butterfly cocoon transformationGroaning, I wake up before the crack of dawn and look at the alarm clock. It’s 6 AM. Time to get up, so I can complete my morning routine. This routine includes a LARGE cup of coffee, journaling, and meditating, all of which enable me to make it through my long day.

After getting ready, I drive the 45 minutes (sometimes longer if there’s traffic) to work, where in my 9-10 hour day, I will very likely have at least 7 hours of meetings. I have a to-do-list for the week with priorities that should take any sane person months to complete. At work, I’m consistently working at a frantic pace.

I go into a meeting with my boss to discuss what projects can be deprioritized; I leave the meeting having learned that everything is a priority. We even have a “fun” conversation about additional project ideas she has (“They don’t need to be done this week, but let’s add them to the list.”)

After 9 or 10 hours at work, I get back in my car to drive the 45 minutes (sometimes longer) home. When I arrive, I’m exhausted from my frantic workday, frustrated because too much is always being asked of me, grumpy from sitting in traffic, and very hungry.

Too tired to make dinner, we order in, collapse on the couch to watch two episodes of whatever show we’re watching on Netflix or Prime, and go to bed.

The next morning, I get up and do it all over again.  

This is what my life felt like in the early part of 2018.

I lived for the weekend and vacation; I longed for an escape. I was exhausted, burned out, and depressed.

I felt stuck. I was casually looking for a new job, but I wasn’t confident that it would be any better than my current situation. I was unhappy with my current life, but I didn’t know there were other options.

This is the backdrop in which I learned about financial independence. It was an intriguing concept for me, but I didn’t commit right away. I was too exhausted, didn’t fully understand it, and was not yet motivated to take the leap.  

Our Turning Point – Maine Retreat Vacation

Every year, Corey and I take some sort of trip for our anniversary. In 2018, for our 9th anniversary, we decided to take a week’s vacation in Maine. We rented a cabin on a lake in the northern woods of Maine. Without phone or internet service and little access to the outside world, this was a week filled with kayaking, campfires, beautiful scenery, relaxing, reading, and reflecting.

sunset Maine lake

The sunset from the dock of our cabin rental

We had some lengthy discussions about our lives and where to go from here. The life of 50-hour workweeks was exhausting and burning me out, and I knew that I couldn’t keep doing this forever. Nor could I keep doing this for another 10 years – the amount of time it would take us to reach Financial Independence.  

I thought that financial independence meant that I would be working hard to make more money until a magical time when I could decide to retire early. Then I’d get to live a life I wanted to live. Given that I didn’t think I could keep going for another 10 years, I wasn’t sure financial independence was for me. I wanted to focus on my life NOW.  

Through a lot of reading and discussion that week, we realized a number of things:

  1. Reaching Financial Independence doesn’t fix your problems; it exposes them because you no longer have money as an excuse. (Thanks JD Roth and Paula Pant.) Therefore, we can’t wait until we’ve achieved FI to begin living the life we want.
  2. We need to figure out what we want in life now and in the future and work toward that. It’s okay if we don’t know that yet as long as we are committed to figuring it out.
  3. There are more options in life than I previously thought. There is more than full-time work on one side of the spectrum and entrepreneurship on the other. There are a plethora of exciting lifestyle designs to explore.

Through this conversation, we decided that for us, pursuing Financial Independence couldn’t be about delayed gratification. It was not about reaching FI as quickly as possible, no matter the toll on our lives.

We decided that Financial Independence was about pursuing financial freedom that would enable us to live a meaningful life of happiness, passion, and purpose along the way.  

In short, the journey is as important as the destination.

With this realization, we were ready to commit to this pursuit of financial independence, and with it, the idea for The Fioneers was born.

As I reflect on the many events that occurred in 2018 (detailed below), this intentional shift in our mindset and the accompanying commitment to financial independence is the most important.

Important Steps We Took in 2018

There are many noteworthy events from 2018, some of which occurred in the first half of the year before we fully committed to financial independence. The second half of the year (after our vacation to Maine) was filled with several intentional milestones as we made progress toward building our ideal life.

While on our vacation in Maine, we spent time reviewing and evaluating our spending. As I mentioned previously, we didn’t have internet or cell phone service, but Corey planned ahead. He brought screenshots of our Personal Capital account from the first half of the year, so we could figure out where all of our money was going.

We did a number of additional things in the latter half of 2018 to increase our savings rate. For simplicity, I have labeled these milestones with “Before FI decision” indicating the noteworthy events that transpired before our Maine vacation and “Post FI decision” indicating the intentional changes we made in the 2nd half of the year after starting our FI Journey.

Before FI Decision #1 – We Paid off Debt

While this technically occurred in Q4 2017, we have not yet written about this accomplishment. At the end of 2017, we finished paying off a 3-year loan that was effectively a second mortgage (we borrowed money from family to put 20% down on our condo in 2014).

As a result of paying off this debt, it allowed us to take the money previously going toward paying off our debts and earmark it for savings. We made the decision not to inflate our lifestyle (much) even before officially committing to pursue financial independence.

Before FI Decision #2 – Salary Increases & Promotions

2018 was also filled with several salary increases for both of us. Both Corey and I got modest salary increases in January of this year, and I got an additional increase in July of this year when I was promoted.

These three increases also allowed us to increase our savings rate in 2018.

Post FI Decision #1 – Cut our Food Spending by $500/month

As I shared above, the most notable lifestyle creep for us was around our food spending. Because we were so busy with our careers, we were eating out or ordering in more regularly.

We were buying whatever groceries we wanted and letting a lot of food go to waste. We realized that for two people, we were spending more money than what the USDA recommends as “liberal” food spending for a family of four.  

breakfast restaurant food

We did a 6-week challenge, where we tracked our cost per meal. This helped us to plan for less expensive alternatives and eat out less often.  We were able to reduce our average cost per meal (per person) from $6.30 to $3.25 average cost per meal, cutting our food spending almost in half.  

Saving $500 per month on food allows us to shorten our FI timeline by about 1.5 years.  

Post FI Decision #2 – We Travel Hacked Our March 2019 Vacation to Panama

We typically take one big vacation each year. While we enjoyed our trip to Maine, we also paid about $2,500-3,000 for this trip. As we were evaluating our expenses, we decided that we could save several thousands of dollars each year by using credit card rewards for the majority of our trips.

As we already detailed, we have planned a trip to Panama in March 2019, where our total costs will likely be less than $750. Through the use of credit card rewards, we were able to cover the cost of round-trip flights, all hotel nights, a rental car, travel by ferry to the island we are visiting, and various activities. The only costs we foresee are ones that go above and beyond the $750 travel credit (through our CapitalOne Venture card) and the cost of food, which I expect will be reasonable.

Without these credit card rewards, we would be spending about $2500 on this vacation, and in the past, we would have paid these costs out of pocket.  

In 2018, we also covered the cost of round-trip flights to Fort Lauderdale and Portland, saving over $1,000.  

If we can cover even $3,000 of travel costs each year (that we’d typically have paid out of pocket) with travel rewards, our FI timeline is shortened by 8 more months.

Post FI Decision #3 – Reducing Internet Cost

At the beginning of 2018, we were paying $105 per month for our internet service, and we didn’t even have cable at that point. A new internet provider came to our area providing internet at a steep discount, so we jumped on this opportunity. We now pay only $40 per month for internet. This will save us $780 per year.  

While this doesn’t seem like a lot, it reduces our FI timeline by 2 months. This small decision reduces our FI timeline (initially around 10 years) by almost 2%.

Post FI Decision #4 – Creating a Vision for the Life We Want

On the more personal side, this year was one of the most challenging years of my life. In the late summer, I ended up taking a several-month medical leave for issues related to anxiety and panic attacks. While this was not a fun experience, I can now look back with appreciation at the time it provided me to figure out what I wanted and the things that I learned.

I was able to use this time to figure out:

  1. What I am passionate about and enjoy doing
  2. That there is a lot more to life than work
  3. The type of lifestyle design that I wanted to pursue both short- and long-term

Through this experience, I made significant life changes as we move into 2019. Because my job was not contributing to my happiness or the life I wanted, I decided to leave toward the end of 2018. I’ve decided to accept a part-time job in my field (with an amazing non-profit organization) that I will start in the second week of January.  

Not only will this new lifestyle design provide me with the opportunity to live my life now in a way that aligns with what I value (health, balance, happiness, strong relationships, creativity, and meaningful work), but it will also help us work toward our long-term lifestyle goal of being location independent.  

Here’s to 2019!

While I don’t yet know everything that 2019 will bring, I am confident we are now on the right track. We are committed to creating a life filled with purpose and happiness along our path to FI, and we took crucial steps to set us on that path for 2019 and beyond. I’m excited to see what the year will bring.  

What were your biggest wins of 2018?  

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