Updated: May 9, 2021
Kriti: [00:00:00] Hey guys, welcome to WhyFI Matters. So, for those of you who follow us on social media, you might notice that we use the hashtag, # don't live in your parents' basement. And I kind of thought of the slogan or tagline because it creates this image in my mind of independence, precisely Financial Independence (FI).
And that's really what the podcast revolves around and sort of expanding your knowledge, investing in yourself and being money savvy. So today we're going to take a deep dive into the words financial independence and talk about the importance of it and the benefits. So I'm super excited to invite Shang Saavedra of "Save My Cents" on the podcast today.
She is a real example of someone who's achieved Financial Independence (FI) by the age of 31. She's work optional and has a seven figure net worth. And she's built a massive Instagram following of 49,000 followers. And on Instagram, she shares advice on achieving FI and living money savvy, where she says wealth is a mindset. Shang has been seen in Forbes, Yahoo Finance, USA Today among many other publications. And I'm super excited to learn more about her journey, learn about emergency funds, and how she got to be financially independent. So I hope you enjoy the interview.
Hi, Shang! Thank you so much for coming on WhyFI Matters today. I'm super excited to have you on the show and talk to you about the FIRE movement and what financial independence is.
So thank you for coming.
Shang: [00:01:52] And so excited to be here. Thank you.
Kriti: [00:01:54] So you're able to achieve financial independent and retire early by 31 years of age, if I'm correct. So this is really big deal for me, at least. And so can you tell us about the backstory and what you were like as a child and as a teen in high school?
Shang: [00:02:18] Yeah. I think what really led to a lot of the success in my twenties is this very, very big drive of work ethic and just hustling and being as good as you can at at whatever you know, God has given you to do. So, I was lucky to be born with, you know, good brain, a love of numbers, a love of learning.
And I was a total nerd, in my teenage years. I studied a lot, tried to do my best at school, tried to get straight A's. Wasn't really in all of that interesting for person to hang around with, to be honest, cause I just put all of that time into studying. But what it did teach me is the ability to really, really focus on a goal and not let other things, other teenage things like shopping or boyfriends distracts me. I didn't have a boyfriend in high school. And, my other love was piano. I played piano competitively. And I think that experience also taught me to be a little bit more on the emotional side. No, don't try to see everything as black and white, be a little bit more artistic and creative.
Kriti: [00:03:28] I love the piano analogy. Any musician will feel emotion when they plan, they can, I guess, add it to different aspects of their life. And I think it might've balanced you well from this math side, which is really, you know, black and white. There's no an answer to every problem. So I think that's really interesting.
And you said that you were very focused with the goal. Would this mean that your outcome oriented? And did you sort of say, "Hey, when I'm older, I'm going to be financially independent."
Shang: [00:04:04] Yeah. And I'll talk a little bit later about how that is not necessarily the healthiest mindset to have. But when you're young, you have all these lofty goals and they do encourage people to dream big.
And at that time, my goal wasn't necessarily financial independence. Those words didn't mean anything to me, but my goal was to be as successful a person, as possible in whatever I did. So when I was younger, I thought maybe it would be the, will be the world's best pianist or be the world's best doctor.
I didn't know what I wanted to do. The closer and closer I got to college. The more I realized I was likely to end up in business. So, that kind of narrowed to be a leader at a corporate company one day.
Kriti: [00:04:51] So could you talk to us more about your family life when you were a child and was money something that was talked about openly and where your parent transparent, because there's a big issue in terms of transparency and finances and parents shielding it.
Shang: [00:05:11] Yeah, my parents are Chinese. I'm Asian-American I identify more American than I do as Asian. But, my parents brought me up in a very traditional Chinese manner, in which money is not a taboo subject. It's open. In the U S, it's a taboo right. In my family. It's like, you'll talk about it. Everybody's money business is everybody else's money, business. And gossiped about who in the family owed a debt or who does family isn't doing well at work. Everybody knew all that, but my parents were also extremely frugal. They're immigrants. They worked very, very hard for the money. I see both of my parents. Doing everything you can to save money, to get a good deal. My dad likes to negotiate bills. My mom coupons all the time and, they showed me, especially my dad show me. How he balanced a household budget. So I learned about this concept of budgeting at a very young age. And to me it just felt normal. It felt like it's something that should be doing. Exactly!
Kriti: [00:06:13] There are people who are able to talk about money with their parents and their family, but they're not, they may not necessarily apply what they've learned to their adult life. But you clearly did. And can you tell us some of the things that you learned from you say your father about budgeting and how you were able to really apply this right off the bat?
Shang: [00:06:37] Yeah. The one thing that I learned from budgeting was how important it was to track every dollar, every cent of how I was spending. So that is the, the tracking part of it budget. And then the second piece is making sure that you spend less than you earn. And, that means keeping track of. The money that you have in your bank account as you spend.
And obviously I was already on a credit card at that time. My parents had to authorize user, but it meant that also you don't see the money leaving your bank account when you spend on a credit card. And my dad taught me, even though that's the case, you still have to track against the money in the bank.
And I think that's a really important concept is understanding that spending is taking away from my bank account. And then I developed on that concept the older that I got.
Kriti: [00:07:29] Right. I'm really interested because you say, you know, as a teen you're, you weren't into shopping. Nowadays, are you the same way? can you tell us about how this mindset has either changed or continued.
Shang: [00:07:45] I do love fashion, and I have an appreciation for the beauty that is in a good design. So, if you were to see my home, you'd see that I have really nicely designed furniture. And I do like on occasion to buy designer bags and shoes and things like that.
But I try to balance that against seeing my money and my time as a resource. And say, do you want, I want to spend so much of my time and my money on that, or is it as something else that I value? It growing up, I just never valued shopping as much as I valued being academically successful. And I think that's why I just wasn't all that focus. And even these days, You might find me buying clothing, but I hate the amount of time that I have to spend to find like clothing that fit. So the act of shopping itself is actually very, very annoying to me because I find my time they're too valuable, too valuable to spend on shopping.
Kriti: [00:08:45] Could you tell us more about Save my cents? So, I kind of discovered you, I guess through Instagram. Can you talk to us about your entrepreneurial journey?
Shang: [00:08:55] And thank you so much for finding out about me on Instagram. I started, with the username, "save my cents". All one word. If you're listening to this, please follow me. And, I started and I said, I remember saying to myself, I have no idea how Instagram works. I'm too old for this. I'm not that old. I'm 35, but I'm like, I'm too old for Instagram. I can't figure this out, but I'm going to just figure it out. I had already been coaching people in finance at that time in personal finance, I was teaching people how to set a budget, how to save money, how to think about retirement.
So I was like, that's a very small audience. I was helping maybe 10 families a year. Why don't I take what I think, teaching them, codify it and then share it online. So that many, many more people get benefit. At first, for like half a year, maybe nine months, I literally felt like I was screaming into the void. Like I had maybe 600 followers, 300 hundred of them were my actual real life friends. And I was like, yeah, no, one's watching this. And it just so happened that overtime, I started connecting with other people in Instagram, in the same space and we started sharing each other's content and my content evolved over time.
It's getting prettier, it's getting better. I'm still working on it. I don't have that much time. and that's sorta how it grew and it grew acid and I expected it would.
Kriti: [00:10:15] Yeah, you have a lot of followers, but I think what's really great is how you kept with it. Like you didn't care if it's, "Hey, it's only a couple of friends who are following me". I think that's a really. Big sign of an entrepreneurial mindset because you've stuck with it and you've created this kind of mini empire and you're one of the biggest people in the sort of personal finance community on Instagram. So I think that's true. Cool.
Shang: [00:10:41] Thank you.
Kriti: [00:10:41] So, WhyFI Matters, it stands for "Why financial independence matters"?
I think financial literacy is a pillar. If you're financially literate, you can achieve financial independence. I think this is where a lot of your Save my Cents and everything you do comes into play. And then it's also about understanding how the world works in terms of economics, and understanding your role as a consumer in society. And just learning about it, expanding your mind on these topics and also having a sense of an entrepreneurial mindset.
Shang: [00:11:18] Yeah.
Kriti: [00:11:18] So what is financial independence to you?
Shang: [00:11:24] Yeah. Financial independence to me means that money is no longer on the top of mind of your worries and that you feel like there's freedom when it comes to finances. It doesn't mean that you have to be able to retire at age 31. That's like, I recognize that my position is a very exceptional position.
Most people go through life hoping that they can afford life and also afford life when they retire. And that's great, but I want people who feel like they have financial independence to be like, Hey, I have a plan. I know I have a goal. I have a plan and I'm working to get there and I'm trusting in that plan in that process.
And that's, that's really it. The last thing I want to hear from people after having learned about what I teach is "Shang, I don't know where my money went". That's the scary thing. I have no idea what my money would "I can't believe I spend a $1000 on Amazon". I would love for you to instead say, "Hey, I know that I spent X amount last year on this because I planned for it" or because "this is what the money was intended for".
Kriti: [00:12:34] I think a big, you have a big emphasis on planning. But, I feel like we all get wrapped up in our lives. A lot of people don't even know what financial independence is. They don't even think about "Oh, I'm actually not going to probably work when I'm 80 years old", you know. I feel like psychologically, there is something that you have to sort of change. What are your thoughts on this?
Shang: [00:12:59] When I was in college and also parts of high school , as a part of my volunteering, I went to elderly homes where we sang carols, play piano and hung out with the elderly. Doing that when I was really young, really allow me to see, gosh, that's not the life that I want when I'm old. As much as possible. I recognize you reached a certain point where you do need a lot of help in an elderly home. It's a good place. But, how do you see what end of life looks like made me realize, I need to be prepared for that because my body's never going to be as healthy as it is when I'm younger. And so having, having that recognition is important. And then second, knowing the facts, the median American is going to live to age 79. That's a pretty long life. Given that I've only started working since I was age 21. So that's what 14, 15 years of working. I still got a long time ago and I'd rather be prepared than not because not being prepared super scary.
Kriti: [00:14:04] That's a great point!
Can you talk more about the difference between financial independence, so just like FI and then there's also the FIRE movement, which is financial independence retire early. So, are you just FI? So you haven't retired per se yet.
Shang: [00:14:23] I call myself work optional. I can retire. I chose not to, for many reasons, partially because I would be too bored, not doing anything. I do enjoy my job. And, I also think that, this FIRE, financial independence retire early is more about optionality. You can have the ability to retire early, but it doesn't mean that you have to. Like, no, one's going to tell me what to do with my life. And I think that FIRE to me means if my son or my family needs me, I don't have to feel bad or a feel chained to my job. To freeze. Yeah.
And the way to my husband and I got here, was it wasn't we didn't know about this concept called FIRE when we got married. We got married and he said, what if we just chose to live off of the lower of our two incomes for the rest of our lives to take the pressure off of trying to juggle family and work.
What if our parents thought old to T take the pressure off of. Do we need to move to take care of them? And what about the job and just not, not be part of that rat race. But it doesn't mean you're saving and investing a huge amount of money in a very, very short period of time. My husband and I both already brought six figures of wealth into the marriage and we need to get a work workout to seven figures. But it wasn't with that beautiful optionality in mind. It was never about, Oh, I hate my job. I want to retire. It's if our family needs me, we have the optionality to me.
Kriti: [00:16:01] So, you say that you're financially independent, but how do you like know that you're financially independent? Is there a certain number because everyone's life is different. If I live in New York, it's not the same as if I live in Chicago. The standard of living is like different, you know? So, what is the sort of number that say, "Hey, I've achieved FI".
Shang: [00:16:23] when I was age 31, I defined it as lean FI, which is the ability to not be in New York but in most other average places in the US, we would be able to afford a lifestyle where at the 4% quote, unquote safe withdrawal rate. So you take the entire, your entire net worth. Multiply it by 4%, it should equal the annual expenses or be greater than that. These days we can now do a full FIRE, which is , I can keep my lifestyle in New York if I want it to, because our net worth has continued to grow. So the 4% is a rule of thumb. That's primarily for people who invest in the stock markets. For people who might be landlords, they look at the cashflow from all the rents that they get from all over houses that they rent out and say, okay, wasn't built up enough houses. And I sell them all my rent is that rent money enough for me to live off of? That's another way of approaching it. It's not super hard math. It just has to be comfortable with how much you want to withdraw from your network or fund your cashflow. And, you have to have a pretty good idea of how much it costs to have to live, which is not that hard because you're already living today. If you're tracking your money, you wouldn't know how much he needs to live in a typical year.
Kriti: [00:17:35] Great. So you talk about, I guess, two ways of achieving a high sort of net worth, which is beside, because income doesn't count. Like you didn't have a high income, but you can be like house poor or you can, I, can you talk more about this? Cause I feel like a lot of people are like, Oh my gosh, my income is like $250,000. Their net worth could be literally like $10,000, you know, like, can you talk more about that?
Shang: [00:18:08] there is this wonderful phrase that the financial aid officer at my MBA program in University of Chicago used to say. If you live like a CEO, when you're a student, you will live like a student, like when you're a CEO.
It was great. I loved it. It's so memorable and we all love them. Even made a parody video based on that. Um, yeah. Uh, one of our classmates did. And the point is, if you, if you make $250,000 a year, you spend $250,000 a year. You got zero. The key is make $250,000. Spend like $50,000 a year and saved the rest after taxes. I know what that tax is we'll take that out.
And that's the point is the people who are able to achieve fire at a very young age, like in their thirties, not only have high incomes, they also have extremely high savings rates. How do you hack that? Well, if you can ideally get a job that allows you to work remotely and they, you live in a low cost of living area, like the Midwest, like the Southeast. That's great. If you can, what's called house hack, meaning you take on more roommates or housemates. You sublet part of your apartment. Like you live at, apartment meant for two people, but you get crammed three people into it. That's less rent. That the house hacking is huge. I also have a friend who is on his way to fire bought a multi-level house. He lives on the upper and he rents the other basement. Yeah. The basement's rented out, helps pay for the mortgage. So, there are ways, and I think they're like the quote unquote rule that says you have to completely have a house of a certain size that you need to have car payments on two cars. That people who go for FIRE or say We questioned those rules. We question does life actually need to look like that because it traps you into monthly payments for a long time.
Kriti: [00:20:05] It's kind of being non-conformist and not fitting to, you know, society's like not being in this whole rat race. I think it's really cool. And it gives you so much freedom.
So, you do talk about investing and I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of it, but also having multiple properties, which you can rent out.
So are these, can you talk a little bit more about these two ways? Would you consider them good ways in order to also take steps to achieve FI?
Shang: [00:20:39] On average, if you invest broadly in the US stock market, it's historically given a return of 10% on your money. On average, if you are a professional landlord, like you're actually renting out your properties, you can also likely get a 10% return on your money. So those are the two primary ways that people build wealth. And then there's also a third way, which is you make it big as like, you know, Mark Zuckerberg. He found the company and it scales. but I, I'm not like that. I don't have that ability, but I do own a piece of Facebook because I own stocks and stocks, partial ownership of a company.
And so it's, it's all about making your money work for you while you sleep. And that's why I love both stock investing and real estate investing. It just so happens that I focus more on stocks because that's just, it just fits my lifestyle better right now. But everybody who is interested in investing should look at the hard data and be like, what style do I like and what results in long-term continued growth. And it's actually about controlling your emotions. And not panicking when others panic in the stock market.
Kriti: [00:21:56] That's a really great, I guess tip or key point when it comes to investing. Also, I think investing might be easier for some people, I mean, because it's becoming democratized. So I think more people like I can invest, you know. You don't even need like a hundred thousand dollars.
Shang: [00:22:17] yeah, you can sell it just like a hundred dollars. You really don't need that much. Right.
Kriti: [00:22:22] Right. So, do you know anybody who has achieved financial independent and they've retired, but they had to go back to work because something happened and they needed money and they somehow, you know, ran out of it.
Shang: [00:22:38] Yeah. There's one example, but I kind of disagree with this person's point of view. There is a famous blogger who I will not name, who was all about FIRE. Fired in San Francisco. And then after a while said, actually, I need to go back to work. But the reasons he listed. He wanted a lifestyle to match the excess of other rich people in Bay area.
So he, he made this way to FIRE by being frugal. But I didn't, I think culturally, he got caught up in what everybody else is spending around him. So, I don't agree with that. Yes. He's probably the only example. I know someone who really went back to work because quote unquote, they think they need the money, but they don't really.Yeah.
Kriti: [00:23:23] I feel like it's so hard to disassociate yourself from this culture.
Shang: [00:23:27] Yeah. Because here's the thing, like I am very easily influenced by beautiful fashion. So I can speak from that point of view. Nice things look Knights, right? Whatever visual, those of us who can see what visual beings and see something beautiful. It, it gets some brain cells going and we think, wow, that's beautiful. It makes me happy to look at it and know, we believe that our appreciation of beauty means that we must have it in order to be successful and happy.
Kriti: [00:23:57] Yeah. I think happy is not the case.
Shang: [00:24:00] It's not the case at all. I don't, I'm not that much. I think there's a base level of needs that we needed. We need, we need physical safety, right? Like we get to feel safe in our homes. We need health. That's really important. We need to be fed. We should have decent clothing and education. But beyond that, a lot of things that people think they need to be happy. They think they need to be a CEO. They think they need their children to go to an Ivy league. I I've achieved a lot of it. I've gone to the Ivy league and I've had luxury experiences, but I don't think I was all that much happier because of it.
Kriti: [00:24:32] Right. The psychological aspect to financial independence is not something that I've really thought about a lot. You know, I think that's really interesting.
Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the FIRE or FI goals for many people?
Shang: [00:24:49] hard to say, because I also haven't really been keeping my tabs on everybody else on fire. I would say to people on their way to FIRE and kept our jobs are doing fine. But, what has been really interesting is that , there are a lot of people sitting out there very bored. These people normally would be out gambling or like you would be playing video games. But instead they're now joining in droves to places like Robinhood. And I appreciate what these apps have done to democratize trading, but these people are bringing their addictive habits and their right , wacky off the charts , addiction and love of risk into the conversation.
Kriti: [00:25:33] I mean, the game game stop.
Shang: [00:25:36] Exactly. It's not helping. It's not helping the average investor, because the average investor shouldn't be gambling their investments. You shouldn't be gambling your net worth to daily on a single bet, like a game stop or an AMC. But these people are, and the news is writing about it. And I've always, I've followed Warren Buffett's advice. Which is unless you're like a Warren buffet, you're better off just investing your money in broad, low fee index funds and mutual funds. Buy it hold it, don't touch it until you're ready to retire and you'll be fine. And so many people who are new to investing are reading all these articles. They think that investing is all about this game. It's about gaming the system and try to figure out how to win every day. And that's really not what long term investing is about.
Kriti: [00:26:23] I think that was really interesting how people have so much free time and because of apps like Robin hood, which democratize investing, like you said, People are sort of getting into it now. I feel like it's a good thing that people are interested in investing but then again, it's not good cause it's not really like a game.
It's not . It's a retirement at stake and I don't play with that. And I hope that whoever hears this, he heeds Warren Buffett's advice, which is buy and hold broad, low cost index funds. And don't touch it.
Can you give us two in some advice or some simple strategies for us right now to start kind of planning or taking mini steps for financial independence.
Shang: [00:27:12] Yeah. I'm assuming that people listening to this are still in your teenage years. First of all, never spend more than you earn what it is from side job from allowance or whatever. Don't spend more than what you got. Number two, don't believe that you need to be passionate about your main source of income?
The reason why is it it's especially very popularly graduation speeches by the likes of Steve Jobs and JK Rowling have all encouraged everybody to follow their passion. Like the problem is, for most people in this world, if you followed your passion, you don't get paid. Don't it's only the very, very lucky, brilliant few people who follow their passions and make it into a billionaire stratosphere.
The rest of us are grinding. It's called work for a reason. And I often find this issue with people, really young in their teenage and twenties pursuing jobs that don't pay. And if you don't get paid a lot, and when you're younger, when you have a lot of time to settle your career, you're going to regret it in your thirties and forties, when you can no longer be as flexible in changing your job. So don't chase something just for the passion. Also, be made sure it pays for life.
And then the third piece of advice that I would say is. Read read, read, read, read, read. Don't expect information like the good information to be handed to you on a platter. It doesn't work that way. Like the good information need comes from a hunger of knowledge from reading or listening to podcasts like this. If you're, if you learn by audio from trying things out, but just don't stop and do nothing. If you want to get ahead, you got to put work against it.
Kriti: [00:28:52] That's great advice. My mom says stop being a consumer of media and things like that and trying to, you know, invest in yourself kind of.
Shang: [00:29:03] Yeah.
Kriti: [00:29:04] So on Instagram, I know that you put a lot of emphasis on emergency funds. and I read a, uh, a news article recently that said that 25% of Americans don't have emergency fund. Can you talk more about this?
Shang: [00:29:21] Yes, super scary. And I hear all the time because. We can't predict emergencies. They can't predict that your car decides to come puts and he, it, a new mirror. We can't predict the fact that maybe you might get an, a winter slip and fall on ice and have to go to the emergency room to mend something. And so we also can't predict getting laid off because of COVID. In all those cases, if you do not have an emergency fund, how do you pay for life? People use credit cards and credit card debt is so awful because once you start, you are paying 20% plus interest rates.
It's insane how much interest is being charged. So even though it's painful in the beginning to start that emergency fund, you're like, Oh gosh, I want to pay off my debt or I want to buy stuff. I, the money's just sitting here biggest that buys you protection from the awful things that are in equitably going to happen in life. Like COVID has cost me money. COVID it has cost me money because I'm not living you like right now with like in my home, I'm sheltering in place with a lot of family members have decided to show up more for rent to have to shell out for transportation and things like that without emergency fund. I probably would be okay, but for a lot of other people, they wouldn't be able to do this.
Kriti: [00:30:38] Right.
And I don't know how it works. Are teenagers allowed to sort of start an emergency fund?
Shang: [00:30:43] Absolutely. Dell. You need as a bank account. If you can't open it, have your parents help you open one and just put whatever, you know, allowance money bonus. Right.
Kriti: [00:30:53] Wait, so for bank account, I'm like, if you have a savings account, could you just sort of title it as an emergency fund or is there a big, different between a savings account, an emergency fund ?
Shang: [00:31:04] it's whatever you want it to be. I have my emergency fund nationally spread out in different bank accounts for. Other reasons, as long as you have money in an account, that's a little bit hard for you to access. Like online savings accounts only allows you to like move money only so many times. I like that. You want your emergency fund hard to dip into because I also don't want people to regular emergency fund for Christmas. I see so many people's spending savings like Christmas gifts. Like now just give them something homemade, but don't raid your emergency fund please.
Kriti: [00:31:40] So that's funny.
Shang: [00:31:41] Yeah.
Kriti: [00:31:43] I guess finally, can you just talk about any advice you'd have for your 16 year old self? If you could go back and talk to her?
Shang: [00:31:55] I was a very serious teenager. And I think I took life a little bit too seriously when young and I took personal offense at so many things. I got offended. I took things personally, I was always anxiety and full of drama. Typical, typical of someone of that age. Just kidding. Just kidding. You have, you have genuine things to care about and you're jetting things to, to be active about, but I wish I was just more relaxed about how other people live their lives.
Because, for a long time, I got upset at how other people live their lives and took on unnecessary stress. And these days also I'm doling out advice about personal finance, but not everyone's going to follow it. And in the beginning I got so worried when someone I coached didn't follow the advice or did something that told them not to do, but then I realized.
You just need to have grace. You have to give other people grace. And you have to give yourself grace because we're not perfect human beings. At the end of the day, the best plants could still go awry. Like, yes, I'm work optional. I'm really lucky. But I also recognize that all this could evaporate overnight.
I don't know how, but it could happen. And so living life with gratitude and grace is something that took me many, many years to learn.
Kriti: [00:33:18] I think that's a great end to this discussion and this conversation. I really enjoyed having you on the show and I think it's really great that there are people in the social media community who are doing things like what you're doing with "save my cents". And thank you for sharing your sort of story, because money in America, it's a taboo thing and not many people will talk about it. So thank you for sharing your story today on the show.
Shang: [00:33:47] Thank you!
Kriti: [00:33:48] So that's the end of the interview and it was really exciting for me to see that financial independence or financial independence and retiring early, it can't be achieved and it's not just something that can be made up in your dreams. It's actually tangible and there's a real person who has done it.
And it was great to actually talk to someone who's been able to accomplish this. I also hope that you learned a little bit about emergency funds because they're super important. And also if you want to learn more, you can definitely just reach out to Shang via Instagram DM, and her Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/savemycents/ and that's also what her website is called. And this will all be linked to. In the episode description. So you can go there for more information on leading a financially healthy lifestyle.
Also make sure while you're on Instagram to follow us https://www.instagram.com/whyfimatters/ and yeah thanks for listening. And I can't wait to talk to you next time.
Link to Shang Saavendra's Save my Cents :