I’m taking a break from my series on how I bought 3.5 rental properties in 4 years to share a quick review of Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung’s new book Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required. Like any good frugalista, I checked this one out from my local library: someone working there orders a lot of the latest personal finance and financial independence books, which is lucky for me.
Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required is the story of how Kristy and Bryce, both Canadians, retired with a million dollars in their early thirties. Unlike some books that are useful but dry, this one is very well written. It also contains a lot of tips for how to become financially independent, which will be good for people who have just discovered the financial independence retire early (FIRE) movement and aren’t sure what to do next.
Most of the chapters tell a story and are written with humor, which makes this book even more fun to read. Kristy was born in communist China, and her family was an enemy of the regime, which meant that they lived in terrible conditions and were very poor. Her childhood toys were plucked from garbage dumps. When her father was able to move to Canada to attend school, their situation changed, but her early years informed her journey and created a scarcity mentality that she’s proud of. I liked how she owns the scarcity mentality and talks about how it can be a useful foundation on which to learn to become very rich, but she’s quite clear that you don’t have to be miserable as you’re saving and investing for the future, you just have to be smart about what you’re spending your money on.
Unlike many North American kids who are encouraged to “follow your dreams” and pursue meaningful careers without thinking ahead about earning potential, Kristy chose to study computer science in college because she knew it would be more lucrative than studying creative writing, which is what she really wanted to do. She emphasizes that she wasn’t naturally gifted at computer science, but that if you can pass your courses, you can get a job in a field where your earnings will be higher, thus allowing you to have more opportunities to save and invest. And, spoiler alert, her early retirement allowed her to become a writer, which is what she wanted to do all along. She even has a whole “pay over tuition” formula worked up to help students think about whether the amount they’re paying for university will translate into earnings to make their investment worthwhile.
Because she didn’t come from a cultural background that encourages consumption, she naturally was wary of consumer society, which helps, because it can be very difficult to get off the hamster wheel of consumption that most of us are encouraged to be on by all the cultural messages surrounding us. However, she does have one chapter about how she responded to making more money at work by going on a little Coach purse binge, which is hilarious. She managed to pull herself in check, though, and she even talks about the addictive feeling where the first thing you buy brings you happiness, but then the second and third and fourth are like the drug that never feels as strong, requiring you to keep searching for that high by buying more. Honestly, being able to recognize that tendency in myself has been one of the main takeaways of this whole financial independence movement, and learning to control that buying impulse has saved me so much money. You don’t need five expensive purses when one will do just fine.
Her take on home ownership is also interesting and important – not everyone needs to own a home, and in fact, they saved up a ton of money for their first home and then realized that if they invested the money instead, they could retire sooner. Owning a house is one of the big middle class money-sinking endeavors that society convinces us is necessary to achieving wealth and stability, when this is not necessarily true. Shen also has a formula for how to tell if you should buy a house in your area or not, or just rent. Unfortunately all of this advice came five years too late for me, even though I recently tried to sell mine and couldn’t get a price that would have made it worthwhile to uproot my family. But hopefully the advice in this book will come at the right time for others.
There are plenty of actionable strategies in this book as well. Even for those of us who have read a lot of FIRE books, there are many unique approaches in this one, not to mention Shen’s distinctive voice. It’s hard for me to tell if someone with no exposure to FIRE ideas would get confused in the section of the book where she discusses specific financial strategies, such as the ways that she insulates herself from the risk of a stock market crash right at the time of retirement (known in the finance world as “sequence of returns risk”), or other more in-the-weeds financial maneuvers. But overall, Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required makes for a fun an inspirational read, with great writing and plenty of things to think about. I highly recommend it.