Calculating the Amount I Need to FI/RE in Malaysia

FI/RE = Financial Independence/Retire Early. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Imagine waking up in the morning, thinking, eh, I don’t feel like working today, so you just… don’t. And still be okay financially, with no consequences.

I want that. I want that so bad.

The topic of financial independence and early retirement has been on my mind for the longest time, but I admit I’ve pushed it back time and time again. I’m afraid to find out the amount I need to get there. I’m afraid the number will be too big that it’ll discourage me, instead of motivating me. I’m afraid to think of the sacrifices I have to make.

Which is why I’m forcing myself to write this article. Let’s force out all those jumbled thoughts and put them in a linear, clear format.

Calculating how much I need

Based on the articles and resources I’ve read about the topic (recommended: Mr Money Moustache’s How to Retire Forever on a Fixed Chunk of Money), here’s how one can reach financial independence and early retirement (let’s just call this FI/RE from now on):

  • Do all you can to earn money, until you reach the amount you need
  • Chuck it all in investments, allowing it to earn interest
  • Make withdrawals that’s enough to fund your lifestyle, forever

The key is to have a big enough amount so the money doesn’t run out before you die, because that would suck.

You can calculate how much money you need to FI/RE if you can sort out these variables:

  • How much you need to fund your ‘post-retirement’ lifestyle
  • Your life expectancy (the average life expectancy for Malaysian women is 77.6 years old. Let’s just round that up to… 85… just in case)
  • The rate of inflation (according to Statista, the average inflation rate in Malaysia is 3.8%)
  • Your average return on investment (is 7.5% a good benchmark?)

FI is easy in theory, but figuring out the variables are hard. How would I know how much I need after retirement? Even my year-to-year expenses varied a lot – I spent an average of RM8600 per month in 2017 and an average of RM4900 per month in 2016. And what kind of post-retirement lifestyle do I even want? I haven’t decided. How much would that cost?

Oh well. Let’s just do the calculations first. By the way, I’m fixated on the amount I need, not the age I’ll get there.

Calculation #1 – Annuity calculator

To calculate the amount I need, I tried Calculator.net’s annuity calculator first. After playing around with the numbers, I found out that I can withdraw RM5,000 per month for 53.6 years if I have RM810,000 in investments now.

financial independence malaysia

I thought I solved the ‘how much I need’ part, but on closer inspection, no I don’t. The scary part is the inflation. You don’t really notice it on a year-to-year basis, but it’s clear as day in the example above. I don’t want 83-year-old me to live on an equivalent of RM677 only per month! I want comfort in my old age!

Calculation #2 – Post-retirement calculator

So obviously I need to find a calculator that takes inflation into account. I found this Rich, Broke or Dead calculator which answers the question: If I start out with $X dollars at the beginning of my retirement, will I run out of money before I die?

The calculator is not the most suitable for my case (for example, they use US inflation rates), but it’s still nice to be able to play around with the numbers. Apparently, RM1,950,000 will give me 99% probability to withdraw RM60,000 annually (inflation-adjusted!) until I’m 85 years old!

 financial independence malaysia

Can I even FI/RE?

RM1.95 million…

Holy shit that’s a big number. I am nowhere near there. I am nowhere near FI/RE.

🙁

There it is. The emotion I was trying to avoid, too scared to confront. I’m overwhelmed by this amount. I doubt my ability to earn this much in my lifetime.

Then, immediately after that thought: the crushing realisation that I lack self-confidence in my own earning potential.

Quick, an inspirational quote to stop all this worrying and anxiety:

and another:

… that subsided it somewhat, but still.

I know I can only do the best I can, and dammit I am trying to be good with this saving and earning money thing.

I know I could be in a worse financial position.

I know I am lucky to actually enjoy the work I am doing now.

So… no rush, Suraya. FI/RE at your own pace. It’s the journey, not the destination. Make the best of life – you’re planning for 85-year-old you, but don’t forget there’s no guarantee you’ll even reach that age.

Adjusting expectations

Even though I don’t want to worry too much, I sure as heck will try my best to increase my FI/RE likelihood.

Two things make FI/RE easier:

  • Low post-retirement expenses, and
  • High income AND savings rate to reach the number needed

Low post-retirement expenses

I’ve been using RM5,000 per month to guesstimate the amount I need for my post-FI life. In my head, the amount is just enough to cover the essentials (rent, insurance, food, transportation, etc), cover the expenses of my passion projects (ie RoR, BestDealsMalaysia.com), and maybe a couple of trips a year.

I can live on less, definitely, if I try. For example, I could move to a cheap country, which saves money on the essentials and satisfies the wanderlust element.

Thankfully, I’m in no rush to decide on a post-retirement lifestyle. I’m still young, and can take the time to try out different ways of living. Related: 10 Ways to Retire.

So that brings us to the second part of FI/RE:

Getting the amount needed

After doing the calculations, it’s clear that I need around RM2-3 million to safely call myself FI. The number will change as I grow older, but it’ll do as a benchmark for now. FI/RE Age calculators can’t help me here – as a self-employed individual, my income varies too much, I can’t even make a guesstimate (but if you’re employed, YOU can – go try it out).

A lot of people in the FI/RE community make sacrifices to get the amount they need, faster. I’ve seen people:

  • Adjust their accommodation arrangement to lower their cost of living – move to rural areas, move with the parents, live with housemates
  • Choose to not have children
  • Live extremely frugal lifestyles
  • Bust their asses off to earn extra income
  • Stick with high-paying, but high-stress jobs

The more sacrifices they make, the faster they FI/RE. Therefore FI/RE communities also act as a support group of sorts, full of encouragements. It’s a nice community, however I can’t say that I like all of its aspects. It can be a bit too money-obsessed, even for me.

Do you plan to FI/RE?

In Malaysia, I know a few people who are consciously working towards FI/RE. I’ve gotten emails from readers who shared their journeys. Some shared the lack of support from family and friends, who didn’t understand the rush.

How about you? Have you ever calculated the amount you need? Which calculator did you use? Also, what do you plan to do after you retire early?

Let me know. Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Author

15 comments

  1. Hey Suraya,

    I haven’t really looked too far into the future, I prefer to break it down to baby step milestones instead of looking at the finish line.

    The first step is to get RM360,000 in investment value to support my necessity expenses currently (RM18,000).

    Then, RM720,000 of investments to support my current lifestyle.

    This is under the assumption that my investment growth beats inflation and returns 5% per annum. I’ll assume I reach FI/RE when I can support my current lifestyle but will continue to grow the portfolio because my expenses will very likely increase with more commitments in the future. For now is to keep commitments low and keep saving and investing rate high.

    When I reach FI/RE, I want to work on my PASSION income. Gonna setup a workshop at my home and make my own furniture.

    1. Hey Stockmonger,

      Which calculator did you use to get your number?

      Also, interesting passion you have there! Hope you have time/resources to work on it a little bit, even before FI/RE-ing

  2. Quite difficult to FI/RE when you have kids. And yes, I agree that the community is very money-minded. Not that it’s bad, I just prefer to not count every single sen I spend.

    Right now, I’m just focusing on my financial goals:

    Paying off my loans (only 1 car left)
    Saving enough for kids’ education (total will depend on what they want to do – hopefully not medicine!)
    Saving for kids’ house if possible
    And finally only think about my own retirement fund.

    1. Hi David 😀

      Bless. Your kids are so lucky. Also, that’s the first time I heard an Asian parent wishing their kids *don’t* pursue medicine lmao!

  3. My opinion is: just like how running your own business works, it also depends on individual. I think the common problem is that ‘most’ people think Retirement is the ultimate goal, without realizing that retiring early also has its own problem.

    I don’t know that at first until i did some reading on personal finance recently, and here are 2 great article from 2 re-known finance sites:
    http://www.budgetsaresexy.com/10-downsides-to-early-retirement/
    https://www.financialsamurai.com/the-dark-side-of-early-retirement-risks-dangers/

    I think it is worth considering both sides of the FIRE before someone dives deep in and assume that’s their new ultimate goal in life.

    1. Hi Failguy,

      Thanks for sharing the links, both contain great points. I’ve also read posts from individuals who decide to re-join the workforce, because they felt they lack purpose in life after FI/REd. They also found that they have too much time and don’t know what to do with them.

      However, oh the flipside, there are also folks who get tremendous fulfilment after they FI/REd. I think the difference is having something meaningful to do vs not having something meaningful to do. Some get so fixated on the retirement part and work and work until they have no passion projects or hobbies to enjoy.

      But… I still think that too much time + enough money is a nice problem to have, rather than the other way around :/

  4. Hi Suraya, it is really great that someone young like you already have plans for FI/RE.

    From my personal experience, the figure varies at different stages of life.

    Since the arrival of my baby two years ago, a lot of priorities has changed including my FI/RE.

    Having a baby can be very expensive but the rewards are worth it.

    And, YES! it is the journey, not the destination. So, enjoy the view along the journey.

    Finally, by having the right financial preparation, it will definitely make the journey more enjoyable.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Yes, it’s all about the journey 🙂 I’d rather not FI/RE if earning the income means losing my health, relationships and all the good things in life!

    1. Hi Yuyu,

      Thanks for the link to calculator! Good find!

      I notice the calculator didn’t take inflation into account. Is the RM3k monthly going to be enough?

      1. no it did not take into account inflation unfortunately. I’m setting my target to RM3k for now and will adjust as I go as I noticed I am more motivated when I have a target in mind.

  5. My advisor told me that I need RM3.5mil to retire by 35 haha (I’m currently 26 y/o).

    Though it’s a big number, I don’t take my FI/RE as a time where I don’t earn any money at all, and simply expecting my dividend to come every month. My plan is to try and build a passive income sustainable enough for me not to work a full time 9-5 job.

    I still wanna work even after 35 y/o, perhaps with an NGO or even, volunteer. But the jobs won’t be weighed based on their pay, unlike now.

    But I do set a goal on when I hope I can achieve this, so I can break things down and try to work on something small that will hopefully accumulate and get me to live life fully once again 😀

    1. Hi Fara,

      Thanks for sharing. RM3.5m to retire by 35? What easy numbers to remember ahahahha

      Tell me a bit more about having a financial advisor. Quite rare for people your age to have one. Why’d you engage in one?

  6. Hi Suraya,

    ive been working towards FIRE in Malaysia for quite sometime. In the US, the benchmark is the Trinity Study which has come up with the 4 percent rule, based on the assumption of 3 percent inflation and all the best and worst case stock market scenarios in the US market for the past 30 years. i honestly dont think its the best way to plan for FIRE in Malaysia. I have my own method, which is trying to beat inflation by 4 percent every year with a combination of real estate rental income, stocks, REITs.

    In Malaysia, a very powerful lever you can pull is local geoarbitrage. Instead of staying in klang valley…think smaller towns like Ipoh, Kuantan or Seremban. thats what ive done.

    Another common theme i see from successful FIREd people from across the globe like Mad Fientist, Mr Money Moustache or FIREcracker is that they do a partial retirement even before reaxhing full FI.They work part time, and constantly work on decreasing expenses before completely stopping work.

    If you would like to discuss FIRE more, please reach put to me privately.

    1. Hi RealFIRE,

      Thanks for your comment, that’s a powerful insight. Learned a new term today – local geoarbitrage – very suitable and applicable here!

      How did you come up with your own method?

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