Late Starter to FI Series #35 – Finally Time to Live

Allen, his wife and 2 teenage children in a cave

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 info@latestarterfire.com 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

 

Disclosure: Please note that I may benefit from purchases made through my affiliate links below, at no cost to you. Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support

I first came across Allen from Physician on FIRE’s Sunday Best and was excited to discover another late starter. Thankfully, he agreed to share his story here when I reached out. I am very grateful at the depth of what he’s shared.

You can connect with Allen at https://finallytimetolive.substack.com

Allen, his wife and 2 teenage children in a cave

A little about me

Hi, I’m Allen. I live in the US (Florida) with my wife, Maile, our two teenagers and our Labrador Retriever, Magic. Maile and I just turned 50 this past year. Magic is also about 50 (in dog years).

We have both spent the majority of our careers working in technology, which has paid well. We are very fortunate. However, for much of our working careers, those fat paychecks went straight into other people’s pockets to support our lifestyle.

We like to travel. One of the things we have learned from this community is the idea of “slow travel” or becoming “slomads” and that has changed our entire mindset on what retirement looks like.

We also like to learn new things so we have been investing time in learning Spanish. We intend to spend several months each year in Spanish-speaking countries, and we like the idea of speaking the local language to help us connect with the culture and people we meet.

I’m new to blogging, but people can usually find out what we’re up to from our substack newsletter / blog at https://finallytimetolive.substack.com

Childhood memories of money

When I was growing up, if we talked about money, it was in the context of “things”. Affording things, or not being able to afford things. The topic of money came up when it was time to buy groceries, clothes for school, a new car, or other stuff.

I guess I was raised with somewhat of a scarcity mindset. At times as a kid, I felt like I was financially a liability, because things that I wanted (or sometimes needed) provoked stressful conversations about money. That shaped my decisions and behaviour going forward.

Here’s an example that I can remember: I’m the youngest in my family and all of my older siblings got their own car and began driving at 16. But when I turned 16, I told my parents a lie. “I’m not ready to drive yet, Dad” I said. It wasn’t true, but I had heard my parents talking (and maybe worried?) about the cost of auto insurance. So I waited a year.

I haven’t done a lot of reading on the scarsity vs abundance mindset, but I think growing up worrying about affording basic necessitites has probably made me more risk-averse as an adult. I started investing money late in life, and I probably still hold too much cash.

With our own kids, we are trying to strike a balance between teaching responsible spending, while also helping them see that this is a world of abundance and opportunity. I love and use Paula Pant‘s philosophy in our family – We can afford anything. We just can’t afford everything.

I wrote a post about how communicating about money changed our family’s retirement trajectory – We Don’t Talk About Bruno, And By Bruno I Mean Money

 

Lightbulb moment

This will be a very roundabout answer on how I found FIRE, but it’s the way it happened for me:

Around 2018, I was pretty dissatisfied with my job. So my first instinct was to re-skill. As a manager in technology, you don’t always get to do something tangible. It’s a lot of meetings and emails, and it is easy to feel a little disengaged and not adding value.

I started to develop a little bit of Imposter Syndrome because there were always young, hungry managers surrounding me who are hyper-engaged in everything.

I thought I could maybe transition back to an engineer and be happier. Then at least I could write some code and feel like I did something real at the end of the day. So I took a Java programming class, and then an advanced Java programming class. At the end of it, I told myself ‘Wow, I just did some pretty complicated stuff.”

I don’t know why I made this connection, but learning one hard thing (Java) led me to think about what other hard things I could learn, and investing came to mind.

I love podcasts, so I searched for investing-related content and began learning a bit about value investing. The value investing ecosystem eventually led me to the Choose FI podcast, which is really about life optimisation more than anything.

Choose FI led me to Go Curry Cracker, Mad Fientist, Mr Money Mustache and many others.

 

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Our financial situation at the time of finding FIRE

We had little, to no debt, when we found FIRE. We paid off our house before we found FIRE, but that was more due to a scarcity mindset and wanting to feel secure. I think we had about $10000 in our emergency fund and we had legacy retirement accounts scattered all over from job changes throughout the years.

We were lucky in that we had at least done the conventional things right. We invested in 401K plans, though we did tinker with them too much. We started to build up our taxable account, wanting to apply some of the value-investing ideas we had learned.

We were investing in individual stocks and actually did pretty well on our picks. The thing is, we lacked conviction. We were only confident enough to invest a small amount in each company we researched. We got good returns, but we weren’t making big bets. We would have $25000 invested across 5 companies, and then $75000 just sitting in cash. 75% of our taxable portfolio wasn’t working for us.

We finally started aggressively automating monthly investments into a total market index fund and continued to do so all through the pandemic. The rate of return was lower, but we were putting more of our portfolio to work so our bottom line was better.

We started to transition our mentors in investing away from Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett to JL Collins, Paul Merriman and Jack Bogle.

First steps on the path to FI

Our first real FI step was to communicate with each other about what our goals were in retirement. We needed to get on the same page.

Before I started throwing spreadsheets at my wife on the ‘how’ of FI, I needed to sell the ‘why’. We needed to really crystallise what we wanted Life 2.0 to look like.

Then it became easier to make some of the sacrifices that FI demands.

Other factors that influenced my view on finances

My Dad worked very hard and had a lot of passion for his job. Unfortunately, much of his retirement savings were tied up in the stock of the private company he worked for. The company went bankrupt, and a majority of his savings were lost. When he was finally downsized, he was in his 70s. He couldn’t realistically hit the job market after that.

I watched my parents abruptly transition from a comfortable middle class lifestyle to being forced to live off of about a third of their prior income. They lost so much and eventually separated.

I learned then that you can’t rely on your paycheck to always be there. We all get older. And as our salaries increase, it’s only a matter of time before our name appears on the wrong side of a company’s cost reduction spreadsheet.

Americans, in general, are woefully underfunded for retirement, at least if they want to maintain their current lifestyle.

By FIRE standards, my parents had plenty of income, even after all of that happened to them. But they weren’t emotionally ready to cut their lifestyle. The change was just too abrupt.

Allen and family

How far along the path to FI are we now?

I retired in June and my wife still runs her own consulting company. We are in a pretty tough bear market right now, so it is fantastic that she is still bringing income into the house so that we don’t have to sell in this market.
 
My emotions ebb and flow between being confident and completely insecure. I wrote about some of my anxiety on our blog – Do We Have Enough? Has This Been A Terrible Mistake? Fear & Anxiety In Retirement

Thoughts on early retirement

Before finding FIRE, we were aware that we had a lot of savings in 401Ks and IRAs from various jobs, but it all seemed untouchable until full retirement age. One of our early ‘aha!’ moments was learning about Roth IRA rollovers, not only for tax savings but as a mechanism to access your retirement accounts early. Once we discovered how that worked, it made everything else seem possible.

Like many in the community, we have put together a pretty robust spreadsheet with our consolidated numbers across all of our accounts. I am a pretty detailed individual, so I wanted to see how our retirement balances looked each year.

We also used a very conservative investment yield of 5% and our numbers still took us into our nineties. Seeing our financial life laid out, year after year, really gave us confidence in the plan.

I was pretty dissatisfied with my job so I had been ready to retire for years. Having said that, it was pretty obvious we were entering deeper and deeper into a bear market. So we took a half step into retirement, with my wife continuing to run her consulting business for a while longer.

Retired is a word that I struggle with. When I first left the corporate world, I called it a sabbatical. Maybe I was afraid to assign some permanence to it. At a recent CampFI, I heard the term Financial Independence/Recreational Employment, and I liked that a little better.

The FIRE community is very industrious in my experience. Even those I’ve met over 40 don’t want to just sit on a beach and drink out of a pineapple. They just want more control over their own time and energy. I’ve spent my whole life regretting that I never started my own thing, always nesting in the safety of a big corporate job.

With my new freedom, I’ve thrown myself into writing with a very simple goal: Write 50 great posts. Strengthen that muscle. Build an audience. And then we’ll see.

Others' reaction to my early retirement

I think when you first learn about FIRE, you want to tell the world. You want to proselytize FIRE to everyone you know. But everyone is in a different place, living their own lives. It almost never goes well when I corner someone at a party and start trying to talk to them about FIRE. It’s maybe why I write about financial independence. It helps scratch that itch of wanting to tell everyone without freaking them out at a dinner party.

When we told our friends and families about our plans to FIRE, they were super congratulatory and supportive. My dad was a bit “flabbergasted”, to use his word. We haven’t had too many probing questions, though we’d be thrilled to answer them. They just accept us and all of our crazy ideas. I also think, being 50, we aren’t all that special. If we were doing this in our thirties, I’m sure we would receive a more puzzled response.

I heard this phrase in the GoWithLess Facebook community (which I highly recommend if you are into slow travel):

“They don’t know if we’re filthy rich or dirt poor”

Specific challenges or advantages of starting late

I’m going to make a pretty broad assumption, which sometimes gets me into trouble. But I’m going to assume that the people drawn to the FIRE community late in life are not in a dire situation. They are not heavily in debt, with terrible credit, and they are not getting pay day loans to stay above water.

For someone in this situation, while there are certainly things to learn from the FI community, there are more basic challenges to solve, and those may be better tackled through credit counselling programs, and even the Dave Ramseys of the world.

For those fortunate to have done the basics – remained employed, received steady rises, built some home equity, and contributed to available retirement accounts – like us, you are probably not starting from zero. You likely have some assets.

That is your advantage. You’ve been on the hamster wheel for decades, and have something to show for it.

So what’s the challenge?

If you’re like me, you are pretty far removed from your days of driving 15 year old cars, having room mates and eating modest meals. We become accustomed to paying up for convenience or comfort at our age.

So the big questions for us were: Can we get a handle on our spending? Can we get off the hedonic treadmill and stop throwing money away?

We found that if we could start spending like we were just out of college, and still find a way to be happy, that we could retire tomorrow.

That is easier said than done. We have found that cutting back on comfort spending is kind of tough. The FI community likes to talk about the ‘big three’ – Transportation, Housing and Food but don’t underestimate the challenge of making good $10 decisions every day.

We have created and thrown away a lot of budgets over the years, until we finally figured out that our impulse purchases are a very emotional thing. And ’emotional me’ doesn’t care about my pretty little spreadsheet. I wrote about how we changed our approach to budgeting and finally mastered those impulse buys – Until You Start Budgeting Emotionally, You Won’t Stop Spending Emotionally

What's next?

We are still maybe five years away from both of our kids launching into adulthood. Once that happens, my wife and I will do slow travel for about half the year. We’d like to hike the Camino de Santiago while we still have “young knees”.

Ultimately, we expect we will settle somewhere international as full time expats when we grow too tired of jumping on airplanes. We will have travelled all over, to some amazing places with great culture, food and low cost of living.

I think slow travel, besides being cheaper than how most people travel, gives you that extra time to answer the question “Could we live here?” We think that answer will be yes many times over, and the difficulty will be choosing between say, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico or Porto, Portugal.

 

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you, Allen for sharing your story especially about your experience of retirement. I totally relate to that fear of ‘What if I’m making a monumental mistake?’

And the struggle to rein in spending when we’ve gotten used to a certain level of comfort in our lifestyle. I would go so far as to say that is, in my opinion, one of the greatest challenges of the late starter to FI. I love that you’ve incorporated emotional impulse spending into your budget!

I also resonate with your experience of a scarcity mindset from childhood – it is hard to change that mindset and know when enough is indeed enough.

Looking forward to reading more about your activities in early retirement!

Is your investing hampered by a scarcity mindset? When is enough, enough?

Late Starter to FI Series Progress Update 2022 – Part 4

different piles of coins with seedlings growing on top
different piles of coins with seedlings growing on top

I started the Late Starter to FI Series to highlight those of us who began our FI(RE) journeys later than the ‘traditional’ FIREes; specifically those who started in our 40s, 50s and 60s.

And if you know my back story, you already know that I started this blog because I didn’t find many late starters when I first discovered FIRE at 47. There were many in their 40s but they had either retired for many years or about to retire. No one was just starting out.

So I am eternally grateful to the 34 Late Starters who have so generouslyshared their stories. This proves that there are late starters out there. And the more we read each other’s stories, the less alone we
feel; the more achievable our goals are when we see others like us
accomplishing them.

We are a community and I want to also share our progress. Because being on the path to FI is not a get rich quick scheme 🙂

It really is like a journey – with setbacks, roadblocks and detours
along the way. And we want to celebrate any wins along the way too, of
course!

The first progress update was published last year (2021).

This year, we’ll divide the progress update into several parts.

Catch up on Part 1 which featured Late Starter to FI #6 – Fire For One, Late Starter to FI #21 – Vinnie and Late Starter to FI #27 – Pursuing Slow FI as a Late Starter

In Part 2, we featured Late Starter to FI #9 – Deanna, Late Starter to FI #20 – Caroline & Scott and Late Starter to FI #32 – Jay

Part 3 features 3 Late Starters who have already RETIRED EARLY – Late Starter to FI #12 – Mama Purple, Late Starter to FI #33 –  FI for the People and Late Starter to FI #14 – Frogdancer Jones.

Today’s Part 4 features 4 Late Starters who are still progressing towards FIRE but some have made significant changes. They are Late Starter to FI #34 – Maz, Late Starter to FI #3 – Heavy Metal Money, Late Starter to FI #31 – Cutting Through Chaos and Late Starter to FI #4 – Adulting World

Do you have a Late Starter story to share? Please connect with me via email (info@latestarterfire.com), TwitterFacebook or Instagram – I’m always looking to connect with more late starters 🙂

 

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We haven’t changed our strategy with inflation, although it’s a few years off for us anyway.

The biggest thing is that I’ve gone 4 days a week at work, and loving it. The work life benefits are greater than one day a week. I’m trying to encourage my partner to do the same, but he feels like he’d rather pay the mortgage off first.

4 day work week words on a caledar

Inflation

Inflation has been felt in many areas. Especially in grocery stores and other daily essentials. It has affected my habits. I’m beginning to be more cost conscious when shopping for poultry, produce, and other grocery items, and at times, skipping certain items that week.

Any other strategy changes?

The downturn in the market does cause some anxiety with my investment/retirement accounts seeing the value drop thousands of dollars. It doesn’t pay to watch! But us long term buy and hold investors stay strong and keep dollar cost averaging.

Still progressing towards FIRE

I’m still planning on leaving my W2 work by 2029 at the age of 55. After I leave my W2 job, I plan to spend more time dedicated to my newly formed non-profit, The Luger Foundation.

We provide financial support and resources to the families that have incurred substantial medical debt due to premature birth, extended stays within the neonatal intensive care unit, or complications during pregnancy.

I continue to place any positive cash flow from my real estate investments into the commercial debt I carry on my portfolio of rental properties. I’ve paid off an additional $30k in debt besides the monthly payments in 2021.

 

Life updates

I’m still a single divorced dad although muy children have now grown some. Now at the ages of 20 & 22!

Since we last connected, I’ve started my Heavy Metal Money YouTube channel – I invite you and others to check it out!

Inflation

We haven’t changed anything on a day to day basis. We’re in a place where we’ve stepped back from full time employment to have more time as a family. Our income broadly covers our costs and our investments are doing their thing in the background.

The longer term impact is that we may need to work a little longer before we can retire fully or may need to cut out some of the nice-to-haves from our retirement budget. But the trade off between work longer or reduce some discretionary spend is a decision for our future selves to take.

Any other strategy changes?

No significant changes to our strategy. If anything, the more time we spend prioritising family life by stepping back from full time work, the more we realise that we’re on the right path for our family.

We’ve not touched our investments in the last couple of bear runs (March 2020, H1 2022). And whilst I check in with what’s happening in the markets at least weekly, I’ve felt no inclination to sell, or worry about what the reduced prices mean for our future. Not something I can control, therefore not something to worry about.

Life updates

Our story appeared on the series about a year ago. I wouldn’t say we’ve had any epiphanies, though as noted above, spending more time on our flexible slow approach to FI has confirmed to us that this is the right path for our family.

The other thing that has changed in the last year has been the return of travel. Mrs C and 2 of our kids were able to travel to South Africa to visit some family and close friends they hadn’t seen in 3 years. We also had 5 sets of visitors with us in April this year. It was hectic, but so good to be able to reconnect with friends face to face.

Inflation

Inflation has only had an impact by noting the significant increase in the cost of living. No change to the strategy for me due to inflation.

Any other strategy changes?

Ah, such a great question. My, oh my, how to answer. Finances have had no bearing on strategy changes. The last few years have had such a significant impact on me in other ways that is so much more important than finances.

Unlike so many, I have been truly fortunate in my dealings with COVID 19. There are many wonderful Tweeters who take the time to ask – who was impacted in the worst way by this horrible pandemic. They make the losses more than just numbers – they make them into humans. @FacesOfCOVID is probably the most famous, however there are many more across Twitter who do us this service. I am getting a little side tracked, but wanted to give a shout out to those that care enough to light up the details of those we as the human race have lost over the last few years.

So, COVID and the sheer volume of people lost to this pandemic had an effect. I didn’t realise this until late last year / earlier this year. I knew I wanted to travel, knew international travel was lost to me for a while but was not quite sure on how to make travel in general happen.

Then last year, I reconnected with my love of camping. During the spring, I managed to get away, right even into early summer (thanks to La Nina) and knew that I wanted to continue throughout the summer.

However, I absolutely hate the heat and sleeping in the summer is pretty rubbish at the best of times with aircon. (Yes, there are those that say a fan will cut it, but as I enter perimenopause I say bugger off to that idea!)

So, a campervan/motorhome was going to be my only option. I looked at renting, but the cost is prohibitive and with animals, it becomes more complicated. However, I was fortunate enough to find such a vehicle – lil old campervan with an air conditioner already installed. I realise this answer is becoming a bit lengthy, but what the hell, we only live once.

Where was I? Oh yes, what else changed my strategy. So, as noted before, I reconnected with my love of camping and now had a way of doing it easily on weekends – chuck animals in van, fill with petrol, food and wine and bugger off for the weekend. Pretty good way to spend my weekends. So, yes – that is what I did, until …

 

Life updates

A couple of things happened in what feels like quick succession. Shane Warne passed away suddenly (he was my age). The politician, Kimberley Kitching who also died suddenly – her death was around my age. And yet there were more – near enough to 50ish and they were dropping out of the game.

Their deaths were the jolting shock that just added to the changes from COVID and enough for me to say – that’s it! I am going to travel, one way or another. I am not waiting one more minute – f*%k waiting for retirement – what if I never get there? Do I really want to put these things off for another 5 years? What if I only make it to 60 – then I will have only 5 years to delight in this country.

So I took stock – I had a campervan (that admittedly needed thousands of dollars of work), the company I work for, and am grateful for each and every working day, that did not care where I work, as long as I get my job done. And a fully furnished property with enough equity that I could rent it or not and could still afford to travel. So, I realised how truly fortunate a position I was in. So, I was just about all set up and ready to go. Then Duck arrived …

For decades that I have been reading, I have been a really big fan of Dean Koontz. And he is a really big fan of Golden Retrievers. Through his writing and my own interactions with goldens, I knew that they were the breed of dog that I would love to share my home with. But with all my previous jobs I knew that I worked long days away from home and so would not be a good environment for them.

Given my situation I knew I wanted to travel with a dog and really wanted it to be a golden retriever. So, here I was, looking at Gumtree and there is this beautiful female golden adult who needed a home. I met her and somehow, we instantly bonded. Within 3 days, we went away camping and she just settled into my life easily. Yes, Duck is sometimes naughty but I can honestly say she is a true delight to live with. And yes, her name is now Duck (she started out as Crystal but it just did not suit her.)

So after another short stock take of life again, I confirmed that travelling was ok with work, set it all up, got the campervan fixed and away I went.

Well, after 3 months into this new life, I noted that the vehicle is great as a weekender. But to work 5 days a week, it’s a little squishy. The daily pack up/down of office equipment and not being able to have adequate space for Duck and me has meant that I have spent extra time each day on organising/reorganising etc.

I really needed a vehicle that could have a dedicated office space as well as room for Duck and me to store everything. Also, I didn’t realise how much I really love having a microwave. So, reassessed again and, after a chat with work where they confirmed that they would like me to stay on beyond my current contract, I decided to size up to a motorhome.

I have now been living in the motorhome for about 4 weeks and genuinely love it. It has all the fantastic benefits of the campervan with the added benefit of an onboard bathroom and microwave – both of which have been used as I managed to twist my ankle very badly recently.

I am glad I tried it in the smaller/cheaper campervan first and then when I was sure that this lifestyle will work well for me, only then did I commit to a much larger purchase. What can I say but, pure luxury in the size and storage capacity of this vehicle. I love it and am decorating it in a yellow and white colour scheme.

Each and every day has aspects of delight – beautiful and noisy birds, stunning flora that is different in every place, lovely travellers to meet, lovely dogs for Duck to play with, brisk mornings where I get to watch the sun come up and stunning sunsets where I get to see the sun go down. Wonderful little country towns to explore in a slow travel way.

There have been challenges as well – vehicle issues, twisted ankles which makes it hard to get to the shops. Duck being sick, and living in a VERY small space but those things could well have happened while staying at home. There really is a truth in that the #vanlife is not just travelling and fun, there is beauty etc but that in reality it is life, so mundane and challenging things will happen anyway.

The upshot of all the above is that I now find myself in the truly fortunate position of travelling and working and living a life I never dreamed could be this good. Yes, there are mundane and challenging parts about it, as there are in every life. But would I trade it – not on Duck’s life. 

Still progressing to FIRE

Yes, I am still pursuing FI. Yes, I have also slowed down.

I could probably do it a little faster if I chose not to travel and just stayed put in my home.

However, as so many of the FI perople I follow have noted (Latestarterfire, Frogdancer Jones, Money Flamingo, Fire For One, RVonFIRE, Baby Boomer Saver and others, the journey is so important, rather than the destination.

I think if I was one of the ones going for FI in my 30s or 40s I might have seen it differently and wanted to go hell for leather. But as I am in my 50s  now, the journey has become so much more important. The actuarial tables note that  I might make it to my 80s or 90s so hey, if that happens, great. But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to check out without having spent as much time making a life vs making a living.

I still fully intend on doing my bucket list long hikes across the globe, but while I still have to work to build up my finances for retirement then I want to do it with as much joy and gratitude and adventure as I can.

Back to Latestarterfire

All four of our late starters are able to enjoy the benefits of their progress towards FIRE.

Even though they are not at the destination yet, all of them have taken steps to identify what matters to them – Maz with working 4 days a week, Mr C going the slow FI way, Heavy Metal Money starting a non profit foundation and Adulting World travelling in a motorhome with Duck.

No one is waiting till they reach FIRE to do things that matter to them.

But what has made it possible for them to enjoy the benefits now is that they started managing their money and investing when they did. Once your money is working for you, you have the freedom to pursue what truly matters to you.

Thank you for sharing your progress – it is so inspirational!

 

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