Late Starter to FI Series #36 – Catching Up to FI

Welcome to the Late Starter to FI series!

I am a Late Starter – I did not discover FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) concept until I was 47. This was way later, I thought than others who seem to have it all together in their 20s and 30s.

Since I started to write about my own journey, I have discovered there are many more Late Starters like me, yay! It is such a relief knowing I am not alone. 

I want to share our stories, our unique perspectives and show that it is absolutely not too late for us.

So in this series, I particularly highlight those of us who start our FI journeys in our 40s, 50s and 60s. And explore questions such as ‘where do we start’, ‘can we still retire early(ish)’, ‘what are the specific challenges for us late starters’. We look at our past, not to castigate ourselves but so that you can learn from us.

Please join in the conversation in the comments below. I encourage you to share your story if you fit the profile of a late starter. You absolutely don’t have to be a blogger or podcaster to share your story. 

Please email me at or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

And if you’ve missed any of the previous stories, you can catch up here – Late Starter to FI series


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image of headless medical people holding stethoscopes

I first came across Bill while listening to the Earn and Invest podcast by Doc G (Jordan Grumet) –  Episode 361 – The Consequences of Being Unconscious With Your Money.

A lot of what he shared resonated with me as a late starter – how backloading our finances is so much harder than frontloading it when younger. And the guilt of not being better with money earlier in life.

So I reached out to ask if he would share his story here. Thankfully he said yes!

You can reach Bill at two Facebook groups he administers – Catching Up to FI and Financial Literacy Project

And now over to Bill …

A little about me

My wife and I are reasonably high income physicians, in emergency medicine and psychiatry. We’re empty nesters now, in our late 50s and living in Tennessee after a long chapter in Chicago with our Aussie Labradoodles.

Lightbulb moment

I only woke up to the notion of financial independence at age 50. I’d been asleep at the financial wheel and almost crashed. It had been a 20-year Rip Van Winkle slumber. I realised suddenly that I had an irresponsible, unconscious and unintentional money mindset.
I could offer plenty of excuses, but they don’t make me feel better. Shame, grief and disbelief overcame me initially. At times, regret still haunts me. We had lost so much time without taking care of our future.
An acute financial depression ensued. I felt panicked and lost. Our financial realisation arrived simultaneously with family health issues, transitional job stress, downsizing and a growing awareness that I had a conflicted relationship with money.
The weight of all this nearly led to a mental breakdown. Yet my tale is an optimistic story of recovery, thanks to a dramatic change in our financial attention and direction.
getting started checklist

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The early years

As is often the case, our relationship with money was forged in childhood. I grew up in a middle class patriarchal household. My mother was a nurse and then a stay-at-home mum. My father was a state-employed physician and sole breadwinner. My parents divorced for many reasons – money among them. We had enough, yet were led to feel like we lived in constant scarcity.
Neither my wife nor I had any constructive money behaviours to model. There was also an utter lack of formal personal financial education. We learned to care for others without learning how to care for our financial selves. Somehow, it always seemed there would be a time to take care of this “later on”.
We exited medical school in our early 30s. We had no idea how to allocate the money from our first real paychecks. I now know the recipe for financial independence. Start early. Insure your human capital. Increase your income. Spend less than you earn. Save the difference. Avoid consumer debt. Invest in a simple portfolio of low cost index funds. Let compounding work for you.
It’s simple but not easy. We didn’t know any of it at the start. Immediately out of our residencies, we started a family. We were blessed and overwhelmed with fraternal twin boys. One of them had significant developmental challenges requiring years of intense focus. Happily, in the end, our concerted efforts paid off.
We bought a big doctor’s house and new cars. We hired high-cost financial ‘advisors’, among them insurance salesmen. We established an inflationary lifestyle that led to a paycheck to paycheck existence. We spent first and saved the leftovers.
Who knew what dollar cost averaging was? There was a never-ending litany of distractions from our money managers. It’s scary for me to think how common our story is, especially among late starters to the financial independence movement.

Mistakes along the way

Our biggest mistakes happened during the Great Recession. We completely renovated our “forever” home in 2007. Housing money was cheap and plentiful then. By 2008, we were suddenly underwater on the mortgage and house-poor.
In addition to our paltry savings rate, we panicked and sold stocks. Committing a cardinal financial sin, we “de-risked” our portfolio at the worst possible time. We missed out on a significant portion of the subsequent bull market recovery. Our non-fiduciary advisor just let us do it. We had no idea what we were doing.
In the end, we emerged from a 20 year wind tunnel of spending with less than $1 million in savings. It was 2016, and we realised that our retirements loomed ahead. At age 50, ignorance was no longer bliss.
Luxury speed yacht near tropical island in Miami, Florida
Not Bill's actual boat!

First steps on the path to FI

I went down the investment book, blogging and podcast rabbit hole. Analysis paralysis set in for a time. I wished someone had created a personal finance education platform just for physicians.
Then I discovered it’d been done. Driven by his passion for giving doctors and other high income professionals a “fair shake on Wall Street”, Jim Dahle had already created The White Coat Investor.
With this knowledge now in hand, the race was on to take over our financial lives. We fired our financial advisor from the big private bank. We moved our investments from actively managed mutual funds to passive index funds at Fidelity Investments and Vanguard Group.
We left only our checking accounts at the bank. We opened a high yield savings account at Ally for our emergency fund, and created various savings funds for the intentional needs and wants that we’d identified as still worthwhile.
Our gains were still punctuated by mistakes. Fortunately, we had exited a whole life insurance policy and purchased term life insurance. Unfortunately, we had used the proceeds of the whole life policy to pay cost overruns on our home renovations. Fortunately, we moved from Chicago to lower cost Tennessee. Unfortunately, we’d build our own house there.
Mistakes are best made when you’re young and have time on your side to recover. We certainly made mistakes, but now our time to recover was dwindling.
We finally realised how leveraged our lives had become. To get out of debt and reverse the tide, we shoved our savings rate from the single digits to 35% to 40% of income. We saved as much as we could without eating rice and beans. Painfully, in 2019, we downsized from our costly custom home.
We kept shedding our materialistic weight, including selling our pleasure boat. Appropriately named YOLO – you only live once – it described our old way of living.
Lifestyle inflation was insidious and easy. Lifestyle deflation is much, much harder. Yet, amazingly, our overall quality of life isn’t much different than before.

Can you wake up too late to catch up?

Sadly, I think the answer is yes.
It’s never too late, however, to take control of your financial life. If the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.

Our relationship with money has changed

We just don’t let money slip away any longer on the mindless consumption promoted by our culture. Those dopamine hits are short lived. The Joneses may appear rich, but they probably aren’t wealthy.
We’ve chosen to enjoy the present, but not sacrifice our future to it. I know that’s not assured, however. From my work in the ER, I know that planning on those future golden years can be an illusion.
Lily and Rudy

Will we reach FI?

Today, we’re well on the way to financial independence. The goalposts still move a bit, but right now, 63 to 65 is our target retirement age.
Critical to achieving this goal is following our formal investment policy statement and an intentional life plan. Even with all our progress, our current phase of mindful living can still feel like the hardest part.
Why? The problem lies with our late start.
It’s hard to stay on the straight and narrow when we’re surrounded by a community of early starters and early retirees. We have some ground to make up, while our peers can be more relaxed with money now.
We’ve amassed roughly 3.5 times our net worth since 2016. Our home’s value makes up 20% of this total. College for our twins is paid off. Thanks to a modest windfall, we paid off the last of our debt a few years ago – and treated ourselves to a hot tub.
A debt free life has brought extraordinary peace of mind. The hot tub is good for our aching backs. Our nest egg still needs to grow a bit to meet our anticipated retirement spending. We are works in progress, but now it feels like we can get there in time.

What's next?

Stay the course. Stick to the plan. Which is easier said than done. We have less time to recover from mistakes, and yet we still make them.
The question I often ask is this:
While late starters like us are probably the predominant demographic in society, why do they make up such a small part of the voices in the financial independence community?
We’re the silent majority and should speak out to help others that come after us. There’s no better time than now.

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you so much, Bill for sharing your story.

“Lifestyle inflation was insidious and easy. Lifestyle deflation is much, much harder.”

This is so true and is a hard lesson for us late starters to learn. After years of living above our means or constantly upgrading our lifestyle because we’ve worked so hard to earn our money, it’s a shock to the system to have to tone it down.

Staying the course now is hard, I agree. Especially when you see many others in the community who are much younger retiring early. But I firmly believe that your time will come too. You’ve already made so much progress and being debt free will free up so much more to shovel into investments and savings.

I look forward to listening to your new podcast with BeckyCatching Up to FI. If there are any readers who’d like to participate in the podcast, please reach out to Bill. The more we share our stories, the more we spread the message that it’s never too late to take control of our finances and save for retirement.


How has lifestyle inflation affected your ability to save for retirement?

3 Replies to “Late Starter to FI Series #36 – Catching Up to FI”

  1. Bill, I can feel the past anxiety coming through in your post. I agree that it can be difficult reading about the younger people FIREing, but I save all their “we FIREd!” posts as motivation for the long boring middle part of FI we are currently in. If I take their age out of the equation, it’s easier to imagine the day when I could be writing the same post.

    “While late starters like us are probably the predominant demographic in society, why do they make up such a small part of the voices in the financial independence community?” I wonder if, as Mrs. Flamingo has recently posted about, it’s because traditional FIRE was focussed on the RE – and as late starters, we don’t get much of that! Now the community is starting to question the RE side of the equation, perhaps space will open for other late starters to share their journeys.

    1. Thank you for reading the post and your comment Mrs. ETT. My belief is that we must retire to something and not from something. I worry about the money/number and my career longevity, but I worry more sometimes how I will productively spend my time in retirement. My identity is wrapped up in my profession to a degree even though I struggle as many do with burnout. Truth be told, I would retire tomorrow if I could, but I have not yet planned out the next phase yet. Identity, purpose, and connection are critical to a successful retirement renaissance, no matter what age. Lose these and I would be lost. Retiring early as you intimate, may be even harder than starting late.

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