013: Financial Freedom at 33 and 34 | Phia from Freedom 101

In this episode, Money Mechanic and Chrissy interview Phia and Mike from Vancouver. They write about their financial freedom journey at their blog, Freedom101.ca.

Phia and Mike achieved financial freedom in their thirties—with two kids, living in a high-cost-of-living area, and each having been divorced!

Any one of these situations would make financial freedom harder to reach, yet Phia and Mike are proof that it’s possible (while also living a happy, fulfilled life).

Intro

  • Mike’s 36 and Phia’s 34. They live in the Greater Vancouver area.
  • They stumbled into the journey towards financial freedom: it was a slow progression that started from wanting to pay down their debt to have more time and choice.
  • That then evolved into pursuing financial freedom, and ultimately into them retiring early from their jobs, which was three years ago.

How real estate helped their journey

  • Mike believes that setting goals and being aligned with Phia helped them reach financial freedom at an early age.
  • They also kept the properties that each of them owned when they divorced from their previous partners. The incredible real estate appreciation in the Vancouver area really helped to jump-start their journey to financial freedom.
  • Real estate investing is definitely what got them to where they are today.
  • The appreciation, combined with tenants paying down the mortgages, have a real compounding effect.
  • They paid off their first mortgage together in five years. Renting the suite in their house helped a lot with that.
  • Phia wants to emphasize that it’s still feasible to reach financial freedom—even without the outsized gains they saw in their real estate investments. It may take longer, but it’s still feasible.

Getting your partner on board

  • Mike always wanted to be debt-free and was very money-conscious from a young age.
  • Phia was relatively money-savvy, but was less on-board with paying down their mortgage quickly.
  • It took some consistent, concerted effort on Mike’s part to get her on board. But once she did, it became the obvious choice to pay off their mortgage and work towards financial freedom.

Using leverage

  • Despite wanting to be mortgage-free with their primary residence, they made a conscious decision to be balanced when accessing leverage for their real estate investing.
  • They took out a huge line of credit before they retired so they could access the equity they’d built up.
  • They also chose not to invest in equities and the stock market at that stage so they could focus on building up their real estate investments.
  • They discuss it frequently, and are careful not to over-leverage and be caught with too much allocated to one market.
  • Money Mechanic emphasizes how important it is to get a HELOC set up before you stop working.
    • Once you stop working, it’s that much harder to qualify for loans and other forms of credit.
  • Mike feels the psychological aspect of paying off your mortgage is so important. Gaining that cashflow back, and having the freedom to decide what to do with it, is powerful.

Mike’s money story

  • Mike’s dad was a big influence on him (he wrote a post on their blog about his money journey).
  • He saw their mortgages as anchors that limited their options. He knew that eliminating that debt would open the door for other things.
  • They didn’t originally see that their mortgage paydown would lead to retirement. But here they are, 5 or 7 years later, and retired.
  • Mike’s dad never liked having debt of any kind. Because he mentioned it all the time, it stuck with Mike.
  • Phia and Mike started pursuing financial freedom without prior knowledge or involvement with the FI community.
    • Chrissy finds it amazing that they’ve accomplished what they have (since most of us pursue FI after learning about the community).
    • Mike feels they had help and support from others and each other along the way.
    • We all take in the info from different people at different times.

Life post-financial freedom

  • Mike and Phia have written extensively about their lives post-financial freedom, including things like Mike’s mini life experiments (e.g. the keto diet and cold therapy).
  • Chrissy wonders if, ten years ago, they could have predicted that they’d be living this fun, amazing life. Mike says no.
  • He likes to try new things all the time, and is still working on finding his place in this new lifestyle.
  • Money Mechanic mentions Mike’s post where he writes about a sense of dissonance after leaving his job and asks what they’re working towards now.
    • Phia loves sending all three of her boys out to do jiu-jitsu together (instead of rough-housing in their living room)!
    • She herself has worked a lot on enjoying her local community and seeing friends and family as much as possible.
    • Mike feels Phia has done a much better job of transitioning into retirement. She’s done well with building her new social network, but he’s been finding that to be more of a challenge.
      • It’s not easy to rebuild a social network when most of the people you knew were from work.
      • He now socializes more with the new friends that Phia’s made.
      • He’s also put more of a focus on pursuing new interests.

Financial freedom vs financial independence

“For Freedom Seekers it’s not about reaching the goal of FI as quickly as possible, it’s about what financial independence gives you, FREEDOM. But freedom isn’t so great if you’re on such a restricted budget that you can’t do the things you really enjoy. That’s not freedom, that’s just someone with a lot of time on their hands!”

– Phia in Financial Freedom Step 1
  • Since Phia wrote that post two years ago, Chrissy feels that the FI community has evolved and is now living up to her quote.
  • People are realizing it’s not just about the money and getting our of your job. It’s about what comes after that.
  • Phia has also noticed the recent, and substantial shift in the FI community.
    • People are talking more about the journey, and what they want when they arrive.
    • FI at the beginning seemed to focus so much on the goal, and that you could deal with everything else once you arrived.
    • Now, people are starting to think more about the back end of the journey and starting to question, okay—what’s next?
    • For Phia, that’s always been the difference between FI and FF: yes, I’ve cut my expenses so low that yes, I can classify myself as FI and live off the money I’m generating. But… it’s not the lifestyle I envisioned for myself!
    • For her, FF is about having the passive income sources to fund her ideal lifestyle.
    • That talk about the ideal lifestyle is what’s really coming through the FIRE space now: how do you get that, and not only that, but how do you implement that along the way to FI?
  • Chrissy and Phia agree that the FIRE movement has progressed beyond the numbers and is seeing that money is just a tool.
  • There’s a need to really look at what you value and how to get to your ideal lifestyle.
  • Mike feels that, early on, the movement was based on extreme budgets and people looking to live in a van down by the river (and be content with that)!
  • But he’s also seen the progression where more and more people are sharing their stories and different kinds of lifestyles.
  • The key is to look at your values and what you really want to get out of FI on the front-end. Doing so can really speed your progress and help you set goals.

Self-authoring

  • In Phia’s 52-week series, one of her posts is about self-authoring.
  • She feels it could be really helpful for people looking to get into the FIRE movement, or are already on the path.
  • She was introduced to the self-authoring program by her brother, who like her, is a fan of Jordan Peterson and his work.
  • She did the whole program twice, and it helps you to assess your past and present, then thinking ahead to identify your ideal future.
    • This means not just looking at what your shangri-la life looks like, but also what would be hell for you.
    • The second time she went through it, she did it with a financial lens.
    • When she really got down to the nitty-gritty and drilled down, she realized that a lot of those financial goals were about other people: proving a certain level of success to those around her.
    • She took a hard look at what would truly bring her happiness and contentment.
    • This helped her start to think about what types of goals she and Mike really wanted.
    • She realized that this program could help anyone who’s trying to build a financial plan.
  • Money Mechanic thinks this stresses again how important it is to find your why for FI.
  • Phia thinks this is the layer deeper, after the nuts and bolts of financial freedom. This is where you transition and really work towards your ideal life.

Lessons from the other side of financial freedom

  • Chrissy asks Mike and Phia to share some of the major life lessons they’ve learned now that they’re on the other side. What can others do to prepare better? What can we expect that we might not be thinking of?
  • Mike feels they didn’t spend as much time on the front-end looking at their why and what they were moving towards. It was more about not wanting to do what they were doing anymore.
  • That was an eye-opener for them. Even once you stop, all your problems are not automatically solved.
  • You need to find something to do that gives you value and a reason to get up in the morning.
  • Try to find hobbies before you retire. Give yourself as many options as possible and try different things. If you don’t have other meaningful things to do outside of your work relationships, you’re going to struggle.
  • Chrissy’s husband does worry about this: that once he’s retired, the only people he’ll have to hang around with are older people! She asks if Mike and Phia have any advice to share about this.
    • Phia says that even if you wanted to join the bridge club, they may not let you in!
    • If she were to do it over again, she’d focus on the hobbies and building up her social networks around those.
    • That will make for a much more seamless transition.
    • Mike found that jiu-jitsu has given him the proximity and frequency of contact to maintain some of his old friendships as well as build new ones.
    • Don’t be afraid to be bad at something new and lean on others to teach you how to get better. That’s how a lot of relationships can be formed.
    • It’s a process though, and you need to continuously work on it.
  • Phia mentions the tendency to be more protective of your time when you’re working.
    • Even after retirement and she had more time, she still held onto that time-protection mindset.
    • She’s had to battle back against the automatic response to say no to new experiences and is working on being more open and generous with her time.

Being busier after financial freedom

  • Chrissy found that once her kids were both in school, she almost had less time in the day because she filled it with more things to do.
  • She asks if Phia and Mike have found the same thing: do they now wonder how they had time to work?
  • This hasn’t been the case for Phia because of her previously-mentioned protectiveness of her time.
    • Her consistent reflex to say no meant she often ended up with more time than she thought she had. She started realizing that maybe she could say yes more often.
    • She’s had to remind herself to keep it in balance so that she doesn’t over-schedule herself.
    • They have a full life right now, but it’s very intentional and they don’t have as much of the feeling that they’re in the rat race or surviving the day. That element of busyness is gone.
  • Mike would say he’s had a very similar experience to Phia.
    • He’s also been protective of their time, and now feels maybe they say no a little too much. They’re learning though!
    • You still have to be careful because there will always be people asking for your time.
    • When you’re not working, there can be an additional expectation from others that you have more time than you actually do, and that can lead to challenges.

Looking at the numbers

  • Money Mechanic asks if their portfolio has continued to grow more than they’ve expected since they’ve been retired. Did they overshoot, or are they slowly withdrawing more than they’d planned?
  • Due to Phia’s conservative planning, their portfolio has continued to grow. Their real estate and equities investments have also grown.
  • They’re spending less than estimated in retirement, so have continued to save in their tax-deferred accounts and an emergency/investment opportunity fund.
  • They over-mitigated their risk, so now it’s like pushing a snowball over the edge, and it keeps rolling.
  • There was a debate on the FI Garage over whether people in the FI community are too conservative.
    • Money Mechanic would argue that we’re all naturally too conservative, which is why we’re on the path to FI.
    • All of us setting our plans for the future is from a conservative standpoint.

Freedom 101

  • You can find out more about Phia and Mike at their blog, Freedom101.ca.
  • They’re working an a 52-week series that’s given them the opportunity to take a deep-dive into examining this whole thing of freedom and where they’re at.
  • They’ve done the whole numbers thing, and they’ve arrived.
  • Now they’re deep-diving into how they optimize this freedom of their time as best they can for themselves, for their family, and their kids.
  • This will hopefully give others who are on the path some insight into things and considerations they might want to implement before they reach financial freedom or FIRE. (Or for those who’ve already arrived, allow them to re-examine and get the most out of what they’ve worked so hard to achieve.)

Signature questions

  • Team FI or Team FIRE?
    • They’re team Financial Freedom!
  • DIY anything?
    • Phia has a passion for all things DIY. This year, she planted a garden in the planters she built many years ago.
    • She also renovated a house with her dad in the spring, and learned a lot in the process. It was big learning curve, but a great opportunity.
  • Tim Hortons order?
    • Mike would order a large black coffee (keto doesn’t allow for sugar or cream).
    • Phia is a hardcore Starbucks fan, so almost doesn’t order at Tim Hortons! If she had to, she’d order a medium coffee with nothing in it because they don’t have coconut or almond milk.

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4 Replies to “013: Financial Freedom at 33 and 34 | Phia from Freedom 101”

  1. I really enjoyed listening to how a real life family is living the financial freedom lifestyle. Some very insightful thoughts and reminded me to have a clear plan in place when I pull the trigger to retire early. Great job all around.

    Mr. PFC

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