I want to introduce you to a new three part series outlining the gifts that pursuing financial independence (FI) has given me so far. These gifts are in constant change so in a way they are gifts that keep giving. They have changed from subtle perks to explosive life changing ideas. I will present them in the order they arrived in my life. The first gift is financial freedom, that I will discuss in this post. The second gift is the gift of intentional living, including changes in mindset, diet, and environment. The third gift is of self-discovery that has provided new opportunities. Each of these gifts builds on the other to the point of creating the lifestyle I’ve always wanted. As with each of these gifts I will try to provide you with enough information about my past and why I consider them gifts to me.
The gift of financial freedom is by far the best gift of all them. I firmly believe that without this gift, the rest may not have been presented to me. See I was raised in a small manufacturing town in North Carolina. At that time no one around us commuted to a good paying corporate job and no one spoke of leaving for the big city for better opportunity. It just wasn’t on anyones radar. I also grew up in a household that lacked the skills to teach me how prepare for life or how to manage money. There was never conversations about investing or retirement. I think there was a greater concern with how to pay the bills and provide food for the table. But at the same time I didn’t realize that this way of living could be different, in a way it felt normal. So it at least felt normal until I graduated high school and moved to Chicago, where my family was originally from. It was then that I realized how big the world was. My story of FI doesn’t begin there though, I had more struggling to do before I was ready to understand the principles of FI.
My story begins in 2009 after just losing my father, ending a long term relationship and just getting sober. At this time I was in debt with $50K student loans, $5K car loan, and a several thousand in credit cards debt. I honestly just thought this is life and would just pay the minimum amounts each month thinking things were okay. I was living paycheck to paycheck without an end in sight. About this time I met my now husband. He introduced me to Dave Ramsey and that is where it all begin. That was the spark. The seed was planted that with some structural planning I could dig my way out of debt. This was the first time that I’d ever heard of the FIRE community. It was during this time that a better way to live was born.
I’ve given you these details so you’d understand that where I am today wasn’t just handed to me. It required work on my part. It required an honest look at where I was and what needed to change to get to where I wanted to be. Once I started there was no stopping me. At first the changes were fast and dramatic. I had a clear focused plan on how to get out of debt. Once I paid off those debts the changes became more gradual. I began to see my savings grow as a result of automatic investing. My checking account wasn’t almost at zero anymore. I had a new found spirit of hope. A hope that the future was going to be better than I could even image. I was no longer living paycheck to paycheck.
This was the gift of financial freedom. I was no longer fearful of debt collectors. I was no longer afraid of how the rent payment and car note were going to get paid. I no longer had to check my checking account balance before going to the grocery store. These were some of the short term freedoms I began to experience quickly. I remember the first time I reviewed my credit score, I think it was in the mid 400’s. I just remember thinking, “Gosh I have a long ways to go.” The beginning is never easy but it is necessary.
Fast forward through the first $100K and that’s when things get really exciting. That’s when you see the fruits of your labor. The freedom that comes from having your financial house in order is incredible. At this point in my journey is when true freedom happened. I found the freedom to quit a job I wasn’t happy at. I also found the freedom to buy a house, then buy another one, and another one thus beginning my rental portfolio. I also found the freedom to max out my retirement accounts. Now all of these freedoms may sound huge but they didn’t all happen all at once. These are the freedoms that came over the last five years or so. Last year was the first time I maxed out my retirement account. For me that was a big deal. That was the moment I felt like I had arrived.
This year we are on track to reach FI which for us is $1M in net worth. This is the ultimate financial freedom. Reaching this goal brings freedoms of its own, like the freedom to retire if we choose to, the freedom to start a business that we enjoy, and the freedom to increase our spending if we want to continue to work. Being at this level also allows us to make demands that we would’ve been afraid to before, like refusing a project at work or requesting a part time schedule. The options and opportunities today are infinite and that is a true gift in and of it’s self.