When Jeremy Schneider graduated from college in 2002, the FIRE movement — short for financial independence, early retirement — wasn’t really a thing.
But the computer engineering student, who went on to earn a master’s degree in computer science the following year, couldn’t help but notice that his peers were finding ways to retire well before turning 65.
During the dotcom boom, “I would see these young people just a few years older than me making millions with tech startups,” Schneider tells CNBC Make It. Although she hasn’t heard of financial independence, “I’ve definitely heard of selling an internet company for a lot of money and being financially stable.”
That’s exactly what he ended up doing. In 2004, he founded RentLinx, an advertising network for rental properties. He would sell the firm 11 years later—a transaction that netted him nearly $2 million.
Schneider quit her 9-to-5 job not long after, but found she enjoyed working on projects she was passionate about even though she had the financial flexibility to retire. Today, the 41-year-old lives in San Diego, is worth $4.4 million, and runs a small business selling online financial literacy courses.
Here’s how he did it.
Budgeting while building business: ‘I lived on credit cards’
When he graduated from college, Schneider decided to make a bet on himself. Instead of taking a $74,000-a-year gig at Microsoft, where he interned as a software developer, he started his firm. “I preferred to start my own company, where if I worked 10 times harder, I’d probably make 10 or 100 times more money,” he says.
Between a road scholarship and help from her parents, Schneider graduated with no student debt and saved about $6,000 from summer jobs. But that, along with the $14,000 in revenue his website brought in in its first year, wasn’t enough to pay the bills.
“I was living on credit cards,” he says. “The first year I racked up about $10,000 in credit card debt. The second year, $10,000 became $12,000.”
But in the third year, things turned a corner and the profits started to go away.
For the next eight years, even as the company continued to grow, Schneider kept his salary at $36,000 a year. “The whole time I ran my company, I was as frugal as possible. I didn’t really budget because I couldn’t budget,” he says.
That meant driving a paid-off 1999 Ford SUV, spending as little money as he could on food, and living in a converted garage to keep the rent low.
Even with her limited income, Schneider still managed to save some money by contributing $5,000 to $6,000 a year to a Roth IRA. At 32, he says, he has $120,000 in his account, a mix of contributions and investment earnings.
In 2015, Schneider fulfilled his goal of selling the company when a competitor offered to buy his business for just over $5 million. Since he owned about 70% of the firm at the time, his earnings after taxes were about $2 million.
Early retirement: ‘Started to feel a bit empty’
Schneider worked for the acquiring company for two more years, earning a six-figure salary and helping integrate former employees into the new firm.
But he noticed that the profits on his portfolio, which consisted almost entirely of index funds, exceeded his salary. “My $2 million grew to $3 million just from market growth,” he says. “It seemed to me that I don’t need to work anymore.”
By following the “4% rule,” which says that retirees can withdraw 4% of their portfolio’s value each year forever without running out of money, Schneider can live on $120,000 annually — “twice as much as me. I spend in no year.”
So did Schneider, 36, take his money and ride off into the sunset? During the first year after quitting his job in 2017, he tried to divide his time between playing video games and going on trips. But the novelty quickly passed.
“As the year went on, I realized that there was something missing in my life. There was no tension,” he says. “I wasn’t working toward a goal or any kind of progress. And it started to feel a little empty.”
In 2019, Schneider opened an Instagram account where he shares daily personal finance and money advice. Soon the excitement returned.
“Some people like kitesurfing, paragliding or skydiving, but I like Roth IRAs and index funds,” he says. “If I can talk to someone for 30 minutes and change their financial future, that inspires me every day.”
By mid-2020, the account had grown to 90,000 followers, and Schneider noticed that many of them were posting the same basic financial questions. In response, he developed a video course and began selling it later that year for $79. Within a week of its launch, it had earned $110,000.
“It took me four years at my first company to make $110,000,” he remembers thinking. “So this could be a really real thing.”
This business, The Personal Finance Club, has brought in nearly $1 million in revenue since it began generating revenue in October 2020. Schneider and his two full-time employees on the project each make $70,000 a year, plus bonuses. bonuses and profit sharing.
For Schneider, continuing to work despite financial independence is better than lying on a beach somewhere.
“I don’t really see retirement as a goal. I think the goal is financial independence.” “I want to manage my time as I see fit and do the things I feel passionate about.”
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