Carl (aka Mr. 1500) was one of the first people I heard of when I learned about FIRE. His early story goes something like this…
- He was having a terrible time at work
- He googled early retirement and found Mr. Money Mustache
- He then set his own goal to retire in 1500 days
But, this isn’t the part I was most interested in.
I started pursuing FI after Carl retired early, and I was even more inspired by his reflections after he reached FI. In fact, he called his journey a “death march to financial independence” and recommended not doing the same thing.
Carl was one of a handful of early FI bloggers who were starting to tell people to slow down and enjoy the journey. If the early FI bloggers were telling us this, I knew we needed to listen. They had valuable life experiences that I could learn from.
Carl was one of the early “Fioneers” who helped us create our philosophy, that “the journey to FI should be as remarkable as the destination.”
This is why I was so excited when Carl agreed to participate in a Slow FI interview to share what he would have done differently along his path to FI.
I hope you are as inspired by Carl’s insights as I am.
1. Tell me about you.
I’m a 47-year-old human living in Longmont, Colorado. I have a wife and two children who sometimes resort to physical violence to settle their differences.
I was the first one in my family to go to college, graduating with degrees in Biology and Chemistry. These majors and good interviewing skills will get you a nice job at Starbucks or Taco Bell and nothing more. Fortunately, I discovered that I liked writing code and became a software developer.
We were living a pretty normal life until 2012 when I discovered FIRE…
2. Why did you decide to pursue financial independence in the first place?
I first stumbled across the FIRE movement in October of 2012 at the ripe young age of 38.
I was having an extremely bad run at work. I wrote code for a medical device and thought that I had introduced a bug that could injure a patient. The stress was overwhelming. I barely ate for a week. The situation turned out to not be that bad, but it caused me loads of stress.
While this was happening, I googled something like:
How do I retire early?
This led me to the Mr. Money Mustache (Peter Adeney) blog. At first, I thought that I had discovered a scam:
Who retires in their 30s? This is ridiculous!
But I persisted.
After reading Pete’s article about the 4% Rule, I knew that FIRE was the real deal and started pursuing it full-throttle (fortunately, my wife Mindy was fully onboard).
Mindy and I didn’t want to live like Pete (who has a budget of $24,000/year), so we would have to save more than him. Our goal was $1,120,000. We would live off of the $1,000,000 and pay off the house with the other $120,000. We later decided not to pay off the mortgage and invest the money.
In an unexpected twist, Mindy went back to work just as I was leaving. She fell into her dream job in the strangest of ways. This has allowed us to pad our numbers since we’re not in the withdrawal stage yet.
3. How did you approach your FI journey?
When I discovered FIRE way back on that no-good-very-bad October day, Mindy and I had already saved over $500,000 and had $150,000 in home equity. Much of this came from live-in home flipping.
While we had a big head start, that wasn’t enough money to quit.
Since I wanted to get to financial independence as fast as possible, we took additional actions:
- We sold our fancy home 4 bedroom/4 bathroom home ($405,000) and moved to a crusty fixer-upper ($176,000).
- We started tracking our spending more closely than ever. It was at that time we discovered we were blowing more money than we would have guessed. Whoops!
- We turned the crusty house into something awesome. This was great for the finances, but not so great for life. More on that in a bit…
4. When did you reach FI? Was that timeline different than you originally thought?
We hit our FI number in 2016, so it only took 3 years. This was much faster than I had planned. With a 10% return and aggressive saving, I had thought our journey would take about 1500 days (a little over 4 years). We reached the finish line over a year ahead.
We had a healthy stock market and some luck picking individual stocks (I don’t recommend this!) to thank for reaching the finish line early.
However, I didn’t actually quit my job until April of 2017.
I felt a bit like the dog that catches the car:
I had been running away from a bad situation, but what was I running to? You can’t just work for a couple of decades of your life, quit, and then retire to your couch. I had no idea what came next and that thought gave me stress. I didn’t want to be bored, so I stayed at work.
5. Was there anything that happened along your journey that shifted your perspective about FI? Did it cause you to speed up or slow down your path?
No. I was convinced that FI would solve my problems, so I went full-throttle the entire time with no rest.
I worked a full-time job (40 hours per week), worked on our live-in flip (20-50 hours per week), worked on my blog (5-10 hours per week), and had two young children at home.
This. Was. Not. Smart. Do not repeat!
6. Is there anything you regret about taking such a fast journey to FI?
Pretty much everything! I worked like a crazy person to achieve a monetary goal and didn’t do much of anything else.
This conversation happened about 1,000,000 times:
- Friend: Did you see what happened on <insert zombie TV show> last night?
- Me: Ummm yeah, we moved 2 years ago and the TV is still in the box.
- Friend: Let’s go hiking this weekend.
- Me: I can’t. I have to work on the house.
I don’t regret not keeping up with TV, but I should have kept up with my health. And I should have kept up with life. I call this part of my life the death march to financial independence.
I delayed happiness because I thought that it was worth it for FI. Turns out, I wasn’t any happier after achieving it.
7. If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently on your journey to FI?
I thought that FI would fix all of my problems:
And then I’d leave work!
And then I achieved FIRE, left work, and:
At this point, I started researching happiness and discovered that only about 10% of it comes from life circumstances.
FIRE is a great life circumstance, but it’s not a big win for the happiness column. I’m incredibly thankful for my life, so I don’t mean to diminish the value of FI. However, FIRE won’t necessarily make you happy, and this was the case for me. My life was better, but not happier.
It was then that I discovered that I had to work on myself. I read self-help books. I took long walks and thought about what I wanted out of my remaining years. I considered the happiest times in my life and how I could replicate them.
It turned out that the big, scary 4-letter word that I was running away from was the solution:
I didn’t want to go back to my computer job, but I realized that deep down, I’m a builder. So now, I spend my days inventing, creating, and building.
Solving puzzles is incredibly fulfilling:
“I want an island in my kitchen, but there isn’t room? How am I going to accomplish this? I’ve got it! I’ll push the refrigerator back into the wall and build a loft on the other side! ”
I do work that makes my heart sing. Some of it pays me money. Most of it doesn’t. However, all of it makes me happy and this is the goal.
I’m in a good place now, but if I could do it all over again, I would have:
- Slowed everything down: Counting on an external circumstance for happiness was a silly exercise. I would have stayed at my job for longer, but gone part-time earlier. I also would not have taken on a major home renovation.
- Focused on happiness daily: Life is short and you should strive to find beauty and wonder in every day. Wishing your days away is toxic.
One of the greatest benefits of FIRE is that it frees up your time for introspection and personal growth. I’m a better, happier person today not because of FIRE, but because FIRE gave me the time to become a better version of myself.
8. Is early retirement everything you thought it was cracked up to be? Were there things you didn’t expect?
Retired life is spectacular and unexpectedly routine at the same time!
My daily life is different than I ever could have expected. I own a coworking space and recently launched a podcast. The former brings in a little money and the podcast is a money-losing proposition, but both enhance my life and that’s what matters now.
One of the best aspects of FIRE is that it allows you to embrace the opportunities that life throws your way:
- Friend: Want to hike Longs Peak tomorrow?
- Me: Sure!
And on a grander scale:
- Friend: I think I want to buy some land and develop an RV park. Do you want to partner with me?
- Me: Sounds like fun! Let’s do it!
I don’t have a picture of the RV park yet, but here’s one from the hike:
However, most days, I’m not plotting new businesses or climbing mountains.
My daily routine is about taking kids to school, talking to other humans around town, and reading. FIRE gives me the time to do all of these things.
9. What advice do you have for others following a similar path?
The FIRE movement is marketed by the mainstream media in toxic ways:
Most of us aren’t going to retire to a van on the Mexican Riviera or spend a year backpacking Eastern Europe.
Therefore, the real value of FIRE is how it impacts your daily life, whatever that is to you. This isn’t sexy, but FIRE is most valuable to your daily routine.
For me, it’s about being able to walk my kids to school every day. It’s about being able to attend all of their functions. It’s about taking long walks with Mindy in the middle of the day. It’s about being able to hang out with friends on a weekday afternoon.
I’d encourage you to ask yourself this question, “If I didn’t need to work for a living, what would I want to do every day, week, and month?” This will be a much greater indication of what life after FI looks like than anything else.
Love life wherever you are along the FI path. FI gives you the time to love it a little more.
Thank you so much, Carl, for sharing your story with us!
The biggest thing that I took away from this interview was that taking such a fast path to FI wasn’t sustainable or worth it. He sacrificed his health and missed out on valuable time with friends and family.
He delayed his happiness until reaching FIRE because he thought it would change everything.
In reality, only about 10% of our happiness comes from our life circumstances. When he actually hit his FIRE number, he didn’t feel any different. Things still felt “meh.”
This helped him realize that he needed to work on himself. He needed to create the conditions that would build a fulfilling, thriving life. It wouldn’t just happen automatically because of financial freedom.
allowed required him to create the conditions to build a happier life. But, he didn’t need to be FIRE to create those conditions. He could have created those conditions a lot earlier by doing the two things he now recommends:
- Slowing everything down, and
- Focusing on happiness daily
It’s especially interesting that he realized from this process that the “big, scary 4-letter word that [he] was running away from was the solution: WORK.”
But, what he needed was a different type of work with different conditions.
While they technically reached FI in 2016 and no longer need to work, they continue to do so. Carl’s wife, Mindy, fell into her dream job as the Community Manager with BiggerPockets. Carl does home renovations, owns a co-working space, recently launched a podcast, and is developing an RV park.
Not surprisingly, doing work that they love has still allowed them to cover their costs. They haven’t even needed to start withdrawing money from their portfolio!
Stories like this were very inspiring to me as I was starting my own business and thinking about the transition to entrepreneurship. The fact of the matter is, once I reached Coast FI, I no longer needed to invest additional money into retirement. I could simply cover my costs with active income (doing something I love doing). Why wait until after I’ve achieved FI to do that?
Thanks, Carl, for helping to open my eyes to this!
If you’d like to learn more about Carl and continue following his journey, you can find him in the following places: