My foray into personal finance started when I was 18 and dirt poor & living on my own. In the 90s buying clubs like Columbia House (hah! Remember them?) and Book of the Month Club were all the rage and like a fool, I was a member of both of them. But as fate would have it, one of the books that I received was The Tightwad Gazette (TWG) II. When I got it I read it cover-to-cover and then I read it again. Despite the fact that these mail order clubs were pretty awful, I probably have benefited more financially from stumbling across that book than from anything else that has happened. It lead me down a road of seeing that there was a different way of living and it gave me the power to understand that I had control over my money. Eventually I bought both TWG I & III as well as Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL), which is the book that had the most impact on me during my 20s and 30s.
Before the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) movement with its stoicism and side hustles by tech-based workers & other high-income adherents, there was Joe and Vicky. Their vision of the for financial independence (FI) movement was one of simple living and community. Their ideas were about resource management not just for the accumulation of cash but also concerned the environment & leaving the planet a better place. It was a vision for a better world and it spoke to me. Although I have enjoyed some of the FIRE blogs over the past 10 years, I have been embedded into the YMOYL vision of FI and have found that the bootstrapping, solitary goal of accumulating money of most FIRE bloggers has struck me as mostly empty. Of course, there are those who have a larger vision but they don’t seem to be the ones screaming the loudest.
Of course, you may be thinking, “Well Tucker, learning about all of this by 20 certainly didn’t help you to retire early! You worked until 3 years ago!” While that is true, it is also missing the larger picture, which is the one of independence, or having the freedom to make different choices. By learning to be good with my money it has given me the option to make decisions that I may not have been able to make had a lot of debt or lived a large lifestyle. Here are some things that FI knowledge has given me:
– After being laid off from my well-paying corporate job I was able to join a government-sponsored small business training program that lead me to owning an eco-friendly cleaning business in my early 30s.
– After listening to my mother, I bought a condo downtown for $115k when I was 24 years old with a $5000 inheritance I received (full disclosure she co-signed the mortgage). After a couple of years I was able to remortgage & used the money to pay off my student loans (the difference was 6.5% a year!).
– After I became a parent, being frugal allowed me to stay home with my kids until they were 2 & 4 years old.
– I went back to work when it looked like Mr. Tucker’s job situation looked tenuous. But we were still able to live off of one salary.
– When I went back to work I was able to take contracts from September – May and stay home with my kids over the summer (I would have worked but student programs generally filled those jobs during those months).
– Going back to work allowed us to spend a month in Puerto Rico in 2014 & not have debt long-term.
– Saving up a huge down payment for our house allowed us to take on a smaller mortgage than we would have. We are now looking to pay this off by 2023.
– When I was diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis the waiting period for sickness benefits with Employment Insurance was a month & only lasted 12 weeks. The waiting period for my Disability Insurance to kick in was 13 weeks! Having savings & having an emergency budget for when money got tight helped us not use credit to see us through.
– Being disabled can be expensive: having a doctor fill out my forms just to apply for my benefits was $45 each time. I have great medical insurance but it only pays a portion of my mobility device costs.
– Because we wanted to travel when the kids could be pulled out of school and my mobility was still good, we are frugal in our daily lives but have visited many countries, were able to go to Disney (twice!) and Universal and are able to rent cottages with friends in the summer.
All in all, my FI knowledge, ability to switch into a tight budget, and our savings rate have all contributed to our lifestyle. Between graduating from university & my diagnosis I have worked full-time only about 10 years & the rest were part-time or were the years I was a stay-at-home-parent. We don’t have a basement full of stuff (but if you enjoy that kind of thing, more power to you), we only got a car when the eldest was around 1, we cloth diapered, we reused everything, ate a lot of beans, and didn’t buy a lot of things we didn’t need. But we did want to travel, our kid’s university savings accounts are well-funded and our retirement accounts are doing well. We also have a ton of friends in our community and the kids and the adults all have hobbies that they enjoy doing.
Overall, this is the definition of FI success to me. We don’t live life on autopilot but instead make concentrated decisions of how we want to spend our time & money to live the life we want. It’s part luck, part good choices but also making great friends, having the support of our families, and having fun hobbies to sustain us. We have even loftier goals for the next three years but more on that later!