Once we accepted the fact there we were broke, we researched the ways of getting out of it ASAP. This is when we discovered Dave Ramsey. In February 2017 we started Financial Peace University. Dave Ramsey’s program starts with the Baby Step 1 where we save $1,000. Baby Step 2 was to pay off all our debt but mortgage, from the smallest to the biggest. We payed minimum on everything (including my student loan!!!) and focused on paying off one bill at a time. We did well during the first couple months, we budgeted and saved and paid. BUT WE STILL HAD STUPID CRAZY EXPENSES!!! Our son continued attending private school, we bought him a brand new piano and took a family vacation to Mexico! If you think you made dumb mistakes in your life, please reread the last sentence AGAIN!
As we got into mid 2018 we were exhausted, down and completely unmotivated. We made a huge and REALLY DUMB mistake early in 2017 and were paying IRS $23,000 for it. Dave Ramsey is a big proponent of paying less taxes each month. He says that that government takes money from us and uses it tax free throughout a year. I took Dave’s advice as a gospel. Forced my husband to change the amount of taxes withheld; made changes to my W-2 as well. So the entire 2017 we paid as little tax as possible each month. It finally dawned on us what kind of mess we got into in February of 2018 when filing taxes. We never had to pay IRS in our entire lives and $23,000 bill from IRS was no joke! We paid it immediately.
There were no vacations in 2018, our son was transferred to public school. We budgeted, but never to a zero balance. There was always an expense we did not anticipate. Grocery bill shrunk from $500 per month to a $350 for a family of four! Luckily, we have never been huge on going out to eat. Fatherfier and I both cook several times a week, plus my mother-in-law often brings food for the kids (they love grandma’s cooking!). With grocery bill reduced we kept our fridge at its half capacity. In the past we stocked it up, scared that we’d run out of food. Now I am able to see what we have; the fridge can finally “breathe” without masses of food at every corner.
Paying off debt still sucked. It’s depressing to observe passively as your hard earned money slips right pass by you. I know there are countless people who struggle with debt amount much higher and income much lower than our family, and I am humbled and forever grateful for the opportunities I have. After paying off stupid IRS debt we got back on track focusing on the evil student loan. This time I decided to forego Dave’s advice to start with the smallest debt first and instead attacked the loan with the highest interest (6.59%) instead. Even during our second year attacking the loan we were still paying close to $700/month on interest alone!!!
The debt shrunk sluggishly, we worked and paid, worked and paid; the future with no debt was a distant goal we could no longer visualize. For the first time in our married life we ran out of encouraging words for each other. We were missing something very fundamental, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Though I absolutely love Dave Ramsey’s message (and weirdly enjoy his rants), I felt that there had to be more than just the Baby Steps. Still, FPU was an excellent start and I am forever grateful to Dave Ramsey and his team for the work they do to help the rest of the country.
THE PARADIGM SHIFT
My wheels started turning into the right direction after I read Tim Ferris’s “The 4-hour work week.” This book kept crossing my path since 2008 and I actively ignored it for 10 years, assuming Tim is a scam artist promoting a multi pyramid business model. I wasn’t sure how his outsourcing and business model advice would apply to me, but I was surprisingly wrong. The “4-hour work week” inspired me to reevaluate my priorities in life, to think outside of box.
Right around this time in October of 2018, I was introduced to Mr. Money Mustache by one of the pharmaceutical reps that frequented our office. He saw my Dave Ramsey books and thought I might be interested in checking out “the other guy.” And I actually did. This is when I discovered a whole different realm. I was immediately hooked. “Welcome to the Fight club” kind of moment. This was special. After MMM I started listening to podcasts and blogs of other people in the FIRE community. My favorite ones are: Brad and Jonathan – the cheerful duo from Choose FI, stock series by Mr. JL Collins and tax hacks by Mad Fientist.
If you are new to FIRE, I am honored to explain this concept to you!
Apparently there is a large and growing community of people that are Financially Independent in their early 30-40s! Financially Independent (FI) person has enough money saved to say: “FU” to work and can call it quits exactly at that moment. FI person has a healthy relationship with money. FI person will not buy a brand new BMW or McMansion to impress others. FI person is not seduced by malls and restaurants. FI person has everything he/she needs. FI person is confident about future even with all the ups and downs. FI person lives a fulfilled life. FI person spends time on what is more valuable in life: family and friends. FI person is financially and psychologically FREE.
While some FI people retire early, other continue working purely out of joy, and not because they have to “bring home the bacon.” In the past I have always thought that you must accumulate a “billion-gazillion of dollars” to retire early. This doesn’t make sense until it does. Imagine if you had ZERO DEBT, how much would you need a month to cover your basic needs? The number could be different for many people. If you live lavishly, go on shopping sprees, carry Starbucks cup and eat out every day, then your monthly expenses might be pretty high and unpredictable. For many people it is roughly around $2-3,000 month. For some even less! If you decided to explore other countries, $2000 a month can provide a very luxurious lifestyle.
If we have no more debt, how much do we REALLY NEED TO BE HAPPY?