This week, I’m at a blogger conference where I’ll be schmoozing, presenting, meeting, greeting and beering. Very busy.
While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to support some other bloggers. Today, please enjoy Amy and Tim from GoWithLess.
Amy and Tim are local Colorado friends who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past couple of years. The best part of blogging is the community and Amy and Tim are pretty great folks.
There are approximately 476,492,292,928 personal finance blogs last time I checked. Why should we read yours?
Well, we don’t blog. We vlog.
Divorce was in our future if we kept blogging. For us, the editing process is pretty painful and writing doesn’t play to our strengths or interests. Plus, we’re out and about most days and we don’t sit still for very long.
Personal finance-mogul friends suggested we stop battling the “writing thing” and try podcasting or videos instead. BINGO! We went all in on videos and it’s a better fit for us.
Our YouTube channel covers lots of ground including a 20-part series about our transition from BIG spending to frugal living. FIREd in 2015, we actually LIVE OFF of our investments (this seems to make us unicorns in the FIRE space). Our videos are short and fun and cover a variety of subjects. These include travel, house sitting (as a travel hack), and our new(ish) frugal life.
What is one post that you’ve written that you wish would have gone viral?
We took a 9-week trip to Europe this past summer. Our flight was booked with points and it was canceled due to engine failure. Yes, it was a hassle. It took 4 flights to reach our destination and we arrived 24 hours late. However, we were thrilled that the engine problem didn’t happen over the Atlantic (#silverlining). The airline put us up at a hotel and fed us. Airbnb refunded the one night we missed, so we weren’t out any cash.
A month later, we learned about an EU regulation that provides compensation for delayed or canceled flights. At the same time, we discovered a service that handles the entire process. Their fee is a percentage of any money received. There wasn’t a peep about the EU rules while we waited in line for 8 hours at the airport to rebook. To say it took minimal effort on our part is overstating how little we did. A few weeks later, $1,030.58 was deposited into our bank account. Everyone who travels to Europe should know this exists. Here’s the video that shares the scoop. Bonus! You can submit a claim for issues up to 3 years in the past.
Why did you start your blog?
From the outside looking in, there was no reason for us to change our lives. We were at the peak of our earnings as a couple and (other than our mortgage) we didn’t have debt. Every year, we contributed a healthy sum to our investments and watched our savings grow. Amy’s job and career came with co-workers and clients that she loved. Tim had an expense account and other nice perks. Our average annual spending of $115,000 (not including taxes, our savings or payments to our mortgage) allowed us to live a comfortable lifestyle.
We had a high-consumption, debt-free, American-dream life.
But, there was another side to it. Tim traveled all over the US and Canada most weeks for work and had elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insomnia. Because Amy had been in sales for 20 years, most of her jobs were quota-driven and very stressful.
As we entered our mid-40s, we realized that our careers were likely shortening our lives. Finding the FIRE community inspired us and accelerated our retirement plans. By drastically reducing what we spent, we were ready to leave our careers.
Spending less offered us the ultimate freedom. Freedom to retire, freedom to work by choice, freedom to wake up and do whatever we want to do. Our freedom is worth substantially more than anything we could buy.
This is the message we’re trying to share on our vlog.
Often it seems that we’re trying to reach an audience that is incredibly reluctant to walk away from “the good life”. Our goal is to show that our FIRE life kicks ass.
What has surprised you about blogging?
How hard it is! First, there’s the writing piece. Then, there’s the SEO piece, the WordPress piece, the photography piece, the analytics piece, the social media piece. Each of these is deep and vast and constantly changing. Our brains should not be atrophying in retirement with all that we’re learning.
Is there anything else you’d like to promote?
Travel is a huge part of our life. Our videos incorporate how we do it on a budget. This includes travel hacking and international house sitting. This summer, we spent less than $3,000 on a 9-week European adventure. In 2020, we plan to be full-time nomads roaming the world. Our vlog will be following our travels.
Where do you live? Do you love it, hate it or just meh?
We live in a suburb of Denver. We LOVE Colorado but our suburban town is no longer a good fit for us. It’s pretty and it’s a safe place to raise kids but it’s not near the things we like to do. 3-5 days a week, we head to Denver for our volunteer jobs and the majority our social life. It can take 60-90 minutes in the car each way.
Tim has 3 kids and the youngest is finishing her senior year in high school this year. That’s kept us living in suburbia.
Do you rent or own? What are your thoughts on home ownership?
When we got aggressive with our FIRE plan, we sold our 6,000-square-foot house (yes, ridiculous) and moved into our 1,800-square-foot townhouse. Our current space had been our rental property for years. We paid off the mortgage for our peace of mind. When we hit the road, we’ll sell it. We’re not sure we’ll own a home again.
What do/did you do for a living?
We were both in very different kinds of sales for the majority of our careers. Amy is a natural salesperson and Tim combines a unique mix of technical know-how and sales ability. It was financially rewarding but in order to be successful, we found our jobs needed to be our top priority at the expense of other things that were important to us. When we were able to get away for a vacation, we were still engaged with emails and client calls. This was the opposite of freedom.
How old are you and do you have a family?
Amy turned 50 this summer, Tim is 51 with 3 kids from a previous marriage. We’re dinosaurs in the FIRE community (Tim is a Pterodactyl and Amy’s a Pteranodon …they both fly, right?)
Transportation (how do you get around): car, train, bus, bike or VTOL.
Amy lived in Boston and NYC for 14 years and didn’t own a car. We’re huge fans of public transportation. Unfortunately, we currently live in a suburban area that’s car-centric. We own 2 cars and plan to sell them both when we become full-time travelers.
Is your goal financial independence? If so, where are you on the journey?
In case anyone is jumping in here (hi!), we FIREd in 2015. The past 3 ½ years have been the best of our lives. Our time is filled with fun activities, volunteering, travel, family, and friends. We don’t know how we ever had time for our jobs.
Are you leanFIRE or fatFIRE or fartFIRE?
We are living on less than 3% of our invested assets and our spending continues to decrease each year. We’ve embraced frugality and we love it. We spent $36,000 last year. I guess that makes us leanFIRE?
What is your investing strategy? Stocks? Index funds?? Real estate??? Crypto????
Our money is mostly invested in good ole boring low-cost index funds…primarily stock with some bond funds. We do own our home but that’s our only real estate.
What is your favorite money management tool?
Quicken is our go-to resource. While there are issues with it, the flexibility outweighs them. We can build charts and graphs to our hearts’ content. Tim’s been using Quicken since 1990 and the historical data we’ve collected over the years would make it difficult for us to transition (completely) to a new solution. There is a fee for the software but it’s pretty reasonable.
Our favorite FREE tools are Mint and Personal Capital. Both satisfy a subset of what we’re looking for in a personal finance application and both have fantastic mobile apps. Mint is great for tracking day-to-day spending. Personal Capital does a nice job monitoring our mix of investments. Neither of these tools let us build custom charts and views as we can with Quicken. If we were looking for a starter money management tool, we’d pick one (or both) of these no-cost options.
All 3 tools connect with your financial institutions and automatically sync your account activity. Every penny you spend with your credit card, debit card or checking account is automatically captured and categorized. This greatly simplifies tracking your spending.
What is the best thing you ever bought? The worst?
Our big house was the best AND the worst thing we’ve ever bought because of the lessons it taught us. On day 2 in the home, we sat down to dinner and our voices echoed throughout the cavernous 20-foot-ceilinged space. That was a wake-up call. Too late, we owned it!
Wasn’t this our dream? We worked hard to achieve this goal. Didn’t we need all that space for 3 kids, a dog, and lots of entertaining? When we got there, we realized it was too much to clean, to heat, to furnish, and to maintain. The yard work took up lots of Tim’s little free time.
We lived in that home for 6 years and lost money on it despite a red-hot real estate market. It was the worst financial investment we’ve made but it provided the best education. Having owned it, we know we’re happiest in a just-right space.
Do you track your spending? If so, how?
Do we track our spending??? Uh, heck yeah! It’s the first thing we suggest to someone who asks how we retired early.
Six months after we left our jobs, Amy had a bit of a freak-out. She thought our lives felt extravagant and that it seemed we were blowing through money. Up to that point, we reviewed our spending together semi-annually. We shifted to a monthly review which calmed down her fears. More than three years after FIRE, we’re under budget and life still feels luxurious. Our monthly review still happens using Quicken.
What is your splurge? Don’t be shy. Mine set me back $45,000.
Our splurges tend to be on experiences (vs. stuff) and they’re usually found on our travels. We call them “Worth-It Splurges”. The tricky part is determining if something is worth it before we do it. There are hits and misses and we share all of it on our vlog.
Worth-It Splurges don’t always have to be expensive. On a recent trip to Budapest, we debated shelling out $37 on a fine-dining lunch. $37 is not a lot of money in many places but fantastic food can be found in Budapest much cheaper. That meal ended up being the best meal we had in 62 days in Europe.
What did your parents do to raise you to be financially smart?
Amy: I’m second-generation FIRE. My dad and stepmom retired in their 40s having lived as investment bankers in the “Greed is good” 80s in Manhattan. They still tell stories about their frugal choices compared to those of their peers.
As kids, we didn’t get many gifts but our family took lots of vacations. Without a doubt, the example my parents set provided life lessons that were dormant in me but blossomed in my 40s.
Ideal vacation: road trip, beach, mountains, forest or city?
Yes! We want to see and do it all! Since we FIREd, we don’t have have to choose.
What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?
Maui for natural splendor and Alsace, France for man-made beauty. This year, we visited one stunning Alsatian town after another and they were charming beyond belief. To call them fairytale sounds cliché but it’s a fitting description.
What travel destination is highest on your bucket list?
Tim’s happy to go anywhere so it’s really Amy’s bucket list. At the moment, she has 12 countries on it that are tied for highest. When people ask where we want to go next, we usually answer “wherever it’s cheap”. Picking a specific destination is typically expensive. Flexibility is our key to finding good value on travel. We’re frugal with our travel miles and points and use them as carefully as our money.
If we have to give an answer, we’ll go with Thailand.
What is one thing you firmly believed 5 years ago that you no longer believe?
Five years ago, we were in our old life. We would have never believed that we could live on $36,000 a year.
Last year, we spent a total of $36,000 which includes 10 trips to expensive cities. This year we may spend less with even more travel.
What is one thing you believe that most others do not?
Amy: I believe old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Many might agree with me in theory but do their actions line up when it’s time to embrace or seek out change?
Tim: Life is NOT like a box of chocolates. Life doesn’t simply happen to you. Your story is yours to write. Every day you have an opportunity to rewrite your story.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Amy: Ugh…I’m a terrible interrupter. It’s awful and I try to be conscious about it but it’s something that often goes out the window in a spirited conversation.
Tim: Let’s go with two things. Too often I’m in my own world and not as present as I’d like to be. Additionally, I’m a really bad procrastinator. If something I don’t want to do lands on my gotta-do to-do list, I’ll put it off until the last possible moment. I’m waiting until some time in the future to solve both of these.
What was the worst or best phase of your life?
The past 3 1/2 years of our life and financial freedom have been the best so far. Stay tuned, we’re expecting it to get even better.
What is your greatest strength and/or weakness?
Amy: I asked Tim and agree with his answer. My ability to connect with others, to organize and to lead has helped me immeasurably throughout my entire adult life.
Tim: Adapting to change and generally being very flexible is probably my greatest strength. I’ll eat anything and travel anywhere. Changes presented by new technology are exciting. For me, the dramatic shift of our spending has been stimulating not stifling.
What is something you read that changed your life?
Amy: Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. My first employer paid for me to attend the Dale Carnegie Course in my early twenties. Our required reading included this life-altering book. Worrying comes naturally for me and I still remember some of the lessons when I need them most.
If you were a dinosaur, what kind would you be and why?
Favorite beer? Favorite pizza place? (this is a throwback to the original series)
Amy: Some make a trek to Naples for the excavated artifacts. I went for the pizza! On our one day in Naples 11 years ago, we visited L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele and had the best pizza of my life. A year or two later, I read Eat, Pray, Love and the author raved about the same spot. I concur.
Tim: I’ll have to second Amy’s pizza choice. Our local favorite is Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria with 2 locations in the Denver-metro area.
Amy doesn’t drink much beer. However, if I have a sour beer, she’ll almost always have a taste. Here’s a shout-out to two beer styles I love versus a specific beer. Anything barrel-aged and most sours are at the top of my list. Plenty of below-average sours have crossed my palette. I like ‘em really funky and many aren’t sour enough for my liking. This style still tops my list because of the uniqueness and wide variety of flavors offered. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever had a barrel-aged beer that I didn’t like. Cheers to the barrel!
Hmmm, 10 questions turned into 29 answers. Whew! If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with us! We love to connect with the FIRE community. Feel free to reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. To get a timely response, make it Amy. Did you read about Tim’s procrastination above?
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