** NEW SERIES – 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. I decided to start a series on how FI has changed the lives of people all over the world. Today, I’m launching this series with our first post from Ali and Alison from All Options Considered. They made some major life changes just by thinking outside the box, and I’m so excited to share their story with you. If you are interested in writing for series and answering the question “How did financial independence change your life?” please reach out! **
At ages 43 and 53, we hit our financial independence target in the summer of 2017.
One early morning in June at around 5:30 AM, Alison had her usual steaming cup of coffee in front of her as she settled in to watch the stock market from her work computer. She checked our latest portfolio value and then updated our FIRE spreadsheet as usual, and that morning Alison was finally brave enough to run a complete FIRE calculation rather than the typical portfolio check. And she was blown away to find that we had 33 times our living expenses with a 3% safe withdrawal rate, and more if we combined the value of our personal home with our investments. That was the year that Christmas came in June and magic stars fell from the sky during sunrise!
Instead of screaming “I quit!” and dancing her way out the door, Alison acted like she found a pot of gold in her backpack and kept it safely concealed at work. She somehow made it through her long workday without flipping out, and that night at home she sat me down and asked, “How would you feel if I said we could retire today?” Without even skipping a beat I said, “Let’s do it!” Then we went into planning mode and we stayed there for a year. We decided to keep our good news a secret while we focused on running our numbers past a certified financial planner and designed our new life after FIRE. We built our original Personal Money Statement and then Alison retired in April of 2018 and Ali gave notice 3 months later.
Our First Year Being Financially Independent
2019 was our first year after FIRE. It was a 12 month celebration of change, very much like a year long vacation. We sold our home and left Seattle in November of 2018 to spend time with family. Then we left the USA on January 3 in 2019 and flew to Southeast Asia. That year we visited Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, France, Scotland, England, Ecuador, Panama, and Mexico. It was a magical year that created a whole new lifestyle for us, and we hoped to have similar experiences with full time travel for at least 5 more years after that.
Now in 2020, we are writing this post from the Isle of Wight in England, and wrapping up our second year of life after FIRE. We started the year with four months in Mexico, then we went back to the USA to spend 5 months with family and watched the pandemic do its thing from within our safety bubble. We spent our summer months getting grounded, finding our new sense of safety during the pandemic, and planning for a very different future than what we had imagined back in 2018.
This year has been a huge reality check, full of so many things we can’t control. And yet, we feel like we have been very lucky. Why? The answer is financial independence.
The Safety Bubble of Financial Independence
Financial independence has been our safety bubble, shielding us from the majority of things people have worried about during this pandemic year. No matter how crazy things get with COVID-19 as well as economic and political drama, we both feel like we’ve been protected from it all. That’s partly because of our years of careful planning, saving, and investing. And it’s partly because of some other things we are privileged to enjoy during this pandemic year — a bit of luck and our good health. We honestly feel like we ran through 2020 in astronaut suits!
Financial Independence Did A 180 On Our Lives
It’s interesting to look back at what used to seem normal before financial independence. We used to be full of stress and anxiety. We used to worry about our jobs and our finances all the time. We felt like we barely had energy left for ourselves, our relationship, our family, and for enjoying life. We watched the clock all day long, from about 5:00 AM until about 10:00 PM. We worried about tasks at work, the security of our jobs and our companies, whether our investments were up or down, finding time to eat the next meal, finding time to get just a little exercise, and so on. We also obsessively counted the days and hours until end of day on Friday each week and worried about the possibility that our jobs would interfere with our weekends. And we felt exhausted all the time. That was just two years ago, but it all seems like ancient history now.
All of that constant worrying has been lifted as a result of bigger changes we’ve experienced. And those changes became crystal clear during the pandemic. When it comes down to it, being financially independent during a pandemic provided some rather important benefits:
- We don’t have jobs to keep up with or worry about losing
- We don’t have to risk visiting offices
- We don’t have to worry about money or the stock market
- We have the time and energy to focus on our relationships
- We have the ability to relocate somewhere safer, or closer to family, at any time
- We have the ability to change direction and make a new plan at any time
Our solid financial foundation provides comfort during uncertainty, the option to isolate safely, the ability to easily change our location, and finally the ability to be generous to ourselves and to others.
We Have a Financial Plan and We Stick To It
When the stock market crash started in February this year (2020), people were upset to see their investments tumble in the super fast but thankfully short-lived “COVID-19 Crash.” Many people panicked and sold their positions in the market, locking in those losses. We stuck to our plan as longterm low risk index fund investors. We didn’t touch our accounts and we recommended to our friends and family that they do the same. We didn’t need to worry about market volatility because we already had our cash set aside to cover all of our expenses for the entire year. We have a safe withdrawal plan we can rely on, and we still have access to three years of emergency funds that we haven’t had to touch so far.
When the economic crisis escalated in March and continued to increase after that, many people lost their jobs or were furloughed. The “COVID-19 Recession” is currently the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression and it’s not over yet. Since we retired early we were lucky enough to be able to focus on other people instead of worrying about ourselves. We gave our stimulus money away to people who lost their jobs. Then we created a small fund scholarship so we have a longterm plan for supporting others who are working towards financial literacy and financial independence.
Financial Independence Gave Us The Option To Isolate Safely
When COVID-19 numbers were spiking this summer, we had family and friends who tested positive with the virus. We were nervous, especially for our family members who are more advanced in age or have underlying health conditions. We had the freedom to choose our location for the summer and stay as long as we wanted. We didn’t have a home of our own to return to since we sold our condo in 2018 before starting our full time travels, but at the same time we didn’t feel limited to a specific location from the past. So we rented a house and brought Alison’s 81 year old mom there to stay safe with us in isolation for the summer.
When September rolled around we imagined the possibility of COVID-19 lasting for another year or even a few years, so we decided to make some changes. After five months with family in rental houses and the continued challenges of COVID-19, we decided we wanted to set up our own home base and we bought a house. Our original plan was to consider buying a home later on after 2025, with a budget of around 50% of what we sold our previous home for in 2018. Purchasing real estate again was a major financial decision that we had been planning for down the road. But we didn’t feel like buying a home on such short notice was that much of a challenge as we had already been working our plan to set money aside and we had also done lots of research on possible locations. So when the right house appeared we fast-tracked the process and paid for the house with cash.
Financial Independence Gave Us The Freedom To Travel
When many countries all over the world closed their borders to US citizens, we tried to imagine what travel might look like from now on. The virus is still out of control in the USA and other countries as well. There are areas with very high COVID-19 numbers where people aren’t taking the virus seriously, both inside the USA and internationally, and we aren’t comfortable visiting those places right now. But there are also countries where people are taking the virus seriously with restrictions in place to help control the spread. So when friends invited us to travel to southern England this winter and welcomed us into their community, we had the freedom to say yes. We didn’t need to worry about the financial cost of spending three months in England, and we didn’t need to worry about the schedule cost of spending two weeks in quarantine.
Over the past year we’ve learned how to keep ourselves safe no matter where we are by staying isolated, social distancing, and wearing masks. And thankfully, neither of us has any underlying health conditions to worry about. We had plenty of room left in our 2020 budget for a few months in England. We had enough time to focus on traveling safely. We had travel rewards points to cover our flights plus three months in rental homes. We even had extra travel rewards points to fly in United’s Polaris cabin roundtrip for the first time ever, giving us lots of extra space on the plane (of course we also wore masks and used plenty of cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer).
Now we’re following all of the rules and restrictions relating to COVID-19 here in England. We’re also very comfortable knowing national restrictions have been set for England in November. It isn’t be a perfect plan but at least the government here is trying to control the spread of the virus, protect the National Health Service, and save lives.
Financial Independence Shaped Us Into Planners
Financial independence encouraged us to be obsessive planners with multiple contingencies in place. It set us up with a very generous emergency fund. It keeps us from worrying about the stock market or our portfolio. It taught us to be much more frugal and thoughtful about our spending. It elevated us from just tracking our spending to using a very detailed post-FIRE budget. It allows us to be very generous with our giving plan. It reminds us to be in constant communication with one another so we can stay on the same page and each get what we need as individuals. It helps us spend much more time with our friends and family. Lastly, financial independence gives us enough time to plan ahead and make our modest hopes and dreams become reality.
So there’s your answer about how financial independence has changed our lives, Financial Mechanic! Reaching FIRE has given us an incredible sense of relief from all of the normal stresses in life. Because of financial independence we don’t worry the way we used to. We spend our time and energy on ourselves, our friends and family, and enjoying life.
Learn more about Ali & Alison’s adventures by checking out their blog at All Options Considered!
So what do you think? How has FI changed your life? How did the pandemic shape your finances? Let us know in the comments!