Women on FIRE – Catherine from Sisters for FI

Today I’ve got another great Women on FIRE interview to share with all of you. Catherine reached out after seeing my interview with Angela from Tread Lightly, Retire Early, and I’m glad she did!  She had a breadwinning mom (the way into my heart!) and just recently started off on her personal FIRE journey. Catherine has taken a break from the 9-5, has several websites, and lives near my CT home in New Jersey.

So let’s get to know her!

Tell us about yourself!

I’m Catherine from Sisters for FI and The Do Something Project. I’m in my thirties and currently live with my husband in NJ. I originally emigrated from the Philippines when I was 9 and have lived in NJ every since.

I’m a big reader and am questing to read one book a week this year (all from the library). I’m a homebody but I do love to travel and check out new places. Slowly, I’m also gaining a love of the outdoors and looking to do more hikes in NJ.

I’m a former adtech program manager finding a new life in sustainability and personal finance. I was your average 20 something working in NYC, paying expensive rent, going out and taking on credit card debt. It wasn’t until a car accident the day after Christmas (I was OK, but my car was deemed totaled), that the idea of minimalism started to grow in my mind.

You see, I had painstakingly paid off my car a few months earlier than the lender quoted date. A few months later, I lost it in that accident. On that day, I stood on the side of the road with the Christmas presents I had just received watching my car burn down. I know, dramatic right, but that was the start of me re-thinking my relationship with stuff.

With the payout from that accident, I paid off my student loans and some credit card debt that I got into. I minimized my things and generally did a clean out of items I wasn’t using. I was able to earn some money from selling my stuff and eventually eliminated all debt. It turned out, I didn’t need a new car and completed eliminated that expense.

I then started to think about what was important to me and focus on those things: family, friends, travel, time and my new found love of sustainable living. I continued to save money. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I was saving for, just general retirement, trips, etc.

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

My mom had lots of books about personal finance around the house. Although she never forced us to read it, she did leave Money magazine in the bathrooms and I would occasional peruse it. Ha.

When I graduated college, she gave me a copy of Suze Orman’s book “Young, Fabulous, and Broke.” It was a straightforward book of action items on saving and investing. I also was a big fan of Rami Sethi of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich.” I followed their advice not really knowing what my goals were. CMO Note – These are affiliate links, if you get the books I’ll get a small commission at no cost to you.

There was this idea of retirement, idea of saving for large trips or expenses, and this idea of a Freedom Fund. Retirement seemed a long way off. I was entrenched in the 9 to 5. It didn’t occur to me that you could earn money differently or that you didn’t need to earn as much. I was still in the conventional working mindset, looking for the next promotion and role.

Fast forward two years ago, I got laid off from a job that I just accepted 4 months before. The thing is when they called us to the conference room for the announcement, I wasn’t scared. Strangely, I was slightly relieved and I started calculating how much I had in savings. I took time off, left the security of the 9 to 5 and started a blog called The Do Something Project to document all that I was doing and this led me to sustainable living. The more I modified my habits to produce less waste, the more I saw the relationship between money, consumption and waste.

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

My FIRE journey started very recently. At the suggestion of my sister, I started listening to ChooseFI and everything started to fall into place. It ramped up my desire to streamline my investments, save more and reduce spending. These were things that I was already doing, but never had a clear path to why.

I’m not necessarily one to sit around so I don’t see myself retiring in every sense of the world. FIRE for me is really about reclaiming my time to do the things that I want to do. FIRE is about designing a life that I want. It’s about living off of the conventional path. It’s about working on things that I care about. I want to be able to use my time to promote sustainability and the relationship of our consumption on the wallet and the planet. FIRE to me is about having a flexible schedule so that I can spend time with family and friends whenever and wherever.

My goals in the next few months are to optimize my current investments and savings and increase my income stream. I feel like I’ve already optimized my spending so just need to work on the other parts. Most of my savings is in the traditional retirement accounts so I am moving towards building other investments that I can access in my my FI days. I don’t really have a date for FI. I feel like I was able to get a taste of it when I took time off from the traditional 9 to 5 so I am looking to re-ramp up my savings.

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

I’m the oldest of 3 girls. My parents never told us we couldn’t do anything just because we were girls so I’m grateful for that. I did come from a culture though that doesn’t openly talk about money and a culture that saw shopping as the cure all. Because of this, having conversations about money early didn’t really happen and when it did, it wasn’t easy. Books about money were everywhere, but it was rare that we would sit down at the dinner table and talk about bills or investments.

I was a woman in a tech field. So I was surrounded by a lot of men that talked about investing. I think that also helped me get comfortable with investing and talking about it, but I know not everyone will have that opportunity. I started Sisters for FI as way to give women a voice and provide space to have financial discussions without being overrun by men. We have a local group with women from various backgrounds and it’s been great learning about each other experiences.

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My mother was the primary breadwinner for a period of time in my family so I know that women are capable and can achieve anything with the right support.  CMO note – I happen to have a thing for breadwinning moms – be sure to check out that series too. I also saw how difficult it was at times for her to take on the responsibility. For my parents, they lived a bit differently too. They took on non-traditional roles in the household and showing us that it was OK.

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

“The money you make today can buy you time in the future.”

That new handbag looks great, but it could be used to invest. Then you can spend time with your kids or with your aging parents without guilt.

“Design your life.”  I don’t have kids currently, but my husband and I are planning for when that day comes. We know we will need money, we know we will want to change careers, or pursue other passions so we are planning for that. It won’t be perfect, but at least we have a sense of what we truly want and a good part of this is having flexibility with money and time.

“It’s OK to want something different.” It’s easy to go with the flow. It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, but if we want something different, we have to do things differently. FIRE is all about being open minded to all of life’s possibilities.

“Find your tribe.” There’s going to be a lot of people out there that don’t understand what you are doing or the why, but there are also a good number of them that do, find them, connect with them. Be in the company of people that will support you. I’ve loved reading stories from everyone in the FI community. There’s so much inspiration, but also so much amazing knowledge that you can act on. All it takes is that one action to move you along the FI path and get yourself FIRED Up!

Where can readers find you?

Thanks so much for reading and thanks to Liz for the opportunity. Feel free to connect with me over at Sisters for FI or The Do Something Project. I’m very active on Instagram. If you are interested in taking on a 15 day project to #SaveMoneySaveThePlanet, join here.

CMO Here Again

Thanks so much to Catherine for stopping by to share her story! I loved getting to know her better, and I especially loved the wisdom she shared at the end of her interview. Designing your life is something I’ve written about before. Never be afraid to live the life you want, rather than the one others would pick for you. Not being yourself and living out your dreams is one of the great regrets of people at the end of their lives.

Be sure to leave Catherine a comment with a question, or letting her know something that resonated with you from her story.

Women on FIRE – Interested in more stories on women seeking financial freedom? Find the full list here.

 Want to connect with other money smart women? Join in my Breadwinning Women or Women on FIRE Facebook Groups and find other money smart women like yourself.

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.

8 thoughts on “Women on FIRE – Catherine from Sisters for FI”

  1. Great story Catherine and thanks Liz for having her share her story on your blog. As a Filipino myself, I know all about the culture on not discussing finances. It was all about consuming items and getting the latest gadgets. It felt like we all had to catch up to each other by buying the cool shoes, the latest game console or the fixed up car. Being in debt was the way of life and it felt like that’s how it should be.
    Hopefully in the future we will live in a world where finances are discussed more openly and bring that awareness to more people that being in debt is not the way to go.

  2. I love your comment that the money you earn today can buy you time in the future.
    My sister is a little bit spendy, and one day she was telling me that I should “live my life” for the present instead of saving so much. (This was just after I’d come back from a 3 month tour of Europe, so I don’t quite know where she was coming from!!)
    I said to her, “You buy clothes and other stuff with your money; I buy shares/stocks with mine. We both spend our money, it’s just on different things.”
    I know that Old Lady Frogdancer will be galloping around the world and doing whatever she wants and I’m happy to buy time for her to do that.

    1. Thanks Frogdancer.

      We are teaching my younger sister the same about saving (part of why we started Sisters for FI). I think sometimes it doesn’t click that we trade in time for money and vice versa. I think if they teach it early enough, it would change the way people work and think about money.

  3. Thanks for sharing! Following your comment about kids, have you thought about providing for you parents?

    1. Hi @QueerFi! My parents are retiring this year and moving back to the Philippines. It’s been their plan all along to retire there so after 26 years they will move and be able to take advantage of geoarbritrage even though it’s just them returning to the home country. It’s both a sad and happy time for us because we will be time zones apart, but they’ve been looking forward to retirement for so long (part of the reason why I don’t want to wait for retirement, but find that balance early on.)

      Thankfully, my parents were planners and have a sizeable retirement account that they can use. My mom never wanted us to worry about them so I don’t know how they did it but they balanced providing for us and securing their future. Something that I look up to and am grateful for.

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