We love talking about money with other people. We’ve learned from our money conversations that no matter how unique we are, we can always learn something new about money and about life from other people.
We’ve gotten so much out of our money conversations that we decided to start an interview series with our personal finance community. Just listening to others tell their money stories helps to support them in reaching their goals. Rather than focusing only on income and investing we’re very interested in the emotional side of personal finance. And we’re thrilled to share stories from some of our friends.
Everyone, meet our buddies Elizabeth & Olivia! They’re 38 and 39 years old and they live in Atlanta, Georgia. They’re working their way towards FIRE and documenting their journey @ourfireadventure on Instagram. We are inspired by them and we hope you will also find something encouraging in their money stories…
1. What were your childhood money experiences? Did you learn useful money lessons from family?
Olivia: I don’t really remember my parents discussing money growing up. I always knew that my dad was a natural saver and didn’t like spending money, but I don’t remember anything else. I was very involved with softball (age 4 through 18) but my parents never even mentioned the cost of sports, so I never thought about it. My mom has a twin sister who had a pretty good salary and since she didn’t have kids, she always took me to American Eagle (my favorite store) to buy clothes. Plus my friends would invite me to go on vacation with their families, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any childhood experiences.
Elizabeth: My parents always told me that things were too expensive or that they couldn’t afford it every time I asked for things. I vividly remember asking for a cabbage patch doll when I was 6 and my mom told me they couldn’t afford it. One month later they bought a house. I was so confused about how we could afford a house, but not a doll. My parents valued education and sent us to a private school. All my classmates wore J Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch clothes while my parents took us to Old Navy or Sears. I remember my classmates talking about how their parents would fly them to Minneapolis to shop at the Mall of America and take them to Disney World for vacation. The only vacation we ever took that wasn’t visiting family out-of-state was to Niagara Falls and my dad wouldn’t stay at a hotel that cost more than $70 per night. If a hotel cost $75, he would get back in the car and drive to the next place. I remember feeling uncomfortable while my dad tried to find a deal and I knew I wanted to afford a better life when I grew up. We never went to restaurants, but for my high school graduation my family went to Applebee’s to celebrate. We went after 9pm because appetizers were 50% off… and my dad only allowed us to order appetizers and water. I viewed my childhood as straight-up poverty since I was surrounded by wealth. Both of my parents graduated from college, my mom with an education degree and my dad with his accounting degree, although my mom quit teaching and became a SAHM once I was born. My parents made more money than Olivia’s, but it’s interesting that I felt so traumatized by my childhood and she only remembers having fun!
2. What kinds of experiences have you had with debt?
Olivia: I bought a house with a mortgage at age 26 and I have financed cars, but I always viewed debt as a tool and never as a point of stress. I don’t even remember when I first signed up for a credit card, but I know I have never carried a balance. I had a scholarship for college so I didn’t need to take out student loans. My view on debt is completely neutral.
Elizabeth: At age 25 I was a bank teller in Georgia & I waited until I established my Georgia residency to go to college there with in-state tuition. At 27, I finally started my accounting degree at Georgia State University! I graduated at 31 years old in 2014 and started my full-time job 5 days after graduation. I was so proud of myself and excited about my future. My car was 11 years old and literally blew up when I took it for an oil change after college so I financed a pre-owned car with a 5-year loan. I knew I needed to start making my student loan payments 6 months after graduation, so 5 months after I graduated I finally logged in to see what I owed. Between my credit card balance from financing my lifestyle during college, my car loan, and my student loans, I was $88K in debt and about to turn 32 years old. I was only earning $52K and I had $0 in savings & $0 in retirement. I’ll never forget the moment when I looked at that number on my spreadsheet… I instantly started crying.
I had $50K in student loan debt and $38K in credit card & car loan debt. I consolidated all my credit cards to 1 Lending Club loan with a lower interest rate and then canceled all 4 of my credit cards. My official debt free journey started at the end of 2014. I started only carrying cash because I was so scared of using credit cards. My budget was so tight that I was scared to use a debit card since I remembered seeing my former bank customers accumulate hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees. I remember wanting to move to a big city and go to college so I could have a better life than my parents and my life was actually worse because of debt. I was losing sleep at night over my debt. If I had a bad day at work or if I thought my boss wasn’t happy with my work, I worried I would lose my job and miss a debt payment and my entire plan would be ruined. My coworkers were 23 years old with $0 in student loan debt since their parents paid for their college & they were still driving cars their parents paid for. I was 9 years older than them with $88K in debt. I never told anyone about my financial situation because I had enormous amounts of shame.
Then Olivia & I met in April 2018 and were “girlfriends” 2.5 weeks later! I had just turned 36 years old and she was 34 years old. By that time I had paid off $38K in credit card and car loan debt, and my car loan was paid off 2 years early! I was relieved that I was down to only student loan debt at that time. My salary was up to $65K, so I was also happy that my salary was finally higher than my debt balance! Even though I had made a lot of progress by 2018, I was still 36 years old with a negative net worth and worried that nobody would want to marry me given my financial situation. It was extremely important to me to find someone who was financially responsible because I was on a road to success and I didn’t want to date or marry someone that wouldn’t support my goals of being debt free and financially responsible.
3. What’s your investing style?
Olivia: I invest 30% of my salary into my 401K plus I get a 4% match. I maxed out my IRA for the 1st time in 2020 and plan to max out my Roth IRA every year until I retire. If I get promoted from assistant manager to general manager, I’ll put every single extra penny from my raise towards my taxable brokerage account. I invest 100% into index funds. My 401K is in VIIIX, and my IRA, Roth IRA, and brokerage are all in VTSAX. I opened my brokerage account in 2020, but we prioritize retirement accounts now since Elizabeth plans on working part-time once we are FI so we’ll be able to live off her income until we’re able to access our retirement accounts. I currently have about $25K in cash & $25K in my brokerage, but only plan to put more in my brokerage after my retirement accounts are maxed out.
Elizabeth: I am maxing out both my 401K & Roth IRA while putting whatever is left in my brokerage. I am also 100% in stocks. My 401K is split between VFINX & VTSMX, my IRA’s are in VTSAX, & my brokerage is in VTI. Whatever I receive in raises & annual bonuses will be invested in my brokerage every year! In January 2022, I am opening an HSA and plan to max that out too. Our investing style is simply to invest as much as we can to hit $1M! Once we pay off our condo’s mortgage we expect our annual expenses to be between $30K-$40K, and we are working towards a $1M investment balance.
4. How long did it take you to start discussing your finances with each other?
Elizabeth: On our 2nd date! It was important to me to have a conversation right away since my financial journey was my main focus in life and I needed to have someone on the same page if a relationship was going to be successful. I was 100% marriage minded going into our date. I was 36 years old, my career was on track and I was ready to find my wife. I felt like I didn’t have time to waste and was very upfront about what I was looking for. I asked Olivia on date #2 how much debt she had & what types of debt she had. She seemed completely unfazed by my question. She told me she had a mortgage & car loan, but that she never had a credit card.
Olivia: I was a little surprised when Elizabeth asked me about my debt situation on our 2nd date, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable conversation. I had girlfriends in the past and we never once discussed our financial situations. I even dated a woman for 2 years and we never even talked about our salaries. Elizabeth told me right away that her main goal was to finish paying off her student loans and the long term goal was to never have debt again once it was paid off. She also asked me if I was looking for a serious commitment or not. Elizabeth came into our relationship very insecure that I wouldn’t want to date her because she had student loan debt. Up until her, I was only dating women who didn’t know what they wanted or had commitment issues. Elizabeth knew exactly what she wanted and where she was headed and I was really inspired by her. It didn’t bother me in the least that she had a negative net worth at 36 years old because she was so focused on her goals, I knew she would be successful. I asked her to be my girlfriend after just 2.5 weeks of dating, and I think since we were already talking about money on date 2, our relationship progressed quickly. We both wanted a financially secure future and that was the foundation of our relationship from the beginning.
Elizabeth: Also, even though we were talking about money, it really was 100% focused on my student loans and being debt free. We didn’t discover FI/RE until 2020.
5. How do you feel about money at this point in your life?
Olivia: Excited. I went from not really thinking about money to knowing my net worth and having a financial plan. After we bought our condo, Elizabeth had me increase my 401K contributions to 30%. I opened an account with Vanguard and transferred my old 401K into a traditional IRA buying VTSAX. Plus I maxed out a Roth IRA for 2020 with VTSAX, and put $15,000 into a taxable brokerage. And then 2 weeks before we got married, Elizabeth had us write down our balances for all our accounts so she could track our net worth monthly. She makes a big deal about all of our milestones and money is a source of fun in our household. On January 2, 2021, I already had my IRA maxed out. In 2019, I didn’t even know what an IRA was.
Elizabeth: Excited! I went from losing sleep at night thinking about debt to binge listening to podcasts explaining Roth conversation ladders! As the accountant in the relationship, I took it upon myself to learn all the personal finance things and I make balance sheets of our net worth every month. I also have financial models for us to predict when we’re going to hit our investment goal of $1M! 2 years ago, my only goal was to be debt free. I found FI/RE during the summer of 2020 and now my goal is to become financially independent! I did a lot of work prior to meeting Olivia, but being with her completely changed my life! I am so far behind most 39 year olds based on what financial experts say, but I no longer feel shame around money. Olivia has never looked down on me for having a lower net worth than her and I am so happy I found someone who loves me for me, despite my lower net worth.
6. Does your location have an impact on your money? Do you plan to stay in your current location forever?
Elizabeth: We bought our midtown Atlanta condo in March 2020 and have a walkable lifestyle that we love! We both live less than 2 miles from our jobs and aren’t dependent on cars which definitely helps our FI/RE goals. While the nomad lifestyle is appealing to us, as of now we plan on staying in Atlanta forever. Once we have our mortgage paid off our basic lifestyle will only cost about $30K/year. We want to see the world together and our condo has great access to the Atlanta airport, which is the busiest airport in the country and one of the busiest in the world! Right now my company only allows employees to work from home 3 days per week, but in a few years I am hoping that I will be so valuable to the company that they let me work remotely whenever I want. I think our current condo will be the perfect base for a travel lifestyle once we are closer to FI!
7. What are your personal money goals, individually and as a couple? What have achieved with your money as a couple so far?
Olivia: Our main 2 goals as a couple are to keep investing as much as we can until we hit $1M in investments and pay off our mortgage. Shortly after moving into our apartment together, Elizabeth proposed to me in June 2019. We immediately started having conversations about buying a condo because our rent was $1,600/month. I didn’t want to rent forever and I already knew I liked being a homeowner, but Elizabeth didn’t want to buy a place until her student loans were paid off. Meanwhile, I had over $100K in cash sitting in a savings account from the recent sale of my house. It was my idea for me to pay off her $23K of remaining student loans so we could stop paying her 5.3% interest & our $1,600 in rent and start investing in our future.
8. How does money impact your relationship?
Elizabeth: My relationship with Olivia has a huge impact on my money! Olivia paying off my student loans was an extremely pivotable moment in our relationship and our FI/RE journey. When she suggested this, my heart was racing… my last $23K of debt was going to be paid off instantly by my fiancée. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea since I am so independent & I didn’t want to be a burden to her, but I agreed and promised her that I would pay back every penny (without interest, LOL) and learn everything I could about the next steps for retirement planning. I couldn’t believe I was going to marry someone in a few months that trusted me enough to Venmo me $23K before we were married. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility to do all of the research on what to do next. I was awake all night researching and I discovered the ChooseFI podcast, which ended up changing the entire trajectory of our lives.
Olivia: I sent Elizabeth $23K the next day. I knew it would make the most sense for our future to stop paying interest on her loans and we were getting married in a few months anyway. She paid her student loans off that week and we started looking for condos immediately. By March 6, 2020 we already had an offer accepted on a condo that we both loved. I also paid for the down payment of $23,700 plus the $3K of closing costs.
Elizabeth: I want to pay Olivia back for the $23K she gave me for my student loans plus half of the money she paid for our condo. Since I have a higher salary, I deposit $750 per month more than she does into our joint checking account and I will have her paid back in 2027. Even though we are married now and all of our money is our money, it’s important for me to feel like an equal and for me to pay her back! Even though she says she doesn’t even think about it. As far as how my relationship with money has impacted my relationship with Olivia… that is significant since I met Olivia 3.5 years into my debt free journey and we started talking about money on our second date. I can’t even picture our relationship without our focus on money. Olivia definitely says I focus on money too often, but she also appreciates that I am so focused on money!
9. Do you have people you can talk to openly about money (not including us)? How does talking about money impact your confidence and progress?
Elizabeth: YES! 2 weeks before we got married, I started an Instagram account to track our journey called @ourfireadventure! I post our investment goals and mortgage balances, and things like that. While the account is anonymous (for now), I don’t plan on keeping it like that forever. Once we are traveling more often, I will want to post pictures of all the hikes & bike rides plus have meet-ups with the FI/RE friends I have met online! But it has been so freeing to meet people online and actually talk about money from a place of freedom & excitement, instead of how it was 7 years ago when I was sitting at those happy hours with my debt-free friends ashamed of my $88K of debt! We also joined a local ChooseFI group in Atlanta where we have been making friends in real life in the FI/RE community! Between that club & Instagram, I am having so much fun with money! I never thought this life was possible for me!
Olivia: Until we joined the ChooseFI meet-ups in Spring 2021, Elizabeth was the only person I talked to about money. I don’t geek out over drawdown strategies like she does with her friends, but it has been fun talking to other people about their goals post-FI. Money is something Elizabeth has thought about since she was 6, but it’s always been in the background for me. I do enjoy the meet-ups and I do get excited about our financial updates, but I don’t need or want to talk about money exclusively.
10. Do the FIRE and financial independence concepts appeal to you?
Olivia: Yes, we want to travel a lot & this pandemic has only increased that desire. My identity isn’t tied to my career and I will have no problem walking away from my job as soon as Elizabeth has determined we are ready. My only goal is to spend as much time with my wife as possible and see the world. I never heard of FIRE until Elizabeth discovered the movement after we paid off her student loans, but I was sold immediately.
Elizabeth: YES! The financial independence goal is so important to me! I love having a big goal and right now having $1M in investments and a paid off condo are our big goals! My identity is closely tied to my career, which I think is okay. I am very close to my former classmates plus former & current accountant coworkers. I love discussing career goals with my friends and the accounting profession in general. I can’t picture myself not wanting to work and I figure the real fun of work begins when I no longer need to work!
11. What kind of work for pay do you do? Do you have different career goals for the future?
Olivia: I have been in retail management since I was 19 years old. I am an assistant manager making around $52K. I don’t love the schedule since I work nights & weekends, but the store I work at is 1.5 miles from our condo plus I have a 401K match, affordable health insurance, & 4 weeks of PTO per year. I have always worked full-time and I am very excited about retiring early! Our current plan is for me to retire once our condo is paid off, which we plan to accomplish by our 10-year wedding anniversary in July 2030 when I am 47 years old. Elizabeth wants to keep working once we are FI and I’ll be focused on planning 100% of our trips, cooking, cleaning, doing our laundry… all the home things. We have different strengths which makes us a great team.
Elizabeth: I work full time as an accountant making a little more $80K, and hopefully more very soon. I have so many career interests, but I would also be happy staying at my current company if they allowed me more flexibility with remote work after Olivia retires! I am also interested in working as a tax accountant which could have seasonal opportunities. I also think about just taking contract accounting assignments. The companies I have worked for hire contractors all the time to help with projects or backfill accountants on maternity leave. If I worked as a contractor, I could take off a month or more between jobs and travel more internationally. I really want to work at least part time or seasonally until I am too old to work, but I am looking forward to reaching the point where I don’t need to work. Olivia is excited about retiring & I am excited about having a stay-at-home wife! 😁
12. What kinds of activities do you love? How do your activities affect your spending?
Elizabeth: Like most people in the FI/RE community, we love travel & adventures! Hiking is something we really love and we have been getting more into it lately! We live 75 miles from the base of the Appalachian Trail and want to spend more time hiking on that. For our 1 year wedding anniversary we spent 4 days in Colorado and hiked in Boulder. In 2019, we went skiing for the first time and enjoyed it so much. We are definitely planning on increasing our spending on adventures once we are closer to FI since I dream about cycling through Europe or the Pacific Crest Trail. My main daily hobbies are walking & listening to podcasts which are both free. I actually sold my car 5 months into our FI/RE journey so I walk a lot. Some of these activities are expensive, but by cutting back on mindless spending we will have more money for the adventures we dream of doing!
Olivia: We don’t really have any hobbies that cost money other than travel or hiking/skiing. I’ve started getting into travel credit card rewards and we have taken a few cheap trips so far. But the majority of our relationship has been during pandemic days, so we haven’t traveled as much as we want. Our plan is to have as much fun as possible on a budget now & then increase spending on adventures later! We hike at Georgia state parks that only cost the gas & parking fee, but later we want to be able to spend thousands on a ski trip if we want.
13. Last question – what are you most excited about right now?
Olivia: We have been together for 3.5 years and haven’t taken a trip longer than 4 days together. In 2019, Elizabeth was paid out for 3.5 weeks of vacation, in 2020 she was paid out for 2 weeks of vacation, and she is already on track to rollover 60+ hours to 2022. We just got back from our 1 year anniversary trip to Colorado and we agreed to start taking 2 one week-long trips per year. Elizabeth has always been uncomfortable taking time off from work and I am really excited that she agreed to start taking longer trips together. I have been getting into credit card travel rewards and I can’t wait to plan our future trips!
Elizabeth: I am really excited about my career right now. I am currently working towards obtaining my CPA license. I also just started my side hustle as a math/accounting tutor and received a 5-star review for my 1st session! I can’t wait to explore different career opportunities & continue to develop new skills to help create the life I want with Olivia! I am also excited about doing longer adventure type trips during week-long vacations that we are going to start taking. One main point I have learned is to not wait until we are FI to live the life we want. While working towards FI we want to enjoy as many adventures as we can since we aren’t promised good health in the future (or a future at all). I can’t wait until Olivia retires so we can have more time together, but we are making the most of the time we have together now & not taking anything for granted!
That’s it for now from Elizabeth and Olivia! This exercise helped them talk about childhood money experiences, debt, careers, and more so thank you for reading their stories. We’re looking forward to your comments!!