How I Got FIRE’d Up: My Swan Song

FIRE'd Up

How I Got FIRE’d Up: My Swan Song

Taking cues from the fine folks over at The Money Mine, Slowly Sipping Coffee, and Plan Invest Escape (and perhaps others we aren’t aware of), Lucy and I have taken up the challenge to document what got us FIRE’d up. And following the recent theme, I like the idea of plotting our major life events over a relevant index in our lives. For me that is the KBW Bank Index which serves as the benchmark for the banking sector.

FIRE'd Up

I talked in recent weeks in more depth of how I made my first million (Finding my Elevator and Moving to Move Up), today I’ll talk about how I got FIRE’d up.

Early Adulthood (2007 – 2010)

In early adulthood, I didn’t have a clue about FIRE. I was pretty attune to personal finance and conventional wisdom on how to save and invest. So that’s what I did. I didn’t make a ton of money out of college, so I had to work hard to boost my savings and maximize my investments. But at the time, I thought I was going to be slugging it out, working for “the man” for 45 years…maybe 40 if I was lucky. Because that’s what people did, right?

At that time, my view toward retirement was pretty simple. I invested in an all stock portfolio and was hoping for out-sized returns of 8-10%. For no particular reason my goal was to become a millionaire by age 50. I just thought that was a good goal. And at the time I was heavily motivated to invest as much as my older brother did and try to grow my wealth in line with his.

Shortly after graduating college and landing our first jobs, Lucy and I got married in 2008. At that point, we were sitting pretty well. We both had good jobs that could support our modest lifestyle and we had already begun saving as much extra as we could. We had successfully navigated many major life events in the preceding year including graduating college, landing jobs, moving cities, and getting married.

Now we were set and we were both thinking the next major life event would be kids, albeit not imminently. We had no timetable or thought process for when we would have kids, but we were already being asked and the thought was on our mind. I think the major thing we wanted was a house to raise a family, so that meant no kids until we bought a house. And we didn’t want to buy a house until we were ready to plant roots in an area for at least 5+ years. Any sort of master plan to having kids was tossed aside after the recession hit.

While Lucy and I were both naturally frugal folks, the recession didn’t help. When the recession hit, we were both getting a bit anxious about maintaining our jobs. It seemed like every day another company was announcing major layoffs and furloughs, our employers included. We didn’t know what was going to happen or how long the recession was going to last. We saw plenty of news coverage and witnessed it firsthand from our friends how challenging it was for college kids to find jobs. We began preparing for the worst and became even more frugal.

As we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I decided I needed to do everything I could to improve my value to my employer and position myself better than the guy sitting next to me. During these early years is when I decided to enroll in a nights and weekends MBA program from a top public university.

Lifestyle Philosophy: My early adulthood was more or less a continuation of college. I basically didn’t spend money on anything I didn’t have to. Lifestyle Philosophy = Cheap-ass.

Saving Approach: Some folks “keep up with the Joneses” in terms of spending. Well my goal was to keep up with my older brother in terms of saving. I was very selective in terms of what I would spend on (i.e. a few hundred bucks a year on entertainment and sporting events). Savings Approach = Everything I could.

Transition (2011 – 2013)

After graduating from my MBA program in late 2010, Lucy and I began to enter a transition phase. At this point, we were more comfortable with our employment status and continued earning potential. The economy was improving and the stock market was bouncing back. Now that I earned my MBA, it was time to look for the next step and the next challenge.

I found my next challenge in a rotational program at my bank which required a move to San Francisco. Lucy was fortunately able to advance her career simultaneously and received a promotion with her employer by moving out to SF as well. We lived most of 2011 in SF. Knowing that living in SF was temporary we lived it up while we could. We packed in so many activities during the nights and weekends you would have thought we lived there for years after hearing all we did. And as such, we were much more willing to pay for these “once in a lifetime” experiences.

After my program, I rotated out and earned another promotion by accepting a position in Charlotte. Lucy was able to maintain her SF job while working from home in Charlotte temporarily and she eventually found permanent employment after moving. Her strong set of work experiences and well-deserved references from prior managers were valuable in finding her next job.

Lifestyle Philosophy: During this transition, we began to value experiences more. Our employment status was more comfortable and as such our spending was more comfortable. Lifestyle Philosophy = Lean towards comfort and valuing experiences…still relatively frugal.

Saving Approach: As we transitioned, moved, and received promotions, we continued to push our savings into overdrive. On a dollar basis, our annual savings were growing by leaps and bounds. Savings Approach = Save more every year

FIRE’d Up (2014 – current)

And then we got FIRE’d.

Junior was born in April 2014. Our incomes had grown substantially in recent years. Our net worth was accelerating. The bull market has continued (not a roaring bull, but a bull nonetheless).

The birth of our first child got us thinking about the future. Lucy and I began evaluating life insurance needs, the cost of our lifestyle, the cost of a newborn and his future college education. It got us thinking and planning. I can’t even tell you specifically, but slowly this evolved into researching different topics, stumbling across personal finance blogs including Can I Retire Yet and Mr. Money Mustache along with other resources.

2014 was the year I began thinking about my exit. I began estimating my FIRE number, how I could access retirement accounts in early retirement (before age 59 ½) and eventually pulling the ripcord and coasting into retirement.

That’s when I got FIRE’d. That’s when I realized that my life was not meant to be defined by my career. That’s when I realized that advancing my career was not the end all be all, it was actually just a means to an end. And for me, that meant an early end.

Lucy and I have now had more conversations about “FIRE” than cavemen. We’ve always been a team and there to support each other with whatever life throws at us. She’s on board with FIRE and like always, ready to take a life’s worth of journeys with The Green Swan. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And that will always be our swan song.

Lifestyle Philosophy: We began spending on what is important to us and what will bring us more happiness. First that was a house, we also finally replaced one of our aging cars, and not to be outdone was the arrival of Jr. We’ve traveled more including a trip to Peru and another vacation back to CA. We’ve never been flashy and that still hasn’t changed. Lifestyle Philosophy = Comfort and experiences.

Saving Approach: Our savings approach hasn’t changed materially. We emphasize savings still and have done well continuing to increase this in recent years. We aren’t entering a “spending phase”, but we would be ok with flat savings if it meant more happiness and a joyful life. Savings Approach = Status quo.

Concluding Thoughts

While one conclusion you may draw as compared to some of the other PF bloggers who have written about how they got FIRE’d Up is that we were naturally frugal and never had a phase of major spending or lifestyle inflation. While that may be true, I would mark one other major distinction and that is the fact we started our employment just before the greatest recession since the Depression. Hard to say the full impact that has had on us and our mindset toward personal finance, but suffice it to say our frugal tendencies were only amplified right out the starting gates.

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

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ADI

Great post! I like the gradual transition from frugal towards valuing your experience – I think its a healthy attitude to have. After all, everyone only gets one shot at this!

I’d love to hear more about the moment when you switched from being OK with retiring at a “normal” age to being FIRE’d up! Was there a specific moment? Something that happened at work maybe?

JW

I’ll have to think harder about this and get back to you. I can’t remember a specific instance, but I specifically remember having a conversation with my older brother about a target FI number and also one with my Dad. I think it was a slow evolutionary mind change for me rather than a revolutionary moment that triggered it.

Thanks for the question, ADI.

Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions

I was actually wondering about a specific moment too. I had one of those moments but was already making great progress down the slow path to FI. And I have thought about writing a post like this too (after reading the same ones you listed!) It is so interesting to read the stories – very different paths to a similar location!

Mr. PIE

Very good to to have that built in approach to avoiding excessive spending from early in your career. That is a good thing.

Had I looked back on our life and saw that we didn’t spend on experiences but instead acquired stuff like cars, boats, electronics, jewelry, fancy clothes, I would have had a ton of regrets. But experiences, like the credit card ads go, are in some ways “priceless”.

Making sure you balance both the saving part and experiencing life with a young family and you’ll continue to do very well.

Amanda @centsiblyrich

Being frugal and having the desire to save from the beginning is so helpful in any journey toward FIRE. Kudos to you guys for starting off on the right foot!

It’s interesting that you gradually started placing more and more value on life experiences. It’s always a balancing act, but it sounds like you have a great balance right now.

JW

Thanks Amanda. It has been an interesting journey including how our spending habits have evolved. And I don’t think I’d change it.

Thanks for the comment!

earlyretirementnow

Always amazing to see how even with the so-so index performance (the wider index had slightly better performance than the BKXTR, of course) folks are able to accumulate large nest eggs quickly. No market timing, just consistent savings, and dollar-cost-averaging!
Also, I share your exact experience of working in finance during the bad old days in 2008 with lots of layoffs. If one wasn’t frugal before, 2008/9 definitely did the trick! The bonuses went straight into savings, not to the car dealership! 🙂

Stefan - The Millennial Budget

Terrific story! I can’t help but wonder, since you were able to get solid jobs during the recession and were saving well above the average person, I assume you were able to exponentially grow your wealth by investing in the market during those cheap times correct?

It was funny that you pointed out how working during the recession actually shifted your mentality to being frugal, or increasing your frugalness (is that a word??), as it has rewarded you with a stable life and the ability to retire well before those 40-45 years you thought you would be working. Best of luck with the rest of the journey, always exciting to learn from you.

JW

Yes, our investments were growing quickly at that time, but we still weren’t making a ton of money that early in our careers. But yes the quick rebound and continued investing helped grow things quickly.

Yeah that is a bit ironic how a recession ultimately led to where I am today. The shift in mindset at that time was key.

Thanks Stefan!

Matt @ Optimize Your Life

This is a cool story. Thanks for sharing!

It seems like most people struggle financially or are saving minimally before finding the concept of FIRE and then have a drastic turnaround. Looks like you guys were doing just fine and were already on track without realizing it. That mindset switch can be a huge mental and emotional turning point even if it isn’t a big monetary turning point, though.

JW

Yeah it is funny looking back on it now. I knew enough about personal finance to not make any bad moves, but didn’t have any concept of what it took to retire. When I figured that out, the lightbulb went on.

Thanks, Matt.

Eric Bowlin

One important thing is that as your wages go up, your spending doesn’t also inflate.

A lot of people just keep spending more and never get closer to retiring early.

Locking in a frugal lifestyle up front allows you to earn more money, save more, and retire younger.

Great post.

JW

For sure! I know many people who haven’t seemed to think twice about spending more as they earn more. Not me and I definitely wouldn’t advice it!

Thanks, Eric.

Mustard Seed Money

I loved reading your journey. When I was in my 20s I too saved as much as I could. Now that I am in my 30s with a wife and child I value experiences so much more. It’s amazing how quickly or slowly we evolve in financial philosophies in life.

Did you have any apprehension when you transitioned from Frugal towards Experience?

JW

Similar paths, eh, neat! I did and still do, it’s been tough for me to let go of my frugal ways. But I continue to remind myself how it’s important to have balance. How about you?

Thanks for the comment, MSM.

Josh @MoneyBuffalo

Great reason to get FIRE’d up. I didn’t know about FIRE until I started blogging last year.
Similar to you guys I started workin gright before the bottom fell out in 2008 and saw some people layed off for close to 18 months and returned to work with credit card debt, etc. because they had financed fancy trucks and toys right before the economy tanked.

I doubled-down on getting debt-free so I wouldn’t be in a similar situation if I received the pink slip. Now I’m working on the investing for today & the future.

Taylor

I like how you have transitioned your plans based on different life events that were presented. I have my first child on the way, what are a few changes you recommend regarding finances when you have a child?

JW

Congrats and good question. I actually have a post ready to go in the next week or two on the topic. I think you’ll enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by.

Martin - Get FIRE'd asap

It’s a great story Green Swan and one that is far from over. And a most original way of demonstrating it graphically. I did have to take a few moments to work that out.

As I’ve said before, you guys have got your minds in the right place for FIRE and I’m sure that you’ll hit it well ahead of schedule. I only wish I’d had the same knowledge and plans when I was your age (that’s old fart talk by the way). You’ll be there one day lol.

ambertree

Thx for sharing this. It adds some context around the blog.

Sounds like it did not take that long to get into full FIRE mode.

I like most how you say that career does not define you. And that flat savings rate in exchange for more fun and experiences would be OK.

It is actually a great idea to reflect a little bit on the past years.

JW

You bet, thanks for giving it a read.

It didn’t take too long to get into FIRE mode, but it did require me convincing myself that it was the path for me.

True, it’s been very helpful reflecting back and putting things into context.

Dividends Down Under

It seems like things have worked our perfectly for you. You maximised every little bit of your life, your earnings, your savings, your investing, your timing to get good jobs just before the recession and you kept it all the way through. You guys have done awesome and you continue to take everything in your stride 🙂

Can’t wait to see where your journey takes you next.

Tristan

Mr. SSC

Nice take on getting FIRE’d up! I like the graphs too by the way. 🙂

It is awesome getting to read more backstories on how people came around to FIRE and if anything big led up to or it, or it was a more gradual mundane approach. Like with us, keeping our kifestyle from inflating just because it could was key. We still spent and still spend on experience, but we sure did buy a lot of crap back in the day, lol.

Kelsey @ Tealmama

We’ve just become aware of FIRE recently. 🙂 I thought we’d be on the path of working a traditional career and saving a % for retirement. Only to find out we can accomplish so much more. Thanks for some great insight!

Financial Panther

Thanks for sharing GS. Really great to see how you got inspired and hoping to follow in your footsteps some day! Definitely going to try to avoid lifestyle inflation once Ms. FP starts working. As a JD and DDS couple, we expect to be able to reach FIRE fairly quickly if we just don’t let ourselves get in the way.

Finance Solver

That’s so true about finding your differentiation and providing more value than the guy sitting next to you. I’m absolutely terrified of another recession coming along as I’ve never had to endure one. I have no idea how my parents went through it because even in those bad times, I had no idea the world was going under. Can’t be ignorant about the economy now because I’m directly affected by it!

JW

Yeah very true, you’ll never be hurt by going the extra mile and doing something to positively differentiate you from others! Thanks for the comment, Finance Solver.

Harmony@CreatingMyKaleidoscope

Thanks for sharing your story. It’s always interesting to read how people from so many different walks of life ended up together in this awesome FIRE community. Kids tend to change everything, don’t they?

I feel like an alien on another planet most of the time – surrounded by all of these people obsessed with careers, status, and stuff. I guess that’s why blogs like yours are such a respite for me.

JW

Kids do change everything, and always for the better, right! 🙂

It’s been wonderful being a part of the FIRE community. Just like you, it makes me feel home and comfortable knowing there is a crowd of like-minded individuals for me to relate with. Thanks for stopping by!

Joe

That’s a great progression. Being naturally frugal helps a lot. It is a lot easier to start building your net worth if you started young. We had a similar progression and we are slowly moving into the comfort period. It’s hard to loosen up the spending when you’re naturally frugal, though. You’ve got great years ahead of you. Enjoy the ride.

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