Even though we all have our unique money journeys, I think my story is normal and I am just your average guy. I am an enlisted Marine who made far too many financial mistakes through my career, as many enlisted members do.
Thankfully, I made some OK decisions along the way, like investing in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).
Wealth Building After Divorce
My story starts in 2015. I received orders to move across the country after a messy divorce. At the time, I had $20k to my name and was stationed in Mississippi.
Already in the service for 11 years, I put a lot of hard work into my career and did not want to get into another challenging career after the military.
I started by reading Dave Ramsey books and joining his Facebook groups. I found the groups were not as helpful for my circumstance. I was already debt-free. I wanted to grow my wealth.
While searching for a better fit, I found Mr. Money Mustache’s blog and group, and eventually felt like I had found my tribe in the FI/FIRE community.
I started reading books and listening to podcasts like it was going out of style. I learned about investing, asset allocations, and wealth building.
But I was scared to dive into the investing world. I was investing in my TSP and in a Roth IRA at T. Rowe Price, but never maxed the Roth IRA contribution in any prior year.
In 2016, I switched the Roth IRA to Vanguard and made an investment plan based on simplicity. I wasn’t trying to chase returns.
“Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
After reading so much about Financial Independence and how simple the math was, I felt confident that I had the tools to become Financially Independent.
I started to read more about index funds and loved the approach JL Collins’ presented in his book The Simple Path to Wealth. His message is simple: invest as much as you can as often as you can. That’s it.
Without hesitation, I dove right in. In 2016, I started with a roughly 20% savings rate with a $50k-$55k annual salary.
I noticed that many in the Financial Independence community had savings rates of more than 50%. If others were doing it, I felt I could give it a shot and see how it went.
This led me through a path of self-reflection regarding what I value and what was worth my spending. I started going line item by line item on all my expenses over the next six months. By the end of 2016, my savings rate was 50 to 65%.
A pivotal point in my journey came in 2017. I started to get to know more people in the Financial Independence community and built close relationships. They taught me how powerful my military pension and health benefits were, especially compared to that of my civilian peers on the same path.
I took a second hard look at the numbers and realized I had a real possibility of reaching Financial Independence. I would invest as much as I could as often as I could to build wealth through index funds. I refer to this strategy, in combination with a future military pension and very affordable health care, as my trifecta to Financial Independence.
The plan was so simple yet so effective. I absolutely fell in love with index funds. They are like an old used civic, they may not be flashy and are super boring but they get the job done.
Designing Our FIRE Life Now
After a few years of working towards Financial Independence, I realized something was still missing. I had incorporated the Financial Independence strategies and I was confident the plan was solid but this alone didn’t add true purpose to my current everyday life.
I needed to make a change now that would improve things. I took action by writing down how I envisioned my life once I reached Financial Independence. Some words that immediately flowed were flexibility, freedom, nature, family, friends, community, health, intentionality, and sustainability. The epiphany was that my ideal financially independent life was not location specific or dependent.
Outdoor activities including walking, hiking, running, exploring, and camping have a significant impact on my overall happiness and mental health.
I looked into living in an RV full-time. It was pretty overwhelming at first how many different models and classes are available. Of course, as a newbie, I knew zero about them. I researched this for about two years but resisted taking meaningful action because well, I was scared of the unknown.
I started dating my now wife in 2019. We are both members of the FI Community and clicked instantly. She claimed her Financial Independence in 2010. I shared my RV dream and she supported and encouraged me to pursue it.
With her encouragement, I purchased our RV and Truck as a package deal in late 2019. We moved into the RV in December of 2019 and have not looked back.
By doing this, I have been able to increase my savings rate in the high cost of living city of San Diego from 45% to 50% up to 65% while living closer to work and enjoying our new lifestyle.
My housing expenses went from more than $2k a month for a one-bedroom apartment to $1.2k for the RV and truck loan and campground fees with all utilities included.
We split our time between two RV parks in San Diego, one on Coronado Island on a private beach and the other on the harbor in downtown San Diego. This lifestyle change increased my wealth building and my happiness levels, which to me is a total win.
Purpose, Hobbies and Happiness
Life is miserable without purpose. I learned that I was so focused on reaching Financial Independence that I forgot to live a fulfilling life.
Now my focus is finding purpose as often as I can. I try new hobbies that excite me like creating or learning a new skill. I’ve found it incredibly powerful to focus on what I can control and leave the rest behind. This has had the biggest impact on my happiness levels.
Life becomes super cheap once you figure out what you value and spend your time and resources based on that.
For us, that is time together just talking and walking on the beach and hiking, exploring new places in nature. It’s my wife cooking a nice meal. It’s being intentional with our time and focus. It’s watching an episode or three of Ozark on Netflix!
I am truly happy with our lifestyle and we spend less than $30,000 a year to live an incredible lifestyle with our two Great Danes.
Our Future of Financial Independence
We are loving the RV lifestyle. My planned FIRE date is September 2024, when my pension should cover all expenses. I’ll still have investments as well to cover any additional expense.
But, from the looks of it, my cash flow alone will be double what we spend now living in San Diego. We’ve discussed options once I achieve Financial Independence. My wife is eager for that day.
Option one is to explore in the RV and maybe begin investing in rental properties.
Option two is us moving to France and buying a castle and hopefully having a few more Great Danes!
Option three is moving down to Guatemala where my wife has a house and lives months out of the year.
That is why Financial Independence is such a great goal – you have the freedom and flexibility to choose where and how to live your life. We may choose one of these three options or something entirely different and rewarding.
No matter what option we select, our life will be filled with passion, purpose, freedom, and friendship.
By David Cole of Money Fitness Journey