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Today is the 10th interview in our Educator On FI/RE series. I started the series to share the stories of educators pursuing FI – no matter how they were doing it, or where they were on the journey. I’m so thrilled to be able to share all the various perspectives and approaches.
In today’s interview, Laurie of The Three Year Experiment shares her family’s story of pursuing a flexible life. Read about it here, and then jump over to her site for more!
Tell us about you.
Hi! I’m Laurie, a 39-year old personal finance blogger, ESL teacher, and mom of 2. My family and I decided, almost three years ago, that we wanted to move from New Hampshire to be closer to family and have more freedom to travel. So we’ve been working on doubling our net worth and transitioned to remote jobs so we could move to North Carolina and travel extensively during our summers. I blog about our imperfect journey at The Three Year Experiment.
What do you like most about working in education?
I love helping kids and creating relationships with them. It makes me feel so good when kids feel like they can come to me for help with their problems, big or small. And I love when kids get excited about learning, and we dive deep into a topic together.
What do/did you like least?
The rigidity of the daily schedule of school really gets to me. I have to be at a certain place at a certain time, then have exactly 43 minutes to teach my class, then have to return kids to their classrooms by a certain time. That strict time schedule takes a lot of joy out of teaching.
What is your Why of Financial Independence?
As I mentioned above, my family figured out three years ago that we wanted more flexibility in our lives. My husband is from Chile, and his entire family lives there. My family lives in the Carolinas. For us, the ability to travel for longer stretches and be closer to at least one side of the family was very important to us. When we lived in New Hampshire, we weren’t close to anyone. The only reason we were there was because of my husband’s job, which he loved.
Last year, he negotiated for a remote position, and got it. I quit my two ESL teaching positions at the end of last school year, and we moved to North Carolina in July. Since then, he’s worked remotely from home and I’ve tutored and freelanced. I expect to get a part-time ESL role next year.
While we aren’t FI yet, we have amassed a pretty decent net worth, and we anticipate retiring in ten years, when our youngest leaves for college. Both of us are happy with our work situations and look forward to a semi-early retirement (my husband will be 55 and I’ll be 50). But we have decided against a super-early retirement for a variety of reasons. One is that we want to be FatFIRE, that is, retire with a higher-than-FIRE-norm nest egg so we can spend a bit more in retirement. Two is that my husband grew up really poor and we figured out early on that for him, part of the enjoyment of life is the journey. It was important to him to move to a nice house, visit his family as often as possible, and help them out monetarily when we could. That has meant we’ve saved a bit less over the years, but we feel happy with the balance we’ve achieved.
- FI Curious – Just learning and becoming interested in financial independence
- Future FI – On the path, but still learning. Destined for financial independence!
- FI Success – Financially independent!
We’re definitely Future FI. If our spending levels were (a lot) lower, we could retire now, but we want to bulk up our nest egg a lot more before retiring. We’re debt free except for our fifteen year mortgage, and budget one month ahead. We usually save about 40% of our income, and are planning to fund our two boys’ college years (at the state level, anyway).
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing:
While we don’t share specific income or net worth numbers on the blog, my husband and I together make an income that puts us in the upper class most anywhere in the US. That’s largely because of his income, unsurprisingly. For the past five years, we have saved an average of 39.25% of our net incomes (including principal payments made on our mortgage).
Our goal, when I started the blog, was to double our 2016-level net worth by the end of 2019 (this year). While we made a good start in 2017, moving to North Carolina and spending on our new house made our savings rate drop precipitously this year (it actually brought down our overall savings rate by several percentage points). It doesn’t look like we’ll quite reach our goal by the end of 2019 to double our net worth, but now that we’ve moved, and reached our goal of location independence, our next big financial goal is retirement in ten years.
The majority of our savings are in retirement accounts, although we just started taxable accounts and an HSA account this year. Every year, we try to get a little bit better at our spending so we can save a little more efficiently. We’re not always successful but we always learn something.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
Our path to FI started eleven years ago, in 2008. We lived in Atlanta. Our oldest son was a year old and my husband was currently in a contract position. He’d been laid off in February and had luckily found a contract job the next month. But things weren’t going well and he wasn’t sure how long he’d last in his current role.
I was browsing the personal finance shelves of a Barnes and Noble on July 4th, when I came across Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. I read the first few pages then sat down on the store floor to read more. I bought that book on my credit card but vowed it would be the last thing I’d put on the card for a long time.
I got home and sold my husband on the debt-free concept, and we spent the next eighteen months paying off $38,000 in consumer debt. During that time, he got laid off again, and then found a job in New Hampshire. We moved to New Hampshire just five months after becoming debt free and spent the next eight years building up our net worth.
What are your challenges?
Our Achilles heel has always been our spending. I didn’t grow up in a frugal family and my default is spending, not saving. My husband grew up poor so he doesn’t want to constantly pinch pennies as he used to growing up. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at becoming more frugal and he’s gotten better at spending strategically for happiness (like through travel).
We’ve also moved multiple times in our married life—from Santiago, Chile to various apartments and houses in Atlanta, from Atlanta to a rental then house in New Hampshire, from New Hampshire to North Carolina. We’ve lost LOTS of money because of all of those moves. I wish we could have stayed put instead, but things didn’t work out that way.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
We do have a FI target which we expect to hit ten years from now. When we retire, my husband and I may keep our house for a few years while our boys finish college, or we may sell and rent. But we plan to do a lot of travel at that point, perhaps even an around-the-world trip. Once we get the travel bug out of our system, we want to settle near our boys (we’ve told them they have to live close to each other!) so we can help with our grandchildren and continue to be present in our kids’ lives.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
I became an ESL teacher later in life, when I was 36. I used to work in marketing, but because my job required me to be gone lots of nights and weekends, especially in the summer months, I was looking for something more family friendly. So when my kids’ principal emailed me to see if I knew anyone who taught English as a Second Language, I quickly wrote her back and said, “me! I used to teach ESL when I lived in Chile after college!” I became a contractor for the school and they paid for me to take graduate classes and become certified in ESL. I recently finished my Master’s in Education and although I took a year off of teaching when we moved to North Carolina, I plan to teach for the next decade. When we hit our FI number, I plan to retire from teaching (which I’ve always done part time) and join my husband in travel. I suspect I’ll find another gig or hobby, though, because I don’t do well with not a lot to do (as I’m discovering this year). I’ve always wanted to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and I’m hopeful I’ll do more of that in retirement.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
My son and I are working on creating a new website/YouTube channel aimed at kids, and I’d like to have that launched by late Spring. Like anything new, it’s pushed my limits and scared me to try something new, but I’m pushing through my trepidation because I think it’s going to be such a great process for the two of us.
Who/what inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who set really hard goals then systematically achieve them. My sister, who has an Etsy business in the top 1% of the company, inspires me every day with her unfailing dedication to her business even while she balances that with life and motherhood. And anyone who takes giant risks, like traveling around the world, inspires the heck out of me, because I can opt for the more cautious decision.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
I worked with a lot of teachers back in New Hampshire who didn’t have the first clue about how their finances were set up. I met a lot of teachers with big money problems, who spent everything they made.
My number one piece of advice to teachers (when they ask for it!) is, start with tracking everything you spend. That creates awareness in you, and with that awareness, comes subconscious changes in your spending behaviors. When you become aware that you’re spending a bunch of money on something you don’t care about (like clothes or eating out), you can make changes to spend more in line with your values (travel or savings).
My second piece of advice is to max out your 401K or 403b. Start with as high a percentage as you can swing, and then every year when you get a raise (if you get a raise!), up your contribution by a corresponding amount until you’re maxed out. Best way I know to save for retirement and get big tax advantages.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
Absolutely! When it comes to teaching your kids about money, what kind of resources are you looking for? Instructional videos? Blog posts? Funny videos? I’d love to know for my next project!! Thanks so much!
Where can readers reach you if they want to connect?
What a great story! The point about the rigidity of time demands in education (and work life in general) especially resonates with me. Make sure you visit her site and connect with her on Instagram or Twitter to follow her journey.
I’m really interested in your responses to her question about money resources. Comment below!
If you missed last week’s interview with Dave, be sure to check it out.