Financial Independence, making Retirement Elective – that’s what the Women on FIRE are all about. Today I’ve got another awesome interview with Beth – she works with a financial services firm, is seeking financial independence, and is an avid reader of all things personal finance (just like me!). I enjoyed getting to know more about her, and I know you will too. So now lets meet Beth and hear her awesome story!
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Beth Watson and I am 39. I do client communications for an independent financial services firm in Mineral Wells, Texas, just west of Fort Worth. Over the last few years I have started taking some clients of my own as well, and I am involved with nearly all formal financial plans. My efforts do include a newish blog, though we aren’t trying to becoming famous on the internet! We mostly serve our geographic area.
Prior to joining Corner Post Financial Planning I was the executive director of our area chamber of commerce for six years, and I ran a local newspaper prior to that. So I have been and remain very involved in the local community, and I also served on statewide boards in the chamber of commerce industry.
At heart I am a reader and content producer who loves financial planning. After college at the University of Texas—where I worked on newspapers all 4 years–I entered the journalism business at a national political magazine. That was followed by a stint at a regional daily before we moved to this area and I took the job as general manager/editor at a now-shuttered community newspaper. Whether press releases, pamphlets, or articles and now video scripts, I have been writing professionally for a long time.
My husband, Steve (41), and I have been married 14 years and we have two children, Winston (3) and Victoria (1). Steve is a governmental auditor, which I would consider his second career, and as laid out above I am in my third and hopefully final career. Originally I hail from Memphis, Tennessee, and Steve grew up in the Dallas area.
As for our financial backgrounds, I would call my childhood home environment lower or middle-middle class and Steve’s upper middle class. So he was used to nicer things and had more of a parental safety net, but our experiences were definitely within the American norm.
I financed two degrees, including a master’s in public administration, with the minimum amount in student loans I could bear along with part- and full-time work. We took on student loan debt for Steve’s accounting degree so he could finish it full-time, though he had parental assistance with earlier college efforts.
How did you become interested in personal finance, and financial independence?
In my mid-20s I endured a string of jobs that were not satisfying, so I started reading articles about what it took to retire. If you aren’t happy, leave, right? So fairly early in my working career I knew that a substantial savings rate was necessary to achieve retirement security. I never stopped educating myself about personal financial responsibility, mostly through reading books like The Millionaire Next Door, Dave Ramsey’s works, and The Richest Man in Babylon (CMO Note – I love all these books). As noted above, eventually I joined my current financial planning firm, where I have authored dozens of educational articles and organized numerous workshops for our clients and the public on financial topics.
So I was VERY primed when a friend shared a mainstream media article referencing Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme, I think sometime in 2014. Shortly thereafter I found Robert and Robin Charlton’s book How to Retire Early, which is more accessible though less amusing than Early Retirement Extreme.
I am very logical, so once I had read a couple of articles and books on how financial independence is possible at an age earlier than 65, what to do seemed obvious. So you go down the lifestyle optimization rabbit hole. This is where I read Joshua Becker and Marie Kondo’s books on minimalism as well as some of the frugality tips at Frugalwoods and the Simple Dollar.
Tell us about your FIRE journey – and motivation. What does FIRE mean to you?
Retiring early is one thing, but everyone should strive for financial independence!
To me financial independence is the freedom to be who you are supposed to be. So many times I have seen people fail to stand up for what’s right or what they believe in because they fear they will lose a job. Sadly, I have seen people tormented in a job or forced out because they were doing the ethical thing. Why would you want to live under that cloud if you don’t have to?
My husband and I are much more interested in financial independence than retiring extremely early. Work gives meaning and structure to a day. We both do work we feel is important and we enjoy the people who show up to work with us every day.
I think at a fundamental level, the appeal financial independence has to us comes from the difficult times we’ve experienced in the workplace, either personally or vicariously through close friends and family members. Steve’s whole department was laid off six months before we got married. His boss’s wife was three months pregnant. They were in a niche industry, and both men had to totally retool their careers.
We’ve seen things change quickly. A family illness, employment crisis, or other emergency can force your priorities to change. I think it’s smart to be as financially prepared as possible for that.
If you were to observe us, we appear fairly normal (I think). The biggest telltale signs of personal frugality might be our older cars and modest home. We also prepare all our meals at home, and only eat out to be with our friends.
What’s unique about pursuing financial independence as a woman and a mom?
If you are in the workforce, I have always been, I think it’s important to be strong in mapping out your career path. Where are you going? What opportunities can you take advantage of to put yourself in the best position to achieve financial independence—for example, earning more, getting the opportunity for advancement, being seen as a leader?
Unfortunately discrimination based on sex does still occur. Plenty of times I’ve served on boards with few women. Because I was there based on my interest, I have always just participated fully without thinking much about the gender skew.
As a member of a two-income couple, I think tax bracket and general taxation awareness are especially important. Back when we were not saving as much, we paid more in federal income taxes. If I took on freelance writing work, I’d give nearly half of it up in taxes because we didn’t optimize our pre-tax opportunities. Fortunately we work with a CPA team that encourages retirement saving and healthy personal finances. They have always given fair warning of the consequences of our choices.
While the cost of childcare is substantial, other than that I have not found that kids themselves are very expensive. We’re blessed that our children are healthy and that we have good health insurance. As older parents we’ve also received a ton of second-hand items—everything from high chairs to furniture to toys and clothes. Our kids eat what we eat and don’t have any electronic babysitters or expensive activities (yet).
Young kids re-center activity on the home, so we’re at home a lot more, primarily for convenience. What kids cost on a day to day basis is far less than what we spent going out with friends or each other more regularly. Not that we don’t miss the occasional date night!
What advice would you have for other women, and moms, on this path?
Everyone’s situation is different, so I can only talk about my approach. I changed careers, had two children, and discovered the possibilities of financial independence all around the same time. Because I understand the math and enjoy what I do, I’ve chosen to push ahead despite how tempting it might be to pull back. I am even running for city council this year and studying for the Certified Financial Planner examination. My husband has his eye on the Certified Governmental Finance Manager program.
We’ve chosen to do some of the hard things now in hopes that we can ease up a bit down the road. I don’t think we’ll have more energy or drive in our 50s or 60s, so we hope buckling down, working hard, and saving hard will set us up pretty well for those golden years.
Another example of doing the hard thing now IS insourcing/frugality. We aren’t radical insourcers, but we do eat almost all of our meals at home and do it thriftily. My articles on how to save money on food are the most-read on our company website.
Where can others find you?
CMO Here Again
Thanks so much to Beth for stopping by to tell her story! I loved getting to know her and I think she’s got a great story to share. Be sure to leave her a comment!
Interested in more stories on women seeking financial freedom? Find the full list here.
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