Celestian Rince and Stephanie Williams are the Vancouver millennial couple who have uncoupled from the materialistic, consumer driven rat race. Instead, they’re devoted to building a life of elegant simplicity – one lean on luxuries but rich in experience. A life clear from the clutter of stuff can leave room for only one thing – presence.
The space between where you are and where you want to be is growth. An accumulation of the type of wealth that cannot be measured in assets and liabilities. For Cel and Steph, their joie de vivre comes from an introspective practicality; a brand of peacefully defiant self-reliance that is uniquely their own.
They knew there had to be more to life than just going to work to pay the bills – wash, rinse, repeat. So, they decided to jump off the treadmill and into a life beyond the grind. A life of globetrotting, labyrinths, vegetable gardens and togetherness.
These millennial minimalists talked to Hardbacon about their journey to financial independence and how a trip to England inspired them to set their lives on F.I.R.E.
What was the “ah-ha” moment that inspired you to start your path to FIRE?
It was when we did our first overseas trip and then came back to our (at the time) horrible soul-crushing jobs, and the difference was so startling that we realized we needed to make big changes. So after some research we found out about FIRE and came up with a plan to pursue it.
Can you tell us about what your life was like before you heard about FIRE?
Cel had just finished up his university degree and working in a grocery store. Steph was working a crappy warehouse job. We were renting a small apartment. Our lives weren’t bad, but not great.
In my 10 years working in the banking industry, trying to help Canadians save for their future has proven to be a significant challenge. “You need to have money to save money,” was something I heard frequently. What advice do you have for Canadians who are just struggling to get by?
Figure out where all your money is going. Not just some, but all. Most people have a lot of fat to cut in their budget. You also have to be willing to make changes in how you live. If you make minimum wage, then there is not much you can do to build up savings. Your first step should be figuring out how to make more than minimum wage, and if you don’t do that, then you shouldn’t expect anything to change.
Was there a moment that made you feel like you couldn’t do this? How did you overcome that challenge?
Early on, the numbers did not look good because our income was too low. Doing the math, it would require saving almost all of our money in order to retire early, which didn’t seem possible. We realized quickly we needed to get higher-paying jobs. Not extremely high-paying, but from around minimum wage to at least median income.
What was the very first thing you did to prepare for your new FIRE lifestyle? And then what did you do next?
Read a lot of FIRE blogs, and start tracking our expenses. And then reducing them where possible.
Did you already have some experience or working knowledge of investing or were you brand new to investing when you started FIRE?
We were brand new to investing.
What advice would you give to someone who has never invested before? Where should they start? What is the first thing they should do?
The first thing you should focus on is getting some savings, as investing is close to useless if you only have a small amount to invest. Consider going with a robo-advisor while you learn more about investing.
Do you manage your own portfolio, use a robo-advisor or a mix of both?
We use a robo-advisor.
What investment brokerage do you use and can you tell us why you chose them?
CI Direct Investing (formerly WealthBar). At the time we signed up, there were relatively few options for robo-advisors and they had what we were looking for investment-wise and had good customer service.
Can you describe your investment portfolio for our readers? What exactly are you invested in?
We have a balanced ETF portfolio with a robo-advisor.
Why did you choose those particular stocks or investment strategy?
Index investing is considered the best option, and we were looking for something low effort.
Are you using an RRSP or TFSA as part of your strategy? Can you tell us why or why not? How are you using that particular product?
Yes. We have RRSP and TFSA accounts with CI Direct Investing and max them out every year. This is obviously beneficial for tax reasons.
What has been one of the most significant moments for you on this journey?
When we hit $500,000, as that was the amount where the passive income generated could cover all our expenses excluding overseas travel.
Can you tell us who your favorite bank is and why you chose them?
Our favorite bank is Simplii because they are easy to use, have completely free accounts, and have widely available ATMs that are free.
What is your opinion on credit cards and do you use one? If so, which one do you have and why did you choose that particular card?
We like to use credit cards because it makes it easier to track and split expenses, and give free money in the form of rewards. We use the Tangerine credit card, mostly because we had Tangerine bank accounts and because it has no fees. It’s not hugely important what card we use because our credit card spending is relatively low.
I noticed you do separate transactions depending on the type of item you are buying. Can I ask why you do this rather than doing one transaction and using the receipt to track category spending on a spreadsheet?
The transactions are automatically categorized and tracked on Mint, whereas using a spreadsheet would require manual entry. We try to keep things automated as much as possible.
How did you decide what your budget would be?
We tracked our expenses for a year and then used that as a baseline.
Can you share some of your favorite, and most unexpected, money saving hacks?
Learn more about where things come from and how they are made. Many consumer products have a high environmental and/or social cost; reducing consumption and more importantly wanting to reduce consumption is one of the most effective ways to save money.
What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about yourself?
Cel learned that he preferred minimalist, low-consumption lifestyle, which was different than previous experiences.
Do you believe this way of life is accessible or realistic for everyone? Why do you feel that way?
We think almost anyone can benefit from FIRE principles, such as reducing consumption and increasing their savings rate. Not everyone may be able to retire early depending on your starting point, but you could build up an emergency fund or save up for some important goal.
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew before you started FIRE?
How easy it is to DIY a lot of stuff. There were a lot of things we didn’t do at first because we
didn’t realize how easy they were, for example sewing up patches in clothes.
Is your goal to retire entirely or would you like to continue working in some capacity?
Cel currently works as a self-employed editor and intends to keep freelancing to some degree. Steph does not intend to continue working. Cel enjoys what he does and wants to continue it to some degree, with carefully selected projects.
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About The Author: Heidi Unrau
Heidi Unrau is the senior Finance Journalist at Hardbacon. She studied Economics at the University of Winnipeg, where she fell in love with all-things-finance. At 25, she got her first bank job as an entry-level teller. She moved up the ranks to Credit Analyst, Loans Officer, and now a Personal Finance Writer. In her spare time, you'll find her hiding in the car listening to Freakonomics podcasts, or binge-watching financial crime documentaries with a pint of Häagen-Dazs. When she's not chasing after her two little boys, she's in the hot tub or arguing with her husband over which cash back card to use for date night. She’s addicted to coffee, crypto, and obsessively checking her credit score on Borrowell.
Fun Fact: Heidi has lived in five different provinces across Canada, loves her free Tangerine bank account, and will never cut back on Starbucks. Like ever.
More posts by Heidi Unrau