When I first learned about FI, rich & Regular was one of the very first blogs I found. I saw the passion and effort that they put into making it a useful platform. I also saw the genuine care they had for their audience and community. They were people I knew I wanted to emulate.
Over the last few years, it’s been amazing to see their platform develop from a blog they wrote on the side of their day jobs to a media company that tells deeply compelling stories through various forms of media (blog, video, podcast, speaking engagements, and soon, a book). Their goal has been to use storytelling to help people (particularly the Black community) take bold actions to build wealth and create better lives. And, they are crushing it!
Over the last couple of years, both Julien and Kiersten have quit their jobs to become full-time entrepreneurs. Join me as I interview Kiersten about her decision to quit her job during the pandemic.
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
My name is Kiersten Saunders. I’m a mom to a beautiful 4-year old named Beau.
I’m self-employed as a full-time content creator. My husband Julien and I run richandregular.com and we’re based out of Atlanta, GA.
2. Both of you (Kiersten and Julien) quit your jobs and became entrepreneurs before reaching full financial independence. Why did you decide to make this decision?
We didn’t quit at the same time, so it was actually two different decisions about a year and a half apart. Julien decided to leave to preserve his mental health, and I decided to leave to take greater control of the person I said I wanted to be.
Work wasn’t unbearable, but it had become more than what I had signed up for. Our company was one that consisted of legacy brands, and for the past 5 years, we had been through several pivots and organizational changes to reposition the company for future growth. I had taken all of these changes in stride, but the last one put me and my team in a completely different department. I had more responsibilities, a lower budget, and less coaching and guidance from leadership.
Meanwhile, rich & Regular was growing and I was feeling more and more trapped by the constraints of my job. The way I summed up leaving on the blog was “because I can”… I’m pretty sure Simone Biles borrowed that line from me, 🙂 but that’s what it boils down to.
There is a certain point along the FI journey where quitting becomes a choice that’s available to you and it’s not just at the end, once you’ve hit your FI number.
3. How has the decision to leave corporate America impacted your quality of life?
Our quality of life has improved greatly, and it’s not just for obvious reasons like more time and flexibility.
One of my favorite luxuries is sleeping in, so my version of Financial Independence always included slow mornings and hot breakfast. I figured if I had both of those things, life could really feel like a vacation most of the time.
When we were working, mornings consisted of waking up to the shrill of an alarm clock, pouring hot coffee into a metal thermos, and eating breakfast from a crumpled napkin while I sat in stop-and-go traffic on my hour-long commute.
These days, my mornings include journaling, stretching, coffee from an actual mug, and conversations with my son about what he dreamed about. At night, when I’m reflecting on the day, I remember all the choices I was allowed to make for myself. I feel such gratitude, even when the circumstances weren’t perfect.
I’ve also always been very outcome-oriented. Over the years, I’d heard the advice about pursuing big goals where you need to fall in love with the process. But, I’d never really been able to do that for our pursuit of FI, until I quit.
Lastly, the process taught us that we should constantly re-evaluate our options. The wealthier you get, the more choices you have. There were areas of life where we were defaulting to an old playbook of only having 2 options at any given time. After we quit, we were able to evaluate the other areas of our lives where we were disregarding the spectrum of options —from parenting to marriage to wellness goals. It’s been incredible.
For example, let’s talk about housing. Before, I would brainstorm solutions and box myself into believing that people either owned or rented. This assumed that housing costs were fixed and either spread over 12 months (rent) or 30 years (mortgage). Now when I think about how we budget for housing long-term, I recognize that we could do any combination of things. We can own a home in one state, rent in different LCOL areas or explore geoarbitrage. We can literally piece together a solution based on what we need (and want) it to do.
Our largest expenses and the biggest variables to our financial plan are housing (both ours and my Mother-In-Laws’), healthcare, and childcare. I’ve learned to apply this same level of expansive thinking to some of the decisions we need to make in those areas.
4. How did leaving corporate America impact your financial goals or timelines?
Hell if I know! ? What even IS a timeline anymore? Historical data is much less useful because of the pandemic. We don’t know what the economy will do since there’s not another pandemic to compare it to in recent times.
What we do know is that the pandemic has validated our focus on generating income. Being frugal where it matters is important, but that will only take you so far.
We also knew that if we wanted to have greater control over our financial history, we needed to opt-out of systems that historically underpay. This inspired our decision to pursue entrepreneurship.
When you’re self-employed, there’s no cap on your earning potential. And if you have a digital business, as we do, you also don’t have to earn in a linear way. You can make $40,000 one year and $400,000 the next. Because of that, we’ve also changed the way we set financial goals. We used to set them on an annual basis because our salaries were so predictable. Now, we set them on a quarterly basis and check in once a month to see if we need to revisit again.
5. What enabled (or inspired you to quit working in corporate America?
Throughout our careers, we were both relatively high earners. Because of this, we had learned to live off one income when we were newlyweds. Making it “official” once Julien quit wasn’t a huge adjustment for us.
We also had two rental properties (one of which was mortgage-free) that we sold in 2019 and 2020 so we had a lot of cash on hand when I left. This meant that we didn’t need to put as much immediate pressure on the business or on ourselves.
For me, the social context was knowing that Black women are grossly underpaid ($0.63 to each dollar a white man earns). I read an article that cited the pay gap added up to be $1M over a lifetime. Statistically, if I was going to make $1M less than a white male staying, I decided I had a better chance of getting the life I wanted by betting on myself.
When I made the decision to leave, Black women were the largest cohort of new entrepreneurs in the country. And since the pandemic, studies show Black women’s financial philosophies have changed significantly. Looking back, it was naive of me to feel like being ok with earning $1M less didn’t seep into other areas of my life. Generally, I think we’re all willing to be more honest about the stakes now.
6. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?
Pragmatically, we’ve given up on automating everything and adapted to having more cash on hand and building “cash runways.” This basically means we set aside several months’ living expenses in advance. Then, because our bills are covered, whenever we generate business income, we decide if we should invest it or use it to build the next runway. We make the call based on upcoming expenses, Accounts Receivables, etc.
We’ve also shifted to thinking about debt as leverage just like our favorite blue-chip stocks do. According to Apple’s most recent financial statement, as reported in April 2021, their total debt is $121 billion, with most of that in long-term debt. Even when you adjust for their cash equivalents, their net debt is over $83 billion. BILLIONS!! 83 of them!
Why were we okay with recommending that people invest in indices like VTSAX that are full of companies like Apple, but still being rigid with our own debt philosophy? And perhaps the better, more impactful question was why did we trust their leadership teams to manage it more than we trusted ourselves?
We’re obviously not reckless with debt up to our eyeballs, but we don’t mind it! We can now look at interest without assigning a moral evaluation like “good” or “bad” to it. It’s just the cost of doing business.
But looking beyond tactics, the biggest mindset shift has been prioritizing investments in our business in the same way we prioritized index funds and real estate for so many years. This year alone, we’ve spent money on coworking memberships, a professional editor, a new camera, an upgraded laptop, and lots of software. And, this is on top of the investments we make with our content (film crews, travel, audio, etc).
As self-employed people, that practice has been the hardest to adopt but has led to the biggest breakthroughs for our business.
7. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to leave corporate America?
Our pursuit of FI is the only reason we were able to make this decision.
But if we’re keeping it 100, it wasn’t just the pursuit; it was the immersion within the community. Meeting peers and role models who had done it, been through it, or were still going through it provided us the support we needed when we were making tough decisions.
I remember attending Cents Positive and telling my small breakout group that I was hesitant to quit and the reaction was, “You HAVE to quit! People need to hear your message!” That sentence played in my mind over and over again for 2 years.
When I left, the best part (besides catching up on sleep) was being met with all the “CONGRATS!!!” from my money friends around the world. It was such a starkly different reaction than my well-meaning friends and family whose concern for me overshadowed what I felt was an accomplishment.
8. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
It’s hard to say without knowing the details of a situation.
Generally speaking, there is a pattern I see among people who are able to downshift but don’t see it as an option. They get stuck in a circular logic pattern and it makes them believe that a job is both the cause and the cure of all their ailments. In other words, they’re stressed, underpaid, unhappy, and time-constrained because of their job – and the only solution they can think of is always to get another job. Do you know the expression, ‘hair of the dog’? When you’re hungover and the only thing you can do to get relief is have another drink? Same thing here.
Whenever I see that, I always recommend taking a break. I don’t jump to “you should quit” because people are always surprised how much two weeks off can clarify your thinking. And if you’re able to take a formal sabbatical or leave for longer periods, that’s always a plus too.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
First, find your people. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your friends, family, or the community you were born into are your only methods of support. And two, if you’re feeling stuck, train yourself to look for that third option which is usually somewhere in the middle of the other two. It’s also okay to start smaller and work your way up.
Thank you, Kiersten, for sharing your story.
There are so many themes from this interview that I want to focus on, but I’ll limit myself to three!
I loved how Kiersten said that she summed up her decision to quit in this way, “because I can.” This truly shows the power of F-you money. Even if you haven’t reached full FI, you get to a point where you no longer need to put up with things that aren’t serving you.
When I quit my job, I also quit earlier than I expected to for the same reason – “because I can.” My boss was pressuring me to work more, and I was feeling unappreciated for the work that I was actually able to do. Even though I had initially planned to leave once I could replace my salary with business revenue, I decided to go early. The situation was stressful. I felt like I was constantly fighting for my boundaries (even though they had been previously agreed upon). I left because I could.
Something else I loved about the interview was Kierstan’s blase attitude about the change to their FI timeline. There is a perfect storm that’s contributing to this (and I can totally identify), which includes:
- The knowledge that reaching FI is (eventually) inevitable
- True enjoyment of what you are doing
- Your needs being met
- Confidence in your ability to generate income
Once you have this, who cares what your FI timeline is?
Lastly, I want to touch on what Kiersten wrote about building a supportive community of people who “get it.” Being part of a community that believes in you and believes in what’s possible is transformational. I was fortunate enough to be at that Cents Positive Retreat and in the same breakout group about entrepreneurship. This same group of women inspired me to actually start my coaching business. I had been toying with different business ideas (mostly as a way to push off actually taking action), and after this conversation, I started to believe that I could actually do it.
Never underestimate the power of a supportive community!
If you’d like to continue following Kiersten and Julien’s journey, you can find them in the following places: