A FIRE-side Chat with Mr. and Mrs. Groovy

A FIRE-side Chat

Hello folks! I have something special for you today, a FIRE-Side chat with Mr. and Mrs. Groovy from Freedom is Groovy. This is a new interview series I’ve started in order 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. Groovy!

Introduction Questions:

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

We’re Mr. and Mrs. Groovy. We live outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. We left New York in 2006 because we got sick of snow, crowds, and taxes. Lucky for us, 2006 was the height of the real estate boom and we walked away from our condo sale with over a quarter of a million dollars.

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

It began in 2003 when Mrs. Groovy discovered Dave Ramsey. We didn’t learn personal finance per se, from our parents. But both of our parents lived within their means (Mrs. Groovy’s mother always used the envelope system), worked hard, and had a healthy fear of debt. But money wasn’t really discussed.

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

Oddly enough FIRE was never on our radar until 2012. That was the year I discovered Mr. Money Mustache. At that point we were already saving over 50% of our gross income but we still had no idea that FIRE was within our reach. In fact, I thought I was working until age 67. But thanks to Mr. Money Mustache and Mrs. Groovy, I saw the light. We actually put our three-year FIRE plan in place in 2013. We figured by mid 2016 we’d have over 25 times our annual expenses.

FIRE Journey Questions:

Where are you currently on your path toward FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early)? Just starting, retired already, or somewhere in the middle?

We retired October 14th, 2016! It turns out we had the money to retire in 2015 but we wanted to wait for my mini-pension to kick in from my former government job. We’re wimps.  We like those monthly direct deposit checks coming in, even though we don’t need them.

If you are already in FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early), 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 we could do it all over again we would have started saving in our 20s instead of our 40s. But we got married in our 40s and that’s when we each decided to get our financial act together. The thing I’d make sure to do again is to automate savings. It doesn’t matter if the money goes into a 401K, an IRA, or a brokerage account. Since saving is the number one habit needed to attain FIRE, make sure it’s not left to chance.

Tell me how you would consider your FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early) journey to be unique.

  1. We started late. We got married in our 40s and didn’t even have $10K in savings between the both of us.
  2. We used geoarbitrage. We moved from high cost New York to low cost North Carolina.
  3. We stayed under the radar. We never wanted to buy things to show our family, friends and neighbors that we arrived. We were perfectly happy for others to think of us as poor slobs.

Strategizing FIRE Questions:

What has been your primary motivation to reach FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early)?

To own our own time and do the things that excite us – not to do the things that make our bosses happy and solve their problems. We know our mental and physical health won’t last forever. And we don’t want to waste the next ten to fifteen years of life on work. We’d rather be hiking at Glacier National Park than be staring at our respective laptops for eight hours a day.

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?

Planning. First, we had a plan to get out of New York that worked flawlessly. Second, we had a plan to save and invest 50% of our income. And third, we had a plan to prioritize experiences over accumulating stuff.

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 wrote about this on my blog. I’m going to pick up litter, bake bread, blog, and travel. Mrs. Groovy, on the other hand, will not be picking up litter. She intends to learn the piano, perhaps do some community theater, grow vegetables, do some canning, and travel.

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?

We want our base to be in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area where my family lives. In 2017, our goal is to buy 2 acres of land and build a small home in the 1,200 to 1,400 square foot ranch. We’re downsizing a little – our current home is 2,000 square feet.

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?

Through geoarbitrage our focus was on the expense side. During our last year in New York, our living expenses were $4500 to $4800 a month. When we moved down to North Carolina our expenses were under $2,000 a month. Because Mrs. Groovy kept her New York job, our income didn’t go down that much. Our expenses went down by more than half but our income only went down around 25%. The key is the gap between your income and your expenses. In New York it was around $1,500. In North Carolina it was at least double that amount. That’s twice as much potential savings.

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 (Financial Independence Retiring Early)?

Funny story. Back in 2013, I was dead man walking. My company moved the Charlotte office to Irving, Texas, and I was training the analysts in Irving to learn my job and make me expendable. But I did such a good job of training them that the company didn’t want to lose me. They ended up giving me another position, which turned out to be a promotion.

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?

Travel, travel, travel. Prior to FIRE, we budgeted $5,000 a year for travel. Now we’re budgeting $10,000 a year. Also, another luxury is our once a month mini-blizzard at the Dairy Queen. It doesn’t take much to make the Groovies happy.

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?

With a million we’d take our family on a trip to the Ted Turner Ranch in New Mexico. That would cost us around $40K. Then we would give our five nephews and nieces $10K each. Since we don’t have kids of our own, we want to stay on the good side of the Fab Five. Finally, we would probably buy a cabin in Montana. We love Montana. It’s the prettiest state we’ve visited to date. We would love to spend half the year there and half the year in North Carolina. Other than that, we wouldn’t do much else. Yes, we would give more to charity. But we would still live modestly. We don’t need Cold Stone Creamery and Ruth’s Chris. We’re perfectly happy with Dairy Queen and Sonic.

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

My favorite finance book is the Total Money Makeover. My favorite non-finance book is Bonfire of the Vanities. Mrs. Groovy’s favorite finance book is The Millionaire Next Door. Her favorite non-finance book is Fountainhead. Our favorite finance podcast is Radical Personal Finance (Stacking Benjamins is a close second.) Our favorite non-Finance podcast is Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase. Our favorite finance blog is RockStar Finance because it’s a great clearinghouse for personal finance articles and blogs. My favorite non-Finance blog is Real Clear Education. I love reading about the trials and tribulations of our educators. It’s also where I get ammo for my warped ideas. For Mrs Groovy, it’s Food Network. She loves discovering new recipes and experimenting.

What advice would you give to folks considering or just starting their journey toward FIRE (Financial Independence Retiring Early)?

Don’t let fear immobilize you. Take one simple step of starting a Roth IRA and contributing $100 a month. That’s all you need to get in the game. From there, be curious and read. The FIRE blogosphere is a great resource.

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

http://freedomisgroovy.com

 

Thanks for sitting down and chatting, Mr. and Mrs. Groovy! I had a very groovy time!

I hope you give this Groovy couple a follow and check out their 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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  • Bread and canning seem like complimentary hobbies. Where are you planning on traveling with the increased travel budget.

    • In the next five years we have three dream destinations in mind. Ecuador, Thailand and Australia. We’ll probably start with Ecuador in 2018.

  • Pingback: A Sweet Transvestite's Guide to Personal Finance()

  • How Groovy of y’all to make those FIRE dreams happen. 😉 Man, I didn’t know you moved from NY to NC! That must’ve been an adjustment for sure, but the cost of living is so much better in many areas in the South. I hope to see many of your travel stories on your blog, too!


    And a few pics of Dairy Queen confections wouldn’t hurt either…

    • I had a harder time moving from Manhattan to Long Island when we got married in 2002. LI to NC wasn’t a huge adjustment after that, except for the fact that people are much more polite in the south!

  • Very nice concept of retiring to something. It kind of make sense when I look at the journey that I am taking to reach FIRE. I am still 10 years away from FIRE. With these chats, I hope that I can accelerate it by a year or two with the tips that I learn from others.

    • It’s amazing what saving 50% of your income can do. Any step you can take to save more, but still lead a rewarding life, will turbo charge your quest for fire.

  • Nice peek into some of the backstory of the Groovies! It’s always cool getting a new perspective on other bloggers!

    We’re also torn between moving out West or East Coast to your neck of the woods. So much to think about in those decisions. 🙂

    • Options are great, Mr. SSC. For us we found that we like small town America much better than big city America. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, on the other hand, are never leaving Manhattan. It’s all about your tastes, and your wallet. When those two things align, you get extreme happiness.

  • The Groovies And The Swans! Two of my favorite bloggers, together by the FIRE. How awesome is that! Congrats, Mr & Mrs G, great to read your story. I enjoy our phone calls, let’s hook up again soon? Go enjoy a Frosty, you’ve earned it with this one!

    • You still have Frosties on the brain, eh? Don’t remind me of your vibrant description. And that’s Blizzards, not Frosties, by the way.

      We enjoy our phone calls with you too. We’ll have to set one up when we return from the wedding.

      • Frosties, Blizzards. Pick your poison! The call sounds good. I’m heading to MI to move my Dad to an Assisted Living Facility next week (all’s good, he wants to simplify, and get help caring for his wife with Alzheimer’s), let’s chat mid-Feb?

        • Sounds good, my friend. Have a good trip. Old age isn’t always kind. But it’s a lot easier when you have a great son like yourself.

  • “Don’t let fear immobilize you.” So true, too often I look back at my younger self and realize I have let fear immobilize me from doing something.

    Great interview!

    • Thank you for your kind words. It’s a tough lesson to learn but once you learn it, it’s a great life hack. Everything from relationships to finances get better.

  • Great chat with the Groovies! It’s great to see the thoughts of people who have already FIREd. Like everyone else, I agree that we wish we could’ve started our journey to FIRE more in our 20’s but hey, as long as we started! We just happened to do it in our 30’s. Oh well.

    The bit on geoarbitrage is important for people to understand, because if you happened to live in an expensive part of the country, you might be able to retire early RIGHT NOW and not even realize it! It just takes a bit of moving.

    • Exactly, SS. Geoarbitrage is a great way to speed up FIRE. But it all comes to temperament and family. Mrs. G and I love small town America. So moving from New York City/Long Island to Charlotte wasn’t accompanied by a lot of psychological drama. And both our families were very supportive. That made relocating especially easier.

  • Great to get to know the Grooy’s and their stories a bit more. Great to see a late start on a FIRE path can still be accomplished. I can attest to the high cost of living in NY, we see several families escape yearly. Enjoy the freedom Mr. and Mrs. G!

    • Thanks, Brian. We have a love/hate relationship with NY. There are a lot of great people up there, family included, but the taxes, the weather, and the cost of housing just wore us down. For us, NY is best when we’re just visitors.

  • Thanks, JW for inviting us to sit around the campfire with you. We had a blast!

    • JW

      My pleasure, Groovies! You have a great story on reaching FIRE and I appreciate you sharing it with us all.

  • I like the sound of hiking in Glacier National Park! =) And if Mr. Mt and I come into an extra cool million, we might buy a cabin here as well. But don’t worry, you can borrow it when you come visit. =)

    • Count my wife and I in, if you can wait until 2018!

    • We’re gonna hold you to that! But if our lithium mine hits first we’ll buy a cabin large enough for you, Mr. Mt, Fritz and Jackie.

      • Maybe we should just start a personal finance Montana retreat? =) I’ll get Mr. Mt to mow the grass. Or I’ll just buy a goat to eat it down. A few little cabins, a few RV hook ups, some spots for tents. =) It’ll be like FinCon but with more campfires, hiking and better beer. =)

        • We love splinter groups. We’ll call it Big Sky FinCon! And in addition to lawn-mowing goats, we’ll need some prairie dogs. They’re so cute.

  • This article was a fun chat to read, thanks for the teamwork putting it together. I feel like I know the Groovys a bit better. Blizzards are my kryptonite. I can’t drive across Texas without stopping for one. Fountainhead being your favorite non-finance book, that’s how we can all tell you two are extra groovy.
    You say not to let fear immobilize you. When was a time in your journey to FIRE that fear did or almost happened to get the best of you?

    • In NY we didn’t have an emergency fund to speak of. Our expenses were high and one wrong move or unlucky break could have been a disaster. That’s when Mr. Groovy went to work in a warehouse at night so that we could establish an emergency fund. We worried a lot in those days.

      Later, when we were down here in Charlotte and started dabbling in individual stocks, I had nerves of steel. But Mr. Groovy was panicking. One stock (iRobot) had already doubled and we had it for a year so we would only have paid capital gains. But I wouldn’t let him sell. It went up a little more and then I finally relented. That was the last time I saw fear in his eyes.

  • Mr. & Mrs. Groovy run one of my favorite blogs. Their mix of wit and wisdom in their writing is a great combination not easily found.

    It was good learning a bit more about them here.

    • You’re too kind, my friend. Mrs. Groovy is blushing!

  • Congrats to you guys for reaching Financial Freedom! Mr. MMM and I also started a little late and have been trying to play catch up. Thankfully, I did have a nice chunk in retirement savings by the time we got married, but that was it. This community is such an inspirational place to be to see that it IS possible to NOT work until you’re a doddering old person…not that there’s anything wrong with being a doddering old person. I will feel lucky to be one someday. I’d just like to quit my day job and hike the Appalachian Trail first 😉

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • We’re getting more doddering by the day. But as long as we’re doing it together, we’re good. keep doing those free activities in Lancaster and you and Mr. MMM will be hiking the Appalachian Trail soon enough.

  • You know I love a good blog mashup! Awesome chat Groovies (I’m a huge fan of DQ blizzards!). Also, I do love reading about people like you that are successful. You know I want to be you when I grow up! 🙂

    • LOL! You’re a peach, Maggie. But don’t forget, we kind of cheated on our way to FIRE. No kids! People like you and Mr. T who have kids and are on the cusp of FIRE are the truly successful ones. Bravo to both of you.

  • Great series. Thx for setting this up.

    I quite like your spending plans! Travel, travel and travel.

    • JW

      Thanks ATL! It’ll always be good to get a perspective from across the pond…:)

      We all have unique and interesting paths and I’m always fascinated hearing them.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Love hearing from our friends across the pond. Thanks, AT. We’ll give you a shout when we’re in Brussels. A couple of pints at the Moeder Lambic Fontainas are on us.

  • Arrgo

    I really liked the comment about your primary motivation to reach FIRE:
    “To own our own time and do the things that excite us – not to do the things that make our bosses happy and solve their problems. We know our mental and physical health won’t last forever. And we don’t want to waste the next ten to fifteen years of life on work. We’d rather be hiking at Glacier National Park than be staring at our respective laptops for eight hours a day.”
    To me that’s really powerful stuff. If you really love your job and things are good, then great. But for most thats not the case. You are giving up all your best time and energy for the corporation. And when you get home at night you are both mentally and physically tired. Thats what you are left with. Take care of your responsibilities and get to bed early so you can do it again the next day. Rinse and repeat. Its so much nicer to be able to be outside on a nice day instead of being cooped up inside in your cubicle all day. Ultimately its your life and you need to figure out a way to live it the way you really want, and not being a corporate drone until you are 60.

    • Exactly, Arrgo. Work is important, and it can be fulfilling. But for Mrs. Groovy and I, it was a tool to get us to financial independence. It wasn’t our life-calling. The “rinse and repeat” part is what we dreaded the most. Every Sunday we would get melancholy knowing that another work week was hours away.

  • Awesome chat!!! I love that they used geoarbitrage to make a better life for themselves. Plus I would love to get down the North Carolina area. My family and I love going down to the North Carolina beaches and have some great friends/family living in the Raleigh and Charlotte area. You really can’t go wrong 🙂

    • JW

      Yeah it’s pretty nice down here! And conversely I like getting up to D.C. where you’re from. It’s nice having family up there to visit and then catch a few of the sites and museums!

    • Thank you, MSM. I second TGS’s remark. Love D.C. But like New York, it’s too rich for our bank accounts. We can handle NC, though. The weather is good, the taxes are low, and people are very friendly. Hopefully in the future you can make the Tar Heel State your home. We love honorary southerners!