I’m really excited to bring you the next Slow FI interview with Kevin Udy.
Kevin was going to be my first non-blogger interviewed for the series. However, in the several months between asking him to write this and finally posting it, he has actually started his own blog!
Kevin has been a reader of the Fioneers, and we’ve interacted on Twitter since I first started blogging.
I identify quite a bit with many aspects of his story. We’ve both dealt with mental health issues that contributed to each of us getting burned out at work. We both responded to burnout by deciding to work part-time. This is where the similarities end. Kevin has made some very significant (and really exciting) lifestyle shifts.
It’s clear that he’s taken the time to figure out what his ideal life looks like. He’s now figuring out how to incorporate those things into his life long before reaching financial independence.
I love seeing people live their lives in unconventional ways. For Kevin, that has meant living and traveling full-time in an RV while doing part-time self-employment. For others, it’s meant choosing a job you love, scaling back your work hours with your current employer, or working for only a portion of each year.
There are so many ways you can use your financial freedom to live a better life along the way to financial independence. This is why we started the Slow FI interview series – to identify and amplify the voices of people living unconventional lives along their path to FI.
Let’s get into the interview!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
I am a nerdy guy in my mid-30’s. I was born, grew up, and have lived a majority of my life in Northern Colorado.
If you’re a Myers-Briggs believer, I’m an INTJ personality type. I’m also an introvert with a bit of social anxiety. When I can get past it though, I love to meet new people. With the aid of a few drinks, I kind of even like karaoke.
I have always had an affinity for computers and technology. I studied computer science in school. After graduation, I was completely opposed to the idea of working in the corporate world on projects that I didn’t care about.
Instead, I looked for alternate ways to start my career. I worked part-time for a small company doing website development, and slowly evolved that into a career in digital marketing.
I have always had a bit of a resistance to living the “typical” life that people expect. I’ve tried my best to forge my own path and not let societal or family expectations force me to live a particular way.
Recently, I took a leap. Right now my fiance Carrie and I (and our dog) are currently slow-traveling in an RV. On top of that, I am trying out self-employment for the first time.
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life?
From my first “career” job, I’ve consistently tried to prioritize balance above anything else. I’ve always been frugal. I saw frugality as a skill that would allow me to start my career on my own terms.
At first, this meant working part-time (~30 hours per week). I eventually started a full-time job. I made sure it was with another small company where I could feel that I was making a difference and keep my balance. I have never worked a job that went beyond 40 hours a week.
Despite this balance, I eventually grew tired of the 8-to-5 Monday through Friday life with the 40-hour weekly work requirement. The work in my industry is variable, and it seemed silly to have this arbitrary structure.
I eventually burned out because of productivity requirements and mandatory schedules.
Last year I decided to downshift. I now work part-time for myself as I slow travel around the US in an RV.
3. Could you paint a picture for us? What does your life look like on a daily and weekly basis as a digital nomad?
The title of “full-time RVers” may make you envision a vagabond lifestyle in a tiny vehicle adventuring all over the place. In reality, there are a wide variety of RV lifestyles. Ours is primarily structured around work. Most of the time we are living pretty close to a “normal” life. We’re not traveling very often; our home just happens to be mobile!
Our destinations are partially determined by what jobs are available for Carrie. She is a Physical Therapy Assistant. Once she has secured a contract in a new place, we find an RV campground with monthly rates to stay at for the duration of her contract.
Because her typical assignments are 3 months long, our initial plan was to spend 3 months in 4 locations around the US. We would then take time to see the sights while traveling between locations.
Real-life events haven’t followed that exact plan. We’ve had a few months where we moved more frequently than others.
When we’re stationary, life settles into a typical routine. We both work during the week and try to plan fun regional things to do on the weekends.
So far we’ve spent time working and living in Frederick, Maryland (near Washington D.C.), in St Marys, Georgia, and we’re currently in Northern California. We’ve also tried our best to follow the weather (i.e. going south in the winter).
4. What made you decide to pursue the RV lifestyle?
We decided to try out this lifestyle for a few reasons. First, it is a great opportunity for Carrie to work in a variety of settings and expand her career skill set. People in her field who travel also get paid really well, so we knew it would be a good opportunity to maximize her income.
When I transitioned to self-employment, it was the first time we’ve had the opportunity to be more nomadic. It sounded like a challenging and fun adventure.
Neither of us had ever lived outside of Northern Colorado, so this trip was also an excuse to branch out and experience life in a few different places around the country. We’ve also had the opportunity to explore more of the country along the way.
Lastly, moving into an RV was a great excuse to downsize and try out a more minimalist lifestyle. Our RV is pretty large (we have a 38 foot 5th wheel trailer with 4 slide-outs). It comfortably houses us and our dog while also giving me a dedicated workspace to “work from home.”
We could probably continue to comfortably live this lifestyle perpetually, but our plans have always included an end date. We want to eventually go home and stay connected to our families and community.
5. How has this decision to become a digital nomad impacted your quality of life?
Throughout my life, I have struggled with social anxiety, general anxiety, and depression. I know that the control that I maintained throughout my career on workload expectations has helped me to succeed, despite these struggles.
I have always “gifted” myself enough time to practice self-care, pursue passion projects, try side hustles, and have a social life.
Now that I’m self-employed, I have nearly full flexibility in when and how I work. It has allowed me to do really cool things like living on the road for a while.
Our plans for full-time RV living coincided with my shift into self-employment, so it was two big life changes all at once. It’s made for an exciting and memorable year.
Currently, a lot of my time and energy is focused on planning and living the RV lifestyle. Beyond planning each new leg of the trip, we put an effort into seeing the sights in all of the places we travel. I’m doing this all while establishing my business.
During this time, I have been much less focused on accumulating money, and I am ecstatic every month when my freelance income covers my monthly expenses.
Changing my trajectory gave me more flexibility and time to push outside of my comfort zone and grow in new ways.
Shifting my mindset around work, income, and saving has had a really dramatic effect on me. I am a happier person now that I am less obsessive about everything. I was pushing myself to reach FI so aggressively so that I could escape from a life I wasn’t happy with.
Over time I realized that by continuing to work on my own terms, I could be happy in my everyday life and still have an income. It was a switch from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset.
I saw that the path forward would have a lot of opportunities for earning money. I realized that I had enough squirreled away to start making changes.
6. How did it impact your financial goals or timelines?
When I first learned about financial independence, it was a clear goal that really motivated me. In typical form, I focused hard on increasing my savings and got a bit obsessive.
I saved aggressively for 6 or 7 years. Over time I realized that striving so hard for FI was actually throwing off the life balance I had fought so hard to create.
When I was beginning to feel burned out, I realized that it was possible to once again scale back work to a level I was comfortable with long-term. This would allow my nest-egg to grow while I focused on covering my expenses.
My new goal became Coast FI or Barista FI, as it’s now been dubbed by the general community. This is when you have enough money invested that you can leave in retirement accounts to grow and still retire comfortably at a semi-early or traditional age. This allows you to work a more relaxed job to cover expenses.
I am currently close to Coast FI. It is difficult to say for sure with some big unknowns in the future like whether we buy a property (and what type/cost) when we are done RVing next Spring and whether we decide to start a family.
I am hopeful that I will continue to be happy with my part-time self-employment in the long-term. I’m about 1.5 years in, and so far I’m loving it.
I now have more time to dedicate to other projects that may eventually allow me to untether my time from my income. Right now, I generally only get paid when I sit down to work on specific tasks or projects. I have a number of ideas to experiment with that could bring in more scalable income, after an investment of some up-front effort.
It’s been great to slow down, savor my time again, and not worry all that much about my savings rate.
7. What enabled you to make this decision to become a digital nomad (i.e. what financial or social context helped)?
The first important thing was building relationships within the FI community. I have been to Camp Mustache (financial independence focused retreat outside of Seattle) 4 times.
Discussions with people at this retreat helped me to build the courage to take action. For me, this meant I would stop working full-time, and thus, stop saving aggressively before I reached full financial independence.
Almost everyone I met at the retreats who had taken the prototypical FI path (i.e. saved up everything they needed before “retiring”) were still bringing in money one way or another. They almost universally told me that they wished they had quit their jobs earlier.
This motivation combined with an escalating case of burnout at my job helped me finally get the courage to try out self-employment. I knew that I could likely go back to what I was doing before if it didn’t work out, and in the best case scenario I may end up making more money than I was previously with less effort and more flexibility.
Second, I had a financial safety net in place that allowed me to make this decision. In preparation for this experiment, I saved a year’s worth of expenses in cash. In the worst-case scenario where I made no money, I could spend it and tap into investments if needed. This would give me at least a few years runway, if necessary.
Thankfully, I’ve barely needed to use this buffer. I now have more money saved than I had when we left Colorado last year.
Finally, one of the most important things is that I’ve spent 10 years in my industry making connections and friendships with industry peers. This gave me a lot of confidence that there was a latent network of potential clients out there for me to draw on for work.
I had a few freelance clients while I was still an employee. A few others I knew would also want to work with me as soon as I went out on my own. I didn’t have any guarantees, but I knew the foundation I laid in my local industry was strong.
8. How have your goals changed since making this lifestyle shift to become a digital nomad?
I left my job, started working for myself, and traveling full-time in an RV all within a 3 month period. I felt like I completely changed my life and my goals all at the same time.
If self-employment went as I was hoping it would, my new work scenario was a long-term lifestyle shift. This lifestyle shift rendered my old financial goals moot and accelerated some of my post-FI goals.
I’m already able to work on passion projects (writing a blog), travel more frequently, try out the nomad life, put more time into hobbies, stay better connected to family and friends, and work on DIY projects at home.
Choosing to downshift made aggressive savings goals seem a little ridiculous. After making the change, I realized that I am much happier back in my natural cadence.
Pushing myself to work more and sacrifice life balance in pursuit of savings may not have been worth it. I should have trusted my gut and explored alternate paths earlier. Once I realized my early savings had momentum and would continue the magic of compound returns if I covered my lifestyle expenses, it took a lot of pressure off.
It has helped me chill out a bit in pretty much every aspect of my life. It feels really good to have enough time for self-care, introspection, reading, mindfulness, and self-improvement.
At this point, my main goal is to continue to enjoy life as much or more than I have over the past year and protect the balance.
9. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
Downshifting is a personal decision with so many factors. If I need to give general advice, here’s what I’d say. You could seriously consider downshifting if:
- You can afford to give yourself a financial “runway”
- You have a realistic plan for how to survive (and hopefully thrive), or
- You are starting to burn out or dread your current situation.
For me, it was somewhat difficult to switch from funneling 60% of my salary into investments to directing most of my income toward everyday expenses. To make it work, I had a lot of contingencies in place to help me feel more comfortable with the transition.
Some people will struggle with the stigma of leaving a “good career” to downshift. I hope everyone eventually realizes there’s an amazing life waiting to be lived outside of, or in harmony with, work. If stress, anxiety, and dread related to work are dominating your mind, it’s probably time to start making different career plans.
10. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder this decision?
Pursing FI helped me tremendously. Because I had multiple years worth of expenses in investments and a year of expenses in cash, I felt comfortable to make the switch.
It is incredibly freeing to be a freelancer who doesn’t need to worry about invoices being paid immediately. I don’t need to freak out when some months’ income is lower than others.
Because of my level of financial stability, I don’t feel any pressure to do work that I am not comfortable taking on. I can choose my clients based on factors beyond financial.
Pursuing FI has also helped us to think about things in new ways. Because of this, we decided to rent out our house (for a profit!) and buy our current RV setup.
The savings and mindset helped us to jump into the unknowns of full-time RV life. Without it, it probably would have been far too scary to make such a big shift.
11. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
If you are on the path toward financial independence and have been saving aggressively, you might be surprised to find that you have so many more options beyond the default FIRE mold (i.e. saving as much money as you possibly can so you can retire early).
There are so many alternate paths out there. Many of these can help you continue to feel connected, useful, and productive in life, but without demanding all of your time and energy.
I would suggest anyone who is thinking, “I’ll tolerate just a few more years…” to look around and consider a few alternatives.
I will also repeat what others told me, although this assumes you have a good plan in place. You are a smart person with a good plan. The downside is truly minimal so just go for it. You’ll probably regret it later if you don’t. No matter what happens, you can handle it. Even in the worst-case scenario, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and stretch your comfort zone.
Thank you so much, Kevin, for sharing your story.
There are so many things that I love about this interview.
Like Kevin, I always had a resistance to living the “typical” life. I wanted to do international development work. When that didn’t work out, I decided that working in a nonprofit was the next best thing. Even with the best of intentions, after 10 years in my career, I found myself living a “typical” life. I was working too much. I was exhausted, burned out, and miserable.
It’s surprising how easy it is to fall into living a “typical” life. It often feels like the traditional FI approach reinforces this “typical” work narrative.
I’m pleasantly surprised that the message that Kevin received from fellow Camp Mustache attendees was that he didn’t need to sprint toward the FI finish line. I’ve heard a similar sentiment from bloggers who’ve already retired early.
They almost universally wish they had slowed down and transitioned out of a career they didn’t enjoy sooner. I’m happy to hear that this message holds up for non-bloggers as well.
It’s freeing to hear people who’ve already retired early tell us they wish they’d done things differently. It allows us to embrace and use the financial freedom that we already have to make our lives better now.
I love that Kevin was able to reflect on his post-FI goals and make those a reality in his life now. Long before reaching FI, Kevin was able to quit his full-time job, work part-time, become self-employed, and become a full-time nomadic nomad.
I love how Kevin articulated his mindset shift. When he realized that he could work on his own terms and have time to do things he wanted to outside (and in harmony) with his work, he realized that he could love his everyday life.
This is exactly what pursuing financial independence is all about; it’s about building a life we want to be living. Kevin has been able to do this in his life long before reaching full FI.
If you want to continue to follow Kevin’s journey, here’s how you can follow him:
- Blog: Courage Above Comfort
- Twitter: @KevintoFI
- Instagram: @kevinudy
You can also engage with Kevin in our Slow FI Enthusiasts Facebook Group. If you are interested in Slow FI, we’d love for you to join us!