A FIRE-side Chat with ESI Money

A FIRE-Side Chat

Hello $wanigans! Today I’m dishing up another FIRE-Side chat with my special guest, ESI Money. This is a new interview series I’ve started to share the journey toward FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early) from others. I’m a believer that personal finance is personal and it is important to find our own path toward FIRE. That is why I think hearing from others as we share a journey toward FIRE is a great way to help us formulate our own ideas and our own path.

If you are on your own journey toward FIRE and want to share your story with a FIRE-Side chat, reach out to me via my contact page.

Without further ado, let’s hear from ESI Money…

A FIRE-Side Chat with ESI Money

Introduction Questions:

First, tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are and what’s your story?

I’m a 50-something guy who’s been married 25 years and has two kids (son, 20; daughter 18). We live in Colorado (and LOVE it!).

I grew up and went to school in the Midwest and have lived in a handful of states since.

I enjoy football, soccer, hiking, chess, and money — not necessarily in that order. 🙂

When did your interest in personal finance begin? Did your parents have an active role in your financial literacy growing up?

My parents had no role in my financial literacy other than to show me how NOT to manage money and how I DIDN’T want to live my life.

My interest in personal finance was a gradual process which built upon itself through a series of events. Some of the highlights include:

  • I grew up rather poor and knew I didn’t want to live that way when I became an adult. From the earliest of ages I wanted to become wealthy. As such all my career choices were directed towards high-paying professions. I went through several options. The series was veterinarian, then lawyer, and finally executive.
  • We got married and started helping others with their finances (mostly budgeting) at our church. Prior to that we had to take several weeks of training which laid a great foundation for understanding money. As we continued to counsel others and I saw a wide variety of financial situations, my knowledge skyrocketed.
  • About the same time I read The Millionaire Next Door and started applying the concepts there. It was the most influential money book of my life.
  • In 2005 I started a money blog. As I wrote about money I learned more about what it really took to become wealthy. It helped crystallize my thoughts and forced me to take action. The readers there were amazing and together we all worked on growing our net worths.

For more specifics on my life you can see My Money Milestones.

At what point did you learn about and begin your FIRE journey?

I started mentally when I was young. I knew I wanted to become wealthy and retiring early was part of that. (FYI, I’ll speak about “retiring early” throughout this interview but I’m referring to financial independence as well. FI helped me to RE so they are linked together closely.)

As I grew in my knowledge of how to handle money, early retirement became more and more of a goal.

I set an arbitrary amount in both assets and income for what I thought it would take to retire early. Then through a series of events I became very tired of work. I wanted to leave for good. I calculated a very specific retirement budget and found that I had enough to retire at any time. So that’s what I did!

FIRE Journey Questions:

Where are you currently on your path toward FIRE? Just starting, retired already, or somewhere in the middle?

I just retired this past summer. You can read about it at I Retired!

If you are already in FIRE, reflect on your path and if there were any things you would change if you had to do it again? Or conversely, what would you make sure you do again on your journey?

If I was to start over again there are a few things I’d do differently:

  • I’d do it with more purpose. As noted above, I had a general goal in mind of what it took to retire. It wasn’t until very recently that I challenged my own assumptions and saw I had enough to retire now. I’d set a very specific goal early on if I had to do it all over again.
  • I’d save more earlier on. One of my worst money mistakes was waiting to save and invest. I lost several years on the front end and those compounding years are very valuable.
  • I’d invest more in real estate. I’ve done well with real estate but one of my worst mistakes was not buying more when I had a great buying opportunity. If I had just relaxed my return requirements a bit (opting for 9% versus 10%) I’d have twice the units I have now and be making over $100k easily from real estate alone. That said, I’m thankful for the properties I have as they make up 70% of my retirement income.
  • I’d retire earlier. Retiring at 52 isn’t bad. But retiring at 45 or even 40 would be better. 🙂

Tell me how you would consider your FIRE journey to be unique.

Many people who seek to retire early save a huge percentage of their income (50%+) for a relatively short period of time (10-15 years) and then retire with an annual spending budget that’s rather modest ($30k-$50k per year).

I saved a good amount (20%-30%) of my income and invested for growth first and later for income. I retired later than most but with enough assets to generate the income needed to cover all our living expenses. So I’ll be able to either pass along or give away a few million dollars when I die. Or perhaps I’ll just go wild and spend like a fiend for the next 30 years! 😉

Along the way we gave away about 20% of our income to charity. Helping those who are less fortunate has always been a key part of our family’s values.

Strategizing FIRE Questions:

What has been your primary motivation to reach FIRE?

To have the freedom to decide what I want to do with my time.

As you get older you realize that you can always make more money but time is a truly limited resource. I want to make the most of the time I have left and “working” falls low on the priority list.

For now I simply want to be at home during the last year our kids will live with us. I can always go back to work if I choose to (not sure if I will or not, at this point I’m leaning towards “not”), but I’ll never get these years back with my children.

What has been your greatest success in the “engineering” your life path or lifestyle? Or are you more of the “go with the flow” type?

Two things really stand out in my effort to retire early:

  • I grew my career to where we had significant income to save and invest.
  • I bought rental real estate near the bottom of the market in 2010. Those 14 units are now the majority of our retirement income.

I can’t remember where I heard this first, but I hold dear the advice that it is important to “retire to” something rather than “retiring from” something. What will you be retiring to?

I retired to the “freedom to choose”.

Most of my life was “have to do this” and “have to do that”. I wanted freedom to do what I wanted.

I’m still figuring out what I want to spend time on as you can see from my 100-day retirement update.

I’m handling retirement as I would any major life event and not making any big decisions one way or the other for now. I’m going to give it at least six months before I commit to any longer-term plans.

So far I’m enjoying just letting each day develop as it may. It’s completely different than what life was like when I was working.

What will your housing situation be like in retirement? Do you plan on moving to a low cost area, to the beach or mountains? Or will you become nomadic, traveling the world more freely?

For now we live in Colorado (I see the mountains every day!) with our two kids. One heads off to college next fall and the other will likely move out close to that time. We plan to stay in Colorado (have you ever been here? It’s awesome!) but may downsize at some time. The challenge is we really love our neighborhood and our house is paid off, so who knows, we may stay in a large house even when there are only two of us.

Another wild card is my parents. They would like to retire and move out here sometime, but when and how are still big unknowns. So we’re working with them to try and figure things out.

We will be traveling a bit — most likely to warm places in the winter. We love the Caribbean and would like to see Australia and Hawaii.

Side-note from The Green Swan…I have been to Colorado a number of times and have loved it as well. I have numerous family members that live there and eventually I could see this as a retirement destination for us as well!

Wealth Creation Questions:

Retiring early is quite an extraordinary feat…and requires some pretty extraordinary behaviors to rapidly create wealth. In your focus on wealth creation, do you tend to gravitate toward making more money or arresting expenses?

My whole wealth creating philosophy boils down to three steps — earn, save, and invest. It’s the basis for the blog I now run.
So I think all three are important. You can’t save your way to wealth if your income is too low. You can’t make progress if you spend like crazy even if your income is sky-high. And you can’t really generate the assets you need unless you have at least some basic investing skill.

I was great at generating income, good at saving it, and ok at investing — and that was enough to generate a multi-million dollar net worth.

What has been one of your biggest successes in either advancing your career to make more money or taking control on the expense side to progress on your journey toward FIRE?

Two things really propelled my career:

  • I got an MBA at a good school and made the most of it. Many of the specifics are contained in my post titled Five Steps to Six Figures in Seven Years.
  • I actively manged my career to grow it. Many people don’t realize that their career is a multi-million dollar asset that they can make worth more if they just take a few steps. In addition to extra earnings, it’s likely they will enjoy their jobs more as well. I was able to do this and it propelled our finances.

While controlling expenses are important, you still need to live and enjoy life. What is one or two of your favorite areas to spend money on?

Traveling.

We’ve been to Chicago, NYC, DC, and many other cities as a family.

We’ve been to Disney World, the Wisconsin Dells, and a handful of other amusement parks.

My wife and I have been to Russia three times.

My wife and kids did humanitarian work in the Dominican Republic.

We’ve taken several marvelous cruises to the Caribbean and have had my parents with us on those trips twice.

We now live in Colorado and have been enjoying trails, the mountains, and all the things tourists come here to see (and more!)

They say that memories/experiences are more valuable than possessions and as such we’ve focused on those.

The Wrap-Up:

If you won the lottery or received a large inheritance to the tune of $1 million or so, what would you do with it and why?

I’d invest it for income. I don’t need anything else but would like a tad more income each year. Right now the income we generate is just 10% or so higher than our spending and I’d like a bit more of a cushion.

Of course we could dip into our assets but I don’t want to do that yet.

What is your favorite finance and non-finance related book, podcast, magazine, blog, etc and why?

I read a lot and unfortunately only a few books are worth mentioning (so many are bad). I like The Millionaire Next Door, The Richest Man in Babylon, and Your Money or Your Life as finance books.

I like The Miracle Morning as a non-finance book. It doesn’t mean as much to me now as it did when I was working, but the principles in it are life-changing for people who want more out of their lives.

I actually have a category of book recommendations on my site.

What advice would you give to folks considering or just starting their journey toward FIRE?

Create a long-term plan of what you’ll need to retire early. This includes developing a retirement budget as well as estimating the assets you’ll need to make that budget work.

As part of this, set a date when you want to retire. You may miss it, but with a date you’ll retire earlier than you would without one.

Then develop plans and a strategy for each of the three main areas I mentioned above (earning, saving, and investing) to make it happen.

If you are a fellow blogger, where can I find you?

You can find me at ESI Money where I write about earning, saving, and investing your way to financial independence.

 

Thanks for sitting down and chatting, ESI! I had a blast!

I hope you give ESI a follow and check out his blog. Look for more FIRE-side chats to be featured here in the future. And if you are interested in a FIRE-side chat, give me a shout.

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

 

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  • I loved reading this interview! Most of the FIRE bloggers are in their 30s and 40s, and you can find tons of useful information on those sites. I’m not saying that ESI is “older”, but more life experience definitely gives some extra to this interview beyond how to retire early.
    Thank you Green Swan for sharing and ESI for the valuable advices!

    • JW

      I completely agree! I love hearing from the folks who have been there and done that. ESI is a great role model for many of us.

    • Ha! I AM older — thanks for noticing!!! 😉

  • I really like that you integrate giving back into your finances, even before achieving FI. And congrats on the early retirement!

    Mr. Picky Pincher and I currently save about 50% of our income. Our estimate is that I’ll be able to retire by 35 if all goes as planned. 🙂

  • Great to see you two kids get together!

    Buying real estate when prices were beaten down was a great idea, obviously. Without that buying opportunity, do you think you’d still be working?

    Also, great work on the charitable giving. I’ve given a bit every year, but nowhere near 20% until last year when I started making up for lost time.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • On the real estate question:

      1. If I hadn’t purchased what I did, I may not have retired so soon.

      2. If I had relaxed my criteria just a tiny bit (still GREAT returns), I would have bought much more (like double) and retired a few years ago.

  • Great interview. The point about time being more important than money is worth reflecting on.

  • What a motivating read before I head off to my W-2 this morning. As much as I like my job and enjoy what I do, most days, I still would prefer to have more options, more freedom – the same reasons ESI Money pursued FI. It’s interesting to hear the stories of others who have achieved FI or are heading in that direction. A common theme I have noticed is a childhood that wasn’t entrenched in a ton of cash. I love the idea of these Fire-side Interviews – especially in the winter 🙂 Keep it up!
    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

  • Another great interview GS and thanks for sharing your insights ESI!

    What I like about your approach is that it’s simple for anyone to execute. Work hard, have a plan and stick to it. Rinse and repeat and every year you get a little closer. It’s great that you got out in time to spend some time with the kids before they are gone. My timeline gets my out of the rat race after the kids have flown the coop, but I’m trying to spend as much time with them now as I can.

    Great read!

  • Enjoying this interview series a lot, Swan – thank you. And a really good edition here…great getting to know more about ESI Money. Thanks to you both for the interesting Q&A!

    The real estate investments made at the bottom of the market were obviously excellent. It’s easy to look back and say, “Man, I shoulda done more of that excellent thing!” But it’s never easy – particularly at the moments when the fear factor is greatest and the best deals are available – to do so. And it’s good to have kept the disciplined approach you did since things can always go sideways. That you bought 14 units and they’ve done well is awesome – congrats on the great investment!

  • “I retired to the ‘freedom to choose'”

    I love that line, and will have to make it my own once I reach true financial independence. I’m on FI Lite at the moment. That’s probably the question I ask myself the most now. What am I retiring to? Having a purpose or at least a satisfying reason is what I’ll be spending the next few years figuring out, but the power to choose is by far the most compelling one.

    Not sure when retiring by 50 started sounding like it was late (probably around the time all these early retirement blogs popped up), but great job reaching your goals and milestones. Most people will be working well into their 70s and beyond if we are to believe the retirement stats, with many never reaching that stage…ever.

    • I remember the days when retiring at 50 was VERY EARLY! Of course I remember the days when Nixon was president so…

      I’m almost six months into retirement and am still figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I have a lot of options and ideas and for now I’m just letting them simmer a bit to see if any come to a boil.

      I do have LOTS of fun things I want to do this year including several trips and a hike up Pikes Peak, so my hobbies are keeping me quite busy.

      I’ve had 3-4 job offers since I retired (everyone says what a “waste” it is for me to retire so young and with such good business experience) but I’m not sure I could ever go back — or want to. We’ll see what the future holds. I’m open to many paths and just waiting for the right one to show itself.

      Best of luck to you as you work towards FI!

    • Count me as another person who likes the idea of “freedom to choose”. Financial independence to me is about options. I always find it interesting to see how people progress through various roles. Do you have anything on your blog on how you made these moves: veterinarian, then lawyer, and finally executive and what motivated them?

      • The veterinarian was when I was in middle school. Just knew I wanted to be wealthy and I loved animals. Bam! I’ll be a vet. 🙂

        As I got older and a bit more serious and thoughtful, that’s where the lawyer/executive ideas came in.

        I’ve been writing a series called “My Jobs” where I take readers through every job I’ve ever had, what happened, what I learned, etc.

        I don’t have all of those linked together yet (I plan to as I wrap them up), but you can scroll through my “about” category and read them here:

        https://esimoney.com/category/about/

        If you want the lawyer/exec post specifically, you can find it here:

        https://esimoney.com/my-jobs-college/

  • Great post, and very inspiring story. I love reading about how everyone’s journey to FIRE is different, as well as what they’re doing after escaping from work. It gives me a lot of hope that we will be able to achieve our goal of financial semi-independence. There is no way that we will be able to fully retire before a traditional age, but we should be able to build up assets that will allow us to only work flexible, part-time employment of our own choosing.

  • “I retired to the “Freedom to choose””. That is very well put. I am
    about the same age and am likely retiring next year, and the question I get from people is, “what are you going to do?”
    I’ll borrow your phrase when I answe them from now on.

  • Green Swan, great interview, it would be fun to see more of these!

    Also, The Miracle Morning is a life changing book, I read it recently and believe it has changed my life!

    • JW

      That’s great, Erik! I haven’t read that book myself but will be putting it on my list.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • This is an awesome series, JW. Please keep them coming.

    ESI’s previous blog was the very first personal finance blog I began reading religiously, starting back in 2007 or so. It has had a huge impact on my life and finances. I am a regular reader (though, infrequent commenter) of the ESI blog as well. Thank you both for the tremendous value you provide your readers, myself included.

    Cody