Get to know me. Leif Kristjansen

Hello fellow FIRE escapees,
Let me introduce you to Leif Kristjansen – the bright ball of energy behind the Five Year FIRE escape. Over the past few months, you’ve read Leif’s take on saving, investing, and early retirement on his blog and email list, and we thought a formal introduction was overdue.

By the way, this is his wife Lina Kristjansen, and I’ll be interviewing Leif to introduce him to you (Hopefully this doesn’t get too weird.)

Lina: OK Mr. Leif Kristjansen, who are you and how did you get here?

Leif Kristjansen: I wasn’t always a fun finance blogger, I had a pretty cool job in tech straight out of university until I retired at age 32. My wife Lina Kristjansen was a big supporter of this transition, but she actually jumped ship early because she straight-up hated her life as a school librarian. It sounds like a relaxed job but she begs to differ. :O

Long story short, we are now both retired and are enjoying spending time with our kids and pursuing interesting goals.

(Editor’s note: It’s true. It sucked.)

Lina: So much to unpack here. Firstly, why aim to retire early, and how’s your life different now?

Leif Kristjansen: Most people will scoff at the idea of retiring early, and it seems like some people don’t really care to retire at all. I think it’s because it seems like it can’t be done. The world works a certain way and we never question if we can try something different.

We wanted to retire in our early thirties though because we were tired of getting beat down by the endless amounts of work five days of the week. We had other goals we wanted to achieve, but those goals just got our off-peak hours between working, dealing with kid stuff, and catching up on life during the weekends.

Once we thought about it, living for the weekend seemed like a pretty stupid way to spend your life, so we put a lot of effort into finding a way out. It wasn’t so much about wanting to stop working, it was about spending our lives with something to look forward to.

Also, my wife is very good to me, so I get to spend more time with her and dote on her – which is great! Right honey?

(Editor’s note: I do like being fed grapes while lounging on one of those weird sofas)

Lina: Why start a blog?

Leif Kristjansen: Because. This seems crazy until you actually do it. I wanted to show people that saving and investing doesn’t have to be complicated, and an early retirement doesn’t have to be limiting.

I also have some out-of-the-box ideas about financial independence that actually work, and I’d like a chance to share them with the world (and not just with my friends when I’ve drank too much.)

Lina: So how can you afford to retire?

Leif Kristjansen: I make most of my living through real estate. I flipped one house and hated the crazy amount of work involved so that’s not where my money came from. I get most of my money through rental properties. I think they are a perfect FIRE-friendly investment for a bunch of reasons.

But I didn’t just get there at the snap of my fingers. People say “well if I had enough money to buy random houses, my life would be sunshine and rainbows too.” No one starts off with enough money to buy a house. My early years involved overzealous saving, reading books and picking stocks.

Lina: That sounds like a lot of work!

Leif Kristjansen: After a while, I realized that I was putting in a lot of effort into researching complicated investments that weren’t doing much better than the simple ones. So I did a 180° and dumped all my money into simple stuff and have never looked back. Nowadays, it’s just simple investments and rentals.

I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t retiring from one day job to another (as a full-time investor). Some people watch financial news and stocks all day long… not me. I mentally check out for about six months at a time.

This is why I started the Five Year FIRE Escape blog. I wanted to show people the reasons behind my decisions. Investing your way to FIRE doesn’t have to be grueling. Professionals make it seem like it’s a hard job, but it can be totally relaxed and simplehttps://fiveyearfireescape.com/why-saving-is-important/. I mean, I’m lazy, so if I can do it, you can do it.

(Editor’s note: not as lazy as me 🙂 bring me more grapes! )

Lina: Did you have to make a lot of sacrifices?

Leif Kristjansen: Depends on how you define sacrifice. I do make daily decisions that lead me to spend less money. I wouldn’t call them sacrifices though, because I still get what I want every time.

You get to make a choice about how aggressive you want to be with your saving (or spending) and that dictates when you’ll retire and what kind of lifestyle you get to have. Our lifestyle was and still is pretty easy-going. We always enjoy ourselves.

The house we live in is smaller than what we could afford. Our car is cheaper. Our travel is more “budget.” But we’re very happy with them so our life is great. Actually, because of their low costs, I am much happier. They’ve allowed me to get to this happy place I’m in today.

Lina: So I happen to know some people who wouldn’t say you are that cheap.

Leif Kristjansen: True. That’s another misconception about FIRE. I wouldn’t say we’re super stingy with our money, and we straight-up refuse to budget. We have a house in a big city. We have kids. Some FIRE folks might even say we spend too much! Whatever, I saved up until I could support this lifestyle, and I like it just the way it is.

If wanted to be even more spendy, working for a few more years would have been fine too. Again, it all depends on what you see as a sacrifice.

In fact, if I sacrificed anything, it was eating out…we ate a lot of burritos. We used to get them A LOT, and we had to make a conscious decision to stop. (It actually represented a big chunk of our monthly spending.) That took some getting used to, but now I can say I’m a marginally better cook.

(Editor’s note: Why did you have to remind me of those amazing footballs of deliciousness.)

Lina: Do you still do any work or side hustles?

Leif Kristjansen: So. A little bit of an asterix to the retired. During the years of our journey towards financial independence we realized that we would probably get bored if we had no structured work to do. (Plus, I have to admit, while our kids are small, it’s scary to have both feet out the retirement door.) So part of our retired life includes part-time work.

We still consider ourselves retired though, because it’s work we actually like to do, and if it ever stopped feeling that way, we know we have the freedom to leave without worrying about it.

I think that’s one big misconception about the FIRE movement. I think everyone wants to do something with their life, and if you can find a way to bring in some extra cash while doing that something, it can have a huge impact on your post-retirement lifestyle. I mean, being a couch potato is a pretty lame goal.

I work part-time (somewhat remotely) at my old job since I did actually like where I worked but disliked how much work I was doing. I’m pretty flexible with them but in turn they are flexible with me so it’s a good relationship so far. The work is engaging so being able to do it part-time is great and I actually think that it makes me a more focused employee.

Lina: I don’t know if that counts as a side hustle or not but I like the idea! It keeps you out of the house 🙂

Leif Kristjansen: Actually I do plan to make a tech start-up beginning with a Kickstarter campaign down the line because I have some dreams I want to make into reality but I’m not quite there yet. They are all hardware based. I’ll leave it at that since I have no way to protect my ideas yet 🙂

My wife makes and sells baby clothes on the side. She runs the small operation and does everything remotely so she can be anywhere she wants to be and it isn’t an all consuming entrepreneurial activity.

(Editor’s note: It’s true. I sell cute stuff on Etsy, which is fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a sole source of income.)

Lina: Where are you now?

Leif Kristjansen: I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This isn’t the best place to attempt to retire early, since everything is super expensive here, but whatever. I have no plans of moving.

The Canadian mentality is pretty FIRE-friendly too, most people aren’t big spenders. Then if you don’t need a huge income in your early retirement, the taxes aren’t too painful. (Besides, universal healthcare makes planning your future a lot easier too.)

Sometimes I get a little jealous about young people who retired early in a tiny home or on a homestead in the middle of nowhere. Their cost of living must be sooooo low. But I’m pretty sure my wife wouldn’t like that very much.

(Editor’s note: LOL. Very True.)

Lina: Where can people find you?

Leif Kristjansen: It’s both super easy and super hard. You can find me on this website – fiveyearFIREescape.com, and if you join my email list you’ll get access to early articles and get a chance to respond to me. You might also see me pop up as an interviewee on other, more  impressive websites. (That’s been super cool!) Otherwise I’m an under-the-radar kind of person with no interest in social media.

(Editor’s note: We’ll see what we can do about that.)

Lina: What’s next?

Leif Kristjansen: Great question. This blog is a little passion project that has taken a life of its own. It’s taking a more of my time than I expected, but it’s okay. I’m enjoying it. (Especially getting interviewed while being fed grapes.)

Long term, I mentioned I am working on some tech stuff that I want to try to make into a startup/kickstarter campaign. That’s mostly on the backburner for now as I’m in the middle of a few other awesome projects.

I’m also planning a long-term trip to Europe with the whole family. It’s not an “escape work” kind of vacation, more like a change of scenery, so we’re planning it very slowly. I thought I’d be on a plane every other weekend post-FIRE, but perhaps that wasn’t the most realistic as far as dreams go. Whatever. Waking up at home without an alarm is nice too.

(Editor’s note: don’t romanticize this alarm thing… Our kids do the job just fine.)

Lina: Thank you, Mr. Leif Kristjansen, it’s been a blast – Also do the dishes before you come to bed 🙂

So what do you think? Does early retirement still sound crazy? What one change you can make today that will take you just a little step close to FIRE? Leave us a comment!

See you on the FIRE escape!



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