? What are you actually holding in your portfolio these
It’s much larger after inflation and
spending. It’s much, much larger.
We’re holding VTI, SPY, a dividend plan
called DVY, which is popular, and then Vanguard Technology, VGT. I think that’s
We have dividends now.
Social Security and we’re on
Medicare now. Medicare is “free” because you paid into it. But Medicare Part A,
which is a supplement to Medicare, we decided to stick with that because it’s
So what I did is I bought an ETF called
MAIN, and it pays a monthly dividend. That covers our Part A amount.
Actually, it’s the Part B. A is your Social
Okay. It’s the Part B amount.
It’s the Part B, and then that raises up
every year. But our main dividend…
…it’s a monthly payout, which is nice. I’m
always balancing that with taxes because we don’t want to put ourselves into a
bad situation where we’re giving money back. So, I keep a pretty close eye on
that kind of stuff.
Got it. When there were market dips, did you guys end up reducing or adjusting
your withdrawals commensurately, or was it 4% rule pretty simply applied? Was
there more nuance to it?
Yeah, there’s more nuance because, even
though we’re very familiar with the 4% rule that was invented many years after
we retired, I wouldn’t say we never because in 2007-2008, we went over 4% in our
But we have a tracking system where we not
only track our spending, but we track it as a percentage of our net worth. Every
day, I know what percentage of our net worth we’re spending. Once we see that
starting to go out a lot, we can contract our spending if we need to or make
some other adjustments.
But we like to do things in real time.
Our lifestyle hasn’t really been affected
very much, Andrew, by any of these downturns. We did, at one point in the 2008
downturn, consider going back to work.
But then we thought, “We’d have to get
professional clothing. We’d have to get a car. We’d have to move back to the
States on a more permanent basis.”
“What kind of job would we get? We’d have
to pack our lunch. We’d have to have gasoline and maintenance.”
So, we went, “Nah, I don’t think so.” That
was our one and only, first and last discussion about going back to work.
We really live well on very little, and we
try to spend more money sometimes. Sometimes we go out with friends and go, “Ah,
Billy is going to buy tonight.” We just don’t need to spend a lot of money.
We’re really happy. We eat well. We have
We’re healthy. Thank God. We’re
We’re 67 now, so we know there’s an exit
plan for us somewhere down the road. We don’t have children, so you can’t take
it with you.
We have causes.
When we travel, we try to have more
comfort. We stay in nicer hotels. Maybe sometime in 2050, we’ll be able to
I’m an optimist, Andrew. I’d be 98 by then.
Just put my coffin on the plane.
Once they invent the youth regeneration pill.
I’m in. Give me the ticker symbol.
Definitely long on that one.
Were there ever any large unexpected expenses that came up over the decades that
put stress on your retirement finances? I’m thinking in particular about
healthcare, but there might have been other things.
We were living in Arizona at the time and I
had to go to the hospital, and we had a $10,000 deductible. It was a hit, but it
was one that we had already factored in mentally, so we dealt with it.
Nothing has ever really hit us to the point
where it affected our portfolio.
Billy had that incident in the States. That
ended up being a $14,000 expense, but we were able to pay the hospital back on
an interest-free loan. I paid them every month.
I took advantage of that so the portfolio
So, we didn’t have to extract anything out
of the portfolio.
But we’ve had other
surgeries and had that taken care of overseas. The cost difference is just huge,
so we didn’t have to pay very much.
We spend out of pocket for everything
Interesting. I see. I’d love to understand a little bit more about how you guys
do health insurance and healthcare right now.
Now you’re on Medicare, which will cover you in the States but not abroad. I
guess there’s some assurance in that regard.
If you could comment, how did it work before you were on Medicare, and then how
did it change after you were on Medicare? That would be really insightful.
We lost you for a second.
Oh, yeah. Sorry.
We lost you for a second. We know you’re in
Silicon Valley where they have weak internet.
I love it.
We’re down here on Coke cans and a string,
Let me just say that in the early years, we
did have a U.S.-based health insurance plan. We spent thousands of dollars a
year to do that. And we were traveling the world for so much of the time that we
realized, other than Billy’s one event that we happened to be in the States at
the time, we were not really using that U.S.-based health insurance.
So, we did what in the community is called
naked.” We basically went naked of any insurance company, of any
When we went to the States, we took out a
travel plan from World Nomads, and that took care of us if we were sick or
something in the States. But otherwise, we
took care of everything locally and
we haven’t had a U.S.-based plan for 15 years maybe.
But we are on Medicare now and we’re
covered. But Medicare doesn’t do anything outside of the United States.
Unless you’re 30 minutes from the coast and
on a cruise ship or something. There’s rules.
Andrew Chen 50:33
Health insurance is one of the big ones, I think, that deter folks from making
this life choice of early retirement or at least make them think really hard
about it because, obviously, in the U.S. we don’t have universal healthcare.
Once you have a condition that arises, you’re pretty much locked out from
Obamacare definitely changed that, but that didn’t come until two decades after
you guys were in retirement. Also, there’s a lot of pushback now politically to
try to roll that back. That’s a separate discussion.
But how did you guys get the confidence that that would be okay? Because it is
one of the things that a lot of people worry about.
I can just give you an example. Here in
Mexico, I can walk into almost any pharmacy without a prescription or without
going to see a doctor and buy medicines at a lot less than what it costs in the
That eliminates me spending $100 or $200 or
whatever it takes to go to a doctor just to get a piece of paper to go to a
prices are so much better here.
Akaisha almost lost her finger in
Guatemala. This was a very serious accident where she cut an artery in her
finger and she was bleeding out on the street.
We got her to a local hospital where they
patched her up, but she was losing her finger as it was turning very black and
very cold. There was no circulation in it.
Long story short, we got in touch with a
plastic surgeon in Guatemala City. He’s also a hand surgeon. He took her under
She had to do two weeks’ worth of
hyperbaric chamber treatments plus two surgeries. The whole thing was about
$3000, and $1000 of that was a private driver from Antigua, Guatemala into
Guatemala City. So that was very manageable for us.
My advice, especially for younger people,
is don’t be afraid. Go out and live.
If you’re going to stay fearful all your
life of “What if I get this?” or “What if I get that?” you’re probably going to
Just get out of that stinking thinking and
We were very programmed. I certainly was.
My mother had health issues when I was
growing up, so the idea of being without a health insurance policy terrified me
when we first retired. We were living in Nevis, West Indies, and I’m assuming
that I have my health insurance, and two or three months later, I find out that
I have no insurance.
I don’t know what I was thinking at that
point. I had something going on. But I found out that I had been three months
I just broke out in a sweat and I said,
“Well, I made it.” I made it three months without a policy.
So, things started to change then. And then
like Billy says, just being afraid of it.
If I were younger with a family, like the
people coming in now, I would seriously consider moving overseas, or trying some
of the ministries where they share prices, or one spouse could work digitally,
nomadically, and get a
policy. You can get a concierge program
from some doctor who allows you so many visits, x-rays, access to prescriptions
There’s all sorts of other things to do.
move to a foreign country and pay out of pocket. If you’re retiring
early, you can afford most of these prices.
There’s a whole industry called medical
tourism. Bangkok has one of the finest hospitals in the world, and they
advertise full page ads in the Bangkok Post of heart specials. This month, we
got a special on…
Yeah, heart surgery.
We’re replacing hips this month. This is a
deal right here.
They’re in competition with other
hospitals. It’s like if you’ve got a restaurant and the restaurant next door
where you’re in competition for the same customers. So, they marked down their
prices to get people in.
And their quality of care is fabulous.
Princes and kings and presidents all go to this hospital.
I’ve worn glasses since I was three years
old, and I had the most thorough eye exam in my life in that hospital. I had
never had anything like this done with any U.S. ophthalmologist. It was
Dentists do the same thing.
Did it not make you nervous the first time you saw heart procedures being
advertised like they were beef in a supermarket?
No. We go, “What a great business plan!”
Yeah. This is a top-rated hospital, I’m
You think you’re in the United Nations.
When you walk in, you have your own interpreter come with you.
They speak eight or 12 different languages.
You get the language of your native tongue, and that person takes you all
It’s a great business plan. And dentists do
the same thing. They’ll give you three caps and a bridge or something this week.
Even right now in Algodones, right on the
border of Mexico and Arizona, people go out of Phoenix, they drive to the border
and get dental work done.
Because it’s a third of the cost.
Have you guys met other travelers (maybe it’s not yourselves) who have chronic
conditions? And how do they manage trying to take advantage of medical tourism
but also realizing they need constant, continuous care?
Often that is easier done when you go to the same hospital because, obviously,
they have your track record. They have all your stats, etc.
That’s one thing. Yeah, they’ve got all
Here it’s your responsibility. They give
you your stats, so you travel with it. You put it digitally.
You go in to another doctor, another
hospital, they plug your chip into the computer, they see all your history. So,
it takes a little bit of more personal responsibility.
But if you’ve got a chronic thing where you
need to be checked out, I’ll give you a good example. A friend of ours who is
younger than we are, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer here in Mexico.
He had the procedures done. He had two
operations done. He had to be monitored very closely because they did a
chemotherapy on him, etc.
He’s on a plan now to be in Mexico every
three months now. It was once a month. Now it’s three months.
Soon it will be six months and then once a
year. But he just makes it a point to be back in this area right now.
He also got things done. He got his thyroid
hormones while he was in Mississippi or Florida (they have family in both
states), and he got it taken there because he had his little chip.
“This is what I’m doing. These are my
numbers. I get a blood test before I go to the doctor.”
I’ve had something similar where I had a
condition that every three months I had to have checked. I did it in Mexico,
Thailand, in the United States, and someplace else.
Because everybody has two arms, two legs,
two eyes. Doctors know these parts. As long as you have your information, you
get your blood tests, you’ve got your data, any doctor can read that.
They might want to take their own x-ray,
but it works.
Measure twice, cut once.
Yeah, right. So, it’s not as scary as it’s
said to be in the States.
Right. And it goes back to personal
responsibility. You’ve got to take on a little bit of that yourself.
My theory, and I haven’t been wrong yet
this year, is that this whole health insurance thing was born out of World War
II where our fathers came back from the war and companies were retooling to a
civilian society from a war economy, and they were in competition for workers.
These men came back and they had special training
in the military, so they offered them health insurance. Before that, the doctor
on the corner delivered the babies.
So, this whole thing is a fairly new
phenomenon about when you get a job, you get health insurance and you never have
to worry again about your life because somebody else is going to take care of
We don’t prescribe to that. We think our
health is our responsibility.
It is a big leap, Andrew, when you first
move from that mindset because we were retired and three months into living on a
paradise island. I realized, looking back, I hadn’t been covered by my
I don’t know if I had a panic attack, but
(chuckle). So, I get it. I do understand and I know some people do have health
issues and it’s not to be taken lightly. But there are options many haven’t
Got it. You cut out a little bit, but I think it’s back.
I think I got the gist of what you were saying, Akaisha, that it is a real fear
and it was a very personal decision, but it’s not the end of the world.
Right, because there really is good medical
care in a lot of countries. If you take responsibility and you bring your data
with you, most doctors can figure that out for you.
When we were in Panajachel, Guatemala,
that’s isolated there. It’s not the best medical area. I had a gastritis attack
and I had to go to the hospital in Guatemala City, which is a hard three- to
I was in the hospital for two or three
nights. When I was getting ready to leave, the doctor came in and he said, “I
want to see you again in 10 days.”
I said, “Doc, I live in Panajachel. You
know what the drive is like.”
He said, “Here’s my personal cellphone
number. Call me and let me know you’re okay.” Done.
That’s the kind of care we’re used to
getting in these parts. They actually care about us.
Gotcha. Shifting gears and beginning to wrap up, I understand that you guys did
not have children.
Can you share about how you came to that decision? What were the factors you
considered and why you ultimately decided against having kids?
It was a personal decision. I think I would
have been a nervous mother, actually. I wanted a career.
I don’t think everybody is meant to be
moms. I’m a much better teacher, aunt, sister. I’m a great daughter.
But as far as the mother thing goes, it
takes very special people to be parents. That’s a forever job, 24 hours a day.
It’s one of the biggest jobs earning the greatest respect I have.
I just didn’t think I wanted to do that.
And we came back from France and we bought
a restaurant. Our 100% focus was operating that restaurant, and it was no place
to have a kid running around in there. We were busy.
Working 80 hours a week.
Got it. Is it accurate to say then that that decision preceded the decision to
No, it had nothing to do with it. In fact,
I just want to say that we have done interviews with families.
One family is a family of five.
They've got five children. Another family is a
family of six
And they travel the world. One travels the
world globally. The other travels within their location doing a lot of camping
and stuff and then return home.
And they are retiring with children.
The global people, talk about healthcare,
talk about education. They do all of that digitally in medical tourism.
This one woman had a baby here. She’s had a
baby there. So, it’s just her lifestyle.
What do military people do? They live all
over the world. Or people who live on sailboats.
There’s plenty of them around.
Right. And I really admire those people too
because they’re giving their kids a world education. I think it’s great.
Based on what you’ve observed, how does early retirement or nomadic long-term
travel differ when you have a family? What are some of the considerations that
the families you’ve met have had to factor in that perhaps couples or solo
travelers do not have to?
We’ve seen them get their kids involved.
With the times we’ve spent with them, they’re very polite. They ask adult
They’re not whining over there because of
some reason, this or that. No. They’re part of the group, and we find that very
So, I think the biggest thing is they want
to be involved in the culture that they’re in and to absorb as much as they can,
because when you’re younger, you’re like a sponge and languages just come easy
They’re more flexible. They’re more solid
in who they are.
Many of them speak different languages, two
or three languages. Many of them, obviously, either they go to bilingual schools
or they’re home-taught.
They’re not fussy about their food because
this is what we’re eating.
“We’re in Vietnam. This is what we’re
“Now we’re in Italy. This is what we’re
I think the kids get a real good
self-reliance and self-respect and a worldview.
Confidence. And like I said, they speak
several languages. Personally, I think it’s one of the greatest things you can
do for your kid.
Now, I understand same school, basketball
team, same friends forever. I get that. That’s the other side.
There’s not one versus the other. But since
our life is a global one, we see what an advantage it is to those kids, and we
really like that.
All right. Great. Looking back, knowing everything you know now about early
retirement, nomadic travel, long term travel, is there anything you would have
done differently if you could go back and do it over again?
We probably wouldn’t have
bought a house.
Yes, I would not have bought a house.
At the time, we owned a fair amount of
excellent stock. We used that to buy the house.
Looking back, if I
compare the two investments, there’s not a comparison. That would be my thing.
That would have been mine too. I was in
California on the beach. In my 30s, we wanted to buy a house.
Why? Because I wanted a garden and I had a
But like Billy said, we had excellent
stock. Thinking about it later on, I would not have bought that house. I would
have kept the stock and we would have done far better off.
And investing much sooner. But nobody told
us anything about investing.
It seems like it worked out still pretty well.
It’s worked out fine. Yeah.
What adventures from your bucket list are coming up that we should keep an eye
out for in terms of future Akaisha and Billy sightings?
Hopefully June 1, they’re going to let us
go to the beach and into the water.
We want to go to Greece and Italy. We want
to do our own style of food tour.
We want to go back to
Colombia because we
discovered some new places that we’d like to go next time we get there.
I wouldn’t mind doing a safari. I hear
there’s some really nice safari things.
That would be a two-week deal, and I want
to be comfortable. Yes, I do.
I should connect you with my wife. I think you guys would be good travel buddies
in terms of what you guys look for.
All right. Listen, Akaisha and Billy. This was so delightful.
I’m so glad I was able to connect with you guys and share your story with our
audience today. Where can listeners find out more about you, your website, what
you’re up to?
RetireEarlyLifestyle is our website. We
update it pretty much every day.
We have an
We answer all emails. If somebody has got a
question from this podcast, you’re welcome to shoot us an email.
We have a
mentor service. If people want to
sort out some sticky problems they may have for their own retirement, we answer.
We have a service for that. We answer
questions, give you private phone calls.
We also have our
All right. We’ll definitely link to all that stuff in the show notes, point
folks to that.
So, they can learn more. Thank you again so much for taking the time to chat
with me. All best wishes with everything, and I hope we see you in your travels
in the future.
That would be wonderful.
Thanks, Andrew. Come on down.
Yeah. Give your wife our best.
Thank you so much. Cheers.
Thank you too.
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