Everyone has a story that explains a bit about why they are the person they came to be over their lifetime. Mine has lead me to a path of pursuing FI. My story is no more remarkable than anyone else’s, but with some minor optimizations I’ve been able to change not only my life, but the lives of my wife and future family for the better. So, without further ado, here is the story of me:
I grew up in a fairly well off family in a large house in Connecticut. My childhood was very privileged. I realize that this is the opposite of ‘normal’ but, bear with me. I never had to worry when we would eat, where I would sleep and the reason I was told ‘No’ to buying something for me was never because we couldn’t afford it. For this start, I am forever grateful to my parents. While we were very well off, I never really knew what that meant. My brother and I would play outside getting dirty in the woods, riding our bikes and playing sports more often than not. We had no concept of well off versus not.
My parents never boasted about it. They always remembered that they both came from humble beginnings and had to work very hard to get to where they did. My mom worked in microbiology, then stayed at home with us, and then had her own faux finishing company that satisfied her love of painting. My dad worked to put himself through college to become first a CPA and then a CFO for a small medical device company. I’m not sure if it was he who sparked my interest in money, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that money seemed to run the world and that it was needed for just about everything. When I was a kid, my dad always encouraged me to save my quarters from collecting bottles/ cans and was so proud whenever I had enough to fill the little $5 books that the bank gave out to kids to teach the idea of saving.
Things changed drastically when I was about 12 years old. My dad was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. From this moment, everything changed, no matter how hard my parents tried to pretend that it was business as usual for my brother and I. My dad ended up quitting his job due to a lack of promotion that he was promised and never received. He always thought that he could get another well paying job in a heartbeat. Under normal circumstances, he’d have been right, but the one thing he could never admit to himself kept that from ever happening.
I could see how tight money got around the house, how stressed my parents were and I knew that I didn’t want to be a part of the problem so, I started working. Since then I have never been without a job and most of the time had 2 or 3 jobs at a time. My parents slowly spent through all of their savings to keep things afloat over the following years and eventually needed my college fund as well. They paid for my first year of school, for which I could not be more grateful, and I had to figure out the rest. This meant lots of student loans. After sitting for 3 years on the market, our house sold in the fall of 2008 for about 50% of what it was worth and my parents walked away with less than 6 figures after paying off all of their debts. While this could have been a lot worse, I still worry that my mother may never be able to retire and that my dad may not be able to get the care he needs due to the drastic costs.
Seeing my parents go through this taught me many things, a few of which are to appreciate every moment as if you could truly lose them forever, to be compassionate, and to keep what you love safe, both physically and financially. While I commend my parents for their strength of will and hope, I know now that no matter how grim the future may look, you have to have a plan for it. The future is happening whether you’re ready or not, so you may as well try to smooth out the ride.
I took these lessons with me after I graduated college. Interest and all by the time I started to pay them off, I had about $60,000 in student loans. I absolutely hated owing money to anyone. Every month when I made a payment, I would cringe at the thought of what I could do with it other than pay off my loans. My first job out of college was about 3 minutes from where my parents had moved so while I paid off my loans, I lived with them. I paid a small amount for rent and helped out with my dad when I was needed. I realize this is weird, but as I paid off each of my student loans, I would print out the congratulatory letter from the loan company and put it up on my wall. It felt like I had won something every time I made it just one step closer to being out from under my debts. Finally, 3 years to the date of my graduation I had paid off the last of my student loans. (Woo!!! *happy dance*)
Sidebar: during this time, my first car died. I’d already spent a lot of money fixing this car and it was time to let go. I made the shotgun decision that I “deserved” a new car since I had spent so much paying off my loans and I mean, I needed a car anyway… why not a brand new one? If I could just go back in time and give myself a good ‘ole MMM style face punch, I would. I did learn from my mistake though. The car was paid off well before it needed to be and I will never buy new again. At least it gets good mileage? Anyway, now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Knowing that I was about to have a lot of cash freed up from my loan payments, I started to browse the finance section one day in a bookstore. That was when I found a book by Robert and Robin Charlton called “How to Retire Early” (not an affiliate). It’s fucking fantastic, really. This book led me to Jacob Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme, which led me to Mr. Money Mustache and so many other amazing authors and bloggers on this topic. I became hooked and started to plan to be retired by age 40. Luckily, my wife Kayla is also on board with this plan. That was about 3 years ago. I’ll show you what I’ve been up to since then next time on…..*drumroll*… The FIERbird blog.
*cue episode theme song/credits*