This is the last year of my 40s … yikes!
Two years ago, I wrote a guest post for The 76k Project for her Finances after 40 series – an interview series for women in their 40s, discussing what they’ve learned and what they would’ve done differently now that they are in their 40s.
76k has moved on to an exciting new project – Financial Superstar where she will encourage and support you on your journey to be a financial superstar. I have her permission to publish my guest post here.
It’s kinda fitting as I leave my forties behind?
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Waking Up to an Epiphany
I dreaded my 47th birthday – I don’t know why, precisely. Just that I woke up one day, really stressed and anxious that I would be retiring with not ‘enough’. At this stage, I did not know what my ‘enough’ was or when I could possibly retire.
I panicked merely at the thought of retirement being on my horizon. After all, retirement was for the oldies, not me. What would I do in retirement? What if I hadn’t saved enough for retirement? How do I know how much I would need after I retired, to sustain me for the rest of my life?
Coincidentally, ABC TV was advertising a new podcast about personal finance aimed at women, hosted by comedian Claire Hooper. As I quite liked Claire Hooper as a comedian, I started listening. It was fun and hilarious and I felt hey, this personal finance thing wasn’t that hard or intimidating after all.
Then I was introduced to my first personal finance book, The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape, a phenomenally popular personal finance guru who has been described as having a cult following. From him, I learned about investing in low cost Listed Investment Companies (LICs) and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).
While googling “how to calculate how much I need in retirement”, I stumbled across the FIRE community and discovered there were people who retired in their 30s – I mean, wow! Here I am, panicking about retiring at 65 …
As I read more and more blogs and listened to podcasts, I wondered if I too could achieve FIRE even though I was such a late starter. I decided to try anyway.
I must admit, I do feel old in this space of young 20s and 30s who are crushing it with frugality, minimalism and living with intention on their relentless journeys to FI. It is one of the reasons I started blogging – I want to add an ‘older’ voice to the mix as someone who discovered FIRE later in life. Many of the bloggers and podcasters in their 40s have already reached FIRE – that was how it came across to me, anyway.
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Looking Back ... My Twenties
I spent my twenties and thirties working very hard – lots of long hours – 12 or more hour days, 60 hour weeks or more, earning a decent wage as a health professional. I never earned six figures but was privileged to have a company car to use. This benefit alone has saved me thousands of dollars in petrol, insurance and registration fees over the years.
My only financial goal was to save enough to put down a deposit for a house. Owning a house was every Australian’s dream – maybe it still is, but stratospheric property prices have made it very difficult for today’s 20-somethings. My parents, especially my Mum, had also drummed that into me: owning your house provides you with security. So I saved for this deposit.
In the meantime, I also spent lots of money. Even back then, property prices were increasing rapidly. I would be discouraged by what I could afford and after so many open house inspections and missing out at auctions, I would decide to go on a holiday instead – to New Zealand, China, Europe, Singapore, Malaysia, the Whitsundays …
I was and am still not very good at delayed gratification. (Edit: I am much better at it two years later!)
Eventually, I saved enough to buy a townhouse in my early 30s and put down a 40% deposit. My mortgage was very manageable and I had no other debt. My salary was deposited directly into my loan account. And as long as I was ahead in my repayments, I could withdraw the extra payments whenever I needed it.
My parents taught me to be debt averse, to never borrow money for depreciating assets such as a car. They nagged me to pay off my mortgage quickly. But I was also seduced by the conventional wisdom that everyone has debt these days, and that it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy yourself while paying off a mortgage. After all, one has to live.
In my early forties, an opportunity came up to part own a business – I took it. I still worked part time in the original business. Financially, it was a mistake. I used the equity I’d built up in my house. It was tough – we did not make any money. But I learned that I could live with a lot less and still survive. After 3 years or so, I walked away from the business and returned to my previous full time role.
I’ve since paid off my mortgage completely and can really say I own my home. This is probably my biggest financial achievement. It was such a weight off my shoulders. I know there are great debates in the FIRE community about whether to own or rent. For me, the security that comes with a paid off home is priceless. No one can kick me out of this house. I will always have a roof over my head.
Being single also plays a big part in me wanting to be financially secure. There is no backup plan – I am it. I cannot rely on anyone else. At times, this is scary. Especially as I age.
In your forties, retirement is looming whether you like it or not, whether you are prepared for it or not. Health care and aged care are potentially two big unpredictable upcoming expenses. In Australia, the health care system is very good (particularly if you compare it with the US, sorry!) but I would still buy private health insurance for peace of mind. I do not want to depend solely on the public system and be at the mercy of waiting lists for surgery.
Aged care is another matter. The federal government funds part of the cost but as yet, I do not understand how it works fully. The standards of living arrangements differ greatly, with some new facilities looking like 5 star hotels while others are run down and dilapidated. I would like to be able to choose a level of care that I am comfortable with, not be forced to live in a run down facility that smells of urine.(Edit: I wrote about this in Will My Money Last Till I Die?)
Additionally, there is dementia in my family so at the back of my mind, I wonder if I too will be susceptible to the disease. If dementia is in my future, then I need to make doubly sure that at the very least, my finances are in order and that I will not be a burden on anyone.
Advice for Other Women
I drifted through life, particularly after I bought my house. So my advice is don’t drift! Pay attention to your life, your finances, your relationships, your work. Stay engaged.
Looking back with perfect hindsight, I should have continued to salary sacrifice into my superannuation. That would have boosted my retirement savings. I weep now to think of the opportunity costs with compound interest.
As I did not care or think about my finances then, I certainly never cared about what sort of investment vehicle my superannuation was in. Even though it was my money, it didn’t feel like it. Because I wouldn’t be able to touch it till I turned 60 – and hey, that is decades away. I still have time to worry about such boring things.
I should have chosen the high growth option and be 100% invested in equities. Instead I just left it in the default balanced option. Ah, another lost opportunity.
So my advice to young people in your 20s and 30s is to think about retirement, whether or not you want to retire early. Keep chipping away and save towards that retirement – contribute towards whatever retirement accounts you have at your disposal. Let compound interest do the hard work. You won’t then wake up in a cold sweat at 47 years old wondering if you have saved enough to retire at 65.
Strangely, taking action to sort out my finances after discovering FIRE in my late forties has led me to question how I live my life and where I would like my future to be heading.
This is totally unexpected. But it makes perfect sense. Why else would you agonise over ways to increase savings rate, frugality, side hustles, living with less crap if you don’t know how you want to use that money?
I have always been a workaholic – work always came first. I am not overly ambitious but I do want to do a good job and be good at my job.
However, the stress is now getting to me. I honestly don’t know if age is an issue or that I’ve come to my limits after years of working in a demanding job. Or perhaps I am less resilient because I now yearn to retire. And I’m sick of being time poor – coming home mentally and physically drained every night. (Edit: I have transitioned to a less stressful role)
So I am learning to live with intention and carve some time out of my day/week to think about what I want out of life and dream a little.
This is the decade where I realise there is no dress rehearsal for life. This is it.
It goes without saying, that it has been a huge learning curve since discovering the FIRE movement. It’s not just the numbers and how to nuts and bolts of the various strategies. That is the ‘easy’ part for me – automating savings and investments then leaving time to do its thing … (Mind you, there is a lot of anxious calculation and recalculation!)
The hard part is having the courage to live the life I want to live (and find out what that is!) This is where the FIRE community is really brilliant – there are so many inspiring people living lives that inspire me and that I am continuously learning from. I am looking forward to the future now, not with trepidation and fear, but with enthusiasm and zest.
Retirement, here I come!
When I wrote this post, my retirement plan was still a jumble of figures and what ifs and maybes. Since then, I have a more concrete plan to retire at 55.
I can’t help but reflect on how anxious I was then, compared to how I feel now, nearly 3 years down the FI path.
And the last thing I want to say is that despite starting late on the FI journey, it is possible to make incredible progress, just by taking action consistently along the way.
I’m so looking forward to more sunsets in exotic locations 🙂