10 Nov

Bruno’s Path to Financial Freedom

Hi everyone, Amanda and Travis here! We’re a young couple in our early thirties and we saved $1,000,000, quit our jobs, and began our journey of financial independence. We planned our first big adventure: driving from California to Costa Rica. We bought a used 2000 Toyota 4Runner and aptly named him Bruno. We fixed him up so that we could sleep in the back, then we hit the road to camp and travel our way through Central America!


Crossing a river with Bruno (our Toyota 4Runner) near Sámara, Costa Rica!

After moving from Canada to the U.S. and working at our careers for about 7 years, an idea was germinating in our minds. Life is simply too amazing and precious to burn away the majority of it working for someone else, commuting into a generic office like sheep herded into a corral. Staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day like motionless potatoes, comfortably positioned in a rolling office chair as decades upon decades fly by. Life is short! Waiting for the full social security retirement age of 67 just doesn’t leave much time for all the things we want to do in life.

Cruising along a smooth road near Oaxaca, Mexico

Cruising along a beautiful road near Oaxaca, Mexico

The Taste of Freedom

It all started a few years ago when Travis got laid off from his job in Berkeley, California:

“Suddenly, instead of waking up early and going to work everyday, I could instead do whatever I wanted! Sure, I needed to hunt for a new job, but that task was only eating up 30 mins per day. I could now sleep in, work on personal projects, exercise, read books, hang out with my cat, enjoy some cannabis, listen to music and go for a wonderful bike ride around Oakland… life was great! I could have dinner ready for Amanda when she got home from work, and maybe even bake some chocolate chip cookies!”

Sadly, after a couple months it all came to an end: he got another job.

It was at this point that the financial numbers were furiously crunched. Exactly how much money would we need to stop working, presuming we moved somewhere with a low cost of living? The answer ended up being $1,000,000. Living on a 4% safe withdrawal rate would give us $40,000 per year to live on. If you don’t live in the most expensive cities, this amount can go a long way.

We started reading Mr. Money Mustache‘s blog and were both hooked. We embraced the idea of mustachianism wholly and completely. Expenses were slashed and we ramped up our savings. We moved our money to Vanguard and optimized our portfolio with the Lazy Portfolio recommendations from Bogleheads. Eating at our favorite restaurants was saved for special occasions only, and instead we focused on making routine healthy meals at home. We hung our clothes out on the line instead of using the dryer. In the winter we wore sweaters around the house instead of jacking up the thermostat. We used bikes to get around town whenever possible and tried to use public transportation for our commutes. All of these little things added up and we were well on our way to saving for our goal!

View of beautiful Guanajuato, Mexico

The colorful, vibrant town of Guanajuato, Mexico

On Autopilot: Working Hard and Saving Money

We were both lucky to have grown up in a wealthy, democratic country and have stable, loving families. With this solid foundation, we each got university degrees and aggressively jumped into our careers making the big bucks. Amanda has a Chemical Engineering degree and Travis has an Information Systems degree. We started out with less than $10,000 in student debt thanks to the affordability of Canadian universities, part-time work and generous families.

Financial independence is achieved by two means: maximizing income and minimizing spending.

To maximize income, we hustled and advanced our careers. Applying for promotions, and working hard to receive raises and bonuses when available. Here is a table we put together for a post on Early Retirement with Zero Income Taxes, showing our income and taxes over the last seven years:

Year Income (AGI) Federal Tax CA State Tax Total Tax Paid Effective Tax Rate
2008 $177,863 $26,290 $11,445 $37,735 21.22%
2009 $158,857 $26,192 $9,713 $35,905 22.60%
2010 $146,863 $23,407 $8,574 $31,981 21.78%
2011 $149,305 $24,775 $8,229 $33,004 22.11%
2012 $207,581 $38,892 $13,507 $52,399 25.24%
2013 $204,718 $38,241 $13,729 $51,970 25.39%
2014 $234,992 $43,428 $16,368 $59,796 25.45%
Total $1,280,179 $221,225 $81,565 $302,790 23.65%

As previously mentioned, we also reduced our expenses as aggressively as we could. Here is a chart from our post Financial Independence – How We Saved $1M that shows the monthly spending we had in our last full year of working:



Note that this shows our monthly expenses for everything except our two-story rental home in North Oakland, CA. We lived there for the last six years of working and this was an additional monthly cost of $2,200/mo. So our total cost of living for 2014, including our rented home, was $47,576. Moving forward, our budget is less than $40,000, which is the main reason we’ve moved away from the very expensive San Francisco Bay Area.

Once we optimized our lifestyle to maximize income and minimize spending, things were basically on auto-pilot. To keep track of our savings, in June 2012 we started checking our Mint.com balance monthly and updating a spreadsheet to track our progress. Our frugal actions, combined with a bull stock market during these years, meant we rapidly approached our goal of $1,000,000!

Here is a chart showing the growth of our portfolio over the last few years of aggressive saving and expense slashing:

Ongoing Travels

After quitting our jobs, we took 2.5 months to drive down to Costa Rica from California. We camped in Bruno along the way, practiced our Spanish, and met others traveling the Americas overland.

We signed a five-month lease for a house next to the beach in Nosara, Costa Rica and have since enjoyed our free time. During our first six months of retirement we also took some other short trips to Panama, Washington, D.C., and New York City. We’re now getting ready to head back up to the U.S. in a few weeks. We’re planning to be on the road for about 10 weeks camping with Bruno. We’ll travel to areas we haven’t seen yet, like Honduras, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, all the while documenting our experiences!

If you’re interested in learning more about our finances or following our ongoing travel adventures, check out some of the other posts at Freedom With Bruno. We recommend starting with these two categories:

Trip I: Driving from California to Costa Rica
Trip II: Backpacking Panama, DC, and NYC
Trip III: Driving Costa Rica to Nova Scotia
Financial Independence

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, just ask!

Travis and Amanda