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 Katie and Andy Swanson aka The Swanderers. He will learn about their life of travel and adventure as they take an incredible journey throughout the world.
Let's read about how this couple works together to create their FIRE life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Katie Swanson and my husband is Andy. We started dating back in university in 2012 and got married in 2016. I am 33, Andy is 31. We both grew up in Oklahoma, but he was a city boy and I was a country girl. We don’t have any kids right now.
After we graduated from university (Andy with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering, me with a master’s in international studies), we moved to Oklahoma City. We were fortunate in that we both got jobs right out of college, Andy was an aerospace engineer and I was managing a nutrition program at a non-profit organization.
Early in our relationship, we had some big life events happen (cancer and a hit-and-run accident), and we knew we needed to live life now. Retirement, good health, and long life aren’t guaranteed. So that got the wheels turning.
There was a fortuitous meeting of friends of friends in 2017 that sparked the flame that turned into a world travel adventure. Of course, this would require big talks around budgeting and financial planning.
We had been together for 5 years at this point and had very similar money habits and no major debts between us, but we had never really been able to “talk budgets” or discuss our financial future. We didn’t even share a checking account.
All this changed when we started planning for our world trip.
We were focused, we had a goal, and we were so pumped.
We hustled and saved up as much dough as we could, with the goal of having a great year of backpacking before returning back to similar jobs.
Fast forward to the current day, we’re in our second year of a sabbatical/pre-retirement, and we’re hooked on this newfound freedom.
What would your jobs be? What does a day in your life look like?
Well, we’re currently unemployed and waiting out pandemic travel restrictions in Vietnam. Since travel stopped, we purchased a laptop that I am using to build my writing business. I am also working on a blog-to-book documenting our world travels and pre-retirement experience. You can check it out at TheSwanderers.
I think when we return to the States, Andy will probably go back to working as an engineer. I haven’t decided yet what I will do but I plan to keep building my writing business.
Learning about FIRE
How did you two find out about FIRE?
We actually didn’t even learn about FIRE specifically until we were about 18 months into our pre-retirement. We had discovered the type of lifestyle we wanted to live but we had no idea there was an entire community with its own terminology already doing it!
In December 2020, I got the opportunity to work with a personal finance YouTuber and blogger who needed help editing his book. It documented his journey from knowing nothing about personal finance as a 30-something-year-old professional to growing his net worth and making plans for FIRE.
It was perfect timing for me to be reading this book and researching. We were in the middle of the pandemic and had lots of time to think about the kind of life we want to build for ourselves when we eventually have to go back to the States.
Were you two on board with the idea of FIRE from the beginning?
Because we have had so much time to travel and decompress from being traditional 9-5 employees, we are both fully on board with FIRE. We know that we can’t go back to traditional jobs and work for 30+ more years before we ever know this kind of freedom again.
How long have you been working towards FIRE? (If already FIREd, how long did it take you to FIRE?)
So since we’re not employed now and still enjoying our extended sabbatical, we’re kind of in a weird space. We’re really excited to start making big money moves towards FIRE, but we don’t want to rush through the end of this really special time.
I will say though, it’s really cool to be coming off of something like this (an extended world-travel sabbatical) and still be excited about the next chapter.
It’s not like we’re going back with our heads hanging, depressed to be leaving this lifestyle. We’re looking at it as more like hitting pause on this lifestyle; go back home, get our financial house in order, and plan accordingly so that we can return to this way of living instead of the old ways.
Which type of FIRE are you aiming for?
We’ve basically been living out of our backpacks and on a backpacker budget for over 2 years, so we’ve realized we really don’t need a lot of things to be happy. We’ve adapted to a much simpler but much more exciting, fulfilling life. I think Lean FIRE or Barista FIRE will be our aim.
How are you planning on achieving FIRE? What is your strategy?
Our plan for achieving FIRE (when we’re stateside and working again) is putting aside at least 50% of our income for savings and investments. We have both agreed to resume full-time employment in order to reach this goal quicker and I plan to continue my freelance writing business.
What has your savings rate been through the time you have been working towards FIRE?
Before our sabbatical, we saw how crazy fast our savings piled up when we were focused on planning for our world trip. We were both saving roughly half our income, but we weren’t investing (ouch!). So we know this is possible for us. And we just thought we were motivated before!
What are your investments like?
Currently, we have some individual stocks, some crypto, and retirement accounts that we have rolled over. When we were employed, we were really aggressive about those contributions, so that made us feel a little more secure about stepping away for a sabbatical. We plan to add index funds and real estate as well.
I am also blogging a book about our journey through this sabbatical/pre-retirement, so hopefully, that will add to the passive income stream!
When do you plan to reach FIRE?
Ideally, we would love to reach FIRE by 2032.
Life after FIRE
Life after FIRE is different for each person. Some like quitting work to never touch it again. Others may work on side projects. Life is different for all.
What do you plan to do once you reach FIRE?
Keep living the life we are currently living! Traveling, enjoying our hobbies, learning new things. Right now I am working on fun, interesting writing projects but we also get to kitesurf when the conditions are good. We also recently got scuba certified. There is so much life to be lived!
I don’t think we will stop working entirely, but I do think we will only take on work that we really enjoy doing. Andy is very mechanical and hands-on, so if that looks like doing part-time mechanic work or flipping houses or something like that, great.
My former work life was in non-profit so I could imagine taking on work in that area if it was something I was really passionate about.
For us, it’s all about having the freedom to say “hey, we’re going to go kitesurfing in Vietnam for the winter, catch ya later.” Or wherever else we feel like.
It’s about being free from shitty jobs or toxic work environments or zero work-life balance.
It’s not that I hate working. I just really love freedom.
What has FIRE taught you?
FIRE has taught me that there is a way to get more living out of life! We already knew that life was too short and too fragile to put off big dreams until retirement. FIRE provides a way to have more freedom and do things you never thought you could do.
Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
I would have started sooner and been more aggressive. I would have set up a more diverse investment portfolio. But I wouldn’t change this sabbatical or pre-retirement. It’s been crucial to gaining perspective and “test driving” the retirement lifestyle. We’re so much more motivated to really make it happen.
What would you say to a young couple just learning about FIRE?
Please, please, please, talk about your finances together. Find a goal to focus on, a dream to share, something that gets you both excited to talk about your finances. Get on the same page as soon as you can. And be patient with each other as you start to work through any issues you may have (or discover you have) about money.
Any final words?
If you aren’t sure if FIRE is for you or not, I encourage you to take a sabbatical. Try it on for size. Even if it’s only a few weeks, maybe a season. See what it’s like. Fall in love with it. Imagine what it would be like to not have to be someone’s employee for decades. If you decide it’s for you, make money moves and make it happen.
Some of my Thoughts:
I love to see a couple go from working together to traveling together. Katie is right about some of her tips. You need to have goals and dreams and talk about them with your partner. One of the best things you can do is to have fun together. This couple gets to travel the world on their pre-retirement dreams and see some things that most of us can only dream about. I am excited for you guys to check out their blog.
If anyone would like to join this interview series please let me or Cristian know. We would be happy to have you on.
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.