In less than ten years, 38-year-old Chris Reining changed his financial life and amassed enough money to be able to retire early. By setting goals and refining his spending habits, Chris became a millionaire at age 35 and quit his day job at age 37. He now spends his free time doing whatever he wants to do. Here’s how he did it.

What led to your decision to become a millionaire?

It was more about becoming financially independent. I was following the typical life path, i.e. high school, college, job, etc. But I started to question the daily grind when I had accomplished all of my career goals. I was making good money but spending it all. I bought a condo. I bought my dream car, a BMW.

I loved having nice stuff because I didn’t grow up with nice stuff. It was a great experience, but I eventually realized that the joy that comes with having nice stuff is short-lived. I started thinking long-term and I realized that if I didn’t make some changes that this would be my life for the next thirty or forty years, and I wasn’t okay with that.

Did you think it was possible at first? What fears did you have to overcome?

I knew it was possible because I had done the math, and I didn’t have any fears, but I think that was because I didn’t really tell anyone about my goal to become financially independent. There have been studies that show that if you share your goals you can lose the drive to achieve them.  By not telling anyone, I was able to keep my drive high and avoid any discouragement.

What did you do before reaching early retirement status?

I worked in IT security. It was a great job and I loved it. Our group helped track down hackers and others who threatened online information.

What money messages did you get growing up?

I grew up with a modest upbringing. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t well off. My dad worked a middle class job and my mom stayed home to take care of the kids. One great thing about this is that I learned about frugality because I watched as my parents made decisions, weighing the pros and cons of purchases in order to figure out which purchases were of the most value. That made me realize that there are tradeoffs that come with not buying things vs buying things.

Then, when I was about 10, my dad bought me and my two sisters one share of Wrigley’s stock each. I would check the stock price in the paper every day after school and watch my money grow. That experience showed me that investing allowed my money to grow effortlessly. It was a great experience.

Were there times in the journey when you wanted to give up?

It never even crossed my mind to give up. I kept focused on the progress and that kept me going. I think there are two main things that can keep people focused on a big goal.  First, you need to have a really compelling/specific reason for doing what you’re doing. You need to know what you are truly working towards. Once you have that super compelling reason it makes it easier to keep working toward your goal and not give up.

Second, you need to get a clear picture about how discipline works. Discipline is a muscle that you have to exercise. I always try to exercise my discipline muscle.

For instance, not long ago I met up with a friend at a casino. I don’t usually gamble but that was where he wanted to meet so I agreed. We were sitting there at the roulette table, and I was making $1 bets. I started out with $40, then I got up to $60, then I went back down to $50. I told myself I could bet $10 and still walk away with the $40 I started with.

I bet the $10 on my favorite number, 24. The ball rolled, landed on number 24 and I won $350. The crowd was cheering, everyone was high-fiving me. They all wanted me to stay and keep going, but I tipped the dealer $10 and walked away. It was tough, but I chose to exercise my discipline. I wanted to prove to myself that I could walk away.

All throughout my journey to reach financial independence I pushed my discipline muscle to the limit, and it worked.

What was the most difficult part of the journey?

Walking away from my career after I reached my goal. I’d built relationships and a whole identity that I had wrapped up in what I did for a living. It was important to me and I was comfortable with it. It was tough to walk away from that.

What were the key tenets of your plan?

The short version was rooted in spending less than I earned and investing the difference. I started making changes in my spending in order to have more money to invest. There are many ways you can do that.  You have to find the way that works for you. I usually recommend making small changes first.

The logical perspective says sell your house, sell your car, stop going out to eat, and save as much as you can. That is too overwhelming for most people. What often works better is to start with a succession of small changes. Start by cutting out the $5 latte. Then eliminate the $10 daily lunch at work. Making small manageable changes will improve your ability to make the bigger changes. This approach makes more sense because it’s much less overwhelming for most people.

Really, all I did was made a choice to live my life in a slightly different way than most people do. People would ask me questions like, “When are you going to get a new BMW?” I would answer “Why would I do that?” You get pressure from friends and family to live the typical life, to live like the Joneses, and when you start living life on your own terms and following your own inner compass people will start questioning you. But it wasn’t hard to stick to my plan because my goal superseded other peoples’ opinions and thoughts.

What has been the most unexpected struggle of being financially independent?

I haven’t had any struggles, but that’s mostly because I’ve defined a new purpose for my life. I have a blog. I coach people on becoming financially independent. Having a purpose and a plan for your life after you quit your job is important.

What has been your favorite benefit of being financially independent?

I love that I can work on what I want to work on and that I don’t need to take the income factor into account. It has been great to get my time back. Because I saved the money, I was able to get my time back. I now have complete control over my time.  You don’t have that when you’re working because you need the money.

What advice do you have for others who want to achieve financial independence but don’t think it’s possible?

Most people can’t frugal their way to financial independence. There needs to be a two-fold plan. First, decrease your spending to a level that you’re comfortable with. Second, focus on your career and on earning more money. When you pull on those two levers at the same time that is where the magic happens.

To learn more about Chris and his path to early retirement, you can visit him at his website, www.chrisreining.com, where he teaches people how to master their money. 

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