BiggerPockets Money Podcast

BiggerPockets Money Podcast 137: Engineering a Path to Financial Independence with Felicity Freedom

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Felicity’s story to financial independence is going to be similar to listeners of The BiggerPockets Money Podcast. She got a good paying job, spent less than she earned, intelligently invested in Index Funds and is now financially independent at the age of 30.

Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

Except, it’s NOT that easy, actually. She lives in America, and for much of that time, she lived in a very high cost of living city, Boston.

Felicity rented a 250 sq ft apartment with her husband, Fergus, while he was in graduate school – because he didn’t want to live above his means, and he was making less money than she was at the time.

In fact, Fergus is leery of the 4% rule, and would be much more comfortable if they were only pulling 2%-2.5% of their retirement funds every year.

Their story illustrates the point Mindy makes so frequently in this podcast, “personal finance is personal.” Their story also illustrates the path one must take to get to financial independence.

Spend less than you earn. Intelligently invest. Stay the course through the tough times. This too shall pass.

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Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast show number 137 where we interview Felicity Freedom from Fetching Financial Freedom and hear how she engineered her path to financial freedom.

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Felicity:
If I’m having a conversation with a friend of mine and we’re sort of touching on finance, the first thing I do is, well, if you’re interested, might make sense to kind of track your spending and see how much you would need if you wanted to do something similar and just in general. You never know.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello, my name is Mindy Jensen. And with me as always is my financial engineer co-host, Scott Trench.

Scott:
I don’t know how you assemble these new puns and new adjectives to describe me every week, Mindy. Thank you so much.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else and show you that by following the proven path, you can put yourself on the road to early financial freedom and get money out of the way so you can live your best life.

Scott:
So whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business, or simply engineer your way to financial freedom, we'll help you build a position capable of launching yourself toward those dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, I am super excited to have Felicity on the show today. I’m a big fan of her blog. I follow her on Twitter. And every time she says something, I’m like, “That’s me. That’s me. That’s me.” We just seem to have such similarities even though we’re actually quite different.

Scott:
Yeah, I thought it was a fantastic episode today. And I think she hit the easy button and did all the right things to move right towards FI and has a lot of really good life options right now. And so I’m just excited for you guys, listeners, to get a chance to hear her story.

Mindy:
And even though she hit the easy button, she did have a little bit of… I don’t know that turmoil is the right word, but definitely a little bit of stress in her life when she chose a job that didn’t make her heart sing. And I like how we talk about finding a balance between work and actual life enjoyment. That’s one of the themes of this show that I really wanted to touch on as we were recording. She says, “Most of my regrets in financial life are about focusing too much on returns and not enough on my quality of life.” And this is just the theme we hear over and over again throughout the personal finance space in general is that you don’t make a mad dash towards retirement. You enjoy your your time there because once you get there, what are you going to do if just all you do is work and all you do is focus on the end? You’re going to have a really unsatisfying retirement.

Scott:
Yeah, I agree.

Mindy:
Felicity from Fetching Financial Freedom, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I’m actually kind of proud of myself for not stumbling over my lips with that one.

Felicity:
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Mindy:
I’m super excited to have you. As I read your blog, I’m like, “That’s me. That’s me. That’s me. That’s me.” I want to know where your journey with money begins because I know where mine does. And I want to see how similar we are.

Felicity:
Oh, let’s see. I grew up I guess I would call it upper middle class. Had a one breadwinner family and was always fairly aware of money and was told how to save generally speaking, but still had some uncertainties when it came to actually, what do I invest in? How does this actually work when I look at my 401k when I get that out of college? So yeah, I was always fairly aware of money and where it came from. And I remember wanting some things growing up and being like, “Well, I don’t know if we should get that because that costs money.” And while at the same time, I think my family is probably the most well off of like all of my friends growing up looking back at it now.

Mindy:
Did your parents ever make you feel better like you couldn’t spend money? When I was growing up, we didn’t really talk that much about money, but it was also kind of just understood that you don’t just spend money on nothing.

Felicity:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think that’s very relatable to my experience because I remember a lot of people had Columbia coats growing up. And this is like in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest and it gets very cold. And just as regular winter coats that have like Columbia, kind of like the ski coat, and I wanted one. I don’t know why, but I wanted one. And I think I had to have that want for a very long time before my mom was like, “Well, maybe we’ll get you one.” And we wouldn’t get like really elaborate Christmas presents or things like that generally, but we would go to Europe every once in a while. And to some friends who maybe they go to Disney World once a year, going to Europe seemed totally like, “Whoa, that’s a crazy thing,” even if the total cost of the trips might actually be somewhat similar.

Mindy:
Oh, that’s an interesting point. For me growing up, it was the Louis Vuitton bag. Every cool Girl in high school had a Louis Vuitton handbag. And now I look at them and I think, “You know what? Those are ugly. I don’t want a brown purse. Those are really ugly.”

Felicity:
I always thought they were kind of ugly because I think a lot of girls in my high school, they must have been knockoffs. And then I associated that actual brand pieces with those knockoff value, like purses. So even now looking at a fully branded Louis Vuitton or anything that has the logo just smeared all over it, it’s ugly to me.

Mindy:
Yeah, my girls were not knockoffs. I’m like, “How much was that purse? $400 really?” I would rather have $400 in my $10 purse than $10 in my $400 purse, although if they’re buying $400 purses, they don’t have $10 in there. They probably have a lot. That’s a tangent for another day. Let’s look at your college. You did go to college and graduated from college. Correct?

Felicity:
Absolutely. I majored in engineering and I had some amount of scholarship. Most of it was covered by my parents fully, but I did go to a state school.

Mindy:
Okay. And graduating, did you have any debt?

Felicity:
Not at all. That was definitely I think one of the biggest things that gave me a foot up and especially for reaching financial independence so early.

Scott:
When you graduated with no debt, what did you do? And what was your kind of mindset on moving toward financial independence? Was that on your radar around the time of graduation or was that something you discovered a few years down the road?

Felicity:
Yeah. I’d say that it was on my radar one or two years after graduation, though I was always very money conscious and savings conscious. So my spending hasn’t actually changed too much. At least my conscious spending. I feel like I have over the years gotten better at really tamping down on unconscious spending. For example, I think we were spending something like $400, $500 a month on groceries at one point in time and got that down to something more like 250 if I recall. We spend more than that now. We spend more like the $400 now, especially during this pandemic. I don’t know. Oh, I should really look at our spending. I haven’t lately.

Mindy:
Wait, wait, wait, you don’t have everything memorized? Okay, that’s the end of this show. The end, goodbye. That’s actually a really amazing comment. My unconscious spending, I’m trying to tamp that down. That’s where you get in trouble. Nobody gets in trouble because… Well, I can’t say nobody, but I’m going to anyway. Nobody gets in trouble because all of a sudden, their electric bill goes to $1,000 a month. You can’t have all your lights on all day long. Maybe in Hawaii. That’s another tangent. Okay.

Scott:
Well, I’d sort of chime in there with something. I was a little disagreeing with you, Mindy, on that where no, your electric bill doesn’t spiral out there but people buy the big house, right? Or they get the big rent apartment and they get the fancy car with the big payment and that really cripples your ability to save. For me, I don’t have any control over my unconscious spending and here I am co-hosting the money show with you. Right?

Mindy:
What do you mean you don’t have control over it?

Scott:
Look, you know what? Guess what? Guess what? How’s this? It’s 9:11 a.m. on Wednesday, and we’re recording this podcast and you want to see a cardinal sin? This is breakfast I ordered.

Mindy:
Oh, Scott, you are fired.

Scott:
But here’s the deal. Here’s the deal. I live in a half duplex, right? I drive a completely paid off Toyota Corolla. Anyways, so I just want to chime in there with that on the fixed… For me, it’s been the fixed side of things as well. So a little fun tangent here.

Mindy:
Scott, you’re never gonna reach financial freedom because you just went out and got breakfast that one time.

Scott:
That’s right.

Mindy:
I’m sorry. You had it delivered. That’s even worse.

Scott:
Oh, yeah.

Felicity:
Avocado toast too.

Mindy:
Oh my God, yes, because he’s a Millennial.

Scott:
No comment there.

Mindy:
He wants avocado toast. Okay. So no, but your unconscious spending can really get you into trouble because you’re not thinking about it. It’s just, “Oh, whatever. It’s just a dollar. It’s just $5 or $27 for Scott’s avocado toast or whatever.” It’s unconscious and it just happens. And you do have control over that, Scott, because you consciously chose to buy breakfast. It didn’t just show up at your door. You might not have thought about the money that you were spending, but you’re also not living paycheck to paycheck. Is that fair?

Scott:
Yeah, that’s right. And for me, it was the fixed expenses. I absolutely need to do a better job of controlling these expenses, these variable ones. But anyways, that was just-

Mindy:
Give me your budget, I’ll fix you up, Scott.

Scott:
Thank you, Mindy.

Mindy:
Okay. But that’s with Felicity.

Felicity:
Yeah. Actually, piggybacking off of that, fixed expenses is also huge. It just wasn't something that was kind of an issue before thinking about actually achieving financial independence and possibly retiring early. We were living in a basement studio apartment basically because it comes back to first being very conservative financially speaking. When we first moved in together, he was still a grad student and making like $20,000 a year, whatever was in Boston, and he wanted for us to move in together for us to be able to afford it on either of our salaries. So in case something happens for one of us, that we would still be okay, which is great, but it's just very difficult on grad student stipend, but I agreed with that. I thought, "That makes sense." And so we stayed in a basement studio apartment for a couple years that was I think it was 250 square feet and now we're living in the studio, it's 350 square feet and it's not a basement. So moving on up. Lifestyle inflation.

Mindy:
Lifestyle inflation.

Scott:
I also moved up from the basement and to the top floor in the recent years. It’s a big difference. Yeah.

Felicity:
Yeah. Probably should have done it sooner for us.

Scott:
Well, let me ask you this. So the first two years, you weren’t aware of FI but you were just spending very little because that’s sounds like your instinct is to really… Or that’s just what you were kind of ingrained to do with money I guess coming out of college maybe. But what were you doing with your money prior to discovering FI and then when was that moment for you when you discovered FI?

Felicity:
Yeah. Oh gosh, I’m trying to think now. So I was contributing to a 401k at my first job out of college. I don’t think I was maxing it out right away. I think I had like a savings account where most of the excess money went. And I would also every year get I think Roth IRA in those days. Around the time where FI really came on the radar was also around the time that Fergus graduated from grad school and got a “real job,” in which case he went from making $20,000 a year to six figures a year, which to this day, he’s still like, “I’m massively overpaid.”

Mindy:
No, you’re not. No, you’re not.

Felicity:
That’s what I tell him.

Mindy:
You are paid what you are worth. You are paid the value that you bring to your company with an asterisk of course. Not everybody is but he is not massively overpaid.

Felicity:
Yeah. And actually, if he had not gone to graduate school and just gotten a job right out of undergrad, he’d probably making a lot more right now with his field. Just randomly putting it out.

Mindy:
So graduate school was a hindrance?

Scott:
Yeah, can we have that tangent real quick? What happened there? Can you walk us through like a very high level what that looks like for him?

Felicity:
Yeah. So his field is in computer science. So if you get a CS degree and you get A, so you could get a job. I know somebody who was a former intern of mine who got a job right out of college and making I believe it was $110,000 a year, which was more than I was making in a very similar field after four or five years of experience. Plus I think $40,000 signing bonus, and then 70,000 in stock options invested over four years. And that just grows. It’s really more of the experience than the education or kind of where you are salary wise with computer science. And it’s especially, if you go to one of the big tech companies like the Microsofts, the Amazons, the Googles, those sorts of things, and that’s where Fergus has been employed.

Scott:
Okay, so this is just starting to shape up a little bit for me in my mind, the story here. See, you and Fergus are both engineers. What kind of engineer are you?

Felicity:
My background's in electrical engineering. I won't get into too many details about what I've actually done but it's been not electrical engineering. Various different things. I think more along the lines of software systems engineer, something like that.

Scott:
This is what all the rocket scientists say. They just don’t want to say it. Okay. So you guys are both-

Felicity:
It is very particular.

Scott:
So you guys are both engineers and you’ve been engineers since… Basically employed basically since graduation except for he went back to school to get an advanced degree. Is that right?

Felicity:
Yeah. So I did go back to school to get a masters but I did it while working full-time and my employer at the time fully covered it which was awesome.

Scott:
Now let me ask you this. Okay, on that one, when was that decision made relative to your journey to FI to get your masters?

Felicity:
It was sometime after the discovery.

Scott:
Okay. So can you walk us through that and what you decided for yourself there as well? Was that an intentional decision to accelerate your journey into FI or something you wanted to do or a mixture?

Felicity:
It was more something I wanted to do because I wasn’t very happy in my job at the time. And I thought this could be a way of going somewhere else being something else. And also knowing that my company would fully pay for it, the risk seemed a lot lower. And at the time that I signed up for the program, it was only essentially a two-year commitment after graduation where I would no longer have to pay back the money as well. So it wasn’t like a four plus years after graduation like some of the education compensation plans are for some employers.

Mindy:
Oh, that’s interesting. Okay. Now, is this the job that you spoke about in your article, “The Power of Financial Freedom?”

Felicity:
Yes, I believe so. That’s been a while since I wrote that.

Mindy:
Yes, but that’s still relevant today. So it doesn’t matter that you wrote it a while ago, you were in a job that you didn’t actively hate, I think is your exact word. I didn’t actively hate this job. Nobody was yelling at me. But I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t spend my time enjoying it. So you were there. You got your degree and then continued to work there for two more years.

Felicity:
So yeah. So it was two years of working in that job starting to that degree program that lasted for two years. Oh gosh, now going back into all the history of my life and I’m like, “I don’t remember what happened.” I think it was two years of working at that job and then the degree program. And shortly after that, I did kind of an ultimatum thing. I think it was a year after graduating where I was like, “You know what? I’m either going to find something else or I’m just going to leave and that’s going to be it.” And I ended up getting a job at the same company. So I didn’t actually have to deal with any of the repayment, but I was only going to do that. It might have been two years after graduation. Lord, I might have to look that up. I might be completely forgetting my own timeline.

Scott:
Well, I think we’ve got a number of really cool things to discuss here. And so I’m wondering where to go next. And maybe the best thing to do here would be to finish out kind of the story arc of your career and your journey to FI. So I’m trying to put this into a framework that kind of I can fit in with all the stories that we’ve heard over the years on The Money Show here. So you graduate college with no debt, and you get what I imagine is a relatively high paying job for a college graduate.

Felicity:
Yeah, it wasn’t too bad. That, I do remember. I was getting 67,000 right out of college, and that was in Massachusetts which is a little bit on the low side for engineering actually, but the company as the whole wasn’t like a major for-profit type of company. It’s also a little bit tricky to explain. But yeah, 67,000 a year in 2011 as a fresh out of college engineer.

Mindy:
Hey, getting a job in 2011 is pretty good, right?

Felicity:
Yeah.

Scott:
So you spend nothing over these next couple of years relatively speaking. You’re living in a 250 square foot basement and all that. And so I’m imagining you’re just racking up cash. You said you’re contributing to a 401k Roth, but that doesn’t seem like you had a super intentional strategy about your investing other than contributing to the Roth and 401k up until you discovered FI. Is that a good summary?

Felicity:
Yes.

Scott:
Okay, great. And so then you discover FI and you immediately go to grad school to get an advanced degree while working still full-time?

Felicity:
Yes.

Scott:
So that’s how I want to pick up the story here. How does your money journey evolve? And how do you begin what I imagine becomes a very fast paced race towards FI unless something fundamentally changes about your income or spending habits here? That’s the framework, I guess.

Felicity:
Yeah, pretty much. One year into my advanced degree is about when Fergus graduated. That’s when our money saving really kicked up because essentially, we were already saving income when he was making 20,000 a year. And now we have two tech careers. So we’re essentially saving all of his much higher income in addition to saving some of my income as well. And I got really obsessed with FI and FIRE and I would read blogs all the time. And I would really get into things. I would check our accounts daily and be very on top of things. And I’d be looking at our spending. I’d go over budgets on Mint and I’d be very on top of things like, “What did you spend $50 for on Amazon? What was this thing?” Or those sorts of things. Not in an accusatory manner, but why are we spending this? Could we have not? Or those sorts of things.
And we also have combined finances and got married basically a year after I graduated. So in this whole ramp up of really getting to a higher net worth, it had all been completely shared finances as well.

Mindy:
Okay. So you said a moment ago you got really obsessed with personal finance. What was the turning point that clicked in your mind that I have to focus on this? And also, you said you guys got married. Do you share finances 100%?

Felicity:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Okay. So how did you get really obsessed?

Felicity:
My first introduction to kind of FI and FIRE was Mr. Money Mustache post. And I think I read through basically all of his backlog. And then I started reading other bloggers and reading all of their backlogs as well. And then getting onto Twitter. Sometime in there, I started a blog and started writing about things. And I honestly think a big part of that was just wanting to make friends with all these other cool people that were writing about money. So being on Twitter… I don’t write so much these days, but I’m on Twitter sometimes. And just talking with people and making friends on Twitter especially was a big part of kind of getting into things and just talking about money and talking about money with other people.

Mindy:
So it sounds like you and Fergus talk about money a lot together. Do you have conversations about money?

Felicity:
Yeah, I feel like most recently, our conversations are about like, “Well, so would you want to retire too then soon?” We’re like, “Well, should we maybe look into other things?” It’s kind of weird now with the pandemic and everything because we were initially thinking of slow traveling around the world sort of thing for a year or so. But it’s a little difficult now.

Scott:
Well, I’ve one question before we get into the decisions, the good options that it sounds like you now have and working through those and the conversations, that is. Look, we got the story, basically of, “Hey, we’re going to pile up an accelerating amount of cash,” especially with him finishing grad school and all that and stacking another large income into the equation. What are you doing with the money at a high level? Are you investing in index funds, real estate, or what is your approach there?

Felicity:
All index funds basically. Our asset allocation is basically like 70% US stocks, 15% foreign stocks, and just boring US total stock market, foreign ex-US stock, and then 5% bonds, and 5% alternatives like REITs and I think a little bit of gold, but basically index funds, mostly stock.

Scott:
I just want to chime in here with that. That makes perfect sense to me. And we get all these different allocations and things but your story here, do you have kids?

Felicity:
No.

Scott:
Yeah. So the dink, right? The double income, no kids with two engineers, that makes perfect sense. You guys are a high income earners. You’re very frugal, it sounds like. Why would you do anything other, in my opinion, than dump that into high index funds that are completely passive and hit the easy button and accost to financial freedom and a life of complete optionality in a decade or less when that’s the complete easy automatic approach? So anyways, I just want to point that out because that kind of fits in with the approach that makes complete sense, the engineered approach.

Felicity:
Yeah, absolutely. I actually kind of think that our story is kind of boring in that sense because I’m like, “Well, of course we can do it.”

Scott:
Uh-huh (affirmative). Oh, I love it.

Mindy:
That’s the best part. It is repeatable. So I do want to focus on a… take a little twist right here and talk about happiness because you both had these high paying jobs. And you were in a job that did not bring you joy. It didn’t bring you massive… Well, it sounds like it does kind of bring you a little bit of stress, definitely unhappiness. So let’s talk about that, that job that you were at for four years and didn’t make you any happier. You have an article called “The Power of Financial Freedom” and we’ll link to that in our show notes which can be found at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow137. But you said, “Most of my regrets in financial life are about focusing too much on returns and not enough on my quality of life. I spent four years in a job I did not like because I knew I was making a decent salary and did not actively hate it even when I could have been spending that time mindfully in a much better way for my own well being.”
And then you wrap up that article saying, “Since the change, multiple friends have told me I’m smiling more, I’m happy, and as an unintentional side effect, even have greater earning power now since I changed to a more lucrative field. Money can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Money can give you power and strength and it can help you focus on what really matters in life. Worrying about money is depressing, but so is focusing solely on the accumulation of money.” And that’s something that I really want to focus on for a few minutes because I think that’s so important. I have had jobs that I didn’t like. I have had jobs that I actively hated. And getting up in the morning, it’s just so hard because I got to go to this job that I hate. And I am now in a job that I love.
I’ve said this multiple times on this show, I jump out of bed every morning. I make my coffee, I come downstairs, I turn on my computer, and I get to go to work. And I feel guilty pre-pandemic, I felt guilty leaving the house as my husband is dealing with the two girls fighting. I’m like, “Huh, see you. I’m going to go have fun at work.” And it’s such a different experience. I am happier in my life because the thing that I spend eight hours a day doing doesn’t suck and it’s not about the money. It’s not always about the money. And it’s really rich to be able to say that, but having a job that sucks is horrible.

Felicity:
Yeah. I was fully going into it when first discovering FI and FIRE. I was like, “Well, I just need to be here just like at the end of the four years. I mean, just four more years, that’s not very long at all, right? That’s doable.” But yeah, the change, if you can be doing something day-to-day that brings you joy, it brings you happiness or if you could be, it’s absolutely worth it to pursue that. To maybe even sacrifice some time and money to see what that would mean for you. Because yeah, looking back on it now and reading what I wrote, it’s been a while since I looked at that, but yeah, I’m like, “Yeah, that’s right. That sounds smart.” Yeah, it absolutely was not what I should have been in.
At one point, recently, couple years ago now, I was riding my bike to the gym actually and got hit by a car. And I didn’t ask for an ambulance or immediately pursue a lot of imaging or sorts of things right after the accident. And I’m really regretting that now because I’m still dealing with physical therapy and shoulder issues. And I’m thinking that a lot of that could have been avoided had I just gone to the emergency room, got checked out. I went to Urgent Care the next morning, but I didn’t actually seek out physical therapy until months after. And the reason, and it’s embarrassing to say this, but it was because money because I knew I was on a high deductible health plan. And if I was going to be held accountable, I didn’t know that the car insurance of the guy who hit me would pay for everything. So I’m like, “Well, if I have to pay for it, it seems superfluous to go to the emergency room. I feel mostly fine. So why would I go?”

Mindy:
I 100% identify with that statement. My mom is a nurse. And when you grow up with a mother as a nurse, you never go to the doctor. Your mom’s just like, “Yeah, you’re fine. You’re fine.” Sometimes I feel like, “Oh, maybe my kid actually is sick and I’m ignoring something,” but mostly, it’s like, “Nope, you’re fine. You’re fine. We don’t need to go.” And every once in a while, it’s like, “You should have taken them earlier.” My daughter had strep throat and it wasn’t getting better. She had a sore throat and it wasn’t getting better for like three days. So I finally take her in and it’s strep. Oh, okay, whoops. Maybe I should have taken you in earlier. But how do you know? So I totally identify with that and I don’t want to spend the money if I don’t have to. I do have a high deductible plan but when you get hit by a car, you go to the hospital. The end, Felicity.

Felicity:
Yeah, I know. I know now.

Scott:
The accidents are hard. I got rear-ended a few years back and you feel fine in the moment because the adrenaline’s pumping, all that kind of stuff. And so it doesn’t even hurt and that’s influencing your decision as well. And then you wake up the next day and you’re like, “Wow, what is going on? I got these like…” I get it. It’s kind of hard to tell like, “Should I go in? Should I not? What’s the overkill? Am I being a hypochondriac by worrying about this?” But yeah. Well, anyways, I want to transition back to another topic here with… It sounds like you are doing pretty well right now with your finances and there’s a discussion floating around between you and Fergus here about retirement. So who’s instigating that discussion? How’s that discussion going? Give us the context around that.

Felicity:
Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely instigating that. I unexpectedly lost my job but I did enjoy. It was one of those things I really enjoyed especially my co-workers, and yeah, I liked what I was doing. But I as well as a large portion of my co-workers were let go because of financial reasons. Sales down due to coronavirus pandemic, things like that. So I found myself without a job in a pandemic, but I had enough money to be retired. We just recently went kind of above and below like 3% safe withdrawal rate on our accounts for more than we actually even spend. So it was kind of like, “Well, maybe I tried this out. Maybe I just don’t look for another job especially since…” I kind of said earlier what my type of engineering is. It’s weird. That’s my type of engineering. There’s not a lot of jobs for us.
So looking for another job, I probably could get something that would hire me, but it may or may not be something that I would enjoy doing. So in the meantime, I’m doing other stuff. But yes. So I am essentially retired now. And Fergus is not. Fergus is working from home. And he’s okay with his job. I ask him fairly often like, “Well, do you enjoy things?” And he’s like, “It’s okay.” He’s a little more reserved than I am.

Mindy:
Okay. I've got a lot to unpack here. First of all, I have a comment. So many people who don't have any interest in being frugal because being financially independent is so difficult and you have to give up everything and blah, blah, blah. So many of those people say, "I don't care about FI because I love my job." You loved your job, and also put a lot of money in savings. And did you choose when you got to separate from your employment or was that chosen for you?

Felicity:
It was chosen for me.

Mindy:
So now you’re not scrambling in a pandemic when nobody is hiring to try and find a job. You don’t have to go and take any job that’s offered because you have taken care of money. You don’t have to be so focused on this. On the other hand, Mr. Fergus seems to think that the 4% rule is too risky which is interesting because we had Michael Kitces on the show. Oh God, I should have looked up when we had him on recently.

Scott:
Show 120

Mindy:
Show 120 and he is quite the proponent of the 4% rule. He seems to think that it is perfectly within reason to assume that that will last you forever. And did he say that he could even go a little higher, Scott, or am I making that up?

Scott:
Yeah. Well, I think it depends on the environment and a couple of other factors. But yeah, I think that there was… And it depends on which fund and which index you’re tracking, but I think there was some mention of 4.5% rule, was really the floor there of one of those allocations, yeah.

Mindy:
And does he also have the tables for a proponent of more bonds when you first retire, and then going into more stocks?

Scott:
He might have something like that. I’m reaching here back a few months.

Mindy:
Yeah. He’s got a really interesting chart on his blog, and we’ll link to that in the show notes here as well. That starts off and it shows for 30 years, these different allocations and this different amount of money and one out of 30 or 50 scenarios leaves you with no money at the end of 30 years. Which is super easy to stand here and say when you’re not trying to live off of your 4%.

Scott:
Engineers don’t build bridges that have a 1% chance of collapsing though.

Felicity:
Exactly.

Scott:
Right?

Felicity:
Exactly.

Scott:
So what’s that looking like? It sounds like there’s a comfort level problem here. What’s the framework for addressing that or what’s going on with that?

Felicity:
Well. So I think the way that it will actually have to be addressed, I’m kind of I guess holding off on it a little bit just because what I really want to do is do the slow travel around the world, but that’s going to have to be kind of on the back burner for now. So in the meantime, maybe having a little bit extra or a lot extra wouldn’t hurt. But I think what would really ease his fear is… So a big part of it is healthcare spending because that’s such a… Probably something that I can’t say on a podcast.

Mindy:
Unknown. Disaster.

Felicity:
Disaster, yeah. That’s one of the biggest things, especially as you grow older. So I’m 30 right now and Fergus is about six years older than I am. And even up to now, we haven’t been like without any health complications, accident here and there or something random happens. And just knowing that you can weather those things I think is a big thing. So I think what that really has to do is put together Monte Carlo simulation that also takes into account rising healthcare with variable amounts of rising and in addition, kind of stress test the whole thing with injection of like random $10,000 medical expense on X years or something like that. That would, I think, actually put him at ease and possibly also looking into more of the different kind of glide paths in terms of like changing asset allocation over time with respect to kind of where you are so you don’t get into those issues of… Oh gosh, what’s the word? When you have to withdraw a lot early on in retirement and the stock market just crashed or something. The early return.

Scott:
You’re talking about like the first years volatility?

Mindy:
Sequence of returns?

Scott:
Sequence of returns, yes.

Felicity:
Sequence of returns, yes, yes, yes. Yeah.

Mindy:
Okay. So have you read "Quit Like a Millionaire" or are you familiar with Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution?

Felicity:
I’m familiar with Millennial Revolution but I’ve not read “Quit Like a Millionaire.”

Mindy:
Okay. Well, at least they talk on their blog about the traveling and they have insurance for other countries. They have traveler’s insurance, health insurance and every other country but America health insurance is slightly less expensive. So when you say slow travel, are you planning on being outside of the US? Are you slow traveling through the US?

Felicity:
Mostly outside of the US.

Mindy:
Okay. So tell Fergus that I have fixed his fears and now he can retire.

Felicity:
After the pandemic.

Mindy:
After the pandemic, yeah.

Scott:
Well, that’s an interesting one too, right? So we’ve got moving into that hundred percent safety range, right? And that’s a function of different portfolio structures and setups. And then a certain amount of padding which can cost you in terms of years and those types of things. But then you’ve also got the, okay, what next component, which is a real struggle for a lot of people who have put in… Maybe a part of what you do is your identity, those types of things, and you’ve got to be moving. Some people move away from things and some people move toward things, I guess. And so is that vision of early retirement a little impaired right now if you’ve got a good job that you can do for home in a pandemic? You just went from working in the office, now you’re working from home. It’s like, “Hey, what am I going to do? I’m not going to go and travel the world right now because we’re in a global pandemic.”
And rest of world doesn’t trust Americans to travel to their countries. But what’s going to happen there? And is that going through his head or your head at all right now?

Felicity:
Yeah. He actually doesn’t like working from home. So maybe that would be another reason to try to maybe push him to try something else. But we have a ton of projects that we would love to work on like some video game design development type stuff, app design development type stuff. Even just like random calculators or tools we could maybe put on the blog or something like that. Just playing around with things. We’re definitely not ones to suffer from a lack of things to do. Sometimes I suffer from a lack of structure. I kind of really miss structure. But I’ve never been like, “Well, what do I do now with my time?” I might be like, “Why am I watching Netflix all day today?” But that’s a different problem.

Mindy:
Yes, sometimes I have that too. There’s so many things to do I don’t know where to start. So I’ll just do nothing, which is not helpful at all. It definitely does not move the needle ever. Felicity, you have another really awesome article on your site called “Five Ways Losing 50 Pounds And Saving $1 Million Was Exactly The Same.” And just like I said before, we’re the same person. I have long compared losing weight and getting out of debt, saving money, etc., because they both take discipline. They both take concentration, and they’re both not difficult if you put the effort in. And I shouldn’t say not difficult because there are people with medical conditions. There are people with financial issues outside of their control. But in general, they are the exact same. You lost 50 pounds?

Felicity:
It’s up to 70 pounds right now. It was actually a little bit higher than that before the pandemic and quarantine, but won’t go into that.

Mindy:
Same except the whole losing 70 pounds thing. That was not the same. So you said in this article, “For me, frugality comes easily but I will always have thunder thighs. You are not doomed even if you aren’t naturally thin or weren’t born into upper middle class white picket fence suburbia. We just need to do our best with the hands we were dealt and help others if we’re able to and tracking works.” What is the first thing I say that people should do, Scott, when they start their journey to financial independence? Track your spending.

Scott:
Track your spending.

Mindy:
What do you do when you want to lose weight? You need to track your caloric intake or track your caloric expense or whatever, however works for you.

Felicity:
It is a really tricky thing to do. And it’s tricky for finances as well because people can have very complicated relationships with using spending as a crutch the same way that people use food and eating as a crutch. And also definitely want to put out there that you need to definitely keep in mind mental health. If you’ve had issues with binge eating or things like that in the past, doing actual caloric tracking might be a trigger there and do not do that. Do what is good for you first. But for me, I kind of started tracking what I ate almost more as a curiosity like, “Well, I can’t just be calories in, calories out.” I was just born bigger and I just hold on to fat easier or something like that.
So I kind of started tracking almost as a, “Yeah, we’ll see.” And I didn’t really actively… I sort of had like a, “Well, this is your goal for the day that the app was saying in order to lose a pound a week sort of thing.” But I didn’t actively stop myself from eating more if I was really hungry or anything like that. I might have made myself eat a little bit more if I was at under 1,200 calories for the day. I had kind of set minimum, but not necessarily set maximum. But overall, I was losing I think about a pound, a pound and a half a week on average very consistently. And I have a graph on that blog where I was sort of tracking my weight for a bit. And there’s this very precipitous decline right when I started tracking what I was actually eating. And it was just really fascinating to me that it could have that big of an impact just being mindful of what I was eating.

Mindy:
Oh, wow. I’m on that article. That was a big drop in six months.

Felicity:
And it was very consistent, not the day-to-day. I also tracked a lot my day-to-day fluctuations because what annoys me is like when people are like, “When I don’t know kind of the moving average, that annoys me,” because I don’t feel bad if I suddenly am five pounds heavier one day because I’m like, “Well, that’s weird.” But obviously, I didn’t gain five pounds in a week or in a day. But if it’s like five pounds heavier from last week, then I’m like, “Oh, wait, I did all that work.” So I think it was just knowing that moving average was really helpful for me personally.

Scott:
Similar to money, there’s the calories in and then there’s the calories out, the income and expenses. Did you have a workout plan as well that you adhere to as part of that?

Felicity:
I didn’t have a set workout plan though I did kind of try to start working out a little bit more, but it was very here and there. It wasn’t like a really set thing. So I did notice that if I did have a little bit of activity, I actually didn’t want to eat as much. If I’m sitting on the couch all day, it’s easier to eat extra calories and more than I need for the day than if I go for a walk. I don’t know if it’s something with the stomach sloshing around or something like that. But there’s no real set exercise routine for that.

Mindy:
If I didn’t know what this article was about, and I just saw this graph, I would think that this is a debt graph. Here’s where I started, oh my God, and a little bit more. And then I went down and the little up and then down. Oops, there’s like… On 7/17, there was you started kind of an uphill again. Oh, clearly, that was an expense that you didn’t account for or an emergency of some sort. So that’s where that came down. And then you went down a little bit, steep drop. Oh, she got a windfall or something, tax return and paid off a big bunch of debt or something. And then it’s just flat for a while and then it starts going down. That’s when you started paying attention to your debt. That’s when you did the debt snowball or whatever.
So the fact that this is a weight graph is it’s the same thing. It cements my comment that losing weight and getting out of debt are the same thing. It’s the same mindset. It’s the same journey. You just have to focus. Now, I am not in debt, but I am in weight debt. I have more weight than I should, thanks coronavirus, although I’ve got [inaudible 00:45:19]. They didn’t help at all. What was that thing people were saying, “Oh, I mean, they’re going to come out of this quarantine 10 pounds heavier or an alcoholic or 10 pounds lighter and in the best shape of my life or something,” and I’m not 10 pounds lighter in the best shape of my life. Homeschooling everyday, end it in beer. And now we’re going to homeschool again. Yeah. Oh my goodness, no.

Scott:
It been both for me, by the way. So initially gained this due to COVID-19 and now I’m on a workout kick. But we’ll see how things end up at the end of the day. Yeah.

Felicity:
Recently started the same. I’m like, “Okay.”

Mindy:
We have added a new segment to the show recently called “The Financial Scan” and we want to know what you’re investing in. Where are you planting your money so that it grows for your retirement? And while there’s no one right answer, we all know that it will take forever to become a millionaire based solely on your W2 job. So to improve our chances of success, we invest in stocks, in bonds, in real estate, in other opportunities. Where are you planting your money? And we kind of already covered this because Scott jumped the gun a little earlier in the episode but…

Felicity:
Yeah. So basically, 100% index funds, most of that being stock. We have about 70% US stock, 15% international, 5% bonds, and 5% kind of alternatives with REITS and a little bit of gold I think in there too for the hell of it.

Mindy:
Okay. Gold, I just saw gold closed for the first time ever above 2,000. That doesn’t sound right. That doesn’t sound right. I thought it was more than 2,000 earlier but it’s at an all time high because gold is an inflation hedge. Okay. And then one last question for “The Financial Scan,” in terms of annual spending, how much do you keep in cash?

Felicity:
Currently, it’s a little higher than normal, but we’re at about 18 months.

Mindy:
Okay. And that’s just in a fairly easy to access bank account.

Scott:
What percentage of our guests have said recently that their cash reserve is higher than it usually is in the last eight to 10, 12 episodes that we’ve done? Right? Everybody. Everybody’s got this year plus of cash reserves and that flee to safety there I guess because of the coronavirus. So not alone there. I’m the same way.

Mindy:
And Ramit said that right now, what you should be doing is hoarding cash.

Scott:
Yeah. It’s interesting to get to like, “Hey, we all have this kind of concept.” Having the cash is a drag on our returns, but everybody so far seems to have very large at least cash position and relatively large even to their historical patterns of the cash. Sorry, just chiming in there with that.

Felicity:
It’s fascinating, especially like cash versus bonds, no one talks about having a lot larger, bigger percentage of bonds versus cash. I think probably just because bond returns are very low right now anyway. So it’s like, “Well, why bother?”

Scott:
Think about this. If you had invested in bonds prior to this coronavirus crisis and you got 100% bonds, how much richer would you be right now? And then had you invested in stocks in spite of the fact that… Anyway, for me, it’s not the right long-term approach. I would never do that personally with my money. But there you go. Interest rates dropped so much. So bond yields must have been fantastic over the last six to nine months.

Mindy:
Have they been?

Scott:
Well, yeah. I mean, if the interest rates have fallen that much, then your bond yields are probably going to be… assuming that there’s not defaults on them, are going to be really strong, right?

Mindy:
I would love to see this information without actually doing any of the work. So if anybody is fascinated by this whole thing and wants to make a spreadsheet, you can email [email protected] or [email protected] or both. And even post it in our Facebook group which is facebook.com/groups/bpmoney so that more people can talk about this because I think that is a fascinating question. I am on the record as saying I don’t believe in bonds. I mean, I believe in them. I know they exist, but I don’t invest in them in any way. And I would be interested to see what they’ve done in the last six to nine months or even the last year.

Scott:
Well, that’s a great pose to our community and please educate Mindy and I on that. That is an interesting one.

Mindy:
I hate being wrong, but prove me wrong.

Scott:
There you go. Okay. So you were asking what you’re doing with the cash before I rudely interrupted you there.

Felicity:
Oh, yeah. It’s actually in a checking account at a credit union that gets like 0.5% a year.

Mindy:
You can have it in Ally Bank and get 1.0.

Felicity:
Oh my God, that’s like $200 a year.

Mindy:
Yes, look at all that money you’re wasting. You’re never gonna retire. The internet retirement police can find you at twitter.com/felicityfff. These are all the mistakes she’s making even though she has all the money she’s ever going to need. Okay, Felicity, this has been super fun, but it’s not done yet. It’s time for the famous four. Are you ready?

Felicity:
I’m ready.

Mindy:
Okay, what is your favorite finance book?

Felicity:
I would have to say “Work Optional” by Tanja Hester, I think, because it really digs into the why, like what do you want to be doing? What does your next life look like? And I think those are really important questions to ask and to answer, especially with your partner. And the book also goes into detail about just generally financial independence and saving and retiring and investing and also has a big section on healthcare, which is also super critical to think about.

Mindy:
That is super critical to think about. That’s a great book. My daughter has a copy, my 10-year-old. And every once in a while, I’ll just walk into a room and she’s reading it. I’m like, “Oh, Daphne, do you enjoy that?” She’s like, “Oh, yeah, I love this book, mom.”

Felicity:
That’s amazing.

Scott:
She wants to retire from school, right?

Mindy:
Yeah, she wants to retire from school.

Scott:
There you go. All right. What was your biggest money mistake?

Felicity:
I guess I sort of talked about this earlier, but I think just being too focused on the money and not as much focused on my own health and happiness. And I think that’s definitely hurt me over the years, and I hope I’m in a better place now. I feel like I’m in a better place now. But yeah, it’s definitely a failure I think of the past.

Mindy:
That’s okay. You learned from your mistakes and you move on.

Felicity:
Exactly.

Mindy:
What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Felicity:
We also sort of covered those, but I would also 100% agree with the track your spending. If I’m having a conversation with a friend of mine and we’re sort of touching on finance or like the, “Oh, you retired?” Something along those lines. The first thing I do is like, “Well, if you’re interested, might make sense to kind of track your spending and see how much you would need if you wanted to do something similar and just in general. You never know.” I had one friend, they were much older and more getting close to kind of traditional retirement age and they had that homework from the financial advisor through work 401k plan. And they had spent like over $1,000 on eating out in a month and didn’t really-

Scott:
Oh, there’s parenthesis.

Felicity:
… have any idea. Yeah, all those avocado toasts. So it’s just fascinating how much you can be spending and not even realize.

Mindy:
Yeah, everybody knows what their mortgage payment is. Everybody knows about what their electrical bill is. But it's those little things, those unconscious things that will really open your eyes. My husband said to me, "It seems like we're spending a lot of money. We should track our spending." And this was like eight years ago before this was the thing and PF Twitter was a thing. And we just started writing it down. Super, no tech, here's a notebook pad with the date, the place I spent it, how much I spent, and then a running total. And it was shocking to me in a week how frequently I went to the grocery store, how frequently I would spend just $1 or $5 or whatever. It was just amazing to me how much money I was unconsciously blowing. But at the time, it didn't feel like I was spending willy nilly because I am frugal. So yeah, tracking your spending is literally the best thing you can do in my opinion and Felicity's too, so we're both right, to get yourself in that money mindset and being money conscious.

Scott:
All right. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Felicity:
So it’s kind of a series of jokes. They’re about elephants.

Scott:
All right.

Felicity:
So let’s start with why do elephants wear little green hats?

Scott:
I don’t know. Why?

Mindy:
Why do elephants wear little green hats?

Felicity:
So they can sneak across pool tables. How do you know if there’s an elephant in your bed?

Scott:
I don’t know, how?

Felicity:
They’re the ones with little E’s on their pajamas. What’s the difference between an elephant and a prune?

Mindy:
What?

Felicity:
One’s purple.

Scott:
This is amazing.

Felicity:
What did Tarzan say when he saw the elephants coming over the hill? It’s almost over, I promise.

Mindy:
I don’t know.

Felicity:
Here come the elephants. What did Napoleon say when he saw the elephants coming over the hill?

Mindy:
Here come the elephants in French.

Felicity:
Correct.

Mindy:
Oh, I just got it.

Felicity:
Final one. What did Jane say when she saw the elephants coming over the hill?

Mindy:
What?

Felicity:
Here come the prunes. Jane’s colorblind.

Scott:
Ah, okay. That was amazing. A herd of elephant jokes. This is fantastic.

Mindy:
Oh, God.

Felicity:
There’s more too. That was the bridge.

Mindy:
I want to add because Daphne said it this week while we were out on a walk and Carl has this app on his phone that will tell you what that light is in the sky. So both girls asked, “Oh, is that a planet or is it a star?” And he looks up and he said, “Oh, that’s Saturn, and that’s Jupiter and Pluto is in the middle, but you can’t see it with your naked eye.” And Daphne said, “Oh, if I put clothes on my eye, can I see it?” I said, “Oh, Daphne, Scott would love that joke.”

Scott:
That’s amazing.

Mindy:
Okay, our last question for you, Felicity, where can people find out more about you?

Felicity:
Yeah. So I’ve got a blog that I sometimes put text on and you can see what I did in the past.

Mindy:
I’m laughing because you have a post from a couple of days ago, and then one from 2019 and then one from 2018.

Felicity:
Yep, yep, that’s me. But you can see that at fetchingfinancialfreedom.com. You can also get somewhat more regular updates from me on twitter @FelicityFFF standing for the Fetching Financial Freedom. Yeah, I think that’s it. That’s it for me. Don’t have much to show or anything.

Mindy:
Far more active on Twitter although her blog is really interesting. I read your articles and I’m like, “That’s me. That’s me. That’s me. That’s me.” So I am very pleased to finally get you on the show because I feel like I know you because you’re me.

Felicity:
Oh, thank you.

Mindy:
Just slightly younger. Okay. Well, thank you so much, Felicity, and we will talk to you soon.

Felicity:
Thank you. Happy to be here.

Mindy:
Okay, that was Felicity. Scott, what did you think?

Scott:
I thought that was awesome. I really enjoyed her story. She’s following, I think, almost like a formulaic approach to moving towards FI and it’s really paid off for her. And it’s just astounding the amount of options she has at 30 for the rest of her life. It’s just an amazing outcome and I think highly repeatable for folks that are in a similar situation in that dink category, double income, no kids, in their 20s and 30s. This is a highly repeatable, easy button approach to FI.

Mindy:
Absolutely, Scott. She said during the show, “Oh, I think my story’s kind of boring.” Boring is best. The exciting stories typically don’t have the most exciting ending or the exciting stories is actually very exciting and then it blows up spectacularly at the end and you have to go back to what you were doing before. So I guess they are exciting, just not in a good way.

Scott:
Money should be boring, life should be exciting.

Mindy:
Ooh, I like that. I’m going to tweet that out.

Scott:
I didn’t make that up. I did not make that up. I don’t know who did but-

Mindy:
Oh, nevermind then. Still it’s good. I was just very excited. I was going to be like, “Oh, look at what my co-host said.” Nevermind, somebody else said that.

Scott:
You can attribute it to a wise man.

Mindy:
A wise man, a wise person. Maybe it was a woman who said it.

Scott:
That’s what Brandon Turner, one of our fellow co-hosts, he hosts the Bigger Pockets Real Estate Podcast likes to do. He’ll make up a quote and then attribute it to a wise man and go from there. So you follow his Instagram, you’ll start to catch that. Thrown him under the bus here, but I think it’s hilarious.

Mindy:
A wise man. Yeah, he [inaudible 00:59:15]himself. He would put it in quotes and then write Brandon Turner.

Scott:
That’s right.

Mindy:
I think it’s funny. But yes, money should be boring. It is the easy button, the index fund, the steady savings rate, the maxing out your 401k. Nobody wants to sit here and talk about how they’re maxing out their 401k. It is a boring conversation. Oh, I’m just putting money from every check into my 401k. There’s not a lot of discussion about it. It’s not going to generate a lot of exciting conversation except if you’re Scott and Mindy and then we do like to talk about it quite a bit. But that’s how you get to financial independence. You do the boring things and then you take the parts of your life that you really, really find value in and you blow those up and that’s where you find your excitement. And boring life is kind of boring but a boring money life is actually quite exciting. Should we get out of here, Scott?

Scott:
Let’s do it. Hey, Mindy, what do you call an elephant that doesn’t matter?

Mindy:
What do you call an elephant that doesn’t matter?

Scott:
Irrelephant.

Mindy:
I actually really like [inaudible 01:00:26]jokes.

Scott:
Mindy, should we pack up our trunks and get out of here?

Mindy:
Yes, we should. I love it. Okay, he is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen and we are saying live long and prosper.

Scott:
We just wanted these elephant jokes to be heard.

Mindy:
Oh my goodness. Okay. The end, goodbye.

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The BiggerPockets Money Podcast is for anyone who has money… or want to have more! Join BiggerPockets Community Manager and Podcast Director Mindy Jensen and CEO Scott Trench weekly for the BiggerP...
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    Karen O. from NYC, NY
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