They moved back to Florida so Steven could get his master’s in Education, while Lauren worked her first “real” job.
But after two years, they were burned out from working full-time. After learning about financial independence and achieving an incredible savings rate—to the tune of $100K in two years—they decided to take a break.
Their “break” was a six-month trip to Hawaii, paid for up front by their big savings account—but repaid by a series of side hustles in Hawaii. While most people spend lavishly to go on a tropical vacation for one week, they ended up $1,000 positive while spending six months there.
Re-energized, they returned to Florida for a full-time job for Lauren and a continuing tutoring job for Steven—making more money than before they left for Hawaii. Increased income meant increased savings rate for these two, having lowered their expenses by purchasing a three-bedroom condo, periodically renting out an unneeded bedroom.
But after about three years, they felt burned out again. This time their “break” was a trip around the country to visit every national park—all 61 of them—in seven months. Again, they wanted to pay for the trip with income generated during the trip.
They cut expenses by buying a compact cargo van and sleeping in it for the majority of the trip. They continued working about 10 hours a week during the trip, rented their condo for seven months, and hit the road.
Each time they return from their mini-retirements, they are refreshed, re-energized, and ready to jump back into work with both feet. Their end goal isn’t early, permanent retirement, but several small mini-retirements to enjoy their journey.
Mindy: Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, show number 104 where we interview Lauren and Steven from Trip of a Lifestyle and get their story of financial independence, mini-retirement and designing the life they truly want to live.
Steven: Regardless of what choices other people decide to make, everybody is different. They get to make whatever choices they want. At least everyone should consider the question of, am I doing this because it’s what everyone else around me is doing or am I doing this because these things are what I really value and really want in life?
Mindy: Hello. Hello. Hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my wonderful co-host Scott Trench. Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else and show you that by following the proven steps you can put yourself on the road to early financial freedom and get money out of the way so you can lead your best life.
Scott: That’s right. Wherever you are in your financial or life journey, you can begin rapidly moving towards a position capable of generating a great income, saving a huge percentage of that income and setting yourself up to make larger and larger investments on your way to financial freedom. So whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big-time investments and assets like real estate or start your own business, we’ll help you build a position capable of launching yourself towards your dreams.
Scott: Lauren and Steven definitely have built a pretty incredible lifestyle, almost the millennial dream. You’ve talked about launching yourself towards your dreams. They’ve done that through hard work, clear understanding of their numbers and nothing extraordinary. There’s no part of the story that is them getting lucky or taking advantage of a big opportunity. It’s just them being, knowing their numbers, having a plan and then designing exactly what they wanted from their lifestyle and I think you’re going to really enjoy the show.
Mindy: I agree 100 percent. I love hearing their story because like you said, it’s so repeatable. It is so doable if you are just hunches of where you’re spending your money. I think that’s one of the core components of their story is look, we don’t make a lot of money but we also don’t spend a lot of money and that allows us to do what we want to do.
Scott: Lauren and Steven our guests today, they’re going to be entering 2020 in a position capable of sustaining semi-permanent retirement at the ages of 29 and 30. That’s an incredible lifetime achievement for them. I don’t know, it’s a great inspiring show to close out 2019 here and get started on your [inaudible 00:02:42] in 2020.
Mindy: Well, and what’s the worst-case scenario for their current choices?
Scott: Go back to work.
Mindy: They have to go back and get a job. Their worst case scenario is your everyday life, Scott. Their worst case scenario is my everyday life. It’s everybody else’s everyday life to quote Joel from FI180 yet again. They’re taking a chance and yeah, maybe the stock market is going to correct and their net worth goes down. It’s not going to go to zero instantly and it’ll recover.
Mindy: Most likely past performance is not indicative of future gains and blah, blah, blah, but they have so much time and what they’re doing now is cash flowing their life. They get to do whatever they want to do and that’s just the best. But before I go ahead and tell their entire story, Scott, let’s hear a note from today’s show sponsor.
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Mindy: Okay, huge thanks to the sponsor of today’s show. Steven and Lauren from Trip of a Lifestyle, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. How are you today?
Steven: Doing great, thank you.
Mindy: I’m so excited to have you on the show. So I’ve read a little bit on your blog about your story, which I find absolutely fascinating. I want to know where your journey with money begins and how you got to that point of the $0 million honeymoon, the trip around the national parks for, I don’t remember how much that would cost but where did you start out?
Steven: So basically, we both went to the University of Florida. We’ve been together for a long time since like late junior year in high school I guess. But we both ended up going to the University of Florida and I majored in physics and Lauren majored in journalism and when we graduated from there, I thought that I really wanted to get a PhD in physics and become a professor and all that stuff, do research.
Steven: So I got accepted to the University of California, Irvine and we moved across the country to California and it was great except that, yeah, so California was great but it was also very expensive. So I also, while I was there, learned that I didn’t really want a PhD in physics as much as I thought I did. So while we were there I was at grad student, I was working as a TA and Lauren took a full-time job basically like a secretary type position at a design company there and we were chugging along, everything was okay.
Steven: But I was just getting really burned out on physics pretty quickly and we weren’t making a ton of money and it was really expensive to live there. So anyway, what I did realize was the part of my job that I really liked a lot was being a TA and actually teaching students and dealing with students directly and not so much like the working toward the research and learning more like higher level physics and stuff.
Steven: So fell in love with teaching, got this email from the university of central Florida that said they would give me free tuition if I came back to Florida as long as I would be a public school teacher for one year. So we packed up and we moved back across the country again back to our home state of Florida, Orlando area, UCF. I did that program to get a masters degree in education and I worked as a teacher. I ended up working as a teacher for two years and Lauren also took a job she can tell you about that, I guess.
Lauren: Yeah, I did that. I did marketing for a small financial firm in the greater Orlando area. But it was our first foray into real adulthood. We both had full-time jobs, I was working full-time in California but this was like a first titled position and it felt very official and fancy. We were living in a one bedroom apartment and trying to save as much money as we could.
Lauren: Actually in California I think is when we started being first on our own out of college where we’re thinking, okay, what’s the next step? We can work and earn money. But then what? What do you do with your money? That’s where we first started getting interested in learning more about personal finance.
Steven: So by the time we got to Orlando, I think we were pretty interested in we’re going to save as much money as possible and we had just started reading Mr. Money Mustache and learning a little bit about financial independence and stuff.
Lauren: You’re welcome.
Steven: Yeah, Lauren sent me the link to that one day when she, I guess was bored reading some stuff at work.
Mindy: Oh, Lauren found it first.
Steven: She did. So we were really into it by the time we started this whole adventure in Orlando. We spent two years working full-time there and I was a public school teacher, Lauren was making just under my salary. So we both had pretty similar, I think we were around like 40K a year, just under 40K a year each. In those two years we were able to add over $100,000 to our net worth by just living as simply as possible. After those two years is when we decided to do that whole Hawaii honeymoon thing.
Scott: So in the period prior to moving to Orlando, it sounds like you attended college and got an advanced degree at UC Irvine. Did you come?
Steven: I did not completed a degree there but I did go there for nine months.
Scott: Fair enough. Did you come out of that experience with a negative net worth or student loan debt or anything like that or how’d you manage your money in that time period?
Steven: Going back a little bit to college, in college, neither one of us came out with any student loan debt. We both have different stories on that, my story is pretty simple and not very impressive. My story is I focused on school and my parents basically helped me through college and paid for, I had a scholarship that paid for my tuition actually and then my parents paid for my basic living expenses.
Steven: So I was able to graduate debt free. I didn’t have a lot of money but I was debt free. Lauren actually worked her way through college all on her own. She had the same scholarship that I had for tuition, in terms of living expenses and stuff for the majority of college she worked as a server at Chili’s and…
Lauren: I worked with the local paper and I worked at Chili’s and then throughout college I started being able to switch into more in my field. It was kind of scary to let go of what I felt was really steady and good income from waiting tables. At least it was more predictable than knowing what news might happen that day that I would be able to write about or take pictures of and get paid for in the local market.
Lauren: So that was a little unnerving but it did work out and I graduated also without any debt. I had a few scholarships and the one Steven was talking about is statewide in Florida if you get good enough grades and stuff, you used to be able to get most of your tuition covered. So that’s what we both did and then for grad school, the physics a lot of times they will cover your costs because it’s like not common degree that they want people to be doing [inaudible 00:12:05].
Steven: In general, in science when you go for a PhD, you work as a TA or a researcher and that stipend covers your tuition plus a very small salary, like 20K or something like that.
Scott: Got it. So you moved back to Orlando, you got no student loans debts because you’ve navigated this path successfully. How do you go about saving a hundred grand in two years on ADK and income combined? That’s really impressive. I would love to hear that story.
Steven: Thank you. Yeah, so basically for the last like honestly forever since then, the last seven or eight years, we’ve shared one car between the two of us. So that’s been like a really big boon to our finances, not having to deal with depreciation and insurance and gas and maintenance on a second vehicle. So we’ve always very strategically chosen where to live, including back then in Orlando to live as close as possible to at least one of our jobs if not both.
Steven: So that’s allowed me to ride my bicycle to work everywhere we’ve lived several different places for the last seven or eight years. So that’s one huge thing that makes a much bigger difference than you might think. The other thing is just in general, we were pretty fresh out of college still there. We had very limited income with very high expenses in California.
Steven: So by necessity in California, we just learned to continue that college lifestyle into adulthood. Even after you get your full-time job, you just keep living like a college student. Share a one bedroom apartment and eat cheaply, cook at home, that sort of thing. If you do eat out it’s like Chipotle not a real restaurant or whatever.
Steven: So we continued that lifestyle honestly indefinitely because I think we both-
Lauren: We do live that lifestyle.
Steven: … we do still live that lifestyle because I think just neither one of us is really unhappy with that at all. It doesn’t really because us any stress or anything. So just living as if we were college students I guess you would say.
Lauren: The same furniture from college.
Steven: Yeah, we kept our college furniture and if we bought something new it’s usually from IKEA, that sort of thing. We’re not too picky about possessions for the most part. So I think just like those general things helped a lot. I would say, I don’t know, it just comes down to a lot of little small things. But the biggest ones for sure are choosing a small place to live that’s close to work and then sharing one vehicle between two people.
Steven: It’d be the biggest ones. Then we did do some side hustles too. We’ve always, including now, shared a photography business together. So that’s brought in a little bit of extra income shooting like weddings and portraits and stuff like that. We do a lot of random little stuff like selling things on eBay and all kinds of little random things to bring in a little bit of extra cash. But for the most part our income source has been full-time jobs.
Scott: What was your monthly income and expenses in that period and did it change throughout that period? Did you get better and better as you went through those two years?
Steven: It hasn’t really changed drastically over the course of the last seven or eight years. Our total annual expenses between the two of us has always ranged somewhere between like 18 and $25,000 combined. I would say just recently that has increased significantly because we’re having to buy private health insurance plans on the healthcare.gov marketplace instead of having work sponsored plans or whatever, because we’re transitioning into part time work now.
Steven: So only recently that has shot upward because of healthcare costs. But other than that, yeah, between like 18 and 25K a year combined for expenses and back at that time our salaries combined were around 80K combined together. Then we had some side hustles that probably added up to maybe $10,000 a year or something like that. Don’t know exact numbers, but yeah.
Scott: Perfect. So you have about 90K in income and you have about 20,000 to 25,000 or 18 to 25,000 expenses you said. So what are you doing with the cash you’re accumulating? Are you putting it in 401k, are you investing it, start applying a savings account or what was the use that that money went to?
Steven: Yeah, we both had work sponsored retirement plans so we contributed in just enough to get the full match. So we did that and then obviously there’s a lot of extra cash building up because our expenses were dramatically lower than our income. So the rest of that was maxing out to Roth IRAs every year and investing those funds into mostly just low cost Vanguard index funds like VTI, stuff like that.
Steven: Then even still after maxing those out, there’s additional cash and that just went into a taxable brokerage account. So we bought more total stock market index funds basically. It’s pretty boring to be honest with you. But that’s what we did.
Lauren: But it was constant and easy and worked.
Scott: No, I hate this so much because no one can repeat this story. Everything you did here is completely secret that never uncovered before a secret that you guys pioneered. No, I love it. That’s fantastic. You learn the formula, you follow the formula and you’re not doing anything crazy. You’re both working very normal jobs and you’re obviously spending some time hustling and you’re living an intentional lifestyle and clearly know your numbers throughout this period-
Scott: … definitely top of mind. What’s the next turning point in your financial journey after that 100K?
Steven: The next turning point I guess was that after two years of full-time work and saving really hard, I know it sounds kind of silly, like oh two years. We both felt really burned out on full-time work and I think that’s really just a product of being like 24 years old or however old we were. I guess we were like 24ish. It just seemed like an eternity for full-time work. It’s not that I didn’t like being a teacher, I liked it and I don’t think Lauren had any big problems with her job either. But it just seemed like, man, five days a week for real, you have to wake up at 7:00 in the morning and go to work.
Lauren: Actually we, my work was a little bit further so I had a little bit of a commute. So just like everyday driving and getting to work and then driving home and… Our schedules were a little bit off too because as a teacher you got off work at 3:00 PM and I didn’t get home until 6:00 PM. Then we’re losing this time together and it’s kind of snowballed into like, what are we doing? In that time we also got married, in 2014 November, middle of the school year. So we decided to figure out a different plan for our honeymoon.
Steven: Yeah. So that I guess is the turning point really. As we got married, we thought about what do we want to do for like a little break. For a honeymoon you’re supposed to do that I guess. So most people will take like a week or two off work and use vacation time and then go somewhere exotic and have a good time and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Steven: But when we thought about it, we were like, well gee, to go somewhere for a couple of weeks might cost us several thousand dollars depending on where we go and that’s just a huge amount of money compared to when you’re used to spending 20K a year on two people or whatever for two weeks. So it was like, wow, how are we going to spend that much money in such a short period of time? That doesn’t really make sense.
Steven: So our idea was what if instead we were to move somewhere like on a semipermanent basis for maybe six months or something like that. Keep it open ended and turn it into an extended vacation. Maybe even do a little bit of work along the way that didn’t feel like work because it was just like a small amount of part time work and try to just cash flow and pay the bills just barely instead of saving 75 percent of our income or whatever it may be.
Steven: So we said, you know what? We’ve never been to Hawaii before. Everyone says, Hawaii is awesome. Don’t really know anything about it, but let’s do this. Let’s let the school year end, which was still like, I think like eight months out or something like that at that point. Let’s let the school year end, finish off the school year and then let’s just fly to Hawaii and just say, we live here now. Try not to work, try to work as little as possible while we’re there and stay as long as we feel like let’s say roughly six months, something like that.
Steven: That’s what we did. We went to Hawaii and we hung out there for six months and we cash flowed it. We worked very little, maybe like 10 hours a week or so while we were there and by the time we got back, our net worth had actually gone up a teeny tiny little bit, like $1,000 or something. So it basically costs us nothing. It’s the way we like to look at it.
Scott: That’s awesome.
Mindy: What preparations did you do to go to Hawaii? Because it doesn’t… The way you said that doesn’t make it sound like you did a lot of preparing.
Lauren: We did not, we did not do a lot of preparing. We literally moved. We had a friend whose parents lived on Oahu and they were gone the week that we were getting into town. So they’re like, you can stay in our house.
Steven: Well, to be clear, at that point we didn’t even know which Island we were going to be living on. So we landed in Honolulu and we stayed at their house for like a few days. That was just to see like, do we like Oahu has an Island or not.
Lauren: We had some ideas about, we had heard good things about the big Island Hawaii but it was also mixed with, oh, it’s really country and you might not like it. You’re like, how could it be… We’re from Florida, his family’s from Georgia, how country could it be? So we went to the big Island. We loved it, it was open spaces, tons to explore, wasn’t crowded at all.
Steven: It’s a lot cheaper too-
Lauren: A lot cheaper than [inaudible 00:21:39].
Steven: … lower population density and stuff.
Lauren: It kind of gave us a taste of what we’d been working for the past two years. We had this notion of financial independence now we had this goal that we had been saving toward and taking this little break was like, this is what life could be like. This is why we’re been doing this. Having these self-directed days where we wake up and say, what do you want to do? You want to drive across the Island and go explore some waterfalls today? That was really encouraging for us and then the fact that we came out of it plus $1,000.
Steven: Yeah but in terms of the planning though, it was actually a pretty funny story. Because we got to Oahu, no idea whether we’re going to live on that Island or not. Decided not to, checked out the big Island, loved it. Then we didn’t have a place to live there.
Lauren: We didn’t know anyone.
Steven: We didn’t know anyone on that Island or anything like that. So you would think the natural thing to do would be like, okay, get a hotel for like a couple of weeks and figure out your life or whatever.
Lauren: They are still expensive on that Island.
Steven: Yeah, hotels are expensive. Again, we were used to, we spend $20,000 a year on our whole life. So that seems like a lot of money, we’re not going to do that. So we got a rental car, a Nissan Versa Note, it’s like a hatchback type thing. So bottom line is, it’s big enough to sleep in.
Lauren: Every couple of days we would get a hotel room. But we got the difference by staying in the car because it was a lot cheaper that way and you could explore a little bit easier too.
Steven: Yeah. So we slept in the back of a rental car while we frantically searched for an apartment to rent and a car to buy. So eventually we found an apartment that was two bedrooms, which was much bigger than we needed. We didn’t really want a two bedroom, but it was really cheap. It was like I think 965 a month, something like that and it was literally across the street from the beach.
Steven: You could hear waves crashing from the front door, which was pretty crazy. So we snapped that up as fast as possible and then we ended up buying a used car, a little Mazda Miata. It was a 2000 and we paid 4,500 bucks for that. When we left the Island months later, we sold that thing for 5,600 bucks. So we made $1,100 on a used car.
Lauren: That’s our positive.
Mindy: I was going to say there is your networth uptag.
Steven: That’s our networth uptake right there. Yeah, that’s right.
Scott: So is that the very least you have $965 rent and you’ve got to eat, so how are you cashflowing the rest of this while you’re there?
Lauren: Before we left town, Steven was working as a public school teacher. So there wasn’t a lot of flexibility in his position. But with my company, I was working for a small firm and I told them pretty well in advance about our plans. I said, there’s a lot that I do day to day that can be done remotely. If you’d like me to continue to do any of my responsibilities in Hawaii, I will make that work.
Lauren: I’ll wake up, it’s five hours of difference between the two. So I’ll wake up whenever you need me to and do the work, it’s totally fine. I’m doing whatever I want so I can do that. That actually worked out and I did maybe about 10 hours a week of work for them while we were on the Island as a contractor. Then we booked some photography gigs, Steven did pick up some private tutoring clients.
Steven: Yeah. So sometimes the teacher, I couldn’t transition my job to remote, that’s not really a thing. But that’s when I got into private tutoring. I had a couple of clients that I was already working with remotely via Skype and so yeah, I just transitioned that and picked up a couple more. I even tutored some people locally and basically did that maybe 10 hours a week. So between those two things, that totally cashflowed at our expenses. I think our total expenses on the Island while we were living in Hawaii was about 1800 a month for everything combined.
Lauren: We also ate a lot of rice to keep costs [inaudible 00:25:27].
Steven: We did a lot of it. We bought like a, I don’t even know, 20 or 30 pound bag of rice-
Steven: … on day one at Costco and we did actually almost finish the whole thing by the time we left.
Mindy: Were you able to save anything in Hawaii or did you just come out net zero?
Steven: We mainly focus on is our total net worth and our total net worth change was about plus a $1000 and that includes everything altogether. In terms of investments, just to be clear on that, because you’d think woah, is some of that made up by just the market going up while you’re there? I think our portfolio return was about negative one percent while we were in Hawaii. So we actually lost money on our investments over there. So it was really legitimately just our 10 hours a week of work cashflow are $1,800 a month in expenses.
Lauren: Yeah, that was 2015 from probably June, July through December. I think we left like the beginning of January, 2016 from Hawaii.
Mindy: You got to live in Hawaii.
Steven: Yeah, it was really fun. It was cool and we have a lot of pictures up on our blog from that and stuff too.
Scott: In terms of mentally getting ready to leave your job and go to Hawaii and just see what was going on for six months, how important was the grind that you had put in for the two years previous to that? Was that really what gave you the confidence to go ahead and make the trip? Do you think you would have been able to, that you could have just done it without ever going through that in the first place or?
Steven: I think the answer is yes and yes. Like do I think we could have done it with $0 million in the bank? Not zero, but let’s say we had $10,000 instead of $100,000. Yes, I think we definitely could have done it. Our upfront costs were a $4,500 car and one month of rent or whatever. So would we have felt comfortable doing that or responsible in any way doing that? No, I don’t think so at all.
Steven: So I think that knowing that we had set financial goals for ourselves ahead of time and more than accomplished them and done really well for the previous two years, felt like wow. We put in some work, we’re making very fast progress toward financial independence made us feel like, hey, this is not an irresponsible thing for us to do and there’s really no way to fail because even if you multiply, even if you call it $2,000 a month times six months, we could have paid for the whole entire trip out of pocket even if we made $0 million while we were there. So it felt completely safe and doable the whole entire time and I credit that entirely to the savings and stuff we put in beforehand. So I would not have wanted to do it any other way. But is it possible? Yes, it is definitely possible to do it.
Scott: Great answer.
Mindy: So what did you do when you returned to the mainland?
Steven: That was something that we talked about while we were there because we had a six month lease on that place across the beach and we talked about it a lot of like, what are we going to do next? What are those next steps look like and we love our college town, we love Gainesville. It’s pretty low cost of living place, our best friend lives there, it’s not too far from family.
Steven: Our family’s all in the Tampa Bay area, so it’s about two and a half hours away. We were like, what if we went back to Gainesville? There’s obviously, there’s the college there, so there’s going to be opportunities for Steven to get tutoring stuff, teaching stuff, whatever. There’s a market. We decided like, why don’t we, let’s go back to work. I don’t feel like we’re done.
Steven: We could probably keep living this lifestyle and never get further ahead than we are today. We could work harder but it’s a little bit more difficult in Hawaii. There’s not a ton of opportunities in the fields that we specialize in. So let’s move back to the mainland. Let’s figure out how to do that and get right back into it. We actually ended up looking for houses and we bought a condo in Gainesville about two miles from the university really close, easy to bike too.
Steven: Yeah, we paid $71,000 for a three two condo in Gainesville a few years ago.
Mindy: You had a three bedroom condo and you paid $71,000 for it?
Lauren: To be fair, we have high condo fees.
Steven: Gainesville is a very affordable place to live. I think our condo now is worth a little over $100,000 a few years later. So definitely a little more expensive now. Everything’s been going up but yeah, it’s a very affordable place to live. That’s one of the main reasons that we decided, hey, that would be a good place to head back to because I think we were both still very sold on the idea of financial independence.
Steven: We weren’t going to just call it quits and say like, oh, we have $100,000 let’s just-
Lauren: Be beach foams.
Steven: live paycheck to paycheck and be beach foams for the rest of our lives. So I think we came back from that trip really re-energized and we had enough money to buy a house for cash and that’s what we did. So our expenses dipped even lower because of that. Then we both ended up landing jobs that paid more than we were making before. So I actually started out just continuing that private tutoring thing that I was doing in Hawaii and instead I just went really hard on it.
Steven: I made business cards. I went and stood outside classes at the university of Florida, handed out cards to every single person and built up this Rolodex of like tons and tons of tutoring clients and stuff. I made that a 40 plus hour a week job. Lauren landed a full-time job with a digital marketing company in town. So we were working full-time and then I ended up getting picked up by a private tutoring company that I still work for today actually. So we were able to save at a significantly faster rate for the next three years or so
Lauren: Then we kind of felt a little burned out again.
Steven: I guess we stayed for about two and a half, something like that years.
Scott: When you say significantly faster, are you saying significantly faster than prior to when you, your trip to Hawaii?
Steven: Yeah. Before Hawaii, I was a public school teacher and Lauren was making roughly the same money and now we found ourselves increasing our incomes and so.
Lauren: Decreasing our costs.
Steven: We decreased our expenses.
Lauren: Because we bought the condo.
Steven: Because we had a house paid in cash. We didn’t really experience any lifestyle inflation and we moved to a very low cost of living area and I continued to ride my bike to work. We shared one car and did the whole same deal over again with higher incomes and lower expenses.
Lauren: So it was very fast tracks.
Steven: Very fast track to financial independence, yeah.
Mindy: Do you do anything with those extra two bedrooms? You said that the two bedroom in Hawaii was too much space and then you came and bought more space.
Steven: Yeah. I’m glad you brought that up. Honestly…
Lauren: We felt that we were told.
Mindy: I’m not judging, I’m just…
Lauren: Well, when you’re shopping for a house, we ended up actually getting a realtor because it was difficult to get in contact on our own with realtors to go see houses and things like that. We found it actually a little challenging more so than I thought it should be. But everyone always tells you like, oh, you want more space. If you have guest rooms people will come and visit you and that’s not necessarily true. At least not as much as you would think, like not worth the extra space and cost involved with having a larger place. But we did in fact, we had extra space and we were like why don’t we rent this extra space? We actually rented out the room to two different friends at two different times throughout that two and a half year span.
Steven: So we were able to turn one of those rooms basically into an extra 500 bucks a month for some of that time. We actually didn’t rent it out all the time and currently nobody’s living there. We still live in the same condo and it’s just us and the place is way too big for us and we never ever set foot in one of the rooms. The other one’s used as an office, that’s probably unnecessary too. But the truth is we just got the place so cheap that it was like, why not? Like it’s not that big of a deal.
Lauren: Then we could tell people that they can come visit us because we’ve got the extra room. That’s what the whole, that’s what they tell you anyway.
Steven: But definitely buying a place that’s bigger than you need and renting out a bedroom is a big boon to your finances. Even if we had like a 30-year-mortgage on that place, just the rent from one room could probably pay that mortgage based on how cheap it was.
Scott: So over this three year period, you guys are earning more income, you are somewhat partially offsetting your housing expense for some of the time, at least. What do you do with the money at that point? Do you continue to take your match? Do you max out your 401k? What’s your strategy for asset allocation?
Steven: Yeah, so my job does not offer any benefits of any kind. No healthcare, no 401k, none of that stuff. Lauren’s did offer like a normal retirement plan and healthcare and stuff like that. So she again just grabbed the full match on her retirement plan. Then we continued every single year without skipping a beat to max out to IRAs.
Steven: We did end up switching to a traditional IRA at some point because it was more advantageous tax wise. Well, we maxed out our IRAs, two IRAs every year. Actually just this year we got to max out an HSA for the first time because we had to buy a private health plan which not really a good thing but extra tax advantages. Then all the extra money just went into a taxable brokerage account in Vanguard index funds. Pretty simple approach, same deal that we’ve always done and that’s worked out really well for us.
Scott: Awesome. It sounds like there was another milestone about two and a half years into this cycle. Is that right? So can you walk us through that change?
Lauren: Yeah, so as we kind of alluded to, we go through these patterns where we’re working really hard, saving hard. We also were still doing our photography business in this new full-time higher earning gigs that we were in. So a couple of years in and you’re again feeling a little like, all right, what are we doing? Why are we doing this? It’s a lot. Maybe we need a break, come back renewed again, feel refreshed. So we’re looking at it like, Hawaii worked out really well.
Lauren: What could we do? We have this house so we don’t, we’re not going to just like sell it right now. What can we do that would make sense? We’d been to some national parks just in general and traveling in Hawaii and we were like, it might be nice. How many are there? Can we do a trip where maybe we went to all of them? So we did a bit of research looking at Google maps.
Lauren: They’re 61 parks, how spread out are they, how much could we do and how much time could Steven step away from his job? Or I step away from my job. Will we tell our employers. So we had this checklist of things that whether we fell into or not in Hawaii, we knew we should figure out for our next adventure. So we settled into this. I think it could take six to eight ish months to do all the parks on the schedule that we would like and then how do we make that work?
Lauren: So that’s what we did. We went to all 61 national parks in seven months and there are a lot of things that went into that to make it work. But that was, the reason being is we were, again, kind of burned out and ready for another break, another fun experience [inaudible 00:36:25].
Steven: We have the same goals, yeah to try to work out a way to pay for that trip in its entirety while on the trip without really feeling like we were working. So yeah, that’s what we did.
Mindy: What did that look like? What did you do during the tour?
Steven: So first off, just to keep expenses super low on that trip because that’s part of paying for it is you say, well where am I going to stay? I’m going to be in a different town practically every night, we’re going to 61 different national parks and there are all kinds of different places, so how can we keep the expenses low? That’s really the first question. So to keep the expenses low, main thing we did was we bought a little tiny van, a Nissan NV 200 and we put a bed in the back of it really not fancy, basically.
Lauren: Just big enough in the back for this full size bed like literally corner to corner.
Steven: We basically built a wooden platform in the back and threw a bed on top of that. That takes up all the space. It’s not like a proper RV-
Lauren: You can’t stand up.
Steven: … or anything like that but it’s enough to sleep in. So we slept in that van for probably six out of the seven months in total. So that probably saved us $15,000 in hotels or something like that.
Lauren: We tried to stay in free locations too. We didn’t necessarily camp in camp grounds because those usually carry a 20 to $30 cost to rent that space out. We often were at travel centers or Walmart parking lots to keep the accommodation costs low.
Steven: So we did the trip, super cheap in a lot of different ways. One of the ways it was really cheap is that you don’t pay for entertainment when you’re traveling around to national parks. You buy one $80 national parks pass and that’s all the entertainment you really need. You’re not feeling the need to do anything else that’s expensive or whatever. So that was pretty cool is that you don’t really have to spend anything on entertainment. It’s just like gas and travel and food and stuff like that and we slept in the back of the van. So that’s how we kept the expenses low.
Steven: Then in terms of income, like how did we, still there are significant expenses. So how do we pay for all those expenses? Again, we tried the same deal. So this time we both had jobs that we both felt at least had some components so it could be remotely. Lauren’s entire job practically can be done remotely. Mine, some of it could be done remotely and others couldn’t.
Steven: So we both gave our employers probably about six months of notice before we were going to leave on this trip. So we already had it in our minds like we’re in a financially good place. If they say no, we’re just going to quit the jobs, it’s not a big deal. But we gave them like six months of notice and said, hey, we’re going to go on this trip and if you’d like, we could work part-time for you while we’re on the road and maybe even come back full-time afterward. So would you be game for that? Like what do you think? So my boss was into it, he was like, “Yeah, let’s do that. Sounds good.”
Steven: So we worked out a deal and I had about 10 hours a week again of work to do on the road that could all be done remotely. Lauren got into a conversation with her employer about it. They didn’t say no but ultimately it came down to they wanted to cut her pay, her rate of pay for the fact that she would be remote instead of in person and she just didn’t really feel like that was a good deal.
Steven: So she actually declined that offer and she quit the job. Then on the road, halfway through, we started our blog that ended up not making any money while we were on the road obviously in its infancy but it was fun to do. Lauren picked up a freelance gig doing marketing for a small nonprofit. So that brought in a little extra income as well.
Lauren: And a few other things that I picked up along the way since then but… We also the house.
Steven: Oh yeah, that’s true. So we have this condo that’s paid for and it’s just sitting there. So we moved all our stuff out of it into a friend’s loft and we rented that thing out on a seven month lease for our seven months trip.
Lauren: That story’s interesting though.
Steven: Yeah, that’s true actually. So you guys like real estate, so I’ll tell you a little bit about that. We had never been landlords or done really any kind of real estate investing type of stuff.
Lauren: Other than our friends living in our, one of our rooms.
Steven: Well, that’s true. Yeah, I guess if you count that. We were new to this but we’re very like do it yourself being about a lot of stuff. So we said, all right, well we’re going to try this landlord thing like, oh, on our own no help. We’re going to list the condo on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. They’re free, even no advertising, see what happens, let’s do this.
Steven: So we listed them up, had plenty of bites, but no one that wanted the period of lease that we wanted. Obviously seven months is like an odd term. Then people who were qualified to actually rent the place. So we showed it to a bunch of people, not a lot of success, it was discouraging.
Lauren: They all want to move in that day or they wanted to live in it forever and we were like, we’re probably coming back so no.
Steven: We wanted to be honest with people and tell them, listen, yeah we probably are coming back here so I don’t want to tell you, you can live here for the rest of your life with your family or whatever. So we were kind of discouraged. We couldn’t find a place or a renter. So on the very last day like the day we were-
Lauren: The last weekend I think.
Steven: … Yeah, I think it was the night before we left for our road trip. I dropped off the keys to our condo with a property management company and we were just going to take the 10 plus percent hit on all that and let somebody else handle it. Maybe it would be vacant for a month and who knows, but whatever it is.
Lauren: Something is better than nothing.
Steven: Something is better than nothing. So we dropped the four keys with a property management company and then one more guy called us the night before we left on our trip and was like, will you show me the place? So I was like, yeah sure, I’ll show you the place. We were still there, it was empty. Then he turned out to be a good lead and we actually rented to him, drove back the next day, took our keys back from the property management company and gave them to this guy, paid zero fees.
Steven: He paid ahead of time every single month and left the place in decent enough shape when we came back. Honestly it was a very good landlording experience. I don’t want to say that’s what’s going to happen every time we ever try this in the future but we had a really lucky and good experience with that and he rented it for exactly seven months and paid everything on time. So that was pretty cool.
Lauren: He only called us once and it was to have the shelving reinstalled in the closet-
Steven: For 50 bucks.
Lauren: … had fallen or something.
Steven: So the expenses were very low on that.
Mindy: Did you screen this tenant? Did you run his background and do a credit check and all of that?
Steven: Yes, we did. Very quickly in the middle of the night
Lauren: Well, we had done some screening of the property.
Steven: Yeah, that’s true. We knew how to do it because we try…
Lauren: We had some idea of what we wanted to know about potential tenants.
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Scott: Going back to your trip in and cash flow again, can you give us a brief rundown of what the expenses were? You said that there were still some significant expenses and then Mindy and I both have the same question here I think, which is how did you get internet in these national parks to use do jobs remotely?
Steven: Yeah, so regarding the expenses, the national parks trip was very, very expensive for us. It is not what I would call a super frugal vacation or whatever. So the total trip for seven months of living, and this includes everything we paid for, it includes private health insurance, it includes the gas, the depreciation on the car, our cell phones our hosting for our blog. It includes every single thing we paid for included every penny of expenses. But the total came to about $37,000 for seven months, which obviously compared to living on 20K a year, that’s a crazy amount of money for us.
Steven: But to put that in context though, if you look at an average middle class family, spending $37,000 in seven months equates to how much in 12 months? Like 50 or 60K in 12 months. That’s still like compared to the typical middle class family, it’s actually very doable, right? Comparing those numbers, just to put it in context but it was a lot of money for us.
Lauren: It also included some of the most expensive type of travel that you can do. In Alaska for example, there are eight national parks. Five of them are not on the road system. You have to charter your own plane to take just you into the national park. So you’re buying a pilot in a plane for a few hours and it’s very expensive and that’s just Alaska. We had to go to American Samoa, Hawaii, US Virgin islands, those flights were all pretty expensive. If you take out those flights…
Steven: You can’t sleep in the van there, you have no van. So these are expensive hotels in exotic places. So the fact that we were absolutely insistent on reaching a goal of doing all 61 national parks cost us dearly like that was a huge amount of money.
Lauren: We paid for that.
Steven: I don’t regret that at all but if you want to do the cheaper version of this trip-
Lauren: [inaudible 00:47:12].
Steven: … you would just go to everything that you can get to in the van and sleep in the van and the trip is much cheaper.
Lauren: We did the costs on that actually it was how much percent?
Steven: We did. It was 41 percent less money to skip the I think eight most-
Steven: Twelve, [inaudible 00:47:27] it’s five in Alaska and three more, eight most expensive national parks. Just skip the eight most expensive national parks out of 61 reduces the total cost of the trip by 41 percent. I’ll try not to quote too many numbers because we have this whole cost breakdown on our blog.
Lauren: Grasp everything.
Steven: It’s really detailed and it’s better to look there than to listen to my memory or either one of our memories. But yes, you could do this trip a lot cheaper if you wanted to.
Scott: How awesome, were the parks you had to fly to get to?
Steven: They were awesome.
Lauren: Really cool.
Steven: Really cool. Yeah.
Lauren: You don’t see like an after volcano, like just here in mainland.
Steven: Yeah, absolutely. American Samoa is like practically like a foreign country. It’s technically part of the United States but it’s just-
Lauren: [inaudible 00:48:10].
Steven: it’s completely different than…
Lauren: Ninety eight percent native population I think, something like that.
Steven: Yeah, it’s a totally different culture and you got to really just see what life is like completely somewhere else didn’t feel like the United States at all. So that was just totally unique and different. That place is twice as far from California as Hawaii is. So it’s like practically across the globe. It’s in the Southern hemisphere.
Lauren: It’s closer to Australia and New Zealand than it is to us.
Steven: Yeah. So it was definitely worth it. Those experiences were awesome but if you’re looking at this and saying, how could I do it on a smaller budget? You absolutely can. You just have to skip those places that require these crazy flights and hotel stays and rental cars and whatever else.
Lauren: We did have to get some hotels, some of the times because of weather occurrences. So we left for this trip in January. We’re from Florida, so we don’t know anything about the winter and we started driving and winter happens a lot and it stays there. Just hangs around and there’s snow and ice and if it’s below like 25 degrees, it’s a little too cold to sleep in the van. So there were a few nights during the winter where we just had to get a hotel room. The van doors are like frozen shut. We couldn’t like, it wasn’t doable.
Steven: One night I literally could not access the van because it was frozen shut.
Lauren: It’s nice like those that we were like, we’ll get a cheap hotel room.
Scott: Why didn’t you just start this trip in April?
Lauren: Part of it was for Steven’s job, so he had to be back for the fall semester because of the way the university runs.
Scott: I see.
Lauren: So we left in January with the seven months and then by the time we got back to the South East, it was July, just really hot. Also, not comfortable for the sleep in the van. So there was a little bit, if we had all the time in the world, we could have made it where we never had to get a hotel room. But due to the time constraints and because we were being completist about it, there are a lot more costs
Scott: That’s great.
Steven: Regarding cashflow in the trip and doing work while on the road and stuff.
Lauren: We did [inaudible 00:50:14].
Steven: I think we definitely learned something on this trip about ourselves and about work in general, which is, it’s really easy when you’re at home working 40 or 50 hours a week to get burned out very quickly. As you can see for us, we’re getting burned out like roughly every two years of work. So we’re going hard, but while we were on this trip, we’re actively doing really fun outdoor stuff every single day and getting exercise and feeding in wide open spaces and all that, every single day.
Steven: So you might think, do you get tired of that? The answer is yes, you do get tired of that to some extent. So what we ended up doing was almost an inverted work schedule where instead of five days of work and two days off, it was five days of fun and one to two days every week sitting in a Starbucks in a city with accommodations and stuff and just working in eight hour a day at a computer or whatever. What we found though was that was not miserable at all. It was actually…
Lauren: Felt really good to be productive.
Steven: Yeah, it was fun to say I’m sitting down, I’m earning money, I’m getting some work done, I’m having a rest, I’m grabbing a cup of coffee and this feels good. My job actually feels good again. So this lifestyle it could have been indefinite and actually that, we’re like toying with the idea right now.
Lauren: [inaudible 00:51:38].
Steven: Why don’t we do that all the time? It just feels good. We’re not the type of people who want to fully retire, like not do any work or any money for the rest of our lives.
Lauren: [inaudible 00:51:48].
Steven: But if we can not touch our investments whatsoever, just working 10 hours a week and it feels good and it’s fun to do that work and it keeps your life interesting a little bit with variety, why not do that? So we’re starting to look at that idea actually like for next year maybe.
Scott: That’s awesome. So you finished this trip and it’s amazing and you go, you cash flow in it and you’ve discovered all these things about yourself. What happens following that?
Lauren: We came back. Steven had worked out with his boss, part of the negotiations for him being on the road was he would come back full-time in the fall. So that was the plan. For me it was a little open-ended. I mentioned previously that I had picked up a few different gigs at this point and it’s still pretty part time work in terms of the amount of work that I’m doing. But for a couple of different companies doing freelance stuff and then running the blog and then Steven being full-time.
Lauren: So my schedule was a lot more free but Steven’s wasn’t. For him, he got right back into that five days a week working two days a week off. We were like, this isn’t as fun especially with only one of us being more flexible than the other and what are we doing? Actually Steven just ended up negotiating for this year to have a more flexible schedule and he’s now part-time starting in January.
Lauren: But when we came back on the trip, we thought it’s going to be just like Hawaii. We’re going to come back to our home and we’re going to get right back to the grind. But what we found on the trip that worked so well was we didn’t touch any of our investments. They kept growing and we cashflowed the trip and we were still saving money somehow maybe not on the trip but getting back.
Steven: When we say we cashflowed this trip, honestly the rental income from our house plus the work that we did paid for the full $37,000 of the trip. But on top of that, the market has been significantly up during that period. Our nest egg is a lot bigger than it was back when we did the Hawaii trip. So we actually increased our networth by a lot while we were on the national parks trip.
Steven: So I think part of it is we came back from that and I went back to full-time work and we both were just asking ourselves like, why exactly are we doing that? We’re actually in a very good financial position now and it’s like, should we slow down on saving a little bit? Do we really need to hit like the exact calculated financial independence official number or should we slow down, taper off a little bit and…
Lauren: Enjoy what we’ve built so far. We don’t have to be going to every national park. We could be doing whatever we want. We could be visiting family more. We could be going finding out which beach in Florida is the best because I don’t know the answer to that. Little things like that, that we could just enjoy more of the day to day as opposed to why we buckling back down and working so hard again when we don’t really need to.
Steven: So bottom line is I think in 2020 and onward we’re probably both indefinitely part-time employees for conceivably forever from this point forward.
Mindy: So as a part time employee, can you still contribute to your 401k’s, can you… Did you have switch over?
Steven: I don’t have any benefits at my job and I never have had any benefits at my job. So there’s no health insurance, there’s no 401k, there’s none of that to worry about anyway. I was responsible for all of that on my own. Lauren, since she quit her job entirely before we went on the national parks trip, she has replaced that with like three or four different freelance gigs in addition to our blog as what she is doing sort of part time now.
Steven: So neither of us has access to any kind of 401k or any-
Lauren: No employer benefits.
Steven: … kind of employer benefits at all. So we’re paying for private health insurance out of pocket, which definitely has increased our living expenses and we’re just contributing to two IRAs and an HSA, maxing all those out every year. The rest goes into taxable brokerage account.
Mindy: Are you employed by this company or are you a contractor for the company?
Steven: Starting next year I’ll be a contractor. I have been an employee, a full-time employee, but with no benefits.
Mindy: Okay. Oh that stinks. So your next life is, how do I say this without sounding snotty, because I think it’s awesome? It’s like a cobbled together income streams. You’ve got multiple income streams.
Steven: Definitely yeah. In addition to three or four different freelance gigs that Lauren has, we have our photography business, we have my contract work for my company, and then we also have this investment portfolio that’s significant in size now. Actually is turning out to be a real source of income that that counts for something versus we are in college, it’s like, oh we made $10 this year on investments.
Lauren: Just out.
Scott: When did you get back from the national park trip? What year?
Lauren: This year August. So this year we did the trip from January to August.
Scott: You finished the trip and then now you’re looking at the next thing already because, okay, sorry that that clears up some timeline.
Lauren: Yeah, it just happened and the experiences that we had are still very fresh and we’re trying to figure out how to capitalize on that. We had this great experience, we loved this work feeling fun and kind of fitting it into, fitting work into your schedule instead of fitting your schedule around work.
Steven: Yeah, I think we’re trying to hit that sweet spot of like how many hours of work is a fun amount of hours of work and just sticking with that forever.
Lauren: While still covering expenses.
Mindy: I like what you just said. We’re fitting work into our schedule instead of fitting our schedule around work. Back on, I think it was episode 11, Joel from FI180 said, what’s the worst that could happen? My worst case scenario was I have to go back and get a job.
Steven: Exactly, yeah. That’s exactly how we feel because I’m 29, Lauren’s 30 we have time ahead of us. So everyone always says like, what will you do if the market crashes and you lose all your money and all this and the worst case, crazy scenarios. It’s like, well then in that case we won’t be any worse off than most other 29 and 30-year-olds really. We’ll just go back to work and do what we have to do. It’s okay.
Mindy: What are the odds that all of your investments will suddenly plummet to zero?
Steven: Of course, astronomically low. Especially since we have never taken any kind of leveraged position. So we don’t have a mortgage, we don’t have investment properties with mortgages, we don’t have debt. If you have zero leverage in your portfolio and the market crashes, I feel like worst case scenario is may be minus 50 percent something like that.
Lauren: You just wait it out.
Mindy: Then, yeah, you don’t need these retirement accounts until you’re retired and you just said you’re 29 and 30 so I don’t like the word cobbled together, but it’s kind of cobbled together. We’ve created the life that we want. You enjoy tutoring some.
Steven: Exactly. Some, that’s exactly it. I chose this profession because I love doing it. I really do love teaching physics but I don’t want to be doing that 40 and 50 hours a week.
Mindy: I would assume that there’s an opportunity for extra work around midterms and finals. If somebody needed some extra physics help right at the end, oh sure, I can work 20 hours this week instead of 10.
Steven: So that’s the other thing that I learned. When we first came back from Hawaii, I actually didn’t have a job. I cobbled together my own full-time job with about 40 hours a week of private tutoring clients just one-on-one then I gathered myself handing out business cards and stuff. What I learned during that time was very empowering, which is at any moment if I need extra income, I can go back to that. I can go hand out some business cards outside after everyone got done taking a big exam and I can gather together a whole bunch of tutoring clients and make 60 bucks an hour or whatever it may be.
Lauren: And that you can turn that faucet of clients on and off too.
Steven: Yeah, you can take one client or 10. It is completely variable. So finding a skill that’s able to be dialed to any specific work amount that you want, like tutoring is a really good example of that, it’s really valuable. I’d encourage people to look at freelance gigs that are scalable I guess, like scale back, scale forward, however much income you need you just take on that much work.
Scott: I have a different type of question with this last one. When you started out in your careers, you’re both making $80,000 a year combined plus the side hustles. Do you ever think back to some of the peers that you were working with at that time and the different choices that you made there and like what do you think the reason is that your outcome is the rare outcome and maybe other people are not able to accumulate net worth and not able to enjoy lots of the lifestyle, the crazy lifestyle adventures that you guys have had?
Steven: That’s a great question and it’s a question that we’re very interested in answering because we really do want to help other people do the same thing. As an educator, I think my automatic answer is education. Our K-12 education system really doesn’t talk at all about finances or taxes or investments or anything like that. I think it’s a major, major problem.
Steven: Some of it is education, some of it is probably marketing. We just live in a consumerist culture where you’re constantly being bombarded with perfectly tuned psychological advertisements to get you to buy as much stuff as possible and the biggest house you can possibly buy and as many cars as you can afford to have in your driveway and all that stuff. So I think our society is very much set up to make you consume as much as possible.
Steven: So the ideas behind financial independence are rare in our society. So I don’t think it’s that our outcome is rare because it’s almost impossible to attain or anything like that, I think it’s rare because the ideas behind those outcomes are very rare to come by. So that’s a huge reason why we started our blog and why we want to get these ideas out to as many people as possible. Is just to say like, hey, these ideas changed our life and we hope that at least some of these ideas, maybe not all of them apply to everybody, but at least some of these ideas can change your life too.
Lauren: I think a big part of that too is even if they have been exposed to certain good measures that they should be taking in their lives financially, that they don’t necessarily believe that it’s worth it. Like, so what if I save for retirement? What does that even mean? They can’t really quantify why they should be doing the things that they’re doing. I think that’s part of the reason that we try to lead with the fun stuff that we’ve done is because I think it helps give people more of a reason. Why should you do this?
Lauren: Well, because it can be really fun and you can do the things that you want to do. It’s not just buckle down and save really hard and deprive yourself of all the fun stuff. No, you can have fun along the way. I think that’s a really big part of what we try to, especially when we talk to our friends but on our blog too, is convincing people that it’s worth the slight effort that it might feel like in the beginning.
Steven: Yeah. That’s honestly the hidden secret behind our story I think is we tell these stories about, we get people to listen to us by saying we went to all 61 national parks, it’s so cool. We lived in Hawaii for six months, you should listen to us. Then the real message we’re trying to get across secretly is all of this is only possible through making sometimes tough but overall definitely worth it financial choices
Lauren: And that you can do it too.
Scott: I think also part of that is really that grind, right? You used that word several times to describe the story but that two year period where you spent 18 to $24,000 and earned $80,000, it kind of burns out and it was kind of hard after a while is I think maybe the price of admission into this lifestyle. I think almost everybody that we’ve had on the show that’s in kind of this age bracket that you guys and I myself are in and are experiencing this kind of [inaudible 01:04:22] lifestyle has paid that price in some form or other. Whether it’s on the income or expense or both or whatever side.
Steven: Yeah, I definitely think the working full-time and selling your time part is really the price that you pay. I would try to emphasize to people that once you get into it and once you realize the why behind what you’re doing, the keeping your expenses low part turns out not to be a price that you pay. It turns out not at least for us, to be something that we dread or regret or have to take a break from. So repeatedly we keep saying, well we work for two years full-time and then we really felt like we needed a break.
Steven: What we didn’t need a break from was the low expenses part. We found that, like for me, just something as simple as like riding my bike to work. At first, it’s like really after ride a bike to work every day that seems like a huge sacrifice and I’m going to do that indefinitely for the rest of my life or whatever. Then I tried it and I’m like, okay, getting exercise, burning calories every day, keeping my heart healthy.
Steven: I am way more awake when I get to work and added benefit, I’m getting rich because of it. A lot of the things that you find yourself cutting back on, make you reevaluate what’s important in life. It turns out the cutting your expenses part, I think turns out not to be a sacrifice at all. It’s really the selling your time part that I think is the main sacrifice.
Mindy: Well, and I think that your peers are also burned out after two years but the choices that they make don’t allow them to take a six month break to Hawaii. So is it worth it to, and I know this sounds super judgy and it’s my podcast so I can be judgy. Is it worth it to have the new car and the fancy clothes and go out to dinner every night and all of that when you can’t take like your, their break is a one week vacation.
Mindy: Earlier you said that some people take a one or two week vacation honeymoon. I don’t know a lot of people that took a two week honeymoon. I know a lot of people that took a one-week honeymoon. Because you don’t have that kind of time, you can’t take two whole weeks off of work in a row Steven.
Steven: Yeah, you’re right. My bad. I think regardless of what choices other people decide to make, everybody is different. They get to make whatever choices they want. At least everyone should consider the question of, am I doing this because it’s what everyone else around me is doing or am I doing this because these things are what I really value and really want in life? If you come to a different conclusion than me about what you really value in life, that’s okay. It’s not a big deal. But you should at least consider the question, consider the alternative. So that’s what we’re trying to bring to the table is, what are the alternatives to what everybody else is doing?
Scott: I think it’s fantastic. Great advice. I think we understand why we don’t, the four of us understand why everyone isn’t going down that path. Many people seem to be just wandering, not saving, investing, working long hours and not really having defined these things and answer those questions and then go out and make it happen. So you guys have done [inaudible 01:07:40] it looks like.
Mindy: One of the hardest parts of my life is not preaching to people that I see making what I consider mistakes in their finances. It was a sign of maturity when I finally said, I’m not the boss of the world be what you want to be. I just want to show people, you can do it. Whatever fixed income is in your life that you can’t get over. Things like healthcare issues, I know somebody who’s a diabetic and their costs are $11,000 a year.
Mindy: That’s a fixed cost forever. So that’s just part of your expenses. But that doesn’t mean you can’t become financially independent. But you have to make the steps. You have to take the steps to become financially independent. I hear a lot of people saying, oh, well you should just increase your income instead of reducing your expenses.
Mindy: Well, okay, that’s a great choice. It’s not always available for everybody although I think that a lot that you can do, side gigs and things like that. But everybody I know can reduce their expenses. Everybody I know, including me has some pretty not necessary expenses in their balance sheet. So when you live on less you have to do less to have the same lifestyle. I just bring that home.
Lauren: I feel like one of the things too that doesn’t get talked about a lot, even in like the financial independence community there’s a lot of focus on reaching this end goal but your number but I think that there’s something to be said for temporary measures. People want to maybe move to a particular city and live there because they feel they identify with it. That’s where they want to be.
Lauren: Well, if you can’t afford to live there right now, what if you scale back? You don’t have to live in Kansas forever but you could live there maybe two years in a low cost of living area. Get your stuff together and figure it out. Figure out a way to make that work. Another part of our messaging too is for us getting started, right after college we got into personal finance.
Lauren: We didn’t want to make any missteps because we both have seen how that can severely mess you up down the road if you just make a couple mistakes here and there with your finances, how it can snowball as you get older. So we were really excited to figure out the right steps. The steps that we wanted to take that made sense for us. Starting young really helped. Right out of college we got to it and it was easier then too because our line for acceptability, like what is good, our furniture was fine.
Lauren: We didn’t need $7,000 kitchen table that’s made of Oak. We don’t need that, we don’t want that and we can’t afford that. That helps if you have that line lower and you keep it low and that’s part of what has been successful for us. I think reaching young people who are open and interested in getting their stuff together, figuring it out. No one wants to work forever, I don’t think. Even if they’re passionate about something, at some point you’re going to be 50 years old and saying like, is it over? Can I take a break?
Scott: Makes perfect sense to me. Should we move on to the famous four?
Mindy: Okay. It is now time for the famous four questions. This is the same four questions we ask of all of our guests. Lauren and Steven, are you ready?
Mindy: Okay. You can answer these individually too. You don’t have to come to a consensus on, what is your favorite finance book? You can each have your own.
Steven: We gave it some time before.
Lauren: Yeah. I think we would say a Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins.
Mindy: Nice. He was over last night. I had Friendsgiving last night and he’s in town visiting.
Steven: That’s cool.
Lauren: That’s awesome.
Scott: It’s great book. [inaudible 01:11:35]. Everyone should get that book and everyone should listen to the audio book because he has a very soothing voice. All right. What was your biggest money mistake?
Steven: Biggest money mistake, ironically, I think our biggest money mistake was seeing a financial advisor. So when we lived in California right out of college, while I was in grad school we had just started to really save. We had like $10,000 saved up at one point and we said we know what we’re supposed to do with this. We’re supposed to invest this money.
Steven: So we don’t know anything about investing, so let’s go down to our bank, Chase bank, let’s go see an investment advisor and see what they have to say. This guy sold us into this actively managed bond fund that had a huge load fee on it and a high expense ratio. I’m not even sure why we were in a bond fund at age 22.
Mindy: Because it paid him a lot of money.
Steven: Yeah, no, that is the answer. I guess I am sure why and it did pay him a lot of money and it didn’t perform well. Even if it did perform well, it would have been still the wrong thing without that prior knowledge. So yeah, that was our biggest mistake I think. It didn’t cost us that much in the long run.
Steven: We were only investing $10,000 and of course you can sell those shares down the road, which we did and buy the right thing. So it didn’t cost us that much money but it just felt like a big mistake because I felt like we put our trust in someone and-
Lauren: [inaudible 01:13:10] supposed to know.
Steven: … Yeah, I don’t know, I just felt bad. So that’s what I would consider our biggest financial mistake.
Scott: If you’re listening, you’re not saying necessarily that the biggest mistake was seeing a financial advisor but I think it was probably seeing a financial advisor that was not a fee-only financial advisor.
Steven: I definitely think there’s advantage to seeing one that is a flat rate fee type of situation where they’re paid to give advice, not paid to sell you into a specific type of fun. I definitely think there’s some advantage there. We ended up not ever doing that. We did our own research and reading, but yeah, I definitely think that’s the better path to go if you’re going to see a financial advisor. I’m sure there’s tons of really good financial advisors out there.
Lauren: We’re not dissing the profession. We’re just saying.
Steven: In some way-
Mindy: That particular guy.
Steven: … we kind of, our financial advisors were telling people financial advice but so we’re definitely not saying you’re bad if you’re a financial advisor. But yeah, the whole commission-based financial and investing advice industry, I think is a flawed system fundamentally. I don’t think it makes sense.
Scott: It’s a dying breed as well.
Mindy: I hope so because commission-based is not acting in your client’s best interests. You’re acting in your own best interest and that’s kind of douchey. So sorry, but it is. So on episode 41 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, we interviewed Kyle Mast who was unbelievable. He dropped so much information about fee-based financial advisors.
Mindy: He gave you a place to go look for a financial advisor, the XY planning network and I want to say that’s xyplanning.com. Then he came back again in episode 84 to give advice for people who aren’t necessarily early retirees. They’re more normal aged retirees. But his advice in that first episode was just, go to a financial adviser and show them what you have.
Mindy: Pay for an hour or two of advice and consultation. They can look at what you have, where you want to be and say, hey, here are some options. When they’re fee based, they’re not going to steer you into a on actively managed bond fund at age 22.
Steven: That definitely makes sense. I think it’s common sense when you think about it.
Lauren: We were just young.
Mindy: But how do you know?
Lauren: We didn’t know any better.
Mindy: If you don’t know then you don’t know. What I don’t know about physics, it fit into the Grand Canyon.
Scott: Not rocket science.
Mindy: I didn’t know anything about rocket science either. Okay. What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out besides don’t start investing in an actively managed fund we’re getting into?
Steven: Yeah, I think if you’re ever struggling to figure out where to get started, the place to get started is definitely in your mindset. So our main advice to people is to think about, when you think about money, think that money can buy two things for you. It can buy things, possessions or it can buy freedom.
Steven: So once you make the switch in your mind that money is able to purchase freedom, purchase your time back in the form of when you invest that money, it pays you forward for the rest of your life and you don’t have to go to work as a result of that. Once you realize that money can buy freedom, you start realizing that when you’re giving up something that you normally purchase, you’re not just giving it up for some weird theorial concept or whatever, you’re giving it up to buy something that you want more which is your own freedom and your own self-direction over your own days going forward.
Scott: Now it’s time for the most difficult question, the famous four. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?
Lauren: Okay, so recently I was at my friend’s daughter’s birthday party. Well, it was the two-year-old’s birthday party but they have a five-year-old as well and they both love dinosaurs. So I asked them, what do you call a sleeping dinosaur? A tyrannosnorus Rex.
Steven: That’s good for five-year-olds.
Lauren: Yeah, they really liked it.
Scott: Love it. Yes, and it’s great for listeners of BiggerPockets Money. Where can people find out more about you guys?
Lauren: Our website tripofalifestyle.com. We also have an Instagram, a Facebook, Twitter is a little bit different, it’s TOA Lifestyle because of character limits.
Steven: It is Trip of a Lifestyle on Facebook and Instagram.
Mindy: We will include links to all of the things we talked about here, including that article where you have all the graphs and all the charts and all the everything from your trip around the country at biggerpockets.com/money show 104. Lauren and Steven, thank you so much for sharing your story today. This was a lot of fun.
Steven: Yeah thank you.
Lauren: Thank you for having us. We really enjoyed chatting with you guys, it was great.
Mindy: Steven, when my daughter gets into physics in high school I’m calling you because I am not qualified to tutor her.
Steven: Sounds good, help me out.
Mindy: Awesome. Okay, thanks. Have a good day. We’ll talk to you soon.
Steven: You too.
Lauren: Thank you, bye.
Steven: Thank you, bye.
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