I can’t believe that it’s only been a little over two years since my husband and I discovered Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE). It’s crazy that in such a short period of time, we were able to get closer to financial independence. And it didn’t take much, but a little bit of intentionality.
Our journey to financial independence started in January 2018. I will never forget listening to the first episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast with Mr. Money Mustache. All I can say is that it changed our lives.
At that time, my husband and I thought we were doing pretty well financially. We “owned” a house, cars, and motorcycles. We were taking nice vacations. But behind all of that, we were actually knee-deep in debt: $600k to be exact!
My husband is in law enforcement and I work as a nurse. Income was never an issue. We were always able to cover our expenses, but we were living paycheck to paycheck and did not pay ourselves first.
I guess you could say that we didn’t know any better and were simply going with the flow.
In the beginning I hesitated about the idea of FIRE since I didn’t think it was possible. After investing tons of hours in researching and learning about it, it is safe to say that I knew the math behind it is pretty legit!
So, what exactly did we do that got us closer to financial independence the past two years?
Spoiler Alert: We did not do anything extraordinarily crazy.
The three things we did that got us closer to our financial independence goals are actually quite simple, actionable, and replicable.
1. Knowing Our WHY FI
Our WHY FI has evolved in many ways since the beginning of our journey.
Discovering FIRE happened the same month my husband, a police officer, got injured at work. Let’s just say that the incident fueled my curiosity about FIRE.
Initially, it’s about the “RE” part. I simply wanted to find a way to get my husband to retire early the fastest we could.
As we’re going through the journey, I have realized the importance of the “FI” part and how it would allow us to design our best lives. The possibilities are endless when you no longer have to constantly worry about money.
Now I find myself pondering a lot about my purpose in life and how I can make a bigger impact in my community. I think this is what financial independence is all about.
2. Tracking Our Finances
Prior to learning about FIRE, we didn’t track our finances. We were living paycheck to paycheck and had so many liabilities that it didn’t even matter. We got paid and we paid the bills, that was the cycle.
Tracking our finances was such a game changer. I can’t emphasize enough how this single action is so important in our journey.
And no, I’m not talking about budgeting. It is simply just knowing how much money is coming in and where your money is going.
I spent the first few months of our journey just analyzing what percentages are being spent in the different expense categories.
Doing the analysis allowed me to create a solid plan to decrease how much we were spending, especially in the three highest household expenses.
3. Optimizing Our Expenses
We started and focused on THE BIG THREE: housing, transportation, and food.
We live in a high cost of living (HCOL) city in Los Angeles County. To increase our savings rate, we have to be really intentional.
The first step we took was to sell our house. This allowed us to decrease our housing expense by more than half. Our mortgage and home equity loan payments in January 2018 were $3500. Currently, we rent an apartment for $1500.
This decision wiped out $480k of mortgage and home equity loans. On top of that, we paid off $58k of consumer debt and a $10k car note. And, with the remainder of the profit we started investing. Woohoo!
Selling our house gave us a big head start in our FIRE journey and is one of the best moves we made.
Side story: We didn’t know about FIRE when we decided to sell our house. We wanted to get into out-of-state real estate investing to “make more money.” It happened that BiggerPockets launched the BiggerPockets Money Podcast the same month we closed on the sale, which also was the same month my husband got injured at work. It’s funny how it all worked out. We would have been so leveraged and would be in so much trouble today if we ended up investing in real estate without an actual plan or an end goal. This is why I strongly believe that things happen for a reason.
Now, let’s talk about transportation. Prior to FIRE, we owned multiple cars and motorcycles. Not only were we paying multiple loans, but we were also spending a lot on gas, maintenance, and insurance.
We optimized this expense by currently sharing one used, paid-in-full, fuel-efficient car.
At first, I was a little worried about sharing one car, but it turned out to be another great move. Fortunately, with our work schedules we are able to do this with no issues.
I must say that having no car payment is wonderful.
Lastly, I was able to lower our food expenses by cooking more at home and bringing our lunches to work.
We now have a grocery shopping schedule/routine and stick to our grocery list.
We still have a lot of room for improvement in this category, but just doing simple and intentional things has made a big impact on decreasing our monthly food expense.
In just over two years we’ve increased our savings rate from 0-10% (if that?) to 50% (on average). We are not completely debt free yet. I still have my student loan to take care of, but it is planned to be paid off by the end of this year (2020). This will increase our savings rate to 65%. We’re definitely looking forward to that.
There are still a lot of unknowns. If we keep doing what we’re currently doing, we can reach our FI number of $1 million by the end of 2024. Last year, we even set a date of “retiring” by February 14, 2025 (our anniversary). I believe we can get there faster if we hustled and worked like crazy.
However, we’re also considering other business ideas and possibly delaying FI. The great thing about optimizing finances is having flexibility. It is giving us more options to design our lives the way we want. And, we’re exploring those options.
Currently on the top of our list are real estate investing, relaunching our photography business, and putting more time and focus on my blog.
One thing that we’re also realizing is the importance of enjoying the journey. I don’t think it makes sense to work like crazy and wait until we are officially financially independent to start pursuing our dreams or passions. You can begin pursuing dreams and passions before achieving financial independence.
We still have a long way to go, but these three simple things have gotten us so much closer to our FIRE goals.
It started with our WHY and followed by tracking and optimizing our finances. Last year alone, we were able to save/invest over $100k. We’re on track to do the same this year.
From someone who has made countless money mistakes, I can assure you that with some intentionality you too can reach financial independence.
By Krizelle Pum of www.themintedlatte.com