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BiggerPockets Money Podcast 227: ‘Rocketing’ To FI at Age 35: What’s Life Like Post-Retirement?

BiggerPockets Money Podcast 227: ‘Rocketing’ To FI at Age 35: What’s Life Like Post-Retirement?

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What do you think of when you think about retirement? Are you on a tropical island drinking fruity cocktails out of a coconut? If you dream about that sort of retirement, Steve Adcock may have some revealing words for you. Retirement isn’t just about doing nothing all day, it’s about exploring your passions, and sometimes working more than you did before, to accomplish things that truly matter to you.

Steve decided to leave his high-stress IT job after 11 years of work. It was eating away at him every day, and it got to the point where just going into work became a grueling weight on his shoulders. He knew from a few years before potential retirement that he had a choice: lavishly live his life now or live frugally and have financial freedom forever. He chose the latter and doesn’t regret it for one second.

Now, Steve and his rocket scientist wife spend their time taking care of their completely self-reliant housing compound in Arizona. He has a lot more to accomplish, but for now, he’s enjoying his off-grid lifestyle, complete with solar panels, his own water well, and a brand new septic tank.

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Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast show number 227, where we interview Steve Adcock and talk about life after retirement.

Steve:
I didn’t exactly know what I wanted. I just knew what I didn’t want. And I think a lot of people out there can really wrap their heads around that. In fact, at one point, I honestly considered quitting my $120,000 job to get my CDL and become a truck driver. That was something that was on my plate for something that I might want to do, because I just really wasn’t happy with with what I was doing.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello. My name is Mindy Jensen. And with me, as always, is my can-bench-press-225-pounds co-host Scott Trench.

Scott:
You’re always raising the bar with these new introductions. Thank you.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else, to introduce you to every money story, because we truly believe that financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you’re starting.

Scott:
That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel to remote Arizona, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business or travel the world, we’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way so you can launch yourself towards those dreams.

Mindy:
That was a good one, Scott. I didn’t properly left long enough. That was very funny. I really am excited to talk to Steve Adcock today, because we don’t talk to so many people who have reached financial independence and what their life looks like afterwards. And Steve has been retired for almost five years. So he has a pretty good taste of what it’s like to be retired and I think could speak from a position of authority what it is what he expected and what actually happened.

Scott:
Yeah, I think we spend very little time today on the actual journey to retirement. And I don’t think we’re going to learn quite as much from his journey to retirement. What I think the value of this episode is, is in learning about what the finish line looks like and what retirement looks like for somebody that has achieved this early in life. And I hope that you can learn a lot from that and take a lot of inspiration and see the magic that this can have on your happiness, day to day life, and impact on society as well. I think he’s having a positive impact on society, even as he’s an early retiree. So I love the episode. It was a different take than we usually do. I hope you find it inspiring and motivating.

Mindy:
Yeah. Like you said, Scott, his story to get to financial independence, he did the same things that everybody else does. He spent less than he earned. He invested wisely. He made a lot of money. And I hope that people listen to this and don’t take so much away that he and his wife made a lot of money. He’s an IT. She’s a rocket scientist, like a real scientist with rockets. You don’t make $1.50 an hour doing that. So, their timeline to get to financial independence was very quick. And like you said, that’s not what we’re here learning. We’re learning about what happens afterwards. Steve Adcock, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I’m so excited to talk to you today.

Steve:
Thanks very much. I’ve been looking forward to it for really as long as I’ve been FI.

Mindy:
And how long have you been FI?

Steve:
Well, it’s almost five years. So I would say we really reached the beginning of our FI life, I guess, in 2016. And it’s been an interesting journey since then. But that was really our first taste of what all this is really like and what it means to us.

Mindy:
Okay. Steve is actually retired, which is awesome. We haven’t talked to a lot of people who have been retired. But Steve, I want to know how you got there. Where does your journey with money begin?

Steve:
Yeah. I worked in information technology for my entire career. It started in 2005 when I graduated from college with a degree in information technology. So from the onset, I’ve always made good money. I’ve never tried it and tried to make my story out to be some rags to riches kind of thing. It just wasn’t that. I had a great upbringing. I had loving parents. I really have no complaints about my childhood. And right from the first day I set foot in office, I did make pretty good money, but I wasn’t always smart with my money.
I budgeted a little bit. I saved the 4% in my company sponsored traditional 401(k) just to get the company match. But I basically spent the rest. So I did the bare minimum for the large majority of my career, except for maybe the last five or six years were really started to get my button gear and invest as much as I can. We would max out our 401(k)s and Roth IRAs and things like that. But for the majority of it, it was earn and spend, earn and spend. I had the supercharged Corvette, I have the Yamaha R1 race bike, I had the house in the suburbs, I had all of these things that I thought made me happy.

Scott:
How long was your career?

Steve:
Well, it started in 2005 and it ended the end of 2016. So about 11 years working in IT.

Scott:
Okay. Can we get an idea of income at the beginning and end?

Steve:
Yeah, my very first salary was $55,000. And especially back in 2005, that’s pretty darn good. And by the end of my career, it was about 135,000, I think, a year. So, not bad. A lot of people have been able to increase their salary way more than I have. But I mean, I was happy with raises every few years and just worked out fine for me. So, always made good money but nothing exceptional.

Scott:
Yeah. So that’s not something that’s unrepeatable, I think, for a lot of listeners is to have a career with that kind of income trajectory on that. And it sounds like you were spending like a sailor on some of these fun things for a little bit with that as well.

Steve:
Yeah. Yeah.

Scott:
So, I’m really interested. How did you retire in 11 years on this?

Steve:
Yeah. So I met my soon to be wife in 2013. And things progressed from there. And then we got married. And that was really the point where we started to put the pieces into place. Because she also worked in IT, she’s a rocket scientist, an actual rocket scientist. I don’t know how else to say it. I so married up. So at that point, we had a decision to make. We had two pretty darn good salaries. And we can make a choice. We could either have the vacation home, live a large glamorous life, buy sports car, electric car, whatever, or we can put our money together and save as much as we possibly can and do something else with our lives, something that we’d like to do a little bit better.
I never had all that much satisfaction out of my job. IT just drains the life out of me. Even though it paid well, it drained the life out of me. My wife wasn’t so hateful or resentful of her job, and maybe resentful is not the right word, but she was okay working but she was always willing to entertain a better offer. So ultimately, we decided to not live like rockstars and put our money to good use for us for the last five or six years. Of our working careers, we saved almost 70%. That’s 70% of two pretty good IT salaries. And that adds up really fast.

Scott:
So what was the position that you guys both brought into the marriage, from an income perspective or from net worth or those types of things?

Steve:
Yeah. I was about 110 or so when we got married and she was at I want to say about 90. So, there’s a little bit of differential but really not much. And our net worth were about, I don’t know, maybe I had 250 and I think she was around there, maybe even a little bit higher. So we were relatively equal. So we didn’t really have any of the income conflicts that some spouses might grapple with. We didn’t really have that to contend with. So, we certainly looked out from that perspective.

Scott:
Okay. And did you move in conjunction? How did you facilitate that lifestyle? How did that compare to your peers?

Steve:
Yeah. Ultimately we lived in Tucson, Arizona at the time, and that’s a relatively low cost of living. I had a house in the suburbs that I moved out of. I moved in with my wife Courtney in her house. We rented my house for a year so we did the whole landlord thing for a year. Didn’t really like it so we ended up selling my house. We kept my wife’s house that we lived in. The end of I guess it was 2017, we sold the house, my wife’s house, so now we have no house. All that extra money coming in bought an Airstream and decided to more or less travel the country for a living without a house. That was it. Our Airstream was it.
So we lived in this 200 square foot confining in some ways space, but we loved almost every minute of it. We got to see a lot of the country. But the benefit of an RV or mobile lifestyle is you could almost make it as cheap as you want. You don’t have to stay in campgrounds. You could stay out in the middle of nowhere and pay zero for camping fees, which is always nice. And as long as you control your expenses with diesel and the food that you buy, you have a lot of control over your expenses when you don’t have that house to pay for. So for us, that was a big part of reducing our lifestyle enough to be able to rationalize, I guess, or justify retiring early when we did at our net worth.

Scott:
So I’m getting a picture of in 2013, you guys get married, you have a net worth somewhere in the ballpark of 250 to 500, maybe somewhere in that ballpark range combined. And you’re like, how am I going to crush the end state to retirement, which happens in three years from then? Is that generally right?

Steve:
Well, yeah, it was about 250 a piece. So our combined net worth was a little over 500k, I want to say. So it was a little bit higher than that.

Scott:
Okay.

Steve:
But yeah, I mean, the delta, like what do we do from here to there to actually boost our income enough to make this viable? And that’s really where tracking our expenses, which was not fun, but again I married a rocket scientist who loves spreadsheets. And boy, boy, the spreadsheets, we could have told you exactly how much we spent on sweet potatoes for about two years straight, on sweet potatoes not just groceries or spending. But specifically, each and every thing we bought, we tracked it meticulously.
So we knew what we were spending a little bit too much on or what we might actually be able to spend more on. But like I said before, 70% of two incomes, two IT incomes, that adds up so fast, maxing out 401(k)s, maxing out Roth IRAs, opening a brokerage account, funneling every cent that we can possibly muster into these investment accounts, that is absolutely what set us up to retire when we did. So we sacrificed a little bit in the short term with the hopes of having, I guess, long happy life outside of a traditional office.

Scott:
Did you have like an end state in mind that you had been backing into from the very beginning? How did that work?

Steve:
I didn’t exactly know what I wanted. I just knew what I didn’t want. And I think a lot of people out there can really wrap their heads around that. In fact, at one point, I honestly considered quitting my $120,000 job to get my CDL and become a truck driver. That was something that was on my plate for something that I might want to do, because I just really wasn’t happy with what I was doing. But my story, I think, meshes with a lot of other early retirement stories. I started to read a lot of this financial independence stuff.
I stumbled on to Mr. Money Mustache’s blog and he has a writing style that I really connected with. I mean, he cusses in his blog posts, I did too, his very informal way of in your face writing style, which really connected with me. He was a software developer, too. Our stories really connected and I was like, well, maybe this is more possible than we think. I mean, we’re going to have to make changes. But if he can do it, I’m married to a spouse who makes almost as much money as I do, too, so it should be even easier for us. So let’s see what we can do here. Let’s see if we can make this work.

Scott:
After the grind is completed, you’re approaching some number and net worth or spending, whatever, where I imagined you become comfortable with the idea of actually doing it with that. What does that process look like for you?

Steve:
Yeah. So we use the Trinity 4% rule as a guideline, as a baseline. And I don’t really like to think of it as a rule, because it’s not a rule. There are so many nuances to that. But that was just our ballpark figure. And we were thinking traveling in an Airstream we could probably spend 30, $35,000 a year and be reasonably comfortable. So that’s where we really started our number journey like what do we have to hit before we actually called it quits. And when I quit my job, our combined net worth was $870,000, which is way below most people’s comfort zone but we’re also more risk-tolerant. We have high in-demand skills.
So if everything hits the fan, we can go back to work and make some extra money. So for us, we had that as our fallback. So that’s kind of where we really initially decided what our number has to be before we do this. So I quit at $870,000. My wife continued to work for the next six months to not leave her team in the lurch. So we probably added another 50 grand to that. So when we actually set sail, sold the house, set sail, we were at about 930, 920, something like that.

Scott:
And how old were you guys at this point?

Steve:
I was 35 and my wife is 33.

Scott:
Okay. So you’re achieving financial independence in 10, 12 years after starting your career with this kind of stuff at that level? How mechanically do you go about funding early retirement? Do you have a cash reserve as part of that? Do you begin withdrawing on the funds? How does that work?

Steve:
Yeah. A lot of people have different philosophies on this, but ours is actually relatively simple. We have a larger than normal savings account. We keep almost $60,000. Well, 60 to $80,000 usually in our savings account. So, that’s non-invested. That’s in a savings account, which is more than a lot of people would keep. But for us, that makes us comfortable that we can live off of that money if the stock market really dips. We are heavy index fund investors. So the last couple years, we’ve been doing great money hand over fist, we’re just swimming in it. But when the other shoe drops, I mean, we’re not going to be doing so great. When the market falls, we also don’t do very well.
We lost $220,000 last year after the dip when coronavirus really started to make its full impact. So, that’s just a risk, that’s just part of how we do this. So we do sell stock sometimes. I have a little side hustle income. I have an e-book. We don’t don’t make a lot of money with that stuff but a YouTube channel as well. So these little bits of side hustle income coming in really does help us to supplement our spending. But from that, the side hustle income to selling some stocks here and there when we need to, keeping our lifestyle as low as possible, those things add up into how we fund our early retirement lifestyle day to day.

Scott:
You should have listened to Mindy because she called the dip I think the week before it happened. Is that right, Mindy?

Mindy:
It was that fall before. But I called it to the day, not accounting for the Leap Year.

Scott:
It doesn’t matter, it’s a joke.

Mindy:
It’s a total joke. I’m like, oh, stock market is going to crash on the 13th, and it was actually the 14th. Yeah. So, follow me for more amazing stock market tips. Buy low, sell high. In terms of annual spending, what do your side hustles bring in, your side income? I guess now it’s your main job, because you don’t have a job.

Steve:
Exactly. At the very beginning, I would say maybe 10 to $15,000 a year. So, not a lot. But I found that it’s really easy. And this is one of the most surprising things to me about early retirement. It’s way easier to make money than you think even after retiring, after achieving financial independence and quitting your job. So these days, I would say that our side hustle income brings in 35 to 40K a year.
And that almost covers our entire expenses. And a lot of people out there will say, “Well, he’s not really retired, he’s doing work,” which, I mean, if your definition of retirement is literally sitting in your chair and doing nothing, maybe yelling at the neighbor kids to get off your lawn, then, yeah, I’m not retired. But everyone’s early retirement journey looks different and this is just the way ours looks. And it works really well for us.

Mindy:
How many hours a week are you spending working? I’m going to slap down the internet retirement police and say it’s none of your business what he does.

Steve:
I would say 10 to 15 hours a week. So two hours a day, maybe three hours on like a bad day, I am working whether it’s consulting work or whether it’s doing video editing for a YouTube channel. So yeah, two to three hours a day max is what I spend doing “work” that actually brings in side hustle income.

Scott:
I want to jump back to a philosophy thing here which is you’re an IT, your wife’s rocket scientist with this, you decided to cut bait at $920,000 in income and begin traveling with that. Do you have kids?

Steve:
We do not. We do not have human kids. We have dog kids but not human kids.

Scott:
Okay. So you decided to end the career at that point, which I think is far more aggressive than a lot of other folks are comfortable with. But I also want to highlight that there’s another thing here, which is there’s a risk of running out of money with this, and there’s a much more probable event that the market is going to return somewhat close to long-term averages or even above average. It’s much more likely to either average or above average returns happen than a cratering of the market, right?

Steve:
Sure.

Scott:
And what happened to you, obviously, I think it was a large market boom with this and supplemental income. So, how has your net worth grown since retiring with this?

Steve:
Our net worth as of yesterday was $1.3 million. And that’s like a $400,000 increase since calling it quits. I am not going to sit here and tell you that we’re genius money people and we just work ourselves out or work this out because we’re just so smart. Of course not, we happened to retire at just the right time in the last, I don’t know, 10 years or so, to boost our net worth that much in that amount of time.

Scott:
The philosophical question, though, is do you recommend other people think through it and approach it with I think that aggressive stance like, hey, I’m going to retire on that level and move on that? Or do you think if you were doing it again, and repeating the journey, that you would have waited a little longer to build up a bigger cushion for that?

Steve:
For us personally, if anything, I would have retired sooner. But, I mean, hindsight is always 20/20 we know what would have happened so, yeah, we could have retired earlier, but we didn’t know at the time. But I would certainly not recommend this aggressive of early retirement journey to everybody. Everybody’s risk tolerance is going to look different. Everybody’s living expenses are going to look different. Their lifestyles are going to look different.
I mean, we sold both of our houses and lived in an Airstream. Now we lived in off-grid house out in the middle of Arizona desert with almost no expenses. So we keep our cost of living down so much that it helps us to justify the risk that we did take and quite frankly, continuing to take with our current net worth and our living expenses. We know we can cut back dramatically if we have to. But a lot of people out there may not be able to do that. They might have kids. They might live in a high cost of living area. They might have health bills. It’s just going to look so different for everybody.
So I absolutely would not recommend this aggressive of a style to everybody. But what I would do is recommend that everybody sit down and determine what their number is or at least come to getting the right ballpark, so you at least know what you’re aiming for. If you spend $100,000 a year, you’re going to need X amount like $4 million, for example, in net worth. But what if you cut that in half? What does that do to your time horizon to your career in the future? Those details are going to help you put the pieces in the place now so you might be able to retire earlier than you expect. But doing that legwork, some of that grunt work now is really going to set yourself up to making those decisions to make your future goals happen, maybe even sooner than you expected.

Mindy:
Yeah. What I hear you saying is, in the beginning of your story, my job sucked the life out of me. I think that’s an actual quote. It paid well but it drained the life out of me. My husband had the same kind of job. He had a lot of stress at his job. And yeah, you can spend all $135,000 that you’re making and have a great life with a lot of stress, but you’ve got two weeks of vacation a year. So you can unwind. Or you can look at what spending looks like when you reduce like what does your life look like at $50,000 a year when you’re saving 50, or what does it look like at 75 or even 100 when you’re making 135? You don’t have to save 70%, like Steve did, but what would your life look like if you could? I mean, how much stress you have now? A little bit less, right?

Steve:
How much what-

Mindy:
How much stress do you have?

Steve:
Oh. If I have any stress, that’s a bad day. Usually it’s basically no stress.

Mindy:
Whereas if you had stress, that was a normal day?

Steve:
That is very correct. Yes.

Mindy:
Yeah. So, let’s look at your health, for example. I’ve seem to recall you lost a couple of pounds after you quit working.

Steve:
Yes. I was about 270 pounds at one point in the past, and I took off about 70 of those. So I like to hover two-tenths, somewhere around there. But yeah, without that full-time drain, without the stress, without having to get up in the morning and go to a job that you don’t like, you have the entire day to shape it into something that really works for you. And for me, fitness is a huge part of my life. I have a home gym here. You might be able to see that behind me. Because there’s no Planet Fitness or Early Fitness or Gold’s Gym here out in the middle of nowhere. So it’s such a big part of my life that you maintain these healthy lifestyles. And when you have the time to do these things, it’s no longer a chore. It’s no longer something that you just have to fit in before dinner or whatever or before work. You just do it whenever it makes sense to you, whenever you have the time and when you don’t have that job. Guess what? You always have the time.

Scott:
Can you walk us through your day to day life upon graduating or retiring from work and how that’s evolved over the past, I think, five years, four years that you’ve been retired here? What does that look like for you? What does that journey look like from a happiness and lifestyle perspective?

Steve:
It’s looked remarkably the same inside or outside of the Airstream. We’ve always been early morning people. So we get up around 6 AM, take the dogs out for a nice long two-mile walk as it helps wear them out. And of course, getting more steps, there’s nothing wrong with that. I average 15 to 20,000 steps a day. So, that’s obviously a good habit to get into and stay there. And then I come back, maybe do some work on the computer if I’m consulting with somebody, I might do something for them, or I hang out on Twitter and see what’s going on there, or films and videos for our YouTube channel. Really the morning is my ultra-productive deep work, ultra-focused, however you want to say it, that’s really where I get the most productive work done during my day.
Then after lunch, it’s like a clean slate. I could basically do what whatever makes sense to me whether that’s more exercising, going for another walk, playing on the computer again. I mean, for me, I’m very internally motivated. So I give myself a lot of projects whether it’s a web-based app or something else I’m building, writing an e-book, I can find things productive to do with my time. And then the afternoon tends to be when I do those sort of things. When it’s about 4:00, we stop everything, we put down the cellphones, get away from our computers, we have our happy hour, take a drink outside to the patio and watch the clouds go by and maybe play with the dogs a little bit until dinner. So it’s really a very free-flowing, very little structure, which for us works. But for a lot of people, you’ll probably need that structure. But for us more of a free-flowing lifestyle just works great for us.

Scott:
What you kind of said there almost to me sounds like a lot of self-imposed structure. It’s the structure you want. You wake up at 6:00, you walk the dogs, you to do some work in the mornings. Those are some of their big goals. And then you have a 4:00 happy hour and dinner, all that kind of stuff. But it sounds wonderful with that, but I’m gathering that you’re a fairly disciplined person in a general sense and that this has not been I’m going to play video games and pack on 100 pounds in retirement. It’s, no, I’m going to take care of my mind, my body, my life, and each day is better than the last kind of thing.
He picked on the 100 pounds before he left.

Steve:
Before. Yeah.

Mindy:
And I only say that because I know Steve in real life and he’s incredibly fit. So when I first read that you had lost a lot of weight. I was like, wow, he used to be fat. I didn’t realize that. I’m sorry. He used to be out of shape.

Steve:
Yes. I still have my driver’s license from when I first moved out here to Arizona. And that’s when I was 270, 275. I have purposely kept my driver’s license around. I haven’t updated it as like a reinforcement that I’m on the right track here, I’m making the right decisions. This is worth it. The time I spent in the gym and walking, it’s worth it because it’s improving my life, it’s making my lifestyle better, and that’s really why we’ve done all this to make our lives better.

Scott:
Where did you travel in the Airstream?

Steve:
All over the country. So we’ve been from New York, the Finger Lakes all the way to Washington State down here to Arizona and over to, I think, Alabama is the farthest.

Mindy:
Longmont, Colorado?

Steve:
Longmont, Colorado. Yup, yup, yup. I loved it there. That was so great. But yes, we’ve been almost all over the place. It was a very free lifestyle, very fun, got to see a lot but there are some downsides to the RV lifestyle as well.

Scott:
How long did that continue for?

Steve:
We lived full time in the Airstream for three years. Until I just got… I wanted a little bit more space. I was sharing my office, my office with the kitchen. And long term, I just couldn’t see myself continuing to do that. So yeah, we had to make a change.

Scott:
So how does an early retiree go about changing from that lifestyle to buying a home? How do you select a place to live from anywhere in the country and all that kind of stuff? What did that process look like?

Steve:
Well, for us, it was super interesting. Believe it or not, we met somebody on YouTube. Somebody who wrote and commented on one of our videos, I think it was about how to use an AeroPress to make coffee. It was something completely innocent. He knew we were in Tucson. He was down here, he commented on one of our videos. We met up. We went down to see his place. And he bought 20 acres of land for $7,000. And it’s like, holy mother, that is awesome. That much land for that cost, that’s incredible.
And that’s really, I guess, the first time that that seed was planted in our heads, like maybe it would be nice to have some land somewhere that we never have to call and make a reservation for. We just show up, it’s our place, we could do whatever we want. And that was back in 2018, I think. So over the next year, we noodled with that a little bit more and then it sort of morphed into, well, what if we build a small house there? So maybe we just take a break from the Airstream a little bit, live maybe in the winters there and then venture out during the summer.
And that just slowly started to expand into what if we just change our lifestyle? We lived there full time and occasionally go out in the Airstream. And that’s ultimately what we came around to doing. But finding cheap land in a really beautiful place, that’s really what set this whole settle down plan into motion where we can keep our lifestyle super low and live almost as cheaply as we want.

Scott:
So can you walk us through that purchase? Did you purchase the land and then build a house? Did you build it yourself or how did that work?

Mindy:
And how close is it to other things? Because I’m thinking of water and electricity.

Steve:
Yup. We bought seven acres. Sight unseen, did not set foot on this piece of property when we bought it. There was a 640 square foot house with a garage. And I’m in the garage now that we converted into an office. So essentially, our square footage has expanded. But our friend who lives in the area who we met on YouTube went over to take a look at the house for us. So, at least somebody saw it before we bought it. But we paid $72,000, 72,000 for seven acres and a house completely off-grid. So the second we moved here, well, we saw this place for the first time in 2019, we upgraded the solar. So we have 3,700 watts of solar power feeding into some lithium batteries we have inside.
So that provides all the power. It’s Arizona, so we have sun almost every single day of the year. So we have so much power we could run instant pots, we can run microwaves. I have my computers and external monitors. We don’t really have to sacrifice living out here. We just installed a well for water. Previously, we were doing rain catchments. So we were catching our own rainwater off the roof funneling it into our freshwater tank, filtering in it. And that’s what we were using at our sinks and showers and things like that. So, that’s expanded a little bit with our own well, we have a septic on site. So we are so self-contained. And that’s really what allows us to live as cheap as possible. We have zero utility bills. And that helps a lot.

Scott:
It sounds like an engineer’s dream style. In many ways it is, figuring out all of this. How about internet? Do you have just satellite on that?

Steve:
I’m waiting anxiously for Starlink and I’m not a patient person. So I’ve been cursing Elon Musk under my breath for the last few months. I need Starlink here. But until that happens, we have a Verizon Jetpack with a grandfathered unlimited plan so we’re not throttled. So that’s how we get internet. That’s how I’m recording this podcast with you. And that’s really where our internet comes from at this point.

Scott:
Where is the nearest grocery store?

Steve:
We have a small store about 20 minutes away. But the nearest Safeway or the nearest Walmart, that’s like 45 minutes away. And just a second, I know that sounds horrifying. It would take you almost an hour each way to get to the grocery store. But I found that we actually drive less out here than we do in the city because every time we venture out, we do everything. We do everything that we need to do in that trip, then we come back and we don’t leave the house for literally days. We make lists so we don’t forget anything. So if anything, we actually drive less here than we did before. So, that’s pretty cool. Even though every time we do venture out, it’s a longer drive, for sure.

Scott:
What’s next for this? Do you have a next adventure planned? Are you kind of settled down here for a while or-

Steve:
We’ve given that a lot of thought, do we start traveling again or maybe we don’t do that. We really don’t miss the RV lifestyle enough to want to go back to it full time. So, we don’t think that’s going to happen. I think the next thing for us is to find a summer home so we get to escape Arizona during the heat of the summer. For this summer, we rented an Airbnb in Oceanside, California, just to test how that would work. It was beautiful. It was great. We would definitely do that again. So, what do we do? Do we buy a summer place on the Oregon coast or do we continue renting Airbnbs or Vrbos, whatever, or maybe we travel internationally?
We’re not exactly sure how that’s going to work out yet. But I think that’s going to be our next major initiative, I think, figuring out what we do in the summer to escape the heat, because it is hot. We do have an AC here, like one of those portable ACS that we can move around and run. But that’s pretty taxing on our solar system. We have some evap coolers in place that are way better for power but uses a lot of water. So there’s even that tradeoff, too. So we’re learning as we go here. But we’re not exactly sure what the future holds. But we’re pretty positive people. So we always have a smile on our face.

Mindy:
So, let’s talk about post-FI life. Pre-retirement, what did you think it was going to be and how is it the same and how is it different? Because I’m sure all of your plans didn’t come true all at once.

Steve:
Yeah. It was certainly a journey. I think that in some cases it was easier but in some cases it wasn’t. So after early retirement, I thought that I would spend all this time basically doing nothing, just sitting and finding something to do, basically. And I found that to be harder to do than I thought. And if you don’t have hobbies before you early retire, that’s going to be a big, big, big, big problem, because there’s a bell curve when you retire. There’s a bell curve.
So right when you first quit your job that you don’t like, your happiness skyrockets, it just goes up for the next several days or maybe weeks. You could not be happier. But then it slowly starts to taper off, it crusts at the top. It’s like, okay, watching Netflix for 10 hours a day, that was kind of cool, but I’m getting tired of this, what am I going to do with my life? And then your happiness, if you don’t find that next thing to do, begins to dip back down to maybe where you were before, before you quit your job and retired early.
So you need to avoid the bell curve. It needs to be more of like a linear progression. And finding that purpose in your life is going to be so darn critical. And like I said before, I’m a very internally motivated person. So, I will write, I’ll do a lot of blogging. I wrote an e-book. We did a lot of traveling for the first three years. So that kept us very busy. I had a YouTube channel that we were running. So that again kept us pretty busy. But if you think that it’s going to be easy to find things to do after you retire and you’re not currently doing those things now, I think that’s going to be a bit of a surprise for you.
It’s not going to be as easy as you think. And the problems that you’re going through might actually get worse, especially if they’re relationship problems, before you retire all that time with you and your spouse in the same home after you retire, those things might actually get worse and not better. So I think the best advice that I would give people as they’re leaning into early retirement or thinking about how that might work for them is don’t by any means assume that early retirement is going to make your problems go away. Because unless you have a firm grasp on what makes you happy, they’re probably going to get worse.

Scott:
I think that’s awesome context. I think that it’s a process. Before you get the process rather than event, that’d be better off you might be in terms of that transition away from work. One question I had for you about this is I think that a number of folks that we’ve talked to who have been retired for a long period of time have adopted what I would say are very unusual lifestyles to a certain degree, by definition with this, right?

Steve:
Sure.

Scott:
You’ve built a house and you electrify it with solar power from this. And you capture rainwater, and you’re installing a well and doing all this stuff, custom, I imagine, and have a very unique setup for your needs with that kind of stuff. I know Mr. Money Mustache has done a lot of very custom things with his home and an environment and that kind of stuff. We know a couple of folks who are very into hydroponics, for example, that are retired early.
We know of folks that do house sitting as a way to facilitate their travel with that. Have you observed that among maybe your peers and friends who are also financially independent early in life that there’s not unusual but maybe the environment of FI directs people to really build a very specific day to day life and environment that’s conducive to that that may be wildly different from what we’re used to as full-time workers with this, renting an apartment or whatever it is?

Steve:
Yeah, I think the earlier that you retire, the more likely you are to find those more unique, I guess, ways of living. I know somebody who retired and moved to Panama. His name is Jim, he blogs that Route to Retire. That’s a very interesting way to go about this as well, just move internationally and be an expat for a while. I know others who adopted the RV lifestyle like we did, they happen to still be RVing. But others do the off-grid lifestyle like we are. A lot of international travel, a lot of just seeing things that you didn’t ordinarily get to see when you worked a full-time job, and the majority of your time was spent working that job.
And I know this might sound cliche or something, but your world really does expand once you get to the point of early retirement because you no longer have that draw on your brain for at least 10 hours a day. And for many of you, you probably take your work home with you. So just because you leave the office doesn’t mean you’re not thinking about work. So when that work is gone, when you no longer have that draw, everything just becomes a possibility. And you get to try new things and figure out what works best for you.
If you were to tell me five years ago that I’d be living in an off-grid house out in the middle of Arizona desert with nobody within miles around, I would have called you crazy. But that’s just the way it worked out because we had the time to research it. We really adopted this lifestyle and we fell into it. So yeah, I think the earlier that you retire, the more opportunity you have to really accept the world around you, do some more exploring, experimenting, just to see what really works for you and your family.

Mindy:
So let’s go back a few years. Before you’re retired, you knew you were going to retire, how did you approach leaving your job? What did the days and months and years leading up to the day that you quit look like?

Steve:
A lot of reading I did before giving my notice, I would say, is now that there’s an end in sight, so all those petty little things about your job just no longer bother you. No, absolutely no, at least not for me. In fact, they became worse, because I did have that light at the end of the tunnel and I wasn’t yet there. I still had months to go before I actually reach that point. I happened to work for a boss who was very reasonable, very understanding. Believe it or not, I gave him six months notice. Not everyone’s going to be able to do that. But I gave him six months notice that I was going to leave.
It was in June, I think, and I was going to leave in December of that year, in 2016. So that worked fine. There was no hostility or bad blood between us. It was normal. But the things that bothered me about my job, the things that really made me want to early retire, strangely enough, they actually got worse after I gave my notice because I wasn’t at that finish line. But there was a finish line but it wasn’t yet there. So that delta, that space between, okay, I’m going to do this, everybody knows I’m going to do this. And when I actually get to set foot, leave the virtual office for that last time, I don’t know. I hate to say the word grueling but I might actually use that word in this context. It was rough. It was rough, because I really did not like my job that well. So, I just keep coming back to that word. It was grueling for me.

Mindy:
Yeah. You’ve got this like the end is in sight and I can’t wait to get there. But in order to get there, I have to go through all this. And all this was not fine. It was terrible, which made you want to quit. But all that was fine when you didn’t have the end in sight. But now that there’s a hard and fast end, all of this is infinitely worse.

Steve:
Exactly, exactly.

Mindy:
So, I hear what you’re saying. I head what you’re saying.

Steve:
Yeah. Yeah, maybe it’s August and it’s like, yeah, I’m quitting in five months, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to go on my next business trip and solve some stupid complex problem for a customer I don’t care about and I don’t want to solve. I still have to do that. I still have to do that. I really didn’t give him that notice, didn’t change anything. Yeah, it just made it worse, strangely enough.

Scott:
Well, Steve, we’re jumping all over the place here just because we peppered you with questions. Thank you for answering everything.

Steve:
Sure.

Scott:
What is your annual spending now? Is it more or less than at the time of retirement or in the RV stages?

Steve:
It is almost double what it was before, because the market is good. We base our spending based on the stock market, because we’re so heavily invested in the stock market. So the market has been good, so we probably spend 60, $65,000 a year now, which for us is a whole ton of money. So we’re doing some things like the Airbnb, we spent like $6,500 for a month or something to rent that house for a month. But we feel justified to do that because the market is doing well and we might as well live large when the market is up. Because we know that when the market is down, we’re not going to be doing those things. So we might as well enjoy those things while we can.

Scott:
Got it. Okay. So the travel is the big thing then for your spending. How about this, in the event that the market did poorly, what do you think your floor of spending would be to continue your happy lifestyle right now?

Steve:
Sure. Probably 25 to 30. The majority of our spending is discretionary, which might frighten a lot of people. It’s like, why are you spending all that much money when you don’t have to? Well, there’s two reasons. One, the market is up so we can right now. And two, when the market is not so great, we have that buffer. We have all that money that we could stop spending to get back down to our base level of spending. It’s not going to be great. It’s not going to be happy. We might hate some things as we cut back when the market does dip, and we all know it’s going to dip. But living out here in the Arizona desert with no utilities, we could probably get by with 25 or 30K of yearly spending and be just fine.

Mindy:
Well, and let’s say that all of your side income dries up, you spend all your 60 to 80 bank account and the market has tanked so much that you don’t want to sell stocks, could you go back and get a job?

Steve:
I could go back and get a job. I’m not going to get the same job. But you know what? If you have a marketable skill, I don’t care what anybody tells you, you’re never going to be able to get your job back, well, it’s true that you may not be able to get your same job back but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some job just as a stopgap to allow you to replenish your funds back to a more comfortable level. If you have a marketable skill, you were always going to have a job. That’s the way the economy works.

Mindy:
Yes. And your wife is a rocket scientist. They don’t just make those on trees.

Steve:
Exactly. They don’t grow on trees. It was any math, science, technology, I mean, those kinds of disciplines. But even a mechanic, everybody needs car work. A plumber, half of them don’t even return your calls because they have so much work to do, electricians, there’s so many opportunities out there. So much work that people need done. There’s always going to be a way for you to make money if you think that you need to.

Mindy:
That’s what I wanted you to say.

Scott:
Steve, what else should we be asking you before we wrap up and go to the famous four here?

Steve:
When I tell my story, it comes across to some people as this guy retired at 35, look at him, you can do the same thing. But that’s not true at all. When I tell my story, I don’t want it to come across as this guy retired at 35. That’s really not the point here. The larger point that I always want to get across is it’s not about retiring at 35. It’s not about retiring at 45 or of some set age. It’s about understanding what makes you happy, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future.
Before all of this took place, my wife and I took walks with their dogs and we talked about our future. This is right after we first got married. And we understood what was going to make us happy in the future. We understood what we were gunning for, what the end goal was. And if you don’t have that end goal, it’s going to be impossible to put the pieces into place, you’re just going to continue going to work every day and coming home, having dinner, doing the same thing, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, and you never really get anywhere.
But if you have that end goal, something that you and your spouse, or just you want to do in the future, that is always going to be the very first step to improving your life. So if you retire at 55, that’s still early retirement, or 50, 45, 59, whatever, whatever that looks like to you. I want people to take away from my story, I guess, the beauty of understanding what makes you happy and putting the pieces in the place to get you there because the government should not be determining the age that you retire. Sixty-five doesn’t necessarily need to be the age.

Scott:
I think we’re all aligned on that. That’s the whole point is money is a tool that you need to master to some degree to move towards a life vision or end goal that you want. And everything should be backing in from that vision. And you guys crushed it in two, three years once you set your minds to it because of a lot of great work that you done leading up to that and great advantages and those types of things. And now you’re reaping the rewards for the next 50 years of that by doing exactly what you want and a unique twist.

Steve:
Yeah. As I like to say, money is like my first boss. It’s a tool. And if you use it in the right way, it’s going to make you happy. It’s just that simple.

Scott:
Love it. Well, with that, let’s move on.

Steve:
On that note…

Mindy:
I don’t think Scott got it.

Scott:
I did get it.

Mindy:
Money is like my first boss.

Scott:
Money is like a tool.

Mindy:
His first boss was a tool.

Steve:
Yes.

Scott:
Oh, boy.

Mindy:
Okay, Steve. We are moving on to the famous four, which are the same four questions we ask all of our guests. What is your favorite finance book?

Steve:
It was the Millionaire Next Door by the late Dr. Thomas Stanley. It really opened my eyes to the way real wealthy, not just high income earners, wealthy people live.

Scott:
I’ve read that book several times. I’m in the process right now of reading the next Millionaire Next Door, which I had not gotten a chance to read so. That book definitely influenced me as well. What was your biggest money mistake?

Steve:
I would say the biggest money mistake was buying my first home. And that’s a mistake only for me. Usually, real estate is going to work out well for you. But I happened to buy in February of 2007. And if you look at real estate prices, when they peaked, it was February of 2007. From the day I set foot in that house, it was never worth what I paid. And to get your money out of real estate, you really got to be there for a while. So yes, I could have recouped that if things would have normalized. But I lost a lot of money on that house. It’s just the way it worked out for me at the time.

Mindy:
I bought one in September of ’06, so not a lot more.

Steve:
Not a lot. Yeah.

Mindy:
Before it crashed.

Steve:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Yes. Good times. Good times.

Steve:
Oh, absolutely.

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

Steve:
My best piece of advice is understand what you want in the future, understand that end goal. That light at the end of the tunnel, give that a lot of serious thought, know what that means to you. Because without that, like I said before, without knowing where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. And believe it or not, most people don’t have an understanding of where they’re going. But if you do, that’s going to set yourself up to put these pieces in the place far more easily than it would otherwise.

Scott:
Mindy, what’s the episode that we talked about the money date?

Mindy:
Scott, that would be episode 157 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.

Scott:
What was Steve is saying here is so important, is to put set a vision or understand what you want in the future. And I think that that’s a challenge for a lot of people who have never actually sat down and done that. You go through life, you go to college, because Shawn from high school says that’s a good college and that’s where you want to go. And then you get a job because that’s the first interview you took and you end up in a state you didn’t predict and all this stuff happens to you.
But once you put together a plan and where you want to get to and exactly what you want and iterate on it 100 times until it stops moving, that’s when you take control of your life and begin working towards that. And so, episode 157 might be a good one to go back and re-listen to, if you still don’t have a clear vision of where you want to get to in life, because it’s a process to figure out that vision for most of us. It’s not a I know it immediately, like Steve went through a three-year process on the RV to figure out that he wanted to be in Arizona with that. And it may evolve from here to a next phase over the next 10 years with that kind of stuff. But having a vision is so important, because at least you’re choosing that instead of it happening to you. So great advice, Steve. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Steve:
My favorite joke to tell at parties, I would say it’s probably a dad joke. I don’t trust stairs, they’re always up to something.

Scott:
Oh, I love it. I love it. That’s fantastic. I’ll put it on my head later but I missed the response to that. So Steve, where could people find out more about you?

Steve:
I am online at steveadcock.us. I also have a Twitter account. I maintain heavily at Steve on Speed. The on speed part comes from when I owned a Corvette back in a previous life. So, that’s all that reference means. Steve on Speed on Twitter. Those are the two main ways to find me. I created that account in 2009. So I was in a very different headspace at that point.

Mindy:
Oh, I don’t know why I’m laughing so hard. That’s hilarious, Steve on speed. I’m [email protected], just to get back. Okay. Steve, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. I really appreciate you sharing your story because I think we don’t hear enough from people who have reached financial independence and what their life looks like afterwards. And I think your advice to have a plan is, in my own experience since my husband retired, so on point. If you don’t know what you’re going to do, you’re not going to do anything.

Steve:
Well, thanks very much, Mindy. I appreciate you guys having me on. I really enjoyed it.

Scott:
All right, thank you.

Mindy:
Okay, Steve. We will talk to you soon. Have a great day.

Steve:
Perfect. You too.

Mindy:
Scott, that was Steve Adcock. What did you think of his show?

Scott:
I really enjoyed it. I think I learned a lot about what life is like or what is possible following early retirement. I think that they’ve got complete command of their financial situation. Like we mentioned in the intro, they just rocketed towards financial independence in two, three years, and then chosen a pretty aggressive early retirement strategy, with that I think a lower level of spending than we maybe had heard from other folks on.
But man, what a great life, what a great day to day they’ve built for themselves and what they enjoy, and what incredible options they have. So I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into somebody who’s actually been living a retired lifestyle for a number of years here who completed the journey and has abided by many of the rules, the soft rules, at least, that we have in the financial independence space.

Mindy:
Yeah, and internet retirement police, stand down, because it’s okay that he’s making a little bit of money in retirement. I love his quote near the end, “Without knowing where you’re going, you’re never going to get there.” If you’re considering the financial journey… Everybody’s got a financial journey. If you’re considering financial independence, sit down either with yourself or if you have a partner, sit down with your partner, and look at what you want your life to be.
Let’s say you win the lottery tomorrow. You don’t need money, you don’t need to work for money, what do you want to do with your life? And I don’t know is a valid answer. But don’t retire until you know. I really think that having a goal to get to is great but then having a plan once you get to that goal is the most important part of this whole story. Scott, I want to ask our listeners for a favor. One of the ways that you discover new podcasts is from family and friends recommendations.
So as you listen to this episode today, did anybody in your life stick out? Did you think of anybody while you were listening to Steve tell his story? And if that’s the case, can you please share this episode with them? I’d really like to help more people on their journey to financial independence and help them discover the concept of financial independence. So, if you could just take a moment to share this episode or any one of our past episodes, your favorite episode, with your friends who could benefit from it most, that would be lovely. Thank you very much.

Scott:
Yeah. Thank you. We always love it when you share the episodes in this or any other episode that you think is relevant to somebody else in their financial journey. That would be very helpful and much appreciated.

Mindy:
We would love that. Okay, Scott. Should we get out of here?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
From Episode 227 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, he is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying, got to go, friend. This has to end.

 

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In This Episode We Cover

  • Why it’s important to have a financial plan (even if you won’t retire early)
  • Working (lightly) in retirement so you can enjoy more freedom
  • Tracking your spending meticulously so you know where every cent goes
  • Taking care of your health and wealth when given free time
  • Spending in post-retirement, and how it differs from regular spending
  • Why early retirement WON’T make you happy
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned from the Show

Connect with Steve: