Late Starter to FI Series #32 – Teaching Abroad to Financial Independence

wooden sign Minnesota

Welcome to the Late Starter to FI series!

I am a Late Starter – I discovered the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement when 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’s such a relief knowing I’m 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.

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

And if you can’t wait to start on your own FIRE journey, check out my step by step ultimate starter guide, Late Starter to FIRE Action Plan.

 

Disclosure: Please note that I may benefit from purchases made through my affiliate links below, at no cost to you

wooden sign Minnesota

We’ve featured many teachers in this series … who have either reached FIRE or working hard to reach FIRE.

Today’s feature, Jay and Sara, who write at Playtirement are committed teachers who took their teaching abroad – read on to see how this affected their financial independence journey.

You can also connect with Jay and Sara at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

A little about us

We are Jay and Sara; we are Minnesotans by birth who lived there much of our lives. From our earliest learning experiences in kindergarten through our graduate degrees, all happened within Minnesota.

This is also where we began our careers and spent the first 18 years of our professional lives teaching within public schools, in the cities of Mankato and Duluth.

Our lives have always revolved around a school year calendar. It’s helped us have extended time to explore and play and practice mini- retirement each summer. I like to think this time has kept us young, even though we are fast approaching the end of our 40s.

We are a couple of DINKs (Double Income No Kids), and when we had our chocolate labrador, we were a couple of DINKS-WADS (Double Income No Kids With A Dog). Being an aunt and uncle to 17 nieces and nephews gave us plenty of opportunities to watch our siblings raise children. We decided by not deciding about having kids. When we turned 40, we settled on continuing to impact the lives of children one school year at a time.

That same year in 2012, we chose to take our lives on the road to start an international teaching adventure before our roots ran too deep in one place.

We spent two years teaching abroad in Johannesburg, South Africa, and thoroughly enjoyed our first gig away from the protected wing of our birthplace. The wanderlust had just begun.

We knew we were hooked on this international lifestyle but wanted to prove it wasn’t just a fluke, so we tried one more move. In 2014 we relocated to Hong Kong to live and work on the side of the world we never stepped foot on. It didn’t take us long to realise the city offered us everything we needed in life, including woods and water. We’ve been here ever since.

Our main passion is for all things outdoors that get us moving and exploring, and travelling. Biking, hiking, trail running, backpacking, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, camping, and anything in between. Put us in the outdoors, and we are happy.

Jay and Sara at Cape Agulhas, South Africa

Our lightbulb moment

FIRE was never something we thought of until about five years ago. Before moving overseas, we consistently contributed to our pensions and lived the traditional middle-class lifestyle in the United States. We had a house, credit card debts, two cars, and an affinity to spending money whenever we got more of it. Like many others before us, it was an imperfect path to financial independence.

We dabbled in additional investments in our 30s after finally realising what that meant. We couldn’t afford much due to our lifestyle, so we decided to max out a Roth IRA each year, which was $5000. The process started with a financial planner through our teacher’s credit union. He was a nice man. He also had us invest in a managed fund that had fees of 1.5%. We are glad that neither that financial planner nor those funds are in our lives anymore.

Fast forward to moving overseas in 2012. We rented our house in the US and began to quickly pay down debts due to the additional benefits and compensation we received from our international school. Our school also covered our housing costs, and we paid no local tax on our salaries. It was shocking to see how our financial situation changed for the better. It was like we won the teaching lottery.

We were able to quickly kill our credit card and graduate degree debts along with paying down our mortgage. Once the debts were gone, we began saving a lot of money in a simple savings account.

$10 000. Boom! $20 000. Woohoo! $100 000. OMG! Wait, now what do we do?

At this time, we began having serious conversations with some friends about what to do with our savings. One friend turned us onto the book, Millionaire Teacher by Andrew Hallam. And voila, our FIRE life was born.

We got hooked on the mathematics of it all, and we gobbled up many more books after that, including The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins and the Little Book of Common Sense Investing by Jack Bogle.

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First steps on the path to FI

These books led us to an easy epiphany. Call it a duh – epiphany. We could retire before our full pension age of 66 years old. Holy schnikes!

After discovering this was a possibility, our savings rate skyrocketed to at least 50% of our salary each month. This new fiscal goal post was changing our mindset and made us take some crucial steps in our journey.

The first was to make our savings rate as high as we could get it. The second was to get our dollar bills working for us in mathematically advantageous ways. Index fund investing was calling.

Our first real index fund investment was born in January 2017. We opened up a brokerage account with Charles Schwab and tested an investment by buying $1000 in a simple total stock market index fund (SWTSX). We marvelled at the simplicity of it all.

After travelling back to the US that following summer, we rolled over all our additional investment accounts into two simple pots, a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA. Filled with a mixture of total stock and total bond market index funds, we now had three fertile grounds to watch our plants grow.

And boy, did they take off. We know the adage is “time in the market, not timing the market” but we have ridden the bull wave for the past four and a half years. It sure has been a good ride. (We know not to get too cocky, however)

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How far we have progressed ...

These past four years have also been stellar as far as thinking about our future with money. The time has helped us define our values about living even further and identify what we want to do once we stop full time work.

FIRE is not really about investing and making a bunch of money in order to sip margaritas on a beach. It’s a philosophy. It’s a paradigm shift. It’s a lifestyle. We feel so fortunate to have been given this gift of discovering the difference.

Specific challenges or advantages of starting late

We have no regrets about starting our FIRE journey this late.

We rather enjoy knowing we struggled for some years.

Beginning the path to financial independence later in life means we can identify with more people about their inabilities to save or their lack of knowledge about investing because we were also there. This helps us understand and empathise more with others on their journeys. And that’s always a good thing.

As far as doing anything differently over our years, we could have had less debt as 20 and 30 somethings by making better choices on our most significant expenses. We also know we could have saved more to take advantage of compounding interest. But there is no blame or shame in the process. We all have to start somewhere.

Jay & Sara on the Great Wall of China
Hiking on the Great Wall of China

Arriving at our FI destination

Leaving a job you love was not an easy decision. We love teaching and will miss building and working with our community of learners each school year.

However, as we enter our last year of teaching in a little over a month, we look forward to 16 extra years of financial freedom. Sixteen years we didn’t think we’d have in our lives to backpack in the mountains when we want, bicycle tour when we want, ski when we want, trail run when we want, slow travel when we want, volunteer when we want, or go back into teaching if we want.

Freedom to choose what to do whenever we want is our Xanadu.

What's next?

The last 18 months of the pandemic have been enlightening for us, albeit a terrible situation for many people. We hunkered down in the uber-safe city of Hong Kong, saved a bunch of money due to lack of travel opportunities, and tried to teach children through Zoom and a combination of a million different schedules and configurations.

We thank our lucky stars that education is a recession-proof profession. We know others cannot say the same thing.

The months of uncertainty in the world helped us make one colossal decision. The post FI journey was about to begin.

The next thing for us after one more year of teaching is yet to be determined. And that’s how we want the rest of our lives to go too.

We plan to repatriate back to the US and our great state of Minnesota for part of the year, where we will live like the Golden Girls with some friends in their spare mother in law rental apartment. Living like this will provide us the flexibility to lock the door, leave our car and do whatever the heck we want, whenever the heck we want.

Most likely, that’s going to be trail running, bicycle touring, all forms of skiing, canoe tripping, backpacking, and any other adventures we can find around the world that will allow us to continue to work hard, play hard and give back the best we know how.

That’s our version of playtirement.

Jay & Sara on top of cliffs overlooking sea
Three Capes Track of Tasmania, Australia

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you, Jay and Sara for sharing your story with us.

I love that you’ve applied your adventuring spirit to your professional lives by venturing overseas and teaching abroad. It’s amazing how that has really catapulted your savings rate and enable you to eliminate debt and start to invest hard for your future.

It’s a good lesson that we can learn – how can we do what we do professionally to earn a better income?

We already have the skills and capabilities that we’ve built up over the years from our education and years of experience in the workforce. Instead of focusing on side hustles and having a second job, perhaps we can do better by focusing on taking our main job to the next level.

Jay and Sara, we wish you well in your future adventures … many of us dream of doing what we want when we want without regard to a work schedule … this is possible for you just around the corner. How exciting!

How can you build adventure and excitement into your main job and take it to the next level?

Late Starter to FI Series #31 – Taking a Sabbatical with Cutting Through Chaos

Welcome to the Late Starter to FI series!

I am a Late Starter – I discovered the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement when 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’s such a relief knowing I’m 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.

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

And if you can’t wait to start on your own FIRE journey, check out my step by step ultimate starter guide, Late Starter to FIRE Action Plan.

 

Our latest Late Starter is Mr Chaos from Cutting Through Chaos where he and Mrs Chaos blog about finance and family life – very witty and funny writing 🙂

I’d first come across the Chaos (what’s the plural?!) in this article that Mrs Chaos wrote – about her reluctance to attend Chautauqua, a famous FI conference.

And it was only recently when I read Mr Chaos’ article on why he didn’t discover FI earlier in life that I realised they were fellow late starters.

I’m very glad that Mr Chaos agreed to share their story, for it brings yet another perspective on the Late Starter to FI narrative.

You can also connect with the Chaos on Twitter – @CuttingChaos

So, over to Mr Chaos …

A little about us

My wife and I are in our 40s, have four kids (ages 5 to 9) and live in Spain. Our story is like many others up until I turned 40. We were living in Scotland and I worked a regular corporate job in finance. But we were restless and wanted to feel like we were contributing to society.

Then came the opportunity to work for a small healthcare NGO in Zambia. What felt like an opportunity for us looked like a midlife crisis to our friends. But we went and had five amazing years in Zambia.

As our time in Zambia came to an end, we were not ready to return to Scotland. We also wanted to find a way to have more time as a family. Some friends suggested taking a sabbatical in a new country … which is how we ended up in Spain.

Lightbulb moment

 

My light bulb was flashing for years before I noticed it at age 43 when a friend introduced me to the ChooseFI podcast.

 

 

I’d asked him for podcast recommendations for side hustles in response to some upcoming financial commitments, like college education for our kids, helping out parents financially if required, and setting enough aside for retirement.

 

 

 

My wife and I have always been frugal and avoided debt (other than a mortgage). We had a period when we had no kids and a double income and made it a point to live on one of our incomes. But embarrassingly for a finance professional, I was an incompetent investor.

 

 

 

Our biggest ‘investment’ was our house in Scotland, which we were renting out after moving to Zambia. It returned about 4% per annum. And that includes both rent and appreciation. I’d dabbled with individual stocks and peer to peer lending with mixed success.

 

 

 

For us, the discovery of FI was like finding a framework for our finances and our frugality. We could calculate how much was ‘enough’, and we could see money as a tool to help us achieve our goals.

 

 

 

It has given us the insight to look at our finances in a different way and realize we have a lot of flexibility.

 

 

We’ve made the decision to focus on what really matters to us. That is spending more time with our kids whilst they are young and helping them become positive contributors to society. We think society will thank us.

 

 

And if that delays our retirement, we are okay with that.

First steps on the path to FI

 

The first step after my light bulb moment was to tell Mrs C about this movement. I tend to dive headfirst into topics I find interesting, and she assumed this was just another one of those. She had no interest in reading about personal finance, and still doesn’t, but she could see that I was passionate about this.

I eventually persuaded her to go with me to a FI conference later in the year. That involved promises about keeping the finance geeks at the conference away from her, lots of Greek food, and guaranteed daily time by the hotel pool. But it really helped give Mrs C more confidence in our financial position and helped align us on dealing with our finances.
 
It was a conversation at this conference that led us to take a sabbatical in Spain when we left Zambia.
 

Alongside speaking with Mrs C, I shifted the investments in our retirement accounts to broad based global index funds and started to make plans to sell the house we owned in Scotland.

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How far along the path to FI are we now?

 

The most difficult question for me to answer is how far along the journey we are. Not because I don’t know how to multiply by 25, but because we don’t know where we’ll end up living. And we have seen firsthand how much living expenses can vary from country to country.

Having said that, assuming we don’t end up in a high cost of living location, then we’re probably over 50% of the way there.

Thoughts on early retirement

 

We are not sprinting for the FI finish line as we want to have more time for our kids. FI is not binary, and we’ve given ourselves permission to slow down and take frequent breaks along the way via sabbaticals or working part time.

 

 

 

 

I also don’t think that we’ll ever RE if that means lying on a beach somewhere. We have too many projects we love getting involved in. Our experience working and volunteering in the developing world has also shown us that there are so many ways we can make a genuine impact on the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.

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How my relationship with money has changed

 

My relationship with money has not changed much with the discovery of FI. Spending less than I earn has always been normal for me, though I am more intentional on my gadget spending these days.

One area where I was falling short was in relation to investing. If I were starting my career again, I’d be shovelling as much as I could into index funds from day one.

The biggest change in my attitude towards money happened during my sabbatical, rather than with the discovery of FI. I really struggled to step away from the rat race and accept that I would not have an income during our sabbatical. That made me feel extremely uncomfortable, and I nearly aborted the sabbatical at the last minute.

The sabbatical has shown me that I value flexibility of time more than the security of an income. That means that post sabbatical I have not looked for traditional employment and have started freelancing instead.

Specific challenges or advantages of starting late

 

To invest enough for retirement, you either need a lot of time and to save a little, or to save a lot over a shorter timeframe. If you start late in life, you no longer have the choice – you must save a lot.

But if 20-year-olds can save enough to retire by the time they are in their 30s, that tells us that it’s still possible for someone starting later in life to get there.

The big advantage of starting late is that you are most likely in your peak earning years and earning significantly more than you did earlier in your career.

The challenge is that you often have additional financial commitments in the form of kids or parents that require financial support.

What's next?

 

COVID interrupted our sabbatical year and meant lots of cancelled visits from family and friends. It also meant we had to put our exploration of Spain on hold.

 

So, we made the decision to extend our time in Spain for at least a couple of years. Our family is settled, and our kids enjoy their school. At some point we’d like to do more international travel as a family and world school our kids along the way.

 

In the meantime, I’ve started doing some remote freelance work with the aim of covering our living expenses.

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you for sharing your family’s story with us, Mr Chaos.

And showing us that having a sabbatical and living a Slow FI lifestyle is possible as a late starter.

“The sabbatical has shown me that I value flexibility of time more than the security of an income.”

I love that you are living a life that is aligned with your values on the way to being financially independent, that you are not waiting until you reach FI to live that life.

What an amazing example you’ve set your children!

Readers, have you considered taking a sabbatical? Is it too late for you?