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travel family hike

There are so many reasons why people don’t follow their dreams. 

For some, it’s our jobs or the expensive homes that keep us where we are. For others, having kids prompts them to settle down in one place and provide. Most of us also at some point believe that we need to follow the traditional path for career success. Opting out can be a real challenge.  

I’m so excited to introduce to you Jacob and Michelle from the blog I Heart Budgets. Jacob and Michelle could have used any of these reasons to not pursue their dreams. 

Instead, Jacob quit his job. They sold their house and almost everything they own. Then, they could hit the road and travel full-time with their 3 kids. 

I had the great opportunity to meet and hang out with Jacob and Michelle last fall at a financial conference. We recently had their whole family over for a socially-distanced backyard hangout here in Boston when they were traveling through. It was a lot of fun to see them living out their dreams! 

Let’s get into their story! 

1. Tell me a little bit about you.

I’m Jacob Wade, a certified #budgetnerd and founder of the website iHeartBudgets.net. I am a husband and a father of 3 adventurous children and a traveling puppy named Gypsy. We live and travel full-time in our RV. We have been on the road for just over 2 years.

couple waterfall hike

I spent most of my career working in IT Sales in the Seattle area. In July of 2018, I quit my corporate job. We sold 95% of everything we owned (including the house), and a month later, we hit the road!

2. Why did you decide to quit your job and travel full-time with your family?

We decided to take a year off of… EVERYTHING. We sold our house. I quit my job (even though we were a one-income household). We decided to travel the country in an RV to hit the “reset” button on our life.  

There were multiple things that fed into this decision. A big part of it was that I simply wasn’t home enough.

Just before our 3rd child was born, I got a job in IT Sales. Our life shifted a lot. The great thing was that I was making more money than we needed (nearly double my previous salary), and I was able to work from home. The downside was that I also started traveling more often for work.

I found myself sleeping in hotels for a few days every other week. It seemed worth it at the time.

Then, I got a promotion to be the Account Manager for my sales territory. After the transition,  I started traveling 2-3 days per week.

This weighed heavily on our family. For this reason, plus a few personal health reasons, I started to have mild panic attacks.

During one particular grueling stretch of travel and life, I finally kicked in the door to our bathroom while my wife was showering and yelled “we’re doing it! 12 months, and we hit the road!”

We had discussed traveling in an RV in the past. We had brought the idea up again and again. However, we didn’t think it was possible because we were at least a decade or more from reaching financial independence.

When things got bad enough, we finally looked at our home equity, our savings, and what it would take to make this dream reality. We decided we could simply take a year off to reset our lives (a “mini-retirement”). 

On August 17th, 2018, we drove away from our home and haven’t looked back!

After spending about 6 months on the road, there came a point when we realized we weren’t going to stop and go back to “normal.”

Normal meant travel, commute, and crazy high cost of living. I couldn’t stand the thought of “plugging back in” and just going back to the way things were.

We knew we wanted to build a life where we could slow down, travel more, and enjoy time with our family. We also wanted to continue pursuing our goal of financial independence. 

This is when I decided to restart my online business. I had put my business (running a financial blog and freelance writing, etc.) on hold in 2016 to focus on my career. I decided to pick it back up and pursue it full-time. 

The time off reignited my passion for helping people with money. Now, I wanted to have even more of a focus to show them that they didn’t need to keep pursuing a dream that wasn’t theirs.  

3. How has the decision to travel full-time with your family impacted your quality of life?

It’s so hard to quantify the impact of this decision. But when people ask about it, I simply tell them “This is what true freedom feels like, and I don’t ever want to go back to ‘normal’ again.”

To give you some context, we were looking at $700,000 houses in the Seattle area. Even with my increased income, all I saw was being trapped with a $500k+ mortgage. I’d have to work in a job that required too much sacrifice, and this single decision would push out our FI date another 10 years.

Once we made the decision to sell everything and take a year off, a MASSIVE weight lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt like we could stop doing what we were “supposed to do” and start living the life we wanted.

For that first year, we simply traveled and enjoyed everywhere we went as a family. We had no work and no obligations. We were simply able to be with our family and explore the world around us.

During this time, we traveled somewhere new every four days (on average). We visited 25 states and nearly 20 National Parks during this time. Only 8 days after we left, we went to Yellowstone National Park. We’ve been hooked on National Parks ever since.  

dad kids sunset

This mini-retirement allows us to experience so many things we love, such as hiking, exploring unique geological features, experiencing local cuisine, and meeting new people everywhere we went. It has given us a perspective and a sense of gratitude for this country we live in.

In our second year, we have balanced living our life with building up the business. And, we’ve slowed down our travels even more and stayed in places for longer.  

Although building a business has its own unique challenges, I am so glad to be pursuing something I love.

I no longer travel because I have to, I travel because I get to. And, I get to bring my family along with me, which has always been the most important thing.

4. How did your decision to travel full-time with your family impact your financial goals or timelines?

Financial Independence has always been a goal of mine. 

Even though we spent a lot of our savings and equity that we had built, we also walked away from the $500k mortgage and a much more expensive lifestyle. In fact, we previously spent almost three times as much as what we spend now. 

Sometimes, it feels like we “blew” through our savings. At the same time, we are still coming out ahead. 

Before quitting to travel, we had invested regularly for a decade. This means we are almost to the Coast FI numbers that we feel comfortable with.  

What I mean by Coast FI is that we’ve already invested enough in our retirement accounts to hit our FI number by the time we reach traditional retirement age (around 65 years old). We don’t need to add another dime into those accounts. We’ll be set as long as we let them grow. We simply need to cover our expenses until then.  

This knowledge has taken a huge weight off our shoulders. It helps me sleep soundly at night. It also helps me continue taking risks without fear of destroying my financial future.

Retiring early is not necessarily our goal. We simply want to build a life we enjoy. We want to make enough money to cover our expenses and perhaps speed up our journey to FI (if we feel like it) through additional investing.  

Ultimately, our FI date is now determined by how quickly we continue to build our business(es).  

I am incredibly passionate about helping people at the beginning stages of their financial journey. I love helping people start a budget, plan for debt payoff, and start investing. 

I’m also willing to build this business slowly. I know that I likely won’t earn as much as I used to, and this means that it pushes our retirement date out. 

I’m okay with that. I know that my life is not a race to the end goal. It’s a journey to be enjoyed. Earning less to help others feels like a worthwhile sacrifice to me.  

5. What enabled you to make the decision to travel full-time with your family?

First and foremost, a budget!

Seriously, sticking to a money plan for our entire marriage has been incredibly important. We started doing this when we only made $14/hour and kept going even when we were at multiple six-figures. Because of this, we were able to quickly calculate what was possible and put a plan in place to take a year (or two) off of work.

Financially speaking, our biggest asset was the home that we strategically bought in 2010 when the market was very depressed in the Seattle area. We did quite a bit of work to upgrade the home with our own “sweat equity.” This allowed us to increase its value. 

When we sold the house in 2018, we were able to walk away with about $175k. This gave us the funds we needed to get our truck and RV, fund our time off, and start our business.

Finally, because we had invested in retirement, we were close to reaching Coast FI. This made me feel more comfortable quitting my job and using our savings to fund the adventure of a lifetime. These investments helped us to know that our long-term would be just fine. 

6. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue working toward your goals?

One thing that cannot be overstated is the impact of minimalism on our life. 

We used to think we were “minimalists.” We thought we had completely Kon-Mari’d our house, but we were far from it.  

RV Remodel

The shocking revelation came when we had to sell everything and fit our lives into 300 square feet. It was horrifying to go through and get rid of everything because it simply took so dang long!

My wife (Michelle) made it her part-time job to sell everything. Even though we lived frugally and didn’t have a ton of “nice” things, it took us 6 months to sell our stuff and we made over $7,000 doing it. 

Now, living minimally means we don’t need much (and we can’t bring it with us anyway!). Minimalist has saved us a lot of money. It has also saved us so much time and hassle of dealing with more stuff.  

Even when we settle back into a home someday, we want to stay consistent minimalists. Needing less allows us to save more. 

7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”

If you are pushing, striving, and getting burned out, you should consider slowing down.

You don’t necessarily need to take a year or two off (and “blow” through a ton of savings as we did). You could consider looking into part-time work. If you want to travel in an RV, you could consider looking for a job you could do remotely, becoming a freelancer, or starting your own business.

8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to travel full-time with your family?

Our pursuit of FI helped make this decision much easier for our family.

When I first learned about the FIRE movement, I dove in and consumed everything I could. I learned about passive investing, how to save and invest, and in what order, how to optimize our tax savings, etc.

Even though we weren’t saving half of our income, the lessons helped me to put these lessons into practice. I invested every chance I got and made sure to get the 401k match. This helped us get closer to our Coast FI number by the time we took a year off.  

Because we had invested and knew that we were in a good position for retirement, we knew we could take this risk. Even if we ran out of money and I’d have to go back and get a regular job, we knew our retirement was safe. 

9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?

As my wife and I discussed this possible life change, we got to a point where the question shifted from “what if we do this crazy thing?”… to “what if we don’t?!”

If you are considering traveling full-time, don’t simply ignore that desire. Start to explore it. 

And, don’t try to go it alone. 

If you are considering full-time RV travel, start by joining a full-time RV Facebook group and asking any questions you might have. There are so many ways to travel full-time, and most of them don’t actually require a ton of money. 

There are also some great YouTube channels dedicated to full-time RV living as well. They offer a WEALTH of information on how to make the transition.

Learning from the experiences of others is incredibly valuable! 

Thank you so much, Jacob, for sharing your story with us!  

There are so many things that resonate with me from this Slow FI interview

First, I think it’s amazing that Jacob and Michelle decided to make such a radical change in their lives. I know what it feels like to have a stressful, anxiety-producing job and know that it’s worth getting out! 

I love that Jacob didn’t just use this as an opportunity to find a different job but as a catalyst to radically transform his life along with the rest of his family! 

Many people have a dream of traveling full-time. Most will never do it. Some will believe that they need to reach full financial independence and retire early to be able to do it. A few will make it happen earlier, either by taking a mini-retirement or figuring out a way to do location-independent work (i.e. remote work, self-employment, or entrepreneurship).

Jacob and Michelle fall into this minority. When they looked at their financial situation, they realized they had significant savings and investments. This gave them the confidence to take a year off to travel and then start to rebuild their business as their main source of income.  

What’s even more amazing is that they did this all with 3 kids in tow. For Jacob and Michelle, having kids was not a barrier to this adventure.  

There are so many aspects of Slow FI that Jacob, Michelle, and their family have incorporated into their lives, including:

  • Taking a mini-retirement 
  • Becoming location-independent entrepreneurs 
  • Finding work that you enjoy (even if it pays less) 

They are such fantastic examples of the Slow FI mindset. Once they experienced the freedom of life on the road, they knew they could never go back to normal. They’ve been designing a life that aligns with their values ever since.  

I’m excited to see where their journey takes them over the next couple of years.  

If you’d like to continue following Jacob, Michelle, and their family’s story, you can do so in the following places: 

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  • Website: iHeartBudgets.net
  • Instagram: @iheartbudgets
  • Email: Jacob (@) iheartbudgets.net
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