Women on FIRE – Jillian from Montana Money Adventures

I’m excited about today’s entry in my Women on FIRE series – Jillian from Montana Money Adventures is stopping by to tell her story. I met Jillian at FinCon, although of course I’d seen her around Twitter before that, and she’s an amazing woman. I can’t wait for you to read all about her journey to financial independence, mother of six, and queen of mini-retirements. So without further ado, here’s her story.

Tell us about yourself!

I’ve been married for 15 years, we started with $50,000 in debt, have had 6 kids, traveled through 27 countries, I’ve held 12 jobs, taken 5 mini-retirements, own 2 rentals and at 32 I became financially independent. I’m Jillian Johnsrud, and that is my life in numbers. Oh, I just turned 35!

I grew up in wheat and cattle country in Montana, but we have also lived in Idaho, 4 years in DC and 4 years in Germany. During our time in Germany, we traveled all over Europe. Now we are back in Montana, just outside of Glacier National Park. Our dog’s name is Cheesy Taco and he really wants to be internet famous. He keeps asking for an Instagram account, but I’m too lazy for that silliness.

How did you become interested in personal finance, and financial independence?

When I was in Jr. High, my stepfather had started drinking a lot every day. Occasional rude, hurtful or racist comments became the only way he communicated with us and I wanted out. I pleaded for my mom to leave and get us out of that situation. But there was no way she could provide for us with little to no support. So we stayed. For years. It was at that very moment that I learned that money gives you choices. I never wanted to be stuck in a horrible situation again.

I saved up $8,000 by the time I graduated high school. I bought my first (of many) personal finance books when I was 20. By the time I was 24, my husband and I had paid off $50,000 in debt and saved our first $100,000.

Tell us about your FIRE journey – and motivation. What does FIRE mean to you?

I originally wanted to be financially independent by the time we were 60. Then 55. Then 45. Then 40. Growing up poor, it was just hard to imagine and dream bigger. In total, we have taken 5 mini-retirements and hit FI when I was 32. Now I describe it as “work optional.” We just do stuff we love: things that are meaningful, fun, and fit nicely into our lifestyle. I really love entrepreneurship, creating things, building things, and solving hard problems. It’s amazing when I can do that occasionally, for a few hours a day, and really impact people’s lives. The fact that it brings in income is almost surreal.

What’s unique about pursuing financial independence as a woman and a mom?

Being a mom is the defining work of my life. I’ve dedicated more love, hours and tears to it than anything else I’ve ever taken on. We have adopted four children from foster care and have two biological kids. Knowing we wanted to adopt high needs kids was a driving motivation for achieving financial freedom. I knew both of us working stressful 9-5 jobs just wouldn’t work. Our kids would need more from us. They would need us to be flexible, available, and emotionally rested so we could meet their needs.

Being able to be more flexible at this stage (My kids are 2, 5, 6, 9, and 10) has been amazing! We travel  6-10 weeks a year. This year we will camp in 12 National Parks. We spend all summer playing at Flathead Lake, picking cherries, hiking and gardening. Then, when they are in school, I get some alone time to write, mentor, or create courses.

There are a lot of great reasons to become financially independent, but this kind of time and adventure with my kids is hard to replace.

I worked a lot of jobs I didn’t love and we made some hard choices on the path here, like paying cash for our house. I think between being a woman and growing up poor, I had a strong desire to fit in. It took a lot of reflection and grit for me to continue to push off other’s opinions of my life and intentionally design my own life based on my values and goals.

What advice would you have for other women, and moms,on this path?

Your kids need YOU. More than sports, more than dance class, more than fancy birthday parties, and more than cute bedrooms. They need us there, physically and mentally. Sometimes we are tempted to spend more money simply because it’s easier. It’s easier to buy a $100 gift than read with them for 15 minutes every night.

The seasons are short. We took mini-retirements all along the journey because childhood doesn’t wait for anyone. And if we don’t really show up for it, it passes us by.

Don’t assume your issues are their issues. Boy, this one has been tough for me to learn! I was so insecure growing up poor. I hated the used clothing, fearing not having lunch money and scrambling for school picture money. I thought I had worked through all that…until I had kids. Then I wanted to buy them out of all the things that caused me pain. Except my issues weren’t their issues. They are happy and healthy, surrounded by loving, supportive family. They don’t care about used clothes. We take epic trips each year so they don’t really care about a big birthday party. Our life is full and close and fulfilling. They don’t need a 100 toys to fill the void I had as a kid.

Keep it simple. Happy is better than fancy. Sometimes as moms we want everything to be so darn perfect. Here is how I pack lunch when we go out hiking for the day. I grab a loaf of bread and put in on the center console of our van, and stick a jar of peanut butter in the cup holder with a butter knife. We don’t need a theme park. Just a nice day, a hiking trail and PB sandwiches made while we drive.

Where can readers find you? 

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CMO Here Again

Thanks again to Jillian for stopping by to share her story! I especially love her advice that kids really want your time, not more stuff. This is so true – my boys would much rather do something together as a family than have a gift card or another video game. Keeping your priorities clear helps make sure you’re not trading your time for money to replace the lack of time you’re giving your family. Instead you’re trading your time for money to grant you the flexibility and freedom to spend more time with those you love.

Be sure to leave her a comment below!

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13 thoughts on “Women on FIRE – Jillian from Montana Money Adventures”

  1. Ha, the introductory sentence with all of the numbers made me exhausted! I didn’t know you lived in DC Jillian, hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to live in Montana one day!

    1. I like DC for a season but I feel most at home in the forest and mountains. =) We just spend 3 days in Salt Lake City, and it was OK and all, but there isn’t something about sitting in traffic on the interstate I simply don’t miss! (Also bugs and humidity! Don’t miss those either!) =)

  2. I discovered Jillian’s blog a few months back. Love your adventures and the fact you were taking mini-retirements! I’ve taken 8 months off and I’ve been a believer in sabbaticals ever since.

  3. Jillian’s story is so incredibly inspirational and I love how honest she is about it!! I sometimes feel like people are judging us (my husband and I) for wanting to live a simpler life. We don’t want to work 70+ hours a week and make tons of money, we just want enough to live and go camping whenever we want! I love how Jillian is unapologetically like, this is what we want and we made it happen. No apologies for living this lifestyle.

    Because truly, that’s what life is all about! Some people want to work tons of hours and live in big cities and spend money on clothes, some want the opposite and some want in between. The beauty of life is we pursue what we want (without hurting others) and being happy with our choices. It’s so cool to see Jillian and her family be able to pursue their dreams because of financial freedom! 🙂

    1. We are in the middle of a 10 week camping trip to 10 National Parks right now! It’s been amazing. I always had that feeling that life was too short and I didn’t have any days to waste bidding my time on someone else’s goals or expectations. There aren’t any do overs. So every day we waste living someone else life or being miserable are just wasted days I can’t get back. We are camping in our pop-up camper next to $150k RV’s. And while those look nice, I’m not willing to wait 20 years to see all these amazing things. If it’s a pop-up camper or nothing, I’ll take pop-up camper. And for the first 10 years we tent camped. But we traveled all over Europe in that tent!

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