Welcome to another awesome entry in my series of women on FIRE – women seeking financial independence, and either early retirement or making retirement elective. Today I’m excited to have my friend Mrs. Kiwi from Kiwi and Keweenaw. I was really excited that she decided to do this interview, and has an awesome story to tell. So without further ado, lets meet her!
Tell us about yourself!
My husband and I have two awesome dogs, live in Michigan, and love living frugally. We met during college playing a game of Euchre. Since we started dating so young (I was 18, Mr. Kiwi was 20), our journeys to adulthood and financial independence have been closely connected.
From our first date I knew we were both super frugal, not just poor college students. We split an order of ribs, which came with a side of spaghetti. Our second date was a free walk along the canal, in February, in 0 degree Fahrenheit weather. We didn’t even buy a cup of coffee.
I’ve learned to love gardening and we now grow lots of the plant based food we eat. Mr. Kiwi loves to road bike, and helped me conquer my fears to join him for long rides. We are both environmental engineers and try to think before we consume. Fortunately, sustainable living goes hand in hand with frugal living.
Instead of paying someone to do a task we’d rather learn to do it ourselves. This means we make our own cold brew coffee on nitro, homebrew beer, are working on a whole home renovation, make our own maple syrup, and almost exclusively cook from scratch.
How did you become interested in personal finance, and financial independence?
I’ve always wanted to travel the world, and was able to start my adventures during undergrad. Mr. Kiwi and I traveled with a group of classmates to Honduras during a spring break. Plus, I spent two summers in East Africa doing paid research. I’ve always been fairly type A and high achieving, but spending extended times in a totally different and slower culture showed me the benefits of connecting with people instead of pushing to cross items off a to do list. The two summers abroad got me hooked on slow travel, which didn’t fit in with my first corporate job. After my second summer abroad, I knew I would want to do something different, I just wasn’t sure how that would fit into my life in the US.
After returning from Tanzania, my hubby and I moved in together for grad school, and I was able to fully appreciate how much he truly didn’t care about money. I realized that all things personal finance would be my responsibility and took on the task of managing the bills, provided he do the dishes!
During graduate school we both had assistantships that covered our tuition and paid a $16,000-$30,000 annual stipend. We set a big goal of buying a house after landing “real” jobs, and were able to save half of our income during grad school. We tried to minimize lifestyle inflations, though we did upgrade to craft beer. We both graduated from college with an average amount of debt, but knew we wanted to pay it off quickly.
We paid off $25,000 of our student loans and purchased our house with a 20% down payment within two months of me starting my first full time job (Mr. Kiwi had been working for 1.5 years). After we bought the house and paid for our wedding we didn’t have a clear focus for what came next.
We slightly inflated our lifestyle and updated a few practical things in the home, but our savings kept growing. Neither of us knew anything about investing, and our parents have pensions but not much else. So they weren’t going to teach us about personal finance. We thought about splurging on some fancy international trips, but after slow traveling I wasn’t interested in paying inflated prices to spend a couple days in a new city.
Then we lucked out and asked the right people the right questions. Some married friends of ours were talking about how they planned to quit their jobs in the future and travel the world, so I asked them how they were going to make that work. I knew they were frugal, shared one car, were constantly changing cell phone providers, and had a roommate in their small DC apartment, but I figured that was because Washington DC is such an expensive city! Fortunately, they pointed me to low fee index funds, FIRE, and a simpler path to wealth.
I dove down the FIRE blog rabbit hole and was hooked. Mr. Kiwi didn’t quite get the point of retiring early, but he didn’t think that spending more money would bring extra happiness. Plus, I had always planned on staying home with our future kids, so it seemed wise to save up now to allow Mr. Kiwi to more work flexibility.
Tell us about your FIRE journey – and motivation. What does FIRE mean to you?
FIRE means that I’ll be able to take a few more risks in my life. Mr. Kiwi and I both grew up in homes where money was tight. His response was to not spend any money, and I responded by learning about money. When I discovered FIRE I finally learned about an approachable and simple investing strategy. I understand that it may seem weird to say that FIRE is approachable, I know many people find the concept of saving aggressively for financial independence impossible. But I found the community while I was aggressively paying off my student loans and other debt, which had an end in sight. Thus, as soon as our student loans were tackled we didn’t inflate our spending and were able to start saving towards FIRE.
One of my favorite things about FIRE is that it gives us flexibility. Unfortunately, Mr. Kiwi and I have both had the experience of working jobs that did not align well with our values. And saving towards FIRE meant we could quit without a job lined up. However, being in the trenches, quitting was much more difficult for each of us than we expected. Financial instability is one of my greatest fears and even with a robust emergency fund and dual incomes quitting did not come easy.
Our journey has had a few twists and turns, but one major challenge. In 2014 Mr. Kiwi got a headache, and it hasn’t gone away for a single minute since it started. When the headache struck he had recently lost 60 pounds, was biking all the time, and eating healthy, but was feeling in the worst health of his life.
Honestly, we didn’t react to the headache quickly, since Mr. Kiwi has suffered from chronic headaches his whole life. But after two months we realized this headache was different, and started searching for an answer. Money does not solve all of our problems, but it has given us the opportunity to seek expensive treatment, and take a few weeks off work to travel to headache doctors or rest. When we go to doctors we get to focus on treatment instead of cost, which is an amazing privilege.
Having a daily headache is a good reminder to make the rest of our life as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible. Last year Mr. Kiwi decided to quit his monotonous, high paying, and easy job to go back to school for his PhD. If we weren’t saving towards FIRE, accepting a 60% pay cut may not have been an option.
We don’t know how long Mr. Kiwi will be able to work with his chronic pain, but planning and saving towards FIRE makes work a choice for him, and not an obligation.
Thanks to the stock market surge and our frugal lifestyle we reached barista-FI at the end of 2017, which means we jointly only need to make a barista level income to support ourselves. The grad student stipend comes with killer health insurance, so maybe Mr. Kiwi will be a grad student for life?
What’s unique about pursuing financial independence as a woman?
Working in engineering I’m always surrounded by men, and it’s not weird to be the only woman in a room of twenty people. I’ve always been so impressed by the women who have risen up the ranks of my employers and appreciated their encouragement and support. I had always looked forward to getting to pass that encouragement on to the younger female team members.
However, over the past few years I have come to realize that engineering is not the best long term fit for me. Fortunately, by pursuing FIRE, I plan to transition out of my current job this year.
It is difficult to accept that I am one of the many women who leave the profession around my age. But I know addressing that specific gender gap is not the fight I want to take on right now, and, begrudgingly, I’ve given myself permission to sit it out, for now. Financial independence gives me the courage to be the feminist that I choose to be, and I now plan to pursue my entrepreneurial interests.
On a lighter note, people are frequently surprised that I manage almost all of our finances. And I love talking investing, credit card churning, and frugal living with our friends, and I cringe a lot when the topic of bitcoin comes up. (Side note: I do make sure Mr. Kiwi knows our investing plan and all of our account information, since that’s just prudent.)
What advice would you have for other women on this path?
When I discovered financial independence there were very few prominent women writing about the topic. Awesomely all of that has changed in the past few years, and there are so many great female bloggers!
I was a personal finance beginner when I first heard of FIRE. I only understood checking and savings accounts then! Even with my love of math I was scared away from investing by words like risk and expense ratio. So, you aren’t alone if you are slow to jump in, but after learning a bit more about personal finance I realized that when it comes to money risk means something totally different than it does when combined with white water rafting.
Your path to financial independence will be uniquely your own, so try to keep the judging voices quiet (the voices I have to quiet are mostly my own 🙂 ). We’ve made plenty of financial mistakes such as bouncing a check or two, not having a robust cash emergency fund, and buying a bigger house than we really need, but FIRE is still within our reach.
Where can readers find you?
Thanks for learning a bit more about my story! You can read more about our simply frugal FIRE life at my blog Kiwi and Keweenaw. I’d love to connect with you on Twitter and Pinterest too! Or if pictures of dogs and food are your thing, I’m also on Instagram! If you have any specific questions please reach out to me on social media or comment below! Thanks Liz for letting us share our story!
CMO Here Again
Thanks so much to Mrs. Kiwi for stopping by today! I was really excited to learn more about her. I also love cooking from scratch, although I’ve never tried making my own maple syrup. Sounds like fun though!
Be sure to leave her a comment below, and stay tuned next week when I’ll share another awesome story.
Interested in more stories on women seeking financial freedom? Find the full list here.
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