Forest Trail

Our Journey Down the FIRE Trail – Part 4

This is the final installment of a 4 part series in which I share some of the details of the road my wife and I took to pursue financial independence.

In Part 1, I explained our backgrounds, shared some details of our married life together, and discussed the first key factor which enabled us to reach FI (namely, Motivation).

In Part 2, I talked about four more key factors (Salary Growth, Controlling Lifestyle Inflation, Long-Term Investing, and Real Estate).

In Part 3, I discussed how we measured our progress toward financial independence.

In this post, I will review lessons learned, share some of my favorite FIRE bloggers and podcasters, and ponder what’s next.

In Retrospect

Lessons Learned

Looking back, with what I know now, I can think of a few things I might have done differently.

  • I did not contribute at all to 401ks when I first had the opportunity. And even after I started, I did not learn right away about optimizing my contributions to maximize employer match and/or to maximize possible tax benefits.
  • Similarly, during the years in which I had the option of a high deductible health insurance plan with an HSA, I did not always elect it (favoring the PPO plan on several occasions). If I were to go back, I would have always selected the HSA and would have always contributed the IRS max to it (as a tax shelter and investment strategy).
  • Moreover, on the HSA topic, I would have paid for virtually ALL of my expenses with regular credit cards instead of from my HSA account, thereby reaping two benefits: 1) earning credit card reward points; 2) having more funds in the account to invest in the market over the long term.
  • I would not have purchased a home in a school district with poor to average test scores. As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, we got caught in a situation where we felt forced to sell our townhouse at an inopportune time to move to a city with better schools. We were fortunate to have the resources to sell our townhouse for a small loss and still buy a new house in a more expensive area before elementary school started.
  • I would have hired an advisor and invested our surplus cash into the stock market sooner.

FIRE Practices We Did Not Employ

As I mentioned at the start, our FIRE journey was not typical in all respects. Along those lines, below are several common and popular FI stepping stones which we did not leverage on our path.

  • Side Hustles – We did not start any side hustles to generate more active and/or passive income. As two full-time working parents, we did not have the mental bandwidth for side hustles.
  • House Hacking – We never rented out any portion of any house we lived in. With or without kids, this would not have been in our comfort zone.
  • Travel Rewards Hacking – I think once I timed signing up for a new travel rewards credit card so I could use it for big upcoming purchases and earn extra sign-up incentives. However, given how much we’ve traveled over the years, I’m sure we could have employed this technique frequently and earned beaucoup rewards.
  • Cutting the Cord – Since I am so into movies and TV, and have historically gotten value out of our cable subscription (which I re-negotiated every year), we have never pulled the trigger on cutting the cord. I seriously considered it when we moved this year, but streaming service DVR technology is just not good enough yet (especially for those of us who like to fast forward commercials or have 4K HDR TVs).
  • Buying Used Cars – I already discussed this topic in Part 2 of this series.

You will not find a single formula, or cardinal rule, for reaching FI. The FIRE community is not prescriptive, but instead helpfully suggestive, about a sizable set of best practices that you can optimize and customize to your situation.

My Favorite FIRE Resources

I did not become aware of the FIRE movement, and its multitude of bloggers and podcasters, until about a year before we reached financial independence. So, I cannot really claim that any of them were key factors in our journey.

Even so, in the past year, I have become an avid follower of several influencers in the community. I find these personal finance subject matter experts to be both informative and entertaining. The FIRE movement is full of engaging personalities who have a passion for sharing their knowledge and building community.

Light Bulbs
You’ll find no shortage of ideas in the FIRE community.

Here are some of my favorites (updated in March 2023 to reflect changes in the podcast space):

Joe Udo’s Retire by 40 was the first early retirement blog I read with any regularity. He often writes about provocative topics, and his posts generate a ton of comments. He also shares his financial numbers and details his progress toward his goals with great specificity. He is down-to-earth and very easy to relate to.

Afford Anything hosted by Paula Pant has emerged as one of my two favorite personal finance podcasts (and is also a great blog). Pant is an engaging personality with a great “on-air” persona and leverages her journalism background to get the best out of her interview guests. Her knowledge of investment best practices is impressive, and she is also an expert on owning rental properties. Of late, her podcast focuses more on psychology and less on nuts and bolts personal finance or real estate.

The Stacking Benjamins Show is my other favorite personal finance podcast. The host Joe Saul-Sehy brings a light touch and amiable personality to the show. He and his co-host, OG, both have financial planning backgrounds, so they bring formidable knowledge to answering listener questions and analyzing financial news — even though one running joke on the show is that you are not supposed to learn anything. The show features interesting guests and round table discussions. Regardless of the subject, the show is just plain “good radio” and very entertaining. Stacking Benjamins also has a lively Facebook group called “The Basement.”

ChooseFI is a podcast, website, and Facebook group 100% dedicated to the topic of financial independence. If you are interested in learning FIRE principles and practices, ChooseFI is a critical resource. What I appreciate most about the podcast is that the hosts, Brad and Jonathan, dive incredibly deeply into the topics they discuss and really get into the weeds. They constantly ask their guests to slow down, back up, and get into the minute details of the subject at hand. In 2023, Jonathan left the show and Brad took over as the solo host. For anyone who is looking for in-person meetups, ChooseFI has local groups across the country and around the world. Also, Camp FI hosts four-day camps in various regions of the country.

Our Next LifeTanja Hester is one of the premiere writers in the FIRE movement, and her award-winning blog is probably my favorite (alongside Udo’s RB40). Hester posts long, thoughtful, and deeply researched articles on all kinds of early retirement topics, including several that other bloggers don’t talk about much (e.g. about health care, diversity and inclusion, and psychological issues). She also co-hosts The Fairer Cents, a podcast that discusses money and personal finance from a female perspective and champions underrepresented voices. Recently, Tanja’s blog and podcast have been relatively dormant.

Bigger Pockets is a hugely popular real estate podcast and community. The show is entertaining and educational, due to the deep expertise of the hosts and their interview guests. Generally speaking, I am more into personal finance podcasts, but I’ve been listening to Bigger Pockets semi-regularly to learn more about real estate investing.

Financial Samurai – I don’t read this blog quite as much as some of my other favorites, but early retiree Sam Dogen provides really interesting statistical analyses on all kinds of topics. His blog is often quoted and sometimes sparks controversy in the FIRE community. Unlike many others in the movement, Dogen lives in a super-expensive area (San Francisco), so his insights and perspective are often different from the norm.

Mr. Money Mustache – Pete Adeney is a huge influencer in the FIRE community and his blog is the way many people find out about the financial independence movement. His post, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement, is a great place to start.

Earn & Invest – host Doc G (Jordan Grumet) hosts in-depth round table discussions on a variety of FI topics with a diverse panel of guests. If you’re looking for thoughtful, contemplative discussions, then this is the podcast for you.

You are far from alone if you are interested in pursuing financial independence. The community embraces newcomers and is eager for anyone and everyone to hop aboard the movement and help spread the FIRE!

What’s Next

We are several months into our “Life of FI.” We have settled into our new community and like the area so far. But we still have a lot to explore.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my wife is still working for now (by choice). On the other hand, once we got past all of our house setup and home improvement projects, I started to have welcome amounts of free time on my hands. My plan is to avoid impatience and give myself time to discover (or rediscover) the interests and activities with which I’d like to fill my life.

So far, I have returned to writing and (obviously) have started blogging. I know starting a blog is a FIRE cliche, but for now, I am doing it just for fun and to get my creative juices flowing. I have gotten more into bike riding and am exercising more frequently overall. I am volunteering at two animal shelters (with my daughter in tow some of the time). I have joined a filmmaking meetup and am trying to start a local FIRE meetup. And, of course, I am shuttling my kids around to school and their various activities (which no longer feels like a burden as compared to our previous life).

If I am lucky, I have done a good job of hacking the happiness curve by not only retiring early but doing so at age 50, when happiness is supposed to start rising in most people (see How I Hacked The Happiness Curve on Retire By 40 for a good discussion of this). If that’s true, then hopefully the best is yet to come.

Your Turn

If you would like to share any details from your own FIRE journey or call out some of your favorite bloggers or podcasters, I’d welcome your comments.

(Note: I moderate all comments so you may experience a delay before your comment appears on the post. For any SPAMMERS out there, don’t waste your time submitting as I will reject your comment.)

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