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Case Study: 'I Tried To Live On $15,000 A Year’

Journalist Richard Meadows took a leap into the unknown, travelling the world for less and living off his investments.

5 October 2021

Sometimes, the right idea at the right time can change your whole life. That’s what happened to Richard Meadows at 22.

He enjoyed his job as a financial journalist, but had a negative net worth, itchy feet, and a nagging sense there must be more to life.

He read about the FIRE movement - Financial Independence, Retire Early. The principles of frugal living and financial freedom immediately resonated with him.

“I think it was the prospect of being able to make small lifestyle changes and have a large outcome,” he says, “chipping away at earning my freedom, taking back the power so my autonomy doesn’t rest on anyone else.”

Living on NZ$15,000 a year

Meadows began aggressively cutting his spending and rapidly improved his net worth. Three years later it had reached just under NZ$100,000, and he decided to take a massive leap into the unknown.

He quit his job and headed overseas, staying in places like Chiang Mai in Thailand and Mexico City, aiming to live on just NZ$15,000 a year.

Some of his expenses would be funded by his freelance writing; he assumed he’d gradually run through his invested money.

He never quite managed to keep his spending under his goal, but he usually came within just a few hundred dollars – all tracked meticulously on a spreadsheet.

His possessions were limited to what fitted in his seven-kilogram backpack, and he managed five years and 10 countries with just two pairs each of underpants, shoes, and socks.

To his surprise, though, Meadows soon found his bare-bones lifestyle meant he wasn’t eating away at his funds.

Instead, he was living well below his income and squirrelling away a significant amount of cash into investments.

His most reliable performer over the years has been passive mutual funds, though he’s also dabbled in riskier equities for fun.

He searches for investments with limited downsides and large upsides, which he writes about on his blog The Deep Dish and in his book Optionality.

Back home with a new perspective

There have been plenty of non-financial benefits to his experiences, too. He says he’s more open-minded and resilient, which he thinks is one of the biggest upsides of the great Kiwi OE.

“Going towards ambiguity and mildly stressful situations often has a low cost, or no cost, but exposes to you to possibilities. Meeting people, travelling, taking every shot – I doubt anyone would regret spending their twenties doing that.”

In November 2020, at 30, he came home, after sitting out the pandemic in Mexico.

There’s no way he could live on such a tight budget here, but the lessons he learned will definitely stick. “I think extremely carefully about possessions, in particular. I’m really intentional about what I bring into my life.

“I’m happy to spend a lot of money on something if I’ve thought hard about the utility and joy it will bring me, but I will be keeping the frugal ethos of not mindlessly acquiring things.”

His absolute commitment to frugal living has paid off handsomely. Many of his investments have performed well, leaving his net worth healthier than it’s ever been.

He’s bought his first home in Auckland, “something I never intended or thought I would do, and it’s a very big commitment”.

He plans to write a little and manage his investments.“ But I’m sure I’ll get itchy feet at some point.”

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