Hello folks! I have something special for you today, a FIRE-side chat with Mr. and Mrs. Mad Money Monster! 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 Mr. and Mrs. Mad Money Monster!
First, tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are and what’s your story?
We’re a couple of Gen-Xers living in Lancaster, PA. We’re on a quest to right all our past financial wrongs. Our ultimate goal is to build legacy wealth and have the option of retiring early in the next few years.
Mr. MMM and I didn’t meet until a few years ago, when we were well into our adulthood and careers. I have worked in the pharma industry since graduating college and Mr. MMM recently switched careers from being an educator to being a filmmaker. It was quite a leap, but one he took after careful consideration. Ultimately, the fear of living with regret forced him to go for it. Separetly, before meeting, we made plenty of financial missteps along the way and didn’t realize how quickly life passes. We allowed silly things to derail us from investing and building wealth in our 20s and early 30s, mainly relationships.
Just before marrying in 2015, we had convinced each other that we needed a bigger house for our growing family. At the time, he had just moved in with me and my 5-year old daughter. My house was small. It was 1300 SF. We were now bursting at the seams, especially with combined pets.
Fortunately, we were smart enough to pull the plug before up-sizing to a home we could barely afford, and making yet another disaster of a decision. The stakes get higher as you get older because you don’t have time to rebound like someone in their 20s. We decided then and there that we were going to tread a different path. We were going to focus entirely on eliminating all debts, investing the difference, and living a frugal life. And thus, a blog was born. We have come a long way since that fateful decisive day. And we have no intention of ever going back.
When did your interest in personal finance begin? Did your parents have an active role in your financial literacy growing up?
Neither one of us come from families that were good at building wealth. Both sets of parents were good at not accumulating massive debt and living within their means, but that’s where the buck stopped, so to speak.
My personal interest started during college. I can’t remember the exact moment or what the driver was, but I do remember reading Rich Dad Poor Dad as a teenager in college. It was a whole new world to me and it opened my eyes to a different way of living. Up until that point, I thought you get a job and work until you’re 65+. Massive wealth building was never part of my equation. Unfortunately, life got in the way of my plans several times as an adult. Being in not-so-great relationships derailed my progress here and there. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t be planning on retiring in a few years from now; instead, I would’ve retired a few years ago.
Mr. MMM never put too much importance on building wealth. He focused on his passion (and still does) of being a filmmaker. He absolutely loves his work and would go as far as work for free. He doesn’t do that, thankfully, but he doesn’t love the financial charts and calculators as much as I do. He is extremely happy to live a frugal lifestyle to achieve financial independence. He basically let’s me run the financial show, as long as I provide fascinating and entertaining updates from time to time. Think: A monthly coffee shop “meeting” with a PowerPoint presentation. Yep.
At what point did you learn about and begin your FIRE journey?
FIRE Journey Questions:
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know about FIRE until a couple years ago. We had just gotten ourselves out of a terrible contract to purchase a home we couldn’t comfortably afford. We were just happy to be able to sleep again at night without anxiety over paying a huge mortgage and utility bills. You can read more about that near disaster here.
It was around the same time that I started researching wealth-building strategies. The first blog that popped onto my radar was Budgets Are Sexy. Shout out to J. Money for inspiring our journey! From there, I found all the other heavy hitters and was ridiculously motivated to do the same thing. We were in the same boat as everyone I was reading about. We both had good jobs with above average salaries. We lived within our means, especially since we didn’t buy that big house. And, we had the desire to do more than go to work, come home, repeat.
Where are you currently on your path toward FIRE? Just starting, retired already, or somewhere in the middle?
We’re somewhere in the middle. Our journey officially started in 2015 with the start of my blog, Mad Money Monster.
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?
Our strategy is living on only my salary and using Mr. MMM’s salary to pay debt and invest. We also save/invest a big portion of my salary, as well. With that, our savings rate is hovering right around 70%/year after taxes and retirement contributions. Woot!
We hope to reach our FIRE goals within the next few years. Our hard and fast goal is 2021, but I think we’ll hit it before that. Our strategy is to be completely debt free, including both mortgages, one on our primary home and one on our rental property. On top of that, we are striving to have 2 – 3 additional paid off rental homes at the start of FIRE that will provide enough passive income to replace my salary. We know we’re more likely to make more money if we keep our mortgages and leverage more properties, but we don’t care. We want NO DEBT.
Tell me how you would consider your FIRE journey to be unique.
Strategizing FIRE Questions:
I think our FIRE journey is unique in that we have made a ton of mistakes, both financially and personally, that set us back quite a few years. We did some things right, but we did a lot of things wrong, too. But we didn’t give up and we realized, even a little bit later than our 20s, that building massive wealth isn’t lost on people in their 30s or even older than that. We didn’t miss the boat. We just had to change our course.
What has been your primary motivation to reach FIRE?
Our primary motivation has been the freedom to be able to choose how we spend our days. We want options! I like my job, but if I have the option to not work anymore, I might take it. I want the option to be less involved with a W2 employer and more involved with my daughter’s school. I want the option to stay at home and be more wife and mother and less scientist (my job). Options are what motivate us.
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?
I think the greatest success in engineering this path was my desire to always buy assets over liabilities. Of course I made a few mistakes along the way and didn’t do as much as I could have earlier in my life, but I always valued buying an asset over a liability. And that, has enabled us to have our goals within reach so quickly after starting our journey.
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 completely agree with that statement. If I “choose” to leave W2 employment after reaching our goals, I would focus entirely on my blog to inform, enlighten, and entertain folks interested in this sort of thing. I would also like to do some speaking engagements to share the wealth. Pun intended. I want people to know that starting to invest at a young age is best, but starting late is okay, too.
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?
I thought about this quite a bit. I think we would keep our small home as our base. I’m sure we will travel more when our little girl isn’t in school (holidays/summers). But we still have quite a few years to go before she’s done completely. Until then, we would enjoy having our days free to enjoy our family.
Of course, right now I’m dying to go buy a vintage mobile home and live as inexpensively as possible. I think they’re super cool and would love to live in one (again) as an adult. And if I could convince Mr. MMM, our 7-year old, 2 dogs, and 2 cats – I’d execute that plan tomorrow! Darn responsibilities getting in my way of a good time! You can read all about my childhood in the original tiny house here.
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?
We try to move in both directions. I think that is the fastest strategy. We have managed to keep our living expenses VERY low. My W2 income is pretty much fixed, but Mr. MMM has the ability to earn lots of money depending on how much he hustles. And let me tell you, he’s a hustler. That man works harder than anyone I ever met. That is our bread and butter in terms of reaching financial independence so quickly.
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?
Our biggest success has been not creating a ton of debt during our college years and maximizing our earning potential in our career fields. On top of that, we resisted lifestyle creep. We don’t drive fancy cars or live in a big house. We’re not ashamed to buy generics or not buy new clothes. We try to keep the money we make in our pockets. That drives us more than having more STUFF.
Related: How We Avoided Massive College Debt
Related: Stuff We Just Stopped Buying
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?
We love going out to eat. This was a big money suck when we first met and were dating. We work hard each day to resist the temptation to go out. It mostly works. These days, we typically only go out only on special occasions.
Because we live a very frugal lifestyle, we do splurge when it comes to home upgrades. I love being at home and I love having a quality, stylish home. We happily pay for custom finishes to make our home The Bomb. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Mad Men, you know our style.
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 think we would stay the course. We would immediately pay off the mortgages and buy additional rental properties. We would just put the pedal to the metal to reach our goals, STAT.
What is your favorite finance and non-finance related book, podcast, magazine, blog, etc and why?
I absolutely loved The Millionaire Next Door. I remember reading that a very long time ago and I’ll never forget the impact it had on me. Growing up, I thought all my friends who lived in those big suburban houses were rich. I grew up in a trailer, so I was constantly comparing how others lived to how I lived. Anyone who had a flight of steps in their home was rich as far as I was concerned.
As far as blogs go, I love Budgets Are Sexy and the Frugalwoods. Budgets are Sexy is wildly entertaining and over-the-top at times, while the Frugalwoods are extremely down-to-earth and sincere. I get a lot of inspiration from both sides of the coin.
As far as non-finance goes…I really don’t listen to anything that isn’t finance-related. I’m trying to change that because I realize I’m a bit consumed with our FIRE journey.
What advice would you give to folks considering or just starting their journey toward FIRE?
I would say not to worry about mistakes made in the past. Instead, focus on the future and how to get where you want to go. No one is perfect, and you’ll have a more interesting story to tell if you didn’t do it All Right starting at 18 years old. Go after it with fervor!
If you are a fellow blogger, where can I find you?
My blog is Mad Money Monster and we’re chronicling our FIRE journey after having made all the mistakes in the book. We’re proof that you can do it even if you’re starting a little later, have kids, and made mistakes. We’re also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under Mad Money Monster. Rock on!
Thanks for sitting down and chatting, Mad Money Monster! I had a great time!
I hope you give MMM 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