I first got to know Courtney and her family through her Instagram, Fire2Moms1Babe, as the breadwinner of her financially independent family of three. Her wife Nicole stays home with their young daughter, and they plan to pull their full early retirement trigger in the next few years when Courtney quits her job.
I reached out to her a few months ago because I loved following along with their story on Instagram and wanted to feature it here. Since then, she has actually launched her own blog at Modern Fimily. I feel pretty lucky to be able to host her first guest post here and get to welcome her as a brand new blogger in the financial independence space.
Like I’ve said any number of times, there is always room for a new voice in this blogging community, and I am so excited she’s taken the leap to join us here. I know she had been considering writing one for some time, and I love that this is really her very first blog post (written, as she’s published a few on her site already).
I’m going to turn this post over to her now, and let her tell you all about her journey to financial independence and her plans to leave the workforce in the near future. I’m honored to share your story, Courtney, and welcome to the blogging community. We’re so glad you’re here.
First off, we wanted to thank you for having us as a guest on your blog. We launched our own blog just a few weeks ago so we are new to the blog space! We wanted to share our story to help motivate others on their journey to financial fndependence, especially those with children to show it’s doable. Our ‘why to FI’ is to spend as much time together as a family as possible, as time is the most precious gift we have.
I’m 33, my wife is 31, and we have a 1-year-old daughter. We reached FI as a family of 3 in 2018, but we’re looking to hopefully add baby #2 in the near future so we’re saving with that in mind and calculating this additional child expense in our FI/RE calculations.
If all goes as planned (pending any market crashes), we will be there in less than 2 years for our future family of 4. We are a lesbian couple and we love breaking the stereotype that the ‘man of the house’ deals with the money and that women are not in tune with their finances. Clearly, that’s not even an option for us!
As a lesbian couple, we’ve had to set aside money to start our family. Luckily for us, my wife got pregnant on our first IUI attempt so it wasn’t a major financial strain for us, but we know of many couples who have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to start a family (not just LGBTQ+ couples, many hetero couples need infertility treatment also).
Besides that, I wouldn’t say being a lesbian couple has impacted our financial life in any way, other than the fact that I work in a primarily male dominated industry (energy) and see the struggle women and minorities face trying to climb the corporate ladder.
Our family and friends have been extremely accepting of us, but we know that coming out can be a huge burden for some LGBTQ people if their families and friends are unaccepting, which is truly saddening.
Discovering financial independence
I was first introduced to the concept of FIRE through the Mr. Money Mustache blog back in 2011 and was immediately hooked. I had always been frugal, a saver, and a lover of my life outside work, but his blog really propelled me to the idea that retiring in your thirties is actually doable. Since then, I’ve been reading & listening to many other financial independence blogs & podcasts out there for additional motivation and strategies.
I majored in Economics and Math in school so numbers ‘click’ with me, but I didn’t have a clue as to where to start investing prior to reading these blogs so I am forever grateful for discovering this community..
I will be very open and share our finances so you can see how we have reached financial independence in a 10-year time period. To start, I’d like to stress that we’ve reached our number from my sole income alone. So while I am a high earner, reaching financial independence in 10 years as a couple who both earn close to the median US salary (~$56k) is doable too. It’s all about your mindset and living intentionally.
Debt payoff phase
Back in 2009 (dun dun dun), I finished my Master’s degree and luckily landed a job right away considering the economy at the time. I also had $70,000 in student loan debt to my name. My starting salary in 2009 was $69,000 with a 10% annual bonus (way higher than I was expecting to start off making due to the financial meltdown at the time) and it’s slowly climbed over the years and is currently $111,000 with a 20% annual bonus. I’m currently toying with the idea of switching to a part time role where my income would drop 50% as we transition to FI/RE.
My original goal out of school was to pay off my student loan debt ASAP and I managed to pay it off in 2.5 years through maintaining my frugal college lifestyle (I had not yet heard of FIRE at this point, so this gives you a glimpse into how I am a debt-adverse person as is).
I lived in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment right across the street from where I worked with a roommate to cut down expenses. I drove a used Vespa scooter. I would go out with friends during happy hour to keep alcohol expenses low and host pot lucks at my place to socialize frugally.
House and travel hacking
The next plan was to purchase a home so I saved up for a 20% down payment, bought a townhouse in 2012, and house hacked and paid off the mortgage again in a 2.5-year timeframe, and then sold it in 2017 for a $100,000 profit.
By house hacking, I mean that I was living for free as I bought a 4-bedroom townhouse during the crazy Florida foreclosure mayhem and rented out 3 of the rooms and the rental income more than covered all housing related expenses (mortgage, HOA, utilities) which allowed me to pay off the mortgage at an extremely fast pace.
During this entire time, I travel hacked as well and visited 25+ countries by just paying taxes on the flights thanks to the generous credit card sign up bonuses some banks offer. Travel hacking is NOT for everyone, if you cannot pay your monthly statement in FULL each month then it is not worth the hefty interest charges. But if you are disciplined with your spending and payoffs, travel hacking can be an amazing way to see the world for dirt cheap. We currently have over 1 million travel points banked up for future trips.
Moving from Florida to Canada
In 2015, we moved from Florida to Western Canada (where my wife is originally from). So many people look at me like I have two heads when I say I, a native Floridian, was willing moved to Canada. But honestly it has been such a wonderful experience and I do not regret it one bit. The people are MUCH friendlier, life isn’t as chaotic, it’s a very outdoorsy and nature centered focus where we live, and we are less than an hour from Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies.
We used the proceeds from our Florida townhouse (profit from sale + rental income with roommates for 3 years + renting the entire place out for 2 years after we moved) to purchase our brand new townhouse that overlooks a conservation area and we couldn’t be happier with our location. Our townhouse is not big but it’s perfect for us as it’s not about how big of a home you have, it’s about how much happiness is inside.
Financial independence with a family
My wife, who is 100% on-board with this lifestyle too, had $40,000 in student loan debt when she graduated from school in 2012 that she too made a mission to pay off quickly. In fact, we met while she was in nursing school and she was sleeping on the floor.
Not a mattress on the floor, directly on the floor! She only bought a mattress when I was coming to visit for the first time, a little extreme but she was living on a very tight student budget. She paid off her student loans in two years and currently has about $25,000 in savings. Throughout that time, she was also contributing to our mortgage. She is now a stay at home mom for our little monster.
We currently spend about $24,000/year on our family expenses (no mortgage to deal with) and our financial independence number for a family of 3 is $700,000 (giving us a buffer up to $28,000 in annual spending) using the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR). However, we prefer to err on the side of caution and use a 3.0-3.5% SWR especially after reading the wonderful (long and full of numbers) series on SWRs by Big ERN. We are using geo-arbitrage and the Canadian Child Tax benefit to reduce out SWR to below 3%.
Intentional, frugal living
Clearly we keep our expenses low but over the years we’ve learned a simple, minimalistic, and intentional life is a good life and we are perfectly content living the way we do. We don’t have cable, we hardly ever buy new clothes, we have no problem with hand-me-down baby items, yet we do not feel deprived in any sense.
We travel multiple times a year, spend as much time as possible at my wife’s family cabin in the summer, read books, enjoy a morning cup of homemade coffee or tea, and we cherish time spent in nature – especially hiking and skiing in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.
We also realize how fortunate we are to be in our financial situation where my wife is able to stay at home and thus we do not have child care costs which can really add up. We are intentional with our spending and value experiences over things.
Current numbers and investment strategy
Currently we have a net worth of $1,125,000 if you include our home equity and paid off cars. However, the number we use for our FIRE calculations is $800,000 which does not include our home & cars as these are not liquid assets. Our FIRE number is $875,000, which equates to $35,000 annual expenses assuming an additional child along the way. Our target is to reach that in 2021, thanks to the power of compounding interest and our savings rate of 75%.
Our investment strategy is to keep it simple in low fee index funds which track the overall market. We max out our tax advantaged RRSP/TFSA accounts (US equivalent is 401k/Roth IRA) as well as our RESP account for our child (US equivalent is 529) and then everything else funnels into a taxable brokerage account (VTSAX in the US via Vanguard or VUN.TO in Canada via Questrade). When we were living in the States we also took advantage of our HSA account too. We hold a 90/10 stocks/bond ratio.
Heath care – Canada
Since we live in Canada now and have no plans of leaving (oh the poutine!), we fortunately do not have the same worry of health care costs as our US counterparts but we still plan to have supplemental health coverage in our FIRE calculations. Canada also offers a pretty nice Canada Child Benefit (CCB) which we don’t get to utilize now as I’m a high earner but we’re expecting to receive ~$5,000/child/year until each child is 17 once we reach FIRE and our income drops. We are not including this benefit in our FIRE numbers in case there may be changes to the system in the future, so we are viewing it as icing on the cake and essentially drops our SWR from 4% to 3%.
We also are contributing $2,500/year into our child’s RESP education plan to receive the governments full 20% match ($500/year) and our FIRE calculations account to max out these benefits for each child through the age of 17. This $42,500/child out of our pocket equates to ~$95,000/child once they turn 18 assuming a 7% annual return to cover their education (which should be more than enough in Canada).
We also will be lowering our SWR due to geo-arbitrage. A majority of our investments are in USD and we will use the USD/CAD exchange rate to our favor and this drops our SWR even further below 3%.
My wife is currently working on a side hustle. While we’re not looking to make it a full time gig, a part time hustle can still bring in $5-10k/year. Just because we “retire”, it does not necessarily mean we will never do anything that brings in an income. It means we can choose to spend time on whatever we want, when we want. If it brings in money great. If not, who freaking cares. Throw say $7k/year of “hobby money” in and we’re sitting below a 2% SWR.
The sayings “a simple life is a happy life” and “it’s the little things that really matter” are so incredibly true. We value relationships and a sense of community. We spend at least an hour outside every day and nature is our therapist. We enjoy making home cooked meals. We value exploring the world around us and learning about new cultures. We stop to smell the roses (literally, our kid insists we stop at EVERY tree to “pet” the trunks and every dandelion to tickle and pluck each one of them). We understand how spreading a little kindness goes a long way.
We are so happy to see that the FIRE is spreading! It’s truly all about a shift in mindset and hope to show the world that over-consumption, over-spending, and trying to keep up with the Joneses isn’t a sustainable way of living for both your wallet and Mother Earth. Pay your future self first by increasing your earnings, slashing your expenses, and investing the rest.
Cheers and thank you Angela for having us on here!
Courtney, Nicole, and Finn
40 thoughts on “How We Reached Financial Independence In Our Early 30s (Guest Post by Modern Fimily)”
Amazing first post – really sets the stage as it looks like you’ve leveraged much of the FI toolbox and that it’s paid off. Looking forward to hearing more about your family’s progress!
She’s pretty darn great 🙂
Thank you David for the kind words! We’ve been living the FIRE life for years now behind the scenes and we finally felt it was time to “come out of the closet” – as if we didn’t have to do that once already in our lives being lesbians hah! We are so excited to share our story and connect with other like minded individuals in this community. We’re excited to continue to share content at our new blog, hope to see you over there!
Thanks Angela for featuring your awesome story! You live in such a beautiful part of Canada 🙂 I was also pretty frugal early on and discovering the idea that you could use said frugality as a way of not needing to work until age 60 and being able to build a more conscious life for yourself really appealed to me when I discovered it, even though it was mind blowing at first!
As a Canadian living in the US, alarm bells went off when you mentioned that you have a TFSA and a RESP. I really hope that what you meant is that your Canadian-only (presumably) wife has a TFSA and is the owner of your RESP and not the US citizen spouse: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/taxes/us-citizens-living-in-canada-beware-these-five-tax-traps/article37658751/
What kind of retirement accounts can an American have in Canada?
Hey Tara, thanks for the response back and thank you sending over that link! We are constantly trying to figure out the best way to optimize our portfolio given our atypical setup. The primary owner of the RESP is Nic (who is only a Canadian citizen). However, both of us have TFSAs. I clearly need to dig further into it but I’m under the impression/assumption that when we start to withdraw from my (Court, the dual US/CAD citizen) TFSA account, our income for the year will be sub $35,000 and likely will not owe any US taxes when we file with the IRS. The reason that makes me lead to believe this is that I currently have to file both US and Canadian taxes each year (so annoying!) and will my income sitting around $130k I do not owe any US taxes. Are you under a different impression of how it will work post FIRE and withdrawing from our investments including my TFSA? Thanks for tuning in and looking forward to connecting even further regarding the intricacies of US citizens living in Canada!
Yay!! Welcome to blogging and congratulations on your first guest post! Your story is amazing and inspirational (and is giving me ideas about moving to Canada…) Thanks so much for sharing! Excited to follow your journey.
Moving to Canada, huh? 😉
Among other places yes lol! It looks awesome!!! Are you happy since you’re not that far from Western Canada?
Thank you for the kind words! It’s been a lot of learning since moving to Canada (besides the obvious of learning how to drive in snow and figuring out the most efficient way to shovel a driveway). By no means am I an expert with the tax optimization strategies but trying to learn along the way! It truly is so beautiful and peaceful here and we are so happy with our decision to move. You live in a pretty great place yourself!
I love the conservative approach with safe withdrawal rates. We house hacked, too, to pay off our first mortgage: renting out rooms can really help accelerate FI plans.
Well done on your financial independence and best of luck with kiddo #2!
If and when we ever get to the “early retirement” part of FI, we will definitely err on the side of extra cautious.
Thank you! Yes, we am definitely uber conservative compared to others in the FIRE space haha but we’d much rather err on that side and my have our future selves thanking us years down the road rather than be in “panic mode” if it doesn’t pan out. And of course, just because we “retire early” we are totally cognizant that we can return to the work force at any point to weather any market dips if we feel the need to do so. And thanks for sending luck with future hopeful babes 2. If it doesn’t pan out, we will be living like 3 queens. Hope to see you over on our blog 🙂
This is a wonderful story and very inspiring too!!! Great job in achieving FI!!! We’re working our way to it.
They are so inspiring!
Thank you Kay! Our sole mission here is to spread the word of what we did in hopes that others can relate to bits and pieces and apply it to your own lives somehow too. Good luck on your journey, I’m sure it will be great!
Oh for the LOVE of POUTINE! I am from Minnesota…got hooked on Poutine and then moved to FL.
It really sounds like you and your family have everything you need!
GOOD FOR YOU! CONGRATS!
HA! Looks like you did the opposite move away from the snow 😉
Hahah we sound like opposites (geographically at least)! Hope FL is serving you well! We were over the heat and humidity 🙂
ok, who went to union? i have a degree from there lying around somewhere (chemistry). good luck with the blog and the investing.
You have a chemistry degree?? I had no idea.
Haha hi Freddy, it is I (Court, the OCD number cruncher FIRE fanatic of the family who wrote this post) that went to Union. I was wondering if anyone would notice the shirt considering it’s such a small school! Please head on over to our blog and send us a message via our Contact Us page, we would love to further chat!
yep, working scientist over here.
Sweet. I’d missed that.
Glad to see this guest post – I find a lot of FIRE folk on Instagram and when these ladies finally got a blog up it was so exciting! Reading their stories is motivating and I love their openness with numbers.
Thank you! You know that we are big fans of yours too 🙂 We are hoping that by sharing our numbers others are able to relate in one way or another. Or to at least show we are not making $200,000+ or trust fund kids. Do not get me wrong, I understand I am a high earner and do not take that for granted one bit. Thanks for reading!
Always great to read FIRE stories from young families. It’s stories like this that keep me inspired to not give into temptations of bigger homes, nicer cars, etc. I’m at the age where that kind of temptation is real and sometimes it’s hard to not give in.
Thank you and we’re glad you got some motivation from this post! We know lifestyle creep is a real thing and hopefully you can steer away from the “norm”! Something that helps us is to ask “do we NEED it?” or “do we WANT it?”. Quite often we’re dealing with wants, not needs. Your future self will thank you for not keeping up with the Joneses 🙂
I started reading this at work today and was so bummed when I was torn away by the chaos. I’ve been waiting to finish all day- and boy was it worth it! I am so inspired by your family’s story! We are of a similar mindset that being out in nature is the best therapy, family activity, and overall way to maximize one’s health and happiness. And it’s completely free. It sounds like with your move to Canada you have managed to craft an affordable yet completely fulfilling life- and isn’t that what we’re all striving for here? Loved the post, and can’t wait to read more!
Thank you thank you thank you! It’s honestly comments like this that fuels our souls and fills our hearts and makes us want to keep on sharing our content. Glad you have made the mindset shift yourself! Nature sure is wonderful 🙂 And yes, a fulfilling life, that’s EXACTLY what we’re after. Thanks again and hope to see you over at our blog.
When I first started reading I kept wondering why the heck would Angela have a photo of Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten peaks on this post, then it all made sense. Welcome to Canada Courtney and love your dedication to the journey starting with MMM, much like I did. If you aren’t already I highly recommend joining the MMM forums and chatting with the extremely smart fellow members that I chat with who several moved up to Canada from the US and successfully maximized investments, mitigated fees and are accounts all into Canadian investments. I also suggest following “Tawcan” on his website, Bob is a brilliant FI blogger and lives in Vancouver. Nice timing on moving to the region you did in 2015, prices just started to drop on real estate at that time so a bit of a saving there although substantially more expensive than Florida. Looking forward to checking out your blog and heck maybe meet up later this summer as I am working on a road trip project from Vancouver Island to Calgary for my website. Cheers and thanks for sharing your story here.
Ha yeah, I’ve sadly never seen either of those places in real life yet 😉
Hey Chris – thanks again for this comment as well as the comment on our blog. I’m still in awe of who I’m conversing with – seriously if anyone reading this has never seen your pictures stop what you’re doing and check them out! We loveeee Moraine Lake but it’s become SO saturated with tourist 🙁 Good for the tourism industry and economy I suppose. And yes we bought our place in Cochrane at a good time but was still at bit shocked in prices compared to the crazy Florida foreclosure market! I haven’t been very active on the MMM forums but will check them out for sure. Are you able to put me in contact with some of the FIRE freaks who have moved to Canada from the US as that’s where I’m struggling the most? If you could send an email to email@example.com that would be GREATLY APPRECIATED. And yes, please let us know when you’re near Calgary – we would love to meet up!!
What an amazing and inspiring story! They are also hitting it out of the park with that net worth! I also love how they still want to side hustle and their attitude towards that – “If it brings in money great. If not, who freaking cares.”
They are so great! And I totally agree on the side hustle bit.
Sorry for the delayed response back, thank you Daniella! It’s honestly all about the mindset! Everyone wants a quick fix solution but there is no magic pill ya know. By figuring out what we truly value in life we’ve been able to have a savings rate of 75% which has propelled our net worth to where it is today. Thanks for the comment and hope to see you over on our blog!