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 Financial Mechanic! She’s a 29 year old blogger sharing her experiences while working on a complex DIY project – saving enough money to become financially independent (FI). The Mechanic focused her time and energy on frugality, career climbing as a mechanical engineer turned programmer, and investing until she reached her FI goal. And just last year we were excited when she reached her goal and retired even before she turned 30! We’re inspired by the Mechanic and we know you’ll find something encouraging in her money story…
1. What were your childhood money experiences? Did you learn useful money lessons from your family?
My earliest childhood memories revolve around saving money for a puppy. My parents said I could get a dog if I saved up $100 for the dog’s adoption fee. To a five-year-old, that is an enormous sum of money, but in the next four years I stashed away quarters I picked up on the streets and begged to do chores around the house for a dollar. I made it to $90 and woke up early every morning to watch Animal Planet shows on how to train dogs. By the time we actually adopted the dog, my parents said I should keep my savings. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I decided to save it for some future big purchase.
I learned how to be frugal from my family, who never went out to eat without a coupon and would order one drink and two entrees for the four of us to share. I never wore shoes that were more than $10. I almost never owned anything new. This set me up in adulthood to save, and helped me get the portfolio I have today.
2. What have you learned about financial obstacles faced by Queer people? What kinds of experiences have you had with money as a Queer woman?
I’ve had a lot of straight-passing privilege for most of my financial journey. I knew the challenges of the LGBTQIA+ community before coming out, but afterwards I had to reflect on how to change my financial plan to account for how they could affect me. One financial pro of dating women: sometimes my wardrobe doubles in size! However, this kind of boon barely offsets the extra costs of being queer, like the impact of discrimination. Not to mention the double whammy of the gender pay gap in a lesbian relationship. Lastly, one factor I have to consider if I pair up with a woman is that the cost of having a family increases exponentially.
Of course, there are so many other things that can affect your finances as someone on the spectrum of LGBTQIA+, and honestly I’ve come out rather unscathed compared to many folks advocating for their lives in hostile healthcare environments, getting hit with gender and race pay gaps, and other financial obstacles.
3. How do you feel about money at this point in your life? Have your feelings about money and wealth changed over time?
Money is a great tool to allow us to live the life we want to live, or it can be a prison that keeps us trapped in despair. Managing it is a skill we have to develop. If we don’t manage it well, it can stress us out with every swipe of a credit card. However, it has the potential to free us completely.
When I learned that I could save to literally free myself from working ever again, suddenly money took on a whole new role in my life. It might take extra diligence, changing habits, and intention, but we can make money work for us, instead of working for it. I went from thinking money was always something to wrestle with but have learned you can make it work for you. I used to work for money, now money works for me.
4. What’s your investing style, and what kinds of accounts do you have?
I’m an aggressive investor. This is a lot different than I expected when I first started investing. I thought I’d be a lot more conservative, because I don’t like taking big risks when it comes to money. However, I learned that when you’re young and have more runway, it can be beneficial to be riskier. This means I have about 90% of my investment portfolio in stocks.
More financial education helped a worrier like me trust my money in a volatile market. I don’t check my numbers often and trust that the markets will recover in their own time.
5. Now that you’ve reached FI, what do the FIRE movement and various fi concepts mean to you?
I reached full FIRE recently and retired this year! That means I saved enough that I don’t have to work again, all before the age of 30. That is thanks to finding the FIRE movement early in life. I was 21 when I started getting a paycheck from my first “real” job. I decided I needed to learn how to invest so that my paycheck didn’t just sit around in savings accounts.
Because I invested for 9 years, saving over 75% of my paycheck each year, I achieved my goal of financial independence much earlier than expected. I’m really excited for the next phase of my life, where I can find out what work is meaningful to me. I want to live my life guided by meaning and not money, but first I had to get myself to a financially secure space. Lots of people don’t need to wait for that, but for me, the safety of savings brings me freedom.
6. You’ve worked as a software engineer in the USA and in the Netherlands. Are you planning other income earning jobs for the future?
I loved some parts of working as a software engineer. The problems were always interesting, always changing, and impacted peoples’ lives directly. I could see myself doing some freelance work. For example, I could help set up websites, code tools, or help nonprofits with a mission.
But to be honest, software engineering was a means to an end: it was a job with which I could earn a high salary and have high flexibility (in order to do things like move to the Netherlands). Something I have a true passion for is writing. This is one reason I started a blog in the first place. I would love to write a book, and if that earned some income, that’d be great.
7. What kinds of projects and big ideas are you focused on now through your blog, Financial Mechanic?
So far I’ve been chronicling my adventures in early retirement, which includes traveling across South East Asia as a solo female traveler. After that, I would love to kick up a coaching business to help young people get on the right track with their money, including getting started investing. I already have a couple of clients and have helped them get their money on track early in life. Helping others reach financial freedom is one of my main passions.
I am open to exploring other entrepreneurial ventures in early retirement, and plan to continue writing all about them on the blog!
8. Does owning a personal home or rental property fit into your personal finance strategy?
I’m interested in owning property, though I don’t own anything right now. This has given me freedom to move abroad without stressing about managing properties at home.
I enjoy renting right now, and I don’t see myself owning in the next five years. However, after that, who knows?! Owning a personal home or rental property could be a viable investment opportunity.
9. You took a big leap when you moved to the Netherlands. How did that experience impact your career, your finances, and your personal life?
Moving abroad was a real growth edge for me. I got to work in a country where your job is not considered your identity, where working 4 days a week is relatively normal, and working overtime is not necessarily a good thing. This helped transition me to a place where I could imagine retiring without feeling like a failure as a developer.
In exchange, I took a big pay cut. I made less money every month, saw a stagnation in my savings, and wasn’t able to contribute to any retirement accounts back home.
Was it worth it?
My quality of life remained high. I biked over bridges and canals, learned how to speak Dutch (een beetje), and had subsidized healthcare for $135 a month. It also helped me transition from earning a high salary, to a medium-high salary, to now: no salary.
10. Do you keep money separate or combine money within romantic relationships? Which assets or accounts would you combine, or keep separate?
It is my belief that each person in a relationship should have their own account. Certainly you may wish to set up a joint account for joint expenses, but it’s a non-negotiable for me that each person should have their own account.
Each individual has their own wishes, desires, dreams, and plans in life. Two individuals make a relationship, and that relationship can also have an account. However, for each partner’s autonomy and safety, they should have an account in their name only.
I confronted this reality when I found myself unexpectedly facing a catastrophic blow-up of my relationship. I could never have anticipated being in that position, but life has a way of taking you by surprise. I was grateful to have separate finances at the time so I could make whatever decision was right for me.
11. Is money a regular conversation topic in your personal life? How often do you talk about money with your friends and family?
I love talking money. The more we shroud money in secrecy, the more it has the opportunity to sprout shame. I’ve personally benefited from others talking about their money. In one case, I earned more because a coworker told me how much he was making. In another, I could properly budget for my move to the Netherlands because a friend shared all of her rent and monthly living expenses (including her pay stub so I could estimate taxes!). Sometimes it might feel weird to share real numbers, but the weirdness pays off in actual dollars.
I have helped friends set up investment accounts, gave retirement advice to my parents (who would like to retire but are worried they will get bored), and have given strangers scripts to negotiate their salary. I recently met a woman in Taiwan who was applying for a new role. I told her about my blog, and she found my article about negotiating your pay. Because of the advice, she asked for the compensation range, which ended up being higher than what she planned on asking for. Then she asked for 150% of their offer. In the end, she managed to negotiate an extra bonus and various allowances that made the total compensation a near-match to her ask.
I love hearing from people who used my negotiation script to make the money they deserve! I believe the more we talk about it, the better we can be with it.
12. What are your personal money goals at this point in your life? What do you want to achieve with your money in the short term or in the long term?
Although I have saved enough to not have to work again, I’m on the lean side of FIRE, meaning I don’t have much wiggle room for big life changes. If I want to have children, for example, I would have to bring in some more income to sustain the lifestyle change that would come with new family members.
I also run my blog without any payment, and have recently been wondering how ethical it is to monetize it through ads, so I have taken them off my site at least for the time being. However, it would be nice to figure out how to earn some income to account for future lifestyle changes and to keep the blog up and running.
It’s hard to imagine going back to a 9-5, so I would love to take on the adventure of owning a business. Think of all the skills you have to learn! If the business could have a real positive impact on the world or the environment, imagine how fulfilling that would be!
13. What kinds of activities or hobbies do you love? How do your favorite activities impact your spending?
I’ve had a lot more hobbies since retiring. I recently bought a pickleball paddle to play with friends on the weekends. I got a wetsuit second-hand from Facebook Marketplace and a surfboard to hit the beach.
However, a lot of my new hobbies don’t require much monetary investment. For example, I paint for fun, and even sold my first painting to a friend! I found local ceramics classes provided by the local community college that are free.
One of the most frequently-asked questions I received when I told people I was retiring early was: “won’t you be bored?” I can say emphatically that no, I can hardly imagine being bored with all of the activities and hobbies there are to try.
14. Last question – what are you most excited about right now?
I’m most excited about finding fulfilling work in early retirement. I think it’s a total misconception that retirement = no work at all. It just means you don’t need paid work. Before, I always had making money as one of my highest priorities. Now it’s time to reprioritize my life and make meaningful changes in my life, work, and relationships. That’s what I’m most excited about!
That’s it for now! We’re excited our friend the Mechanic wanted to be to included in our Talking Money series. Be sure to check out her blog and follow the Financial Mechanic. Thank you for reading her story, we’re all looking forward to your comments!
Wow, great interview! I’ve thought often about trying out a contract in a different country, so it’s cool to hear about someone who actually went for a job in another country. The reasoning behind separate accounts resonates. I’ll definitely be checking out that blog.
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Thanks Chickadee. Alison and I have had some amazing discussions with the Mechanic about money and relationships and we’ve always hoped she would share her story so that others can find inspiration from her as well. And on the topic of combining money or keeping it separate, this is a topic that could use more discussion. There are a lot of old fashioned ideas out there relating to why couples often choose to merge all of their money today, like Alison and I have. But we need more voices sharing their experiences relating to the value and importance of considering separate accounts based on all sorts of circumstances in today’s personal finance world.
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The idea of being able to combine finances and completely trust a partner is great. However, the legal reality of doing so poses a large risk. Witnessing the way finances were used against each other between my parents made it seem like combining can become unsafe, even if a relationship starts out well.
Hi Chickadee, thanks for checking it out! I highly recommend trying out a contract in a different country, I grew a whole lot as a person and it was so empowering to know that a big life change like that is possible– and reversible too!
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Hi Financial Mechanic, thanks for making the blog! Sounds like it was positive experience and a real adventure 🙂
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