This post is part of the Humans of FI project which tend to be longer than usual.
They are less concerned about the numbers, but more about the human story which led them to the path of financial independence.
The stories can be raw and un-sanitised.
Please contact me if you wish to get involved.
Let me introduce Rich
Rich is in his 20s and lives in the US with his wife.*
They are a young couple but are very clear about what they want in life and how they don’t need a lot of money to be happy. They are definitely ahead of me compared to when I was their age!
As you read his story, you’ll learn about a conversation he had as a child which has been the most impactful on his life. How financial success can come at a cost and their plans for semi-retirement.
So without further ado, over to Rich…
I appreciate that this series is called Humans of FI, rather than Humans of FIRE — I agree that financial independence isn’t necessarily the same as FIRE. I don’t like the idea that your only options are 100% all in full-time work or 100% retired with no work. I believe that understanding the possibilities that exist in between those extremes could help a lot of people with moderate incomes to leave full-time jobs they dislike much earlier in their lives.
My work and family
For my day job, I am a marketing project manager for a large corporation. I don’t love it but I don’t dislike it. Honestly, I feel blessed to feel that way. The worst thing about it is the lack of flexibility, though I understand that most corporate jobs are this way.
My wife and I are both in our mid-20s, and we do not have kids yet. My wife works in a similar role for a different company than me, but her long-term goal is to write full-time until we are able to semi-retire early.
My sister is my only sibling. She is currently still in college, though she will be graduating next year. She is good with money, but not very interested in it right now. She wants to be a professional photographer, and I think the unknowns and volatility involved with launching her career feel intimidating.
My first job was mowing my family’s and my neighbor’s lawns. My dad and our elderly neighbor both paid me for this service — $20 per lawn. At the time, in middle school and high school, $20 for an hour’s work moved the needle for me. It was also about half of the going rate for a full-time professional “lawn guy” (as we called them), so it was a good deal for my parents and our neighbors too — both of these were great economics lessons for me.
Similarly, I taught guitar lessons in high school to a few friends and neighbors.
My parents and my dad’s parents are all very financially savvy. In many ways I take after them. However, my dad and his parents are from New York and they’re very shrewd negotiators. I am not naturally confrontational, so that’s one way we’re different.
When I was a kid, as early as age 5 or 6, my grandfather (on my dad’s side) would ask me questions and ask for my opinion like I was an adult. He would ask my opinion on political and financial topics, for example, and give feedback then expect me to defend my opinion. I felt overwhelmed by this the first few times, but it in a way it was so flattering to be taken seriously and to have someone express an interest in my thoughts at that age. These conversations helped me to proactively think critically about the world around me.
My mom was raised in a different environment — money and finances were not a strength or a comfortable topic. On my mom’s side, her mother was an elementary school teacher and her father was (and actually still is) a plumber and an electrician. They were firmly middle class. Always able to meet the basic needs with their incomes, at least. She’s from the southeast U.S., so there is a bit of a family culture difference, too.
A conversation with my dad
One of the most impactful conversations I have ever had was with my dad in the town I grew up in. We were in the car driving somewhere, I don’t remember where. I was in early high school, and we were starting to talk about college plans and my goals for my future.
I said “I don’t feel that I have to be super wealthy to be happy, I just want to be able to have a decent job and support my future family. And I want to be able to afford a decent house,” I said, gesturing towards a neighborhood we drove past. This neighborhood was cute in a way, but older, and definitely not as desirable as the neighborhood where we lived. My dad responded and said, “That’s probably going to require a college degree from a good school and a lot of hard work.”
It feels embarrassing to say it now, but this conversation made a big impression on me. When I answered the question and gestured towards the neighborhood, I really thought I was setting a moderate, achievable goal for myself. Not something extravagant. But what I realized was that living in a neighborhood like that would actually require a lot of financial success, in the eyes of most of the people in the world. Plus, getting into a good college and finding a stable, fair-paying job were not guarantees. It was a moment where I realized that my parents had done very well financially, and that I was (and am) not likely to have as high of an income as they had in their careers.
In many respects, I had a financially privileged childhood. I don’t think I perceived it that way at the time, though. I went to public schools for my whole life and my parents didn’t buy brand new cars while I was growing up. But my parents were savvy and had good breaks in their careers.
My mom worked in sales for a major global beverage company. She out-earned my dad early in their marriage, and they actually moved to a different state to allow her career to progress. When I was born, though, she left work temporarily, at least that was the plan. She didn’t end up working full-time after that.
My dad ended up having a career in medical device quality assurance, progressing to a vice president role at a Fortune 500 company. He was with that company for over 20 years. Towards the end of his stint there, we moved to the other side of the country and his job was very stressful. He was tired and burnt out. I didn’t like seeing him have to work like that. He was eventually laid off which really turned out to be a blessing.
My parents moved back to the east coast and they live near my wife and me now — near where my dad, my sister, my wife, and I went to college.
My parents were very good to me and my sister. I recognize that in essentially every way, I am privileged. That needs to be acknowledged.
Financial success at a cost
My dad’s career was mostly an extremely positive example of financial success. The positives being that he worked hard, opportunity came his way, he pursued it, and my family was able to have a very full life. We traveled fairly often, including internationally a bit. In the last 7 years or so, my parents have been able to live where they want and pay cash for their home. My dad now still works, but at a lower stress, lower paying job where he only goes into the office 2 days each week (he works from home the other days).
While I just discussed flexibility that they now enjoy, I feel like that was missing from my dad’s life in my later years living at home. He was constantly tired, stressed, and a scapegoat for larger problems at his company. This gave me mixed feelings towards his career and the corporate world in general. For that reason, quality of life and flexibility are characteristics that I now place a premium on in my own life and career.
In fact, I don’t plan to work in a corporate setting in my 50s. Hopefully, not even past my mid 40s.
Money and marriage
My wife and I, overall, have similar views of money. We had discussed it some while we were dating, but when we first got married, I think she was still a bit surprised and concerned with my level of interest in personal finance. It was definitely a full on hobby for me already at that point. I toted multiple bookshelves of financial books into our 3rd level walk up apartment at the time, and I listened to several financial podcasts daily.
But her concern stemmed from similar ideals to mine — life should be enjoyed and lived in moderation. Yes, we want to save and invest intentionally, but we don’t want to suffer and have near-zero expenses while doing it.
It’s not clear to me who’s “better” with money, between the two of us. I enjoy the numbers and the spreadsheets more, certainly. But she’s able to enjoy it more and give with conviction. I think that’s equally important. Money shouldn’t just be about hoarding, and my analytical personality can make me just want to chase a high score, financially. So overall, I would say her view of money is probably healthier than mine.
FI does not automatically mean RE. That concept is actually what inspired me to start Semi-Retire Plan. I started my blog this year, for a number of reasons. One is that I just enjoy writing and creative expression. I write a lot of emails at my job (I joke that I am really just a professional emailer), but those do not feel like I’m adding to the library of knowledge in the world. I also want to help people. I think people outside of the personal finance hobbyist community feel intimidated. I like the idea of the FIRE movement, but I think this has actually intimidated people outside of the community further. I want to offer a solution that is actionable for people with normal incomes, like my wife and me.
We’re not pursuing FIRE, in the typical way at least. We’re also not planning to follow a typical career approach either. In that way, I feel like I am the financial referee, living in between the two competing ways of thinking.
People say things like “do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I like that sentiment, but for me, at least, it is not a viable option.
If what you love is being a civil engineer or an accountant, then you’re all set! Or if you love sports or music and you are exceptional, then that’s good too. Those are very applicable passions. I don’t think I have an activity that I love enough to do 40-60 hours a week and really enjoy it, though. I like to play the guitar, hike, read, and write, but doing any of those things for 50 hours weekly would quickly start to feel like work all over again!
I believe that teaching will be the most fulfilling career for me. I love learning, and I love helping other people learn. I did a lot of tutoring in college for part-time work and I enjoyed it. But I don’t want to do it for 40 hours per week, nearly every week. Plus, teachers in the U.S. are paid notoriously low salaries.
So that’s where the Semi-Retire Plan stems from. My wife and I each make around the median income for workers in the U.S. right now. But I don’t want to stay in my full-time job forever. I want to retire early but I also want to do the teaching work I care about. And only do it seasonally. And travel. And spend time with my wife and (hopefully future) kids. At our income level, traditional FIRE does not seem feasible without extreme frugality and that doesn’t feel appealing.
I don’t want to sound like I’m a FIRE naysayer. If you’re pursuing FIRE and it aligns with your current and future lifestyle goals, then go for it! I think it can be an amazing thing. It just doesn’t fit with what my wife and I want for our lives now or later.
We want to spend time traveling now, go out to eat a few times a month, and buy new clothes from affordable retailers occasionally and not feel bad about it. My wife and I both drive 2012 Toyotas. So we’re not living lives of extreme luxury. But, we are able to do most things we want to do with some planning and saving.
We are hoping to have children in the next few years, so that’s part of the future financial equation too. We’re not willing to sacrifice on that front in order to expedite our retirement.
And honestly, I think I will enjoy working part-time teaching or another role I’m passionate about in my 50s and 60s.
My path into personal finance
My first intro to the personal finance was Dave Ramsey. I read Total Money Makeover early on in college when I was frustrated by how little personal finance I was learning in the business program I was in. I listened to his podcast. I also read Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich and a few others. These books were helpful in a lot of ways, but they weren’t really geared towards early retirement or FI in the way that the FIRE community thinks about it. What I was reading at the time felt more geared to having a comfortable retirement later in life once you can’t work anymore.
I first started learning about early retirement from Paula Pant at Afford Anything. I followed her and J. Money from Budgets are Sexy early on when they weren’t really FIRE-focused. Over time, Paula’s podcast has become more geared towards early retirement and she’s had a lot of FIRE community guests on. From that, the Mad Fientist and others really helped me understand the math and tax side of early retirement and how it’s really possible. This did inspire me and make me realize that much more flexibility is available than most people in the Western world realize — specifically, I’m thinking of U.S. tax law and how there are ways to access your retirement accounts early.
Our financial plan
Right now, we are saving about 18% of our income into our retirement savings. Ideally, we’d like for this to be a bit higher, but 20 or 25% would be about all we want to do. We don’t have high incomes, and we want to be able to travel and enjoy life in the short-term.
On a related note, giving is a priority for us. We give 10% of our gross income to the local church that we are members of. We’re practicing Christians and to us, giving that 10% is a higher priority than saving an extra 10% for retirement. We don’t believe that you have to give 10% exactly, but it’s the amount that we feel is right for us. I like that it’s a way we’re active about our faith and giving helps us keep a healthy perspective about money. Ultimately, I like to think that if we were extremely wealthy, we would make giving one of our main focuses. I believe that having wealth doesn’t change who you are, only magnifies it — so it’s important to us that we give now while we’re in the wealth growing stage.
Our financial plan is to have our “forever home” (until we downsize later in life) paid off with $600,000 to $700,000 in retirement savings by our mid or late 40s. Then, we will shift to part-time and/or seasonal work only. We’ll live on our part-time work income and supplement that with a small amount from our savings, but we’ll let most of our savings grow. Then between our late 60s and early 70s, we’ll fully retire if we want to.
Other than planning with my wife, we haven’t talked in detail about our FI goals with anyone.
When I look at the numbers and projections for our future, I’m happy with our savings rate progress and goals. It does feel a bit discouraging, compared to the incredible savings rates I read about from FIRE movement followers. But I have to remind myself of our own goals and our own situation. I haven’t read this, but Rachel Cruze has a book called Love Your Life Not Theirs. I can’t vouch for it being worth reading, but I love the sentiment behind the title. You have to put blinders on a bit because comparison will derail you.
Taking the FI Score Test, it feels like we have some way to go based on our current savings rate. However, we don’t plan to stop work entirely; just invest enough to leave the corporate world.
Making the most of generosity from others
We’re not too far into the journey, in the grand scheme of things. I was able to start saving into a Roth IRA during college, so that helped to jump start our savings. My wife and I both do not have student loans, which I recognize as a major privilege. My parents had saved several dozen thousand dollars for my tuition, and through scholarships and choosing an inexpensive public school that covered it. The college we went to was in-state (reduced tuition) for my wife, and she also received some scholarship funding. My wife’s family took out loans for the balance of her tuition and have insisted on paying them off, which is very generous. We have offered to pay them instead, but they will not accept.
We did have some car debt when we first were married, but we have since paid that off. Now both of our cars are paid for and we plan to avoid car debt in the future.
It is hard at times to stay motivated. Full-time work that you don’t love is just hard and unpleasant. But that in itself is motivation to reach our early semi-retirement goal.
The hardest lesson I’ve learned along the way has been is to always begin with the end in mind (one of the habits from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). This applies in all areas of life, but with the benefit of compound growth, it’s certainly true for finances and retirement too. The hard part of the lesson is that you can’t go back in time and begin even earlier, and you can’t force anyone else to understand or agree with your view of the world.
We love to travel
I have traveled abroad a few times for brief periods. I’ve been to Canada 3 or 4 times, Mexico a few times, a couple trips to the Caribbean on family vacations, and I studied abroad in Brussels for a month in college. On that trip I got to visit a few other countries in Europe. In terms of traveling in Europe, though, my wife is more well-traveled than I am. She lived in Prague for a year after college before we got married (we were dating at the time) and got to travel to neighboring countries a lot during that time. She also visited Italy twice on previous trips.
Right now, living abroad is not in our plans, but continuing to make travel a priority is. We feel extremely fortunate to live within about 200 miles of all of our immediate family and most of our extended family. That hasn’t always been the case, so we’re very happy to live so close to them all now.
If I was FI now I would want to travel more than we do now — maybe take 2 international trips each year for a few weeks each. I would spend more time with family and friends and make a point to travel to them. I would volunteer more with our church. But otherwise, I wouldn’t change much about our future plans! I would still want to teach part-time seasonally because I think it would be fulfilling. I would still want to live roughly where we live now and even stay in about the same size home.
Starting your own FI journey
For anyone thinking of starting their journey towards FI, my advice is to do exactly that — just start. It’s okay if you don’t know what your plans are for 3 decades from now. Just start the process. I’ll reference a metaphor that I hear often in the investing community. It’s been said that “The best time to plant a tree is 50 years ago. The second best time is now.” Compound growth and even changing your habits will all increase in magnitude over time, so the most important thing is to just get started as soon as possible.
There are a lot of investment podcasts, blogs, and books out in the personal finance world now. Many of them are good resources. Obviously, I’d love it if you considered reading my site, Semi-Retire Plan. For me personally, though, the most influential and practical financial resources in my life have been Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich, and Paula Pant’s podcast Afford Anything.
In my own life, I progressed through those resources in that order. I don’t agree with Dave Ramsey on every topic, but he’s very solid overall. And the baby steps are extremely direct and practical. You may not be completely optimized following his baby steps, but I truly believe that they are failure proof. You will do well if you follow them.
Ramit Sethi was the first person in my financial education that embraced the idea that you can do the things that are most important to you. If living in an ultra modern apartment is most important to you, you can afford that. And you should do it, if that’s what will make you most happy. You just have to be willing to cut back and sacrifice in the areas that are not important to you.
In my master’s program I’m working through right now (thank you, employer-provided tuition reimbursement!), we recently covered a similar concept in terms of product development and product attributes. The course taught that, when businesses are developing a product, they should do market research on the target customer demographic and find out which few theoretical product attributes customers care about most. Then, don’t skimp on those attributes, but you should cut costs aggressively on other attributes to increase profit margin since it won’t affect the purchase decision to the same extent. So, for example, if you’re developing a new TV, maybe you find out that customers only really care about the screen size and display resolution. In that case, make it big and super high definition, but don’t invest in making it super narrow or using luxury materials for the exterior. The same is true with our finances. Find what you value most and invest there.
Paula Pant (and others like the Mad Fientist) have been helpful with having a detailed understanding of retirement accounts and tax optimization, specifically with early retirement in mind. Some more traditional and mainstream financial media do not account for early access to funds or passive income enough to really be helpful for someone interested in retiring before 59½ (that’s the age when you can access most retirement accounts without penalty in the U.S.).
If someone came to me and asked if they should pursue FI when their partner is not interested, my advice would vary depending on the details of the situation. Honestly, which is more important to you — FI or your relationship with your partner? You might have to choose one over the other. What is the nature of your relationship? In my opinion, a marriage relationship would carry more weight than a dating relationship. Could you discuss FI over the next few years without fully pursuing it yet? You may need to find a compromise and be more intentional with your finances than you have been in the past, without going “all in” on the path to FI. It really will come down to your own priorities.
CFC, thank you for asking me to share my story with your readers. It’s been fun to look back at the journey that my wife and I have been on, and to consider how our pasts affect our current lives and our future. To the readers: I hope this has been entertaining and helpful for you. The first step is just choosing to start the journey. Then hang on tight and try to enjoy the ride.
The most impactful part of Rich’s story for me was when he spoke about how financial success can come at a cost. I have a young family and it makes me think whether climbing the ranks in Policing will lead me down a similar path. One where I will be even more stressed, more tired and more regretful of not being present with my family, especially as my kids grow.
The idea of semi-retirement makes a lot of sense. It allows for a lower savings rate to spend on things you enjoy most now. At the same time, it provides the option to leave your job later on in life to get paid work in other areas you’re passionate about. It is definitely something people who are earning less or want to maintain a certain standard of living should consider.
What Rich’s story reinforces is that FIRE is what you want it to be. There are no set rules, just basic principles. Everyone’s journey will be different. Everyone’s destination will not be the same.
So now it’s your turn. What do you think about Rich’s story? How has it inspired you? Will you go down the semi-retirement route?
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