Last year, I was on one of the monthly calls in the Online Impact membership, and I noticed that Raina was sitting amongst a bunch of cardboard boxes. I had no idea she was planning to move, so I knew I needed to learn more.
What I found out was more interesting than expected.
Her family had decided to experiment with living in Colorado, which they thought was their desired location. Raina is an entrepreneur and can work anywhere. Her husband’s job was remote because of the pandemic. This provided them with the unique opportunity to experiment and see if Colorado living was worth upending their lives over.
If you know me, you know I love experimentation. We did an experiment last summer to test out vanlife to help us see if we were interested in traveling that way long-term. As human beings, we are not very good at predicting what will make us happy. So, experimentation helps us to try it out. We’ll never know if and how much we’ll enjoy something until we experiment.
Let’s get into the interview to learn the results of their experiment!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
We’re a family of three with one ten-year-old daughter. In the middle of the pandemic, we moved across the country to our dream location. My husband, Jason, quit a well-paying job, and I (Raina) started a new business. All of this is in service of building a life we don’t feel like we need to retire from; even if it extends the timeline to when we can (thus, why we love the Fioneers!).
Jason grew up in Houston and spent the majority of his early years playing baseball. He moved to Austin to go to college and graduated from the University of Texas with a Finance degree. After graduating, he got an accounting job with a midstream/oil & gas company. After a few quick promotions, he took on a leadership position at the company. Jason likes to run, bike, make dinner and bake pies. He enjoys the outdoors, the mountains, and crisp sunny days.
I grew up unschooled and graduated as a Registered Nurse at the age of 20. After 17 years as an RN, I stayed home with our daughter for a couple of years. It was great fun!
Once our daughter was in school, I began to work as a freelance community manager. It was lower pay than nursing, but I loved it. We decided it was worth the trade-off for the flexibility. That eventually evolved into becoming a certified life and leadership coach primarily working with solopreneurs. This is what I’ve been doing for the past two years and love even more.
I’m always exploring something new to learn, love being in Colorado outdoors, and there will never be enough time to read all the books I have checked out from the library.
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life?
Our most recent decision was to move to our dream location, even though this meant Jason would give up a high-paying job that would have gotten us to FI in just a few more years.
Every year since we started our FI plan, we take time to reflect on the past year and make next year’s plan. Each year we got a little more intense, and it expanded past financial planning to life planning.
We started to notice each year, under “things we want more of” we would put “time in nature”. Then the following year’s planning would come and nothing changed.
We previously lived in a townhouse with no yard and a tiny patio, in Houston, a super urban environment. Additionally, we were in a part of the country with swampy, humid weather most of the year and flat uninteresting terrain. Also, the mosquitoes are the size of small birds.
When Covid forced remote work for my husband, we took that opportunity to spend 3 weeks in Colorado during the summer of 2020.
Every day we spent large swaths of our time outside and loved it. Waking up every morning to the mountains felt good for the soul. Then, we went back home and couldn’t stop thinking about it.
We wanted more of THAT.
But, we couldn’t see how. Jason’s job was in Houston. Western Colorado is expensive. I wanted to stop freelancing to lean into building my own business. But, I also knew it would take time to build. I wasn’t ready to support the family with that income.
We were about five years from FI if Jason kept his current job. His bonuses were getting bigger every year, and banking those alone helped us make massive progress.
But, we couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time now. We didn’t want to put off life, especially since Jason’s dissatisfaction with his job was growing. But who quits a high-paying job at the peak of your career before you’re at FI in the middle of a pandemic?!?
The day after Christmas 2020, we talked about it late into the night.
We had made a 3-year plan on gigantic post-it notes stuck to our closet wall with a step-by-step transition timeline written on it. But, we slowly realized that the temporary, pandemic enforced remote work had presented us with an opportunity.
We could sign a six-month lease on an apt and move to Colorado as an experiment.
We knew that if we wanted to stay in Colorado, Jason would have to quit his job in Houston. His company made it clear that remote work was not going to be continued. That would present a new set of circumstances and a huge delay in our FI plan, but we decided it was worth that gamble.
Worst-case scenario, we could just come back to Houston in six months before he needed to return to his office.
So at 2 am on Dec 26th, 2020, we signed a lease on an apartment. We’d always dreamed of living in Boulder County, Colorado but had never been there. Regardless, we signed a lease without ever seeing the unit or going to the city!
One month later, we moved in. The apartment looked out on the mountains and a lake. We couldn’t believe we really lived there. We quickly knew it was home.
We weren’t going back to Texas.
That meant the clock was ticking.
By July, Jason would need to quit his well-paying but also exhausting and unsatisfying job. This would extend our FI trajectory by about 15 years.
For Jason, leaving his job came with a lot of mixed feelings. He loved his team, but the company mission and culture didn’t align with his own values. The pay continued to grow as he moved up the corporate ladder, but so did the hours he was required to put in… and they didn’t feel meaningful.
At the same time, knowing that you “just” have to get through it for a few more years to get to FI, he would sometimes say “well it’s not awful… what if I don’t find something I enjoy more AND we give up this income?”. That’s what feels most scary…that you’ll make the jump and it won’t end up being better.
He quit anyway.
His last day was July 1st, 2021 and we haven’t looked back.
3. How has the decision to move to your dream location in another state impacted your quality of life?
We were longing for more time in nature, and now that’s part of the daily rhythm of our lives. It brings us so much happiness!
Outdoor activities aren’t just relegated to the hiking or camping “events” we’d do twice a year. Now, outdoor activities are part of our everyday life. We bike to school, the yoga studio, the farmers market, and the library.
We’re out in our backyard everyday gardening, playing, or reading in the hammock.
Seeing the seasons change from the window in my office gives me a feeling of being connected to nature in a way I’ve never had before. All of that was missing in our old place and is exactly what we want in this stage of life.
Shortly after realizing that we would be staying in Colorado, Jason turned in his resignation at work. He agreed to stay with the company for four months to allow ample time to hire and train a replacement. This came with a sense of relief so great, it melted our worries about the FI spreadsheet. This was the right thing for our family and life at this moment.
After resigning, Jason has taken the past few months to recharge and spend time with our daughter, explore our new hometown and the mountains beyond. He’s also taken on more of the household responsibilities while I focus on building my business.
And, we eat lots of pie as Jason has the time to perfect his new hobby. Pie definitely improves our quality of life.
4. How did moving to your dream location impact your financial goals or timelines?
Originally, we had planned to retire completely or begin fun part-time work around age 47. Considering we started our FI journey in our mid 30’s with consumer debt, 401ks in the 5-figure range, and a small amount of house equity, we felt awesome about that goal.
Now, we’re planning to extend our timeline to a more traditional retirement age. The trade-off is that we get to love our work, live a slower, richer daily life, and make the impact we want.
5. What enabled you to move to your dream location in another state?
We were six years into our FI plan when we decided to make this move and career shifts for both of us.
Because of this, our financial situation was in a good place.
- We had a year of savings in cash
- We have a rental property investment that cash flows a few hundred per month
- Our current investment balance puts us squarely at Coast FI.
While Jason was earning a high income, we dumped so much into savings. This allowed us to feel comfortable having him transition, not knowing what kind of income might replace it.
If he finds another high-paying job, great! If my business takes off and makes more than we anticipated, great!
But, we have the security of knowing that if we just cover our expenses for the next 20 years with jobs that make us happy, the money will be waiting for us in our accounts. And, we won’t be burnt out when we get there.
Jason also had a certainty that things could be better, but he also knew that we had to seek out a daily life to make that happen.
Hearing the stories of others who had successfully transitioned to different jobs, different careers, different lifestyles that allowed them to live happier, more fulfilling daily lives gave us the courage to take a bit of a leap.
If we didn’t try this, would we look back in 10 years and wonder if the last decade could have been more enjoyable? Why wait another 10 years to find this more fulfilling lifestyle? Isn’t that the point? Why not act right now and have 10 great years instead of spending all that time getting ready to make an improvement?
6. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?
We’ve been very intentional to make decisions that let us maintain a one-car family, which reduces our costs.
We’ve shifted from focusing on numbers on a spreadsheet or asset values on a website to focus on our happiness and wellbeing as our “metric”.
We also realized the cheapest fun we can have is enjoying the time with each other, the outdoors, and our surroundings. Moving actually allowed us to maximize all of these areas, even if we’re paying more for housing now than we were in Houston.
7. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to move to another state?
We would never have had the financial bandwidth to make these decisions had we not been pursuing FI.
The pursuit of FI, even if we hadn’t attained it yet, made our current life possible. It’s allowed us to have a safety net in place to explore something better.
To give you context, when we started our FI plan, we were living paycheck to paycheck despite a combined income of six figures. We lived in a house we couldn’t REALLY afford at the time, and we were using Jason’s annual bonus to pay off the little bit that would build up on our credit cards month to month.
Had we continued that way, there would never have been the margin to make a big expensive move, risk Jason changing jobs, and me starting my own business all at once, all in service to improving our quality of life.
8. How do you plan to continue designing your life?
Each year, we do our planning retreat and look at each category of our life:
Physical environment; recreation/fun/hobbies/adventure; marriage/romance; friends/family; career/vocation; financial; personal development/spirituality; and health.
We think about what we really want and take stock of where each area is currently.
The most valuable thing is now that we’ve been doing it for a few years, we can start to look back and see trends.
We keep each year’s notes in a big 3-ring notebook. Seeing that there was a goal we were consistently falling short of (more connection with nature in our daily life) gave us the insight to know we needed to try something else if that was really important to us.
It also made us feel more confident that we weren’t making a big move on a whim. The decision was based on a long-held desire that had been building for years.
We will continue to carry out this process and see what else comes out of it.
9. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
There are two main reasons you might consider downshifting:
- If your intense pursuit of FI is negatively impacting important areas of your life.
- If it’s preventing you from doing something that you know will enrich your life.
Jason’s health (physical and mental) was being affected by his job over the last 2-3 years he was there. In the last 6 months, the impact intensified. It was also keeping us in a geographical place where we couldn’t live the life we really wanted.
Our original plan had been to hang on through a couple more bonus cycles to really pad our after-tax accounts before moving, but it wasn’t worth it. There are consequences to becoming burned out. We knew from watching friends that it’s harder to recover than prevent it.
We also knew that by living in Houston, our daughter didn’t have the opportunity to spend time in nature in active ways. The years were passing, and we knew we couldn’t get them back.
10. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
Practically speaking, having a year of savings easily accessible will take the pressure off having to transition quickly. You’ll have a long enough runway to not end up back in the same place you started (a job or life you’re not happy with).
I know this sounds like a big question, but I’d also encourage you to think about “what do you really want out of this life?”.
Get outside help to figure that out if you need to. Journal. Notice what fills you up and what sucks out your energy. Look at the big picture. Do an annual review. Join one of Jessica’s group coaching programs. ?
Ultimately, you’re “winning” life when you find your days fulfilling, no matter what your spreadsheet says.
Taking the risk to search for that is worth it.
Thank you, Raina, for sharing your story with us!
I want to take a moment to underscore the power of experimentation. If Raina and her family had not decided to go through with this experiment to live in Colorado for 6 months, they’d still be living in a place that has mosquitos that are the size of birds! On a more serious note, they would never have known if moving would be worth potentially lengthening their FI journey.
The big question here is… how much will it actually lengthen their FI path?
Raina says 15 years. I say that we don’t know that. Let me tell you why.
Raina is assuming that they will decide to live a full Coast FI lifestyle.
Coast FI is when you have enough in your investments that, even if you never add another dollar, will grow to provide you with a comfortable traditional retirement. This means that you could decide to only cover your actual costs of living until your chosen retirement age.
But… and this is a big but… Jason will eventually go back to work, even if it’s to a fun part-time job. Raina’s amazing, so I know her business will continue to grow. I’d be very surprised if, within the next few years, they don’t more than cover their expenses allowing them to save at least a little. Any additional savings added to their retirement accounts would speed up their timeline to reach full FI.
Here’s why I think this is a “big but.” From talking with people (and interviewing people as part of this series), people tend to think the decisions they make will have a much more dramatic impact on their FI journey than what actually ends up happening.
Take our situation as an example. When I chose to work part-time in 2019, we assumed that it would increase our FI timeline by 2-3 years. Ultimately, it didn’t increase it at all. Why? We ended up spending less because we weren’t as busy and stressed. Then, I built a passion-based business in my free time that eventually replaced (and then exceeded) the income from my part-time job.
For so many people, reaching Coast FI gives us the feeling of freedom that allows us to make changes. But, the likelihood is that these changes to improve your life won’t have as much of an impact on your timeline as you might expect.
I’m excited to catch up with Raina in a few years to see if this is the case! They may decide to live a full Coast FI lifestyle. If they do, they’ll still be in a great place with a comfortable traditional retirement.
If you’d like to continue following Raina’s and Jason’s journeys, you can find them in the following places:
- Learn more about Raina’s Coaching for Entreprenuers: https://rainawillick.com/
- Connect with Raina on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/raina-willick/
- Connect with Jason on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jason-willick/
From what I’ve heard, Jason’s excitedly exploring careers in sustainability, real estate analysis/finance, and baseball. He’d love to find something part-time, so he can keep churning out pie! If you have ideas or thoughts for him, he’d love to hear from you.
What was their plan to cover healthcare costs? That is personally my biggest worry when cutting back.
The courage to experiment in such a big way! Thank you for sharing your story, Raina. I’m currently struggling with working full time for another 5 years to retire fully at 55.
Hi Lara! Raina here. Thanks for reading!
Health insurance is tough and unfortunately I don’t have a magic solution, but happy to share what we’ve done.
The first six months after Jason quit we paid to stay on Cobra health insurance from his job. It was a great plan and cost $2000/month for the three of us with an $8000 deductible.
Currently we have state medicaid coverage we qualify for as a bridge until Jason starts a job with insurance OR my business revenue hits the income limit for the year in a few months.
At that point we’ll use a health care saving account we’ve been putting money in for the years we had a high deductible plan to buy insurance on our state exchange.
Before we took the leap we explored each of these options with costs / income qualifications and made sure we had savings earmarked for each.
Hope that helps!
@laterstartfire thank you! And that’s a tough one! I’m sure you’ve thought about this already, but sometimes part time can be worth the trade off.
I used to live in CO and the weather is pretty great there. Moved to a HCOL eventually since I’m less outdoorsy — but my friends who continue to live there love the immense outdoor / nature in CO. The nature is so good there that when I went to Norway, it reminded me of CO.
I am wondering if I should take this idea further in the future and move to somewhere centrally located, but very LCOL, but in another country. For example, Lisbon or something where the non-rent COL is 50% less than where I am now and rent is about 70% less, and there’s some tax advantages to certain things, like crypto. And something like Lisbon resonates with me because it’s a city so you just walk and take public transit as opposed to having to drive.
But was wondering if there are other cities that are convenient, centrally located / walkable, and LCOL, and the food is good.
This is so inspirational! I had the same question about health insurance, and it does seem like the biggest issue for us, as a family with a diabetic child – our employer-sponsored plan covers a lot (and there’s a lot more than just insulin!), and they subsidize so much of the premium – I get a little queasy thinking about going about that “in the wild” so to speak.
I hope one day we have better access nationwide, though!