Kristy, From The Sassy FIRE Blog Millenial Revolution, Talks To Hardbacon About The Shocking Event That Sparked Her FIRE Journey And How You, Too, Can Escape The Soul-Sucking Grind

Kristy is the paradigm-shifting writer behind the shrewd but sharp FIRE blog, Millenial Revolution. And her rebellious yet astute criticism of traditional finance landed her on our list of Top 25 Best Canadian FIRE Blogs of 2021. With equal parts cheeky sarcasm and insightful, well-informed assessments of the current financial state of affairs, Kristy is charging traditional financiers with reckless endangerment. And she’s not wrong. 

In the current digital age, carrying a computer around in your pocket is no longer considered a luxury. It’s a necessity in order to remain tethered to the world around you. The economic landscape faced by millennials, and subsequent generations, is choppy, uncharted scorched earth. And with no shortage of information at our fingertips, the refusal to acknowledge these unique challenges means actively choosing ignorance –  willingly obstructing the desperate need for change. 

If you’re reading this and thinking, “c’mon, it can’t be that bad,” Kristy pointedly and eloquently pulls the curtain back on the entire facade. The blueprint passed down to us from our parents, the one that so authoritatively promised financial security if we followed the manual, now serves as the foundation for a financial house of cards. College degrees are debt certificates, jobs are fleeting and the prospect of homeownership is a fever dream rather than a reality. 

Still unconvinced? The data doesn’t lie. And Kristy deals out harsh truths backed by cold, hard indisputable facts. The average cost of real estate is about 14 times the average Canadian salary. College degrees no longer promise steady, gainful employment. And now, the most distressing statistic, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health episode at some point in their life, costing the Canadian economy north of $50 billion dollars a year in healthcare resources and lost productivity. Clearly, there’s a glitch in the mainframe. 

Kirsty doesn’t hold back from describing how the nature of her profession was making her physically ill, and the shocking event she witnessed that prompted her to walk away from it all. When the profit motive trumps wellness, employees are forced to constantly produce more and do it with less, and less, and less. What happens when you’ve given everything you have to a company whose success did not happen in a vacuum? Pink slips. 

And if this all feels incredibly bleak, Kristy’s blog is a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. But no, she isn’t sugar coating anything. Instead, in true millennial fashion, Kristy skillfully uses hilarity to punchline reality. If the truth is going to hurt, it should at least be entertaining. Her laugh-out-loud penmanship is the perfect antidote to temper the sting of brash ball-busting. But all of this truthtelling would be for naught without some insight on how to hack the system. And that’s where Kristy packs her most powerful punch – education. You can count on her to empower you with information, tools, and resources to kick irrelevant, tone-deaf, and just plain bad financial advice to the curb. Millennial Revolution is the arsenal you need to trigger your own financial coups d’etat. 

Kristy talked to Hardbacon about the shocking event that sparked her FIRE journey and how you, too, can escape the soul-sucking grind.

In your early posts, you do a quick breakdown of your expenditures and net worth growth as you started investing. I didn’t see any loan repayment expenditures, did you graduate from university debt-free?  How might your FIRE journey have looked if you and your husband were also juggling student loan payments? How can young people with a lot of student debt (and large monthly loan payments) get started on the road to FIRE?

We deliberately chose a program that is 5 years long instead of the usual 4 years of university so that we could work while earning our engineering degree. As a result, we were able to get hired for paid internships, alternating every 4 months between work and study, which paid our tuition and living costs and enabled us to graduate debt-free. 

I would highly recommend calculating the POT score (described in our book Quit Like a Millionaire) of a university program before you enroll. Not all university degrees are created equal and sometimes it’s a better return on investment to get a college degree or even no degree at all.

If you already have a lot of student debt and you are American, you can use student debt repayment programs like PAYE, REPAYE, or student loan forgiveness programs like PSLF to help you out. We discuss this in detail in Quit Like a Millionaire. 

How are you using credit products to enhance your FIRE lifestyle? 

Travel hacking. By looking for credit cards with sign-on bonuses for travel rewards or frequent flyer miles points, you can get lots of free travel. For example, we recently got the HSBC credit cards for the 2 of us that gave us $700/ person of travel credits (which we applied towards Airbnb, thus reducing our rent) just from spending $5000 over 6 months on that credit card. You do need to be organized and patient when travel hacking but done right you can save thousands per year. 

Can you tell us who your favorite bank is and why you chose them? 

I don’t have a favorite. It’s basically whichever one has the best interest for their high-interest savings accounts. Most of our money is in investments, but we keep some cash around in HISAs (High-Interest Savings Accounts) for spending. Currently, Tangerine is giving us the best HISA at 1.5% interest.

Are you using an RRSP or TFSA as part of your strategy? How are you using that particular product? 

Yes, they are great tax deferring/sheltering vehicles. We max out both to optimize taxes.

How do you manage slip-ups and unexpected expenses? 

Slip-ups don’t derail your spending. As long as you get the big 3 right: housing, transportation, food, a splurge every now and then is completely fine. For unexpected expenses, it’s always a good idea to have some cushion in your spending for those costs. That’s why, with our portfolio’s increase, I could spend $50-60,000/year but I choose to continue spending $40,000. It doesn’t take away from my happiness and if there are any unexpected expenses in the future, I have $10-20K of cushion I can spend without breaking a sweat. 

Has the economic fallout of the Pandemic affected your portfolio or lifestyle?

Surprisingly no. Even though we had to come back to expensive Toronto, because of rent dropping during the pandemic, our costs dropped to $34,000 a year in 2020. Our dividends of $38,000 for that year gave us a surplus of $4000 without having to sell anything in the portfolio. Since then our portfolio has gone up 10% in 6 months.

Can you describe how the success of your blog and the income streams from your books, for example, affect your spending and investing? 

It’s helped me be more generous with friends and family with gifts and dinner, but overall for my own finances, it hasn’t changed anything. We still live on $40K, 6 years after retirement, and are perfectly happy. I love optimizing costs so I don’t feel the need to increase my spending.

Do you have a plan that helps keep your spending on track without giving up the things you enjoy? 

Basically, the plan is traveling. When you travel it’s easy to average cost down because you can balance expensive places like Switzerland with inexpensive places like Thailand or Portugal. You don’t need to feel guilty about spending because you’re getting the best value for your money. 

On the blog, you talk about how your biggest investment mistake ever was completely exiting the market. What has been your second biggest mistake to date? 

Not investing earlier. We started investing in 2008, but if we’d started investing straight out of university in 2006, we’d be in an even better position financially. 

Can you describe your investment portfolio for our readers? What exactly are you invested in?  

We’re currently at a 75/25 allocation (75% equity, 25% fixed income), invested in low-cost index funds. We breakdown the exact ticker symbols and how to invest like us for free in our step-by-step investment workshop.

Why did you choose that particular investment strategy?  

Coming from a background of childhood poverty, I’m risk-averse. That’s why I prioritize safe, reliable, diversified investing over risky investments. That’s why we chose to invest in index funds rather than individual stocks. 

Do you manage your own portfolio, use a robo-advisor, or a mix of both?  


What investment brokerage do you use and can you tell us why you chose them? 

Questrade. We chose them because they have the lowest management fees. You’re looking at 0.5% or less versus the usual 2% that investment advisors charge. 

Can you tell us about what your life was like before you heard about FIRE? 

I desperately wanted to buy a house and follow the original blueprint of get a job, buy a house, retire when you’re 65. 

How has your FIRE journey changed you as a person?  

I’m more patient and optimistic than before. Having the time and space to meditate, meet like-minded people changes your whole mindset.

What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew before you started FIRE? 

Don’t be afraid. It’ll all work out way better than you expected. 

You talk about how the stress of your job was affecting your physical and mental health. Was a lower-stress stress job ever an option for you, even if it meant lower pay? 

The job I had was already the “lower stress job” funnily enough. I had an even more stressful job before that and this job was much less stressful in the beginning. It simply got worse over time. From talking to colleagues who went to other companies, I realized that it was the field, not the job. Eventually, they would all become stressed, even if the job was good in the beginning, so it wouldn’t have made a difference. I did think about switching careers, but FIRE was faster and more financially secure.

What was the “ah-ha” moment that inspired you to start your FIRE journey? 

Seeing my co-worker collapse from stress and almost die at work. 

Can you describe a time that made you want to give up? What helped you to keep going? 

It was very scary to quit a job when that had been my identity for over 10 years. It’s also difficult to go on this journey without like-minded people. Back then all the bloggers were American, so we felt very alone as Canadians pursuing FIRE. But I didn’t give up because I knew it would be worth it in the end. Also, the stress at work was affecting my health and I didn’t want to keep going down that path. Once your health is gone, no amount of money can ever buy it back. 

What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about yourself?  

I’m a lot more resilient than I thought I was. Also, I’m very pessimistic (even more than I thought) and yet over time that has changed as I see how well FIRE is working out, not just for me, but for other people in the community. 

Has it impacted your relationships or how you interact with friends and family? 

Being pessimistic definitely isn’t great for your relationship. Becoming optimistic has helped me be a better friend and daughter.  

What has been one of the most significant moments for you on this journey?  

Fixing my relationship with my mom. It was very difficult due to childhood trauma but because becoming FI gave me the time and space to work on my relationships, this has been life-changing. 

Is your goal to retire completely or would you like to continue working in some capacity? 

I don’t believe anyone fully retires and just sits on a beach drinking booze for the rest of their life. Naturally, they’ll want to contribute to society in some way. For me, that’s passion projects in the form of helping other people with their finances through writing and public speaking. It’s very rewarding, fulfilling, and has helped me find many like-minded friends. My life has been completely transformed as a result of FIRE. 

Heidi Unrau is a 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 kicked-off her financial career in retail banking as a teller. She quickly progressed to become a Credit Analyst and then Private Lender. This hands-on industry experience uniquely positions her to provide expert insight on loans, credit scores, credit cards, debt, and banking services. She has been featured in publications such as WealthRocket, Scary Mommy, Credello, and Plooto. When she's not chasing after her two little boys, you'll find her hiding in the car listening to the Freakonomics podcast, or binge-watching financial crime documentaries with a bowl of ice cream. Fun Fact: Heidi has lived in five different provinces across Canada and her blood type is coffee.