I’ve written before that I started blogging in 2011 as a broke college student in a big city with a teensy budget. For a long time, frugality was a form of survival and it helped me not only get out of student loan debt, it helped me save $16,000 which pretty much was my blessed parachute after an engagement came to a crashing halt and I called a wedding off.*
*Let me say, that last part is another story for another day. You’ll just have to tune back in for that symposium of crazy.
For over a year, I lost my “why,” as I wandered aimlessly from season to season. I was happy, and most of all, I finally was comfortable with my life and my finances.
Beyond being incredibly motivated to save up for a 20% down payment, I wasn’t too motivated and started to feel compass-less.
I hustled, sold and saved to work up $52,000 for a down payment on a house I’d be buying on my own. Then I almost lost it to wire fraud.
*Oh my God you guys, that too is another story for another day.
In the space of two hours, I lost $52,660.67 to fraudsters during my house closing, and thank all that is holy in the sky, we got it back.
Yes, I was the magical .01% unicorn that experienced a modern day miracle and recovered her money before the hackers could run off with it, and while I cannot turn water into wine or guess the future, I felt damn lucky from that day on that I had been given the gift of my money back.
Not only was I granted the perspective of losing it all in a flash, but I was also awakened to the fact that as much as it royally sucked to lose it all (for days we thought it was gone for good), I was reminded of the grit that’s inside us all. Come hell or high water I decided that if it were my only option, that I could bust my ass again to earn it back.
I also saw that my power in my network that would rally behind me to do the impossible. I had such amazing, smart people in my life that seemingly came out of the woodwork to support, challenge and guide me.
I woke up to my own tenacity and powerful community support these last few months, but also, I saw how easy it is to become complacent with the status quo if you let yourself slide into it. After some months it took to recover emotionally and adjust to a new chapter of home ownership, I realized I was sliding.
The backyard of our money pit (house). Considering we almost lost my down payment, I’m grateful but not asleep at the wheel. Our yard and pest control issue has been over $3500 since we moved in. Yikes.
So, over the last few months- in between bleeding out from all the things that already broken or messed up (HVAC, brand new roof failed, electrical issues, skunk infestation) that were supposed to be brand-spankin’ new in a fully renovated house, my other half and I sort of continued the slippage into routine and consumerism that most Americans find themselves in.
Entitlement. Convenience. Thoughtless shopping. Impulse buys. Conveniently not logging into Mint for 6 months. Conveniently. As one does.
But finally, I can say despite all the setbacks of the year, and the many stressors, I’m happy with my life. That happiness though, can easily become complacency with your future. It’s just as easy to be blissful and spendy as it is to be miserable and hiding it with credit card debt.
Being Happy, Doesn’t Mean You Know What You’re Doing:
I am so friggin’ smitten for my guy, and I love this little ramshackle money pit. My home is a completely renovated 1934 craftsman style home in what may be considered a historic neighborhood of the Alamo city.
It’s also in a neighborhood my Canadian father lovingly described as “like LA before it was cool and expensive but people got stabbed a lot,” which I instead, refer to as “up and coming,” because, obviously.
When you don’t pay attention to your spending choices, this treadmill of lifestyle inflation can be a giant distraction from purpose and meaning, but damn, it is fun! The last few months have been a pendulum of bliss and anxiety when it comes to my spending, it all just happens so fast when you buy a home.
Don’t get me wrong- I love filling my house with shit. I love it when people come over and tell me my place is adorable, since truly, I lack the taste to be anything like A Beautiful Mess and am totally dependent on affirming praise.
I have a space that’s MINE. I have plants and a fireplace and yes, my beloved clawfoot tub. It’s ME. I have a chalkboard wall y’all. People sign it. It’s so adorable. And like, probably not in style anymore, but I friggin’ love it. Whoever draws a dick on it at my first big party (as they invariably will) will be banned from the entire zipcode I’m that possessive of it.
I knew that my lifestyle and spending was inflating, but I didn’t feel motivated for a long time to grab the reigns again until my good friend Laura (who has an uber successful career in the Army and is way braver and fitter and yes, smarter, than I could ever dream of being. How is she my friend willingly?) sent me a link to a ChooseFI podcast about travel hacking to follow up from a conversation.
The other half and me looking just the way you should with a good Instagram filter on a fancy night out.
Travel hacking is the practice of opening credit cards for travel points/miles bonuses and then closing them after cashing out on a point bonus to use to bring your travel costs down to $0, but only doing so if you pay off the balance each month.
Over the last few years, I have earned probably four free flights and several hotel stays doing this both in the U.S. and to Europe, but have been far from strategic about it. Of course, this one podcast about travel hacking was really good and then I wanted to learn more from the smart guys on the podcast.
Finally, the frugality of my 20’s had new relevance, and paired with the very little experience I’ve had with “big girl” finances of my 30’s, it now had a direction:
FIRE- Financial Independence / Retire Early.
Light bulbs went off as I binge listened to those first hours of interviews and concepts. The FI or FIRE community is all about simply making smarter choices, and taking your life off of autopilot and hacking your life through savvy, strategic frugality so you can invest your dollars in your future and quite literally buy your time back.
No you don’t have to live in austerity to make it work, just make smart adjustments to their spending and tweaks to their investing and figured out how they could retire decades ahead of age 65. Here’s a helpful post explaining more about the terms FI/RE and how they’re achieved.
Discovering a Path To Financial Independence That Fits Who I Am:
In my 20’s, I often felt deflated that you’d have to make over $100,000 a year or be someone like Pat Flynn or Tim Ferris who were uber successful to be able to feel that kind of financial freedom that most of mainstream American has to work until they’re 65 to achieve.
Of course, that’s because that’s what traditional financial advisors tell us and honestly, it’s overwhelming and depressing. You either were extraordinary and could call your own shots, or you were ordinary and your career was like a prison sentence.
I often felt overwhelmed with the two paths, thinking that was all there was. In my 20’s figuring out how to be successful to win my future back was stifling and the mainstream idea of scrimping by until 65 was depressing. So, the wind in my sail was gone. Why bother?
The Financial Independence community helped me get my spark back. I have a compelling “why” again and a path to achieve it that seems right. I can carve my own path and live a good life now but be smarter about it. Success on my own terms and buying my future back with financial freedom is attainable again.
So, What Next? How is Financial Independence Going To Look & Feel?
I feel some days like I’m drinking from the fire hose. I currently spend way too much money and have been spending a lot on both my home and keeping Virtual Charity Runs and Frugal Beautiful up and running. Even when I took a personal break from blogging, there were still expenses and they added up.
I currently save about 35-40% of my income, but that fluctuates since I’ve had recurring, big expenses month after month because of the house. I have a 20 year mortgage instead of a 30 year to more aggressively pay down that debt. Most people in the FI realm are saving at least 65% of their income and that will be a goal I aspire to, to save smarter.
I also don’t have an investment account, but I need to shave my expenses to get there. I’m working with my fella to calculate what my financial targets need to be and what I would need to save to retire, and when I want to retire. This article is really helpful in outlining how many FIRE folks view and plan for early retirement.
So, here are my current goals:
- Get my savings rate (meaning, how much I save and invest from my take home pay) from about 35-40% to 65%. I will need to read up on more inspiring frugality hacks that other folks use.
- Open up a Vanguard account and start investing in index funds. Being honest, I don’t even completely understand the whole index funds thing, but I’m not going to keep that from getting started since it’s pretty reliable. Again, LOTS to learn.
- Work on earning an extra $1,000 in side hustle income from AirBnb and blogging every month and using that $1,000 with a 60/40 split. 60% goes to investing, 40% goes to paying a bit extra on my mortgage every month. Is that the best way? Not sure, but for right now, it’s the plan.
- Sticking to a $332 budget on Christmas gifts. Why? Because that’s all I socked away this year with weekly $10 automatic deposits (and had to spend some of it on house stuff).
So, I have so much to learn about the FIRE community and becoming financially independent for what I’ll call Frugal Life 2.0 and I’m finally super excited again about saving money and where I’m putting it. I started this blog months ago because I wanted to feel wonder again- that spark you have as a kid but lose it along the way when you learn you need to settle down, color inside the lines, and nothing is certain but death and taxes.
Finally, I am ready to blog again because there are others who get what I was after, and I had no idea it already had a name and a community. You don’t have to be like everybody else, you can live life on your own terms and reclaim your freedom by doing things just slightly different, and more optimal than the mainstream.
I really suck at math, but I’m hoping I’ll figure it out eventually. The lifestyle I craved has a name and my values have a welcoming community….so, here’s to finding FIRE!
So, have you heard of the Financially Independent and Retire Early community? Does it get you excited or does it sound totally bonkers?