A 38-year-old millionaire who plans to retire in 6 years says 4 simple strategies have helped her get this far
- At age 38, Mia Pham has already reached millionaire status. She plans to retire in 2027.
- She started investing early, and increased her rate of investment after learning about FIRE.
- She also lives well below her means to invest more, and resists lifestyle inflation.
In June of 2027, Mia Pham plans to retire. A federal civil servant, Pham will be 44 when she and her husband — who will be 48 — plan to leave the workforce and travel the world with their two children.
She’s part of the growing FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement, and according to documents reviewed by Insider, already has over $1 million saved for this big goal. It’s impressive on its own, and even more so when taking into consideration that Pham has two children and lives in San Diego — a city that has a notoriously high cost of living. And these accounts are separate from Pham’s husband — together their estimated net worth is just under $2 million.
“I didn’t get to seven figures until this year in just my separate account from my husband’s,” Pham said. “I wanted to see it within my own account and not with my husband, and that was really exciting to reach.”
Though their bank accounts are separate, their goals are very much united. A few years back, their son went into anaphylactic shock after accidentally ingesting peanuts, one of his food allergies, and had to be rushed to the hospital. Luckily, he recovered, but the traumatic incident changed both Pham and her husband’s relationship with time and money.
“My priorities in life greatly shifted after that incident because it made me and my husband realize how fragile life is,” Pham explained. Her daughter also has severe allergies and has gone into anaphylactic shock, too; both moments reinforced Pham’s desire to reach financial independence.
“These situations remind me and my husband that, in the grand scheme of things, the time that we spend with our family is more important and satisfying than the things we used to spend our money on in our younger years,” she told Insider.
While it’s true they’ve cut certain indulgences out of their lifestyle, they haven’t lived deprived of pleasure. Instead, they’ve lived strategically. And by following four simple steps, Pham has been able to get her family closer to their end destination.
1. She started investing early
“In high school, I had an interest in personal finance … but there was nobody to guide me — to tell me or show me how to do it,” Pham said. “Things were just theoretical concepts in my mind.”
It wasn’t until an accounting class one semester of college that the theoretical became the practical. As an exercise, the professor had the students fill out a Roth IRA application, emphasizing the importance of investing. It was only for practice, and they didn’t have to send the forms in, but Pham did.
“I grew up in an immigrant family, and I was the first to go to college … so no one in my family had ever invested in stocks; my mom thought it was gambling,” she said. But the professor’s advice stuck.
She couldn’t max out her account the first year, but slowly over time, she was able to up her contributions. To this day, she credits this moment — and the power of compound interest — as one of the most influential factors in her current success.
2. She increased her rate of investment after learning about FIRE
Though Pham had been investing for years, it wasn’t until 2017 — when she was introduced to the FIRE movement — that she significantly increased her contributions.
Pham and her husband had been saving to buy a house, but once they decided to retire early, they quickly changed their strategy.
“When we realized that stocks generally outperform real estate — except for this pandemic rate — we decided to buy a smaller house,” she explains. This way, they could funnel more money into their investment accounts.
She starts by maxing out both her Roth IRA and her TSP (a retirement account that’s similar to a 401(k) specifically for federal civilian employees). Then, she’ll focus on putting money into a brokerage account. In all of these accounts, she primarily invests in index funds, although she does hold Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares and Apple stock.
She keeps her investments streamlined and simple by automating most of her contributions. Investing as much as she does takes discipline, she says, but automating helps her make it easier.
3. She and her family live below their means
While purchasing a smaller home certainly helped her invest more money, the family also lives below their means to increase their flexible — and investable — income even more.
They rarely eat out and opt for potlucks to satisfy any meal-based social cravings. They drive a 2005 Toyota RAV4 that they purchased in 2012 for about $8,000 in cash. They take advantage of free public resources like the library to entertain their kids, splurging on one yearly membership to attractions like the zoo or LegoLand, rotating which pass they have each year.
But it’s not just that they avoid overspending, it’s that they’re constantly looking for ways to underspend, too.
When their 10-year-old stove broke two months ago, instead of just accepting it was time to buy a new one, they fixed the problem themselves. “We used Google to diagnose the problem, purchased the part for $90 on Amazon, and used YouTube to learn how to replace the circuit board,” Pham says.
In other cases, they always get multiple quotes, then use those quotes to negotiate the best price — this strategy worked well when refinancing their home and when their insurance premiums rose.
And when it’s hot in San Diego, they pack up and head to the beach — taking advantage of the free activity and saving money on AC bills.
4. She resists lifestyle inflation and uses tricks to stay motivated
When Pham first started her professional career, she was earning around $38,000 a year. As a federal employee, her pay is based on the GS scale, and with her position specifically, she was eligible to move up the scale each year. Eventually, she worked her way up to six figures.
“I started contributing to my TSP more with every increase until I was able to max it out,” she says. Putting her extra income towards her investments, instead of towards a more expensive lifestyle, helped her avoid overspending and kept her long-term goals on track.
And when it feels easier to just spend freely, tracking her net worth has helped keep her focused.
“When I started tracking my net worth, around 2017, that made a huge difference, because you have the means to see and there’s a goal you’re working toward.”
She has a plan for life in retirement
Once the couple retires, they plan to live off of their portfolio for the first 20 or so years, and then take advantage of their government pensions (in addition to their portfolios) that will pay out when they hit 62. Her husband, who is also a federal employee, will have a pension, too.
“That gives us another safety net,” Pham says, noting the pension as an added benefit to working in public service. “By then, we should have at least $2 million in net worth. Assuming my parents or my husband’s parents don’t need us, we hope to take the kids to travel.”