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A computer engineer who retired at 31 with $1 million saved explains how her career changed her perspective on money

Catherine Rice
Kristy Shen

(Kristy and her husband Bryce in Kyoto, Japan.Courtesy of Kristy Shen)

Kristy Shen acknowledges that it can be easy to spend money based on emotions or passing trends.

But the 31-year old, who retired in 2014 with $1 million in the bank, said her career as a computer engineer taught her to be rational about her spending and to resist the herd mentality.

On the podcast So Money, Shen told host Farnoosh Torabi that FOMO, or fear of missing out, can be a driving force of spending for many people. She has often thought, "I've got to do this, because everybody else is doing this," she told Torabi.

Shen said she often saw FOMO come into play when people around her started buying homes.

"People are just making decisions, not because it's a good investment, but because they're getting emotionally pulled into saying, 'Oh no! I'm going to miss out! What if other people are in the market and I'm not in the housing market?'" Shen said. 

However, Shen said that working in engineering taught her to focus on math rather than emotion when it came to her money. "I think engineering may have helped us, because we actually stepped back and looked at the numbers and said, 'Wait. This doesn't make any sense.'" Here's Shen:

"It's separation from the FOMO, which is based on feelings rather than fact, and then stepping up and doing the math and realizing, 'Wait, I don't want to do what everyone else is doing. Maybe they're not right. Just because everyone is doing it, it doesn't mean it's correct.'"

Shen also mentioned that engineers often seem not to care as much about status symbols and showing off their wealth:

"We have the potential to earn a lot of money, but then we don't really care about the aesthetics of it. We don't care about showing off with a nice car.

"I think for engineers, it's just like, 'How can I optimize?' and that's the only thing I care about, just optimize, and then all the other aesthetics doesn't matter. I think that's probably the key in why there are so many engineers who are financially independent."

Check out Shen's blog, Millennial Revolution, for more about saving money, early retirement, and traveling cheaply.

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