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December 19, 2023: Year End Wins 2023 (Part 1)

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.

Year End Wins 2023

I was blown away by the quality and quantity of FI wins the community sent in this year, and to go along with ChooseFI podcast Episode 468 ‘Year End Wins 2023’ that dropped yesterday with nearly a dozen voicemails, I’m turning these last two newsletters of 2023 over to the community to feature your written wins:

“Our 1% better for 2023 was dialing in exactly how much we need per month to live on (thanks YNAB!) and confidently adjusting workplace retirement contributions accordingly. We have several W2 employers between us (thanks to my multiple part-time jobs) and we can live off my husband’s alone. I’ve adjusted my net pay down to practically nothing.

My paydays are pretty anticlimactic, but we know we’re getting a better deal by investing pretax AND we no longer have to rely on motivation alone to invest at an aggressive rate. This has also helped beef up the account balances that are in my name, which feels like an added level of safety and security to a lower-wage spouse.”

– Shannon

“My partner and I have been fortunate enough to see our incomes increase at a pretty high rate the last few years and we finally got organized after building up a large emergency cash cushion. That included maxing out my 401k for the first time, maxing out not only 2022 but 2023’s IRA contributions, consolidating all our random 401ks, and beginning to properly invest spare cash in broad index funds. We also took this year to pay off my partner’s car and will have her student loan debt paid off early next year.

The item I wanted to highlight more than anything is not the saving, investing, or paying off debt but what working towards financial independence unlocks.

Mid-year one of our dogs decided to eat a large portion of a blanket while we were both at work and eventually needed surgery to have that removed from his stomach. As one can imagine, a lot of vet bills to not only get them (we have two dogs so didn’t know who was the culprit – though we had our suspicions) assessed but the surgery itself. We were able to focus on getting him the best care possible without the worry of how are we going to pay for all of this. Not having the added stressor was huge in an already stressful situation.

Shortly thereafter, it was confirmed that my partner would be going to Australia for a conference meaning flights and hotel would be covered for her. We jumped at the opportunity and tacked on New Zealand for 6 days. Having airfare for one person and hotel for half the trip covered meant we were able to take a phenomenal vacation for a massively reduced cost.

Having a strong financial footing meant we were able to get the best care for our dog, have one less stressor during an emergency and still get to take advantage of amazing opportunities that come our way. Living life on our terms feels like a super power.”

– Mike

“Our big win for 2023 was pulling the trigger and Retiring Early in February at age of 33. Well to be fair, I say sabbatical with undetermined return to work. Biggest change this year was not worrying about money and just enjoying life. My significant other stepped away from work in 2021. We are a large family with 4 kids under 8 years old. Being willing to work again, our withdrawal rate is probably closer to 4.5% or higher (also the Michael Kitces episode really helped us be okay with higher withdrawal rate)

We made some very big changes leading up RE in we moved 2,000 miles to smaller town that is a big vacation destinations with much higher cost of housing. Our new location allows for all sort of activities at our doorstep or a short drive. We also chose a lot that kids can walk to school. This year without work has been great. Getting time to enjoy old and new hobbies including: skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mtn biking, hunting, foraging, camping, lifting, fishing, and pickle ball. Also allowed time to coaching kids sports teams (soccer, football, and basketball), go on long trips to visit family, and spend time working on house(finish basement and get garage setup for all our outdoor toys. As a side note ACA Healthcare has been extremely affordable for a large family with lower income.

We did so many of the of the ideas talked about on podcast to reach this point including: rental houses, saving over 50%, geoarbitrage (moving to texas for many of our working years), maxing retirement accounts in index funds, travel rewards, low cost college(thru careful college selection and college scholarships), mega-back door roth, tracking spending/net worth, plan to use roth conversion ladder, friends of library, home gym, cars always avoid payments, negotiate pay, and maybe most important using car time for podcast(especially ChooseFI as I have listened to every single one).”

– Tom

“We have a huge year-end win. Since I found FI I have been obsessed with the idea of taking an extended break and crafted the concept of a family gap year. In January of this year we departed and all 5 of us (plus the dog) set off for a grand tour of North America living in an RV. We tested various pieces of this and knew we wanted a true break so both my husband and I resigned from our jobs and we unenrolled our 3 kids (ages 12,10 and 7) from school for this experience. It has been better than I ever expected and seeing the progress, confidence, and connection we have built over the last 10 months is better than I ever expected.

Without making this an entire blogpost some key learnings were:

– Space and flexibility in our life has been the biggest game-changer in our growth mindset. I haven’t heard the words “I’m bored” more than a handful of times.

– Real life was masking unique characteristics and challenges. For the first time in my life I feel well rested and have a deep appreciation for my kids humor and hidden artistic talents that had the opportunity to flourished.

– Practicing Abundance paired with drawdown strategies. It can be really scary to withdraw in our 40’s and get sucked into scarcity. When I reminded myself that we are actually using the money in the way it was intended (We had a gap year fund) it pulled me out of that mindset to appreciate the everyday moments unfolding before me.

– Our life doesn’t cost that much. We still have enough money left to keep going and are considering what next steps might look like. While I generally align with minimalism principles there was very little we missed from our house filled with stuff (we kept our house vacant and hired people to take care of the property while we traveled).

– Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. There were several things we could’ve optimized better, but we were okay with “good enough.”

I have so many other thoughts that I am still processing and feel like despite the challenges in the world I am ending 2023 with hope for humanity and the world. This experience has us all a bit less myopic and grateful for the simple aspects of life that often are overlooked.

I should note we are far from FI, but thanks to FI principles and mindsets we were able to take a kid-life retirement with our kids. It also exemplified that even without “work” we still crave complex intellectual problem solving. Now I can design a life around what that looks like and means to me :)”

– Heidi

“I’ve had an active year in FI and wanted to share my abundance of wins. After attending the FI Chautauqua last year, I’ve really fallen into the FIRE community rabbit hole. I went to two CampFIs and EconoMe this year, and I’ve hosted three ChooseFI local meetups here in Boston with more on the way. I’ve gained many new friends and found my tribe in the FIRE community.

I’ve started to imagine a life outside of my full time job and taken numerous trips, embarking on a quest to see every national park within a decade. I’m planning a two month sabbatical of slow travel next year and plan to double down on attending more FI events.

Financially, I’m super grateful to have received over $43k in public service student loan forgiveness early this year! I’m going to come in just under my targeted 50% savings rate this year, but the memories made and friends that I have gained have made the extra discretionary spending worth every cent.

I’m still a few years from “true FI” and a bit uncertain what the future looks likes. Life is never perfect, but I love the journey. It’s a great feeling when you realize that you are the person you wanted to be when you grow up.

I appreciate you, your work, and this community you have built. You have certainly inspired significant meaningful positive change in my life and I am grateful.”

– Shaun

“First time writing in! I can’t thank you enough for all you do for the ChooseFI community. Your podcast and your books have changed my family’s lives. I wanted to share a major WIN for my family:

2023 year has been a life-changer for my family. Not only have we paid off more than $63,000 in debt but we are now saving more than ever in each of our retirement or investment vehicles: Roth IRAs, 403bs, 457s, and 529 plans.

However, the biggest win for our family is that my husband, who has always worked maintenance, construction, and welding jobs, recently became a teacher! I am a high school teacher as well and I learned about an opportunity in our state of Illinois for people working industrial tech types of jobs to get their teaching license in Industrial Technology by showing proof of an Associates degree + 2 years of work experience OR by showing proof of a high school diploma/GED + 8 years of experience.

My husband has an Associates and more than 10 years of work experience. He sent in the evidence required and had his teaching license in less than 2 weeks.

Wow, what a fast-track option to become a teacher! Even better than that, my husband was then hired full-time as an Industrial Tech teacher at my high school! He has been teaching Welding and Intro to Industrial Tech for the past 4 months now and is absolutely LOVING it. He no longer exhausts his body all day long at work, he never has to work outdoors, he is never on-call and getting called out at 3:00am, and he now has all evenings, weekends, holidays, and summers off.

This has revolutionized our family of 4 as we are all now on the same schedule and we have more time together than ever before. We are planning a summer trip that we have never been able to take as a family due to summers previously being my husband’s busy work season. Not only this, but my husband got a $9,000 raise to move into teaching and also now has a teacher’s pension and access to a 403b and 457.

One final benefit is that because we both work in the same district, our school district now provides FREE health insurance for our entire family. Previously I was carrying health insurance for our family and it cost us about $600 a month for our family of 4. Now it is absolutely free for us which feels like I also got a raise of more than $7,000 a year. We are so thrilled with the life changes and financial changes this has created for our entire family and we feel we are now well on our way to financial independence. Thanks again for everything you do for this community!”

– Brandy

“I found the ChooseFI podcast in May of 2023 and decided to start at episode 1 with the intention of working my way through the podcast from the beginning. I am now up to date and can happily say I have undergone a paradigm shift! Thanks to You, Jonathan and your many guests I have begun my journey down the FI path at the age of 33. As of now I have made daily changes that has resulted in the below:

We paid off my wife’s car – roughly $5,500

We paid off my student loans and are about 3 months out on paying off my wife’s – roughly $10,000 by March of next year.

We started a side hustle refinishing old dressers and started a ROTH IRA for my daughter.

I have jumped into travel points and miles. I am about a month from getting the Southwest Companion Pass. We achieved this by turning our normal spend that is paid off in full each month to each targeted card.

I have increased my contributions to my 401K from 5% (employer match at 5%) to 10% with the plans on maxing out my 401K starting at the beginning of next year.

We have set goals to max out both of our IRA’s next year.

Despite my wife and I being “the reluctant frugalist”, we plan on continuing to make that 1% change to continue to move forward towards obtaining our infamous FU money. Thanks again to You and Jonathan, you have shaken us out of the mindless habits we have slept through over the past 10 years of our marriage and provided us with purpose for ourselves and the foundation to set my 2 daughters up for an early start towards FI!”

– Danny

“I closed on a new primary this month and moved in this past weekend! Woohoo! I told myself two years ago when I bought my last house that I would not allow fear to dampen my progress in acquiring real estate and set a goal that in late 2023 to early 2024, I would buy another property and I DID! This happened 1 year and 10 months after my last purchase and makes house #3 for me.

I have to say, having grown up in a very, very low income home, this house is absolute *goals*. Slow and steady wins the race, but I am on track to be retire optional at 47 even as a single, full time mom of a 5 year old. The real estate will be used for her expenses and college funds and my W2 savings (40% of my paychecks!) are my way to early retirement. We are so very, very blessed!

Thanks again for all you do.”

– Nicole

“This year has been a positive one for me on my FI journey. I managed to invest in my 401k up to my full match and now have almost $50k invested across my various retirement accounts after only working for <3 years. I also saved up a down payment and purchased my first house hack that I am renting out by the room to some housemates. Not only did I significantly reduce my housing payment, but I learned valuable skills along the way that will serve me well if I choose to make further investments into real estate in the future. With my fixed expenses significantly reduced, I’m hoping to eliminate most/all of my student loans in 2024!”

– Stasik

“I normally just chug along and continue to practice living my fullest life but this year I think I can declare a huge win. I’m military and can retire in the next few years, I’ll be in my early 40s and still want to see so much of the world. The last few years I’ve been pondering Airstreams and campers. I rented a camper, it was meh. I rented a van and it was wow! This could work!

This past weekend, my partner and I drove my very own, gently used, professionally converted Class B van from LA to Portland, OR. I was able to put in an offer of cash because I’ve been living within my means and saving for so long. I met up with a local van conversion company to do some modifications so the van is safer and cat friendly. Cat van life is just around the corner and I am so excited to have the world at my fingertips!

Having the FI community has given me an amazing resource to continue to be smarter about how my money can work for me (and starting to be a resource for my partner too). Thanks for all you do!”

– Katie

“I FINALLY PAID OFF MY STUDENT LOANS. I went to pharmacy school and after graduation, I had approximately 180K in student loans with a 5 percent rate. My career path required a residency so my income was lower than the majority of pharmacists for 2 years after graduation (at least this is what my professors told me about residency…).

After discovering ChooseFI and Your Money or Your Life, I started to re-evaluate all of my personal finance decisions. I started to assess where my money was going and realized I needed to get rid of this debt. My goal was to pay off my debt in 2023, and I am happy to say I finally made the last payment in March of this year.

It took ten years after school, but I am so proud of this. My family and I are now on our way to FI, and I can say this has had a huge impact on our savings rate allowing us to get there faster.

Thanks for all you do – I wouldn’t have been able to do this without advice from your podcast.”

– Andy

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Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.
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