Welcome to It Takes Two to FIRE. This interview series has been developed in collaboration with my friend Cristian Ferrier from the Financial Alien.
Both of us are quite excited about this opportunity to learn from FIRE couples and see how their journey has been as they have tried to achieve their FIRE lifestyle.
For this interview, we have Accidentally Retired. He is an ex-corporate CEO who left his job for a mini-retirement. This is the story of a man and his wife as they retire and raise their two kids.
Through my interactions with him, he has been able to have many lunch dates with his wife. Now, that is great news for retired life.
Let's read about how this couple works together to create their FIRE life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My pen name is Accidentally Retired. I am 37, and found myself Accidentally Retired after leaving my corporate CEO position to take a six-month mini-retirement last June. It was during this time that I realized that I was close enough to FIRE that I didn’t need to go back to work. Ever.
I am an entrepreneur at heart and have started and sold a few businesses over the years. Nothing made f-you money, but I made enough over the years and invested for long enough, that by the time I exited my CEO position we could safely do what we want in life from this point forward.
My wife and I met in high school, and we have now been together for almost 20 years (married for almost 14). My wife is the same age as me, though she likes to tell our kids she is 22….It’ll be interesting to see how long she can keep that one up!
We live on the West Coast US, in a major metropolitan area, and have two young kids who are 6 and 4. We love to travel and try to do one or two big trips a year, with smaller local trips sprinkled in.
What would your jobs be? Bouncing off on that, What does a day in your life look like?
Even though I am a former CEO and have been in the thick of it working for startups and then Corporate America, I’ve always tried to work 40 hours or less a week.
My wife was previously in corporate marketing but left her job to become a stay-at-home mom 6 years ago when our oldest was born.
We no longer have to use alarm clocks, because our kids are up promptly at 7 am. They are our alarm clocks, and boy do they work. I get up and take our kids downstairs, where I make coffee and they veg out in front of the TV (about 30-40 mins).
During that time, I previously would read books, but now I use that low-key time to write in my morning pages. I have been doing this for about a year now, and I love it. It helps me to vent any stress, brainstorm new ideas, write blog posts, or just make lists. I couldn’t recommend it more!
By 7:40 or so my wife gets up and we get on with our day. Our 6 year old would typically go to school, while our 4 year old stays home, and we trade off playing or doing an activity with him. However, next month, our youngest will head off to Pre-K, and that will give us much-needed downtime. Anyone with kids will understand…
After dropping off our oldest at school, we try to either do an indoor workout, or go for a long walk, have lunch, and then have quiet time for my youngest (previously nap time) from 12-2ish, we both head into our home office. For me, this includes anything from writing on Accidentally Retired to doing financial planning, looking for potential web business to purchase, chats with friends, etc.
By 3 pm both of our kids are home, and if the weather is good I take my kids out to play, bike ride, golf, etc.
We eat our family dinner by 6 pm, and the kids are in bed by 7:30. After that, we watch a couple of hours of TV, read, and go to bed.
This is a typical day at the moment, though I am sure that will change as our kids both head to school and begin to get into more activities.
We also see our in-laws, my parents, and other family and friends pretty much weekly. Sometimes it gets quite busy!
Learning about FIRE
How did you two find out about FIRE?
I think I first found out about FIRE probably about 3 years ago, after stumbling onto ESI Money, then Mr. Money Mustache, JL Collins, and eventually Financial Samurai.
By this time, I had already started and sold a few businesses and had saved most of what we had earned. Yet when I crunched the numbers, we were not yet at 25x. Close, but quite there. It wasn’t really until my mini-retirement that I realized that bringing in just a little bit of income each year would allow us to never have to work a regular job ever again.
Were you two on board with the idea of FIRE from the beginning? Or did it take some convincing on one part?
My wife and I both read The Millionaire Next Door when we were in our early twenties, and have always tried to live with that type of mentality. We could care less about driving a fancy car or Keeping up with the Joneses. We wanted to save/invest as much as possible, while still enjoying our life.
But as we’ve built up our nest egg over the years, we both agreed to pretend it didn’t exist. We maxed out my 401(k) starting in 2015, and we continued to save as much as possible while letting our investments grow.
Then, after I left my CEO gig and realized that we were pretty close to being able to retire, I started to discuss FIRE with my wife. I don’t think it was really ever anything that she considered since we were pretending that our investment account DIDN’T exist…but she liked the idea of investing in assets that produce passive income streams so that we could work less.
We also both agreed that being available for our kids is our number priority, so even if one of us ends up working in some capacity, we want it to be very limited.
So our joint plan is to do something to produce a little bit of income, have fun in the process, and simply let our investments continue to grow to the point where we can safely withdraw in that 3-4% range as early retirees.
How long have you been working towards FIRE? (If already FIREd, how long did it take you to FIRE?)
I had always envisioned I would retire early.
In fact, I made it a goal of mine back in 2011. But I didn’t put together a proper FIRE plan. My plan was to work hard at building my businesses, and I figured that eventually, they would earn enough money that I’d be able to one day step back and retire.
Yet because I didn’t specify HOW we’d retire early, we certainly made some mistakes along the way. We hired a financial advisor, who turned out to have us invested much too conservatively. We also had far too much cash just sitting around in an emergency fund and a “we may buy a vacation rental” money market fund for a few years.
We also didn’t max out our 401(k)’s until I was making such a large salary that you barely even noticed the money.
And worst of all, I didn’t even really know or understand what an Index fund was until late last year! And I was a Finance Major! The horror.
So I wish I could say that I have been working on FIRE for years. In a way, we have, but it was haphazard, and we were lucky to get there the way we did.
Which type of FIRE are you aiming for? Why?
To be honest, I am not 100% sure. I track my happiness and have found that I am happy when I do some sort of productive activity during the day. This could be anything from doing landscaping to cleaning to working on AR, etc.
I enjoy being productive, and it makes me happy. So I don’t think I could ever be fully retired, without doing some sort of meaningful and productive activity. In this way, it is likely that we are aiming for Barista/Partial FIRE.
Our goal is to work on projects we are passionate about. For me that is AR, and possibly purchasing another web property to run. I’d prefer it to be more of a side hustle, than a full-fledged thing.
My wife will want to figure out what she’d like to do next, after our kids both head to school this fall. However, I also just want her to take some time to herself. Being a stay-at-home Mom is REALLY hard and really taxing. She deserves a hard-earned break after six years in the trenches.
How did you achieve FIRE? What was your strategy?)
My strategy was to build a big sustainable business that I was passionate about. That strategy turned out to be my ticket to achieving FIRE. Not only did I end up selling my business and setting myself up well for FIRE, but I stayed at my company and continued to max out my 401(k) and I mostly enjoyed running the business for 5 more years, even despite some of the constraints of working for a big public company.
However, like I said above, I could have achieved FIRE sooner and more comfortably had I spent more time focused on learning about investing sooner. I put all of my eggs in the business basket, but we would have benefited more with some additional financial literacy, and by actually planning things out.
What has your savings rate been through the time you have been working towards FIRE?
Our after-tax savings rate has been 53% for the past 5 years. Prior to that, we were only averaging 17.5% savings per year. This is also not calculated in contributions to our 401(k)s, which likely bumps both of those up a bit.
We’ve always tried to be solid savers, but again it was more haphazard than it could have been.
What changes have you made to improve your savings rate and achieve FIRE faster?
If I had learned what I know now 10 years ago, I would have made sure to max out our tax-advantaged accounts and invest smarter. I would have invested in low-cost index funds, at a much more aggressive rate, and would have avoided a financial advisor. This would have sped up our ability to pursue FIRE significantly.
What are your investments like? Do you invest in the stock market, real estate, crypto, etc.? What is your strategy?
My entire investment and withdrawal plan is mapped out here. It’s taken me a while to fully formulate and execute this plan. I fired my financial advisor last fall and took over my own investments.
We have rid ourselves of all expensive mutual funds and now invest primarily in low-cost index funds. We still own 70+ individual stocks, but my goal is to slowly take long-term capital gains and convert our individual stock portfolio into index funds.
My strategy at this point is to keep our allocations something in the range of:
- 80% stocks (50% US, 30% International)
- 10% cash
- 9% alternatives (REITs, Gold, Web Business)
- 1% crypto
I am pretty bullish on the blockchain as the future backbone of the internet and many financial/non-financial transactions, but it is still so early. I can see myself potentially pushing up to 5% crypto, but by the time I made my decision and fully funded our allocation, the market was pretty high. Now that crypto has come back down to earth, all of our capital is deployed how I want it to be deployed, so we are just going to let the 1% grow into 5% over time. And if it goes to $0, I can live with that.
When did you reach FIRE?
I knew that I was close when I left my job last year, but I didn’t think that I could pull it off. I hadn’t heard of Barista FIRE, and certainly, I didn’t fully understand how easy and effective it is to invest in low-cost index funds.
However, after living off of only our cash bucket and seeing our net worth grow over the past year even though we haven’t made a dime elsewhere – it really has shown us that FIRE works.
Whenever my wife gets concerned about the lack of income, I just point out that our net worth has grown X, Y, or Z over this time. I would rather be free to pursue my own interests, than worry about hustling for another dollar. And I want my wife to feel that same freedom if she decides to pursue any jobs or side hustles.
Our plan now is to do some productive work that may make us a little money but on our own terms. If that work covers even 20% of our expenses we’ll be a mitigating sequence of return risk, and setting ourselves up well in the future.
Life after FIRE
What do you plan to do once you reach FIRE? Will you stop working?
When I planned out my mini-retirement, my goal was to not think about work or sit at a computer AT ALL for six months. I spent the majority of the time reading and writing.
I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book is a 3-month program that includes primarily completing morning pages, answering question prompts weekly, and really diving internally including dates with yourself.
Very early on, in my work with The Artist’s Way, I was listing out that I wanted to potentially write a book, and that I wanted to blog. My interest in blogging even went back to my startup days. I have always had this interest, but had no time to pursue it.
In the end, after completing The Artist’s Way, I decided to follow my heart and that led me to create Accidentally Retired. I love writing about whatever comes to mind be it enjoying life, productivity, CEO tips, or personal finance. Perhaps one day, I’ll even write a book.
What has FIRE taught you?
I’ve always pursued my passion and followed my heart when it has come to business ventures.
FIRE has taught me that I can do that in my life as well. I want to be around for my kids. I want to travel. And I want to embrace experiences. FIRE gives me the freedom to do all of that and more.
I always wanted to retire early, yet I also enjoy work and productivity. I just enjoy being productive more when things are on my own terms.
Most of all, life is too short to waste it doing things that you aren’t passionate about. This is why I have embraced a “Hell Yeah! Or no” mentality when it comes to making big decisions.
Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
I would have worked on understanding personal finances better when I was in my 20s. I spent some time on this, but not enough to create a real actionable plan.
I love planning and setting goals, so if I had the chance, I would go back and set more concrete financial goals for myself.
For anyone who doesn’t have a written financial plan, I would urge you to create one right now.
We knew many of the right things to do and the overall direction, but having a concrete plan would have allowed us to avoid many of the mistakes we made along the way.
What would you say to a young couple just learning about FIRE?
I would urge the couple to read The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins, and then put a joint financial plan together.
The end goal doesn’t have to be FIRE, it could be purchasing a house, funding a wedding or vacation, or furthering your career. But by putting together a plan you’ll have joint goals to work towards.
Most of all, the sooner you learn about investing, the better off you’ll set yourself up in the future. You’ll have more options available to you, and if your goals change, it’ll be easier to pivot and adjust.
Any final words?
Pursue your passions, and take calculated risks. I know some people say not to follow your passions because your passions change. And this is true, they do change. But by following my passions and taking risks, I was able to become Accidentally Retired.
My passions have changed over the years, but I enjoyed the ride along the way much more because the business I was working to grow had meaning to me. So do work that you enjoy in some way.
No matter what, write down your goals.
I made a list of goals ten years ago in 2011. I didn’t even remember I had this list, but I found it recently. Without even remembering I had made this list, I had completed 70% of my personal goals, and 90% of my professional goals.
There is something about the act of writing them down. Even if a goal seems far-fetched, you are etching that goal into your subconscious.
Before you know it, you’ll wake up ten years later, and have accomplished most of what you set your mind to. That is the power of goal setting.
Thanks for taking the time to read. Now go out there and kick some butt!
Some Last Thoughts
Reading these answers to these questions inspire me. Pursuing your passions, and creating paths to make things happen is something we should all be doing. When something isn't working like a financial advisor, you can change and adapt to make things work out for you.
The other great thing is the fact that this family can be there to raise their children. There is time in the day to take care of them and play with them. Time is one of the greatest things of FIRE. You can own your time and do as you wish. That is the best inspiration.
If you would like to be a part of this interview series please feel free to reach out. I would be glad to get you on here.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.