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

image of headless medical people holding stethoscopes

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.
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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?

2023 Goals – Boring and Adventurous?

Foil balloons numbers 2023 on a pink background.

I am now firmly in the ‘boring’ middle years on my way to FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early)

2023 marks my sixth year of pursuing FIRE – time indeed waits for no man (or woman)! On some levels, the last 5 years have sped by in a blink of an eye. But it also feels like it’s dragged on. There are times when I’ve so wanted to be at the destination already. Patience has never been my virtue, haha!

Decade Goals

My decade goals (2020 – 2029) have not changed but there are dates against 2 of them now 🎉

1. Retire on 31 Dec 2026

2. Visit Antarctica – January 2027

3. Run a marathon

I am on track to retire earlyish at 55. Staying the course is very much the vibe as far as finances are concerned. However, I’m not delaying happiness ie I don’t want to wait until I retire to be happy. I want to live a happy and full life now. So I’ll continue to work on the non financial aspects of my life while staying the course on the financial part.

Visiting Antarctica is a matter of saving up for it and being able to take annual leave. I’ve never been able to take leave in January in the last 30 years of my working life. Colleagues with children always take priority at this time. So January 2027, it is – it’ll be my big trip to start off my retirement.

Running a marathon is still a goal. I just haven’t worked very hard towards it in the last 2 years. But I will start running again this year.

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2023 Goals

I started having a one word theme in 2022 – I found it really helpful at times when I wasn’t very motivated through the year. So I’d like to do the same this year.

My word for 2023 is Adventure ie I want to try new activities or experiences. I rediscovered what I loved in 2022. So it’s time for new adventures in 2023.

What will I focus on in 2023?

Goal 1 - Invest a Minimum of $30k into my Shares Portfolio

Why ‘minimum’ and not a concrete number?

Reason 1

My shares portfolio consists of individual shares in addition to ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) and LICs (Listed Investment Companies).

I bought individual shares before I learned about ETFs and LICs. I haven’t added to them since I first bought them. But being a fan of Dividend Reinvestment Plans (DRP) means that my holdings have slowly increased as dividends were automatically reinvested.

It’s come to a point where their combined value would sustain me for a year if I were to sell them. So I’ve stopped participating in their DRPs as I no longer want to increase my holdings. This means I’ll receive cash dividends.

I’ve recently changed how I receive these cash dividends.

They are now deposited into the same account used to purchase my main ETF (that tracks the top 300 companies in the ASX). When the balance in this account (at my broker, Pearler) reaches a predetermined amount, it automatically purchases shares in this main ETF.

I’m far too lazy to work out which portion of the purchase dollars comes from dividends and which is from my weekly contribution. Therefore, as long as I’ve invested more than $30k, I’ll be happy.

This will be the last year in which I expect to invest this much into my shares portfolio. I will have to start saving cash in my final 3 years before I retire.


Reason 2

I started a new side gig as an auditor in January but I’m still in the training phase. While I know how much I’ll be paid per business I audit, I have no idea how many businesses I’ll be assigned per week. Plus I’m a subcontractor so I’ll have to set aside a certain percentage to pay tax and expenses.
I’m looking forward to this new adventure and how to deal with the extra erratic income.
The plan is to invest extra income from this job in the shares portfolio plus help with Goal 3 and 4. Unfortunately, income from my stable 4 day a week main job is not enough to sustain my $30k goal.

Goal 2 - Replenish my Emergency Fund

I am trying VERY HARD not to see my Emergency Fund as a slush fund. I feel secure having 6 months of living expenses in the fund. But anytime I need extra cash, I raid it.

I tried not having as much in it but in the end, I felt insecure so I’m back to saving up 6 months of living expenses. It’s at 5 months at the end of 2022 so it’s nearly there!

Goal 3 - Save $5000 in my Home Maintenance Fund

There are always home maintenance issues when you own a home. But I wouldn’t have it any other way because I need the security of my own home. I sleep better at night knowing that no one can kick me out of my home, as long as I can pay the annual local council fees.
Potential issues that I know will come up soon – replacing rangehood and stove; replacing hot water system; replacing window blinds (most are broken in some way)
I haven’t had any spare cash to send towards this sinking fund for a year so I’d really like to get a start on it this year. The extra income from my side gig  will contribute towards this goal.
Ideally I’d like $10k in this fund but happy with $5k for now.  I shouldn’t need to draw on my emergency fund as much if this sinking fund is fully funded. Then maybe I can feel safer with less in my emergency fund. We’ll see!

Goal 4 - Engage a Fee Only Financial Adviser

While I’m fairly confident with my strategy, I’d like a professional fee only financial adviser to cast their eye over it. And either assure me it’s going swimmingly well or tell me what I’ve overlooked.
There are 4 years including this year before I plan to retire so I’ll be able to make minor adjustments, if needed. I’ll keep you posted!
I am relying on the side gig to fund this goal too – otherwise I’ll have to raid the emergency fund again.
I know what you’re thinking – there’s a lot riding on this side gig. And it seems I’ve already spent the future income. In some ways, I have – in my head. I’ll adjust as reality hits, when I actually receive the income.

Goal 5 - Declutter

Yes, this has been an unspoken goal for years. I took it off the to-do list because it’s always too overwhelming and I’d set myself up to fail. But this year, I want to try again.
The impetus is I want a home office where I don’t have to pack up every time visitors come to the house. And I can actually eat at my dining table!
Right now my official study is my junk room. So I’m hoping if I proclaim decluttering as a goal here, I’ll be accountable to you. It’s worked for my finances!
Mind you, January is nearly over and I haven’t started yet.
Illustration of a Woman thinking some ways to Declutter an Office Space

Goal 6 - Go to bed at 11pm

I’m being very specific here – because I desperately need to improve my sleep. The more I read and learn about sleep and dementia, the more desperate I am to sleep better. There is a family history of dementia so if I can help myself, I should.
I’m also a very undisciplined person. Thankfully, finances can be automated which has helped me enormously. But I can’t automate my sleep, sigh!
I’ll just have to be adventurous and try different bedtime routines until it sitcks. Wish me luck!

Goal 7 - Go outside for 30 Minutes Every Day

I’m also being specific here because I wasn’t so good at taking care of my physical health in 2022.

But I’m not limiting what I do while I’m outside – it can be gardening, running, walking or having my coffee outside. I just have to be outside and not lie on the couch whenever I can.

Hopefully increasing my physical activity will stabilise my cholesterol and weight

Goal 8 - Do Something New or Visit Somewhere I've Never Been Before Every Month

This is where I will embrace my word Adventure (though my side gig will be pretty adventurous for me to start with). Its purpose is to set me up for a fantastic retirement. I want a retirement where I wonder when I had the time to work before!
I already maintain and constantly add to 3 lists –
1. Places to travel to / travel experiences
2. New activities I’d like to try
3. Activities that will keep me physically fit
So I’m committing to trying something new every month and it doesn’t have to be something monumental.
I’ll keep you posted along the way!

Final Thoughts

Am I too ambitious, wanting to achieve 8 goals in 2023? Maybe.
It’s because my finances are on autopilot to a certain extent and I know I’m tracking well to retire early at 55. That’s the boring part of my goals – stay the course. But that takes a weight off my shoulders and it frees me to embrace Adventure in other areas of my life.
I will also practise embracing the process more and not be attached to the outcomes.
Stay tuned – I’ll provide a progress report in July 🙂
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What are your 2023 goals?

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