I invested most of my salary for 7 years and had enough to retire at 29. My best tips: start young, take risks and don’t settle in expensive cities.

Daniel George traveling in Iceland.Courtesy of Daniel George

  • Daniel George worked at Google X and then as a VP for JP Morgan after receiving his Ph.D. in 2018.

  • That year, he started investing most of his income and was living off 2% of his investments by 2023.

  • Daniel shares five things that were key to achieving financial freedom and quitting his job at 29.

This is an as-told-to essay based on a transcribed conversation with Daniel George, the cofounder of ThirdEar AI. Daniel George provided documents to verify his finances. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

At the age of 29, I reached financial independence to retire early.

After finishing my Ph.D. at 24 in 2018, I worked at Google X, leading AI for secret early-stage moonshot projects. In 2020, I left for a VP role at JP Morgan and stayed with the firm until 2023.

Starting with only $1,000 in 2017, I had aggressively invested my income in stocks and crossed my first $1 million in my late 20s. By 2023, my yearly expenses in the US had become less than 2% of my investments, so I left my job.

I don’t need to worry about earning a salary again, so I can work on whatever I’m most passionate about. I spend my time building my startup, ThirdEar AI, an AI that gives real-time help and suggestions without prompts.

Here are the ways I was able to do it:

1. Avoid educational debt

I grew up in Kerala, India, where my parents made less than $20,000 a year. I wouldn’t have been able to afford an undergraduate education in the US or even go to private colleges in India without taking on debt. So I decided to study in a government college in India which is much cheaper.

I studied hard for a test students in India take every year for college admissions. I was ranked among the top 0.1% and got to study engineering and physics at the India Institute of Technology Bombay, a top public university in India. The entire cost was only about $1,200 a year, including tuition, housing, and food.

Instead of taking on debt to pursue a master’s degree, I applied directly for a Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

You can apply directly for Ph.D. programs in the US without getting a master’s degree first. Ph.D. students at US universities will often get their tuition fees waived and receive a stipend from day one — usually $2,000 to $3,000 monthly. You get a free master’s degree two years into the Ph.D. program, saving you time and money.

I moved to Illinois in 2015. In two years, I received a free master’s degree. After just one more year, I finished my Ph.D. early at age 24.

My entire education didn’t cost me anything overall. I only needed half of the stipend I received to cover living costs; the leftover income was far more than the cost of my undergraduate degree.

2. Invest aggressively in stocks when you’re younger

I also made a side income during my Ph.D. by working part-time and doing summer internships at tech companies. Most of the money I made initially sat in a bank account, earning negligible interest. In the final year of my Ph.D., I slowly started buying stocks.

I learned more about investing. When I started working full-time at Google X, I began investing all my savings. I spent less than 10% of my compensation at Google X and invested every dollar after taxes in the stock market — mostly tech stocks. I didn’t invest in anything other than stocks and kept no cash savings.

The earlier you invest, the better because of compounding exponential growth. However, this growth is coupled with a lot of risk and volatility. However, time in the market beats timing the market. Even if stocks go down, they usually will go back up if you can wait long enough without selling.

When you’re young and working, you can handle the risk and market volatility because you have an income from your job and lower living costs.

When you’re older or retired, you probably want to diversify into safer, less volatile assets like bonds, treasuries, and regular savings accounts.

3. Work in expensive cities at first but don’t settle in them long-term

In San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, the compensation for many jobs can be much higher. This doesn’t usually help toward saving because the cost of living there is also high.

Moving to these cities early in your career when you don’t have much expenses means you can take full advantage of this high income to accelerate your savings rapidly.

When I started working at Google X in Mountain View, California, I made about $270,000 a year. I shared a nice apartment with friends, ate most of my meals at Google offices, and didn’t have other major expenses, so I spent less than 10% of my income.

Eventually, when you want to settle down, you can multiply the value of your savings by moving to places where living expenses are significantly lower.

4. Learn to negotiate pay

For my first job at Google X, I was given an offer right after grad school and accepted it immediately.

I had friends who joined at a lower-level role than me without a Ph.D. but were getting paid triple the stocks because they negotiated by showing Google counter offers from other companies.

When JPMorgan approached me about a job a couple of years later, I had a lot of leverage because I made sure to get several offers from tech companies and hedge funds. I also invested some time to learn about negotiation strategies.

I leveraged other offers, avoided specific numbers when discussing salary expectations, and looked at all aspects of my pay package when interviewing at JP Morgan. I negotiated my pay well and got nearly double the initial compensation they offered.

5. Find a partner who has similar goals

My wife and I met at Google X. We were around the same age and had both done Ph.

D.s in AI. We had similar income, and we each have roughly equal savings invested in separate stock accounts.

We share the same mindset about spending and investing, splitting our expenses equally. We both enjoy a minimalist digital nomad lifestyle, valuing travel and experiences over owning expensive material possessions, which is why I could retire early.

If you want one, finding the right partner is one of the most important factors in your long-term happiness and success.

Read the original article on Business Insider