Writer. Creator. Mentor. Speaker.
Intro by JL’s Team:
Think you need a 6-figure income and 20 years to reach Financial Independence?
As the market goes up and down (like it always does), you may be wondering how you’ll ever achieve FI with all this volatility.
Your mindset, your habits, and your determination.
This post is a story of how those three traits are the building blocks to financial independence…
I want to introduce you to my new friend, Jillian.
While I’ve only gotten to know her over these past few months, already I can’t recall exactly how she came to my notice.
I had heard of her some time ago, but really didn’t pay too much attention. Then, suddenly, it seemed every time I turned around someone was telling me “You really need to get to know Jillian.”
They were right.
She is an incredible person. The kind of friend we should all seek. The kind of friend who uplifts us by the sheer, compelling nature of how she has chosen to create her life.
With that in mind, I asked her to write today’s guest post.
When she sent me the first draft, which is what you’ll read here today virtually unchanged, it felt perfect. Exactly what I had asked for.
Something was missing.
It took me awhile to figure it out.
Jillian had a tough start in life and she hasn’t chosen the easiest paths. But she is not one to focus on that and so she left it out. As a counterpoint to all those bitter commenters who wallow in their difficulties while claiming the path to FI is open only to those of privilege, this is refreshing beyond words.
Still, to see how far she has come, it is worth noting where she started. At least a bit. Since she didn’t, I will.
Jillian grew up in rural poverty. She has six kids. Two are biological, four adopted. Her first she adopted when she was 22. The child was 11.
She and her husband started with $55,000 in debt. Their average annual earnings have run ~$40-50,000. They have never earned more than $80,000 per year, combined.
As you’ll read, she was FI by age 32. Not what most would have predicted with that profile. Not what I would have predicted, and I’m the guy who wrote this post: Can everyone really retire a millionaire?
Truth is, most people with that profile will never achieve FI. Neither will most people born to privilege.
Achieving FI is a matter of choice and mindset, not beginnings.
One of my favorite quotes is from a Mary Oliver poem: “Tell me what you want from this one wild and precious life.”
There is so much power that comes from knowing what we want. And I feel like it’s so easy for that to get watered down or cluttered.
There are so many things in life that we could do or feel like we should do. There are a lot of stories about what success looks like.
At one of my old jobs, I referred to myself in an offhand way as successful to a coworker. It caught her off guard. She looked at me with questioning eyes, and said “How exactly are you successful?”
I don’t think she meant it as a criticism. But she said it with strong disbelief.
I didn’t have the obvious markers that define most people as successful.
I didn’t live in a big or overly expensive home. I drove an old Honda Civic. We rarely ate out. I didn’t spend a lot on name brand clothing. I wasn’t working in a glamorous job. I was earning about $30,000-$40,000 a year, and my husband even less.
How dare I consider myself successful?
George Bernard Shaw said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
It appeared as though I wanted less than the average person. But it was only because I wanted much more than the average person. I wanted the unreasonable.
I wanted to see the world. Travel and live abroad. I wanted to adopt, to be a family to kids who might not otherwise have one. I wanted more financial freedom. I wanted to be able to pay cash for a house. And I wanted all of it sooner than later. I wasn’t willing to wait until I was 65.
Why did I think of myself as successful?
Because I got everything I wanted. By the time I was 32.
By the time I was 32, we had traveled to 27 countries, lived abroad for 4 years, adopted 4 children, paid cash for our home, bought two rental properties and become financially independent.
My husband and I never earned high incomes. Even together, in our highest earning years, we never graced six figures.
Without high incomes, we couldn’t have every conventional marker of success. So which things were we willing to give up?
Things that never really mattered
There is a list, a long list, of things I don’t care about. Actually it’s most things. Some probably think of it as frugality or sacrifice. It’s only partly about money. I’ve always been careful with my time and attention.
For example, I’ve cut my own hair for almost a decade. When I started going grey, I bought a $7 box of hair dye. For some this would be a radical cost cutting measure. It would be deprivation. I just never liked going in for hair cuts. It was time consuming and stressful. It was easier and faster to trim my hair at home. Even more so for hair color. I can do that at home in 15 minutes. Would it look nicer if it was professionally done? Sure. How much do I care? Not at all. I don’t have the energy to care about ALL the things. I opted to just care about a few things.
I bought a few good pairs of shoes 7 years ago and haven’t looked to replace them yet. I simply don’t care enough to spend my time and emotional energy looking for new shoes.
I have nothing against new shoes or highlights in hair. I just don’t possess the energy to pretend to care.
I could care a little bit about everything. Or a whole lot about a few things.
It came back to what did we really want to do with our one wild and precious life?
We made a lot of choices that seemed incredibly difficult along the way. We lived in a camper our first year of marriage. We had a housemate for a number of years when we lived in a HCOL area. We’ve never spent a lot on clothes, cars or homes. All traditional markers of success.
But was it hard?
For me, not really. Because those things never made my short list of things I really wanted. I was giving up the second best. The substitute.
But was it hard?
That day my coworker questioned my self-proclaimed title of “successful” was at the core of the challenge.
Eating at home isn’t that challenging. Having coworkers tease you for packing a lunch, more so.
Driving an older car isn’t that challenging. Being told you can’t park with other employees because you car is so ugly, more so.
Being frugal in order to devote more time, energy and money to our biggest goals was only challenging in that most people didn’t understand (and sometimes openly criticized us).
Most people still don’t understand. But now they don’t understand how we can have this amazing life.
How do people pay cash for a house? How do you become financially independent in your 30’s? How do you travel for 8-10 weeks a year when you have a family to support?
If there is anything slightly outside the norm you dream of doing, someone won’t understand. Someone will be uncomfortable with it.
I made that hard choice a lot time ago. I’m not going to live a small life, by someone else’s rules, just to avoid rocking the boat. I’m not going to trade away my biggest goals for a few upgrades along the way.
I traded a few pseudo luxuries, like name brand clothing, for the ultimate luxury. We have enough passive income to cover our bills. We have the time and freedom to do what we like.
It’s been a little cold in Montana the last few weeks. I’m starting to get a bit stir crazy. I mentioned to my husband, “What do you think about taking off for 3-4 weeks for a sunny vacation? Maybe we’ll take the kids to Disney for a week and then head to San Diego for a week or two?”
In our early 20’s my husband’s Army coworkers teased him for always packing a lunch. While they had car loans, credit card debt and were living paycheck to paycheck, we had invested our first $100,000.
Those coworkers thought it was crazy to never eat out. Now it’s crazy to jump in the car for an unplanned month long vacation, just because. Just because we can.
We don’t have a mortgage, credit card bills, car payment, student loans or the other typical bills that our peers have. Our monthly fixed bills come to about $700 a month for things like cell phones, gym membership, property tax, and utilities. Our passive income is $1450 (plus medical) from a military pension, $1200 from rentals and $800 from investments (if we needed it). With only $700 in bills, our $3500 a month of passive income goes a long ways. Like covering an impromptu 3 week vacation.
We all get to decide what success looks like for us. How do you want to define it? You get to write those rules. Not everyone will agree or understand. And that’s OK.
I think the most successful life is the one where you get everything out of it you were hoping for.
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Want more from Jillian? She writes at…
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Jillian also has a guest post with even more details up on Millennial Revolution: