Some time ago, I had a conversation with a colleague that really had an impact on me. He was also a pharmacist and not more than 10 years older than me. He told me about his idea of quitting pharmacy, attending the local brewing school, and opening up a brewery using money from his 401(k). I laughed a little bit and asked him what his wife thought of that. Surprisingly though, he said she was on board with it, albeit only after some serious conversations. Over the years I’ve been friends with a number of beer nerds and the idea about “opening up a brewery” comes up pretty frequently but it’s always just a pipe dream. So I was really taken aback when this guy who has a few kids, a mortgage, student loans, and a good paying job to cover those, got his wife to agree to this plan. What’s more, she was also going to take the brewer’s classes with him.
I asked him how he sold all this to his wife and his response really got me. He said that he felt like he was missing out on his kids growing up and that after “playing by all the rules” for years, he felt he needed to take a risk and do something different. As a fellow retail pharmacist, I could see what he was getting at. In general, we work inflexible schedules based off of store hours and work weekends on a regular basis. In addition to that, on days that we do work, the shifts are often 12 hours long. So you miss out on things like family dinner or weekend events quite frequently.
When I was growing up, my parents made a similar decision. A few years after my sister was born, my parents decided that they didn’t want us coming home from school to an empty house. To accomplish this, one of them would have to leave their jobs and work from home (neither made enough for the other to be a traditional stay-at-home). They decided that my mom should do it so she quit her job at the insurance company and started a business from home as a freelance claims adjuster. My dad followed suit a number of years later and sold used cable equipment out of our garage. While they both eventually got jobs after my sister and I were done with school, neither one of them regretted the decision to stay home they made years before. My dad would tell me that even though their prospects of retirement suffered for it, it was still the best decision they ever made and made them very happy.
For both my colleague and my parents, they see/saw owning their own business as the way to free themselves from the burdens of an employer’s work schedule. By unhooking themselves from an employer’s schedule and working for themselves, they would get time to spend with the people they loved. That more than anything in the world, brought them happiness.
I started learning that (or re-learning that) for myself shortly after graduating.
About 2 years out of school, I decided to treat myself. I bought a brand new special edition Subaru WRX. It was sweet! I’d gone through pharmacy school dreaming about the type of car I’d be able to buy and here it was. It had a sticker price of around $32,000, but this is America dammit! I deserve stuff I don’t have the money for! So I bought it on credit taking out a 5 year loan with $2500 down at 1.69% with a monthly payment of $547.
Shortly after buying it though, I met my future wife, and despite what I thought I knew about fast cars and women, she just thought it was loud and stupid. To her, the only endearing quality the car had was that it let her know when I was pulling into the driveway. A novelty for sure, but not worth the cost.
Still, I kept the car for another 3 years, dutifully making my payments like clockwork. But around the summer of 2016, some new ideas started swirling in my head. During a random search on Google, I stumbled upon a funny sounding blog called Mr. Money Mustache. While he’s been well known in the FI community for years, I’d never heard of this guy and his claim of retiring at 30 sounded ridiculous, so I had to read his stuff.
What I found was eye opening. I had always had an interest in securing my financial future, but many of the plays I’d made were done with the intention of retiring in my 60s or 70s. Anything else seemed impossible. But here was this dude that was telling me I could be set for life with the nest egg I’d probably have in my 40s!
By this time, I’d started to realign my priorities in life. I wasn’t all that keen on material possessions anymore and I began to realize that the greatest joys I had in life were the moments my wife and I spent together. This is what happens when you’re not just a single dude eating Cheetos playing Xbox! So the thought of being able to spend additional DECADES with her, well, that just sounded awesome.
When I told my wife what I’d read, her response was “you don’t know who this man on the internet is, he could be full of it.” And rightly so, he could be full of crap. But I was determined. Full of that fresh zeal you get when you think you’ve got it all figured out.
So despite the skepticism, I told her that I wanted to go down this path. Not to the extreme, but I wanted to increase our savings rate to the point where we could reach FI in our 40s. I had run the numbers and surprisingly, it didn’t look like it would be all that hard. Sure, we’d have to cut back and resist lifestyle inflation, but the math was there. Besides, all we were going to do was practice better fiscal hygiene, so why not?
With the goal in place, we needed to get down to business. I made up the budget and changed the amounts we had going into our 401(k)’s. Good moves to be sure, but I felt like I needed to do something else. I needed something more definitive to get myself in gear. I knew that if I didn’t solidify my position on going after FI, I’d probably give it up after awhile.
The car…it needed to go.
What happened next, if I could do it over, I’d probably do it differently. One day, I drove my wife to work and on the way we talked about how I was thinking about trading in the car for something cheaper. When I got home, I did some research and found a really good deal on an older Toyota Corolla at a dealership on the other side of the state. I texted her and told her that I found something I was interested in and that I was going to go check it out. I went to the dealership, test drove it, and made the decision to buy it. It was during the paperwork when I got the call from my wife asking about how the test drive went, only to tell her I bought the car.
She was less than pleased. Not at the decision that was made, but the fact we didn’t make it together. Not something I should’ve done one month into our marriage.
Things were learned that day.
And thus truly began our journey to FI. While it may have had a rough start, I can say that it’s been one of the most incredible goals I’ve ever set myself to. Yes, it’s done wonders for our net worth, but that’s not what I find remarkable. I find that it’s been empowering on a level I’ve never felt before. Like I gave myself the biggest promotion ever. It’s the feeling that you’re in charge of your own destiny, and it’s been worth every penny.