Financial Independence (FI) rocked my world. Since being illuminated with FI the next step was to make an assessment of our current situation so I could come up with a plan on how to get us there. Here’s a snap shot of our financial situation going into our FI plan.
CURRENT SITUATION – the good, the bad, & the ugly
I have a 9 – 5 at a state university that provides health insurance for our family and a pension. Mr. Root owns a contracting business.
My gross income is low 60s. Mr. Root’s income is variable but on average about low 60s too.
We started off 2019 with $63,000 of debt, not including our mortgage.
$8,000 credit cards
$11,000 solar panel loan
$25,000 student loan
$19,000 RV camper loan
Home Sweet Home
Our home has about 7 years left on the 15 year mortgage. We owe just under $80K. Austin is a HCOL (high cost of living) city, but we live a little further out on some land with low property taxes which is like a magic unicorn in Austin.
Our monthly payment is reasonable and our interest rate is low. The property value continues to increase. It’s almost one acre and Mr. Root’s workshop is on site. There’s lots of room for Root Jr. and his friends to run around and space for my vegetable garden.
It’s kind of our little homestead. I’ll say that this is one of our better financial decisions.
Bessy & a Truck
I have a 10 year old car that is paid off. Bessy is well taken care of and I plan to drive her as long as possible. Mr. Root has two years of payments left on his work truck.
Since about 2010 we have been working on building an emergency fund of six months worth of expenses. This was slow going because we lived paycheck to paycheck and financed the rest. Very little was saved.
We’d get close to building it to about two months but something would always come up where we needed to use that money (because we were living outside our means).
In early 2019 (when I found FI) it was below one month’s expenses, but still over $1,000.
CLUELESS TO FI
In our PRE-FI days I pretty much relied on Mr. Root to watch the bank accounts. Since his income is variable it was easier for him to manage the finances because he had first-hand knowledge of money owed to him in the pipeline and the forecast for potential work on the horizon.
His variable income also made budgeting challenging. We didn’t track our expenses or use a budget.
But after reading Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin (YMOYL), one of the first things I wanted to do was track our income and expenses. In her book she recommends just starting with that as a first step. Do it for three months. See what you learn about your finances.
Track EVERYTHING in and out.
Tools for tracking
Many folks in the FI community recommend Mint or Personal Capital to easily track everything online. We both had to get over our hesitation about online security and trusting all our financial information being in one place. After some googling I decided the pros outweighed the cons. I told myself even if we do nothing else, at the very least, just observe our spending.
You can also use a spreadsheet or good ol’ pen and paper. It doesn’t matter how you track it, just track it!
OUR FINANCIAL PICTURE – NOW CLEAR AS A BELL
I went with Mint. One great benefit to getting all our accounts into Mint was that it forced me to dig up all of our financial information. Some of our accounts were already accessible online but some weren’t.
Like our mortgage for example. We had auto pay set up but no online account. Our finances were a mish-mash of some bills paid online, some mailed in, some automated. Now it is all online and accessible at any time with all of our data in one convenient place.
I now know how much we have in assets, how much we owe, the interest rates, balances, and pay dates. This was a first for me. Our finances were once a scary and nebulous thing that caused me stress and anxiety. I had never had a clear of a picture them. It was illuminating and although it wasn’t a pretty picture, it was empowering.
All of our daily spending was visible in one place too. Whether we used credit cards, debit cards, or checks it was there. Everything could be categorized and tracked. We try not to use cash because it’s harder to keep track of.
It was quite sobering to see credit card fees (ouch) and our various recurring subscriptions.
By observing our money going in and out I had the realization that we are in debt because we spend outside of our means (duh). It’s really hard to express how this was so eye opening.
You see, using credit, living with debt, not saving was our normal. I thought the only way to change our financial picture was to make more money. That was the end of my thinking around money.
My assumption was that we didn’t have enough of it to save for retirement or college. We made enough to support our current lifestyle and not much else.
But this new found clarity was like a jolt of lightening. Clearly we needed stop spending money we don’t have ASAP.
If we are financing anything, we are spending money we don’t have. And, if we have debt, we are living to service our debtors. The debtors own our money. Not us.
Why this never dawned on me before I don’t know. I read Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover years ago because I truly wanted to improve.
Money caused me stress, but that’s where my relationship with money ended. I was sleepwalking through my financial life.
Something about the principles of FI broke through though. FI woke me up out of my money coma. It completely changed my mindset.
News flash! We have a negative net worth. This was not surprising. But there’s nothing like seeing it there on the screen. With our without our mortgage factored in our net worth is negative.
For the first time ever, I calculated our savings rate. I used our take home pay and how much we were saving from that, which at the time was $200 a month automatically transferred to our savings account/emergency fund.
Drumroll please… 1.69% savings rate. Wow. There it was in plain sight. While I was learning about people saving half their income and more, there was ours. That was an oh shit moment.
My pension automatically takes a percentage from my paycheck. I don’t count that. We were not saving ANYTHING ELSE. No other retirement savings, no college fund.
When possible, we tried to pay down our credit cards and my student loan faster. But the credit card balances kept going up for various reasons (because we lived outside our means) and the student loan seemed to never go down regardless of what we paid on it (deferment, interest).
READY TO TAKE ACTION
We didn’t even have to do three months of observing our expenses. In the first month we were ready to make immediate changes.
After reading YMOYL I binged listened to two podcasts: the House of FI and Choose FI. I also read The Simple Path to Wealth. This brought my understanding of FI to the next level and really kickstarted my drive to improve our financial health.
Thankfully Mr. Root was all in. He read the primer series I shared with him and even listened to some episodes of Choose FI.
STEP 1: reduce expenses and sell stuff to increase income
STEP 2: build up 6 months worth of expenses in our emergency fund
STEP 3: pay off our debt, FAST
STEP 4: max out retirement accounts
STEP 5: invest in real estate
GETTING TO ZERO
Right now our focus is building our emergency fund (EF) and getting to zero. Getting to zero means being debt free and having a zero net worth rather than a negative one.
By tracking our expenses we now have a pretty good idea what our life costs. We don’t use a budget. Rather we focus on cutting expenses to increase our savings rate.
The more we cut the more we save. My goal is to get our savings rate to 50%. In other words, get our expenses down so that just one of our take home salaries will cover them.
KNOCKING OUT DEBT – THE SNOWBALL VS THE AVALANCHE METHOD
For our debt payment we are using the debt avalanche method. That means paying off your debt with the highest interest rate first and then moving on to the next highest interest rate and so on.
Some people like to use Dave Ramsey’s snowball method. Both are good. It’s just a personal preference for whatever works best for you to attack your debt.
We are in a unique position to take advantage of using real estate as a faster way to get to FI. It’s all about Mr. Root and his mega skills. Mr. Root is freakishly handy. He is talented in all things DIY. He could literally build an entire house himself.
We have bought and remodeled four houses in Austin. Each house was a fixer upper and Mr. Root remodeled all of them himself. We sold each property for a considerable profit with the exception of the house we currently live in. This is our forever house and I don’t plan to move any time soon.
The booming Austin housing market coupled with Mr. Root’s mad skills make for a great opportunity to invest in real estate. Unfortunately our house flipping occurred in our PRE-FI days, so we have nothing to show for our previous real estate investments except for some decent equity in our current home.
With each sale of a house our profits went into the purchase and remodeling of the next house. What was left over was spent on lifestyle inflation and life’s ups and downs.
But now that we are on our FI journey we want another try at profiting from Mr. Root’s talents. Our goal is to purchase some properties for rental income.
As I mentioned we are a little late to FI (me 47 and him 50). This gives us a shorter timeline to catch up which is why the real estate approach will really help us along.
We won’t be able to retire early, but it’s better late than never.
As the Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
We are focusing on our journey to FI, financial security, and saving for a nest egg for ourselves. Maybe retiring early for me might be around 59 instead of 75! It is going to put us in a place that is eons ahead of what our path would have been (working until we die).
Also, we have health benefits for the family to consider, my pension from my job, and aging family we’ll want to support. Saving and investing as much as possible in the rest of the earning years we have available, and getting us some money to start investing in real estate is our plan for getting to FI.
Do you have a plan for getting out of debt or getting to FI? What’s your situation? I’d love to hear from you. Learning from others is what got me here.
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