Today is my latest entry in the series of Women on FIRE – women from around the world seeking financial independence to either retire early or make retirement elective. I’m talking with Bucket Babe today, who lives in Atlanta and is pursuing financial independence now after a rough start in her 20’s. She shows that it’s never too late to get your financial act together and seek financial freedom! Let’s learn more about her story.
Tell us about yourself!
I’m BucketBabe at LeanFireATL.com. I’m a 53 yo GenXer living in Atlanta with my sweetheart, Jay. We occupy about 701 sf, after recently “right” sizing from a too big too expensive American Dream House.
My father was an immigrant from El Salvador and my mother, a Georgia native hailing from a long line of sharecroppers. She married my father at 14 and had me at 15. As much as life was a struggle for both of them, I have very distinct memories in very early childhood feeling safe and loved. I remember Mom spending a lot of time playing and making learning fun. I remember Mom playing spelling games, reading to me and instilling a love of learning early on. She was a voracious reader. Mom was shy and introverted and she taught me early on that there was a huge wonderful world in books.
How did you become interested in personal finance, and financial independence?
My later childhood and early adulthood was a struggle – we lived in a single-wide trailer for a while and while my mother struggled with mental illness, my father struggled with chronic unemployment and alcoholism.
Meanwhile, I excelled in school. I loved to make straight A’s even when life was chaos at home. I went to 14 schools by the start of high school. Being a good student was a big part of my identity and I was usually in advanced classes. Home life made for some tough going sometimes. It had a direct impact on some of my personal choices and my financial life. I was a walking disaster in some respects, actually.
In my 20’s, I bounced checks and lived a life of financial chaos. It was not malicious and I don’t even remember knowing it was illegal but I knew it kept digging a deeper hole financially. I could not seem to escape. I remember the credit union that I banked with, closing my account due to the number of overdrafts I incurred one year. That was embarrassing. I had no checking account. I remember really feeling like a loser in every way.
I even filed bankruptcy. I was ashamed but relieved. I worked hard to get a handle on the chaos – personal and financial. I finished school and got my B.S. Nursing. This was a long journey of ten years due to early motherhood and the necessity of holding down a full time job. Finally, I began in my early 30’s to save and invest money in my 403(b). In fits and starts, I put money away and it began to accumulate despite my raiding the account a couple of times. Increasing my income and autonomy in the field of health care was important to me. Twenty years after my educational journey began, I finally earned my M.S.Nursing and, after taking boards, I was certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP).
In my mid 40’s, I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) offered at my church and began to change some unhealthy money habits. I paid debt down and gradually increased savings, building up an emergency savings that was for the first time not a “mad money” fund. Like my mom, I enjoy reading. I can’t remember the first blog where I stumbled upon FIRE but I think it was either Early Retirement Extreme or Mr. Money Mustache. I classified them with Dave Ramsey – I could do “some” of the stuff they talked about. In my mind, they were extremists and I’d leave some of the crazy stuff behind. Eventually blog posts and pod casts began consuming my free time…much of it spurred on by burnout and dissatisfaction with hospital politics.
Tell us about your FIRE journey – and motivation. What does FIRE mean to you?
The FIRE spread. Quickly. Money was freedom and FIRE laid out a structure for me. I could do what was necessary to be happy and content. It meant owning 100% of time and I’d finally get to cast off the alarm clock, the mind numbing meetings, the sometimes “mean girl” environment and culture at work. It meant I’d be free to explore all the ideas, creative pursuits and hobbies that I never had enough time to pursue. I dreamed that it could make up the last third of my life.
FPU taught me how to live without debt. $135K/year in a low cost of living city allows me to save 80% of that income. Living on that amount is great training because I plan to LEANFIRE and live on less than $40K a year. Currently, I’m maxing out my 457 and 403b with a net employment income of zero. Soon I’ll reach the level of comfort when FIRE is a possibility. It’s one of those accomplishments that may actually help me work longer due to the mental freedom obtaining FIRE will bring me.
What’s unique about pursuing financial independence as a woman?
Working in the female dominated profession of nursing can be a challenge. Nurses are often underpaid and often not respected. They get the short end of the stick frequently. When hospital administration takes any cost saving position, nurses are most often directly affected. This is so disheartening. I cannot imagine in a more egalitarian field such as IT, HR, or Marketing, employees putting up with this treatment for very long. It is depressing. It’s an old adage that “nurses” eat their young”. Frankly, I see nurses “eating their young” out of sheer frustration and desperation to gain respect.
I see many nurses failing to take care of themselves. They give 100% to their families and patients, but they don’t realize the importance of self-care and nurturing their own bodies, let alone their own dreams. It saddens me. I think, eventually though, I learned to strike the right balance with this.
My mother didn’t graduate high school yet she clearly valued learning. I was the first in my family to go to college and certainly to get a graduate degree. I had a humble upbringing and I needed education to reach my goals. I wanted to earn respect AND money. I encourage the nurses to do the same. Several of them are pursuing advanced degrees currently.
Some of the nurses I work closely with have been inspired by my journey. Nurturing them in their own personal growth is a privilege. I think we should question everything we’ve blindly believed and taken to heart. Before we buy anyone else’s “American Dream “ we need to make sure that this is truly our own dream. Questioning the commonly held beliefs of others helps you really define WHAT you want and clarifies your “WHY”. It’s helped me define what success actually is for myself.
Take care of yourself first – it’s really the ultimate gift to your kids and your partner. You’ll be a happier more joyful person. Your kids will gain a great role model and will thank you because you are making their lives richer. This leads to fulfillment and inspires courage earlier on their path. Your partner will love spending time with an interesting and contented person.
What advice would you have for other women on this path?
Mind and widen the gap. Acquiring and owning stuff, the fancy wedding, the nice new car—these are not the big things! They will smother your freedom ultimately. Save early and step it up with every pay raise. Take advantage of every way to save money you can think of, whether it is thru Ebates.com for on line shopping, Groupon.com for date night or shopping at Goodwill for gently used clothing. It’s amazing what’s out there for little to no money at all.
It’s OK to not know what’s next. I’m not exactly positive of what my post-FIRE life will look like. That’s part of the magic of getting there – having the time to explore it all. But I do have some big, hairy, audacious goals. I want to travel! I love the idea of “slow travel” and have an evolving list of countries that I pine to see on my blog. Over the last year or so, I have tried my hand at churning to accumulate points. The only ‘problem” I have now is that my expenses are so low it makes churning a challenge.
I enjoy writing and this has led me to create LeanfireATL.com My blog chronicles my personal journey to retirement on less than $40K/year. LeanfireATL.com has been a release. I want to share the issues unique to those of us who can and choose to live on much less than the average early “retiree”. Not as many FIRE stories concentrate on women and I think the concept of “leanfire” will resonate with those of us who got a late start and saved less than the average. It’s an honest blog about the ways in which I plan to make this work. I believe “leanfiring” will be more common in the future as Americans continue to choose lifestyles that handicap their ability to save and build a traditionally robust retirement future.
I hear you do some art -including art on FIRE. Tell me more about your artistic exploration.
I also have as my goal, growing and expanding my artistic side. When I bought my first house years ago, I couldn’t afford to buy artwork, so I taught myself how to paint. I painted murals on walls and eventually made some extra money painting murals in nurseries and doing furniture make-overs for others. I developed a nice side hustle from the “junk” furniture industry when it was popularized on Flea Market Flip and HGTV.
I call myself an art harlot. I have never met an art class I didn’t love…so I sign up for them and have so many creative outlets now! My daughter and I bond over this and it’s always makes for a fun event when we attend a wine and paint class.
Over the last few years, I’ve rekindled the desire to take up encaustic painting, an ancient art technique. This passion of mine uses “FIRE” (in the form of a blow torch) and beeswax. You actually use a combination of flame, oil pigments, and beeswax to make wonderfully rich and textured art or to enhance photos (photoencaustic). I love making encaustic art. Some of the nurses I work with are urging me to sell it online. You can call me the “jack of all trades, master of none”, for sure, but I want encaustic art to be a big part of my future.
Give us some closing wisdom, and let us know where we can find you.
Create and nurture. Explore and stretch. Learn and find ways to give back. These are the values I’ll take into my post-FIRE journey. Adding a bit of volunteering and some geo-arbitrage and this is the direction I’m currently heading in. I have already written of my love for Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala. It has incredible beauty, nearly perfect weather, a lovely indigenous population, and an active and welcoming ex-pat community.
Spanish is not necessary initially. It very easy to learn after arrival because they have language schools on every corner! The cost of living is also PERFECT for leanfiring on less than 40K/year. If you put off saving your nest egg, at present, social security for most people is adequate for living there quite well. Not only is it beautiful but its only three and half hours away via plane from Atlanta. Cee (a Canadian ex-pat) is the author of my favorite ex-pat blog and she tells you everything about living on the lake including cost breakdowns. Her blog is at Chasing Marbles.
If you want to keep up with me, please find me at LeanfireATL.com for the blog. You can also find me at BucketBabe @leanfireATL on Twitter. I’m just beginning to engage on Instagram. I’ve been on Pinterest for years, though.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope to see you on the journey to FIRE… BucketBabe
CMO Here Again
Thanks again to Bucket Babe for coming by and sharing her story! I love how she shows us that you shouldn’t give up on reaching financial freedom just because you had a rough-or late-start. Even if you didn’t invest at 20, 25, or even 30 – or you went bankrupt – doesn’t mean you need to just give up and accept that you’ll never be able to retire. Start from where you are, and when you know better, do better. An inspiring message for us all!
Be sure to leave her a comment with any questions or things you want to know about her story.
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