Lessons Growing Up In a Multi-Generation FIRE Family

[Happy Friday!! Got a special guest to the site today, Bob Lai from Tawcan.com, who talks about what it’s like growing up in a family with FIRE in their veins. You can’t always help who your family is or how they manage their money, of course, but when you find someone rockin’ it (family, friend, colleague) be sure to latch on and learn from them! It’s all about who you surround yourself with!]


At FinCon17, I was invited to a FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) beer tasting party by Carl from 1500days. At one point of the night, and many beers in, I joined Carl and a few bloggers on discussing what his life has been like since retiring from his job…

“FIRE is not a foreign concept for me at all, it runs in my family!” I blurted out at some point in the conversation. J. Money later heard of this, and asked if I’d share how impactful this has been, both in my life and my personal finances.

Below is a little about each of these family members of mine, followed by the lessons learned growing up around them. I hope you find it useful.

Cousin #1: We Work Because We Love To

One of my cousins, let’s call her Cousin #1, and her husband met at medical school and opened a medical clinic together in Taiwan after residency. Although they make good income, they are also careful with their expenses and investments.

Cousin #1 and her husband invested in the stock market, but the key to their financial success really came from purchasing several apartment buildings in nearby universities. Because university students always need a place to stay, these apartment buildings are constantly in high demand.

Based on their rental property investments alone, I had a suspicion that they were financially independent. This was later confirmed when we talked about their rental income.  Cousin #1 and her husband have been financially independent since the late 2000’s when they were in their mid-40’s.

Despite being financially independent, they both continued to work at their clinic because they enjoyed what they did and got their schedules down to only 3 times a week. They also employed people at the clinics and felt responsible for their employees.

Since reaching FI, they have been reinvesting their passive income to purchase even more rental properties and stocks. Their passive income has not surprisingly increased over the years. They have also been able to give back to the community using their passive income.

They are enjoying FI life while still working because they love what they do.

Cousin #2: Life Planning vs “Retiring Early”

When I talked to Cousin #2 about his early retirement, he emphasized that he does not see it as “retiring early” but rather life planning.

While studying Management Information Systems at college, he realized that if he was still sitting in front of a computer coding programs when he turned 50, life would be extremely boring. Therefore, during the 3rd year of university, he started learning about finance and economics. He spent time learning how to read company’s financial statements, the different financial indicators, and how to evaluate the price model of bond and financial derivatives. Once he was familiar with these topics, he started investing in the stock market.

Cousin #2 also pointed out that high income does not automatically lead to financial independence or early retirement. He stated that to achieve where he is today, he had a secret weapon – cash flow.

While he was single and later once married, he and his wife were spending less than 50% of their take home income for over 15 years. Because he had a plan and his wife was supportive of the idea, saving over 50% income was not difficult at all for them. Rather, it felt like a seamless process.

My cousin called it quits when he was 42 years old. He went from working over 12 hours each day at a Taiwanese high tech company to becoming a stay-at-home-dad.

Roughly 80% of their passive income is generated through their stock portfolio and 20% comes from real estate. His wife still works today. But just like Cousin #1 and her husband, Cousin #2’s wife works because she enjoys what she does.

Since retiring, Cousin #2 has also been able to focus more on exercising. On weekdays, he would take his kids to school in the morning, then head out biking for around 40 km (25 miles) or play badminton before picking them back up again. On weekends, the family would often go on trips or go out camping.  He has been able to enjoy his life more and pursue his interests. Early retirement life is good.

When I met up with him in Taiwan in October, he told me that he has been reading my blog. He was intrigued about my FIRE plan, and over dinner we chatted about FIRE, investing, and life. It was great that we could openly discuss such financial related topics!

My Father: Forced FIRE

I still remember the day my dad told my mom and my younger brother that he had handed in his resignation letter. We were all in the hospital after my mother had just completed a minor surgery, and from what I could recall there was a lot of tension between him and the president & CEO of the company. My dad hadn’t been enjoying his job for years, and as someone who worked directly below the president & CEO, he had to make a lot of tough decisions against his will

My dad’s resignation roughly coincided with our immigration to Canada.  He resigned about a month before we all left Taiwan to start a new life.

When we immigrated to Canada, my dad tried to look for a job but there was nothing related to his field of work. After evaluating our household finances, my dad decided to just stop working.

He was 43.

Although my dad stopped working, his life was still quite busy. My dad, alongside with my mom, became the biggest supporters for me and my brother. Without their support and help, I wouldn’t have been able to learn English and get out of my ESL classes in under a year.

Growing up, my dad would drop off my brother and I at school every morning, then pick us up afterwards. He attended all of our extra-curricular activities, ranging from basketball games, volleyball games, field trips, band concerts, etc.

When my brother and I needed help, he was always there.

FIRE was not prominent back in the late 90’s and the 2000’s. In fact, we didn’t even know the terms “early retirement” or “financial independence.” We simply viewed that my dad was forced to stop working, and my parents had to figure out how to support our family financially in other ways.

My parents started looking into passive income streams, and eventually found success in three key areas: stocks, GIC’s (The Canadian equivalent of CDs (Certificates of Deposit)), and rental property.

It also helped that frugality and stealth wealth were engraved in my family’s DNA. Growing up, we didn’t have any fancy toys or fancy clothes. We were thrifty and mostly wore second hand clothes.  We focused on simplicity, value, quality, and experience. There was no need to show off by driving fancy cars, wearing expensive designer clothes, or having the latest and greatest electronic gadgets. Our family only ever had one car, which my parents would drive for 7 years+ before exchanging it in for a newer one.

Thanks to my parents, both my brother and I were immersed in the family financial decisions. We learned about saving money and the different types of investments.

Another benefit of non-working parents? We went on extended road trips all the time!

When I was in high school, every summer we would go on road trips that usually lasted over a month. One year, we flew to Toronto and drove around Eastern Canada and Eastern United States. Another year we drove from Vancouver to Alaska and back. Another time we drove from Vancouver to New Orleans and back. Then once to Prince Edward Island to drive around the Maritimes and Maine. Later would drive to Banff and Alberta multiple times.

Throughout these road trips I obtained immeasurable knowledge and experiences that classes or books would never give me.

5 Lessons Learned Growing Up In a Multi-Generation FIRE Family

Growing up in a multi-generation FIRE family has greatly influenced the way I see financial independence and early retirement. I have been fortunate to learn many things through my two cousins and my dad. Here are some of the main ones.

#1. FIRE has many different looks

FIRE does not have to look a certain way. Cousin #1 reached FI but continued working, Cousin #2 retired early but his wife still works, and then we have my dad who was forced into early retirement. There is no common trend in all 3 cases. If you believe FIRE must look a certain way, then you don’t know the true concept of FIRE.

Financial Independence Retire Early simply means creating freedom and flexibility in your life. It means you can make your own choices on how to spend your money and time.

FIRE gives you more power to take charge of your life, and what you do with it is entirely up to you. You are not living off an approved checklist – you are the one who creates the list! Better yet, you can decide to not create any list at all.

FIRE also gives an entire different perspective when it comes to work. When you are financially independent, you are no longer working for that paycheck every 2 weeks simply because you need the money. You are working because you enjoy what you do, not because you have to. This shift in mentality is extremely powerful.

#2. It’s important to openly discuss finances

Rather than treating money as a taboo subject, discussing money topics openly is vitally important in my multi-generation FIRE family. My parents and my brother and I talk about our salaries, stock investments, and real estate investment opportunities regularly. My parents involved my brother and I in household financial decisions since we were young. Similarly, I can talk to my two cousins about money and other financial topics anytime I want and continue learning valuable lessons from them.

The more openly we discuss money, the more we can learn from each other. Money is simply a tool in life. It is not a dirty word. Having open discussions helps to decrease possible tensions and arguments you may have with family members.

#3. Know what you want in life!

The biggest lesson I have learned from my cousins and my dad is to think about what I truly want in the future. What is keeping me motivated on reaching my dreams? What tools are available to me to reach my goals? And most importantly, do I have any backup plans in case my first plan doesn’t work out?

So what do I personally want when it comes to FIRE?

My wife and I’s goal is to have enough passive income to exceed our annual expenses. Most of our passive income streams come in the form of dividend income. This year, we are on track to receive close to $15,000 in dividend income for doing absolutely nothing while our money works hard for us.

We plan on relying on dividend income rather than the 4% safe withdrawal rule to achieve FIRE, simply because we want to pass on our dividend portfolio to our kids in the future. However, this doesn’t mean we wouldn’t sell any stocks.

Because my wife is from Denmark and I am from Taiwan and we live in Vancouver Canada, we plan to move to Denmark and Taiwan sometime in the future. We plan to live in each country for 2 years minimum to allow our kids to learn about the two different cultures and languages. We plan to explore the nearby countries while living “abroad”.

We also have a dream of traveling the world for a year with our kids. My wife and I believe this is a great way for all of us to learn and gain valuable knowledge.

Beyond that, we don’t have concrete plans. We want our FIRE plans to be flexible so we can alter our plans when necessary. This is why we aren’t perfectly set in our passive income plans and don’t even have a specific FIRE date for that matter. Whether we decide to continue working once we are financially independent is entirely undecided at this point.

#4. FIRE builds stronger relationships

Looking back, I feel very fortunate that my dad could attend all my school events. This is something both of my cousins have been able to do with their kids as well.

Being present at your kids’ school events and other important life events are extremely important. It is a great way to build stronger parent-child relationships. FIRE means having more time on your hands so you can spend more time with your kids, your partner, and other important people in your life.

My oldest kid is in pre-kindergarten this year, but due to work I have not been able to attend all of his field trips. My daughter is less than 2 and she loves to play with me. I try to spend as much quality time with both of my kids as possible when I am at home, and I try to do more every day, but other times I fail. Being FIRE’d will allow me to become even more involved with my kids for years to come.

(Editor’s note: This is exactly why I want to become a stay-at-home-daddy who blogs on the side vs a full-time blogger who dads on the side! Your kids are everything!!)

#5. It’s all about Stealth Wealth

When I examine all 3 of my family members who are FIRE’d, stealth wealth is the only common thing between them. Stealth wealth means not having the needs to show off your wealth. It means driving the same car for many years, buying good quality items that would last a long time, buying second hand products when it makes sense, simplifying your life so you don’t own random crap, and not buying things for the sake of buying them. When one gets the idea of stealth wealth and truly master it, FIRE is something that will be within a close reach.

In Summary…

I have been fortunate to see firsthand how several family members have become financially independent and/or retired early over the years. Life is full of possibilities and choices. FIRE is simply one great option that can bring in more choices for you and your family.

What you do with your FIRE life is entirely up to you. Be as creative as you can!

Bob Lai (aka Tawcan) is a Vancouver Canada based blogger. A millennial, frugalist, investor, photographer, cookbook author, and outdoor enthusiast, he started his financial independence journey in 2011 after a financial epiphany. Since then he has amassed a dividend portfolio paying over $1,300 per month. He created his blog Tawcan.com chronicle his quest for joyful life and financial independence.

PS: “Tawcan” is a combination of “Taiwan” and “Canada” that Bob made up if you were wondering ;)

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  1. Ms99to1percent December 1, 2017 at 5:51 AM

    Thanks for telling your story Tawcan. Your family rocks! It’s good to hear how you guys are open with each other. We plan to do the same with our kid(s).

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:27 PM

      Glad you enjoyed my story. It’s definitely good that my family openly discuss about money.

  2. Mr. Freaky Frugal December 1, 2017 at 7:08 AM

    Tawcan – That is a great story and congrats on winning the ovarian lottery!

    I was also fortunate to be born into a family of frugal parents. They helped me create lifelong habits of frugality. I also had an uncle and brother-in-law who started businesses and became FI at an early age.

    My Dad to decided to retire a little early at 58. I FIREd at 52.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:29 PM

      I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’ve won the ovarian lottery. As you probably have heard, many of the “rich” family loses their wealth after 2nd generation. It’s more about teaching your kids about money and learning about frugality.

      Congrats on your FIRE!

  3. Jack December 1, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    Inspirational story!

    As I’m 11 months into a layoff, with plenty of interviews but no job offers, I’m having to consider many alternate plans.

    One under consideration is to retire early. Still working out the numbers but a multi unit property combined with some dividend, p2p investing and other side income may be the path we decide to take…

    Early retirement takes many shapes. It would certainly be great to be able to be a stay at home dad for my boys!

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:30 PM

      Thanks Jack. Don’t get discouraged about not getting any job offers. While you should consider other alternate plans, I’d continue applying for jobs and see what happens.

    2. J. Money December 6, 2017 at 2:40 PM

      that’s what i’m going to try to do next year when baby #3 comes out!! be a full-time stay at home daddy who blogs on the side vs full-time blogger who dads on the side :)

      why don’t you try it first Jack and then tell me how it goes, haha…

  4. Ms. Money Supply December 1, 2017 at 7:51 AM

    How cool to grow up in a family where FIRE is so common! I was intrigued by #2: It’s important to openly discuss finances. The Millionaire Next Door sort of argues against this, saying that if your children know you’re wealthy, they may be less inclined to work hard. What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:32 PM

      It’s really cool indeed. Openly discuss finances has been such valuable lesson for me.

      It’s one thing telling your children that you’re wealthy, it’s another thing when you’re wealthy but still practice being responsible with money. Don’t just hand out money to your kids. I think that’s the key.

      1. Elizabeth December 3, 2017 at 11:01 AM

        I agree that being open with family about money is so valuable. Over Thanksgiving weekend when we were all together, my sister and I talked about a multi-family RE deal we had both invested in (because I introduced her to the investors years ago); my mom and I discussed whether her investment fees were worth it, and I logged into her account with her to show her how to see her performance metrics; my grandpa made his new estate plan known and we talked about how the new tax plan could alter it if it passes; and my dad bragged about his single stocks and how he’s still buying gold (to which we all rolled our eyes).

        I didn’t know how much my parents/grandparents have until I was an adult, and I don’t know exactly how much my sisters and their husbands earn or have saved so far. But we have all been open with each other about investing strategies and money our whole lives. I learned about Roth IRAs as a teen and instructed my siblings to all open one too. My dad was a landlord and we helped at his properties growing up on occasion. These small conversations over time contribute to a huge and very valuable transfer of knowledge.

        1. Tawcan December 3, 2017 at 7:58 PM

          Wow that’s awesome you were able to do that over Thanksgiving weekend with your family. We need more of this kind of open discussion.

        2. J. Money December 6, 2017 at 2:42 PM

          WOWWW SO COOL!!

          Cracked me up with this, haha… “my dad bragged about his single stocks and how he’s still buying gold (to which we all rolled our eyes). “

  5. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance December 1, 2017 at 7:53 AM

    Wow your family is definitely financially savvy and very well educated.

    It’s great to have good examples around you to follow. I didn’t know about FIRE until I joined the PF blogger community earlier this year. I too am intrigued by this concept. Great post!

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:34 PM

      Thank you Ms. Frugal Asian Finance. It’s good to have multiple FIRE mentors that’s for sure.

  6. Accidental FIRE December 1, 2017 at 8:06 AM

    Great post, FIRE can mean lots of things and can open up TONS of opportunities. The combinations for lifestyle enhancement are endless. Be it health, diet, learning, development, volunteering, relationships…..whatever. Becoming FIRE in whatever flavor you choose can give you the opportunity to improve your life in one or all of these aspects.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:34 PM

      FIRE does open a tons of opportunities. I think the key thing is realizing that FIRE isn’t 1 dimensional. It can mean many different things.

  7. Mike @ Balanced Dividends December 1, 2017 at 8:09 AM

    Great points:

    “…a secret weapon – cash flow.”

    “…does not see it as “retiring early” but rather life planning.”

    “The more openly we discuss money, the more we can learn from each other.”

    I highlighted these 3 because these are 3 items that have significantly impacted our respective outlook on our personal journey. A number of other good points here. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:37 PM

      Glad these points have significantly impacted your respective outlook. I’ve always enjoyed talking to Cousin #2, he brings up so many great points whenever we chat.

  8. Jason@WinningPersonalFinance December 1, 2017 at 8:17 AM

    Thanks Tawcan for the great post. I love reading more of your story. Your post about having to learn English in the fly was a classic. The people around you have a huge impact on your life. You are very lucky to have FIRE in the family history. The best decisions I’ve every made have been to surround myself with smart, quality people. Imagine what would happen to “keeping up with the Jones’s” if we were all focused on FIRE!

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:40 PM

      Thank you Jason, I really appreciate your kind words. People around you do indeed have a huge impact on your life. That’s why we need to find the right ppl to hang out with so we can get inspired.

  9. Wise Money Tips December 1, 2017 at 9:08 AM

    Great story. There definitely is no one road to FIRE. You can get there many different ways. But it is generally much easier if you are aware of the concept and start to work towards achieving it earlier in life. Having mentors to guide you early on can help tremendously.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:45 PM

      Thank you. It gets easier if you are aware of the concept and seen ppl around you achieving it. :)

  10. Max Your Freedom December 1, 2017 at 9:37 AM

    Fantastic breakdown of how family can influence future generations to get FIRE’d. It’s something I’m trying to instill in my daughter at an early age. Sounds like you’re well on your way down your own financial independence journey. Congrats!

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:45 PM

      That’s awesome you have been instilling financial knowledge in your daughter at an early age. That will go a long way. Congrats.

  11. Lily @ The Frugal Gene December 1, 2017 at 10:42 AM

    Awesome story, that’s some FIRE history if blogging was alive and kicking back then like now.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:46 PM

      Hahaha yea. I guess blogging wasn’t really around back in the 90’s.

  12. brian @ singledadmoney December 1, 2017 at 10:48 AM

    Great post – Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. Your plan to move to Denmark and Taiwan is so cool and your kids will benefit greatly learning the languages and culture of different countries.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:48 PM

      We hope moving to Denmark and Taiwan and live there for a number of years will provide some great experience to my wife and I, as well as the kids.

  13. Dave December 1, 2017 at 12:48 PM

    Great post. I enjoy reading your blog. It is amazing that you are surrounded by so much FIRE history. You are truly fortunate in those regards. I agree with you that stealth wealth is the most prudent choice. It is nobody’s business how much you have or don’t have. When outsiders know, it can bring unwanted trouble.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 12:50 PM

      Thank you Dave. I am truly fortunate to have so many FIRE mentors in my life. I had a tough time on deciding whether to write this post or not and publishing it on J.$’s awesome blog. In the end I think publishing this story will bring more benefits to other ppl, and that’s why this post is now live. :)

      1. J. Money December 6, 2017 at 2:47 PM

        (And we’re all glad you did!)

  14. ZJ Thorne December 1, 2017 at 12:55 PM

    It’s so neat that you have so many examples within your close family. I also love that all of them are stealth. No need to flaunt what you have. Just do what is best for you and your family as much as you can. I can’t wait to read about your year around the world.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 4:52 PM

      Thank you, stealth wealth definitely is the way to go. :)

  15. Sara @ Gathering Dreams December 1, 2017 at 5:21 PM

    Loved your post – Thanks for sharing your great story. It’s amazing you had so many people in your family reaching FIRE!
    Discussing money openly is a great opportunity. I wish there wasn’t so much mystery around it.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 6:21 PM

      Thank you Sara. It’s pretty crazy indeed but I’m very glad that I have so many FIRE mentors that I can talk to.

  16. Leo T. Ly December 1, 2017 at 5:30 PM

    Being able to openly discuss money topics without judgement and resentment among family members is a great thing to have. I wish that more people can do that.

    When I talk about FIRE with people who are not familiar with this concept, the first question I always get is, “are you going to be bored?” Hell no. I have so many things that I want to do, I just don’t have the time to do it. I will be super busy doing the things that I dream of doing when I don’t need to work.

    FIRE = having the freedom to choose what you want to do, when and how you want to do it. Simple.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 6:23 PM

      Yes, the “are you going to be bored” question gets asked a lot. The key thing that many ppl fail to realize is that, it’s not just about achieve FIRE from a financial point of view. Along the way you need to improve yourself as an individual and finding things that you truly enjoy doing. This way, you get to enjoy these things with your free time.

  17. Mr. Tako December 1, 2017 at 6:22 PM

    Love this post Tawcan. As a stay-at-home Dad who happens to be FI, I get criticized all the time for “setting a bad example” for my kids. Which it’s nonsense of course!

    We need more good examples in the FIRE community (like your family) to counter these ridiculous criticisms.

    1. Tawcan December 1, 2017 at 6:25 PM

      Thank you Mr. Tako. I think it’s ridiculous that ppl criticize you for setting a bad example. In my book, it’s way worse when a parent misses an important milestone/event in his/her kid’s life.

    2. J. Money December 6, 2017 at 2:49 PM

      Whaaa really??? I think it’s time for a good blog post on that if you haven’t written about it already!! :) How could spending quality time with your kid AND having gobs of money at the same time be bad? Haha…

  18. Lane Beck December 2, 2017 at 2:13 AM

    What great fortune to have grown up with such awesome FI examples in your own family. A stark contrast to the culture of financial illiteracy that is predominant in our culture.

    1. Tawcan December 4, 2017 at 12:52 PM

      I’m definitely fortunate to have a family that is willing to discuss about money. :)

  19. Stockbeard December 4, 2017 at 2:28 AM

    How do you combine stealth wealth for the outside world, and open communication within your family? Aren’t you worried that your kids will discuss about your wealth at school for example?

    1. Tawcan December 4, 2017 at 12:52 PM

      That’s what we’ve done growing up so I don’t see how it’d be any different with my kids.

  20. Melissa Yuan Innes December 5, 2017 at 11:32 AM

    Hey Tawcan, terrific to see you here. I was moved by you talking about your father.

    Many immigrant families never find appropriate jobs when they come to a new country. My father’s side had two Ph.D.’s who barely scraped up lab tech work, but my born-in-Taiwan dad also learned English quickly, rapidly moved to the top of his high school, and met my mom in university. They both worked hard and saved, and he invested conscientiously. The money he invested continues to make money for us today, even though he passed away from brain cancer nine years ago.

    Glad your dad made it to all your events and took you travelling. I consider my dad a hero, and I’m sure you do, too.

    1. Tawcan December 6, 2017 at 2:57 PM

      Hi Melissa,

      Yes I do consider my dad a hero too. Immigrants definitely face many challenges in a new country. To see so many immigrants excel in communities is very heart warming.

  21. EL December 7, 2017 at 9:40 AM

    Yeah they say you learn financial smarts from parents, from investing to owning businesses those are the foundations of FI that will help anyone be free of regular work. Good story and your plan to travel every 2 years sounds great.

    1. Tawcan December 14, 2017 at 1:04 AM

      Thanks El. I have definitely learned lots from my parents and my cousins.

  22. Financial Orchid January 16, 2018 at 11:15 AM

    This was indeed the primary method of retirement for the 90s Asian migration flux to Vancouver in the high interest rate era. My parents did the same . A by product was also the pro real estate ownership mentality across generations that has attributed to the very expensive housing market today.

  23. Illia Kyselov June 10, 2022 at 2:45 AM

    It is very interesting to read and see the experience of individual family members in financial terms. It is very good if financial literacy can be learned from parents or relatives. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.)