We’re convinced that when people share their money stories and dive into the emotional side of personal finance that’s a good thing. And that’s why we started our Talking Money series, to make room for others to share their stories. We’re all unique but we can always learn something new about money and life from others!
Everyone, meet Stephanie and Gillian! They’re the two fabulous women who created the blog and YouTube channel called Our Freedom Years. Stephanie and Gillian are a Canadian couple who saved and invested their way to financial independence. They retired from their corporate careers while living in Singapore and have been traveling the world full time with their two little dogs ever since. We feel grateful to call these two our friends and we know you’ll find something encouraging in their money stories…
1. What were your childhood money experiences? Did you learn useful money lessons from your family?
Stephanie: My parents gave me many gifts but a grounding in money lessons was not one of them. I grew up with divorced parents and lack of money was a constant stressor in my two households. However I grasped from an early age that saving money was important and put aside a small amount every month into a retirement fund as soon as I graduated from university.
Gillian: I have to thank my parents for giving me a solid grounding in financial concepts from a very early age. We had a frugal household where value was sought out for every dollar spent and the rest was saved and invested. I was introduced to investing when I received a $100 Canada Savings Bond for my twelfth birthday and it continued on from there.
2. What have you learned about financial obstacles faced by Queer people? What kinds of experiences have you had with money as lesbians?
We’ve never faced any obstacles related to being gay, financial or otherwise. We had the good fortune of being born into families that embraced our relationship and into a progressive society in Canada where we could be comfortably married and “out” in the workplace.
3. How do you feel about money at this point in your life? Have your feelings about money and wealth changed over time?
Our feelings towards money have shifted wildly over the years. In our early years as a couple, we were careful with our spending but we weren’t saving for any particular goal beyond a very distant retirement.
Then we moved to Singapore and suddenly we were earning more money and paying very little tax. We were also getting our first taste of the expat lifestyle which included high-end condos, fancy meals out and expensive vacations. We were saving more than ever before but we were also spending big.
Fortunately we discovered the concept of financial independence and realized that we could escape the crushing stress of our jobs if we just dialed up our savings. That kicked off a couple years of intense frugality where we tracked every penny and questioned every purchase.
We carried the frugality mindset into our first year of early retirement but eventually relaxed as we saw that our financial plan was working. Today we are mindful spenders but confident in our financial strategy and comfortable splurging on occasion.
4. What kinds of experiences have you had with debt, both as individuals and as a couple?
Gillian: I had the rare experience of graduating from university debt-free since I went to Canada’s Royal Military College on a full scholarship. My first taste of debt was taking on a mortgage with Stephanie once we got married. But we sold our Toronto condo once we moved to Singapore and didn’t buy property again.
Stephanie: All my debt was related to my education, three degrees in total. I do wish that I paid off my undergrad degree a little faster. I remember happily making the final payment for my education loan… and then starting my mortgage payments the very next month.
5. What’s your investing style as a couple? What kinds of accounts do you have?
Our portfolio consists of equities and high-yield fixed income investments. For equities, we primarily hold Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (VT), which gives us a slice of the top performers in the global market. We also have an extra tilt towards Canadian equities, since these are taxed more favourably as Canadian residents.
For fixed income, we work with boutique firms in Canada to invest in mortgage funds. This provides us with monthly interest payments so we don’t need to sell any equities to cover our day-to-day living expenses.
6. How did you two reach financial independence together?
It was a long road with a lot of disagreements. One of us (Gillian) was keen to get out of the 9-to-5 and understood that if we saved and invested enough money, we could retire before the traditional age of 65. The other (Stephanie) couldn’t imagine life without work and kept coming up with ridiculously high targets for our savings.
Eventually we both felt burnt out from our careers and were ready to discuss new ways of living. Lengthy online searches eventually led us to the concepts of financial independence and early retirement. Once we realized how close we were to financial independence, we maximized our frugality and our savings until we hit our goal.
7. What do the FIRE movement and financial independence concepts mean to you?
We would likely still be showing up everyday at the office if it hadn’t been for discovering the FIRE movement. Certainly Gillian was already aware of how the math worked; she knew that if we saved enough, eventually we could simply live off the interest and not have to work anymore.
But it took discovering an entire community of people who were working towards financial independence for us to realize that early retirement was a feasible lifestyle. Once we plugged into the FIRE community, we began to see all the possibilities for ourselves.
8. What kinds of work did you do before FIRE? Do you plan to take on other jobs in the future for the purpose of earning additional income?
Gillian worked in the healthcare sector as a quality improvement coach. Stephanie worked in customer experience and marketing within the financial services industry. When we hit our financial targets and left our careers, it was with the intention of never having to earn additional income again. We are fortunate that our investments provide fully for all of our needs.
That said, we do earn a very small amount of revenue from our Youtube channel, which we use to pay for gear and subscription services related to content creation. We like to say that our Youtube channel is a hobby that pays for itself.
9. What’s it like for you two and your pups to travel full time? Are you enjoying nomad life?
We’ve learned a lot about traveling with our dogs since we first zipped them into their carriers and boarded an overnight flight from Singapore to Poland. Generally traveling with dogs adds a lot more complication and expense to the travel lifestyle. We need to plan very far ahead, triple check every booking and constantly assess their needs and moods.
That said, we’re so happy to have them with us. They make every Airbnb we stay in feel like a home and they force us to always have healthy routines despite moving to a new destination every month.
10. Does owning a personal home or rental property in the future fit in your personal finance strategy?
We’ve discussed owning property many times and, at this stage of life, it doesn’t fit into our plans either as an investment or as a home base. We’ve already included real estate within our investment portfolio in the form of mortgage funds. And we’re currently very happy not to have all the responsibilities that come with home ownership. We would much rather temporarily rent whatever home we need in whatever city we’d like to spend time in.
11. How often do you two talk about money together? Do you also talk to your friends and family about money?
We have a casual, end-of-the-month discussion where we assess expenses from the past month, assign a budget to the upcoming month and update our net worth. In addition, every three months we have a more formal financial summit where we review our portfolio allocations and discuss potential changes to our financial strategy.
As for talking to friends and family about money, we’re always up for a good discussion. And in Gillian’s family, it’s actually difficult to get through a dinner without discussing money and investing.
12. What kinds of projects and big ideas are you focused on now through Our Freedom Years?
This autumn we’ll be kicking off a new chapter in our travels, which we’re calling the Year of Adventure. Since we began our travels in 2019, we’ve faced a family tragedy and also the COVID travel restrictions. We continued to travel during this time but on a reduced scale in light of these events.
Starting October, which is the third anniversary of leaving our corporate jobs, we’ll be embracing more adventurous travel, meaning less time in cities and more time hiking our way through beautiful landscapes and smaller communities. Our goal is to challenge ourselves physically while seeing more of the world. And we’ll continue to share our adventures as we go through our videos and blog posts.
That’s it for now! We’re excited to include our friends Stephanie and Gillian in our Talking Money series because their adventures are inspiring and they have tons of great lessons to share about how they reached FIRE together. Be sure to check out their blog and YouTube channel and follow Our Freedom Years. Thank you for reading their story, we’re all looking forward to your comments!