How I Got FIRE’d Up: My Swan Song
Taking cues from the fine folks over at The Money Mine, Slowly Sipping Coffee, and Plan Invest Escape (and perhaps others we aren’t aware of), Lucy and I have taken up the challenge to document what got us FIRE’d up. And following the recent theme, I like the idea of plotting our major life events over a relevant index in our lives. For me that is the KBW Bank Index which serves as the benchmark for the banking sector.
Early Adulthood (2007 – 2010)
In early adulthood, I didn’t have a clue about FIRE. I was pretty attune to personal finance and conventional wisdom on how to save and invest. So that’s what I did. I didn’t make a ton of money out of college, so I had to work hard to boost my savings and maximize my investments. But at the time, I thought I was going to be slugging it out, working for “the man” for 45 years…maybe 40 if I was lucky. Because that’s what people did, right?
At that time, my view toward retirement was pretty simple. I invested in an all stock portfolio and was hoping for out-sized returns of 8-10%. For no particular reason my goal was to become a millionaire by age 50. I just thought that was a good goal. And at the time I was heavily motivated to invest as much as my older brother did and try to grow my wealth in line with his.
Shortly after graduating college and landing our first jobs, Lucy and I got married in 2008. At that point, we were sitting pretty well. We both had good jobs that could support our modest lifestyle and we had already begun saving as much extra as we could. We had successfully navigated many major life events in the preceding year including graduating college, landing jobs, moving cities, and getting married.
Now we were set and we were both thinking the next major life event would be kids, albeit not imminently. We had no timetable or thought process for when we would have kids, but we were already being asked and the thought was on our mind. I think the major thing we wanted was a house to raise a family, so that meant no kids until we bought a house. And we didn’t want to buy a house until we were ready to plant roots in an area for at least 5+ years. Any sort of master plan to having kids was tossed aside after the recession hit.
While Lucy and I were both naturally frugal folks, the recession didn’t help. When the recession hit, we were both getting a bit anxious about maintaining our jobs. It seemed like every day another company was announcing major layoffs and furloughs, our employers included. We didn’t know what was going to happen or how long the recession was going to last. We saw plenty of news coverage and witnessed it firsthand from our friends how challenging it was for college kids to find jobs. We began preparing for the worst and became even more frugal.
As we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I decided I needed to do everything I could to improve my value to my employer and position myself better than the guy sitting next to me. During these early years is when I decided to enroll in a nights and weekends MBA program from a top public university.
Lifestyle Philosophy: My early adulthood was more or less a continuation of college. I basically didn’t spend money on anything I didn’t have to. Lifestyle Philosophy = Cheap-ass.
Saving Approach: Some folks “keep up with the Joneses” in terms of spending. Well my goal was to keep up with my older brother in terms of saving. I was very selective in terms of what I would spend on (i.e. a few hundred bucks a year on entertainment and sporting events). Savings Approach = Everything I could.
Transition (2011 – 2013)
After graduating from my MBA program in late 2010, Lucy and I began to enter a transition phase. At this point, we were more comfortable with our employment status and continued earning potential. The economy was improving and the stock market was bouncing back. Now that I earned my MBA, it was time to look for the next step and the next challenge.
I found my next challenge in a rotational program at my bank which required a move to San Francisco. Lucy was fortunately able to advance her career simultaneously and received a promotion with her employer by moving out to SF as well. We lived most of 2011 in SF. Knowing that living in SF was temporary we lived it up while we could. We packed in so many activities during the nights and weekends you would have thought we lived there for years after hearing all we did. And as such, we were much more willing to pay for these “once in a lifetime” experiences.
After my program, I rotated out and earned another promotion by accepting a position in Charlotte. Lucy was able to maintain her SF job while working from home in Charlotte temporarily and she eventually found permanent employment after moving. Her strong set of work experiences and well-deserved references from prior managers were valuable in finding her next job.
Lifestyle Philosophy: During this transition, we began to value experiences more. Our employment status was more comfortable and as such our spending was more comfortable. Lifestyle Philosophy = Lean towards comfort and valuing experiences…still relatively frugal.
Saving Approach: As we transitioned, moved, and received promotions, we continued to push our savings into overdrive. On a dollar basis, our annual savings were growing by leaps and bounds. Savings Approach = Save more every year
FIRE’d Up (2014 – current)
And then we got FIRE’d.
Junior was born in April 2014. Our incomes had grown substantially in recent years. Our net worth was accelerating. The bull market has continued (not a roaring bull, but a bull nonetheless).
The birth of our first child got us thinking about the future. Lucy and I began evaluating life insurance needs, the cost of our lifestyle, the cost of a newborn and his future college education. It got us thinking and planning. I can’t even tell you specifically, but slowly this evolved into researching different topics, stumbling across personal finance blogs including Can I Retire Yet and Mr. Money Mustache along with other resources.
2014 was the year I began thinking about my exit. I began estimating my FIRE number, how I could access retirement accounts in early retirement (before age 59 ½) and eventually pulling the ripcord and coasting into retirement.
That’s when I got FIRE’d. That’s when I realized that my life was not meant to be defined by my career. That’s when I realized that advancing my career was not the end all be all, it was actually just a means to an end. And for me, that meant an early end.
Lucy and I have now had more conversations about “FIRE” than cavemen. We’ve always been a team and there to support each other with whatever life throws at us. She’s on board with FIRE and like always, ready to take a life’s worth of journeys with The Green Swan. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And that will always be our swan song.
Lifestyle Philosophy: We began spending on what is important to us and what will bring us more happiness. First that was a house, we also finally replaced one of our aging cars, and not to be outdone was the arrival of Jr. We’ve traveled more including a trip to Peru and another vacation back to CA. We’ve never been flashy and that still hasn’t changed. Lifestyle Philosophy = Comfort and experiences.
Saving Approach: Our savings approach hasn’t changed materially. We emphasize savings still and have done well continuing to increase this in recent years. We aren’t entering a “spending phase”, but we would be ok with flat savings if it meant more happiness and a joyful life. Savings Approach = Status quo.
While one conclusion you may draw as compared to some of the other PF bloggers who have written about how they got FIRE’d Up is that we were naturally frugal and never had a phase of major spending or lifestyle inflation. While that may be true, I would mark one other major distinction and that is the fact we started our employment just before the greatest recession since the Depression. Hard to say the full impact that has had on us and our mindset toward personal finance, but suffice it to say our frugal tendencies were only amplified right out the starting gates.
Thanks for taking a look!
The Green Swan
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