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164 | Our Rich Journey

Amon and Christina join the show to share their journey to Financial Independence as two federal employees with young children. The couple was able to retire early in just eight years!

Finding FIRE

Eight years ago, Amon came home with the idea to retire early. The idea was sparked after an eye-opening awards ceremony. After working in the federal government for ten years, he had been given an award for his commitment. At the same ceremony, someone received an award for 40 years of service. Amon could not imagine working in his cubicle for another 30 years, so he had the idea of early retirement.

I just remember thinking to myself, “I can’t be here for another 40 years! I don’t want another piece of paper to represent my life.” … I felt like I was giving up so much of my life in my cubicle. And so I came home and me and Christina really started to talk about this idea of retiring early; of taking control of our life. And that was the turning point.

When Amon shared this idea with Christina, it may have seemed crazy but she did not show it. Instead, they worked through the concept as a team. The couple has always been able to bring each other ideas without any fear of judgment. They always worked together to find a way to make their ideas happen, so retiring early was another idea to talk about.

Related: How To Get Your Spouse On Board With FI

Although there was no FIRE movement yet, they did research to prove that this concept was possible.

Making A Plan

After finding FIRE, the couple decided it would take around a decade for them to achieve Financial Independence.

In the beginning, Amon was earning around $70,000. Christina was a stay at home mom, but she returned to law school for three years. It was clear that they needed to create more income to make FIRE a reality.

The solution to creating more income was to leverage what we had and tap into real estate because we couldn’t work more hours at our jobs. So, we had to figure out other forms of income. So one of the things we were looking at to be able to retire early was that we started focusing on real estate. And bringing in rental income; so the first thing we put together was this idea of living in a home, flipping it, and moving to the next home. This idea of living and flipping. And then using that money to be able to eventually retire off of. So that’s where we started.

With that, they started focusing on living rent and mortgage-free. Together, they found a way to live rent and mortgage free for over 10 years! Their house hacking strategies have varied over the years. They’ve been RAs in family units for free housing, rented out rooms in their apartment, enjoyed employer-sponsored housing, and used Airbnb to dramatically reduce their housing expenses.

Here’s a YouTube video about how they did this.

So we’re always trying to think of what can we do to either save money or make money in some other way other than just on salary because we wanted to expedite this process to FIRE. And by being RA’s, by living rent-free in that area, and then just trying to think of other side hustles; that’s what really helped us, you know, expedite that process and get to FI a lot quicker.

In addition to house hacking, the couple was always looking for side hustles and other ways to save.

Career Choices

Christina went to law school during their FIRE journey. However, she did not pick that career based on its earning potential. She picked it because it was something she had always found interesting.

Before she went to law school, they were living in Spain she wasn’t working. But as she looked into the future, she thought that she might want to go back to working in a few years. If she went back to work, she did not want to return to her previous salary of around $35,000 without benefits.

In most cases, law school can be an expensive endeavor. However, Christina found a way to pay for law school almost entirely through scholarships.

Scholarships And LSAT Hustle

It was a constant hustle to line up scholarships, but avoiding the typical law school debt made the hustle worth it. One advantage that she had was being an older student. Many law schools favor older students because it shows that you are going back to school with a purpose in mind.

If you are considering law school but are hesitant about the cost, Christina recommends taking the LSAT very seriously. Even if it takes dozens of hours to study, landing a score of 170 or higher could help you land the right scholarships.

The LSAT is something that can be compared across all applicants, right. So it’s so important to put the time into your LSAT.

Based on her high LSAT score, she was accepted to a top 15 law school and able to take advantage of scholarship opportunities. It wasn’t an easy test to study for, but the effort paid off for Christina.

After graduating from law school, Christina and Amon both landed jobs in Japan. He was continuing to work for the federal government. She was offered an attorney position in the same location. With this, they were able to move with two incomes and enjoy employer-sponsored housing.

Pursuing FI Through Real Estate

For many years of their FIRE journey, Amon and Christina lived in the Bay Area. Although it is known as an extremely high cost of living area, that did not stop this couple from getting creative.

When they realized that real estate would be a part of their journey, they stepped into the Bay Area market in 2013. At the time, it was an extremely hot market. They did everything it took to make real estate purchases possible in their budget. That involved looking for homes over the holidays. In fact, they closed on three homes on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

After buying the property, they would do all of the renovations themselves. Although they did not have a background in fixing up homes, their positive attitude made it possible. The family worked as a team to renovate these houses on a budget.

In a few cases, they did bring in a contractor. If they needed to take down a wall or do other serious work. However, the tool lender library in the Bay Area eliminated the need for constantly calling a contractor.

If you have a tool lending library in your area, it could be an amazing way to save money on your home repairs. Find out if you have a local tool lending library on Local Tools. If you don’t have a tool lending library nearby, then consider other sources such as FreeCycle and Craiglist to score affordable tools.

Travel Rewards Strategies

Throughout their journey to retirement, travel rewards have played a big role in their life. They’ve traveled all over the world and plane tickets aren’t cheap! Travel rewards have allowed them to enjoy vacations along the way without breaking the bank.

I don’t know how we stumbled across this concept, but it has been a game changer! Especially when you’re on this path towards Financial Independence and you’re trying to be frugal. A vacation can break the bank sometimes. So for us to be able to discover travel rewards and being able to leverage that on our journey–it really made our path, you know, a very fun adventure. Because we have traveled to so many places by taking advantage of those bonus points.

Last winter they went to Spain, Italy, and France using travel rewards. They’ve learned that being flexible on your flights and switching up your destination can allow you to truly minimize your travel spending.

As a family of four, it was especially important to use travel rewards. They’ve been able to score free flights and hotels for the whole family which has helped to increase their savings over time.

ChooseFI Free Travel Course It is the easiest way to get started on your travel rewards journey.

Listen: Travel Rewards: How to Travel the World for Free (The Easy Way)

Early Retirement

After an eight-year journey, Amon and Christina have reached Financial Independence. Once they hit their FI number, they left their jobs behind for good.

As they were leaving their careers, they felt some mixed emotions. When they told their coworkers, most were completely shocked. Some even asked what they planned to do with the next 30 years of their life!

Our lives were more than just our federal jobs. I mean, we were foregoing a lot of things that we like to do, as far as our passion projects, so when we went into work and we told people, they were completely shocked. And then the next question they had was like “Well, what are you going to do with the next 30 years of your life?” And for me, I think that was a very odd question because it was almost like they were saying that this job was supposed to define the next 30 years of my life. But the next 30 years of my life, what I’m going to do next, is redefine it. We’re going to define it on our own terms.

Many of their coworkers had never heard of FIRE, so their confusion was understandable. However, it was somewhat disheartening to see that most people viewed the concept of early retirement as completely bizarre. With that, most people are forced to allow their job to define them for decades of their life.

Define Life On Their Terms

Instead, Amon and Christina are free to define the rest of their life on their own terms. They’ve decided that their lives are more than their jobs. With that, they started to enjoy their Financial Independence.

The first big step they took was moving to Portugal. They decided on this country due to the low crime, good healthcare, and overall high quality of life. So far, they are really enjoying their new home! Each day they spend time with their kids, work out, and practice their Portuguese. Although they may move back to the Bay Area at some point, for now, they are very happy in Portugal.

Find out more about why they moved to Lisbon on their YouTube channel.

How To Connect

Amon and Christina share all of their money adventures on their YouTube Channel, Our Rich Journey. They share their real numbers and are very authentic on their channel. You can also follow them on Instagram @richjourney

The Hot Seat

Favorite Blog, Podcast, or Book: Planet Money

An Inflection Point: The most meaningful decision was the first time they decided to live and work abroad. It opened so many doors and eventually led them to live in Portugal.

Although they’ve based their FI number on a higher cost of living area, living in Portugal has allowed them to stay well under the 4% rule outlined in the Trinity Study.

Favorite Life Hack: Living rent and mortgage free for over 10 years.

Biggest Financial Mistake: Buying a BMW X5.

The advice you would give your younger self: Create what you want in the future and have that in mind as a goal. Although they did save while they were younger, they didn’t have a purpose. If they had defined their goals earlier, they may have been able to achieve FIRE even sooner.

Bonus! What purchase have you made in the past 12 months that has brought the most value to your life? Getting their plane tickets to move to Portugal.

Related Articles

New to FI? Be sure to check out Episode 100: Welcome To The FI Community!

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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