[Hey guys! This is the start of Mr. 1500‘s weekly Wednesday posts here on the blog. We thought we’d kick it off with the backstory on how he came to reach financial independence, as it’s something most of us are still striving for (including myself!). We hope you enjoy the new column!]
At the age of 43, with a net worth of over $1,800,000, I left my job.
April 13th of this year was my last day of work. I left a high paying position where I worked from home, had incredible flexibility, and worked with great people. I gave up a lot, but haven’t looked back for even a moment.
Just 17 years ago, I was neck-deep in $60,000 of suffocating college-loan debt.
But we have to back up even further to explain how I got to where I am today. While I’ve made most of my money in the past 5 years (this is how compound interest works), the events that propelled my journey to financial independence (FI) started when I was a child.
There are six of them that stand out. The first one happened over 30 years ago when I was just 12.
The Six Events that Propelled Me to FI
#1) Losing 6 Weeks of Pay
Net worth: $12.00, and then $0.00
My parents called my sister and I into the kitchen for a big announcement. In less than two months, we’d be going on a vacation to Silver Dollar City, an amusement park in Missouri. My mother also told us that they’d start paying us an allowance of $2.00/week so we’d have money in case we wanted to buy a souvenir there. Whoopee!
Looking back, my parents got a great deal. To earn my $2.00, I had to:
- mow the grass (a large lawn with an ancient lawnmower)
- trim the bushes (it felt like there were a million of them)
- cut the grass under the bushes with a hand trimmer
- take out the trash
- pick up dog poop
All of this work took at least 4 hours per week, but I was so excited to be earning money that I didn’t care. By the time we jumped in the family van for vacation, I had $12.00 in my brown, velcro wallet. I felt rich. Then, it was gone.
On the first day at the amusement park, I lost my wallet and along with it, all $12.00. I checked the Lost and Found, but it wasn’t there. My mother was a strict, no bullsh*t type of person who was less than sympathetic. At one point, I was lamenting my loss when she looked at me and said:
You should have been more careful. I guess you won’t be getting anything.
I felt broken. I had put in lots of work to earn that $12.00 and it was gone.
That day taught me not to be careless with money. And it went deeper than simply keeping my wallet safe. It was the first time I appreciated the work that goes into earning money. I’ve been mindful with how I spend my dollars ever since.
#2) The Most Valuable Day of My Life
Net worth: -$40,000 (college debt)
When I was in my junior year of college, a girlfriend told me that we should go to a weekend investing seminar that she learned about in accounting class. I immediately thought that it was a pyramid scheme or some kind of scam, so I resisted. She was really excited about it, so I gave in and we signed up.
The seminar was legitimate. It was given by a non-profit group whose goal was to educate people on the importance of saving and the basics of investing. Early on in the seminar, one of the speakers explained that anyone with dreams of getting rich quick should leave. For those who were patient though, there were ways to acquire wealth.
I learned about compound interest, diversification, the effect of mutual fund fees on returns and why individual stocks are a bad idea for most people. This was the information that everyone needs to know, but isn’t usually taught in school.
However, the most valuable advice came during the second day of the seminar. The instructor was talking about the importance of giving investments enough time to grow. He paused for a moment and looked around. Eventually, he locked eyes with me in the back row and said what may be the most important words I’ve ever heard:
Your advantage is your youth. Start now.
My eyes nearly popped out of my head. And the fire was lit. It would still be a while before I started to earn real money, but when I did, I started saving. The girlfriend and I didn’t last, but the lessons did.
#3) Finding a Good Partner
Net worth: -$60,000 (more college debt)
My wife and I have been married for 15 years and I couldn’t be more fortunate. In my wife, I have someone who:
- isn’t interested in silly status items like $800 purses
- works hard
- is a genuinely good person
And it almost didn’t happen. When I met her, I was so busy with work that I had no interest in dating. In one of my better decisions, I relented. The rest is history and mostly marital bliss.
She has put up with a lifestyle that most wouldn’t tolerate. Mostly relating to live-in flipping. In the most recent example, we spent the last four years fixing up a home while raising two children. For much of that time, we both worked. At the low point, it was about 10 degrees outside and the furnace went out. To add to the misery, the house was torn apart and everything was covered in drywall dust from demolition.
I don’t remember her ever complaining. We’ve been able to accomplish what we have because we complement each other.
#4) Flipping my First Home
Net worth: $120,000 (college debt conquered!)
I became a home flipper by accident. I had bought a small home after college and it needed some work. Contractors are a pain to deal with, so I taught myself basic plumbing, electricity and tile setting.
We unexpectedly made $100,000 in profit when we sold the home. Best of all, the gains were tax-free (see the 2 out of 5 year IRS rule). Shortly before closing on the sale, my wife and I looked at each other and said:
Let’s do this again.
We bought another home that needed a lot of cosmetic work, but was structurally sound. We did this with almost every house from that point on. The core of our nest egg was built flipping homes.
#5) A Bad Day at Work
Net worth: $700,000 ($550,000 in investments and $150,000 in home equity)
I was a saver and was doing pretty well. How many 37-year-olds are closing in on a net worth of $1,000,000? But I was living a normal life. We had just bought a nice home in a cookie-cutter suburb. Our kids had good schools. Life was fine. Then, my job gave me a huge kick in the ass.
I had a horrible day at work. I was a software developer and there was a bad bug in the code. I thought I was going to get fired and the stress was incredible. I hardly ate for a week and lost 10 pounds. At one point in the ordeal, I said to myself:
I can’t do this for another 25 years.
I googled something like:
How do I retire early?
Google introduced me to JD Roth and Mr. Money Mustache (MMM), but I was skeptical. I thought they were both selling some kind of scam. MMM retired in his early 30s. No one does that. And then I looked at the numbers he presented. People may lie, but numbers don’t. This MMM guy was telling the truth. On the same day I discovered early retirement, I did 3 things:
- Calculated my FI number: I needed about $40,000/year or a million dollars in savings to retire per the 4% Rule.
- Figured out how long it would take to accumulate $1,000,000: 1500 days was the magic number.
- Changed up our life: We would sell our $400,000, 4500 square foot home and move into something much more modest. Our next home was an unloved rental that had gone into foreclosure.
The code bug wasn’t as bad as I initially suspected, and I didn’t lose my job. However, I was now on the path to early retirement.
#6) Finding my Passion
Net worth: $1,000,000+
There was one great big thing I didn’t realize when I started my journey to early retirement. It was this:
Money is nothing more than a facilitator. It’s just a tool. Money is an empty goal.
So, I had a goal of leaving work, but I had no idea of what I’d do after I left. For a while, I felt like an idiot:
You have this huge goal of quitting work that you’ve been writing about for a couple of years, but you have no idea of what happens after that? Better figure it out dude!
I felt lost, empty and ridiculous. You can’t retire to nothing.
And then I realized that the answer had been with me the whole time:
Write, dummy, write!
My Passion Reignited
I had always enjoyed writing and even considered studying journalism in college. I decided against it because the job prospects weren’t so great. I ended up working as a software developer, but never forgot about my passion for writing. Thus, why I started 1500Days.com.
While I did eventually start making money from 1500 Days, in the first 3 years it made less than $1,000. But that didn’t stop me from working furiously on it. I was staying up until midnight during the week, working on weekends and carrying around a notebook to record ideas at all times. I did it because I loved writing. I considered giving up a couple times, but when I stepped away, I realized how much I’d miss it if I hit the Delete button. I always went back.
Working as a software developer, I brought in substantial income. Working as a blogger, I bring in substantial happiness. While I’m thankful for the money, the latter is much better.
And now look – I’m writing here at Budgets Are Sexy! :)
And that’s how I became financially independent in 32 years.
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“Your advantage is your youth, start now”
I was told a similar thing by a high school teacher and I really wish I had his contact info now so I can thank him. I don’t think I would have ever realized that investing and compound interest is such a powerful tool if he had not given us the run down (over and over again!) throughout high school. It is the only reason I opted into my 401K on day 1!
Well, this is incredibly inspiring! I’ve heard the youth advantage line before. I just wish I had more to show for it. I certainly gained a lot of knowledge since leaving college, but I wish I had more in savings to show for it!
But, you showing how you’ve done things since your early 30s is really motivating now that I’m here sitting at 32. Thanks for sharing your experiences!!
You’re just 32! While I was a saver, I had no idea that early retirement was possible at your age. You’re armed with powerful information my friend!
My biggest step on the journey was an accident. Signing up for my 401k at the age of 22 my financial adviser told me i should contribute at least 12% (only good thing he ever told me).
That gave me a great baseline when i found FIRE 4 years later!
Oh $hit, yeah – 12% is killer, you usually don’t hear that from people that often… Scared to ask why that was the *only* good thing he told you, haha…
So many great nuggets but the last one got me “working as a blogger I bring on substantial happiness”. That is the end goal, isn’t it? To do what makes you happy regardless of the paycheck. I too struggle with my life after FI. I know there are a lot of places I would like to put my effort but I also know writing is what I can do now that brings me joy. Thanks for sharing your story!
PS – I’ll be in the Denver area this weekend. It’s been years! Let me know if there are any local must sees. Right now, the rock in the river pic you tweeted is high on my list! :)
“That is the end goal, isn’t it?”
“I’ll be in the Denver area this weekend. It’s been years!”
Are you confined to Denver or going elsewhere? There is an FI meetup happening this Saturday, but you’d need a car. Shoot me an email at mr1500 at 1500days dot com.
Wow! Impressive and inspiring story. Young is a powered tool in building wealth. I signed up for my first retirement account when I was 22 and I wish I’d done it earlier!
This is awesome – “Working as a blogger, I bring in substantial happiness.” I’d definitely say you made it…writing here and all :)
I’ve followed your journey at 1500 days, but it’s so great to see it all laid out here. Little did your mom know back then that those summer lessons would lead you here. (Well maybe should did know, mom’s are pretty powerful.) Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for posting this story – always find it so intriguing the small stories from our youth that help define us as adults.
“always find it so intriguing the small stories from our youth that help define us as adults.”
Yeah! It’s fun to think about how little things stick with us and help us become the people we are today.
“Your advantage is your youth, start now” A great quote.
I just wonder how many 20 something years olds will take the bait. It’s something I’m trying to impress upon my three teenage children, gently. Your story makes an impressive case.
I think kids need to hear it like 13,000 times from all over for this stuff to finally soak in – at least I did. And even more so when it came from someone else than my parents – hah! (I.E. – tell your kids to read MY blog ;))
It’s great to see you over here, Mr. 1500. :) Thanks for sharing your journey! Damn, your mom was a stickler, huh lol?
Yep, mom was intense when I was a kid (and I’m thankful for it)! Not so much anymore though.
I was going to say she must have softened in her advancing age having read some of the rants about your sibling…. ;)
I think your mom being a stickler for not feeling sorry for “carelessness” was the greatest part of the story for me. You don’t allow yourself any excuses and I think that shines through especially in your flips. You turn them into gems.
“You turn them into gems.” Thanks! And I think I have a couple more in me. More soon…
Your FI journey is really awesome. You’re a normal guy and the message is anyone can do it. I can relate to your bad day at work. Toward the end, it seems like everyday at work was a bad day. I’m making a lot less now, but definitely a lot happier. You’re doing really well with early retirement too. A lot of traveling and enjoying life with a little work thrown in.
“I’m making a lot less now, but definitely a lot happier.”
Yep. I thought that I would miss the big paychecks. Nope!
I shared 1500Days with my 18 year old son and he’s been reading a ton of posts. He is heading off to college to study finance, but learning from this community is incredibly important too! We are in the middle of two home renovations (one to sell and one to downsize into). We DIY quite a bit because we can’t find contractors (and they can be a real pain to deal with too!) The good ones have more work than they can handle and the others… well, we might as well just learn to do it ourselves! Glad to see you here too and if you ever want to visit upstate NY – we have a flip project right across from a beautiful 18 mile lake! We’d hire you ;)
Whoah, a flip project near a lake in NY! I’m game for some carpentourism! Seriously!
It could be VERY fun! I’ll email you a link to the area and a little about the house and you can check it out. There are over 100 wineries and a bunch of craft breweries within an hour or so drive too :)
You had me at “craft breweries!” :)
Thanks for the story of your timeline.
These three points from your article pretty much sum it FIRE.
1.Money is nothing more than a facilitator. It’s just a tool. Money is an empty goal.
2.You have this huge goal of quitting work but you have no idea of what happens after that? Better figure it out dude!
3.You can’t retire to nothing.
Bottom Line: We have to retire into something.
Save some angst, have this built into your FIRE plan, the earlier the better.
I really enjoyed reading this! I find little peaks into people’s financial history really interesting. Your mom taught you a really good lesson! Maybe losing that $12 was the best thing that could have happened that day.
Great story. Flipping homes can definitely be a good way to make money, though I imagine quite stressful with 2 kids. Our spending is slightly higher then yours, but it is the mortgage that is killing us currently. If we become serious about fire, then we are going to have to reevaluate our current home. Otherwise I maybe slaving away for 1500 months instead of days!
Yep, house flips with 2 kids and a full-time job was terrible. Hey, that would make a great post! Tune in in just a couple weeks! :)
Wow, you and I have some similar experiences:
1) I FIREd at 52 – a little later than you.
2) I was a software developer. I can totally related to the “Ah shit, that’s my bug causing the problem.” story.
3) I found a great wife who was already frugal, smart, kind, and cute. I totally lucked out on that.
4) I downsized from a 2100 square-foot home to a 1150 square-foot apartment.
5) I’m a disciple of MMM and he is one of the main reasons I had the courage to retire early. He makes it look easy.
Yeah, sounds like you’re a doppelganger! Perhaps we’re the same person even. If we meet in person, the laws of the universe will be violated and creation will cease to exist!
I swear, I haven’t been drinking.
The best advice I ever got was from an instructor in the navy. He said “I like my job and want to stay here as long as I can, but you should never be trapped in a job. Save some money in case you hate the navy.”
Thanks for sharing your story. It is truly inspiring. It is amazing that you pulled yourself out of substantial student loan debt and now almost have a $2m net worth. You have demonstrated that it is doable if you work for it.
I love the story! I didn’t know about the coding bug and bad day at work. Sometimes a kick in the pants is the best thing that could ever happen to us.
One of the highlights for me was the part about finding a great partner. How big is that?! I know it’s been an incredible part of my own journey. The fact that my wife is happy camping, enjoying picnics in a park, or traveling to Ecuador (!) instead of having to live a life impressing people is amazing in so many ways.
And I find it very interesting that at the time you met your wife, you still had a -$60,000 net worth. And the fact that together you knocked that out and turned it around to +$120,000 with hard work, savings, and live-in flips speaks a lot to you working as a team. That’s the exact point so many people continue to dig a whole for themselves.
I look forward to your regular column!
Thanks Chad! And yeah, finding a good partner is sooooooo important. I’m watching a marriage fall apart right now and part of the reason was money. Sad.
I absolutely love your story. That seminar sounds like a great one!
And, the before and after picture of your house always amazes me!
What an inspiring story! I am 31 and would love to hear more about HOW you figured out your numbers. Our target number to FI is 50 but now that seems too high. lol
Numbers! I first figured out my annual spending (~$40,000). After that, I knew I needed $1,000,000 per the 4% Rule. Numbers are easy! Emotions, not so much…
Welcome! Thanks for sharing your journey. You were lucky to find yourself a great partner with the same mind set for goals.
Absolutely. Even if they’re not a bad person, a partner who doesn’t share the same goals is a recipe for bad times…
What a great journey you’ve had Carl! Congrats on the new job!
“Retired” life didn’t last too long I guess! ;)
After FI, happiness is what’s most important.
It hardly feels like working when you love what you do!
Wow! Thanks for sharing your story! I am also curious about how you came up with your numbers. Perhaps we will read it in a future post
I just wrote about it a couple comments up! Look at my response to Krystal.
Holy F, I hope I can be as much of a badass as your mother when it comes time to teach my child life lessons. I am afraid that my version of tough love might be marshmallow soft and just so lame.
This was a great read, and I’m happy for you and for me that you are now writing at budgetsaresexy.
My wife was worried that I’d be the marshmallow type too when trying to teach/discipline my kids stuff :) Turns out i was more like a s’more! Mostly soft and gooey, but tougher in the areas that needs being tough. And now I’m hungry for chocolate, dang! :)
Man, this was so inspiring to read. Thank you for sharing more about your journey and for the inspiration and motivation!
Your writing looks good over here man. I look forward to more :)
And that was a pretty harsh lesson your mom threw at you, but it sounds like it made a lasting impression.
Yay, I knew it!!!! :-D
It’s great to see you here. Every time when I read your story it gives me more motivation.
And I feel the same when I hear your life story!
Awesome story! I wish I could say my house renovating was as profitable as yours, but at least I still had fun doing it :)
Nice to see you found a fun gig, as if you weren’t going to be busy enough ;)
“as if you weren’t going to be busy enough”
I know, right? Retirement is sooo busy! Maybe I need to go back to work to get my time back?
Congrats on the new job Mr 1500. Always nice to read your success story!
FIRE article. Such a sick read this afternoon. Thanks, J Money =)
I’m glad you like them, because Mr 1500 will be spitting out more like these every week :) So now we got theory AND proof up in this blog! Haha…
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been following your journey for much of the 1500 days and have always enjoyed the writing style, humor, and wit you bring to your work. It’s like you say it’s not work if it’s something that you truly enjoy. You’ve helped inspire me and were one a a few websites that pushed me onto my own path. I’ll be 37 in December and if there isn’t a market correction I’ll be pushing in the $600,000 net worth level. One house flip away from where you were :)
Ooooh when in December? I’ll be 38 then and our net worths are awfully similar too!
Partly why I enjoy this blog is that it’s pretty relevant to young adults, especially the part about compound interest. Personally, I’m aiming to retire in my 30s, but the toughest part I think is trying to actually save for a retirement account when you’re not earning much of anything. But, it never lasts as long as you take your life into your own hands. Great article!
“I think is trying to actually save for a retirement account when you’re not earning much of anything…”
It may be worth exploring side hustles or a career change, especially if you’re young and don’t have a family yet. When I was in my 20s, I had no idea what to do with myself. I was in pharmacy school and hated it. I dropped out and went to a coding certificate program (similar to boot camps that are around now). It lasted 30 weeks and led to a great job. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Nice post, and the concise background from point A to point B. Did you typically buy the same sized properties when flipping homes or did you continue to increase the size and potential of each home?
At a tough breaking point with my “career” aka job, but am trying to push myself hard as hell to get out of this. Appreciate the post.
We increased the size and potential. It worked out well, except for the one we bought in 2006. Oops!
So many FIREd PF bloggers were software developers by trade!!! Even MMM himself! I didn’t know you could get fired from a code error, that’s feet stressful and also unfair. Innocent mistakes happen doesn’t it?
Loved the before and after on the house!!!
A career as a software developer is a life hack. I taught myself a programming language in a couple weeks and got paid healthy money for it. I’d recommend the career to anyone.
I wish I would have started investing when I was in my 20s. My mind was all over the place back then. I’m glad that I’m at the point where I can finally start investing, even it’s just a small amount.
A lot of folks never figure it out though. Don’t look back, only forward!
Haha yup, me too. All I cared about was girls and partying and girls ;) It wasn’t until I “settled down” with one that I thought it would prob be good to do more adult stuff too – hah.
Congrats on reaching financial independence!
Your journey is very inspiring. Ever since I’ve learned about real estate I knew that this would be something I’d invest in one day.
I love real estate and there are so many ways to invest in it now. With crowdfunding platforms, you don’t even have to manage tenants or pick up a tool!
Just turned 30, I’m not too far behind where you were at 30.
I have realized I can probably risk it a bit and “retire” within 5 years pretty worry free and move onto some kind of entrepreneurship, but I have the same question bugging me. What would I do post engineering career? Still marching towards early retirement, but if I don’t have an answer, I’ll probably just keep working and saving acorns if I don’t answer that question. That question really bugs the crap out of me, haunting me.
Your town square could use a microbrewery!
I love how you ended this post, “Working as a software developer, I brought in substantial income. Working as a blogger, I bring in substantial happiness.”
As a fellow engineer, I’ve been working hard to grow my income. I just calculated my net worth to see how well I am on track to reach FI and I am at $391k at age 29. My expenses are a little difficult to estimate because we just had our first kid and we moved into a new house. I would put them at $50k/year, which means I would need $1.25M. Based on our current savings rate, we are 7-10 years out from hitting that amount. Which means we could retire by 40 :)
Nice work TGE! If I was a betting man, I’d put money on you hitting your number before 40. Keep killing it!
Inspiring post! Thanks for sharing. Real estate is a new obsession for me, although I’m not an RE investor yet. Still searching for our first deal in 2017. Looking for any and every way to become FI. Thanks again. -Chris
Real estate is a great way to accumulate wealth and there are so many ways to invest including not directly owning real estate at all (crowdfunding). Good luck!
I think I need to learn more about investing as that is one way I can diversify my income. Even you said it was one of the most valuable days of your life.
Investing is something that should be taught in schools as general knowledge because many people think it’s too complicated to even try it out.
The journey to financial independence is long but fruitful at the end of the road.
“Investing is something that should be taught in schools…”
Hell yeah! We learn about ancient wars, but most schools teach next to nothing about one of most critical parts of life. The problem is that if your parents don’t know about money (and way too many don’t), how are you ever going to learn?
“Money is nothing more than a facilitator. It’s just a tool. Money is an empty goal.”
One of the truest things every said. It’s so important to have the right mindset when dealing with anything money related, whether it’s making it, investing it, or just handling it.
Great post! And congrats on the early retirement!
Thanks for the kind words Tim! And yeah, once you take money off its pedestal and put it where it belongs, life makes a lot more sense.
Great story. If your initial FI number was $1 million, why did you wait until you had $1.8 million to retire?
Number are easy. Emotions, not so much.
Great post. It’s interesting how the same story keeps popping up about the engineer retiring early. I’m in the same boat. I guess we tend to find ourselves. Great work on detaching from the money and going after the goal of fulfillment. Look forward to reading more of your posts.
Good story and most of the retire early stories involve investing. (Who’d Thunk it, huh) Buying assets is where its at, and if you cant afford to buy assets like real estate and index funds, forget about FI or retirement. Get ready for 65, and possibly a very low level Social security.
Anyone can do it. There are so many ways to make money and a little invested early can turn into a lot if you have decades.
Great post Mr. 1500. Sounds like you did it the right way, slow and steady. I’m happy for you and your family. I’m 41 and just now getting started to try and get our financial life in order. Have a ways to go, but posts like yours keep me motivated!
Thanks BMG! It takes patience. Most of the money came in at the very end; just how compound interest works.
Hey Mr. 1500,
Your story and others posted here are very inspiring.
My story- December of 2004 – student loan, two car payments, credit card bills. We pretty much lived on credit cards, paying one credit card with another.
That December night was sobering. After the family went to sleep, I laid out all the bills on the family room floor (the bills pretty much covered the space). I decided to do something about it. I thought it was not fair to put my family through this hardship because of my bad financial decision.
Fast forward 2009 March, I was lucky and grateful for the opportunity that presented itself. I took advantage of it.
I can’t believe the journey, from deep red to flush green. My only regret is that I wish I came across blog sooner. I am planning to retire in 8 years. I am handy. I do a lot of fixing around the house. That’s what I am interested in doing after retirement. Any thoughts, suggestions, or advice are welcome.
Thanks for the education !
BEAUTIFUL!!! Well done, man!
I had to Google “compound interest” and “the effect of mutual fund fees on returns”.. That’s sad. But at 31 I feel like there’s still time, and it’s great to have the information at hand and articles like this for motivation.
Slow and steady always seems to be the morale of the story. If only we all knew from day 1 that the tortoise and the hare story would be so relevant to our financial success.