Some of the core tenets of the FIRE movement: Save money, live below your means, choose modest housing, buy used when you can, DIY whenever possible, ride your bike as much as you’re able, travel hack, and be frugal with food spending. If you want to supercharge your FIRE journey, maybe invest in real estate, and pick up a side hustle or two. All do-able, right?
I found the FIRE movement when I was 21. That was roughly 8 years ago. By following the paths of those on the FIRE journey before me, I avoided many financial pitfalls that commonly trap young professionals and instead dug into the list of tenets above: I had roommates. I drove the same car for 9 years. I hustled like crazy with various projects on the internet. I made my lunch as often as I could. I maxed out my retirement accounts. I travel hacked several amazing trips. I kept spreadsheets of every penny I spent. I bought a multi-family property and turned a profit. I bought as much second-hand as I could (& utilized groups like the Buy Nothing Project).
Did it work? ABSOLUTELY.
I’m 29 years old and I’m a quarter-millionaire! The median net worth for someone under 35 is $11,000. The median net worth for someone 65–74 is only $224K. And because statistics are fun (but can be misleading), the average net worth of someone <35, and someone aged 65–74, is $76K and $1.1m respectively. I’m doing better than the median and average millennial and doing better than the median older age bracket in America. I’m not bragging — merely citing statistics to show I’ve saved a LOT of money in a relatively short time. [stats from this article]
When I started my FIRE journey, I wanted to retire at age 35. I strongly disliked most things about the professional lifestyle — I wanted to regain the freedom I had in college. The freedom to take naps and work on whatever struck my fancy that day. I wanted to save as much as I could to buy that freedom as quickly as I possibly could. BUT, the more I worked/saved and hustled, the more I felt trapped. I started out on the LeanFI path, where I could spend $23,500 a year. I no longer see that as realistic for me. It turns out I just wanted to work for an organization that respects me as a human being! Who knew? Turns out I can make money and have freedom too!
Since I was a teen, my Mom has accused me of having champagne tastes on a beer budget (no I was not drinking back then!). That was definitely true. Fast forward to today and I’d say my tastes are more sparkling-wine-not-produced-in-France on a seltzer budget. I don’t pursue extravagance; I see no reason to buy fancy brands, have the latest and greatest electronics, lease the nicest car, or impress people with my ZIP code. I also don’t see the necessity of cramming myself into a tiny studio, or being a landlord, or driving a $500 jalopy, or subsisting on rice and beans.
I’m working on finding balance in my life.
Am I great at finding balance? Not yet — it’s a practice, just like yoga or Buddhism. It’s the reason I rented a fancy $1,800 apartment near DC last year. The pendulum swung too far to one side on that one. I learned from that experience and now have a nice, reasonably-priced apartment in St. Louis. I could’ve spent a lot less on rent than I do now, but I love my neighborhood and my apartment. I have enough room to eat, sleep, bathe, play, and work in my space, which is vital to my wellbeing (particularly now that I work from home).
As I wrote in my Great Car Debate post, I’ve been struggling against the pull of a new car purchase for the last 5 years. Matters accelerated quickly (well, the opposite) when my car nearly overheated in a drive-thru. I discovered the car has a coolant leak that is most likely due to a failing head gasket. The car has had plenty of work over the past nine years but I don’t have the tools or the space to continue doing the work. Frankly, I don’t enjoy it either. It’s stressful and I’m terrified something will go wrong…leaving me stranded (or worse). With 194k miles on him, Levi needs more and more work and I’m done dealing with it. If you are handy, enjoy working on cars, and have the time to do so, I encourage you to look for cars like Levi to drive (or come to St. Louis and pick him up — special price for my readers!). Once someone fixes the head gasket, figures out what’s going on with the AC, changes the oil, replaces the serpentine belt, repairs the suspension, and puts 4 new tires on him, he’ll be a great car again. But that someone will not be me.
While I limped around in Levi, I did my research and kept an eye on the market. Initially, I was looking at a Honda Fit or a Toyota Corolla hatchback. But then I did some more research and found I really liked the Subaru Crosstrek and the Mazda3. Unfortunately, there were no fairly-priced Crosstreks (even if the car has a dope song about it). There were no Corolla hatchbacks at all, so that was out. There were a lot of Honda Fits and a few Mazda3’s. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of and compare the various options. As if I’d pass up the option to create another spreadsheet!
I went to test drive the Honda Fit and the Mazda3. The Fit in the spreadsheet was sold by the time I got to it, so I drove another one from the same model year and didn’t like it very much. I drove the Mazda3 and it just felt right. The S Grand Touring is the highest trim option available, so the car was loaded with options. It felt like a luxury car to someone coming from a barebones basic Pontiac Vibe… and the price was decidedly not that of a luxury car.
Everyone, please meet Carmen Sandiego, my 2015 Mazda 3! She’s got a mere 48,000 miles on her and looks like a much newer car. She is also a blast to drive, which is not something I’ve ever said about Levi (the closest I got was “BLAST IT” when the starter died and left me stranded). My out-the-door price from the dealership was $14,817.50. They took care of all the paperwork and I now have a car legally allowed to be on the road (Levi’s plates are from Minnesota and the registration expired last year… I’m working on getting the title so I can sell him). It was incredibly nice not to do things the hard way for once. No Craigslist strangers and having to figure out all the paperwork on my own. Did I leave money on the table by buying from a “stealership” (as my friend Bill calls them)? Probably. Am I ok with that? Yes, because it was easier. I still got a good deal and have some equity in the car already.
I know I’ve done well when some of my FI friends AND my real-life friends had strong reactions to me buying a new car. Reactions ranged from “WHAT? YOU WENT TO A DEALERSHIP? HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING?!” to “Damn finally pulled some of that money out the mattress”. I learned what I needed to know to not get ripped off when buying a car from a dealership, and am very grateful for all the guidance and lessons learned in the past.
The loan from my local credit union is for 36 months @ 2.94%. My payment is $410 a month, but I intend to have it paid off in about 18 months between my tax refund, my year-end bonus, and accelerated payments. I would’ve preferred to buy with cash, but that wasn’t in the cards this time. I’ll buy the next one with a wad of Benjamins for sure though 🙂
Just because I have a newer used car doesn’t mean I’ve given up on all the FIRE principles. I’m still going to buy used as much as I can because I enjoy the thrill of the hunt. I’m still putting money into my retirement accounts each month. I’m still eating most of my meals at home. I’m still keeping my electronics as long as I can but I am no longer optimizing every little thing. Since I’ll be working until 55 now, that’s an extra $1.5 million in my pocket in pay alone.… and that assumes I’ll never earn more than I do now. Add in two pensions, and I think I can afford to let my foot off the proverbial gas (and put it back down on a 2015 Mazda pedal! Zoom Zoom!) and live a little bit less lean for now.
As always, thanks for reading! Did you decide to upgrade something in your life? What was it? Sound off in the comments below!
Join my email list!
Subscribe and get access to some really cool stuff!