Hello folks! I have something special for you today, a FIRE-side chat with Mr. Apathy Ends. 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. AE!
A FIRE-side Chat
First, tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are and what’s your story?
My name is Chris (or Mr. AE on my site), I live in MN with my wife and our adopted, ultra-spoiled dog. We are expecting our first child in March and can’t wait to be parents. In our free time (we still have some) we try new restaurants, do some traveling and try to get to a lake whenever possible. I am a craft beer lover (I feel like that is worth mentioning, not sure why).
We both work in the corporate world and while we don’t hate our jobs, we know there are better things we could be doing with our time. Like Mr Swan, we are in pursuit of the FIRE dream – we want to find our beach (provided it is stocked with the necessitates).
When did your interest in personal finance begin? Did your parents have an active role in your financial literacy growing up?
My interest began 4ish years ago and came from a year-end Student Loan Tax document. We had paid over 5K in interest on my loans from college and it made me sick to my stomach. I started googling ways to increase student loan payments and stumbled across a lot of great financial advice.
My parents did not have an active role in my financial literacy. They preached having a good credit score once I was 18, but I don’t recall much advice beyond that. I have sent a few lessons to them over the last few years though!
At what point did you learn about and begin your FIRE journey?
What started out as finding ways to cut my student loan debt quickly escalated into a full-blown obsession with personal finance. I was buying books and binge reading personal finance blogs. I didn’t know people retired early and was blown away that someone could save 50% of their income.
This was about 4 years ago now (so I was 25-26), and it took a few years for us to undo our mess before we could even think about FIRE.
While we were definitely improving our situation earlier, I think the actual FIRE pursuit started 2 years ago – and has ramped up significantly in the last year.
FIRE Journey Questions:
Where are you currently on your path toward FIRE? Just starting, retired already, or somewhere in the middle?
I would say we are still in the “Just Starting” phase, mostly because we still do have some non-mortgage debt hanging over our heads. We could kill the debt in under a year if we wanted to, but I prefer to build up investment portfolios right now (all of our interest rates are under 4.5%).
We will be in the accumulation phase for another year or 2 before the markets will have more control over our net worth than we do. Looking forward to that day.
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 haven’t calculated out our projected FIRE date yet. There is way too much uncertainty in our lives right now. We are going to be first time parents early next year and I don’t think we can accurately predict what a child will do to our finances. The only certainty is, we will need to earn more or spend less to keep our current savings rate.
For now we are focused on investing as much as possible and starting to explore other income streams.
Tell me how you would consider your FIRE journey to be unique.
I don’t know how unique it is, but we are not a super frugal family. We don’t pass up experiences because of cost and find ways to pay for it but cutting in areas that don’t bring us happiness. If we wanted/needed to we could cut our spending by 10-20% a month.
We still have cable………but this is the last month, working on a new solution right now.
Strategizing FIRE Questions:
What has been your primary motivation to reach FIRE?
Freedom. When money is not a major factor in our decision making process, we will have made it. I am more driven by working on my own terms or myself than a full out retirement.
Before the FIRE pursuit, security was our primary motivator. We wanted to expand our family but weren’t comfortable with our debt, lack of emergency fund or lack of savings.
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?
The most engineering we have done is setting yearly goals that we track and monitor throughout the year. We don’t have a budget and prefer to use our savings rate and goals to make sure we are moving in the right direction.
We go with the flow, as long as it’s flowing up and to the right 🙂
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?
Tough question – like I mentioned previously working for ourselves is more important than an official golf course and Florida style retirement right now. We aren’t exactly sure what that means – but will definitely keep people updated on our site.
We are happy just knowing FIRE is a real possibility if we keep going down our current path.
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 have talked about this a lot lately even though we are a long ways off. Right now, we plan on keeping a home base in Minnesota (the dream is on a lake) and having somewhere to migrate for part of the winter. The -10 forecast gets old after a few months, but I would need to make my way up here to fish a few times each winter.
We do like traveling, and will do so in shorter bursts but don’t plan to leave the US for long durations of time.
The beauty of FIRE is we can change our minds at any point. Gotta love the freedom.
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?
I gravitate towards earning more vs spending less. We have kept our expenses consistent as our income has grown significantly over the last 3 years. So spending less proportionate to our income, but not technically cutting spending.
You can only cut so far before you start taking away things that make you happy, but there is not a limit to what you can earn. Especially if you are willing to side hustle.
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?
We do monitor and control our expenses, but our biggest accomplishment is income growth. My salary is up 120% in 5 years and Mrs. AE is up 60% in 3.5 years. If we weren’t able to increase our salaries a lot of our other goals would not be possible.
We have been able to do this through a combination of promotions, yearly raises and flat out asking for more money. One of my favorite lines:
“If you have your employers best interest in mind, they should have yours – who better to tell them what that is than you”
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 like to pay for experiences vs stuff. New restaurants and craft beers are common expenses. We try to do a big vacation every other year (usually to a beach resort).
One hobby I do spend money on is ice fishing; I try to take 2-3 long weekend trips a year way up north with friends/family. Definitely not cheap weekends, but I look forward to them every year.
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?
We would pay off our debt (including mortgage), invest a huge chunk of it then set some aside to do a little traveling. That would be enough money for us to cut our corporate working life down significantly.
We would also set a chunk aside to do some good. We are both animal lovers and want to get more involved with a few local shelters.
What is your favorite finance and non-finance related book, podcast, magazine, blog, etc and why?
The Automatic Millionaire was very influential early on and I recommend it to people beginning their FI Path. I don’t think there is enough room for me to list all of the PF blogs I regularly read.
Podcasts: Afford Anything and Stacking Benjamin’s are 2 of my favorites.
I haven’t read a non-finance book in awhile. I do listen to Criminal, This American Life and Freakonomics Podcasts.
What advice would you give to folks considering or just starting their journey toward FIRE?
Bunch of random thoughts:
- Small, incremental changes can make a huge impact.
- There is rarely a big bang type event that leads to FIRE.
- Focus on habits over returns early on.
- Don’t seek perfection right out of the gates, start taking action and iterate as you learn.
If you are a fellow blogger, where can I find you?
Thanks for sitting down and chatting, Mr. AE! I had a great time!
I hope you give Apathy Ends 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 yourself, give me a shout.
Thanks for taking a look!
The Green Swan