With the script for the American Dream held tightly in hand, I set out to live my dream life by pursuing the one and only path. I knew that a college degree in a high-tech field would give me a head start. I found a career with a real honest-to-goodness pension plan and a 401(k). After 30 years of service, I would be set! My wife worked in education—not the highest paying career, but it too had a pension plan. Score!
We were set, we could furnish our lives with all of the things that bring happiness. We could buy new vehicles; buy our kids all of the neat doo-dads; go on big trips; eat out. In just 30-40 years we would have an amazing life in retirement. That, my friends, is living the dream!
Abruptly Awoken From Our American Dream
Then, it all changed. We had returned from a tough outing in the Colorado mountains, something we’d done dozens of times before. As we continued to live our normal “dream” life, something was off. My wife, Debbie, never recovered from the post-hike aches and pains. The swelling, the joint pain, the lethargy that one typically feels for two to three days after a big hike persisted months later. After several medical appointments and too many visits with doctors performing countless tests, we had an answer—kind of.
My wife’s body was attacking itself. Even though she was only thirty years old, in great shape, and living a pretty typical American lifestyle, her immune system was in severe disorder. It was waging war against the connective tissue throughout her body. Perfectly healthy cartilage was being attacked. The biggest threat being the cartilage that gave structure to her lungs. It was nearly gone. There were talks of extensive surgeries and interventions to artificially support her lungs in hopes of staving off complete collapse and adding years to her life.
No More Hedonic Treadmill For Us
Fear set in. No longer could we calmly enjoy our stroll on the hedonic treadmill. We had some decisions to make:
- What could we do today that would allow Debbie to step out of the role of victim to this disease and reclaim her health? and
- What would we need to give up in order to make room for those changes?
It was “Go” time. My dreams of building huge pensions and retirement accounts while keeping pace on the rat race certainly weren’t the first items on the chopping block. Yet, after weeks—that became months—of research assessing our options, our go-go-go lifestyle and luxurious living afforded by dual-incomes eventually made its appearance in court. It had been found guilty.
My wife had wanted to stay home with our children for much longer than the typical two to three months of maternity leave, but I always found a way to discourage her from doing so. After all, we had things to buy and life to live. We couldn’t afford to have her sitting on the sidelines earning goose eggs. Unfortunately, it took a serious medical condition to wake me up and to get my priorities in order. We decided we would switch to a single-income household, she would stay at home with our four-year-old daughter, take care of her health, and leave the stress of a full-time job. We’d have to make sacrifices and some cuts here and there, but after some planning, we thought we could do it.
Inspired to Design our Future
The new pace of life, her ability to focus on herself and our family was a big help. She had also made significant changes in nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle. She started to deal with some emotional wounds from her childhood that hadn’t fully healed. Things were significantly better!
While watching my brave and committed wife do the necessary healing to improve her life, I began to wonder, what if I could do the same? Although I didn’t have a medical condition to contend with, I did have a terminal disease—life. I had a bucket list ten miles long. Dozens of the items on the list wouldn’t fit practically within the two-week window of annual vacation that I was given. While I still enjoyed my job, the work, and most of my co-workers, I was struggling in a state of cognitive dissonance. I had dreams, but I’d put them off for someday. Someday, when I would be retired, I would be able to drink in the sweet nectar of life and pursue my passions and aspirations. Unfortunately, that was more than 30 years away.
While I have always excelled at delaying gratification, thirty years seemed impossibly far away. With some alterations and modifications, could I get that down to a slightly more palatable twenty-five years? Time to do some Googling!
Discovering Financial Independence
I consider myself extremely blessed to live in an age where so much information and opinion is so freely available to be consumed. Without it, I doubt much would have changed. I wouldn’t have dared to take some of the steps necessary without having read first-hand accounts of the hundreds of others who had paved the way. To all of those pioneers, I say, “Thank You!” You have changed my life in more ways than I can count.
When we downsized our lives to accommodate our one-income household something bizarre happened, we noticed that it wasn’t actually that hard. We were truly happier and more fulfilled than when we had two incomes to spend on the things that we thought brought us happiness.
We discovered that our lifestyle doesn’t cost all that much and we had the ability to save a significant portion of my W2 income if we made choices that align with our values. We made the choice to aggressively save. We then made the choice to take those savings and invest in real estate—both locally (Colorado) and through a turn-key operator from a distance (Memphis, TN). We calculated that we needed approximately $2,500/mo. in order to fund our mortgage-free, car-loan free life. Our calculations also told us that we could cash-flow approximately $200/mo per single-family rental and then we had a pretty simple (not necessarily easy) answer: we needed to acquire 12-13 rental homes to pay the bills.
Going from zero investment properties to thirteen seemed ridiculous. It seemed far fetched and impossibly hard. As with any new habit or big change, looking at the entire task as one can seem daunting. It can put an end to progress before it even begins. We decided to break it up. If we needed to get to thirteen investment homes, we’d need to first get to one. That wasn’t nearly as daunting.
We had to make some phone calls and get connected with our team—realtor, lender, property manager, turn-key operator, maintenance folks, etc.—but it was doable. We just made one phone call at a time, one day at a time. Simple!
Over the next three years, we were able to save, invest, and then re-invest the cash flow from our investment properties, bringing us to where we are today: nineteen single-family homes that not only pay our bills but provide additional income to continue investing—whether buying new properties or eliminating loans on existing properties.
We are Financially Independent (FI).
We now have the freedom of choice in how we’ll choose to embrace the remaining chapters of our lives. We can focus on the things most important to us: health, creation, exploration, growth, and adventure. We feel fortunate, blessed, and privileged to have these freedoms. We are extremely grateful to have the ability to share this with our children before they leave the nest.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I have given notice to my employer that I will be leaving. My family, my friends, and a dozen or so folks in the CampFI community know as well. We’ll be setting out on a new life full of adventure. We’ll be traveling, learning, giving, and continuing to “work” our way through our lives. We’re excited, although a little scared. We’re ready for the unknown. We’re ready for a life of our own design.
What Are You Waiting For?
Is something from our story resonating with you? Have you felt nudgings from within—a call for change? Maybe you’ve waited so long that those nudges have turned into full-on pleading from the depths of your soul. The truth is, there’s no magic here…well, maybe that’s not the whole truth. When the story is told from start to finish, as it is above, it does seem a little magical, doesn’t it? But you should know that the same magic that’s available to us, is available to you too. The thing is, the real truth—if we can do it, you absolutely can too. You don’t even have to wait for some medical condition or mid-life crisis to turn the ship around, but if that’s what it takes, so be it. Find what it is that ignites the flame of vitality within. Use it to motivate you toward the next choice, just the next one, one at a time. Eventually, down that path you could only take one step at a time anyway, you’ll find Financial Independence. It’s waiting right there, just for you.
By Chris and Debbie Emick of gobucketyourself.com