[Many people reach financial independence, quit their job, and then wake up the next morning and think, “Well, now WTF should I do with the rest of my life!?!?”… This is the position my friend Jen recently found herself in, and today she’s sharing all about her journey in this guest post. Jen also blogs over at PostFILife.com
Fair warning: It’s a lengthy read! But well worth it if you’re about to hit FI and make a transition in your life. My fav part is the “42 changes we made once discovering FIRE”!! Check it out 👇👇👇]
No Income For The Year
What would you do if you were not allowed to make any money over the next year?
This was the question that was posed to me on my flight to a 3-week adventure in Oaxaca, Mexico, and it was a question that has changed the course of my post-FI life.
Our friends, Alan and Katie Donegan (of the famed Rebel Business School and Rebel Entrepreneur Podcast) were going to spend a month in the colonial city of Oaxaca, Mexico – home of the delicious chocolate flavored Mole and Mezcal (so smooth that you hardly remember drinking it!).
The Donegans were inviting the community to visit them during their nomadic travels. My husband, Scott, and I were ready for an adventure! We wanted to spend time with fellow FI friends, eat some amazing food (I mean really crazy good food), and have conversations that filled our souls.
I was 6 weeks into having quit my corporate job when we set out on this adventure with the prospect of meeting an amazing group of entrepreneurs in the picturesque valley of Oaxaca. I’d spent the last 29 years in Corporate America working long hours and putting in my time. This is what I was trained to do and never really questioned it. We all have to do something to make money, right?!?
I had unquestionably signed up for that life of work that never really fulfilled me. I was somewhat interested in what I had been doing, but I never connected my job with a purpose or the values of the firms that I was employed at. I am super conscientious, so I would always do an excellent job, my employers loved me, and the years rolled on.
I see the light!
When my husband and I found the FIRE community in 2018, it was as though a fog had lifted and we were seeing clearly for the first time. At this point we were in our late 40’s and the actual hope of retirement, or at least walking away from jobs that were no longer providing joy in our lives, seemed like a possibility.
I went pretty hard core and looked at everything that we were spending, saving, doing and not doing and decided to make little changes to a lot of things in our life. I came up with a list of 42 things that we changed in 2019 and was amazed at the impact that small, incremental, compounding changes could make in our financial and personal life. (I tried for 50 things, but underachieved on that, sorry!)
42 changes we made after we discovered FIRE
- Changed cell phone plans – saved 75%. Changed from AT&T to Mint Mobile.
- Cut grocery bill by 32% from prior year, which was down 56% from 2016
- Reduced car gas costs
- Maxed out both of our job 401K plans
- Our side hustles covered our expenses
- Canceled cable – 100% savings
- Got rid of our land telephone line – 100% savings
- Did not get a new phone when I cracked my screen & had it replaced instead – 91% savings
- Canceled my fixed annuity and transferred the money to Vanguard – priceless!
- Opened Vanguard retirement accounts and moved all other brokerage accounts to VTSAX
- Started travel rewards with the Chase Gauntlet
- Signed up for Couchsurfing. We hosted & did our first Couchsurf
- Pet sitting on the Trusted Housesitters platform. We did 7 sits in 2019
- Started an Etsy store as a mini-experiment to test if I could sell something online.
- Started a blog Meet Up Group in Los Angeles
- Signed up for term life insurance for me and my husband
- Paid off my car loan = 100% savings
- Changed internet providers and got 2X the speed for the same price. Went from AT&T to Spectrum.
- Canceled my 3rd party disability policy
- Canceled Netflix
- Paid off all our credit cards
- Replaced greeting cards & birthday cards with a free alternative
- Reduced my gift spending by making homemade gifts vs buying gifts
- Urban foraging in our neighborhooda. Picked & cured olives
a. Picked & cured olives
b. Picked tons of fruit and made homemade jam that we used for gifts
- Reduced our car insurance by 22%. Went from Allstate to Mercury Insurance. Used Policy Genius
- Shopped homeowners insurance and reduced it by 29%. Went from Allstate to Mercury Insurance. Used Policy Genius here as well.
- Shopped a new umbrella policy
- Changed how we hosted parties and went to potluck style gatherings
- Worked on getting our food costs down to $2 per person per meal
- Started decluttering our house
- Date night at Total Wine & More where they have wine & beer tastings for $0.05!
- Instead of going out to eat at a restaurant, we would do a picnic in a park instead
- We like rice & beans!
- We did a Hyatt Place points redemption at New Year’s for some friends that was 12,000 points for a $650/night hotel room!
- Used travel points for our Christmas travel
- Hit $1M in net worth, including our side hustle
- Reduced our electric bill by hang drying our clothes, hand washing dishes, and pet sitting (so we were not around as much)
- Made our own heirloom grass-fed yogurt. Way cheaper than store bought. I love this brand, it is super easy and no heating up of the milk, countertop method.
- Continued to make our own bread and granola.
a. Bread: I love the no-knead bread recipes out there. So easy & good!
b. Granola: I just mix oats, honey, peanut butter, and salt for my granola.
- Achieved a 50%+ savings rate
- Signed up on Personal Capital & Mint to track our net worth
- 1 Bucket Budgeting. We pay ourselves $4,000 per month and live off of that. We have a cushion in that account for unusual expenses or 1x per year expenses that might hit in a month, but it all shakes out by the end of the year.
Freedom is near
I felt empowered for the first time in my life and had a pretty clear path for when my husband and I could step away from our corporate jobs. We had read blog posts and spoken with people in the FIRE community about the misconception that it was going to be all unicorns & rainbows once we reached FI. We heard that it was better to be moving toward something, not away from work that you don’t like.
Here are some influential posts/podcasts that really helped us with post-FI expectations:
Well, 2020 hit and we all know about that. I was “fortunate” to have work that kept me busier than ever during the pandemic and the busier I became, the more and more miserable I was. I would just burst out crying in the middle of the day for no apparent reason. Okay, hormones might be part of it too, but I was done, spent, tired of doing the same things day in and out.
I’m a quitter
I would be a lunatic to quit my job now with so much uncertainty in the world, right? At the beginning of 2020 we had decided to test living off the income from our side hustle and we were doing that successfully. We had enough income from our business to replace our current living expenses. We were FI right? Well, it didn’t feel that way, so I kept working and working.
At some point in late 2020, I guess I just hit a wall. I am not really sure what changed or how I changed or why I changed and it didn’t matter.
I was done with doing work that no longer fulfilled me.
I was done with just working to earn a living.
I was done with spending my precious time on this planet doing things that no longer had meaning or purpose in my life.
I was done, that was it.
It was simple once I internally came to that decision and the path became clear. Just quit!
So I did.
I gave notice the first week of January 2021. Being the super conscientious person that I am, I even gave 2 months notice! I had thought about giving 3 months notice, but that seemed excessive. Unicorns & Rainbows, here I come!
Side Note: 10 days after my last day of work, I got a call from my former employer asking me if I would take a recently opened position (which I would have NEVER been offered if I hadn’t quit) for 50% more pay and up to 100% more pay with bonuses!
Really! REally! REAlly! REALly! REALLy! REALLY!
You have got to be kidding me! A year before, I probably would have taken it. But it was no longer about the money. My husband and I decided we were going to prioritize happiness and quality of life, and this type of work no longer fit into either of those categories. So, the answer was actually easy, it was NO! (I can’t lie, did have a pang in my stomach though and a quick flash of all the $$ did cross my mind. It was quick, but it was still there).
Post-FI = Sitting around eating Bon Bons
I think I felt like we were somewhat prepared for a post-FI life and that all of our unhappiness of doing work that was not fulfilling wouldn’t be solved overnight. I was building some space and freedom to explore new things that would light me up. Really, I just wanted to sit around and eat Bon Bons all day! That sounded like a delicious plan!
Oh, by the way, that was my first project once I quit my job. Since I am a “doer” and like to get things done and check stuff off a To Do List, I decided that my first week of retirement was to learn how to make Bon Bons. I read about how to temper chocolate, I borrowed some molds, bought all the ingredients and set out on becoming the next chocolatier! Well… to make a long and messy story short, I had chocolate all over the kitchen, in my hair, on the light switch, etc. Let’s just say that my new life as a master chocolatier ended in one short week. The result of this little mini-experiment was some good treats and I had fun in the process, but I was not going to build an empire making or selling chocolate. I would leave that to the pros! I discovered that I really just like eating chocolate, not making chocolate!
The chocolate theme continues…
So, our Oaxaca trip was planned for 6 weeks after I was done working. I did the chocolate thing, hung out and relaxed, practiced some yoga, slept in, visited some friends and family, did a pet sit in Portland, Oregon, and was enjoying my post-FI life. I was ready for my next “thing”! Yep, I had rested and was ready to begin to make some money, because that is what I have been trained to do for practically the last three decades.
Oaxaca would have all the answers – the right group of people to help craft and mold the next three decades of my life.
NIFTY (No Income For The Year)
Have you ever been posed a question that leaves you speechless? You can’t make up an answer on the fly and you find out that you have never even given that question any thought?
Just days after my 51st Birthday, this is what happened to me on my flight down to Mexico. As fate would have it, I sat next to a fellow participant of the group of entrepreneurs and people from the FIRE community that were gathering to spend time together, deepen our friendships, and continue to build a community of like-minded people. The question that stumped me (after I had expressed how I had pretty much reached financial independence, had retired from my W-2 income and was ready to start something new after 6 weeks of rest from 3 decades of work was):
What would you do if you were not allowed to make any money over the next year?
This simple but deep question was what set the tone for the rest of my trip.
I did not have an answer.
I realized deep down this was a better question to be asking myself rather than just jumping into the next thing that caught my fancy. At some point in the trip, while I was working on this question, I realized that if I had just jumped into whatever seemed to be a good business idea that in 3 years or maybe 5 years (if I was lucky) that I would end up in the same spot as I was right now. I would be burnt out, working to work, and just checking things off my To Do list since that is what I knew how to do. I had not given myself the time and space to figure out what I wanted my next 3 decades to look like.
Pressure valve released
By allowing myself to take a break, I mean a real break, like don’t pursue anything for the next year kind of break, it actually took the pressure off. During this trip, I did not have to worry about pursuing a business venture and I could just relax, have some fun, and enjoy life. What!?! Really, I was allowed to do this?
Now the hard work was to begin!
WTF do I do with the rest of my life?
Now that I had a new question to answer, I had created the time and space for myself to work on this – in between eating tacos, mole and sipping some mezcal – I was stumped AGAIN! How the heck do I figure out what I should do over the next year that doesn’t involve trying to start a business and not trying to make money…again?
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but this is what I came up with based on conversations with Scott, listening to podcasts, reading and talks with the amazing group of individuals in Oaxaca that all helped guide and show me a path.
I started by listing out all the questions that I had come up with and sorta prioritized them so I could focus on just a few to start with. Here are the Top 3 Questions that I worked on to begin with:
- If I am NOT allowed to earn money for the next year, what will I do?
- What is my purpose in one word? How can I live my purpose 24/7?
- Write my eulogy. Okay, this is not a question, but you get where I was going.
I am just going to tackle #1 in this post, but I found that working on #2 & #3 really helped during this process and found the following podcasts really helpful in working on my purpose and eulogy:
Values / Priority
I started with a list of my values: Health, Helping others, Practice of Gratitude, Time for myself, Travel, and Things that light me up.
I think I made some crazy word association charts and tried to connect them, got myself all confused and was even more clueless on what to do with all that information! I think, I was trying to think it too much and did not really let it flow.
So then, my friend had me pick out of my crazy flow chart my top 5-6 values and list them in two columns:
- Values for myself
- Values for others
Then, I had to pick 1 value for myself … just 1. This exercise went from “priorities” to “priority.”
My priority was now my health and time for myself (see how I snuck 1 extra in there, they are connected, right? ;))
Now, what would that look like? It took me a little bit to work this out, but this priority statement is what I ended up with:
Prioritize time for my whole health: physical, mental & emotional
This is now my priority for the next year while I am not “allowed” to make money. This has actually proven to be harder than I thought, but that is a blog post for another day.
Driving in the slow lane
So, this is where I am today. I am not exactly sure where I am headed with my new priority statement or how this will all shake out, but this gives me some areas to concentrate on while I continue to decompress and take time for myself. What’s the rush? I have found it hard to slow down and it’s been hard trying to not “fill my day” with things so that the day feels full, like in my working life. I have decided that it is okay to have an empty calendar so that I can create space and time for my Whole Health. I am trying to only have a maximum of two scheduled activities per day and the rest of the day is open and fluid. This has proven to be hard, but I am slowly working on this and trying to not overbook myself.
I have realized that I do well when I have accountability to others, so this is what I am planning to do as my next steps in this process of my #1 Priority: Me.
- Physical Health:
a. Pilates: I joined a yoga studio and have scheduled a killer Pilates class 3 days a week to work on my core.
b. 1 Pull Up Challenge: My goal is to be able to do 1 Pull Up this year. I found this blog that has a good progression plan for a pull up since I am weak like a kitten…well close enough.
- Mental Health:
a. Mastermind Groups: I am participating in two Mastermind groups. I started one with the women from our Oaxaca trip and have set up calls to support each other as we are each going through various stages in our lives. By engaging with people that want to help and support each other, we can all learn and grow.
b. Value Statement: I am trying to figure out what is important to me. I have not spent any time really digging into what I value and how I want to prioritize my time and energy. Any resources you know of to help with this? Hey, if you have read this far in this long-ass blog post, maybe you have some suggestions?
- Emotional Health:
a. Build Community: Post COVID, and after a year of partial isolation, it has become clear to me that reaching out to friends and spending time with family is a way to fill my emotional bucket. I have made nine trips in the seven months since I quit my job! Yep, Crazy! It was a mix of visiting family for several weeks at a time and visiting friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.
We had a couple of pet sits as well, which have been a great way to reconnect with pet energy and an opportunity to stay at some amazing properties at the same time. Funny thing is, both our pet sits this year have been for Mexican street dogs…the Mexico theme continues! If you want to support a great cause check out the Alamos Dog Foundation, they rescue dogs off the streets in Alamos, Mexico.
We plan on continuing to select pet sits across the US over the next year as we travel to visit friends and family. We are exploring driving Old Route 66 in Spring 2022. Who knows, my father has a 1955 Pontiac and maybe we will drive that beast across America?!?! Might be more of an adventure than we are ready for! I just want to find the best apple pie on Route 66! Might not be good for my waistline, but it would be a delicious way to experience the open road! Any suggestions?
A long winded wrap up
Now that money is no longer the driving force in my post-FI life, I hope that by the end of 2022 my NIFTY Project will have offered me an alternative path. I want my next 3 decades to be a life filled with intention, meaning and joy. Making small intentional and incremental changes really does move the needle.
So…what would you do if you were not allowed to make any money over the next year? How would you spend your time and who would you spend it with?
Be well & Cheers!
**Update 2/8/2022: Jen has started a blog! Continue reading about her journey over at PostFILife.com**
Joel is a 35 y/o Aussie living in Los Angeles and the guy behind 5amjoel.com. He loves waking up early, finding ways to be more efficient with time and money, and sharing what he learns with others. Rise Early | Retire Early!