A FIRE-Side Chat with Liz from Chief Mom Officer

FIRE-Side

Hello folks! I have something special for you today, a FIRE-side chat with Liz from Chief Mom Officer! The FIRE-side chat is an 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. I think hearing from others is a great way to help us formulate our own ideas and our own path.

So without further ado, let’s hear from Liz from Chief Mom Officer!

Introduction Questions:

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

Hi everyone! I’m Liz, the Chief Mom Officer, and I’m a 36 year old bread-winning mom of three working in IT by day, and blogging about money by early morning. My husband is a stay at home dad to our awesome three boys – ages 13, 9, and 2 – while I head off to work 12+ hour days at a Fortune 100 company. It’s an unusual situation for most, but it works great for us! I don’t have to worry about early mornings, late meetings, or work travel – they’re all covered. I’m also an avid reader, gardener, artist, frugal family fun finder, and pet mom to a dog & cat.

When did your interest in personal finance begin?

I’ve been interested in personal finance and investing since I was a teenager, when I read the book The Wealthy Barber at the library. It really opened my eyes to just how easy it can be to set yourself up to be financially secure. Heck, I even opened my first IRA with savings from my grocery store cashier gig as a teen!

As I got older, I read more and more books about personal finance. I found myself getting more interested in the topic as time went by, but none of my peers were. My entry into the job market, and investments, coincided with the start of the so-called “lost decade” of the S&P 500, where for 10 years the market was essentially flat. Fortunately, even though the market wasn’t producing those returns I was reading about in my books, I never gave up. The savings and investments I built over the lost decade have paid off in spades during this market run up we’ve been having lately.

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

I like to say that I’ve been on a 20 year journey towards FI, because I’ve been working toward financial independence ever since I was a teenager. But I first learned about FIRE through the book Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robbin. That book still ranks up in the top four books that changed my financial life, and for good reason. It completely changed the way I viewed the trade-off between my time and my money. Even today, I still think of my purchases in the context of how much “life energy” I’m trading to get that thing I’m looking to buy.

Although some of the information in that book would be dated now, the concept is still valid. Every choice you make financially is a trade-off between your time and your money. You’re trading your time – your life energy – for money. Whenever you buy something, you’ve decided that thing/experience/whatever is worth the amount of your life you used in order to obtain it. When you instead set that money aside for a higher goal – like financial independence – you can eventually reach a “crossover point” where the money you’ve set aside pays for your life. So instead of trading your time for money, you get to have the money and your time back. It’s a powerful concept.

Of course, over the years I’ve also turned to bloggers who share a similar desire for FI, such as Mr. Money Mustache.

FIRE Journey Questions:

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

I’d say I’m solidly in the middle. As mentioned above I started many years ago with a desire to reach FI, and I’ve been working toward it for some time. The RE part came later, but I’ve always thought of early retirement as retiring at 50. I’m a firm believer that you need to be ready to retire to something, and not from something – but I’m still figuring out what that something is.

If you are still on the road to FIRE, when do you expect to reach your goal and what’s your strategy to achieve it?

I’m (almost) definitely going to meet my goal by 50, but I’m aiming for between 40-45 right now. I have a multiple pronged strategy that’s different than most:

1 – Max out tax-deferred retirement accounts every year

2 – Pay off the mortgage on my house, to free up cash flow

3 – Use the freed up cash flow to fully fund my college compact with my three boys

4 – Once those goals are met, set the extra aside to fund expenses until traditional retirement age

5 – Figure out what RE means to me!

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

My story is unique in that I’ve had to overcome a lot to get where I am today. I started my adult life making $22k per year working in a call center, working full time while going to school full time to pay my way through community college/state college. I graduated debt free but for many years did not earn a high income. I also had my oldest son when I was 23 – for years after he was born, my household made a low enough income to qualify for the retirement savings credit. And as mentioned above, I had a decade of saving and investing that earned essentially nothing.

About five years ago now, my husband almost died of septic shock when I was 31 and he was 37. It was a catastrophic medical event that continues to impact our lives – and his health – to this day. He was in the ICU on a ventilator in a coma for a week, he’s had multiple surgeries, reconstructive surgeries, and has been away from home in the hospital and rehabilitation many time. It was that event that really lit a fire under me to achieve financial independence.

The important thing is – I never gave up. Yes, it would be much easier to have a “poor me!” mentality, go into debt, or spend money on stuff because “life is short”. I could have given up when I saved my income for many years and it earned nothing – or when it lost a lot in 2008. I could have made excuses as to why it was too hard to work 40 hours a week and take five college classes. I could have thought that since I was a young mom, there’s just no way I could achieve financial independence at a (relatively) young age. Or when my husband almost died, I could have just gone into debt to pay all the many, many bills we had on top of a large amount of lost income.

Instead, I’m driven to keep improving my life. I’ve gone from making $22k per year, working in that call center, and going to community college – all the way to a six figure salary with an MBA from a well ranked school, working in IT currently managing a $10 million project.

This is actually part of why I wanted to start my site – because there are others out there struggling as I used to, and I wanted to help them see that they’re not doomed just because bad things have happened. Some things are out of our control. We need to seize hold of the things we can control, play the hand we’re dealt, and succeed despite the odds.

Strategizing FIRE Questions:

What has been your primary motivation to reach FIRE?

I’ve had a strong desire to reach financial independence for many years. Why? It’s just something that’s always appealed to me. I’ve struggled for a long time to get into a good financial place. There have been many long days, and long nights, in school and at work fighting to improve my situation. Now that I’m here, I have no desire to waste my money on stuff when I could instead use it to change the course of my life. I also want to give back through scholarship funding, to help others who might also be struggling through school. One of my big goals after mortgage/college is to create a scholarship fund.

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?

This is the big question for me – I’m still figure out what I would retire to. As you can probably tell from some of my responses above, I’m a very driven person. I have zero desire to retire to a beach, lounging around all day, or to indefinitely travel the world (although I do love to travel). I would get incredibly bored after a short period of time.

I have lots and lots of business ideas, and I firmly believe that’s what I would retire to if I choose to do so one day. Does it really count as “retirement” if you’re really launching a business? The Internet Retirement Police might say “no”, but I don’t really care what others think.

Wealth Creation Questions:

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?

I went from making $22k per year working in a call center, and in community college, to a six figure earning MBA from a top school in my region. Had I stayed in that call center and focused on cutting expenses, I would still be struggling to this day. So this was my biggest success – fighting my way into a good career, and putting myself through school, so I could increase my income over five times from the start of my adult life.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t focus on the expense side. But with my income going up so much, the biggest success has been in controlling lifestyle inflation. I still drive the same car I bought in 2009 (a Honda Accord with over 100k miles). We like going on camping trips and road trips for our family vacations. My family of five lives in the house we bought 11 years ago, back when we were a family of three. As our number of kids have increased, and my income has gone up, I’ve kept lifestyle in check. This, combined with the increase in income, has caused the gap between spending and income to grow every year.

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?

1 – Pay taxes (if it’s the lottery, at least)

2 – Pay off my mortgage

3 – Fully fund my kids college compact

4 – Do a bit of home remodeling (built in 1968-there’s always something to do!)

5 – Put the rest into index funds

6 – Carry on with life

Why? Because these are my big goals. If I came into a lump sum of money I would use it to achieve my goals and dreams faster. Also I don’t think $1 million would be enough to live on the rest of my life – especially if it came from a lottery, where I would probably have $600k after taxes.

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

My all time favorite financial book is The Millionaire Next Door. I first read it in the early 2000’s, when I was in my early 20’s. and it had a huge impact on the way I viewed wealth. When you read it, you’ll realize that the people going around making flashy displays of external wealth (cars, house, clothes, vacations, etc.) are often not wealthy. On the other hand, people who are wealthy are usually ordinary people living ordinary lives. They didn’t become wealthy through spending, and they keep their wealth by continuing to not spend. Now we’re not talking about Facebook billionaires or anything – these are regular people who had jobs or started businesses, and became wealthy over time. Although it’s somewhat dated now, it’s very much worth picking up.

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

There are only two powerful things you need to remember:

  • Don’t be afraid to start. Yes, your situation might be different than others. Maybe you’ve had a hard time in life. You could be starting from a negative net worth in your 40’s, perhaps you’re disabled, you’re caring for a family member, have a lot of kids, and the list goes on. But no matter what your current financial and life situation, you can improve it, and over time you can become financially independent.
  • Don’t give up. Bad things might happen. Life happens. Life is hard. Investment lose money. Jobs are lost. People we are close to pass away. The roof leaks. Pets get sick. The list goes on, and on. The important thing when bad things happen is to remember that they will pass, eventually, and to get back on track as soon as you can.

You will only succeed at becoming financially independent if you start the journey and don’t give up.

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

You can find me any time on my site, Chief Mom Officer, or drop me an e-mail at [email protected]. I’d love to connect with you!

 

Thanks for sitting down and chatting, Liz! I had a great time!

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

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

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13 Comments

  1. It is really inspiring to hear about someone who had the “financial independence bug” as early as her teens and stick with it through tough times and adversity. Thank you for sharing your story, Liz! And thank you for this great series, Green Swan!

    1. Thanks AR! I had a lot of fun answering the questions. I certainly am a real-deal personal finance nerd, aren’t I? 😀

  2. Chief Mom Officer, your story is always inspiring! And so is your 4am wake-up time!! 🙂 I agree with you about the lottery winnings–as we get closer to financial independence, $1M seems like less of a big deal, and I always think about those heavy tax implications!! 🙂

    1. Ugh, taxes! Lately I’ve been sleeping in too much until 5 and I’ve been feeling lazy. Need to get up earlier.

  3. Awesome story. It’s a very ambitious undertaking, working towards FIRE while raising and paying for college for three kids! These stories help me to see that anything can be accomplished with a plan and a lot of effort.

    1. The way I see it, you can either give up and not try because it’s “too hard,” or you can do your best to hit the goal anyway. Even if I don’t meet it exactly on plan I’ll still be much better off than if I hadn’t tried at all. 😀

    1. Nice and warm here by the FIRE!

  4. I’ve never heard of anyone opening an IRA in his or her teens with money from a cashier’s job. Now that’s motivation! Thanks for sharing your journey, Liz — and thanks for the interview, JW!

  5. O.K. new aspiration in Lils life: become the next Liz 🙋

    I started out at a call center of sorts too but the graduate school tuition really threw me off. I think it’s a change of the times. I worried if it would pay off in the end. I skipped it at 22, then 23, then 24 I half tried before I got married and life took over from there. But I still admire and want those things for myself (and I don’t think I need school to do it but that’s up for debate!)

    Great interview!

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