Late Starter to FI Series #38 – Ditching Debt On The Way To FIRE

Business woman try hard to hold on the cliff with debt burden. Business concept

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


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

Downtown Los Angeles at sunset. Skyline silhouette with mountains in the background and palms in the foreground, California, USA

In this episode, I had a great conversation with Vikki, a late starter like us. We connected through Instagram, and since she didn’t have time to answer my questionnaire, we decided to chat over Zoom. I recorded our session – I’m excited with the result – it’s intimate and honest.

Vikki has been through her own financial struggles, including debt. She shares her money experiences and how she’s tackling her debt now.

You can connect with her on Instagram (@wealthworthyjourney) and check out her new venture at Vikki Ventures

A little about me

I’m 49 and married with a 9 year old daughter. We live in LA. I have been here now for 21 years. I’m originally a New Yorker, a very proud New Yorker, who came to Los Angeles for law school. An internship turned into a 14 year career at my last employer.

I grew up obsessed with the entertainment industry. I was always trying to figure out how to make all that work but right now, what I like is spending time with my family.

I really love adventures, a good road trip and definitely travelling and just seeing where the day takes you. I also love volunteering at my daughter’s school and do it whenever I can.

Looking back ...

Growing up, I lived in a very well to do community. We weren’t well to do and we weren’t poor in any way, but there were people who were way more well to do than us.
So I was raised around wealth. But we were regular middle class. Both my grandfathers were doctors. So my parents came from money and they were raised well to do themselves.
My mother worked very hard for us to maintain the lifestyle that they were used to. She had these very strong beliefs that she was going to be a stay at home mom. It was the eighties and the world was changing – it was the time of two income families. And that’s not the life she pictured for herself.
She wasn’t able to provide for her children the way she expected to. She just thought that our upbringing would be the way she was raised – with a mother at home and not having to work so hard. I think she blamed my father for not giving her a life that she thought she was supposed to have. There was a lot of resentment and anger around which was focused on my father. And I don’t think she ever realised.
She started working when I was in second grade and then she eventually started making more money than him while they were still married. Honestly, it was about four years of my life growing up, hearing them fight about money. My parents divorced when I was 10 and then finances were a huge struggle.
So I knew that I had to make my own money in order to be happy and not rely on anyone else. I needed to figure out how to make as much money as possible. Because I didn’t want money to be a problem. I didn’t want money to affect romance or life. I wanted to create the life I want.
The message was – don’t, don’t marry for money; make your own.


Lightbulb moment

I found the idea of FIRE from a coworker, Ray.
I didn’t know anything about this world. He would talk to me about his journey. He had an 80% savings rate. He rode his bike 20 miles to work. He was extreme. And I had never met anyone like this – he and his wife philosophically believed wholeheartedly in the movement.
He explained that he was about to be able to quit work and they were moving to Portugal. And I was fascinated, so fascinated.
In my office, we have this bookshelf. When you join the company, you tell them what your favourite book is and why. And then they have a bookshelf of all the employees’ favourite books.
So he walked over to the bookshelf, grabbed The Simple Path To Wealth by JL Collins, handed it to me and said “read this”.
That’s when everything changed.

Our financial situation at the time I found FIRE

The interesting thing about generations is that each generation has its own problems. My mom wasn’t raised thinking she was gonna have to work. She was bitter that she had to work.
I was raised – go to law school to make as much money as possible. Be this empowered woman! I watched the TV show LA Law in the eighties. I was like, oh, go be high powered. So that was the big plan!
And then generation debt – I’m handed the bill for it. And, and it’s like, Oh my God, what did I do? What did I do?
I thought I was supposed to make enough money. I thought if I did this thing I was supposed to do, I would’ve made enough money to be well to do.
I was supposed to get the LA Law lifestyle, right? There were a lot of shows like that at the time, the eighties when we grew up. And I bought it. Hook, line and sinker.
My huge debt was from two places. It was the debt from law school. And also because I chose a husband who was very much a caretaker and I was the high earner in the couple. It was important to us that our child was raised by a parent. My husband was a stay-at-home dad for three years until our daughter started school.
I thought I made enough for us to pull that off. Yeah, I didn’t. So we were functioning at a deficit of $20k a year for three years. So $60,000 in the hole, which is cheaper than daycare. We wouldn’t have found daycare for that price. Or a nanny for that price.
So in retrospect, I spent $197,000 on law school and $60,000 for our daughter to be raised by a loving parent. And her father at that, a loving man. To me, it was worth it.
Oh, the stress – so, so much stress! Not because he was doing it, but because I actually had a lot of, I think, typical male feelings, which is, I thought I made the choices in that I made enough money for the family. I thought I did everything possible to be able to do this.
And also the stress it caused him was really because he was not used to having money. He would’ve been fine with a much lesser lifestyle. The stress it caused for me was that I felt like I wasn’t delivering and I somehow failed. I somehow wasn’t enough. I somehow wasn’t making enough and he didn’t know how to navigate this bigger world that I had created.
But we love each other dearly and yeah, we came at it. We figure it out. We’re so different but we’re superpowers united.
I had always invested. Through my jobs. And so I started in my twenties. I worked at NYU and I invested then. But not actively – more just like – here, let me put some money towards this because all my coworkers said it’s a good thing to do. Not actively, not aggressively in any way. It was a 403b retirement plan.
Then in my thirties, I got super into Suze Orman. An I opened a Roth IRA because her book said to do it. At my last employer, I also had profit sharing. And I had put some money into that account too, but none of it actively or intentional. It was just all very like, okay, I guess I’m supposed to be doing this.
I’d say it was careless investing. Just sort of like, I work here or I read this book, I should do this. And I just would do them.
Business woman try hard to hold on the cliff with debt burden. Business concept

My first steps on the path to FI

The biggest thing when I discovered FIRE was that we gotta ditch the debt. Ray would invite me to the FI meetups with his friends – he was part of the FI community in Los Angeles. And I didn’t feel like I was worthy of them because I had so much debt.
I felt ashamed of my debt. I felt so ashamed of my debt, but I knew getting rid of that was part of my FIRE journey. I knew in order to be with these players, I had to ditch the debt.
So okay, step one is ditch the debt. How do we finally do this? How do we finally stop going deeper into the hole of debt?
I was turning 46. When my husband asked “What do you want for your birthday?”
I said “I want you to go to financial peace university with me.”
I like fancy sushi and he doesn’t like that. So he’s used to doing things on my birthday that he doesn’t like doing. Mother’s Day and my birthday are the two times a year when I can get him to do things that he doesn’t like doing.
We did a mixture of the debt snowball and avalanche methods. We do them both at the same time. I put money towards the debt every week and if there’s one debt that’s close enough to the end, I’ll pay it off. I also go by the highest interest rate on consumer debt.
I do attack the debt one by one, but depending upon what the next one is – how painful the interest rate is or how low the balance is of the next one, I decide which one to attack.
I didn’t try to pay off my law school debt until my 40s. But I actually tried to get debt free two other times before I found the FIRE movement.
In my thirties, I went on the Suze Orman show. I was picked and I got consumer debt free – that was $20k.
Then I got back in debt and was $30k in. By the time my daughter was born, I was completely consumer debt free again. And then we got $60k in with consumer debt while my husband was the stay at home parent.
And this third time was when I realised I’m gonna keep getting back into debt as long as I have my law school loans. Because in my head – if I’m already $100k in debt, what’s a little bit more? What’s the big deal, right?
I think it’s fair to say that there are different kinds of addicts. And I think as long as I have credit cards, I’ll be in trouble. I know this is very anti FI in this sense, and this is more debt free community, but I’m not spending money that’s not mine anymore. I don’t do that anymore. And so I’ve cut up the credit cards. I don’t allow them.
We live within our means now. So I’m not playing the points game. I feel like an alcoholic going to a bar. I feel like I can’t, I just can’t. I loved the credit card game for decades. I played that game. I won’t use money that’s not mine anymore.
A lot of people in the debt free community use cash envelopes but I’m too careless with cash. So for me it’s doing a zero dollar budget and only using my debit card. I have money for emergency savings – it lives in a different bank and not easy to get to.
I tried two other times and learned the tricks. But the third time was really learning, when I knew about FIRE. I knew that I could get off the hamster wheel. I could see there’s a way to do this. So the other two times, it was like, so what if I were out of debt? No big deal. The third time is like, oh, I know what I saw – I saw Ray do it.
Credit card cut into pieces

How far along the FI path are we now?

And this is where the honest, truthful part comes in. I’ve heard this about the Dave Ramsey world, and it’s interesting if you read Ramit Sethi’s book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He doesn’t like the debt free community and the FI community because he says it’s too intense and you can get burnout.
And so I’ll confess what happened to me in March 2021. My psychiatrist called it a soul intervention, but what happened was I got diagnosed with PTSD among the hormonal storm of perimenopause. And I think just the stress of working so hard and I didn’t have my calming hormone because of perimenopause.
I took a mental health leave for a month. And then loosened up the budget to allow us to take better care of ourselves. So I will get a massage once a month now to help calm my nervous system. We’re more balanced now. It is what a lot of people will critise the Dave Ramsey world foe – scorched earth because it’s so do or die.
My mother says I wasn’t pacing myself for a marathon. I was pacing myself for a sprint.
You discover the FIRE community, like what you see – you see what is possible and what somebody else is living like and you want to get there. But you forget that 10, 15 years is actually quite long.
So now, it’s really, really important. I think it’s a longevity thing. You’ve got to live now.
But where’s that balance?
So for me, and this is something I now have in my budget – right through my HSA plan, I have a psychiatrist and a therapist; I go to acupuncture; I care for myself to preserve my health for this marathon.
I’m working on what the right balance looks like, and what’s healthy. How do I get away from these extremes? I tend to be attracted to the extremes. I had extreme debt and then I’m like, ooh, 80% savings rate – I wanna get there.

FIRE milestones

We have to ditch the debt first, so even though I identify as FI, technically I feel like I’m still in grammar school over here because I have to ditch the debt first.
I have a positive net worth now, which is huge growth. But the debt needs to go before we can really work out what those FIRE numbers look like.
It was originally supposed to be 2023, before I turned 50. But then when we loosened the purse strings a little bit for our health, it became December 2027, before my husband turns 50. So that’s the first milestone – the debt free date. And then I’ll be able to calculate a FIRE date.
Yes, we are investing as well as paying down debt. We’re both investing up to our match with our employers in our retirement plans.

Advantages of starting late on the FI journey

We know what we want. We know what’s important to us.
And a lot of life experience. I had my daughter at 40. I’ve already lived. I’ve already gotten the stuff I need to get out of my system. I was able to stay in some very nice hotels. I’ve done all the fancy stuff and I know now where real happiness lies.
You know, I’ve gotten so much out of my system. It’s the best feeling.
And now we’re ready for the next stage.
financial money budget allocation personal family finance

How my relationship with money has changed

I would overspend, so it would usually be a trip. It would usually be something big like my bonus every year. I’m really good at spending money.

I would take my mother on a trip. When my stepfather left my mom, I wanted to cheer her up. I love going over to London so I took her to London, Brussels and Germany. And because I was still using credit cards, I overspent.

I didn’t have budgeting tools. I didn’t know about zero dollar budget yet. So I had gotten out of debt, but I didn’t know how to not live beyond my means. I got my first credit card when I was a minor – I was 12. I got my first major credit card and first student loans at 17. I never knew a life of not living beyond my means.

I just thought I never made enough money to live ‘the’ life. I knew how to live. And that’s what it is. It was the ‘just not enough’ mentality. I didn’t think I made enough. I didn’t. And I keep thinking that if I just keep working harder, if I just make more money, I’ll get to a place where it will all be ok. I was like a junkie.

They don’t call it the treadmill for nothing. It’s like that hamster going round and round.

I didn’t understand any of it besides feeling like I was doing something wrong.

It wasn’t until financial peace university that I learned about zero dollar budgeting and that there is a way to make this work. I didn’t understand until I read The Simple Path to Wealth and you want to try to get to a 50% savings rate.

But honestly, it worked. One of the first stages is you cut up the credit cards. I’m like, holy shit. But then you get to a thousand dollars emergency savings. It’s like, okay. We’re not screwed. Okay. And then, and then there’s a software budgeting tool called Every Dollar that I still pay for.

Every Dollar, where you create a $0 budget really works for me. My husband and I may tap into the next month’s budget during the last 10 days of the month but we’re sill not using the credit card. We’ve stayed off the cards since that summer of 2019, when I started financial peace university.

For instance, I just went to New York for a friend’s 50th birthday. I figured out how to do it in the budget. And that feels better. That honestly feels better than spending money that wasn’t mine.

My daughter and I just did a seven day road trip in the summer, in my 21 year old car while my husband stayed home. He watched the house, took care of the dog and went to work. He’s an hourly employee.

We did it on budget. We made it work. So it’s honestly the better feeling – pulling off something in budget than spending money that wasn’t ours.


What's next?

I just launched my own business. It’s been my dream since childhood. Vikki Ventures is a company that will help clients enter the world of philanthropy, or as we call it – ‘giving’, by working with clients to discover, create and serve the charitable programs that they care most about.
I’ve been in the middle of negotiating with my employer. So my employer will become my first client. The end of September was my last day as an employee. And then without a gap, the first day of my servicing them as a client is the 1st of October.
I’m doing this sooner than expected, but it was the right time. I was able to get my company to agree to it. So I just said, okay, let’s go for it.
It’s scary right now, because I don’t have a full book of business enough yet that I’m comfortable. I will feel more secure when my monthly business is producing what my salary was producing. I need to know that’s happening but I would’ve had to wait forever for that to happen while working full time.
Honest answer is I probably have a three month runway. But I know I can get myself up very quickly in those three months from my employer being my client. And I can start doing contracts, legal work and getting money from other places ie doing higher paying work that will pay for the other work that I want to be doing. So I’m giving myself three months until I have to start taking on some assignments.

Back to Latestarterfire

I remember LA Law too and the excesses of the 80s – big hair, big shoulder pads and the feeling that we can do anything when we grow up 🙂

Your story is a reminder that our personal experiences with money from a young age shapes our money story and the choices we make later in life.

It speaks to me of the power of community but it cuts both ways. You grew up with spending on credit cards being the norm while Ray, your FIRE colleague modeled a different money story. I wonder how many more people will pick up JL Collin’s The Simple Path to Wealth from that book shelf and have their lives changed as a result.

Tackling your debt speaks to me of your tenacity and resilience. Thank you for sharing your struggles and the strategies that work for you – having a zero dollar budget plus attacking the debt in a hybrid of the snowball and avalanche methods.

You were so excited that you’ve taken trips within budget and not on credit cards. I remember that excitement coming through the Zoom call. “It’s honestly the better feeling – pulling off something in budget than spending money that wasn’t ours.”

Yes, 10 to 15 years is a really long time. I’m so glad you are prioritising your self care and mental health now. It’s a fine balance to look after oneself in the present moment and to work hard for the future self.

I know for me, celebrating milestones along the way, no matter how small, helps to keep me motivated and maintain momentum.

I look forward to celebrating many milestones with you, Vikki as you progress one step at a time towards your goal of being debt free and FIRE 🔥

Thank you so much for your generosity, Vikki – we appreciate you sharing your money journey thus far.


How did your childhood experiences with money influence your choices later in life?

Late Starters to FI Are Sexy!

Yes, you read that right!

Finally, we late starters are sexy, haha!

It is an absolute honour to be featured on BudgetsAreSexy.

Joel reached out to me to write a guest post on the Late Starter community after a recommendation from Project Palm Tree.

Check out the post – Think You’re Too Old for FIRE? Think Again!

Thank you, Joel for wanting to highlight Late Starters, those of us who start our Financial Independence journey later than most ie in our 40s, 50s and beyond.

And show that we are a growing community within the broader FIRE community.

It is never too late to start your journey. Come walk with us.

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