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Chelsea speaks with Angela from Tread Lightly, Retire Early, who gives her most candid thoughts on all things FIRE, from the cost of raising kids while trying to grow wealth to the real trade-offs that come with real estate investing.

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Hello, everyone.

And welcome back to an all new episode of The Financial Confessions. It's me, Chelsea Fagan, your host, founder, and CEO of The Financial Diet and person who loves to talk about money.

And today we are going to be talking about a topic that many of you are interested in, maybe curious about. Perhaps this is how some of you got into the personal finance sphere in general. Or maybe some of you are totally turned off by the concept, whether because of how unattainable it might seem or because of some of the voices that typically represented the movement.

We've talked here recently on the channel about the FIRE movement, the FIRE community, FIRE as a concept. For those who don't know, it stands for financial independence/retiring early. And I recently did a video about it talking about a little bit my updated views on the subject.

When I first started TFD many years ago it would be accurate to say that the representation of the FIRE community on the internet at that time was predominantly not great, Bob. It was a lot of men who were working as software engineers living in low-cost of living areas with out-of-frame wives who took on all of the domestic labor it seemed without ever really being acknowledged or thought of as contributing to the household in any meaningful way. It was a sphere for bros.

And in many ways there is still a fair amount of that in the community. But as I said in my recent video, not only has the sort of face and voice of this movement changed, I also have come to be a lot more sympathetic to the idea that while these individual gamification of the process of wealth building, money saving, retirement, et cetera, are not in any way a replacement for systemic change on things like the policy level when it comes to things like providing a retirement for its citizens or universal health care or federally mandated maternity leave or any of these social safety nets that people often find themselves needing to go outside of the normal framework in order to secure for themselves. Obviously, the answers on a macro level have to be policy driven and they have to be community oriented.

But as I mentioned, I do have more sympathy for the idea that for some people it's just a lot more appealing to sort of take matters into your own hands. And if that is the approach to personal finance you're interested in taking, it's our responsibility here at TFD to help you get there in a more sustainable and ethical way. We did recently have our conference here at TFD all about financial independence as a concept, but because it is such a popular concept with you guys I wanted to deep dive into it here on the channel as well.

So to do just that I have something of an expert on the topic. She is the founder of Tread Lightly, Retire Early as well as the co-founder of WomensPersonalFinance.org. She is pursuing financial independence herself.

And her name is Angela Rozmyn. Hi, Angela. Hi.

It's great to be here. I would also say that while my blog is Tread Lightly, Retire Early, the place I have been living most frequently online in the last few years is women's personal finance, which is you know when you talk about systemic change versus personal change that is the place where I'm still working on getting to financial independence myself but we talk a lot more about the overarching systems that put us where we are. And how we can maybe make some bigger impacts beyond just our personal life.

And thanks to Upstart for supporting this episode of The Financial Confessions. Upstart is a leading artificial intelligence lending program designed to improve access to affordable credit. Find out how Upstart can lower your monthly payments today when you go to Upstart.com/TFC.

Well, why don't we start there. Can you talk us through a little bit about what your blog is, what your position is within the space, and what your personal financial situation is. Sure.

So I started Tread Lightly, Retire Early about five years ago. I had been a very passive observer of the FIRE community for most of a decade before that. I originally found FIRE when I was paying off my student loans.

And at the time they were at 8.5% interest rate, which meant as soon as I calculated the daily interest on those loans I was like, oh my God, I need to get these gone as fast as humanly possible. And so that led me down the rabbit hole of how do I pay off debt fast? And then that led me to, hey, beyond paying off debt there's also this thing that allows you to have more personal freedom in how long you work and how much you work.

So once I paid off my student loans and then had a few years of just kind of meandering along, I had my son. And then a couple of years later it was like, OK, it's time for me to get more serious about my money. And that's when I started my blog.

And that's when I really started to dig deep into FIRE personally. I'd read about it for years. I knew a lot of the information.

We were doing OK with our finances, but it wasn't until I became a more active participant online that I started to take more significant changes in our life. Now something I mentioned in the intro is that I think what a lot of people, myself included, kind of felt initially turned off by in the FIRE movement was that it was something that was so financially inaccessible for a lot of people. And again, a lot of the sort of higher earning jobs in a low-cost of living area, not to mention the domestic labor aspect of it if you have a spouse who's taking a lot of that on.

I think for a lot of people like at some level the math just isn't mathing. So can you talk a little bit about your income level when you started it and how you sort of transitioned yourself to that more aggressive savings path. Yeah.

So we, I think, are very fortunate not specifically for the income level, we have a very moderate income for a very high cost of living space. So we're very much median income folks. However, we were able to buy our home in 2011, so at the very bottom of the housing market.

And I just want to put that out there because if we hadn't purchased our home when we did, our incomes alone wouldn't have allowed us to save nearly as much as we have. So if we were going to try and buy in this area now FIRE would be a much more difficult thing to reach for. But we were able to buy our home when things were very inexpensive.

So because of that, we have a larger income percentage, if that makes sense. And so we also don't have car payments. We don't have any other-- we don't have credit card bills.

We don't have any other financial burdens. My husband was in the military so he was able to go to college on a GI loan. And so basically our basic expenses are low enough that a moderate salary has gone quite far for us.

And stopping at one child instead of having multiple. Wow. That'll do it, won't it folks?

Where do you live? You mentioned high cost of living area. Yeah, so we're in the Seattle area.

So when we bought our house like literally a decade ago the Seattle area was not a high cost of living area. It was maybe a moderate to moderate high, now we have some cities near me now are more expensive than Manhattan. So it is a shocking difference from when we were able to buy our home.

Now just for the nuts and bolts of it, so why did you decide that it was important to you to be able to retire early? And then what did you do to figure out exactly what you needed to do mathematically to get there? So for us neither myself or my husband have wanted to be in our 30s, 40s right off into the sunset never work again.

But the concept of having full control over lives was very, very enticing. So not everybody has a job that they love forever. You can have a job that's wonderful and then you get a new boss and suddenly it's terrible.

Or a business closes and you're suddenly out of a job. You have to take care of a family member or you get disabled yourself. There are so many reasons, situations outside of our control that make it so that you may not be able to work or work as much as you are in this current time.

And so for us, it's always been about the freedom of being able to design our life around what we want to do, not just how do we earn a paycheck. So the goal was originally I looked out and our son will be 18 when we're 45. And so I said, OK, how is it that when he is out of the house can we have options to do something different than we're doing now?

Since then and since the time has gone by, I think our FIRE number is closer to 40 or sooner. But it also depends on what we decide to do with our lives and you know curve balls that might get thrown at us. But ultimately it's always been about I want to be able to make decisions in my life that are outside of money.

I want to say, what do I want to do most first and then figure it out and make sure that we have the money that backs us up so we can make those decisions. So one of those is that I have been working 80% time at my day job for the last 6 plus years. And if we had maxed out our lifestyles to where we needed my full time income, even when for our household it was so much better for me to work less hours.

We would have been stuck. And so while that's not full financial independence, just even having the freedom to say I'm going to work less now has made a huge difference in our life. Do you share the number that you're working toward as far as savings?

I do not. I'm very public online with most things, but I am a little fuzzy on our income and a specific number, because some things need to stay secret if I'm going to be as public facing as I am. Part of that is also my husband is very much not an online person.

And so there is some give and take between what he's comfortable with me sharing online. I'm curious as to how you kind of gauge that, especially in a community where a lot of people are super upfront about numbers. Well, there's a balance.

There are people that are also super upfront about numbers and very anonymous or single folks that don't have a spouse to take into consideration. There's a very broad-- there are a lot of differences between what people will share. One of my good friends, A Purple Life is absolutely up front about all of her numbers, about everything.

But you won't even see her face online or her first name. And she's even tighter about her phone number. But she's able to put every single dollar online because of that.

And so I think there's a balance between how much are you going to put your face online and where you live and what you do versus the exact numbers down to the penny. Do you share the amount of your income that you save, like the percentage? Yes, I have shared that over the years.

And we have not quite hit 50%, but it's been in the 40s for the last five years or so. Now what was your saving percentage, give or take, before you started pursuing FIRE? About 20-ish%.

So it was still good, it was solid. But it was not something that was going to get us to early retirement. Now the difference between those two numbers, so is that entirely made up of spending less or did you increase and diversify your income streams as well?

So it's been both. Definitely being more careful about our spending, but also over the last five years our incomes have grown. And during that time we haven't grown our lifestyle.

You know inflation kind of has taken a hit to our savings rate. But up until this last year we've slowly increased our incomes. And as we get raises, we automatically put that aside to savings.

And so we're living on the same salary as we make more. Do you have any side streams of income that you bring in as well? I do know.

So we also have what I would kind of call a self-directed rate. I work for a company that builds affordable, sustainable housing. And we've been able to buy in very fractionally into apartment communities.

And so that is a long term income stream there. And then since I launched Women's Personal Finance with my co-founder, Regina Moore, a little over a year ago that is now becoming a pretty solid side income stream as well. I love that.

So I know that a lot of kind of what you talk about and also kind of in the movement more generally as a huge focus is sort of really changing your entire mindset to be more about living frugally. I know you're also-- you pursue being zero waste as is possible. Can you talk a little bit about your mentality as it comes to frugality?

The sort of spending decisions that you make as a result of that and where you kind of draw the line as far as what you do and don't spend on. So I'd say the biggest thing is for me a lot of people in the FIRE community tend to come from frugality from the saving as many dollars as they can. And for the most part, the place I've come to frugality from is how can I live a more sustainable, low impact lifestyle?

For example, I haven't bought any clothing for over five years now. And that started out initially as a sustainable, minimalist challenge saying I have just too many clothes in my closet. But the most sustainable way to have a smaller closet is to wear through everything I owned.

As a side effect it has also saved me significant money over the last five years. But it came from a place of the fast fashion industry is really awful for the planet. I have enough stuff.

So let's find a way to just eliminate that from my life. So I think a lot of the things we just don't spend on is because we're coming at it from an environmental side of things. And when you're actually doing things as sustainably as possible, they do cost less.

There's a lot of green-washing out there and a lot of sustainable brands that want to tell you all the things that you can spend your money on to be greener, but if you're really going to try and live more lightly on the planet then it is about spending less and using less and wasting less. What about travel, do you travel? We do.

Haven't for a while, but we do travel some. And I wouldn't call myself like a hardcore travel hacker, but I do dabble in the travel hacking sphere so that when we do travel we travel very inexpensively. I feel like I ask about travel because I feel like a lot of times when people sort of talk about what they do and don't spend on often it will be for people who don't tend to buy a lot of material stuff they'll be much more experiential spenders.

They love to travel. They love to go out to a fantastic restaurant, visit family, things like that. Are you someone who would describe yourself as an experiential spender?

Absolutely. But the things we still spend our money on, like we just went and visited some of our very dear friends in Italy for a couple of weeks. But almost the entire flights were covered with credit card points.

And the car rental was covered with credit card points. And the Airbnbs we stayed in were covered with credit card points. So while we still spent money on some really great restaurants while we were there, we didn't actually spend-- for two weeks in Europe we did not spend anything near what two weeks in Europe should cost.

That's awesome. So can you talk a little bit about how credit card usage specifically factors into your FI game plan? Well, I mean, again, it's we are not the kind of people that need to worry about the 5/24 rule of making sure that we don't open more than five Chase credit cards per name over 24 months.

We don't get that intense on the travel hacking. But just with normal spending, work reimbursement costs, and then the occasional credit card opening it really has reduced our spending costs. And again, because we don't expect to fully 100% retire, never do anything again, I think that window will continue to stay open for us.

Though I have to say I'm a little bit conflicted about travel hacking as more of like a general thing. Again, bringing it back to the sustainability piece. Sometimes I think it's easier for us to do more travel when we're not spending on it, because it feels like it doesn't have a cost.

And environmentally travel still has a cost even if it's covered with credit card points. Granted it's not going to balance out the 18,000 empty flights Lufthansa flew during the pandemic to keep their airport and airport spots. But on a personal level are occasional flights are definitely one of our highest environmental impacts.

Man, you bring up a-- that hits close to home. My husband and I were separated for most of the pandemic due to immigration issues. And so he was living over in France and I took many flights to see him where it was basically me alone on a 747 with a full staff and a full-- I mean, it was a disco in there for me.

It was so much fun. I had the best time. But I was like, wow, we are so screwed that I've taken this many 747s alone.

But the thing is, they were flying empty. Yeah. So at least you were flying on it versus no one, right?

So it's like backwards. Where instead of saying, oh, well because of me they flew another flight. It's like, well, they were flying it anyway so at least percentage-ly you helped drive down the per-person cost.

Totally. I'm interested when it comes to the frugality and sustainability conversation, because I definitely agree with you. Using as an example buying consumer products like clothing.

Like obviously there is always the opportunity to not buy it or to buy secondhand, things like that, which we talk about a lot on the channel and I think is really good. My husband and I just kind of in our own lives we recently have been trying to make the switch to moving to 100% farmer's market for all of our animal products and then for as much of the other stuff as we can. And it's good to do and it does naturally encourage us to buy less of things.

But it's because it's so expensive. And I think for a lot of people if they are trying to move to a more sustainable sort of lifestyle, a lot of where people will often start is in things like food. Because obviously that's something that you can't just opt out of and it's also something that has such a huge environmental impact.

As well as obviously, and I think this gets often lost, the quality of life for laborers and agricultural workers and so on. But a lot of those really good products are just, I mean, in the case of ours we're spending 5 to 10 times as much as we would in the grocery store for a lot of these products, which we know is just not available to most people. So can you talk a little bit about some of those changes that are easier to make and accessible at different budget levels if people are trying to both move toward sustainability and frugality.

So I'm going to say some things that we do that are maybe not as accessible. But we have a flock of chickens and we have a very large garden, so that definitely helps reduce the cost. But if you have a chest freezer and you do have space in your budget and you still do eat meat, we buy a quarter cow from a local farm.

And while it is expensive as a one time cost, when you break it down to per pound it's actually significantly less than buying at the grocery store. We're basically paying for pasture raised, not organic but local farm. Which I would rather do that than the big organic conglomerations.

And we're paying for the cost of the cheap factory farm meat price. But again, you have to be able to buy in bulk to get to that savings. But also things like baking bread or making your own English muffins.

My husband likes to make his own bacon. But also things like one of my favorite recipes is just a black beans and rice crock pot meal that you basically dump in the beans, rice, and a few other ingredients and let it cook. And it's really cheap and easy and it can freeze well.

So it really depends on A, how much time you have? And B, do you care about variety? And C, do you have space for bulk buying?

But I have friends that spend very, very little bits of money on food, but they eat very little meat. And they're good with just like basic beans and rice based meals with additional interesting things. So you can absolutely do local sustainable food more affordably, especially it's cheaper than going out to eat regularly.

But there oftentimes is a prep factor involved. And I want to recognize the privilege in that, because it's not just about cost but it's also about the time that it takes to do this prep. And that's part of I work 80% time, my husband now works 80% time at his job.

And so we have time to do some of those things that if you're a dual income household with kids and you both work full time plus, you just don't have the time to do. Do you mind sharing what both you and your husband do for work? Yeah, so we both work in the construction industry.

He is an assistant site superintendent. And then I am a pre-entitlement, like pre-construction entitlement person. So I do all the permitting and I'm a lead AP, which means I'm like the sustainability certified person to help make sure that we're building things green.

I love that. Now when it comes to, especially with inflation, which I mentioned earlier is definitely taking a bite into your savings, what is your strategy as far as allocation to what you keep at an emergency fund, what you're putting in your retirement accounts, your non-retirement investment accounts. How are you kind of spreading out your money with the intention of achieving financial independence?

So I definitely used to be team very little emergency fund, let's just invest and put away as much as humanly possible. And then our dog a number of years ago had an emergency surgery that was $5,000 overnight. And while I could pull from my emergency fund, it wasn't big enough where it felt comfortable just taking $5,000 out overnight.

And I like, OK, I realize that's what it's there for. I realize we have the money. But we don't have enough cash on hand for me not to be uncomfortable.

I now feel a lot more comfortable with a larger cash cushion, even though I know that financially it is not the best decision. We actually just did our first Women's Personal Finance in person retreat last week. And one of the people who attended, I don't know if you're familiar with cFIREsim, the retirement calculator.

But the founder of that calculator was there at the event. And we spent a couple of hours looking at different like retirement scenarios with different people's numbers. And something that really stood out to me was that a lot of people when they go into early retirement keep a one to two year cash cushion to protect themselves against sequence of returns risk.

And the interesting thing was that pulling money out during a good market to protect that cash cushion over time actually was a worse outcome than if you had just left the money in the first place. So that was something that was really interesting to me, because it seems like the market's up, you take some out so that you have some cash for when it goes down. Then you're protected against the down.

And for most scenarios, it's best to just leave your money in the market and continue with your draw down as planned. Just to kind of break that down even further for the listeners/viewers. So essentially you're talking about people taking out cash preemptively to give themselves a very large buffer when it comes time to actually retire for when they're having to dip into their investments so they're not forced to take out of a very down market.

Right. Yeah, that it's much better to have some flexibility on the amount of money you take out of the market when it's down rather than trying to preemptively take cash out to buffer yourself. So like if you're saying that in retirement I'm going to live off $50,000 a year but I'm going to be flexible in a good year maybe I'll take out $60,000 and in a bad year maybe I'll take out $40,000 or I'll find a way to make $10,000 to make up the difference, is way better than saying in a good year I'm going to take out $70,000 to buffer myself against a bad market in the future.

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So in terms of the sort of planning versus kind of following whatever it happens to be happening in your life. Whether it's that you want to keep working because you're enjoying your job or you are in a really down market or whatever it might be, can you walk us through a little bit-- kind of a few different scenarios for you in terms of do you plan, for example, like let's say you pick an age where you would want to retire, the market's down. Would your plan at that time just be like, OK, we'll keep working a little bit more and then we'll see where we are in two years or how flexible generally is your approach to this?

I think we are much more likely to be working part time even dabbling in things. My husband's godfather actually though retired in his 50s hard stop and has not worked a day since. So I want to just put a caveat with in the FIRE community a lot of times people talk about how well, I could never not earn another dollar again in my life so I'm going to bake that into my plan that I'm going to make money.

And I think that's actually a really dangerous way to plan for the future because, again, you don't know that you won't have a situation when you're not earning money. Or maybe you find your life is so full that you don't want to earn any more money that you have other things to do. And so making a plan where you have to continue to work, that's fine, but make sure that you're upfront with yourself that you are locking yourself into this.

Not oh, well, it's fine. I just hate my job so much I have to leave now without really considering the long-term implications if the market doesn't do exactly what you hope it does. So when it comes to sort of finding a way to live that is a lot more frugal than you were doing before, mentally I think a lot of people have a very, very hard time.

I mean, it is against human nature to think in terms of delayed gratification, especially when you're thinking in terms of a version of yourself that is a decade or decades down the road. How have you gotten to a place where you feel sort of very mentally able to frame your day to day financial decisions through the prism of a person you're going to be well into the future? I mean, I think for me it's easier to think in terms of when the money is like out of sight, out of mind.

When it's there in your account it's really easy to spend and there's always some way to find to spend it. We are not the kind of people who don't understand how people spend a lot of money. Like there are definitely things that we would spend their money on if we were not concerned about the future.

But the idea of setting aside money so that I have options in the future is a big enough draw that it's not too much of an issue. Granted, that specifically the money that's set aside that I never see as we've had raises we literally put it in separate accounts so we don't ever see it. So it's almost like I don't have to convince myself of it because we pretend like that money doesn't exist.

It doesn't exist for 2020 to us at least. It's like part of our salaries are funding our future selves and they are not ours to spend. I like that.

Now, when it comes to the-- so we talked a little bit about the allocations and how you're doing it that way. To get a little bit more into the investment part specifically, outside of maxing out retirement accounts, which I assume you probably do, are you just very focused on being as low fee as possible and just super diversified? Or do you have an investment strategy that's more geared toward financial independence young?

So I do want to say that well, I maxed out my IRA. I do not have a 401K at work. I have this opportunity of more of a self-directed situation.

But our salaries are not such that we could max out all of our retirement accounts if we had that opportunity and do the other things. So I kind of want to disabuse this notion that everyone in the FIRE community maxes out all of their retirement accounts and still have money left over for brokerage and doing all the things. Could we put more money away if we spent even less money?

Yes. But do we like being able to get takeout from our favorite restaurants and always tip at least 20%, even if we're getting takeout? Yes, that is important to us.

So while there are definitely the people in the FIRE community that max out their accounts and that is their first and last priority, that has not been ours. But you also don't have to be able to get there every single year from the time you're in your 20s in order to not have to work until you're 70. Which I think a lot of people in the WPF Facebook group a lot of times people will say, oh, I feel so far behind.

Oh, I'm so far behind everyone in this community. Everybody's doing better than me. Everybody is maxing out their accounts.

Everybody's doing X, Y, Z. And I think it's really easy to convince ourselves that everybody is doing better and more than we are when that's not the case. And in terms of your investments beyond retirement accounts, just to get back to that question about fees, is your focus just kind of making sure you're minimizing fees as much as possible?

Yeah. We go mostly for the ESG index fund route when we're talking about stock market investing. But I just kind of go the Vanguard set and forget.

And I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the stuff that's in the stock market. We're in a bear market now I think officially. And I have to say that it hasn't bothered me.

There was a dip in 2020 but the last big recession was I graduated college in 2009. So my experience was more having to cobble together two part time minimum wage jobs in order to pay my student loans, it wasn't about losing money in the stock market. We're in a very different place now.

But again, that perception of that money in the stock market isn't mine now really helps, because that money is not ours to be touched for decades. And I am quite confident that at that time, it will be worth a lot more than it is now. That is a very, very healthy mentality.

So you mentioned at the beginning of our chat that you guys were able to buy a home in the Seattle area in 2011 when it was a much different market than it is today. And that it has had huge impacts on what you're able to do financially. I'm curious, for people watching this who did not do that, they might be feeling like, well what the hell am I supposed to do?

So obviously we're talking in terms of hypotheticals here. But I'm curious A, beyond your current home, does real estate-- well, and obviously you mentioned you are part of those REITs with work. But I think we can kind of set those aside because that's not I think how most people are interacting with the stock market or with the real estate market, at least for their primary residence.

So beyond your primary residence, is real estate a big part of your wealth building strategy or a part of your wealth building strategy? And then kind of if you did not have that home let's say and were still interested in pursuing financial independence given your life and given your area and all of that, what do you think that your relationship to buying a primary residence would be as it kind of factors into FI? So this is also my day job.

I was part of a bill that went to the state legislature this last year on affordable housing. And I'm very, very deeply invested in this part of the world. And we live in a little 1960s rambler that would now sell for over a millions dollars.

Yeah. And if you're going to drive an hour or two hours away, you might get to something that's under or a half a million dollars. The real estate market is so wildly out of control.

And there is a lot of local government push back and NIMBY push back that is making it impossible to build more housing. So right now we are in a really, really terrible place when it comes to real estate. And I think that's part of what really bothers me about the people that are very bullish on real estate as creating their own financial independence is that I see friends, I see neighbors who cannot afford to buy in this market period.

And then mostly large company investment groups buying up the existing single family homes. And then other neighbors who have their own homes blocking future development. And it is making it extremely difficult for anybody to buy in this market in any community.

Ours has grown exponentially, but even if you go to Ohio or Tennessee, the numbers may be smaller than here but percentage-ly the growth has just so far outpaced people's ability to save that we really need to have a reckoning when it comes to real estate and home ownership in this country. Preach. And maybe that is was a little bit more soap boxy than you were expecting.

No, I'm so into it. It's just awful right now. We would not buy a home in our community today.

We would be living-- we've house hacked. We've had a roommate for the majority of the time that we've lived in this house and he's great. But he works a blue collar job.

And as a single guy, he would hardly be able to rent someplace close by. He would absolutely not be able to buy. And things are really, really broken.

So I know that's not very encouraging but it's not good right now. And the people who were even able to buy three or four years ago, the market has accelerated past what people can reasonably save. That's an excellent answer.

And I feel, yeah, I mean, I definitely agree with you. It's a very different situation, but we bought a home last year. We got our offer accepted when New York City was still in a pretty cratered market and got a pretty darn exceptional deal on a place that we really love.

And if it weren't for COVID in that exact moment, we probably never would have been homeowners in New York City. It just would not have been feasible for us. And I think similar to you there, and also, I mean, I think there's a not insignificant chance that we'll see the market go down again.

Like I don't know, we have I think already a bit of equity in our home just because the market has recovered. But I'm considering that very, very tenuous until we're well out of the COVID dip. But I agree with you that I think if that hadn't have happened, it probably would not have been part of our long-term money strategy because it just couldn't be.

But I really do think, I mean, it's one thing to, like you said, leverage kind of exploiting the real estate market to your own personal benefit. And I think you probably would agree that there's a lot of that stuff where the sort of line between optimizing for your own circumstances in an imperfect market kind of bleeds into just sort of propagating the problems with the system, which I think often does happen in the worst corners of the FI space or the real estate hacking space. Which like there are so many TikTokers who are crazy over leveraged, renting these things out-- And if things go sideways they are all going upside-down. 100%. 100%.

And they will have deserved it. But I will say, I think the bigger question is, because I definitely agree with you that where we're at in the real estate market is unsustainable. Period.

End of story. Like in suburban areas around New York City, it is full on pandemonium 24/7 to this day. And it blows my mind that people are paying these prices for these homes, but they're lining up to do so.

And I agree with you that obviously development, sustainable, affordable housing, development, all of that is a huge part of the answer. Getting these private equity firms out of the game. Buying up these homes I think is part of the answer.

But I do wonder if in the longer term future decoupling owning a primary residence from being the major wealth driver of single family homes, if that isn't kind of where we have to be moving. And I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on that. Yeah.

I definitely don't think you should ever buy a primary residence with the expectation that it is an investment. It absolutely can turn out to be one, but I have plenty of stories of friends who bought in 2006 and it took them a decade or more to claw out from being underwater. There is no guarantee that when you buy a home that you're going to make a boatload of money.

And I also understand though why it has been the primary driver for people, because when you have a mortgage, even if you don't pay an extra dollar each month, you are paying down that principal mortgage payment every single month. So it's a locked in savings account for someone who is otherwise living paycheck to paycheck. If you're living paycheck to paycheck and you own your home and we are at least meeting inflation if not wildly surpassing it, you are still growing your wealth.

But it only takes one market downturn for suddenly that not to be the case. So we did get a fair amount of questions from our audience and I'd love to just get your take on a few of them. So someone-- we have a lot of people asking about plausibility of pursuing FIRE on different salaries.

Some people saying 60k, 80k, we have numbers and all this kind of ranges. I guess, kind of rather than being about yes or no to a specific answer, do you think it's possible to really pursue FIRE on a super average or even lower than average income? I'm going to say, yes, but having a partner who is on board is huge.

If you have a partner who is not on board, it can be a dead weight and be a negative. But my husband and I got married at 21. And we have been pretty frugal and more or less on the same page throughout that time.

And that has been a really big bonus for me to have a partner to share expenses with. There have been times where he's made more, now I make more. Where we've been able to lean on each other.

And two solidly average salaries go a lot farther than a single salary that may even be a little bit higher. When you have two, you pay for two homes. You don't pay for twice as much on groceries even.

You don't pay twice the utilities. There is a scale to having two incomes. So I would say for starters it is a lot easier to build wealth and become financially independent in a partnership if that partner is at least doing the baseline.

If that partner is betting it all on crypto and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, not the case. But if they are even just solidly plodding along, having that second income makes a significant difference. And then also if you choose to have children or not.

If you don't have a child and you don't have a car and you don't have a home, you can also be a lot more flexible. You can live in smaller spaces. You can house hack.

You can be more creative. But when you have dependents, they cost a lot of money. And I know a lot of people like to say that kids are not expensive.

It is impossible for them not to be expensive. Even if that means you work around the daycare thing and you don't have to pay for child care, et cetera, and you decide not to pay for college and whatnot. Even if you're not paying for child care, that child is somewhere.

And so if that person who is watching the child is a spouse, is a parent, is you community or whatever, someone is losing out financially by taking care of that child. And even if you say, oh, well, I don't make that much money. We're just spending all of our money on child care.

There is the long-term growth. There is the ability for increased income. And long-term the most expensive way that you can raise a child is probably with a stay at home parent.

Wow. Well, on that note, a huge other sort of theme in the questions that we were getting is, how can I pursue FIRE when I have kids? What are some tips for parents in the FIRE movement?

Yeah. So I would say first and foremost, make sure you're taking care of your own retirement before you worry about your kids' college. We get questions a lot about, I'm feeling so behind with my kids' college but we're just struggling to get our retirement stuff put together.

And you know it is way more important that you take care of your own personal retirement before you take care of your kids' college. Different if you're talking about, hey, I'm going to retire at 35. Maybe you want to consider helping your kids with college.

But if you're like, oh my God, I don't know if I'm ever going to retire or it's going to be tight, take care of yourself first. The biggest thing you can do for your kids financially is make sure they don't have to take care of you in your old age. They can get loans for school, it is not the end of the world.

I'm not saying retire and totally let them be on their own, but make sure to take care of yourself first. So for one, don't feel like you have to go all out on the college stuff to the detriment of your own situation. But kids are expensive.

That said, most of my kids' stuff is hand-me-downs. He loves going to their thrift store with me. And you know he will brag about his new $5 coat.

But it's also easier to do that when we are financially in a good place. It's so much easier to take your kid to the thrift store and brag about the $5 Nike jacket that you found when you're saving a lot of money and pursuing financial independence. It's a much different thing to have to take your kid for the $5 jacket because that's all the money you have to spend on them that much a month.

So a lot of the things we talk about as being great savers are things that a lot of people just have to do to raise their children. So I always want to try and walk the line between raising our son to know that he doesn't need the newest and the best. And we will say no to him on plenty of stuff.

But understanding that there are people that that's the only option they have. And so treating it like this huge hack is more of, I don't know, a disservice to the people that that's the only option they have to take care of their family. Thank you for saying that, because I always feel like I'm-- so my husband and I don't have kids.

We don't plan on having children. So I'm certainly not trying to wade into the parenting conversation. But as a former kid who was very low income when I was little, like we didn't have any of that [BLEEP]..

And I always feel like I'm always listening to these stories about what it was like for millennials growing up. I'm like, rich millennials maybe. Like we didn't constantly have clubs and tutors and lessons and like going to competitions out of state.

And all of these luxury vacations, like going out to restaurants all the time. Like that just was never-- we didn't get new stuff. Like that just wasn't how it was.

And for my sister and I, even when my parents did have-- they were higher income by the time I graduated high school, it was never the plan that they were going to pay for a four year college for us. We were going to community college. We got a little bit of a budget.

And if we got good grades, they would co-sign on federal loans like up to a certain amount. But it was not even remotely sort of expected that they would just be having to fork over tens of thousands of a year for us to go. And thank God they didn't, because I was about to major in some complete bull [BLEEP] that would not have gotten me a good job and would have just kept me in a cycle of debt for decades after.

So I really think that's such an important point. And I also think what you're saying is so right on about a lot of what gets coated as frugality or minimalism and is sort of looked at as almost aspirational in terms of restraint is just what so many Americans have to do to survive. It's only aspirational when you don't have to do it. 100%.

So well said. So before we get to our rapid fire, so we have one last big theme in our questions from the audience. And I'm actually really curious about this one from you.

A lot of people are asking how you plan to avoid lifestyle inflation once you guys are going to have so much free time on your hands. So I think that's part of also working less now is that we do have more time than most people. We each have a day during the week where we are not working.

And so we do have to practice that just on a regular basis. It would be really easy for my day off each week to take the kiddo and go on a big adventure every single week. And suddenly the cost of the reduced salary is then amplified by the cost spent when we're not at work versus if you have more time maybe than you are doing more baking.

Maybe you're doing more gardening. Maybe then you have time to peruse the thrift store for some cool new thing. So it's more about being mindful with that time.

And I don't know if you know Jessica from The Fioneers, but she talks about this a lot. Where there are actually quite a few stories like mine where when you start working less, you actually find that you are also spending less. Because you have more time and more space and more energy to do the things that you previously didn't.

So instead of working 50 hours a week and driving an hour each way to work, maybe all of a sudden you are only working 30 hours a week and the commute goes away. You don't feel like you need to get takeout for dinner every night because you're not exhausted and trying to squeeze out a few hours for yourself each week. Instead, you have the time to say, OK, I'm going to walk to the store and pick up some basic stuff to make our tasty dinner from scratch that costs a fraction of the money because I have the time.

And so time freedom also tends to give you or it can give you more financial space as well. That is unless you use it to then go to a long leisurely brunch every morning you're not at work because you can also do that. Well, I can validate that anecdote.

We switched to a four day workweek here at TFD last year. And we have spent less since then. I totally agree with you.

You feel like you have way more time to just enjoy yourself and take things slow and make things at home and just vibe. I mean, like also I feel like people when you work so much you feel like you have to squeeze every possible moment of activity and enjoyment, which often translates to going out and spending money. Whereas when you feel like you have a lot more free time to enjoy, you're happy to just spend a lot of it just reading a book, going for a walk.

And when you have that time, maybe you're going to go to the library and find that book rather than buy it on Amazon because you don't have time to go to the library. Preach. OK.

Woo. Woo. Woo.

The time has come. [MOCK SIREN] It is our rapid fire. So these are just whatever comes to mind, feel free to pass. Just quick and dirty answers.

So let's get started. What is the big financial secret of your industry? And we can say sustainable development, construction.

The big financial-- that developers don't make big bucks like people think they do. It is they are basically puppeted around by the people who are going to own the properties long-term, which are oftentimes retirement funds or pension funds or large equity firms. And so the people who are actually doing the building can only do it if they have a return that is acceptable by the people that are going to own the property long term.

Learn something new every day. What do you invest in versus what are you cheap about? Gosh, what do I invest in.

I feel like I'm cheap about a lot of stuff. Like I said, I don't buy any clothes. I drive a 2008 car.

My husband drives a '96 truck. What do we even-- what do we invest in? Expensive stuff.

I mean, I guess good food. But other than that, we just don't. We don't spend anything big on something that would be like a very expensive regular cost.

OK. So you invest in good food and the stock market. Yeah, there we go.

And are cheap about literally everything else. What has been your best investment and why? I'm going to have to say our house because of how bananas the real estate market has been over the last decade.

We bought at the exact right time in the right place. And it has paid off very well. Even at the point of not selling, our fixed costs are less than a studio apartment in our area.

Woah. Do you mind sharing what you bought your house for in 2011? $281,000. And it's worth over a million dollars?

Yes. That's crazy. Like I said, that just-- you can work hard and you can make a lot of good decisions, but also you just have to land yourself in the right place at the right time.

Had we not been able to buy in 2011, our house we could have easily bought for $500,000, $600,000. Still would have gone up a lot, but not anything like it has for us now. Jeez Louise.

OK. What has been your biggest money mistake? I would say the biggest thing is focusing on just paying off my student loans and not investing at the same time.

I was really focused on getting to debt freedom. And then once-- and it wasn't even about having the money invested as I was paying it off. Like yes, it would have been small, but it was about having the habit and then transitioning straight from paying off loans to then investing.

After I paid off my student loans, there was definitely a number of years where we kind of just floated and did the basics. But could have saved a lot more money just by having the habit of investing early and often. Love it.

What is your biggest current money insecurity? I don't think we really have any right now. We're in a really good space.

We're not financially independent, but we are on very solid financial footing. I'd say my biggest, I don't know if it's an insecurity as much as like seeing people around me who don't have the solid place that we do, wishing I had more to make things happen for them. What a sweet answer.

What has been the financial habit that has helped you the most? Putting money away automatically so we don't see it. If you don't see it and it's not even in your account, you don't spend it.

And it is shocking how fast those numbers grow from money you forget that even exists. That's a good one. Also, I mean not buying clothes for five years, that probably would have represented a lot of savings for me.

I don't know about you guys, but. And then lastly, when did you first feel successful and what does that word mean to you? I mean, I guess I think I've lived my whole life with enough self-confidence that I have felt successful most of my life from beginning with like being good and being the smarty pants in school to having a career that I really enjoy.

I have to say that my parents did a very good job of being encouragement and belief in their kids that we were successful in their eyes from very young. I know that's like super cheesy and cliche, but I've always felt very confident in myself. And I say that a lot of that comes from parents that really were the backstop for us.

That's fabulous. I mean, you definitely seem like in the 99th percentile of like most mentally healthy and well-adjusted people we've had on this show. I mean, I also shared again Women's Personal Finance is my main online space now.

And on Facebook we've got close to 60,000 women in the group. And last night I definitely shared that I was having a very bad anxiety, mental health day. And I was just a complete wreck.

And I shared it there because I think part of being a figure where people see what you're doing online that it's important to say that sometimes like no, today was absolutely awful. I am in a terrible head space. And so if I came off that everything is peachy keen.

I stress about climate change a whole lot. I stress about how many women I see trying to leave abusive marriages and don't have the financial means to do so. I stress about COVID.

I'm stressing about bird flu because of my chickens and et cetera, et cetera. So I try and focus on the good stuff but there are definitely days where I'm not OK. Well, thank you for bringing that honesty as well as just so much great information to our audience today.

So where can people go to find more about what you're doing? I would say most of what I'm doing at this point is WomensPersonalFinance.org. I do still write the Tread Lightly, Retire Early, though you'll most likely find me on Twitter yelling about the current state of the world.

But if you want to follow me I would say Women's Personal Finance is the place you're going to find me most frequently. Thank you so much, Angela, for being here. And as always, thank you to you guys for tuning in and we'll see you next Monday on an all new episode of The Financial Confessions.

Goodbye. [MUSIC PLAYING]