• Grigory Lukin achieved financial independence and retired early from his Amazon job at age 34.
  • He saved a lot of his paycheck and earned relocation bonuses for moving from city to city in the US.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Grigory Lukin, 37, about his experience saving through the Lean FIRE method and retiring at age 34 in 2021. Originally from Russia, Lukin lived in different US cities before moving to Canad, all while saving for an early retirement. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.

I developed a personal philosophy. It basically amounted to: Earn more, spend less, invest the rest. It was a nice little mantra.

"Lean FIRE" is when you live like a monk or like a grad student. Basically, you don't necessarily have to be broke or be "frupid" — when you make stupid decisions just to save money and it backfires. It's just about living within your means and not focusing on consumerism and capitalism, but rather enjoying the little things in life.

I spent several years just trying to keep my head above the water, financially speaking, working manual jobs at Amazon warehouses.

There's a book by Tim Ferriss called "The 4-Hour Workweek." When it came out in 2007, it was really revolutionary. He wrote about a bunch of things, but one of my favorite concepts was geographic arbitrage. Basically, you can enjoy the same standard of living, or even better, someplace way cheaper and way nicer.

My long-term plan was to leverage my Amazon seniority and my skill set into getting transferred to one of our offices abroad.

In 2016, I decided to write a five-year plan. It said that within five years I was going to move to a slightly more civilized country with better healthcare and a cheaper standard of living. And that I will be able to squirrel away enough money to set off on the most basic Lean FIRE retirement.

I updated the plan every three months religiously and managed to accomplish the plan three months ahead of schedule, in May 2021.

I tried to save almost half of my paycheck and sometimes contributed 90% to my 401(k)

When I was living in Seattle, I did my best to save a big chunk of my paycheck.

I was using almost every trick in the book. I would cook at home, I would use my little slow cooker to make some chicken, beans, and garlic, and eat it at work. I think it amounted to about $2 a portion, while all of my coworkers were going out to those food trucks.

For example, there's this great huge light show in the sky twice a day every single day — the sunrise and sunset, but how many people actually stop to take a look? If they could charge you money for it, they would.

I went to fun local events with my friends, different presentations and art gallery openings — and work presentations — to score free cider and snacks.

I almost never bought new books or entertainment. I would just use a local library, which is a severely underappreciated resource.

I would maintain a $3,000 emergency fund and put everything else that was left over at the end of the month into my taxable investment account. The percentage varied, but I believe every single month, I would save between 25% and 45% of my paycheck.

Sometimes I would squirrel away enough money for a few months so that I could switch my 401(k) contribution from 10% to 90%.

My paycheck would look absolutely hilarious. It would basically say $100 after all the fees and taxes. As long as you remember to flip it back to a 10% contribution, it was fine.

I was able to supplement my income with relocation bonuses

I never made even close to $100,000 a year.

My salary was about $59,000, and then there would be a variable number of stock options. I was a low-level Amazonian. So if I could do it, anyone could do it.

I started at Amazon in November 2009 as a temporary seasonal worker, packing boxes in Reno. I got a permanent position in May 2010 and transferred to Las Vegas in September 2011. In August 2012, I became a quality analyst in the ICQA (inventory control, quality assurance) department. I then transferred and helped launch Amazon's fulfillment centers in Fort Worth and Tampa, in the same quality analyst role. I transferred to Seattle and leveled up to the lowest corporate tier in August 2015: my job title became business analyst on PPT (Production Planning Team). In May 2017, I transferred to FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) and worked there as an investigation specialist.

With Amazon, when you work as a warehouse employee, every time they open a new warehouse somewhere else in the country, they give you a $10,000 cash bonus if you transfer there. They take away one-third for taxes right away, so basically, they give you $6,700 cash in your bank account. You have to figure out your own move and just show up in this warehouse. That's how I moved from Reno to Las Vegas to Fort Worth to Tampa, and then to Seattle.

Over the course of three years, I tried to transfer to the UK — before Brexit — Poland, Canada, Australia, and then Canada again. And it finally worked. I got a transfer from Seattle to Toronto in March 2019, where I became a financial analyst attached to a nearby fulfillment center.

That was an awesome road trip — I just shoved everything into my little Kia Rio.

I spent about two years on a work permit until I got my permanent resident status. By then, it was 2021.

I quit Amazon in May 2021. I spent 11-and-a-half years working for Amazon altogether.

In 2020, I sold all of my Amazon stock, which I had been stockpiling for years. At the time, it was an all-time high and the only stock that was still going up. I used that money to invest in companies that were basically on sale, 50% or 60% off your shopping malls, cruise ships, airlines, and a couple of other companies like that. Within the years that followed, I believe my total return was 293%.

I finally stopped working after moving to Canada, and it's way easier to save here

I would highly recommend geographic arbitrage, or moving to other countries, to absolutely everybody — but I'm biased.

Moving to another country was the foundation of my big plan. When I moved to Toronto, I took a 48% pay cut in my total compensation.

I was only in Toronto because it was part of the plan to move to Canada. Once I didn't have to stay there because of Amazon, I finally had a choice to make for the first time in my adult life: I could move to any city I wanted to.

In my personal opinion, aside from some similarities, Canada is suspiciously similar to the United States. There are some differences. Instead of guns, they have maple syrup; instead of miles, you have kilometers. But I didn't feel foreign enough. Quebec, on the other hand, was this mysterious province with its own alternate history. I visited Quebec City to do some apartment hunting and just absolutely fell in love.

There are some provinces in Canada that have rent control, like British Columbia and Quebec, but Quebec enforces it a lot better than all the others. The cheapest cities to live in are in Quebec.

When my lease in Toronto ended in September 2021, I packed everything up into a U-Haul trailer, sold my car, and moved to Quebec City.

Saving here is infinitely easier. When I moved, my rent was all-inclusive for a nice large apartment on the second floor of a brick building next to the tourist sector. The rent was about 670 Canadian (or $493), and that's inclusive of electricity, fast internet — the whole thing. Now it's going up a little bit to 730 Canadian plus 40 Canadian for electricity ($567).

You can't get anything in the States for that kind of money in terms of your own apartment in a brick, soundproof, building — just beautiful.

The entire past year in 2023, I think I've only bought a few new material things: a couple of books, a new pair of jeans, and some socks, and that was it.

I gain pleasure from simple things, like learning to cook with my Instant Pot is amazing. I enjoy a very nice healthy and balanced diet. Going out and having fun and all of that definitely fits into a $ 1,000-a-month budget, give or take.

I would recommend everyone at least consider geographic arbitrage, if not to another country, then maybe another city or another state. I know a lot of people are rooted to where they are through their community, family, friends. But it's kind of like "Lord of the Rings" — it's little hobbits who are reluctant to leave their village until they absolutely have to.

The first time you move is the most difficult, and then it just gets easier and easier every single time. Being this modern-day, nomadic vagabond is a lot of fun if you let it be.

2024-03-06T00:15:16Z dg43tfdfdgfd