Even though Shang Saavedra and her husband have been financially independent for about three years, Saavedra only recently stopped working so she could take a year-long maternity leave for her first child.
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The couple lives in Manhattan and are followers of the F.I.R.E. Movement -- which means Financial Independence, Retire Early. However, Saavedra and her husband have slightly different goals than the name suggests.
“The approach that my husband and I have taken is, financial independence, retire optional,” Saavedra, 34, told FOX Business. “So it’s creating optionality and freedom.”
One of those options is for Saavedra -- a strategy consultant and author of the blog Save My Cents -- to be able to take her maternity leave for a full year.
“But we have much bigger goals in mind, including philanthropy and helping other people, which is really motivating us to not stop working and continue to grow our wealth for the benefit of others,” she added.
The couple started their extreme saving by living off just the lower of their two incomes, but it wasn’t easy for Saavedra at first.
“I spent a greater proportion of my income before coming into marriage than my husband did,” she said. “And it’s a sacrifice.”
She eventually had a breakthrough, though, about a year after they started.
“I realized that if I focused on what felt like deprivation, then this is not going to work,” Saavedra said. “And in grappling with the emotions of feeling like, 'Oh, I’m missing out on life or I’m missing a former life, I used to do all these things,' I realized, what if I turned all of that on its head and recognized everything that I was able to do.”
She added that having a more positive mindset helped her recognize how much she used discretionary spending to “fill a hole” in her heart.
“If I’m able to self-soothe and say “I get to” or “I’m grateful for,” then I’ve psychologically solved the pain in my heart and then I no longer need to pursue consumerism to plug that hole,” she explained. “Once this happened, suddenly everything became so much easier.”
By the time Saavedra was 31, she and her husband were financially independent. It was then that they realized they could set much bigger goals than just saving for themselves.
“We were like, 'Wow -- now it’s no longer about ourselves, who else can benefit?'” Saavedra said, adding: “A huge part of our value system is don’t just live for yourself.”
In part, the couple’s value system comes from their faith, which inspires them to tithe 10 percent of their income. However, they are also saving much more, which they may use to set up scholarships for higher education -- though they’re still deciding exactly how they want to give away their money.
“We’ve already been in the habit of giving our money away for a really long time and this is just challenging ourselves to do even more,” Saavedra said.
That selfless motivation is what keeps Saavedra and her husband going, she said. It’s also what makes following the F.I.R.E. Movement so fulfilling.
“There’s a misconception among a lot of people that being frugal is miserable, and I would say that’s not true," Saavedra said. "We do have some of our own creature comforts. We travel, we eat decent."
The bottom line for individuals wanting to achieve financial security is finding a balance between saving and spending that works in their unique situations, she said.
“Everyone has different tolerances," Saavedra added. "Not everyone can save to the extent that we save. Not everyone wants to do what we do … Take everything that you hear and come up with something that you’re comfortable with, because personal finance is personal.”