Whether my parents knew it at the time or not, they have changed the generations to come in our family forever by not settling where it was easiest. Both of my parents, and step-parents, fought hard to give my siblings and I the life they couldn’t have as a child. What a blessing it has been to not have to grow up in the same environment as they did. That doesn’t mean we never got the electricity shut off or didn’t know how we were going to pay rent that month. But it did mean we weren’t sleeping on the floor in government housing infested with cockroaches. In comparison to what I have seen in other countries I do not consider my childhood to have been living in poverty, despite the free lunches and food stamps we were able to receive. Growing up wasn’t ever easy but it did teach me some valuable lessons about money.
What I Knew Growing Up
My family doesn’t come from money and so I am not sure that either of my parents were ever taught how to be responsible with their money, so they learned along the way. Before my parents divorced it seemed like we had it all together. My dad worked full time and my mom was able to stay home to raise us three boys. After my parents divorced is when it got difficult. I lived in several houses between the ages of 10 to 15 including, single-wides, double-wides, shacks, apartments, and even a room on top of a barn as long as we promised to feed the cattle every sunrise. My father continued to work full-time and went from being a copier to an IT manager within the same company over his 30 year career. He has recently been able to retire at the age of 52. My mother had part-time jobs here and there but never settled into a career like my father did. It was more important for her to be home with us kids than to be at work just to earn enough to pay for our childcare. I guess I thought there wasn’t much to learn since all I saw was my parents working and living paycheck to paycheck. One thing my parents did instill in me early on was that giving of your resources was important. But I didn’t know about savings accounts or emergency funds, nevermind retirement accounts. I was never taught how to handle money until I got my first job at the age of 16 and had my own bills to pay, but even then I wasn’t taught to plan for the long term. I knew what I had to make to pay my bills and the rest was spent on having fun, not on what brought me joy.
Baby Steps and the Bigger Picture
Before my wife and I began the FI journey we were strict in sticking to Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. I credit him in helping me develop psychological momentum to pay off my student loan debt. After graduating college with an Engineering degree (first to graduate college in my family tree) I moved back in with my dad to save what I could while I started my first full time job and paid off my student loans. I got engaged soon after graduation and it was important to me not to go into marriage with any debt. I also wanted to have enough saved to put down towards a home. My fiancée moved back in with her parents after college and started saving for our home a year before I graduated. She was a year ahead in school and loves to remind me! We agreed to start looking for a house once we had enough saved to put 20% down. We were engaged for two years prior to getting married and by the time we were ready to buy a house together we had more than 20% to put down. At the time we thought it was a smart move to put down the +30% we had saved towards a house. Looking back, we wish we would have only put the 20% down and invested the rest. However, it is nice having a “smaller” mortgage.
After we got married, we continued to follow Dave’s baby steps. Once we hit baby step #5, we felt like there had to be more to it. We both knew we didn’t want to work 9-5 forever. I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset so we began to research ways to produce passive income. One day my boss introduced me to Mr. Money Mustache and after reading the first blog post he sent me, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of Pete’s writing. I began to search for similar blog writers and found a few that lit a fire in me. Speaking of fire, I found Entrepreneurs on Fire, heard Alan Donegan on one of the episodes and ended up having a phone conversation with Alan about a peer to peer tool rental business I was starting. Unfortunately but fortunately, that venture has since dissolved due to many challenges, including taking me away from the joy of spending time with my family. That conversation with Alan then led me to stumble upon ChooseFI as I was searching for more of Alan’s interviews. ChooseFI has been my main source of Financial Independence knowledge since I started listening to Jonathan and Brad.
Welcoming Real Baby Steps
I am now 30 years old and have been happily married to an amazing woman for 5 years who has given us our incredibly fun child. Our son is 14 months old and the light of our world. We have vowed to teach him the value of money as soon as he can comprehend sentences. We hope our actions speak louder than our words and he can learn from watching us and not just listening to what we say he should be doing. The first thing we plan to teach him about money is how to give.
I have always been frugal but FI has taken me to a whole new level. We now manage all of our funds and are very passionate about doing so. My wife hasn’t always been on board. It took her a little more time to come around to the idea than it did me but we’ve started working together daily to find what truly brings us joy. She pushes me in areas where I need to be pushed. I think our differences were rooted in the way we were raised. As I stated earlier, my family never had the money to spend on materialistic things or frequent family vacations. My wife’s family, on the other hand, have been blessed with bigger pockets but have chosen to spend it on things that bring them joy such as a boat and jet-ski, renting a house at the lake for two weeks each summer, going to Disney often, buying nice things for family members during holidays/birthdays and putting their kids through nursing and pharmacy school all the while having enough to still be able to retire comfortably.
Accepting the Challenge
I love a big challenge and if it means having to spend less money and controlling our own finances so we can eventually do what we want then sign me up! I am currently employed as an Engineer for a Pharmaceutical company and although I enjoy what I do, have a great boss and team, and find purpose in helping people stay healthy, I could think of other ways I would rather spend my 40+ hours a week. My goal is not to quit working. My goal is to be intentional about spending more time with my family, being a better husband, a better father, and being able to be more involved in the non-profit ministry I helped start a couple of years ago. My wife used to work full time as a R.N in the labor and delivery unit at a local hospital. Since giving birth to our son she has been able to cut her working hours down to the minimum needed to keep her nursing license. We are blessed to be in a good enough situation to have her be able to stay at home with our son while I work.
Although I started researching FI 3 years ago, my wife and I have only been on our FI journey together for just over a year now. We were already able to reach a +40% savings rate in 2018, have saved enough to have our “FU” money locked and loaded and we would say that we are currently around FI milestone 2.5 (or quarter FI). If we were being less conservative and included all of our assets, such as the equity we have in our home, we may be considered over half FI but that isn’t necessarily solid ground. Our plan is for me to stop working my 9-5 by the time our first son starts driving (15-ish years). We will almost certainly hit FI before then but we want to be positive we can sustain our lifestyle even after we choose to stop bringing in an Engineer’s income. We have recently considered purchasing our first rental property to start building that passive income stream to replace our working salaries. If things go as planned, the last day of my career could be sooner but we do not feel rushed or anxious about making that decision.
Joy Along the Journey
Most of our family is bewildered by the abbreviation FI and even more so by the abbreviation RE. But they aren’t surprised that we have jumped on the FIRE train, dedicated serious time to finding our Why of FI, and developed a plan to hit our goals. My wife and I are still working through challenges on spending vs. saving. Our commitment to each other will always be more important to us than our savings account, so we choose our battles carefully.
We have found that lots of those on the journey to FI have missed the joy in the journey along the way or have hit FI but have no sense of joy after reaching their goals. We have been to many poor countries, and the one thing these people in these countries share is joy. They don’t have the everyday distractions to take their joy away. The joy they have is something FI could never bring you. These people could never fathom the term “Financial Independence.” They are both at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid but yet at the very top of the pyramid as well, living a purposeful and fulfilling life, all the while not knowing what or when they may eat again. They have found their purpose in life and have a faith we could not fathom.
If we never hit FI then that will just be another one of our first-world problems. We want our journey to be about experiencing moments that bring joy to our life, together. If we happen to hit FI along our journey then that is just icing on top of the beautiful blessing it is to wake up every morning above ground and be able to have an opportunity each day to make a decision that brings joy to our lives and to the lives of those around us.
By Daniel Lee