** Financial independence has far-reaching effects on our lives, and for many the pursuit of independence and the obtaining of it has impacted us in profound ways. Today, we hear from Jenni and Chris from TicTocLife, two mid-thirties career-driven folks who reached financial independence by age 33 and retired early at 35. If you are interested in writing for series and answering the question “How did financial independence change your life?” please reach out! **
The most remarkable part about how financial independence (FI) has changed our lives is in how little, at least from the outside, it’s had any visible effect. The best way to sum this up is—wealth is what you can’t see.
That’s not to say that FI hasn’t been a meaningful achievement within our lives or that we don’t greatly appreciate what it’s allowed us to do. FI has had an incredible, meaningful impact on us internally.
But, from the outside looking in, it’s hard to say that our friends or family would have been aware that we were working to achieve financial independence throughout our mid-20s and early 30s.
There was no fanfare when we crossed the million-dollar mark at 33 years old. We didn’t celebrate by signing a lease on a new BMW. Or, conversely, by doubling down on frugal grocery shopping by switching from Kroger to Aldi.
For us, FI has always been about the mentality more than it has been about any meaningful, visible changes to our lives. The lightbulb didn’t come on one day—and boom—we sold our oversized house, cut our new car lease short, or scrapped our credit cards.
Instead, it’s the slow and steady life we’ve always lived since both of our professional careers started.
What makes financial independence an achievable goal is to first build the life you desire. Color in the details of what matters to you and find the hobbies that spark your interest, imagination, creativity, and fulfillment. With your sights set on the broad outlines of a life worth living, you’ll have the motivation you need to save for that life in the long term.
While our friends and family may not have noticed a visible change once we crossed the financial independence finish line, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some very real ways it changed our lives.
In fact, FI has had a significant effect on our work, health, time, and mentality.
Becoming Financially Independent
Before revealing the four ways financial independence has changed our lives, we wanted to give you a brief history of how we reached FI and what that process looked like.
Since we’ve carefully tracked our annual expenses for years, it was easy to see exactly when we officially crossed over our FI line.
In 2018, we hit our FI number and ended the year at a net worth of $1.2 million. In just 9 years we managed to crawl out of $107K in debt and become millionaires.
Yet neither of us made any dramatic changes to our lives that year. In fact, we kept living frugally and working on our careers for years more.
Finally, we realized by achieving our long-term goal, we were able to reduce our work hours. This resulted in improvements to both our mental and financial health.
Perhaps most importantly, the time we had available each day was now more malleable and under our control than ever before.
Our FI timeline
While we didn’t climb out of debt until around 2012, the seed for FIRE was planted way back in 2007. This was when Chris started reading about personal finance through Get Rich Slowly.
It was just a year out of college for him, saving and investing started to become part of our conversation years before either of us were earning much money.
Here are the key years for our timeline to financial independence:
- 2011: Jenni begins work as a full-time pharmacist
- 2012: Chris leaves full-time work, consults part-time
- 2016: Chris reaches FI while consulting, starts a second business
- 2018: We reach FI together
- 2020: Jenni changes to part-time work
- 2021 (now): Plan for RE
Chris had been independently FI since 2016. His desire for a 9 to 5 was gone by the time he left full-time work in 2012.
The concept of a four-hour workweek was more his style. Good ol’ Tim Ferriss might have had something to do with that.
On the other hand, it took a while for Jenni to accept the biggest freedom from achieving FI—we do not need to work.
In 2018, Jenni was right in a middle of a huge two-year-long project. Its success meant a lot to her. She stayed on to see it through to the end.
With a little introduction and FI history out of the way, let’s look at the first change we noticed once we reached FI—and it relates to work.
Change 1) Work is Optional
Once we achieved financial independence, we were able to dramatically reduce our work hours. We were given the option to choose to work on projects that were meaningful or interesting to us.
Work became less stressful and—dare say—fun.
Neither of us felt a great urgency to pull the trigger on complete early retirement as soon as we could. We’ve both found a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction from our work.
Chris finds meaning in work
Being his own boss with the freedom to make his own schedule gave him a taste of what FI might be like—he was hooked.
He continued to scale back his business even further in 2020 to an average of 35 hours per month. Now, he accepts fewer client contracts. He has the freedom to say no to a job that’s not a good fit.
At this point, Chris frequently turns down projects that aren’t a good fit. He works in digital strategy with enterprise, government, education, and non-profits.
For example, he rejected a project with a Confucius Institute on the east coast because of questionable practices despite a large budget.
Yet, he’s accepted a renewal on a project into 2021 because of the potential impact he can have as well as the mission behind it. He served as the digital strategist on the team years back but has continued on (offering free guidance and advice) as they seek funding to continue the project.
Here’s a snippet of an email he received from the project lead at the end of 2020:
I cannot believe this, but the […] study was FUNDED!!!!!! I am close to speechless and so incredibly grateful to the contribution that each and every one of you made for this project. I am beside myself. This is the first ever study this size focused on Black women with endometrial cancer, the first ever randomized trial to improve the lives of Black women with endometrial cancer, the first EVER study to do so in partnership with Black women with endometrial cancer.
Recently, he’s been in touch with the CDC to keep a different cancer-related small academic project going. It was starting to slip through the cracks as some universities struggle with the pandemic.
You can probably see why this is the sort of work that motivates him to keep going. It’s work he wants to do without feeling pressure to find a way to bill or earn a profit.
He hasn’t taken on a new client for years and continues to wind down existing contracts.
Jenni accepts freedom from work
But now that we met our goal, it was Jenni’s turn to spend less time at work so we could really start living our FIRE life.
When the first opportunity arose, Jenni transitioned to part-time work in 2020. She was able to define her new position and maintain the aspects of her job she really enjoyed.
Work became more satisfying and less stressful.
The right amount of the right work
Last year we were able to reduce our works hours by about two-thirds. The work we choose to do is work that we care about.
It’s work that won’t leave us stressed out and exhausted at the end of the day.
Jenni recently chose to pick up extra shifts to make it easier for a coworker to take paternity leave. She’s also helping out at mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
This type of work gave her satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. It’s the type of work that leaves her feeling like a useful member of society still.
When Chris was approached by a potential buyer for one of his businesses in 2019, he had the option to say no when he discovered it wasn’t a good fit.
With our financial stability, we can choose whether not to accept a new contract or to negotiate reduced hours.
We no longer rely on that next paycheck.
Being confident in our financial health let us take 20+ hours from our workweek and give it to our personal time to spend together.
Reduced work responsibilities lifted a ton of stress and anxiety off our shoulders. Work complaints no longer took over our dinner conversations. Our home life became a more positive atmosphere.
Our new focus was spending quality time together and planning the details of our FI lives together.
More specifically, it was time to pay some much-needed attention to our mental health.
Change 2) Healthy State
A mental weight was lifted off our shoulders once we achieved financial independence. We no longer had to feel overworked and anxious from our work. The emotional distress over an unexpected expense or loss of a client was removed.
Our conversations shifted from work problems to be about us.
Our days are what we make of them. Most of the time, we wake up and decide on a fun outdoor activity, visit friends or family, or plan for our next adventure together.
We have a passion for running, biking and being outside. Our neighborhood makes an afternoon run or hikes along the water very accessible.
If we want to stay up late playing an online game with friends around the country or sleep in to cuddle on a cold winter morning—we can.
Our days are mostly stress-free except maybe trying to finish up a post for TicTocLife—ha. Sometimes the work we choose to do is challenging. But it is never something that takes over our mind for the day, week or year.
Lately, we are giving back to our community through volunteer work.
Jenni uses her expertise to vaccinate our community through her pharmacy. She’s also volunteering at vaccination clinics with Virginia’s Medical Reserves Corps.
Chris has been donating his time and resources as well. That’s been as small as refurbishing equipment from offices which he then donates to local organizations (which might otherwise meet the landfill). Or as large as helping with digital information delivery for urgent COVID-19-related concerns in high-risk populations.
Our volunteer interests continue to expand after learning about them for our monthly donation poll. Unfortunately, many applications have been put on hold until they have a better handle on this pandemic.
FI has granted us the comfort to not have to worry about the cost of an emergency or a surprise expense.
- A $500 MRI copay didn’t break the bank, although we wished the insurance paid more
- Replacing the whole rear roof when a squirrel chewed a hole through it was covered by our funds already set aside in our housing repair budget
- Jenni’s car was t-boned, we had $3,200 in cash to make up the difference between the $3,500 insurance payment to replace our totaled 2005 Scion Xa with a 2008 Prius
We could focus all our efforts on resolving the immediate problem at hand and not have anxiety about how we would afford these expenses.
Financial independence allows us to choose how we want to spend our days.
We can choose to work or choose to play.
We can focus on ourselves and ensure our mental health is a priority.
This freedom to choose is our reward for achieving FI.
Change 3) Time Control
By achieving financial independence, we now have the ability to remove the things that we don’t need to do. FI has given us more control over the time in our lives.
With this control, we’ve been able to focus on the second half of FIRE: retiring early.
What’s our primary purpose to achieve FI? We want to have more time together.
Now that we’re both working part-time, it’s nice not to have to rush off to work every morning only to return home after dark, exhausted and stressed out.
More time with each other is our ultimate goal but FI doesn’t mean more time directly. A change has to happen to free up the time from somewhere else.
Chris has been free to work as much or as little as he pleased since he became FI in 2016. He slowly reduced his work over the years while waiting for Jenni to pull the plug. Since Jenni made her big change in the summer of 2020, we now have an extra 20+ hours each week.
Our days are flexible: we do what we want to do and are free to make last-minute changes.
Creating new structures
This newfound freedom can be overwhelming and the lack of structure in our day can be hard to adjust to. Some days there is so much we want to accomplish, but then the day is over and we feel nothing was accomplished.
Jenni has toyed with a few ways to organize her weeks based on her desires. She’s still trying to find the best match to meet her needs.
FI has removed the excuse of not having enough time to focus on what is important to us.
We try to live healthy lives filled with good habits such as:
- Regular exercise
- Well-balanced meals
- Expanding our education
- Relaxation for our mental health
Whether it is Jenni getting Chris out to the rock climbing wall or Chris encouraging Jenni to beat her PR on the next 10K run, we are always exercising.
Chris encouraged a pescatarian diet experiment in October 2019 and it stuck. We’ve enjoyed having the time to find and shop for new vegetable and tofu recipes that meet our dietary wants on top of Jenni’s gluten-free dietary needs.
We’ve learned how to do several DIY home projects (after getting over our fears!) and now have more time to dedicate to complete our to-do list around the house. There is a rewarding feeling that comes with the successful completion of a project.
We would love to say we’ve had more time to travel. Unfortunately, it’s been unsafe to travel during the past year. Although this is very sad for us and traveling was one of the main reasons why we worked so hard for FI, this unforeseen pandemic has allowed us the time to start TicTocLife.
Now that we’ve reached FI, we gained more control of our time.
Change 4) Confident Mentality
Financial independence has solidified thoughts about our financial health. We conducted our annual financial review at the end of 2020 to spot check our FIRE budget. We discovered that our dividends and interest alone would cover more than half of our annual expenses.
Jenni has been in disbelief that she could work less and still have more than enough money to maintain our FI goals. 2020 was the first year that we both didn’t work full-time yet we still managed to save about 50% of our income.
We’ve lived a frugal lifestyle most of our adult lives. Our spending habits continue to improve each year by default. Neither of us has ever been a big spender. We truly do enjoy finding a great deal and will take the time to save a buck here and there.
We have our parents to thank for that.
And getting 50% off on a grocery haul is still thrilling.
With more money comes..?
We do not expect to make any dramatic changes in our spending habits now that we are FI. Our goal is to maintain what we have built. We will strive to avoid too much lifestyle creep but every now and then we may splurge, especially on our first post-pandemic vacation.
Jenni has more of a clear understanding of what it means to be FI.
Going part-time was her ‘aha moment’.
She was able to see how the numbers laid out on paper played out in real life.
Now we get to reap the benefits of FI.
We have enough
Something that we are very proud of is our dedication to our charitable giving. We reached our financial goal and decided to create a FIRE principle-based donor-advised fund (DAF).
We’re following FIRE themes with this fund by depositing a year of our FIRE budget in it and donating 4% of the balance over the course of each year. Our readers get to cast their vote in our monthly poll.
By the first year anniversary of TicTocLife on May 8, 2021, our goal is to donate almost $41K to this fund.
Our confidence in our FI plan has been realized.
We’ve saved enough.
Now any extra money made is exactly that, extra. It will provide some cushion to our nest egg and allow us to take on some riskier investments if we choose to do so.
But most importantly, it can form the basis of helping others that haven’t had the opportunities or privilege we’ve had, to have a chance at overcoming adversity.
FI Changed Our Lives
Becoming financially independent doesn’t change who a person is. We’ve worked hard to save enough to meet our FI goal and then some. We are comfortable with our current spending and we like to think we have a pretty lavish life.
Now, we are the fortunate stewards of our own time to do as we please. Our mental and physical health thanks us as we have time to focus on doing what is right for us.
We built our lives around what is important to us and what fulfills our needs. Even a few of our friends are starting to take notice of our subtle changes and may even hop on board this FIRE bus.
Reaching our FI number and declaring financial independence didn’t illicit a grand ceremony. But it also wasn’t the end of our journey.
So what do you think? What is your attitude towards work? What resonates with you about Chris and Jenni’s journey? Let them know in the comments!