Reader Case Study: Young Professionals Plan for a Wedding, Gender Confirmation Surgery and Financial Independence

Buffalo tofu salad by Chef Daniel

June and Daniel are young professionals living the DINK (dual income; no kids) life in Chicago. While they’re grateful for the higher salaries the city offers, they’re not loving the urban hustle. They have a number of near-terms goals, including celebrating their wedding, gender confirmation surgery for Daniel, buying their own home and eventually, achieving financial independence.

But given the pandemic and their uncertainty about staying in Chicago, they’re not sure when any of these things will happen. Capping it off is June’s unhappiness and anxiety around her job. They’ve asked for our help in untangling these knots and figuring out their next financial steps.

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send to me requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section.

For an example, check out the last case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

Reader Case Studies are intended to highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, geography, goals, careers, incomes, family composition, and more!

Secret statue garden on a nearby college campus. June loves finding quiet, secluded spots like this.

The Case Study series started in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 54 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17,160 to $192,720 and net worths ranging from -$317,596 to $1.5M.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled, and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight, and trans people. I’ve featured cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, and France.

I’ve featured folks with PhDs and folks with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.

The goal is diversity and only YOU can help me achieve that by emailing me your story! If you haven’t seen your circumstances reflected in a Case Study, please feel free to apply to be a Case Study participant by emailing mrs@frugalwoods.com.

Reader Case Study Guidelines

I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn. There’s no room for rudeness here–the goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge that we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.

A disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

With that I’ll let June and Daniel, today’s Case Study subjects, take it from here!

June and Daniel’s Story

June at the lake in Madison

Hello, Frugalwoods nation! We are June, 29, and Daniel, 28. Daniel is transgender and we both identify as queer, identities around which we feel a lot of pride. We met in college and have been together for over seven years. We are lifelong Midwesterners and have lived in Chicago for two years now. Prior to our move to the big city, we lived in Madison, WI after college, where we both worked full-time in retail. During that time in our lives, although it was financially tight, we adopted many frugal habits that continue to serve us well now that we’re earning more comfortable salaries.

Careers

June currently works in accounting for a hospitality company and Daniel works in development and communications for a local non-profit organization. We have each held these jobs for about 2 years. June’s passions include minimalism, DIY projects, oil painting, organizing, interior design, and she enjoys helping friends and family organize and beautify their living spaces.

Daniel is a lifelong writer and loves expressing himself through creative non-fiction. In his spare time, in addition to writing, he enjoys cooking vegan and vegetarian meals, working out, playing guitar, listening to music (especially metal), and bird-watching.

Together, we love taking walks in our neighborhood, spending time in nature, and hanging out with our friends and family. In non-pandemic times, we usually take a couple trips a year to visit friends or get away, with recent destinations including San Francisco, Nashville, Seattle, Costa Rica (with Daniel’s family), and a fun stay in Dubuque, Iowa. Right now, our goals are to be financially independent/retired early (FIRE) and to have more flexibility to pursue our passions and hobbies outside of our day jobs.

The Driving Forces Right Now

View of the Chicago skyline & streets from a train platform

We want to be financially independent but don’t have concrete dreams or a path to realize them. The freedom granted by FI is a huge motivator to us both. We are hard workers and could feasibly continue to climb our respective ladders for a few years to save enough to stop working permanently or semi-permanently. However, it’s really difficult to feel motivated to work harder in the short term when our “career aspirations” are to stop working, and what we value and want to pursue in the long term is almost entirely outside of our careers. We’re looking for the freedom to explore these other parts of our lives and find our passions, and the constant stress and exhaustion of our day jobs feels like a huge roadblock to getting there.

In the meantime, we’re saving quite a bit for short- and intermediate-term goals, so we have robust liquid savings buckets but no real concrete timeline for any of them. We continue to set aside money for a wedding, but as we both have large extended families, it’s anyone’s guess with the pandemic as to when we might get married. We are passively saving towards a down payment because we feel like we may want to buy a house someday, but we really like renting and don’t anticipate buying in the near future.

Daniel is seriously pursuing gender confirmation surgery and has an idea of what it will ultimately cost, but the cost of multiple stages/procedures and what insurance might cover varies widely. Basically, we have all of these liquid savings for goals we may not actualize for years. In the meantime, we feel like we may be missing out on growing this money because we’re keeping it liquid. Depending on many factors, each of these goals could be years away, or they could happen in the next year.

The Best

The best part of our current lifestyle is that we’re pretty intentional about lots of things. It is important to us to lead a simple life and find joy in non-material things, like walks through our community and spending time with loved ones and each other. We make a great team and are usually very aligned in both our day-to-day and long-term decision making (including around money and saving), which makes for a strong and united partnership.

Sunset on our trip to Costa Rica

We are very privileged to be able to work remotely during a time when so many others do not have this luxury. We are also very privileged to be able to save at the rate we do as DINKS (double income; no kids) with no outstanding debts. While we’ve only had it for a couple of months, we have greatly benefited from the flexibility of having our own car, as it has allowed us to safely travel to visit family and to escape the city for forays into nature.

The Worst

It turns out that it was easier to build an intentional life together when we didn’t have the financial resources we do now. We moved to Chicago because we wanted to be closer to our friends (many of whom live here in the city) and gain better access to well-paying job opportunities, which felt scarce in Madison. Big-city living and holding higher-paying jobs has allowed us much greater access to the amenities around us, but it has definitely been difficult to combat lifestyle inflation in an urban environment that offers limitless distractions and ways to spend our hard-earned money even as it has allowed us to build wealth at a rapid clip.

Additionally, while our move to Chicago allowed us to achieve higher earning potential and access to many of our friends and family members, we find ourselves missing the abundant green spaces, small-town feel, and slower pace of life in Madison. We find we’re easily overstimulated in such a dense urban environment and feel that at some point in the near future we will want to live somewhere smaller, quieter, and closer to nature.

Outside of the collective high anxiety, stress, and uncertainty of this moment in time, the worst part of our current lifestyle is that June is very unhappy at her job. She likens it to being in a toxic relationship: poor boundaries, poor communication, no respect for her needs, and–through continued layoffs and long-term facility closures–the near-constant alternating threats of being terminated or having to report to a physical workplace with nebulous safety precautions in place. This job is a huge strain on her mental and emotional well-being, but it is very hard to weigh the pros and cons of leaving this job without having another one lined up in the current job market. It’s also hard to feel motivated to find “better” or higher-paying jobs to get us to FI as quickly as possible when, ultimately, we don’t feel motivated to build careers at the expense of the things that are truly important to us in life.

Where June & Daniel Want To Be in Ten Years:

  • Finances: In ten years we want to be as close to FIRE (financially independent/retired early) as possible, and ideally, we want to be there already.
  • Lifestyle: We want to lead a life of freedom and flexibility, but one that doesn’t rely on extravagant things to feel exciting. Basically, we want equal parts “let’s try something big and new because we can” and “let’s drink coffee on the front steps all morning because we have nowhere to be.” We know pretty concretely what isn’t important or fulfilling for us (i.e. climbing a corporate ladder; building identities around careers) and we know what is important and fulfilling for us (exploring, expressing ourselves creatively, and spending quality time with loved ones), but we don’t have a clear picture of what our FI life would look like.
  • Career: IF we’re still working in ten years, we want to be working only if and when we want and pursuing creative outlets or making “side hustles” into our main source of income because we no longer have to rely on full-time work to get by.

June & Daniel’s Finances

Income

Item Amount Notes
June’s net income $2,867 After health, dental, and vision insurance, 401k contributions, and taxes
Daniel’s net income $2,160 After health, dental, and vision insurance, FSA, 403b contributions, and taxes
Monthly subtotal: $5,027
Annual total: $60,324

Assets

Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held Name of bank/brokerage
Liquid savings account (savings goals) $56,638 We have a joint interest-bearing partitioned savings account. This is the total amount across all partitions including a $17,000 emergency fund. Earning 0.595% interest Simple/BBVA Compass
June’s 401k $18,650 This is June’s pre-tax retirement account through work “Trim 2060” target retirement fund Fidelity
Daniel’s Roth IRA $14,612 This is Daniel’s target retirement account. Maxed out contributions in 2020. VTIVX Vanguard
June’s Traditional IRA $13,488 This is June’s target retirement account. Maxed out contributions in 2020. Target retirement fund 2055 (VFFVX) Vanguard
Daniel’s 403b $10,298 This is Daniel’s pre-tax retirement account through work Vngrd Bal Indx Adml Nationwide
June’s Roth IRA $8,904 This is June’s target retirement account Target retirement fund 2055 (VFFVX) Vanguard
Daniel’s SEP IRA $778 This is Daniel’s employer-funded account from a previous job Not earning interest – hoping to roll this into my IRA Vanguard
Joint checking account $553 Simple/BBVA Compass
Total: $123,921

Debts: $0

Vehicles

Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
2018 Ford Escape $20,387 33,000 Yes. This car was gifted to us by a family member (or, rather, they “sold” it to us for $25)

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Rent $1,065
Groceries $515 Our monthly grocery costs have been higher during the pandemic because we have opted mainly for grocery deliveries, which comes along with a significant markup after delivery fees and tip. Whether shopping in person or paying for delivery, we mainly shop at Aldi.

This number also includes an occasional produce box delivery from a local restaurant and a winter CSA half-share, paid in full upfront.

This category includes household expenses like toilet paper and dish detergent as well as liquor.

Therapy $390 This is our single biggest negotiable monthly line item after groceries, but it is worth the expense for us.
Restaurants $152
Vacation & travel $121 Average of last 6 months. This is lower than in a “normal” year, as we would generally make several in-state trips and about 1 out-of-state trip per year. This will likely be higher in the future (here’s hoping!).
Utilities $90 Electricity and internet. Heat, water, sewer, and trash are included in our rent.
Gifts $71 Christmas, birthday, graduation, and wedding gifts (average of last 5 months in this category).
Home goods $68 Mostly candles…
Clothing $67 Average of last 6 months in this category
Car insurance $65 Six month Progressive premium broken down monthly (paid in full)
Charitable donations $57
Car-related expenses $50 Includes: title transfer & registration fees, tolls. We only have one month’s worth of data right now.
June’s cell phone bill $45 Service through Ting (average of last 6 months)
Medications $45
Personal care $35 Haircuts (this was more or less the breakdown from 2019; it’s been significantly less during the pandemic).
Daniel’s cell phone bill $34 Service through Ting (average of last 6 months)
Compost pick-up service $25 We get a new bucket delivered to our house bi-weekly through a local urban farm
Coin laundry $20
Entertainment $16 The very occasional book, ticket, or movie rental
Spotify Premium Duo Account $14
Monthly subtotal: $2,945
Annual total: $35,340

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
Chase Freedom Unlimited* (Daniel) Cash back Chase Bank
American Express Propel (Daniel & June) Travel Wells Fargo; this is the main card we use
PNC Points Visa Signature (June) Points PNC

*affiliate link

June & Daniel’s Questions For You:

  1. Painted Ladies through the flowers in San Francisco

    Given our large liquid savings, is it wisest for us to select 1-2 short term savings goals to remain liquid and invest the rest?

    • We’re holding a lot of cash for short-term goals and we don’t know if that’s the best way to put our money to work.
  2. What do we need to know about saving in a brokerage account? Is this “bucket” outside of a retirement account? Is this something we should look into for our intermediate cash savings goals? Long-term savings goals? Both? Is this money available to withdraw at any time?
  3. Mechanically/logistically, what do we need to do to get to our goal(s)? What changes do we need to make in order to achieve FI in the next ten years? Is this timeline possible for us?
  4. What’s the best way to balance using our jobs as a means to an end and pursuing work that’s actually fulfilling in the meantime?
  5. Is it disadvantageous for us to keep a down payment in liquid savings when we likely won’t be buying in the next 5-10 years?
    Based on our calculations, we are approaching “coast FI.” Since our traditional retirement savings are almost guaranteed to keep growing, should we start saving more in non-tax advantaged accounts to financially sustain us before we reach traditional retirement age?
  6. We can’t know the long-term financial impact of June leaving her job without another lined up, but we imagine the mental and emotional gains could be worth it. Flexibility is the whole point of FI for us, but we worry about being set back by only having one income for an indefinite period. Do you have any advice on weighing this decision?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Daniel walking along a pier on Lake Michigan

June and Daniel are doing an awesome job! They should feel proud of the wise choices they’ve made and the excellent financial position they’re in–before they’re even thirty! I appreciate the intentionality with which they spend their money and their careful mapping of their future.

Question #1: Given our large liquid savings, is it wisest for us to select 1-2 short term savings goals to remain liquid and invest the rest? and Question #5: Is it disadvantageous for us to keep a down payment in liquid savings when we likely won’t be buying in the next 5-10 years?

I’ve lumped questions 1 and 5 together because they’re driving at the same point: what to do with the $56k they’ve saved up.

I think this is more of a prioritization question than a financial question. In order to make a sound decision about this money, they need to identify the sequence of their upcoming major life events. I totally get that the pandemic makes a lot of this planning difficult, but, we can’t allocate this money until we know when it’ll be needed.

June and Daniel outlined three fairly expensive plans on the horizon:

  1. Gender confirmation surgery for Daniel
  2. Their wedding
  3. Buying a house

Depending on the cost and scope, those three items could gobble up their $56k real quick. If they’re thinking items #1 and #2 will happen in the near term–let’s say in under five years–it seems to me they should keep their cash liquid. We’ll dig into investing in a moment, but the general rule of thumb is that you don’t invest money you’re going to need in five years or less. In terms of a downpayment on a house, it’s tough to answer without knowing the purchase price (and thus the down payment amount) of the house in question.

June and Daniel alluded to this in their question and I agree it’s the best option: keep the $56k liquid until AFTER paying for the gender confirmation surgery and the wedding. At that point, they can evaluate how close they are to buying a house, which will inform what to do with the remainder of their cash. If house buying still seems 10 years in the future, they can feel pretty confident investing that money. Conversely, if they want to buy a place in under five years, they should probably keep the money liquid.

Question #2: What do we need to know about saving in a brokerage account? Is this “bucket” outside of a retirement account? Is this something we should look into for our intermediate cash savings goals? Long-term savings goals? Both? Is this money available to withdraw at any time?

Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago. We love exploring free attractions in the city, especially when they bring us closer to nature.

Woohoo!!!! We get to do Investing 101, baby!!!! Before anything is invested, June and Daniel should ensure they keep an emergency fund liquid:

***As we all know, emergency funds are calibrated on what you spend every month. Three to six months worth of expenses are the standard recommended amount. June and Daniel’s current monthly spending of $2,945 indicates they need an emergency fund in the range of $8,835 (three months’ worth of spending) to $17,670 (six months’ worth).***

In order to know how much money you need in your emergency fund, you must know how much you spend every month. One way to accomplish this is to track your expenses with a free expense tracking service. I use and recommend Personal Capital because it’s free and easy to use (affiliate link).

Now hear this: do not invest or otherwise tie up your emergency fund. Your emergency fund is cash money held in an easily accessible checking or savings account.

Investing 101

After you’ve set aside an emergency fund and IF you don’t have any major expenses on the horizon (for example you’re not planning to buy a house or car soon), that’s usually considered a safe time to invest. Although, as I will note about 97 times, investing is inherently risky.

Once invested, you ideally don’t touch this money for decades. The historical returns from the market, which, of course, do not predict future performance, are based on people remaining invested for decades. There was once a (possibly apocryphal) study that showed the highest performing stock portfolios were held by people who were, as it turned out, dead… Meaning: don’t pull money in and out of the market!

Farmer’s market haul!

If June and Daniel think they might need any of this money in the near-ish term (let’s say the next five years), the least risky option would be to keep it all in a savings account.

The reason: once money is invested, it very well might lose value in the short term. If, for example, you put $50K in the market in 2021 and then need that $50k in 2023, it’s totally possible the $50k would’ve lost value and now be only $30k. This is why you only want to invest money you don’t anticipate needing anytime soon. It’s also why you keep an emergency fund of liquid cash, as noted above.

The stock market goes up and down. It’s the natural cycle of it and you can’t panic in downturns because that’s what the market is supposed to do. Gotta gotta go down to go up.

When we talk about historical returns, we’re talking about the long-term trajectory of the market. For reference, many economists cite 7% as the expected historical return. But that doesn’t mean you’ll make 7% every year–some years you’ll lose money, some years you’ll make a lot more. The hope is that, over time, your gains flatten out to a roughly 7% return.

Investing Terminology:

  • Brokerage: the institution that holds your investments (Fidelity and Vanguard are both brokerages).
  • Taxable investments: these are what we’re talking about when we discuss investing. They are called “taxable investments” because you will pay taxes on the gains you make when you cash them out. These are called long-term capital gains taxes and they apply as long as you are invested for longer than one year; you pay more in taxes if you liquidate sooner than a year.
    • Side note: your retirement investments are referred to as “tax advantaged” because they have a different taxation structure, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
  • Returns: the amount of money your investments make.
  • Expense ratio: the fees you pay for the investments you hold, which are listed as a percentage. You want a low expense ratio, so that you’re not losing a ton of money to fees. Many a shady stock broker has raked in millions by charging high fees. When choosing a brokerage and a fund to invest in, it’s imperative to evaluate the expense ratio.

June and Daniel asked: are taxable investments outside of a retirement account?

Yes! Taxable investments are NOT retirement accounts. Traditional retirement vehicles, such as 401ks and 403b, are tax-advantaged accounts because you put money into them pre-tax. You don’t pay taxes on the money you contribute to these accounts. Additionally, you can’t withdraw from these accounts without paying a penalty until you’re age 59.5.

June and Daniel have the trifecta of retirement accounts and so I want to do a quick rundown to make sure we’re all on the same page:

June looking up at a cliff along the Mississippi River on our trip to Dubuque

Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account):

  • A Roth IRA is a retirement account that’s post taxes.
  • This means you pay taxes on the money you put into a Roth IRA, but you don’t pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement.
  • A Roth IRA grows tax free.
  • You need to be age 59.5 before you can withdraw money penalty-free (although there are exceptions).
  • Your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA depends on your income and your particular tax situation. June and Daniel should examine these factors and determine if a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA (see below) makes the most sense for them.
  • I like this Nerd Wallet article on Roth IRAs if you want to read more.

Traditional IRA  (Individual Retirement Account):

  • A traditional IRA is a retirement account that’s pre-tax.
  • This means you don’t pay taxes on money you put into an IRA, but you do pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement.
  • There are no income limits. Anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA.
  • You need to be age 59.5 before you can withdraw money penalty-free (although there are exceptions).
  • More about traditional IRAs here.

401ks and 403bs:

  • Lake Michigan sunrise on June’s walk to work

    Are tax-deferred retirement accounts. This means you don’t pay income taxes on the money you put into your 401k, but you will pay income taxes when you withdraw your money in retirement.

  • You’re allowed to put a maximum of $19,500 per year into your 401k (in 2021).
  • Employers can choose to match your contributions with money of their own:
    • These matching funds do not count against that $19,500 limit.
    • Matching funds are free money. I can’t stress this enough, people. If your employer offers matching funds and you’re not taking advantage of it, you are literally leaving free money on the table.
  • You can begin to withdraw money from your 401k when you’re 59.5 years old. Prior to that age, you’ll pay a penalty to withdraw the money. For this reason, you shouldn’t ever liquidate a 401k prematurely except in the case of a life-shattering emergency. A 401k is not your emergency fund and it’s certainly not your “I’d like to buy a boat” fund.

A Loophole:

A somewhat obscure loophole to the age requirements on traditional retirement vehicles is the Roth Conversion Ladder. Here’s how it works:

  • You can roll a 401k/403b into an IRA.
  • You then convert the IRA into a Roth IRA. This is a taxable event.
  • In five years, you’ll be able to withdraw the amount you converted without paying additional taxes.

This is a great way to access “traditional” retirement funds prior to age 59.5, which is salient for folks planning to retire early. The Mad Fientist has a great article explaining the process. The reason I bring this up is because of June and Daniel’s FIRE goal. Utilizing the Roth Conversion Ladder may make sense for them once they’ve quit their jobs.

June and Daniel asked: Is this money available to withdraw at any time?

Home brunch! Daniel loves to cook and June loves to style.

Well, kinda. Technically, yes, you can withdraw your investments (“cash them out”) anytime you want. However, if you do this prior to being invested for a year, you’re going to pay short-term capital gains taxes, which are higher. Additionally, investment strategy tells us that in order for investments to grow, they need to remain invested for the long term. It doesn’t make sense to pop money in and out of the market. You want to invest money that you’re not going to need to touch for at least a decade.

What I Do

I’m not a financial advisor and I cannot recommend specific investment accounts to you. What I can tell you is that I personally invest in low-fee, total market index funds, with a diversification of domestic and international stock. The reason I use “low-fee” funds is because they’re the least expensive. You pay for the privilege of investing and some brokerages (and investing professionals) charge A TON. You want to look at the “expense ratio” of a fund to determine if it’s a good deal.

I use “total market index funds” to make my investments uber diversified. Total market means I own a bit of most stocks on the market. If I instead owned all Apple stock, for example, I’d be out of luck if they went bankrupt and their stock price plummeted. Since I’m invested in the entire market, I just bump along balancing out losses with gains. It’s a great example of not wanting to put all your eggs in one basket. Especially if a toddler sometimes carries that basket.

Interesting Investing Facts:

  • Investing is risky and you might lose all your money; investing is also how people make their money make more money, but it is not without risk.
  • You will need to adjust your investments over the years to account for your ages.
  • In general, many people start out (when they’re young) in an aggressive investment position–meaning with investments that have the potential for larger returns, but also larger losses.
  • When you read about people who “lost all their money right before retirement,” it’s often the case that they panicked and sold when the market was down. Do not do this!

Personal aside: over the years, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have lost and gained money in the market. If we cashed out our investments during a downturn, then yes, we would’ve locked in the losses. Instead, we keep our money invested, we don’t track the market closely, and we continue to invest on an automated schedule. The crucial key again, is to invest and remain invested for a long time, and to not panic when the market dips (because it will dip, baby).

Resources: in my opinion, the best primer on investing is the book, The Simple Path To Wealth by JL Collins, a version of which is in his blog’s “Stock Series.”

Financial advisors: if you ever want to hire a financial advisor, make sure to hire a “fee-only fiduciary.” Fiduciaries are legally bound to offer advice in your best interest. Advisors who aren’t fiduciaries are not legally bound to do so!!!! EEEK!

Question #3: Mechanically/logistically, what do we need to do to get to our goal(s)? What changes do we need to make in order to achieve FI in the next ten years? Is this timeline possible for us?

View of the sunset through the ‘L’ train back when we used public transit every day.

This is one of those questions I can’t answer. Largely because I don’t know what will happen with June and Daniel’s spending and salaries over the next ten years. In general, yes, they are on the right track:

  • Their spending is low
  • They are saving appropriately into traditional retirement accounts
  • They are planning on investing in taxable investments

However, the missing element here is a higher-than-average salary. If June and Daniel want to retire in their 30s, they’re going to need to increase their salaries. It’s not possible to frugal your way to financial independence in your early 30s without higher-than-average salaries. It is possible to frugal your way to FI at a later date–your 40s or 50s–without higher salaries. But, if June and Daniel are set on super early retirement, they’re going to need to increase their salaries.

I also think it’s really important for June and Daniel to identify what they’re retiring to. Wanting to quit your jobs won’t be enough of a motivator: there needs to be an overarching, lifelong goal to carry you through. I hear threads of this goal weaving together in June and Daniel’s reflections on city life and where they’d like to eventually live. I see a plan taking shape through their diverse and engaging hobbies. And I applaud the thoughtful intentionality with which they live. All of that will help them crystallize a specific goal. Once that specific goal comes into focus, the money will follow. This is not a “manifest some money” mantra, this is a practical analysis:

  1. Once you know what you want in life, you can price it out.
  2. Once you’ve priced out your dream, you’ll know how much you need to earn and save to get there.
  3. Then, you can calculate how many years until you get there.

That’s what I mean by “the money will follow.” Figuring out what they want to do in life will help them understand why they want to FIRE and will enable them to create a list of upcoming big expenditures and timelines. They need to start at the beginning of the flow chart. Long term goals make short term sacrifices tenable. FIRE is not the end goal–it’s the lifestyle that FIRE will enable. The money follows the dream. You have to retire TO something.

June along the Chicago River last Christmas.

Question #6: We can’t know the long-term financial impact of June leaving her job without another lined up, but we imagine the mental and emotional gains could be worth it. Flexibility is the whole point of FI for us, but we worry about being set back by only having one income for an indefinite period. Do you have any advice on weighing this decision?

In short, my advice is: don’t leave your job without another one lined up. It sounds like June is really unhappy in her job and so, I’d say, start a job search ASAP. There’s nothing preventing June from searching, interviewing, and securing a new job while working her current job. When/if she finds a new position, she can give her two weeks’ notice and be done. While yes, the job market is not in a great place right now, there’s no harm in June looking around. Plus, since so many companies are now operating fully remote, she might be able to secure a position with a company based somewhere else in the country–or the world.

Summary:

  • Do some discernment and prioritization work. Determine the rough timeline and cost for the big three events on the horizon: Daniel’s gender confirmation surgery, the wedding, and buying a house.
  • Keep the $56k liquid at least until the surgery and wedding are paid for.
  • Determine at that point when the house-buying goal will come to fruition.
  • Depending on when the house-buying comes into focus, make a determination to either keep the remaining cash liquid for the downpayment OR invest it in a brokerage account.
  • June should start a job search ASAP and see what she finds!
  • Identifying what they’re retiring TO will be instrumental in June and Daniel’s success. Considering the value of this retirement goal vis-a-vis the salaries they can command is also paramount. If early FIRE is their goal, they’ll need to find higher-paying positions.
  • Enjoy the beautiful life they’ve created!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to June and Daniel? We’ll all reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.

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109 Responses

  1. Lynn says:

    Two very non-financial comments: 1) ahhh! I loved seeing the hiking photo from Dbq pop up! I hope you had a great time here! and 2) that purple cauliflower is BEAUTIFUL

  2. Emily says:

    This is not a financial comment but I have to say that the photos of Chicago are really beautiful! I’m a native Chicagoan (I grew up in Lincoln Park) and it makes me miss the city!

    (However, my brother lives in Madison and it’s also super cute and he was able to buy a house at a reasonable price, so I get it.)

  3. Liz says:

    June and Daniel – Way to go!!
    Have you considered Roth 401k and Roth 403b? These options are available. With your age and salary levels, a Roth makes a lot of sense. Think about it this way: Would you rather pay taxes on the seeds or the harvest? In other words, you have decades to let that money grow. That’s going to be a big harvest! Pay now, and then your withdrawals are forever tax-free.
    $19,500 is the contribution limit right now for both a traditional and a Roth (401k or 403b). So if you compare maxing out Roth 401k and Roth 403b with traditional 401k and 403bs, yes, if equally invested those accounts would all end up with equal balances. However, those with the Roth accounts end up with more money because they aren’t paying taxes on those withdrawals and the folks with the traditional accounts have to pay taxes on their withdrawals.
    I would recommend going Roth on all retirement accounts right now (Roth IRAs, Roth 401k, and Roth 403b), considering your salaries and ages. (If you were older – says 40s or 50s and had higher salaries, I would recommend traditional retirement accounts, but this is not your situation.)
    I think you are well on your way to FI!! Woo hooo!

    • Rachel says:

      While I agree that both Roth 401k & Roth 403b exist, my guess is that their employers don’t offer them as they are still not standard in the workplace. 🙁 Based on their profile I’m guessing they would have taken advantage of the Roth options if available to them.

  4. Cindy says:

    I, too, struggle with having a large sum of money in savings “just sitting there.” I have to pretend like it doesn’t exist or remind myself daily of it’s greater purpose. I think saving for wedding and surgery is important. There’s a post somewhere in these archives about frugal weddings, that might help on that end. I also agree therapy is important and should remain a line item.

    What grocery delivery service do you use? We use Shipt and pay a $99 annual fee for free delivery over $35 (easy with groceries) and there are no markups on items we order. Even with a generous tip, we still come in under what I used to spend when I was going on my own.

    • June says:

      Hi Cindy! Thank you! Currently we order our groceries through instacart, but we’ll have to look into Shipt. Thank you for the suggestion!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I think June and Daniel need to figure out what is going to happen first-June getting a new job or Daniels surgery. June should have a job if Daniel is having surgery due to his potential loss of income, costs incurred that might not be covered by insurance etc. I think that they need to find out what the surgery will cost (ball park), after surgery costs such as ? Hormones, physiotherapy. Then they will have a better idea of how much they need to save for that.
    I do think they need to have higher income to be able to retire early.

    • Nora says:

      I wonder if they can also achieve an insurance savings if they got married earlier? I know they want a big wedding but it may be advantageous from an insurance perspective. My employer let me have my husband as a life partner pre-marriage if I signed an affidavit that we were in a committed relationship but they eliminated that benefit when same sex marriage became federally legal. It was meant to help those in states where it was illegal at the time.

      • Laura says:

        That would be a good thing to look into with potential employers. My employer added domestic partnership benefits pre-legalization of gay marriage, however they decided to keep it when the legal status changed because it was being used a significant amount by heterosexual couples that chose not to get married. I believe the benefits also include some transgender costs.

      • Great point, Nora. Perhaps they could get married privately, and then once the pandemic is over they could have a wedding. Lots of people do that, and there are real advantages to being married.

    • Jean says:

      I agree. I am a nurse and I can tell you many surgeries do not go perfectly as planned. Many people get infections, have pain issues, develop pneumonia, and so many other things can happen. Definitely keep the job through the surgery, pandemic and until another position is secured. I also agree with needing higher paying jobs or possibly each of you securing a second job. I have known many nurses, myself included who have worked a full time plus part time job at the same time. Even some who worked 2 full time jobs and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in a 10 year period. Being retired in your 30’s would only be possible for you if you have a million dollars invested or more appropriately a couple of million dollars saved and lived on no more than 3 percent of the money. People in fast food are striking for higher pay. Joe Biden will do as Democrats in the past and tax and spend, spend and tax. Health care will be expensive. Cost of living will go higher and you and I will be supporting unskilled people coming into this country illegally that we do not even know through taxation until we die. It will be much costlier in the future to live a decent and frugal life. Good luck to you.

      • K says:

        Ugh, no Jean, just No!!

      • Lisa says:

        Can we not with comments like this? I agree with the first half of your comment, but there are so many terrible statements in the second half that negate the better point.

      • Andrea says:

        Jean, your completely non factual and politically-motivated comments are not welcome here.

      • Blair says:

        Those last five sentences really spiraled off into a dark and highly questionable place. Can we not bring that into this space?

      • S says:

        How terribly close minded of you to make this comment.

      • LC says:

        Yikes Jean. A civilized society depends on taxes. I have not meet a single child our tax dollars are supporting in our local schools and don’t need to. Your last few sentences are neither useful to the couple’s question nor factual.

      • KM says:

        People who work fulltime deserve to the right to be able to afford rent, healthcare, food, and other “normal” life expenses, full stop. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in. If you work 40+ hours a week, you deserve a dignified existence and that can only be accomplished with a livable wage. I’m sorry those nurses had to work two fulltime jobs. That sounds exhausting, and quite frankly, unsafe considering the high stakes nature of healthcare jobs. I wish that you would vilify the system that gives more to the rich than the needy rather than vilify the people who are fighting for a fair and livable share.

        And healthcare is *already* expensive. A socialized approach to medicine will reduce the cost to individual citizens. Wouldn’t it be swell if medical expenses weren’t a leading cause of bankruptcy? If your healthcare wasn’t tied to employment, but rather to your existence as a human being who deserves healthcare as an irrefutable right?

      • K says:

        So sad that her comment was allowed but my comment condemning it with a short “no” was taken down.

        Seriously, making narrow minded comments about “illegal” immigrants is acceptable along with nonsense comments about health care, democrats and taxation….

        Ok guys…

        I like to read case studies too.

  6. Jane says:

    I always love to read about young people living an intentional life aligned with their values! One of the big FIRE challenges for very young retirees is health insurance, and it’s hard to predict what those costs will look like 10 years into the future. Currently, if you qualify for ACA subsidies, premiums are capped at roughly 9% of your income, plus the cost of whatever care you require up to your deductible. The bottom line is this could be a very large expense, on par with their current rent payment, and it’s good to remember for FIRE calculations because it’s not in their current spending.

    There also wasn’t a mention of kids in the future vision. As a child-free auntie myself, this is totally valid! But it is a question for them to answer for themselves, how firmly shut that door is, and if it’s not completely closed how that affects their financial and life plans.

  7. Nora says:

    1 – I am impressed with how low their rent is in Chicago. I thought it was a higher market comparable to the coasts.
    2 – June is in accounting and that is a very transferable skill. Look into (free) corporate recruiters on Linkedin for a new job! Maybe there is a better on in the suburbs of Chicago so you can enjoy the big city but get more space?

    • Daniel says:

      Thank you for your input, Nora! June is currently working with free corporate recruiters on LinkedIn to help her find something more aligned with her career desires and expectations, and finding something remote is a big priority for her. While rent across Chicago varies drastically depending on the neighborhood and amenities, the overall cost of living here is much lower than in bigger cities on the coast (and leaps and bounds more affordable than some much smaller, high-demand rental markets like SF and Seattle). We also share a 2-bedroom apartment with a good friend in a generally very affordable area which helps keep our rent low.

      • Chrissy says:

        Applause for your choice to have a roommate!

      • Stephen says:

        Hi Daniel, seeing you here in person, please allow me to echo the first part of Jean’s comment above. I don’t mean to scare you, but lots of things can go wrong with GRS. I had the first stage of meta in a very reputable German hospital in mid-September, but still developed septicemia. The team brought it under control so I could travel home to Ireland as scheduled, but I had two more UTIs once home, cycling through four different antibiotics in the process, and was away from work for nearly 8 weeks in total. Fortunately, my workplace has a very good scheme called the Critical Illness Protocol, whereby they pay you your full salary under certain circumstances for up to six months. But I still remember lying in my hospital bed with my septicemia diagnosis and emailing HR from my smartphone to tell them and beg them to please continue my salary until I was home and could make an application under the protocol. They couldn’t have been more helpful. Technically, the surgery worked out great, and I couldn’t be happier and will go back for stage 2 in March. But those were a rough few weeks. Depending on what sick pay you are entitled to contractually, you should leave a lot of financial scope for things not working out ideally. If you don’t spend it, great! You can then move on to the wedding. The very best of luck to you!

  8. Liz says:

    R Quinn, I think there’s room in this world for this couple to live off their hard-earned savings, sit on the porch, and be creative while they are young, just as there is room in the world for the way that you live. It will not take down the economy. Let’s not be a curmudgeon, right? 😉

    I applaud them for learning about a brokerage account and preparing for retirement, whenever that comes. Many who choose FI save up a lot and then find work that they truly enjoy, whether that is paid or unpaid work, that contributes to their community. I’m certain these folks our outstanding contributors to their community. There are plenty of folks in the world who want to work for many years. Different strokes for different folks, no?

    • R Quinn says:

      I hope their dreams come true, But experience says between age 29 and 77 life can happen and I don’t think they are thinking about that. But as you say different strokes.

  9. Elise says:

    As a current Madisonian & fellow queer person I LOVE this case-study 🙂 thanks for sharing your story June & Daniel!

    I myself am a PhD student in Madison, and I make roughly the same that Daniel does + I have good benefits. So I guess I’m a bit surprised that you both refer to these incomes in Chicago as ‘higher paying’. Maybe I’m naive as a grad student who has never held a ‘real’ job, but from talking to young professionals here in Madison I get the sense that you could easily earn that much or more here and have the awesome Madison lifestyle that you seem wistful about. Of course, I don’t know what fields you’re in and esp. for Daniel working at non-profits there are probably way less options here than in Chicago. But for June there should easily be administrative jobs that pay like that here in Madison, I would think? Lol ok, I know that wasn’t even a question you asked – I guess I just really resonate with wanting to live in a small town like Madison over a place like Chicago and for me the income you’re drawing doesn’t seem worth the in-the-moment sacrifices.

    As for June quitting her job, on the one hand I get Mrs. Frugalwoods’ advice to not do it until you have something else lined up, especially during a pandemic. On the other hand, I don’t know, June sounds majorly unhappy, and that doesn’t seem worth it to me, since if need be, you both are frugal enough to live off of Daniel’s income for a while. Sure, you won’t be able to save/invest while June is not working, but you won’t go into debt either. I’ve definitely in the past occasionally had a couple months where I wasn’t working or in school just to reset. And it’s wonderful to get to do that. Plus, applying for new jobs also takes energy and right now June sounds too depleted with her current job to be doing that in evenings/weekends.

    Regardless, you both seem so intentional & value-driven that I’m sure you’ll make it all work beautifully!

    • Daniel says:

      Hey Elise! it’s so nice to hear from a fellow Madisonian.

      To clarify: it’s true that a large part of our frustration living in Madison was (in our experience) a smaller job market that we found difficult/impossible to break into given our experience levels straight out of college. The higher-paying jobs we wanted were available, theoretically, but given our short work histories in Madison (especially both working largely in retail in the time we lived there), we didn’t have much luck breaking out of the low-paying retail/service jobs in that market. There are definitely some larger employers in the area where it is possible to make even more than we’re earning now. Knowing a few people who worked for some of these larger, higher-paying companies (I’m sure that a few come to mind for you as well), we felt leery of giving up our work-life balance for the sake of increasing our incomes. I understand from other people’s feedback here that at some point we will likely need to contend with the reality of higher workload to get to the income level we may need in order to comfortably retire early.

      On top of this, we felt that moving to Chicago offered other benefits to us outside of more jobs (easier access to friends and family being a huge consideration), so the move seemed right at the time and has definitely helped us achieve lots of the goals we’d set out when we made the decision to move here.

      It’s hard not to have rose-colored glasses about our time in Madison. There were many things about living there that we loved and greatly miss. I suspect the same will be true if/when we decide to move away from Chicago. But the reality is that our people are here, not on the Isthmus. If we came back to Madison I have faith that June and I could find gigs with salaries more in line with our expectations and goals given our increased experience levels. Maybe someday we’ll return, perhaps in retirement!

      Thanks again for your perspective, and wave hello to the lakes for us.

  10. Kerri says:

    I started reading this one and thought, Oh, this is ME, oh good, someone will tell me what to do… but then, darn, it turns out what needs to be done at this stage is figure out what you’re working towards! Heh. Daniel & June – congrats on the choices you’ve made so far to build the life you have and I wish you a sympathetic best of luck to figuring out what to prioritize next, as I struggle with that too!

    I would give potentially different advice than Mrs. Frugalwoods regarding June leaving her job. A friend of mine was in a toxic position for two years and she finally quit in May after debating doing so for months. She has gotten an interim job at Trader Joe’s during the pandemic and is SO MUCH HAPPIER. I would venture that especially without the clearly defined FI goals Mrs. F recommends developing, a year of reduced salary isn’t going to swing the needle much from just continuing on as you are. If you’re comfortable with the idea of working out of the house at this time, it might be worth considering something like this. Once you’re free from that workplace toxicity you’ll also probably find yourself in a better place to evaluate how to continue building your life and what might bring more satisfaction out of your next “career” job.

    Thanks for sharing your story and good luck again!

    • Daniel says:

      Welcome to our boat, Kerri! Glad to hear that we are not alone in this situation with these questions.

      At present, as scary as it is for June to think about cutting ties with her current job without something else lined up, she is currently leaning toward taking a break to reset and refresh before putting full energy into finding a job that is less toxic and that better meets her needs. We have budgeted for this loss of income and believe that even if it took upwards of 9 months for her to find something else and become a double-income household again, the trade-offs will have been well worth it.

      Good luck to you as you continue to set your own next priorities!

      • J.H. says:

        I completely agree with this decision/advice. I once had a horribly toxic job with a sociopathic boss. My stress levels were through the roof, I often felt sick in the morning before going to work, and I’d cry on Sunday nights at the thought of going back. My partner at the time encouraged me to quit, and said he’d cover the bills, even though my salary was a lot higher. While I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on him, he pitched it as an opportunity to focus on my writing full time, and I knew that if I didn’t quit soon, I’d either get fired or suffer from a major health issue or mental illness (several of my coworkers had mysterious illnesses and/or heart attacks in the seven months I was there).

        So I quit my job to write full time, and even though my worst fear came to pass–the relationship didn’t work out–I have NEVER regretted it. Am I FIRE? No, but I’m self-employed and found a completely new passion to supplement my writing income: teaching! I never in a million years thought I could do this, or would enjoy it, but I love it. As a contract teacher at a few universities, I’m paid extremely well and am still my own boss. (I also could have been FI if I didn’t love pretty things so much–working on that.)

        If you can afford it, quit the horrible job and never look back. Life is short, and time is the one thing we can never make more of or get back. You never know what opportunities you’ll discover until you’re free. Good luck to you.

        • Allison in Ky. says:

          Kudos to you, J.H.! It took a lot of courage to leave your toxic job and pursue a more fulfilling career path, even with the support from your partner at the time. Can I ask what you do about benefits, though- health insurance, etc.? I have taught as an adjunct at my local university, and it offers no benefits. Just curious how you make it all work. Again, congrats!

    • Milo says:

      +1 to this idea!

      I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods about not quitting your job until you have something new lined up. I don’t think the new position has to be the natural next step on the career ladder in your industry though. Taking a step aside to work part time at your current position or at a less specialized job can give you a break without putting you into the unemployed category. It also means you don’t have an employment gap, are still making some income, and have more structure than day after day of unemployment. Unfortunately, it isn’t a great time to find step aside jobs that aren’t in person though, and many of the jobs that do exist are more precarious than usual.

      I’ve been both unemployed and in a soul sucking job and would caution both can be pretty detrimental to mental health. If June can hang on a bit longer she’ll likely find a new job or things will change at her current job (people leave, companies get acquired, promotions or new positions open up, etc.). Good luck with the job search!! Hope you find something awesome, June!

  11. Kath says:

    I feel like this was written for me: Queer & trans, vegan couple living in a bustling Chicago – wanting to potentially leave the city, marry, have a house, and be fi in in the next decade. I really appreciated their story and your advice. I’m new to the FIRE community, so I don’t feel like I have a ton to add. Just here to say: way to go! Sounds like they’re doing an amazing job so far and being seriously intentional about their spending & saving.

  12. Bella says:

    To achieve a earlier retirement, unless you inherited wealth, is working hard and long while spending little and investing a lot. Buckle up, look for better paying jobs, get up the ladder, once you are out of middle management, the sky can be cleared or you just have less people to deal with.
    On gender surgery, it can be a lot cheaper in Thailand and done with great knowledge and care. Have a destination wedding when you’re at it.
    Your goals need fine tuning, you know where you want to go but not how.. like a big wedding doesn’t really rimes with FI.
    Also earlier financial independence can be achieved by reducing your cost of living. There are plenty of countries in the world where you can live happily with 15 .000 a year.

    • Daniel says:

      Thank you for this insight, Bella! To clarify, when we say ‘big’ wedding, we mean “our extended families are huge and we are on good terms with all of them and plan to have them there on our big day,” not “we plan to have an expensive wedding.” We also feel the conflict this creates with our larger value system (which revolves, again, around intentionality as much as it does around financial savvy and eventual FI), and want to make a decision that feels right for our families and relationships with them as much as it feels right for us and our finances. I hope this clarifies our point.

      • Jody says:

        My husband and I had a small, inexpensive marriage ceremony in a local indoor conservatory/flower garden, followed the next day by a huge, casual reception at a local park that was open to all, catered by a local sandwich and soup shop. My husband has a large family and it would have been cost-prohibitive (as well as just BIG) to have invited everyone to a formal event. As it was, it was perfect for us as we were able to meet all our goals together in a package that felt right to us and our families (once everyone got used to the idea). Just wanted to contribute our experience!

  13. Ann says:

    Hi June & Daniel,

    I hope you get the advice you are looking for! My comment is in regards to you mentioning that you miss the lifestyle in Madison (compared to Chicago) but don’t believe there are any high paying jobs. Depending either on your industry or your flexibility in roles, if you are interested in moving back, I encourage you to try again with the job search. I lived in Madison for 5 years and they have (pre-pandemic) a pretty strong job market for professionals or non-white collar jobs comprised of several large national & international companies (Epic, Trek, American Family Insurance to name a few), the university, the medical school and any state government programs and roles you might be interested in. That’s before you even get to ‘smaller’ tech companies and satellite offices for companies like Google. I used to volunteer at Madison Public Library downtown and even they were looking for hourly employees starting at $18-$20+/hr. Especially once you factor in the cheaper state taxes and lower COL, it might be worth reconsidering if that would make you happy. Cheers!

  14. Alexandra says:

    No advice here, just wanted to chip in and say how much your story resonated with mine! I love how much you have developed hobbies outside of the work and your desire to not have work be your identity! I think that is a wonderful principle to live by. I do understand though, that once you see work in this way it is hard to spend so much of your time doing something you dislike or that means nothing to you. June, I believe if you find work you at least partially enjoy in a higher salary range, you will find more day to day enjoyment AND get closer to FI.
    Best of luck to you both!

  15. Kristen says:

    June & Daniel are in great shape! Good job. Strict FIRE isn’t the only option available for more freedom in life. It’s also worth looking at the Slow FI/Coast FI/Barista FI approach to FIRE. The Fioneers and Modern FImily (also an LGBTQ+ personal finance blog) are both on the Slow FI path. I plugged the numbers above into the Fioneers Coast FI Calculator, and Daniel & June are only about $50,000 away from hitting their Coast FI number (if you earn enough to pay annual expenses in the meantime, your nest egg will grow to your FI number by the time you hit 65). Making $36k a year between two people leaves a lot of room for life flexibility.

  16. R Quinn says:

    Apparently anyone who expresses a different point of view is not allowed to post here as my previous post was deleted, but just an FYI, that surgery being contemplated is about $100,000 in total.

    • Daniel says:

      There are several different procedures available to folks looking to undergo GCS. In my extensive research, the specific combination of procedures I’m pursuing is conservatively more like $30-50k out of pocket (understanding, again, that this number varies depending on surgeon, complications, insurance, etc.)

  17. Meghan says:

    As someone who recently just got married, I’d also advise start planning exactly what you want in a wedding and how much you want to spend. The average wedding is something like 25-30k these days. But you can still have a lovely wedding for less!
    One of the good things about having a covid wedding is that now there’s not as much pressure to have ALL the expensive things or have a wedding with 300 people. Still, knowing how much you’d need to spend for your dream wedding is important in order for financial planning. If you don’t want to have a big expensive wedding but don’t know where to start cutting down, my advice would be to prioritize what your two to three most important things to have at the wedding are (for me it was a good photographer and beautiful music). Then you have 2-3 areas where you plan to spend the money it costs to have those priorities but it also gives other areas where you don’t need to spend as much. Again in my case, we didn’t have a $$$$$ wedding gown, wedding cake (WHY does cake cost $500???? We had a cookie table instead.), and a fancy reception (we had our reception at a local park).
    Good luck!

    • Emily U. says:

      Re: wedding cake costs – yeaaah, they’re crazy aren’t they?? We had a $70 three tier cake from Sam’s as our cake to cut and then sheet cakes to serve to the guests.

      June and Daniel, my spouse and I also have bigger families and just inviting them made it a big affair, so I get it. All in (with intentional choices to cut costs where things aren’t important to us), we were just under $30k, but that provided dinner and open bar to our big group.

  18. Marianne says:

    Arthur Brooks just wrote a column that might be worth a read considering the ambivalence about being in Chicago: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/01/what-moving-house-can-do-your-happiness/617667/

    What if you made a list of places that meet the criteria for where you want to live, and June started aggressively job searching in those areas, as well as jobs that are 100% remote? Also, with the job search, you may want to consider your options based on the insurance coverage available for Daniel’s surgery, which could bring that cost down substantially. You didn’t really go into how Daniel feels about his job, so if he really, really loves it, this may not work for you, but he may also be able to negotiate a permanent remote situation?

  19. Cara says:

    Perhaps setting aside a bit of your liquidity as an Exploration Fund- separate from travel as a line item, if doubling up that way makes you feel you’ve deprived yourself of a vacation – to visit or inquire about future locations and occupations might serve a few purposes. It might reduce some anxiety, as it could help you feel like you’re doing something about your current situation. Besides enabling you to scout locations, it could fund things like trips to career fairs or small business events. Whatever might help you with discernment (and check what the library offers along these lines) You don’t sound ready to tie yourself to a location through home ownership yet, and maybe that works for you now. You are not alone in trying to find the sweet spot of a local economy with good opportunities but a comfortable cost of living. Keep relating your findings back to you and your needs, and hopefully a few options will become clearer. (A shout out to my home state- maybe give Pittsburgh a chance?) Good luck.

  20. June and Daniel, thank you for sharing your story with us! I I plugged your numbers into a basic retirement calculator to see how long it would take you to reach FIRE considering your current assets ($123,921), expenses ($35,340), savings (income minus expenses = $24,984) and a 6.61% real rate of return and 3.5% safe withdrawal rate. Admittedly, this is rough because the savings I plugged in don’t consider the amount you are contributing to your tax-deferred, employer-sponsored retirement accounts. It also deploys all of your liquid savings so doesn’t take into account what you would spend on your wedding or surgery. Cutting to the chase – 16 years. However, if you reduce your assets by $50k to account for the surgery/wedding, it would increase your time to FIRE by only one year – 17 years to FIRE! I echo Mrs. Frugalwoods’ point that you could retire early by your late 40s if you stay the course. On the other hand, you have options to change your course as how you define happiness morphs over time. Best wishes! I look forward to reading your updates ahead.

    • June says:

      Hi Tara–thank you!! This insight, along with Mrs. Frugalwoods’, regarding timeline is really helpful. And enlightening! I appreciate it.

  21. Suzanne says:

    When I read Liz’s book, I was amazed/shocked/surprised at how she could force herself to go to work at soul deadening (for her) jobs – I don’t have that much energy/ability to suffer. I lasted three years as an employee before I became self-employed at 25. While I am all about being frugal and saving for the future, NOW also matters a great deal. Becoming self-employed meant that my income went WAY down but my overall enjoyment of my life went way UP. And then early retirement became not so pressing of a need. I’m in my mid fifties and it was fine to wait until a few years ago to have enough money to stop working (okay, now I’m switching to being a flower farmer in the city with my “farm” on different city lots inside one neighborhood- working is fun if you can choose what you do! and this ability to choose is possible if you have saved along the way.)

    I’ve advised my nieces and nephews to save and invest, but NOT to press too hard for early retirement. There is no magic in retiring at age 38 versus 45. Especially if you make large sacrifices along the way such as postponing or not having as many kids as you would have preferred, not taken the art class that makes your soul sing, not allowed yourself the joy and expense of having a pet, etc. Balance is the key.

    June, if you were my child, I’d say congrats on what you’ve done so far. Now buy yourself a few months of freedom to recover your mojo. Be kind to yourself – you may discover that you NEED to lie around and read a few novels, take naps, experiment in the kitchen with new recipes. Let the energy begin to well up inside you. Refill your reservoir.

    Yes, you will have to get a job again. Remember that most jobs are never advertised. As someone who has employed a number of people over the years I only posted a job once, got buried in responses, and swore never to do that again. Everyone I’ve hired has been word of mouth. My best two employees showed up and said, hey, you should hire me! (it took one guy 4-5 months to convince me, and he’s been my employee off and on for over 12 years now)

    Set up informational interviews. Call everyone you know or don’t know – if a business sounds interesting, find their number and cold call. Whoever answers the phone will be puzzled, but 9 times out of 10 they’ll forward your call to someone – and if this person isn’t interested in talking to you, ask them for a referral to someone else! Think about how you would respond to someone asking for a little bit of help – you’d be happy to help them. Tell whomever you talk with that you are young and switching jobs, but realize that your knowledge of the world of work is limited. Let them know that you would like ten minutes to ask them about their piece of the work world – what is it like to be a flower distributor? a sheet metal manufacturer? a cyber security company employee? Even if you want to stay in accounting, it’s still good to find out the flavor of different industries. Every business needs an accountant. And if you want to be self-employed, many small companies need a bookkeeper to come in once a week or twice a month to take care of that end of the business (I’m currently waiting to bump into the right person to do this for me! but I’m in Denver).

    Good luck with whatever you choose!

    • Dani says:

      Not June or Daniel, but I loved this post. It’s the kind of advice I wish I had gotten when I was younger although I managed in my own meandering way to get to a very good spot financially and personally.

    • Quincy says:

      Suzanne, you seem like an incredible person and I loved your advice. I went ahead and applied it to myself, so thanks for the pick me up you just gave me 🙂

  22. Lisa says:

    June and Daniel, thank you for sharing your case study with the community! I’ll let others speak to the hard numbers portion, but I wanted to talk a bit about the question of what are we working for if the only goal is to quit?

    I’ve definitely felt this question throughout the past few years as my desire for FIRE grew. (I’m a few years older than you all but not by much.) What changed for me was to look at my career as a means to an end. If I want to retire sometime in the next 10-15 years, I needed to increase my income. How could I do that in a way that aligned with my skills and interests? After a lot of research and networking, I found a career path that would take me from earning low-to-mid five figure salaries to earning six figures in the next position with the opportunity to double that if I reach the level I’m targeting. It took a few years of experience and building my skill set, but with the end goal of FIRE (and all that it means to me), I find purpose in moving through the steps of my career ladder now. When I chose my current position, I was very intentional in applying for companies that had a good balance of an inclusive workplace culture, the salary I needed to provide for my family, and opportunities that would allow me to continue growing my skills so I could increase my earning potential in the next few years. Having that kind of purpose and knowledge in the back of my mind makes it easier to go to work each day and give my best.

    I’d encourage June to look at the Ask a Manager archives on resume and cover letter writing, applying for positions, and interviewing as she considers her next step. Finance jobs are still very necessary during the pandemic, and there are a lot of WFH opportunities for virtual companies! I would stick out her current position as long as she can; it puts you in a position of power to apply from a place of employment and makes it so you can wait for the best fit opportunity. My last job was in a miserable position when I left, but since I was able to stick it out, I was able to wait for the right offer, and it’s already paying dividends a year later.

    I wish you lots of luck! There are so many exciting events on the horizon for you both, and you’ve put yourselves into a great place to take the next step.

    • June says:

      Thanks so much, Lisa. This is all very good to hear! I will check out Ask A Manager–I’ve heard from a few people that it’s a treasure trove of helpful information. And I love your perspective on careers–viewing work as a means to an end definitely makes it feel more purposeful. Thanks again!!

  23. CarolineRSA says:

    Hi! Just in terms of cost of GCS, have you considered medical tourism? Those numbers are big, and (post pandemic, of course) a generous exchange rate could work in your favour. The Rand today is >15 to the dollar, and we do have great medical care in SA.

  24. Megan Doyle says:

    June might consider starting a side hustle as a professional organizer to a) test drive a new job in a low-risk way, b) have an outlet for professional creativity when the day job is particularly draining, and c) save up a cushion to make the Big Quit more feasible. I run my pro organizing business evenings and weekends while teaching full-time, and it costs me under $300/year in overhead (mainly my website). My first year I had the upfront costs of registering with the state for ~$250, enrolling in a helpful but not entirely necessary course for about~$900, and ordering business cards which I practically never use and could have skipped altogether. I avoid costly annual memberships in NAPO or other professional orgs and get business from word of mouth and SEO instead of paying for ads. This year I pivoted to virtual consultations as a Covid-related precaution. June’s interior design eye could be a big selling point for clients, too.

  25. Michelle says:

    Hello June & Daniel! I love the focus & drive you both share. Being true to oneself & living in alignment with your values & integrity is priceless! I wanted to share with you that I had a transgendered friend to was able to receive both surgeries to transition from being born/declared female to his true desired male self. He was able to have his breasts removed as a “male” due to gynecomastia as the diagnosis and also had a total hysterectomy done as “female” due to dysmenorrhea (painful periods). My one joking bias of m to f is that they don’t get to experience the “joys” (sarcasm here 😉 of monthly cycles, but I digress. So, my friend had these “medically necessary” procedures done legally & fully paid by state health insurance as he was low income & not working and on ssi. The doctors apparently knew how to bill so that he/she (and I state these terms only because the doctors had to use gender as the reason for him/her to receive these surgeries). So technically it was not called gender reassignment surgery. I don’t know how they were able to bill under two genders for the same person as he was not legally/medically declared intersexed (though later it seems this was a piece in subsequent genetic testing) but he was so happy to have these procedures done. I myself have had horrendous cycles from day one & I’m 51 now & I just took the birth control pill continuously for the last 13 years & it’s been amazing to not have cycles! So my friend had already been receiving hormones (testosterone) for a handful of years & that also was fully paid for. The last time I spoke with him which was several years ago he was not interested in having any procedures done to change his genitalia & he & I joked about the superiority of female orchestration that he’d like to keep. Although it’s a serious life decision he was always able to keep a levity about it all because it can be so challenging & heavy at times. All of what you desire to do with your lives together is such a personal decision & the “right” answers are simply to do what’s right for you. But I wanted to share that my friend was able to get thousands of dollars worth of sex reassignment surgery without it being called that on paper & he was SO happy. He had no complications & he even had some health issues that could have lead to complications but didn’t. I wish you the best & I know he’s really loving life now living as a self-identified transgendered queer man even though he & his wife were married at the time as a lesbian couple in the state’s eyes & they’ve got some paperwork changes now to make on birth certificates etc., they achieved their life dream & also started a new business online. I don’t envy anyone having to navigate this process for all the obvious reasons for red tape roadblocks but there are folks out there that can help with this as well. Years ago in my former private psychotherapy practice, I wrote a letter in support of my client to have her operation to become fully female (she was intersexed at birth with an androgen allergy but raised female) she had successful surgery in Colorado about 20 years ago & I know back then it was about 25K for the surgeries she’d have to have & it is to this day one of the most important things I’ve done personally & professionally, truly a transformative experience. I wish you much joy & love & patience on this journey. 🙂 I am holding space for all of your dreams to come true!

  26. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! Not knowing all of the details it is hard to say if the better course is to leave a toxic job without another lined up or stick it out until another is found. From my household’s personal experience I would recommend if June does decide to leave her job without another lined up make sure she has a good explanation that she feels comfortable sharing in a job interview/application. Any period of unemployment needs to be explained, in my experience. Maybe that would be less of an issue in these times of Covid?

  27. Rebecca says:

    Speaking as a (non-CPA) accountant married to a (CPA) accountant, there tend to be a lot of of job opportunities, so I’d definitely encourage June to look. Pursuing the CPA designation can be a huge commitment, particularly time-wise, but have you considered looking at something like the Enrolled Agent certification through the IRS? That could boost your earning potential and give you a reliable part-time job or fall back side gig in the future. However, one reason there tend to be a lot of job openings in accounting is that many people find they don’t enjoy it. Do you think it’s the kind of thing you’d be willing to do at a better employer? My husband and I have both found that the key to enjoying our admittedly boring jobs is well-run companies, good pay/benefits, and not being super-invested in our careers – we want food on the table, a roof over our heads, and free time. I definitely think it’s worth considering what sort of job qualities would best mesh with your goals and personality.

  28. Stephanie says:

    I just wanted to make a small clarification in something Mrs. FW said. Yes, anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA, but there are income limits on whether the contribution is tax deductible, which varies depending on whether you file taxes single or married, and whether you are covered by a work place plan. Both Daniel and June seem to be under the limits currently, but just something to keep in mind in case that changes in the future. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/ira-deduction-limits. Having said that, when I was your age I focused on my Roth IRA because all the growth will be tax free!

  29. Tucker says:

    Hi June and Daniel! Way to go it sounds like y’all make a great team! I wanted to make a suggestion that might bring the therapy line item down a bit. If you haven’t already, check to see if your employers have an EAP and if it covers a set number of therapy sessions a year. My current employer’s EAP does 6 free sessions a year and my previous employer had an EAP with 5 a year. If you have this benefit available and your providers are in the EAP network it might be a nice savings if you aren’t already using it.

    • June says:

      Hi Tucker! Thank you so much. Daniel and I will have to look into the EAPs available to us–thanks for suggesting!

      • Tucker says:

        You’re welcome June! As others have mentioned your insurance coverage might be better than Daniel’s. You would have to do some research as to if the costs make sense, but have you both considered getting married, then having Daniel be double insured for the surgery period? Also You may also be able to access each other’s EAPs if married or made official with your companies? I was able to use my Mom’s EAP when I was a dependent on her insurance.

  30. caryatis says:

    >What’s the best way to balance using our jobs as a means to an end and pursuing work that’s actually fulfilling in the meantime?

    You guys are planning some very expensive optional purchases on two very small incomes. The first priority here should be for both of you to find better jobs. Forget about whether the job is “fulfilling” and find something high-paying that you can live with (and check the health insurance options since you are considering an expensive surgery).

    Also, if you’re having the fancy wedding mostly for family, can family members pay for it? Or help offset the cost? Do you have any family with space to host the wedding, or people who are willing to provide food or services for it?

    • Jess says:

      It’s ok to want to celebrate a big day with all of your family. That doesn’t mean it has to be a “big, fancy wedding”. I agree with your suggestions on using your resources to keep the party frugal(my wedding reception was in my parents’ backyard, my SIL made the cake, friends helped with simple catering, etc), but I don’t think the framing of “if they want to come they have to help pay for it” is helpful.

  31. Jessica says:

    Amazing job with low expenses in an expensive city!
    I use a Roth IRA specifically because you can pull out the principal (not the interest) without penalty after 5 years, so it’s a bit more liquid.

    You should check out the Fioneers blog and the SlowFI series on it! It outlines a bunch of different options and paths people have taken to enjoy life more on the way to FI, even if it slows it down a bit. Perhaps you would be interested since you express distaste with climbing the ladder for years just to reach FI without enjoying the journey along the way.

    • Rosie says:

      Agree that Roth IRA can be flexible — and I’m pretty sure that you can pull out the contributions at any time, tax and penalty free — you don’t need to wait 5 years. There are various exceptions for when you can pull out the growth, both before and after five years have passed — sometimes tax and penalty free, sometimes just tax free. Exceptions can include items like home purchase, medical expenses, and education expenses (there are others too).

  32. Katherine says:

    Congratulations on your current financial position. I am super impressed when young people have saved so much $$$!
    Like June, I have been in jobs I hated. In one job, I was so exhausted from travel & a toxic atmosphere that I quit before I had another job. I work in corporate finance so I was able to find a temp job quickly that became a permanent position. There are piles & piles of remote accounting jobs right now. Many companies don’t want to hire full-time because of the uncertainty of the Covid economy. June might be able to get a contract position so that she gets out of her work environment & has the energy to look for something new. Check out RoberHalf.com to see a sample of jobs that are available. Also LinkedIn & Indeed have lots of listings. You have a solid savings net & this might be a time to take a risk for your mental health.
    Again, congrats on your savings & good luck!

  33. LC says:

    The cell phone bill seems high. We are really happy with red pocket as you can pick your provider and my husband and I both have Verizon service for $15/month per phone. You could certainly trim a bit off of that monthly expense. Best of luck for your big life changes!

  34. cathy says:

    I’m going to throw a couple things out there from a different perspective. My daughter had gender confirmation surgery a few months ago, so the expenses are still pretty fresh. Daniel, if you are fairly close to being ready for surgery, is there a care coordinator you are working with to help navigate the billing/costs, etc? The transgender health center my daughter used has an amazing care coordinator. She provided us with all the diagnostic and surgical codes so we could call the insurance and get a ballpark figure in advance. Since every part of the procedure is billed with a different code, there were a few that were, initially, not covered. But the care coordinator (who had run into this before) just needed to provide some additional details. In our case, the out of pocket was insanely low because we have great health insurance. So, in setting your priorities (surgery, wedding, new job, etc), it might make sense to see how much the surgery is likely to cost under Daniel’s insurance and how much it’s likely to cost under June’s. I’m not sure how you’ll be able to get the numbers under June’s insurance, but that brings me to another possibility. If the surgery would be significantly less expensive with June’s insurance, then have you considered getting married now, but having the wedding later? That said, there might be a waiting period before Daniel could be covered on June’s insurance. Whether or not that waiting period is acceptable (i.e. how bad is the gender dysphoria?) is a question only Daniel can answer. Also, in terms of the surgery, there’s the question of how much time Daniel would have to take off work. If June is between jobs, how will that affect the surgery timeline? My daughter was healed enough after a few weeks (one week in hospital, two weeks at home) to resume most things, though complete healing was much longer than that.

    I don’t have any answers for you, and it may be that you’ve already considered these things. Thought I’d offer the perspective anyway. Best of luck to both of you!

  35. Paul says:

    Hi June and Daniel, Well done as far as your savings. Too, way to risk laying out your current conundrums for this community to puzzle out and try to help. I don’t have a lot to offer though I loved all the great photos. June, I’m envious. It seems you find work environments where you get to walk along the water’s edge on your way to work. One thought I will throw out for Mrs. F. or others to comment on: What about a CD ladder at a strong local bank. Spreading out all that cash in fully insured CD’s of 3mos 6 mos and a year might increase your yield. As the first matures you reinvest the proceeds beyond the longest one. Google CD ladder or bond ladder for a better explanation. May be too much work, just a thought. I also share the love of Madison. All the best. Paul

  36. Susan says:

    Hi! Just stopping in with a frugal candle tip. 😉 I saw your line item for candles and you could absolutely take a chunk off the candle budget. From one candle lover to another, Aldi has the most amazing soy blend candles that cost $4-$7 for a large 3 wick candle. They are my favorite above all the more expensive brands. They have them in stock fairly regularly.
    Side note: we are former Chicagoans. Happy to be living elsewhere now but loved our time there.
    Best wishes as you continue building your life together. Being on the same page about life and finances is so powerful. Good on you!

    • Daniel says:

      Aldi saves the day again. Thanks for the tip! Also, greetings from Chi. I suspect that someday we will be in a very similar position: glad to have left the city and also nostalgic for our years here.

      • Susan says:

        Thanks! We live outside Minneapolis in a small town on a lake. My husband went to law school in Madison. 🙂 So many great places in the Midwest.

  37. Anne says:

    In going through the gender confirmation process, I imagine there are parts of it that will be covered by your insurance and others that will not. If the surgery(ies) are not covered by insurance (or only partially), look seriously at Bangkok. Surgeons there specialise in gender confirmation surgery, and people travel there from around the world, for the expertise as well as the reasonable price. As an added benefit, you won’t be kicked out of the hospital quickly like in the US, so post-op care will generally be better. It is at least worth a look, and if it is appealing, to discuss with your medical providers about how to coordinate surgery there with ongoing hormone treatment etc at home.

  38. Soggysuzzi says:

    I am confused with the notion that the employer “does not meet my needs”. OK, I”m not trying to be rude but no job I ever had was perfect (and some of them downright awful), and one had to come to the conclusion and understanding that the employer’s point of view is the whole reason one is hired. Basically, other than perhaps stated vacation time, sick leave, and maybe time off with pay for a death in the family, the employer doesn’t expect to consider any thing other than expecting one to do what you’ve been hired to do, or what they choose to add to your duties. My attitude was generally keep my mouth shut, ignore instructions that are obviously not well thought out and hope for the best, and with the biggies like everything is being changed around, just grin and bear it until you can either live with it or find another job. It’s not worth the upset to worry about it – just figure out your plan “B” and work on that. It’s not your life, just a paycheck for now, so leave it there at quitting time and deal with all the pleasant things in your life two feet after you set foot off the job location. Who knows, you may get a raise at your next place or figure out a side hustle that you can eventually turn into a full time job as a business you own.. The possibilities are endless.

  39. R says:

    Congratulations June and Daniel! Congratulations Daniel! Take a big breathe- you’re ok in a crazy time and you’ve got plans and timelines and potential yet to happen.
    Advice: You’ve got a lot of cash and a lot of short to mid-range plans. The problem is- you haven’t quite reached the place where dollars are matched to jobs, yet. And life, in general, has remained in too much flux to be able to do that responsiblely. While generally keeping cash in hand is good for say emergencies and short term plans (surgery, wedding ). I think keeping the larger down payment cash out is likely not allowing it to grow and keep up with inflation. And given you’ve not decided where, when, what type, if after a job or location move in the future… let’s probably safe to give it a job- “safe-ish growth” in say a relatively conservative mixture of bond and index funds.
    2. It’s time to plot career moves that both fulfill you and provide income- After surgery, and the wedding happen. Start looking at job sites, investing in low-cost training or certification and networking in a safe virtual environment. And start realistically planning what does accounting in non-toxic environment look like because that’s a skill and job range that will be in demand when the economy starts opening up and businesses stop making deaths of a thousand paper cuts.
    3. Covid sucks and Chicago is a city with expensive options but not only expensive options. As a friend says, if you’re in a big city it doesn’t matter how cheap the city is, the higher options will go up to infinite. I’m hearing dissatisfaction but I’m not sure it’s with Chicago so much as the choices your friends are also making- and the choices you feel are safe RIGHT NOW. Can you virtual volunteer? Do community service outside and socially distanced (dropping off food, picking up trash in the park, long walks in new neighborhoods) ?
    4. You have options…. to infinity- you both have valuable skills in communications and accounting, you have jobs, no debt, retirement accounts, and you’re stuck in a pandemic. You don’t have to do everything at once, and even once you do, you won’t be done, there will be other things you want to do. And having options, pick a next stop, a general path, and once you’re there you can pick a next step. The thing about a FI goal is that it’s not all about the retirement date it’s that the path there leads to further independence and more options. You’re not at the place where you can quit a good job, or not care about the salary or job opportunities where you might want to move but work on it another 5 or 10 years and you will; and will possibly have the skills to create and make the job or passion project that is right for you. We talk about the FI number like it’s an end but it’s probably a middle- particularly for someone retiring early. That first FI number is the emergency fund or the 0 balance on consumer debt. The second is being able to pay cash for something like a wedding or surgery and know there’s more where it came from. The third is being able to structure your job/life where you want it. The fourth being able to retire and rely on day to day income. The fifth is being able to retire and still able to change your lifestyle or location without financial worry.

  40. Cath says:

    Hello! I love this case study as it covers so many fundamental topics! Apologies if this is a repeat suggestion but what about putting money in an HSA to save for the surgeries? You can even set up your own HSA but you do have to have a high deductible heaithp!an. Contributions are tax exempt so really helpful if you are antjpating some big health bills It is also readily available to use.

    • Great point! HSAs are the ONLY triple-tax-advantage account available: no tax going in, no tax on earnings, and no tax coming out (as long as the $$ is spent on allowable expenses).

  41. Kristin Jacobs says:

    As you research FIRE I would recommend adding the Fioneers to the the people you follow. Their SlowFI perspective may hep you find the balance you want in living a full life now while still saving for financial independence. Of course keeping following the Frugalwoods as well!

  42. Ms Blaise says:

    Liz, your point about deciding what you are working towards and then making the sacrifices to get there was exactly what I needed to hear to figure something out today. Thank you!

  43. Emily DeLuca says:

    Hello, really enjoyed this post! I would like to say that depending on where you live, gender surgery might be fully covered by insurance. For example, in Massachusetts, the state insurance commission requires insurance to cover it. Perhaps this might be a consideration in where to live. Also, I think it is in some ways easier to look for a new job during the pandemic while working remotely – no need to “sneak around!” Wishing you all the best.

  44. Brittany says:

    My vote is sorting out the job first. I think your other questions about balancing financial goals and current work might look really different once the work situation changes. When I was in a toxic work environment it was all consuming, it affected almost everything about my day to day life. And even my sleep. Once I changed jobs and got away from that narcissistic boss, my other values and priorities came into clarity.

    Also a recommendation- when I’ve been at points in my life where I’m thinking about priorities and balance, I like reading the book the paradox of choice.

    Best of luck!

    • Dana says:

      I very much agree with Brittany.

      A toxic job that is not aligned with your interests and values can cause anyone to want to bail and leave the workforce entirely. I have been there myself. What immediately stood out to me here is your passion for design – whether you decide to stick it out at your current job, or leave, why not start a blog or your own “studio” where you can freelance (even for free / reasonable rates) on the side, for friends and family? It would give you mental/emotional distance from your job and set you on a path more aligned with who you are. Who knows where it could lead, opening you up to what you really love. (You can also add this to your resume and LinkedIn, so you won’t have a “gap” in your experience, if you are worried about that perception).

      For career changers, the first step is often “doing the thing you want to become,” then the opportunities will follow. Mrs. Frugalwoods is a prime example! Another idea is taking some online courses or workshops to continue leaning in to what you love, and surround yourself with others who share your passions.

      In 10-15 years, you will never look back and be glad you stuck it out, being miserable and drained. You will however regret not taking the leap and chasing your dreams, with a supportive partner and finances to carry you through. Bet on yourself – you will make it happen, June :). If we can learn anything from the craziness of the moment, it is that life is too short to waste time on things that no longer serve us.

      Sending you both my best.

  45. Best Bun says:

    Hello Daniel and June!

    Just a comment from a little old lady. You have the most important ingredient for success in achieving your goals. You have each other to love. That cup of coffee on the front porch is all the sweeter because of the person sitting next to you. Discussing your hopes and dreams and working towards a common goal.is so much easier when you have each others interests and well being in your heart. What a fortune you two have been given!

    Best wishes from Best Bun.

  46. Sandra, Italy says:

    Hey Daniel and June!
    You are doing impressively well at not-even-30 😊 I have no suggestions at all to such pros, just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for sharing these amazing pictures…

  47. Katie says:

    Hey June and Daniel,
    You are both doing so well! I just wanted to flag something that I don’t know if other commenters have mentioned. If June’s job is causing significant distress, she may be able to speak to her doctor about taking a medical leave from work. If June has a qualifying serious health condition (including mood disorders like depression and anxiety), works for an employer with at least 50 employees, has worked at the same company for at least one year, and has worked there for 1250 hours in the past year, she could qualify for up to 12 weeks of job protected unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. More information can be found: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla, and it’s just another option to consider.

  48. CKW says:

    Like someone above, the line item for candles cracked me up and also made me think of an article I read about Bath and Body Works candle day. Apparently it’s a 1/yr blowout sale on their 3-wick candles in the leadup to Xmas that is a BIG deal to candle lovers. If you google it there are tons of articles so I thought I’d mention it, just in case. Also, with June’s styling tendencies, I would think she could have a blog/Insta-type outlet for creating a portfolio and documenting work that would be both fun and could potentially be monetizable someday.

    Loved the case study and wishing you both all the best!

  49. Marie-Josée says:

    Hi June and Daniel. I loved reading about you and I am so impressed by your savings, your values, but especially by your loving relationship that transpired through your story. Although your goal is FI, I would approach this from another angle given your frugality and your appreciation of the simple joys in life. I suggest you craft a life now that would allow you to work a bit less and pursue all the other things that bring you joy. I don’t espouse the idea of spending years grinding away at jobs that are soul-sucking, stressful or really draining to reach a financial goal. It seems that individuals who succeed on that bath are quite analytical and very driven and often high-earners. You both seem like such caring individuals, with people at the center of your life, that perhaps leading a simple, low-expense life supported by low-stress/lower hour or flexible work might be a viable option. In this scenario, I would pay for the wedding and surgery, while examining where such a lifestyle could best be supported.

  50. Cindy in the South says:

    I know several folks who got married in their backyard, or got married at courthouse, and had their wedding reception in their backyard or their parent’s backyard. Food, soft drinks, beer, and wine was bought at SAMS and Costco. I have also known of folks who asked for a wedding gift, everyone brought a homemade potluck dish and it was the best food ever. Decorations were from the Dollar Tree. Everyone had a good laidback time. No one cared it was not fancy. It was actually a relief to not have to dress up in a new dress.

    • Cindy in the South says:

      I have terrible teeth and have been looking at getting dental work done in Mexico. Have you looked at having your surgery there? The dental cost is so much cheaper than the U.S. and I am wondering if it would be cheaper to get your surgery done there?

  51. Jenny says:

    Chiming in because my interests have so very much in common with June’s. In terms of what to retire to, I feel like my path could be an example. After reaching lean FI in 2019, I quit my career/job and enrolled in a one year cabinetmaking program. Having completed that, I’m now launching a new small business that includes home decor, organizing, and custom woodworking (I also have an interest in minimalism and just completed my first painting with acrylics). And I am doing all this in Madison, WI! Anyway, I do agree having something to retire to is so important, although I worked towards early retirement for years before I figured out my path. June, if you wanted to chat about what I did, I would be happy to.

  52. Jenny says:

    Posting one more time because I had a typo in my website link. Wishing June and Daniel the best of luck and thank you for sharing your story! I wish I had discovered FIRE when I was as young as you are, I am very confident you both will do great things!

  53. Joanne in the U.K. says:

    I have no financial advice to give but June you must ok for a job now! Yep it’s a global pandemic but I was in a very similar position to you and once I decided to start looking the jobs were still there. I applied online on a Tuesday afternoon, I was called on the Wednesday evening to arrange a Zoom interview which took place on the Thursday at 11:30am, I was called at 2pm with a job offer. Only £2k per year more money but zero responsibility/accountability, a lovely environment to work in, and nice people. Di it now, you won’t regret it I promise! Xx

  54. Laura says:

    Hey there! Fellow Chicagoner here. Can you clue in to what campus that statue is on? I’m an urban photogher (really from the suburbs) and I’d like to meander there!

  55. Alex Foret says:

    Yay! I love seeing more trans people represented in here! And trans Midwesterners at that! Hiiiiiii! <3

    OK, as to the first one about liquid savings: I would agree about keeping enough in there for the emergency fund, wedding, and GCS. However, depending on /what/ exactly you want to do for those last two, that may not need to be the full $56K! As I'm sure Daniel knows, GCS costs can be ALL over the place. And they can vary even more if you're willing to travel/participate in some medical tourism. (As examples, one of my exes did her bottom surgery in Thailand for less than half of what it would have cost and another friend did her FFS in Mexico for a third of the US cost and both were very pleased with the results.) Obviously, this isn't something to skimp on, but there are some really fantastic surgeons in much cheaper parts of the world if that's something you're open to. Just make sure to do your research (which I'm sure you don't need to be told. Haha.) For the wedding, have you thought about what you want to do for it? There are lots of ways to make weddings gorgeous on the cheap. My wedding was planned for about 100 people and it cost us less than $5K including the honeymoon. My biggest advice on where to save for that is to be open to unique venues. I booked a pavilion at one of my favorite state parks. Even with weekend costs, it was only a couple hundred dollars for venue fees. Plus, being outdoors means less decorating to pay for since the park provides a lot of beauty on its own! I also went to JoAnn's at the turn of the season to get 70% off fabric flowers for all of the arrangements and did them myself/with the wedding party. Point being: It can be done gorgeously and for cheap if you get creative. I have more tips, but I won't bombard you with them if you don't want them. Haha.

    I'm gonna disagree a bit with what some people have said about FI being impossible in 10 years. It all depends on what you're wanting to do. One important piece of info we don't see in these charts is what your annual 401K/403B contributions are. Figure out what you want to do with your FI (even if it's a vague idea), figure out how much it will cost, and figure out your FI number. Then do what you need to do to do that. If that FI number is pretty high, then you will probably need to find more income to do it in 10 years. (Side gigs, second jobs, different main jobs, etc). But If it's pretty low, then you may be able to do it just as you are currently doing! As an example, my FI dream just has me doing long-distance hiking/budget travel, so my FI number is only about $400-500K. Even working a non-profit job, I'm on track for FI in the next 10 years or so. I think you're definitely set up where FI in 10 years is possible. You just need to break down the numebrs.

    I hope that's helpful! I definitely relate to a lot of y'all's story and it fills my heart to see y'all on the way to success. <3

  56. Kristi O'Donnell says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who immediately lost motivation once I determined that I want to retire early (although for me, that’s about six years early). I just didn’t really care. I kept looking at retirement life being so close and I just didn’t want to work as much.

    As for savings/retirement, I’m looking at building up my two big savings accounts that I can access early in the next few years so that I can touch it in retirement before all of my retirement accounts go into play (2 – 59 and 1 – 61).

    Maybe sell some writing and art prints. Good luck with everything.

  57. Marlena says:

    Writing from Madison, Wis! One thing that is often challenging about living in Madison is that housing can be more expensive that Chicago. With limited areas to live that provide access to transportation, walkable/bikeable/busable living is in more expensive areas.

    That said, I definitely think that both of you could find jobs that pay more than what you’re making in Chicago. Even local non-profits start wages higher, and if you can get a job at the university or government, you would have a higher wage and access to benefits.

    I think Madison employers will also be “impressed” that you worked in a larger market for a few years. Linking those experiences to how you can help a smaller business or organization will be key. Not adding much more but to say that if you came back to Madison, I feel confident you could find positions that pay more. Now’s a great time to move – the lakes are frozen and everyone continues to enjoy all four seasons. Madison also has a well renowned gender affirming surgeon and a fantastic network of LGBTQAI+ folx here to support. Best of luck!

  58. dee says:

    Wow to find a chicago rental for $1000++ is amazing..if you can find that you are doing a great job of planning for your future… about the Toxic job does it help to be able to work from home for now to limit the toxicity??? maybe you can find another job after you get vaccinated.. Not sure what the rules are in Chicago for what tier you qualify for to get it??

  59. WantNotWantNot says:

    On the issue of June leaving her job before lining up another one—–as a tenured college professor teaching in a professional school, I’ve worked with young people for several decades as they have launched their careers and built on them through their thirties. One thing I have seen over and over again: it is much easier to find a job IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY EMPLOYED. So much easier. Some employers have told me they won’t consider looking at resumes from people who don’t currently have jobs, because they are calculating that those folks are unemployed for a reason—-agh! When I hear that, it makes me sick, but it is the reality for many employers. So I’m in the camp that says: June, start looking for a better job now, hold onto the job you have, keep your foot on that rock while your other foot is seeking the next step. You will find it! Good luck to you both!

  60. Philopod says:

    Does it make sense for them to have their liquid savings in some sort of short term treasuries or TIPS (eg VTIP or VGSH)? It sounds like they don’t plan to use the money tomorrow and this could allow them to get a nominally better return than a savings account.

  61. Florence says:

    Just wanted to offer some encouragement to June re: the job situation. I absolutely hated my job a few years ago, but was forced to stick it out for various reasons until I had new job. It sucked and it took a while to “recover” afterward but 1.5 years into my new job, I’m very happy with how things worked out! I hope the same for you. Best of luck to you both with your future endeavors 🙂

  62. Sam says:

    Hey. I’ve just been reading some stuff on the early retirement now blog that has completely challenged my long held beliefs about my emergency fund. Still mulling it all over……. https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/earlyretirementnow.com/2016/05/05/emergency-fund/amp/

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