Because of personal finance blogs we’ve read and personal finance bloggers we’ve connected with, we paid off our debt and we’re making progress on the journey to financial independence/early retirement. I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate the personal finance community.
Throughout the month of December, I’m sharing with you personal finance stories from bloggers themselves who I hope will inspire and encourage you to keep making progress on along your own journey. Please follow these bloggers on social media to stay in touch!
Our story begins about four and a half years ago when my girlfriend (now wife) and I moved across the country together. Fresh out of college and far from our respective homes in the Midwest, we found ourselves in Seattle. A generous job offer in software engineering was the primary reason for the move, but it didn’t take long for Becky to find her own job as a Nurse.
Noah and Becky hiking in the Seattle area… 😍
At this point, we were at financial ground zero. Thanks to both of us receiving an obscure full-ride scholarship (also the reason we met) for our time spent as golf caddies during the summers of our teenage years, we graduated college without any student loans.
As we settled into the high cost of living area of Seattle, we managed to maintain a frugal lifestyle that didn’t go too far beyond our college standard of living. Despite our natural frugality keeping us out of financial trouble, any savings we managed to put away didn’t really have any purpose. We followed the common recommendations of utilizing the employer matches in our 401ks and paying off our credit cards in full every month, but otherwise didn’t think too much about our financial picture.
It wasn’t until our 1 year rental lease was up (and renewing would come with a sizable jump) that we started looking around for a place to purchase and settle into. Thankfully we purchased a place well below what the bank would approve us for because it wasn’t until after the new home purchase that we stumbled into the world of financial independence and very early retirement.
Just over 3 years ago, I stumbled across two life changing communities thanks to Reddit. The first was financial independence and the second was the world of credit card churning. I’m skeptical by nature, so the concept of retiring before 40 or traveling the world for “free” via credit card bonuses both seemed too good to be true. After devouring all of the information I could find on both subjects, the math checked out and I wanted to share my findings with everyone I knew!
The Blog is Born: Money Metagame
Off course, we all know how annoying someone evangelizing their newfound hobby can be (Crossfitters come to mind…), so instead of preaching to friends and family, I decided to start a blog to track our own journey. Hence, Money Metagame was born at the end of 2014 to be the place I could point any curious friends and family that wanted to know more about the world of FIRE and travel hacking.
I’ll get more into the FIRE aspect below, but our biggest travel hacking win to date was our 3 week honeymoon where we visited both New Zealand and Fiji via business class. The total retail cost of the trip was nearly $14,000, but we were able to book all of the flights and hotels for under $400 thanks to points and miles!
Since starting the blog, we locked down our financial plan and finally had a purpose for our savings: Freedom!
Keys to Success: Automation and Tracking
The most impactful financial move we made was maxing out each of our respective 401ks, IRAs, and HSAs. All of which is invested in a total stock market index fund that we never have to think about. All of the retirement account investments are automated out of each and every paycheck while we manually go in and sweep any excess money into a brokerage account on a semi-monthly basis.
In addition to simplifying our investment strategy, we also attacked the spending side of the equation by rigorously tracking every purchase we made. Luckily, we never let our lifestyle inflate up to the level of our income, but there was still some room to cut back on expenses that weren’t adding any value to our lives. We never established a budget that would dictate our spending throughout the month, but we track every purchase using Mint and review on a monthly basis to make sure our spending matches our goals.
In addition to Mint, we also use Personal Capital to track our investments (Mint isn’t very good at that part) and a custom Excel sheet that holds our net worth and several other useful calculations.
Taking Off On a New Adventure Before FI
It’s tough for us to lock down an exact “FI number” because we anticipate several aspects of our lives changing in the future. Kids are definitely in the picture and there’s a good chance we don’t spend the rest of our lives in Seattle, both of which have the potential to shift our spending significantly.
Despite the moving target, it’s probably safe to say we blew past a level of FU money a while ago and are around the halfway point to full financial independence.
Even though we’re still a ways from FI, we’ve recognized the power of having built up a significant amount of savings and are going to take advantage of it in what we are calling our Gap Year. Changes in each of our respective jobs meant we were probably going to be shopping our resume’s around shortly anyway, so we’ve decided to make the most of the situation and travel around the country and possibly beyond!
In early 2018, we will have both stepped away from our jobs and will be packing up the Mazda 3 Hatchback to head out across the country. Actual destinations and the exact end date of the trip are both too be determined, but we plan to visit friends, family, and a bunch of national parks along the way. The current plan is to utilize a combination of campsites, Airbnbs, and hotels for lodging and travel to whatever part of the country feels right in the moment (our stash of travel points will certainly help).
Neither of us have ever attempted anything like this, so almost anything is possible. Maybe we give up after a few months on the road, maybe we buy an RV along the way, or maybe we end up taking off for Europe at some point in the middle. It’s extremely scary and exciting at the same time!
The standard narrative has us returning to our respective professions of software and nursing after a year or so and finishing out the journey to full FIRE, but our actual story is being written as we speak!
Advice For Someone New to FI
If achieving financial independence and having the option to walk away from full time work appeals to you, then start dialing in your spending, investments, and income (in that order).
Spending comes first because any level of income can easily be wiped out by uncontrolled spending habits. Start with tracking where every dollar is going, then evaluate if those expenses match your values and allow you to achieve your long term goals. We like using a combination of Mint and Excel, but find something that works for you.
Next, figure out where any excess income should be invested (your spending level did come in below your income level, right?). Focus on tax-advantaged accounts such as 401ks and IRAs first (especially if they come with matching contributions), but don’t be afraid to open a regular brokerage account as well. I’m a huge fan of the Boglehead 3-fund portfolio using Vanguard funds, but find an asset allocation and investment plan that works for you. And stick with it regardless of what the market is doing any given day!
Finally, take a look at your income to see if there is any room for improvement. The biggest opportunity might be advancing within your existing company or moving to another job, but you can also look beyond that into starting your own small business or side hustle that brings in extra cash.
Once you’ve gone through all of that, you can estimate how much time it will take you to reach FI using a tool like Networthify or Personal Capital’s retirement calculator. If you’re not happy with the result, then take a second look at spending to see if there is anything else you can cut. If that doesn’t help, then get your hustle on and find an opportunity to bring in more money!
The most important thing we’ve learned on our own FI journey is to make sure we’re enjoying life now AND setting ourselves up for the future at the same time.
Seeing how much Noah and Becky enjoyed this Tough Mudder makes me want to do another… 😝
Grinding through a miserable life for some financial end goal will set you up for failure while spending every penny that comes in with no end game might be even worse. Everyone has to find their own balance of living both in the present and setting yourself up for an amazing future down the road.
Once you find that balance, don’t be afraid to stop thinking about money every once in a while! After you’ve optimized the basics and are happy with your current plan, put the investments on autopilot for a while and just relax. You might thank me later 🙂