Before you book any airline flight, you have to know when you will depart your current location and when you expect to arrive in your destination. There is always a “reason” for your trip (vacation, business trip, family obligation, educational conference, etc.) For our FI Journey – Mrs. TBT and I are working to determine when we can depart (more on this later) but our destination (early retirement) is set – so why are we going on this journey?
Freedom of choice is what we want from Early Retirement. Why beg for a few hours on the weekend – why not have the whole week! We don’t want to keep rowing in the galley to the constant drumbeat of our jobs. For us, we want to be the Captains of our “ship” – visiting any interesting port of call we may find – while our savings power the journey!
How great does it feel when you are on a long vacation (2 weeks or more)? The freedom to go where you want and do what you like – when you like. We choose to be on a Permanent Vacation! No more bartering our lives for a few days of true freedom and a few dollars in the bank. Our Vacation will only be interrupted for the work we find interesting, fulfilling, and helpful. Retirement doesn’t mean we won’t work – it means WE will choose the work and how much time we spend at it.
Its called the “Daily Grind” for a Reason
For the first 20 years of my career, I worked 80 to 100 hours a week to meet deadlines and deliver for our customers. I did this to earn my paycheck, to move up the “corporate” ladder, and to get more “say” over what gets done or what directions our products take. While the successes were personally rewarding in terms of recognition, money, and personal advancement – they came with a price.
I was constantly stressed out. I didn’t eat or sleep well, and exercise was infrequent. My health and quality of life suffered. I accepted this as the cost to be paid for a good life and an “eventual” retirement. But, two important life lessons changed my perspective on the importance of living the best life possible – as soon as possible.
Lesson one – You have to work hard at Freedom
My grandmother Violet was an amazing woman. She was a farmer who grew up during the Depression. She lived about 10 miles from the nearest small town and I remember riding with her to the store. I was always surprised that she only purchased a few things – sugar, flower, coffee and a few other cleaning products. These were mostly things that she couldn’t easily make or grow. Her garden was amazing, and she grew or raised almost everything she needed – and she canned the excess for the winter. She raised cattle and chickens and ran her farm until she was 78. She managed the farm and didn’t depend on any employer or any paycheck to pay her way – she lived simply and well.
Don’t mess with Grandma
One summer, when I was in High School, I spent a week with her and after a big storm – there was a lot of debris in the windbreak (or grove) by the house. My grandmother suggested we go clean it up – we would split the grove in half and rake the limbs into two piles. I was young and it good shape – so I figured I would speed though this work and finish first – showing off a bit.
Well, not only did she finish first, she went in and had a full dinner ready before I finished – I have never seen anyone work like she did! Later, after dinner, she told me “If you can help it, never work for someone, its best to be your own boss”. I thought that was kind of strange advice – but the seriousness of her tone underscored its importance – and I always remembered it. Only many years later did I fully understand what she meant. It was just a small part of her legacy of kindness, hard work, self-reliance, and her love of and respect for nature.
Lesson two – Nothing is promised
My Dad retired early from the Marine Corps after 21 years and went to work for a Trucking company as an auditor. Following a long career there – he retired “again” at 67. He and my Mom were looking forward to a well-deserved life of travel, leisure, and spoiling grandchildren. But unfortunately, that would not be the case. My dad retired, and shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought bravely for 18-months, then he passed away.
It seemed so unfair to me that after all they had sacrificed and all the hard work they had done – they would not have the life they imagined or the freedom they had earned. I learned a hard lesson – that nothing is guaranteed to anyone. You can make always make money – but our time is finite. I miss my Dad – and I wish he and my Mom could have taken the trips they imagined.
The time for change has come
These two lessons reinforced that it was time to come up with a better plan. I started to change my life – I cut back my commitments at work, I started to read more about early retirement and achieving financial independence. I worked on my health – started to eat better, and paid much more attention to finding a partner to share my life with.
Most importantly, in 2009, I met Mrs. TBT – who married me after a brief courtship! We both agreed that we wanted to define a better version of our lives going forward. At that time, the economy was still volatile (even in Texas) and our company had a number of layoffs. While Mrs. TBTs job was fairly safe – we decided to take action to put ourselves in the best possible position going forward.
Our first stop – clear up the debt.
Our first step, was to get rid of the debt we have accumulated. We started by paying off the existing debt we had – that looked something like this:
Within two years – we paid off this debt by removing expenses wherever we could. We killed our land line, cut out cable, and got on a cheap cell phone plan. We used the excess money we had to put against the debt. Then we paid off her car (I paid mine off earlier) and then we attacked our Mortgage. Once we had no car payments or home mortgage payment, we started to save. We built our savings account to fund a “side hustle” to bring in extra income. We had taken important first steps toward our goal – controlling our debt and beginning to save our surplus earnings.
Now we have our “ticket” and we know where we want to go. There is no turning back for us. It is really just a matter of time (and effort) until we are free. The steps are simple:
- control and eliminate your debt,
- reduce your spending,
- save the excess until you have enough to support yourself
- create additional income to give yourself a margin of safety
You can do it too – no matter your age, your situation, or where you came from. If you believe it and you act on it – it will happen! As Albert Einstein once said – “nothing happens until something moves”. What are you doing to MOVE yourself toward your version of Freedom? Toward your “better thing”