Welcome to another awesome entry in my series of women seeking financial independence and either retiring early, or making retirement elective. Today I’m excited to feature my friend Angela from Tread Lightly, Retire Early. She and I were both married young (21 for both of us), and she’s also a mom – although we do live on opposite coasts of the US. She’s seeking financial independence for its own sake, and having a great time along the way. Lets get to know her better.
Tell us about yourself!
Hello! I’m Angela and I’m 30 years old, have been married to my wonderful husband for 8 years, and our son just turned three. We live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and love camping and exploring on the weekends whenever we can (which usually turns into at least one overnight trip a month). There are so many neat places to visit within a couple hours of our town that we always have somewhere we want to visit next.
I work in sustainable development and construction, a job that I’m passionate about as I believe very strongly that we need to do a much better job as stewards of our planet.
In my personal life, this means that I’m very focused on reducing our family’s impact on the earth. We havereplaced most of the disposable items in our home, I hang laundry whenever the weather permits, and I’m a total public transportation nerd. I would love some day to be able to ditch my car altogether, but our local system needs a lot of improvement before that will be a reality for me.
Part of a reduced impact on the earth is also centered around growing and cooking our food from scratch because that’s the best way to reduce the miles our food travels as well as greatly cuts down on packaging waste.
However, when I was first married, the joke was that I couldn’t boil water, though it was sadly not far from the truth. My cooking skills more or less extended to frying eggs and pouring a bowl of cereal. Slowly though, I started learning how to make basic meals, but it wasn’t until I started to really pay attention to what I was eating that I was spurred to improve my skills in the kitchen.
These days, you’ll find me baking and cooking from scratch almost daily, occasionally sharing recipes on my blog, and working in my large urban garden in our front yard – a far cry from the days of crying over my failed attempts at cooking hamburger helper.
We now eat better, and our waste is so much less than it used to be, because growing some of our own food and otherwise cooking from scratch just doesn’t have the packaging that premade meals do. Better for the environment, and better for our wallet, which is the order that most of my decisions are made. Frugality usually comes from either a desire to save money or save the environment, and my introduction to frugality was definitely earth-centric (though money is a huge part of it as well).
How did you become interested in personal finance, and financial independence?
I graduated college in 2009 and had a decent amount of debt – $24,000 – at an staggering 8.5% interest rate. While this amount is exceedingly common these days, it felt like a lot of money, and I was determined not to let my loans hang around any longer than they absolutely needed to be. I worked multiple jobs and threw most of my income to pay my loans off in about 3.5 years. Let me tell you, there have been few days in my life better than the day that balance read zero.
Through my debt repayment journey, I found a number of finance blogs for motivation and eventually stumbled upon Mr Money Mustache, like most of us do, and read through a good chunk of his posts, fascinated with this crazy other world.
After my loans were paid off, life got busy (grad school and then a child) and the idea of financial independence was pushed to the back burner for a few years. We never lived beyond our means, but we allowed ourselves to slide into quite a bit of lifestyle inflation as our lives got busier and our incomes increased.
A little over a year ago, just before our son turned two, I had a little more time again as he was no longer an infant requiring all of my energy and I had brainpower available to do something other than go to work and raise a child. I never stopped reading personal finance blogs during this time, and I realized our spending had increased quite a bit (though I didn’t realize quite how much). I slowly started to wrest back control over our expenditures, and last July, I decided to start my own blog to keep us accountable.
I’m not sure what it is about starting a personal finance blog, but like a number of others it seems, we had some crazy expensive months back to back to back and we had to dip into our emergency fund pretty heavily for the very first time. It felt bad enough to be spending in the red multiple months in a row, but it was even worse feeling that I had to write about it in order to stay transparent. I felt like a bit of a fraud writing about finances when our seemed to be crumbling before my very eyes.
Okay – maybe that’s a bit dramatic. We were never drowning in debt, and we didn’t have to make the decision not to treat our dog at the emergency vet when she had a medical emergency that cost thousands. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to realize you couldn’t help your pet because the funds to pay weren’t there. Regardless, I knew it was past time to step up my game.
Once the crazy months were behind us, I decided to challenge myself to a “No Spend” November – $1500 to be spent for the month for everything besides our mortgage and childcare. I’ve never been one to budget, but I guess this was my first foray into something similar. I tracked every single penny that was spent that month, and when I calculated our savings rate once the month was over, I was stunned to realize we had saved 51% of our income.
This may not be a staggering amount compared to some FIRE folks, but we used to average 22-23%, so this was a huge jump for us. We don’t make crazy high salaries, rather pretty average ones for our area, but we’d somehow passed the magical 50% mark that seemed impossible just one month before.
Since November, I’ve been tracking our spending meticulously and have set an audacious goal of a 50% savings rate for all of 2018. And you know what? It actually seems possible.
Tell us about your FIRE journey – and motivation. What does FIRE mean to you?
Our FIRE journey is all about financial independence, not necessarily early retirement. My husband and I both enjoy what we do and have no interest in ever completely walking away as long as we are able. However, being financially independent means that we will have complete control over what we do; if we’re still working past 40-45, it will be because we want to be, not because we have to be.
I work around way too many people in their 50s and 60s whose jobs have long lost that excitement but are stuck because they rely on that paycheck to pay the bills. I don’t ever want to be trapped at a job because we don’t have the money to walk away. In the same vein, life isn’t always under your control, and financial independence is a great way to protect yourself against a situation where you can no longer work even if you want to.
For now, we could pay our bills in just one of our salaries, and that by itself gives us a lot of control over our lives. Even though we are many years away from being fully FI, I made the choice to cut my hours to 80% time two years ago to spend more time with our son. Had we been living up against the full amount of our incomes, I could never have even considered dropping back. Living well below your means gives you options to make decisions based on happiness, rather than money.
What’s unique about pursuing financial independence as a woman and a mom?
I grew up with parents who never treated me like being a girl meant I could do anything less or different, so the idea that finances could be something I couldn’t control just because I was a woman never even crossed my mind. I learned about money early on, and I’m lucky that I had that stable foundation for when I graduated college and began supporting myself.
Becoming a mom, on the other hand, has been a completely life changing experience for me. For the first time, I really started to see the bias that comes from being a mom but still wanting to pursue my career. Even though I was adamant that I would be returning after my son was born, the doubt that I would do so was clear. No one ever questioned my husband if he would return to work – even though he made a smaller salary than I did.
As I get older, the more I realize the deep biases our culture has when it comes to women, whether it be conscious or not. And to be fair, it was I who cut my hours when push came to shove and two more than full time jobs were just too much for our family. I honestly think I’ve gotten the better deal because I’m the one who gets extra time in my week, but it still settled out in the more traditional expectation that the mother is the one who steps on to the “mommy track” once the kids arrive.
I have to say, though, the reduced schedule showed me that I don’t want to ever work a full time schedule again. Even the extra two to three hours in my day have been so amazing, and I don’t plan to “ramp back up” once our son heads to school. If anything, I have hope that eventually my husband will get to enjoy some more of that time that I’ve gotten to enjoy over the past couple years. It may not be early retirement, but it’s even better in my opinion.
What advice would you have for other women and moms on this path?
I’m not sure I have any specific advice for women, because my biggest advice is good for anyone:
1. Just start.
I put off really looking at the nitty gritty of our finances again and again because there was always something that came up that meant we couldn’t have the “perfect” month to start out. I finally went for it in a month where we spent a week in Hawaii and we still totally rocked the month. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, so just get started. Your finances will guaranteedly look better than if you didn’t start at all.
For me, that meant tracking every penny. For you, it might mean something totally different. Know yourself, and work through what will work best for your situation and perspective.
2. Set hard goals.
Set goals that doesn’t seem very possible – but not entirely crazy. If it seems at the outset you’ll reach it for sure, it’s probably too easy. If it has a 1% chance of succeeding, it’s probably too hard. In order to push yourself to do amazing things, it should be hard sometimes. Great things rarely happen in comfort zones, as I’m sure you’ve heard. And when you finally do reach that goal, it will feel so much better than reaching one that didn’t take any extra effort.
One part of the FIRE movement that is pretty prevalent but I completely disagree with is the idea that you should just put your head down and plow through years of work even if you’re unhappy in order to reach FI. Unless you’re talking only a year or two, I’d challenge you to think differently. Our time on this earth is limited, and I think it is so important not to wish away years in order to reach a goal that will (hopefully) make your life all better.
If you are that unhappy with your day to day, perhaps there is a way to change your life now in order to get some of that post – FIRE life this year. So what if it takes you a few years longer to reach FI? If you are happy with your day to day life, it won’t matter so much because you won’t be counting down the days to get there.
Of course, this is by no means a YOLO pitch, because odds are, we’ll all be here in twenty years and we should be ready for once those years have passed. I just don’t want to look back and wish I hadn’t lost years along the way.
Where can readers find you?
You can find me writing new posts on Tread Lightly Retire Early twice a week, on Twitter way too often (because the community there is fabulous), and sharing our adventures on Instagram. I also run a wonderful and supportive “No Spend” group on Facebook, and I would love to have you join us there! One of my very favorite parts of blogging is having people tell me how I’ve helped them change their finances, and that group has been fabulous for that. Everyone has different goals, but we’re all in it together.
CMO Here Again
Thanks so much to Angela for coming by to tell her story! Be sure to leave her a comment below.
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