Overcoming Adversity on the Path to FIRE- Chris from Can I Retire Yet

Long time readers of this site will know that I love to share stories of overcoming adversity. I think too often in the personal finance community, people focus the stories on the uber-successful, and gloss over the hard parts. This can make “ordinary” folks think that they can’t possibly ever succeed, because they’ve had a rough start/bad times/etc.

I’ve shared my own story about overcoming my husbands medical crisis, and my friend FI Journeyman’s story about going from community college to millionaire. And today I’m going to share the story of Chris from Can I Retire Yet – someone who made a ton of money mistakes early on, only to reach success in his early 40’s.

Let’s get to know him!

Tell us about yourself!

I am a 41 year old husband and father to a 5 y/o daughter. My family is the most important thing in my life.

I’m also a lover of outdoor adventure sports. My first love is skiing, but I also enjoy hiking, mountaineering, rock climbing, and backpacking. My daughter is a waterbug, so we’ve also been getting more into swimming and flat water paddling. We’re in the process of moving to Utah to live in the mountains where we’ll have much more convenient access to our favorite outdoor activities.

My other big passion is travel. My wife and I began traveling as soon as we finished college and we’ve been all over the states and to 5 continents. My daughter has already been to 21 states and on 2 Caribbean islands.

I retired this past December from my career as a physical therapist. My motivation to retire early was having more time to live a lifestyle focused around pursuing my passions, rather than trying to fit in life around a work schedule.

What money mistakes did you make early on? 

My early money mistakes were all centered around a lack of knowledge of investing and tax planning. I bought into the narrative that investing is difficult and requires the assistance of a “professional”. I later learned that most investment advisors willing to work with a young person starting out with little or no assets are trained salesmen. Following my advisor’s poor advice led to massive mistakes that cost me far more than I realized, or even imagined possible. After the fact, I tallied up the costs of my mistakes. I found I was paying thousands of dollars more than I knew in investment fees annually and thousands more in unnecessary taxes by following conflicted advice.

How did you overcome those mistakes?

I overcame my mistakes by realizing the importance of self education. I found great information and inspiration by reading other FIRE (financial independence, retire early) bloggers. The first blogs of any kind that I found were Early Retirement Extreme and Mr. Money Mustache. Though I do not embrace frugality to the degree that either of these two do, both challenged me to think differently.

For practical investing advice, I highly recommend JL Collins “Stock Series” which demystified investing for me. The Mad Fientist and Go Curry Cracker had similar impact on my understanding of tax planning for someone aspiring for early retirement. While reading these blogs were tremendously educational, they also contributed to my second big money related mistake.

As I came to grips with the magnitude of my past financial mistakes, I became regretful and bitter. At the same time, I became obsessed with reaching early retirement and was constantly looking ahead to the future as some magical time when I could be happy. Between constantly looking back at past mistakes, and forward to a future of early retirement, I struggled to be present. This led to one of the most unhappy times of my life, even as I was taking control of my financial future.

Overcoming my unhappiness involved a concerted effort to be more present. This included developing routines and practices including regular prayer/meditation and performing exercises and routines of gratitude.

I also was helped tremendously by finding online mentors who were ahead of me on the path to financial independence whose stories I related to closely, including Todd Tresidder at Financial Mentor and Darrow Kirkpatrick at Can I Retire Yet? Darrow and I subsequently became partners at Can I Retire Yet? earlier this year.

Finally, I benefited greatly by finding a peer group on a similar journey to my own. At first this meant following the stories of Tanja Hester at Our Next Life, Chad “Coach” Carson, and the couple behind “Slowly Sipping Coffee.” Later, I became part of a mastermind group of likeminded couples who could relate to our struggles and cheer our triumphs as we took this unconventional path through life.

I now write at Can I Retire Yet? to pay it forward and help educate the next generation of people looking to use their finances to design a unique lifestyle.

How did you reach success to be able to retire at a young age? 

My financial success was not the result of any one action. It was the result of many small actions that built upon one another over time. The most important were:

  1. We rejected debt throughout our lives.My wife and I both obtained skills enabling relatively high paying careers, while accumulating little student debt. We minimized costs associated with housing and cars by living below our means and paying far less interest that most people by paying off our mortgage in only 7 years, while never having a car loan (other than my wife’s first car that she bought for about $5,000 while in college). We’ve never paid any other interest in our lives on credit card or consumer debt.
  2. We always pay ourselves first and automate savings and investments, eliminating emotional mistakes or the need for willpower.
  3. Once we realized our mistakes, we educated ourselves on the impact of investing fees and taxes and took efforts to control these expenses, accelerating our path to financial independence.
  4. We rejected the traditional approach to life as a dichotomy, focused around careers to then retire to a life with no work. Instead, we focused on figuring out what we valued and wanted our lives to look like. Then we redefined retirement to reverse engineer a plan that enabled that lifestyle.

What advice would you have for others seeking financial independence?

  1. First and foremost, believe it’s possible and get started.
  2. Take time to understand the concept of compounding, understanding that financial independence is the cumulative result of many small actions which in isolation may seem insignificant.
  3. Live below your means.
  4. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
  5. Focus on the things that have the largest impact. (Increase income, limit spending on housing, cars, food, insurance, taxes and investment fees, control counterproductive thoughts and behaviors).

Where can readers find you? 

You can find me at Can I Retire Yet, and on Twitter here.

CMO Here Again

Thanks so much to Chris for stopping by to share his story! I like how he mentions surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals – either in person or online. One of the greatest benefits of joining the personal finance community, whether through blogs, forums, Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram, or anywhere else, is simply the power of community. When you surround yourself with folks striving toward a better financial future, you get inspiration, knowledge, and near-constant positive reinforcement.

Be sure to leave a comment with a question for Chris, or let him know something he said that resonated with you!

Interested in more financial stories? Check out stories on women seeking financial freedom – Find the full list here – or my series on Breadwinning, Six Figure, Millionaire Moms.

Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram,  what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.


3 thoughts on “Overcoming Adversity on the Path to FIRE- Chris from Can I Retire Yet”

  1. I agree that there is far more learning from the mistakes of others than just by everyone only touting their success.

    Kudos to Chris for essentially overcoming early mistakes and showing that no one is perfect.

    The quicker you see that you are on the wrong path the quicker you can get on the right one. Also working in your advantage is that mistakes made early are of much less magnitude as the dollar amounts are typically smaller. It’s the late stage mistakes that can have huge swings at your net worth you need to avoid

    1. Thanks for reading and the kind words.

      One point to consider is that while you’re right that it is good to make mistakes when young and have time to recover, decisions (good or bad) made when you are young compound many times over. So it is wise to invest in your financial education ASAP, which if you’re reading blogs like this you’ve already started, and then put that education to work.

  2. Cooper @ Two Corporate Millennials

    Great perspective Chris and thanks for posting this article CMO, truly appreciate it!

    I made some pretty dumb decisions in college. I basically had a full scholarship and was getting paid pretty decent to get through college from the Army Reserve, ROTC, and working part time. But guess what, I thought we needed a new car as newlyweds and that USAA personal loan for ROTC cadets for $25k looked great (1% interest, not bad honestly). I made an even worse decision by “investing” that money with a buddy’s family business in real estate development and lost it ALL OF IT about 2 months later.

    So while I was lucky one who came out of college with $0.00 in student loans…I made two REALLY bad decision that cost me about $41k.

    You can only control what you can control now, so just have to learn those hard lessons and move forward. I was able to get that all paid off in about 2 years (thankfully!) and I will never do anything like that again.

    I as well love stories of overcoming all kinds of adversity. Thank you both for sharing!

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