One issue that I have with the FIRE blogger community is we often live in a reality distortion field. Our biases cause us to eagerly report the positive and ignore the negative. I see it in myself. I’m much more eager to publish my Performance Updates when I’ve had a good month. Not so much for the bad ones.
But the negative is important too. Perhaps more important. The stock market won’t always roar. Your health may not always be perfect. Shit happens. We all need to have conversations about what happens when blue skies turn gray.
Today’s guest post was written by a friend who I’ll call Phoenix. My family and I first met her shortly after we moved to Longmont in 2013. She was kind enough to invite my family over to dinner and we all hit it off. Phoenix and her husband introduced us to contract bridge and Kubb, a fun Swedish lawn game. In the present day, we meet regularly for meals and other events. We have had each others’ backs during some minor emergencies. Phoenix was one of the first ones that made me realize just how important community is. Having a great circle of friends elevates your life.
I knew that Phoenix and her husband have had some issues, but it still made me sad to read her post. But these are the stories that need to be told. And I really appreciate Phoenix’s pure openness and raw honesty.
I’ve blabbed on long enough. Take it away Phoenix.
Mr. Money Mustache recently posted an article about the Financials of Divorce, based on his own experience. In the article, he mentions that divorce is not a topic that has been addressed on the blog before, but that it could be incredibly helpful to his readers since it is such a common experience (he mentioned the oft repeated statistic that half of marriages end in divorce).
I had never really thought about the lack of a discussion regarding divorce on the blog before. When I began reading FIRE blogs, the one that I was really drawn to was a now-defunct blog that resonated with me because the author’s marriage, divorce, and reconciliation story was quite similar to my own (though my story involves ‘separation,’ rather than ‘divorce’).
Over the years, I have become a FIRE disciple, telling anyone who will listen to me about financial independence and how people I know (Mr. 1500 and Mr. MM, for example) have done it, so you can too! But, how did I get here? Where does the FI-blog audience come from? Who, besides high-earning, burnt-out programmers, finds their way into the FI community?
Yes, there are a wide variety of blogs out there now, each with their own origin story. But I have not found another that resonates as much as that particular short-lived blog did (admittedly, my blog-reading time is limited since I am not yet FI, so please tell me if I am missing one that I should be reading!).
Quitting Work Isn’t Optional
In late 2012, I told my husband that I wanted to separate. Things were not going well for us, and I felt we needed time apart. This was my decision, and it was heartbreaking for me. As 2013 began, my husband moved out, and rented a room in a house a few miles away from our house where I continued to live. Our daughter was 2 ½ at the time, and the hardest thing I have ever had to do was leave her on the first night that she spent away from me, with my husband.
We did not legally separate; we lived separately. Finances were not the driving consideration when I asked for the time apart, and I do not recall even discussing a budget for his accommodations. The “least expensive” option that was still a safe place for my daughter to visit was just about the extent of it. Soon after he moved out, I realized that paying his rent and our mortgage was eating into our savings since we could not easily afford the cost of both, and the financial impact of separation began to hit home.
In the first couple of months, I finally had to face the fact that Plan A was not working out. Plan A was to live a happily married life and quit work to raise our children after our second child was born. I assumed that my husband, with his PhD, would eventually be the breadwinner in our house and I could raise kids and contribute to the household by managing our finances, as my own mother had done for our family. But then came the separation, and suddenly I was fairly certain that even if I did not divorce my husband, and we did manage to reconcile, the idea of quitting work was not an option for me. I was unwilling to trust that I could rely on him and his salary for the rest of my life. And I realized that I would not have more children; I could not fathom being a single mother of one child, let alone two (major recognition for all single mothers – single parents – out there).
Then I found nomoreharvarddebt.com – thank you, CNN! – and my life changed. I avidly read the story of how one person made his student debt – a substantial sum to be sure – disappear. “I don’t have any student debt,” I thought. “What if I could save that much money a year instead?” MMM was frequently referenced in the blog, and while it was noted that he was a hardcore frugalist, it turned out that he also lived in Colorado, which piqued my interest. He lives in Longmont, Colorado! Right down the road from where we lived in Boulder, and where I happened to be employed. “Live close to work!” “Find a low-cost-of-living town!” the MMM articles implored. I was a captive audience. I had to be. I had to find Plan B.
Plan B: FIRE
My amazing, supportive, understanding parents bought a house in Longmont for me to live in and rent from them. It was so much more affordable than Boulder, and the low amount I paid for rent even included a repayment for the cost of them redoing the kitchen when I moved in (DIY has always been my parents’ default mode and this was no exception). We rented out the house in Boulder. I could not sell it. Making financial decisions based on emotions is generally frowned upon, but I could not sell the house that I had brought my daughter home to; the house I hoped to return to someday. And suddenly, with rental income, we had a surplus of money. My husband moved to Longmont with me, but we had not reconciled. He thought it was a good opportunity to invest in property in Longmont, so we bought a townhouse for him to live in.
Plan B began to take shape. Reading these blogs taught me the phrase “financial independence, retire early.” If I could not be a stay-at-home parent because I was worried about ending up as a single mother and did not want to be unemployed if that came along, maybe I could still retire early to spend time with my daughter during her childhood. Plan B: FIRE.
In September 2013, massive flooding hit Boulder and Longmont. We had 3 properties to worry about, but thankfully none flooded. Some friends of ours were not as lucky. My husband and I decided to try reconciling, so we offered to rent the townhouse to our friends at a very low rate that they could afford, while we tested the waters of reconciliation together in the house I rented from my parents. We knew that they would not be staying forever, and if my husband wanted to move back to the townhouse when they moved out, at least we would have given our marriage one more try.
To this day, I am not sure if my husband is even on my lease, but our landlords are pretty understanding. When he moved back in, I explained the new plan. I wanted FIRE, and if we were going to be together, it only made sense that if we were living in a manner that would allow me to FIRE, he should be able to FIRE too, if he chose. We are still working towards achieving Plan B. Oddly enough, the separation probably put us in a better place, financially, than we would have been otherwise. I cannot guarantee that I would have found MMM and Mr. 1500 without a reason to do so. We would not have the two investment properties we own, or the low rent on the house we live in, if it were not for the separation. I still would have preferred to avoid all of this entirely – I wish that I didn’t have this story to tell, this need for a Plan B. But here I am, and this is my origin story. I am convinced that I’m not the only one. I hope the FI community understands the multitude of paths that lead people to it, and I hope that people who feel the financial burden of a separation or divorce can rely on the community to find their own Plan B.
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