My story starts in 2015, as I received my orders to move across the country after a messy divorce. I had $20,000 to my name and was stationed in Mississippi.
I was 11 years in and knew I wanted a better financial future for myself. I had put in a lot of hard work into my career and did not want to have to get into another challenging career after the military. For all the sacrifices I made in the military the least I knew I deserved to give myself freedom.
I started by reading Dave Ramsey’s books and joining his FaceBook groups. I quickly found the groups not very helpful as I was debt-free and wanted to grow my wealth. While searching for a better fit, I found Mr. Money Mustache’s blog and group and eventually felt like I had found my tribe in the FI/FIRE community.
I started reading books and listening to podcasts like it was going out of style. I learned about investing, asset allocations and everything to do with wealth building.
But I was scared to dive into the investing world. I was investing in my TSP and in a Roth IRA at T. Rowe Price, but never maxed the Roth IRA out.
In 2016 I switched the Roth IRA to Vanguard and made an investment plan based on simplicity vs trying to chase returns.
The Power of Simplicity
After reading so much about FI/FIRE and how simple the math was, I felt confident that I had the tools to become financially secure, but I could pursue FI/FIRE on my terms.
I started to read more about index funds and loved JL Collins’ approach in The Simple Path to Wealth. His message is simple: invest as much as you can as often as you can. That’s it. I take things head-on in life. So it was no surprise that I dove right into it. I started with a roughly 20% savings rate in 2016, out of a $50K-$55K yearly salary.
I noticed that in the FI/FIRE community people had savings rates of over 50%, so I thought well if others can do it, so can I.
This leads me through a path of reflection regarding what I value, and what was worth spending on. I started going line item by line item on all my expenses over the next six months. By the end of 2016, I had reached a 50%-65% savings rate. 2017 was a pivotal point in my journey. I started to get to know more of the people in the community and build relationships with them. They taught me how powerful my military pension and health benefits were.
I took a second hard look at the numbers and realized I had everything to reach FI/FIRE. I would invest as much as I could as often as I could to build wealth through index funds. Add to that a military pension and super cheap health insurance. I called this my trifecta to FI/FIRE.
The plan was so simple yet so effective it was scary. I absolutely fell in love with index funds. They are like an old used civic, they may not be flashy and are super boring but they get the job done.
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Designing Our FIRE Life Now
After a few years on this path, I realized something was missing from all of this. I had the math down, the strategy, but I was waiting for this arbitrary date to start living my life. Like somehow FIRE was what I needed to be able to design my life how I wanted. Being in the military does have some limitations for designing your FIRE Life right this instant, but I was determined.
What I have learned early on this journey is when I come to a roadblock instead of quitting I turn that problem on its head and think outside the box. So I went to the drawing board to write down how I wanted my FIRE life to look like. What words would I use to describe such a life and how did I envision it?
Some of the best things I could think of were flexibility, freedom, nature, family, friends, community, health, intentionality, and sustainability. What I realized is my ideal FIRE life was not location-specific or location dependent. I realized how much I enjoyed the outdoors, walking, hiking, running, exploring, camping, you name it I enjoyed it. I noticed it had a huge effect on my happiness and mental health.
I looked into living in an RV full-time. It was pretty overwhelming at first with how many different models and classes there are out there. Of course, as a newbie, I knew zero about them and how to even work anything in them. I researched this for about two years never actually going through with it, because well, I was scared of the unknown.
I started dating my now wife in 2019. We instantly clicked as we are both parts of the FI/FIRE community and she actually FIRE’d in 2010. I started to tell her about my RV dream and she said you should do it. With her encouragement, I purchased our RV and Truck as a package deal in late 2019. We moved into the RV in December of 2019 and have not looked back since.
By doing this I have been able to increase my savings rate here in San Diego from 45% to 50%-65% while living closer to work and enjoying our new lifestyle so much more. My housing expenses went from over $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,200 for the RV and truck loan, and campground fees including all utilities. We stay at two RV parks here in San Diego, one on Coronado Island on a private beach and the other on the harbor in downtown San Diego. This lifestyle change increased my wealth building and my happiness levels which to me is a total win.
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Purpose, Hobbies, and Happiness
Life is miserable without purpose, hobbies, and happiness. I learned that I was so focused on the math and reaching FIRE that I forgot to live a fulfilling life.
Now my focus is finding purpose as often as I can. Trying new hobbies that excite me, creating or learning a new skill. I have found it incredibly powerful to focus on what I can control and leave the rest behind. This has had the biggest impact on my happiness levels. I have found that life becomes super cheap once you figure out what you value and spend your time and resources based on that.
For us, that is time together just talking and walking on our beach here. Going on hikes exploring new places in nature. It’s my wife cooking a nice meal vs us going out to eat. It’s us being intentional with our time and what we now focus on. It’s watching an episode or three of Ozark’s on Netflix!
I am truly happy with our lifestyle and we spend less than $30,000 a year to live an incredible lifestyle with our two Great Danes.
A Way Forward
This leads us to today. We live in the RV and love the lifestyle. My planned FIRE date is September 2024, at which time my pension alone should cover all expenses and I will still have investments as well to cover any extras.
But from the looks of it, my cash flow alone will be double what we spend now living in San Diego. From here we have talked about a few options once I hit FIRE. As my wife is waiting for me to FIRE like yesterday.
Option one is to explore in the RV and maybe get into some rentals here and there.
Option two is us moving to France and buying a castle and hopefully having a few more Great Danes!
The third option is moving down to Guatemala where my wife has a house and travel six months out of the year.
That is what is great about hitting FI/FIRE. You have the freedom and flexibility to choose. So who knows in four years maybe we pick another path. No matter what path we pick, it will be one full of passions, purpose, freedom, relationships, community, and us just having a good time.
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