Reader Case Study: Two Nurses, One Kid and One Cat on the Coast FIRE Path

Peter and his wife, Kim, both work as registered nurses in a medium-sized city in the Eastern United States. They became a family of three when they adopted their daughter, Rachel, in October 2020. Well, family of four including their cat, Pringles. Peter and Kim both enjoy their careers as nurses, but are at a point where they need to step back to part-time work in order to reduce burnout and fatigue and for the betterment of their mental health. The couple plans on pursuing Coast FIRE and would like our help analyzing their financial projections to ensure they’ll be able to both work part-time, care for their daughter, and enjoy a sustainable work/life balance. 

Liz Frugalwoods popping in with a quick definition. According to Business Insider:

Reaching Coast FIRE [financial independence retire early] means you no longer have to save money to reach retirement. The difference between Coast FIRE and regular FIRE is that with regular FIRE, you no longer need income to retire. With Coast FIRE, you still need income to cover expenses, you just don’t need to worry about saving money for retirement.

And now back to our Case Study…

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send in 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 intend to highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, locations, goals, careers, incomes, family compositions and more!

The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 75 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17k to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$300k to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight, queer, bisexual and polyamorous people. I’ve featured women, non-binary folks and men. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender people. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, Germany and France. I’ve featured people with PhDs and people 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, I encourage you to apply to be a Case Study participant by emailing mrs@frugalwoods.com.

Come Hear Me Talk on April 8th!

Brief note unrelated to today’s Case Study… I’m thrilled to share that I’ll be speaking on a panel on Friday, April 8th at the online Mamas Talk Money: The Legacy You Leave conference. I’m honored to be on this panel with:

  • Sandy Smith, the renowned founder of the Elevate Community and YesIAmCheap.com (best website name ever). Sandy formed the Elevate Community to, “raise awareness and shine greater light on the financial issues that people of color face. The 400+ members of the Elevate Community group are financial professionals, teachers, writers, bloggers, and educators of color who are committed to improving the financial lives of people of color.”
  • Jamila Souffrant, the founder of the incredibly successful JourneytoLaunch.com. I was actually on Jamila’s Journey to Launch podcast back in 2018 and met her in person when we were both pregnant with our little girls (who are now FOUR!).

If you’re interested in attending this three-day online conference, you can save $5 off the $49 ticket price by using the coupon code FRUGALWOODS. Go here to get your ticket and register to attend. I hope to see you there!

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 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 Peter, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Peter’s Story

A park in Peter & Kim’s city

Hi Frugalwoods :-)! I’m Peter, I am 36 years old, my wife Kim is 35 and we have one daughter and one cat. We live in a medium-sized city in the Eastern United States where we’re both Registered Nurses. Kim’s been a nurse since graduation, whereas nursing is a second career for me. We got married in 2015 after I graduated from nursing school and our daughter, Rachel, is a year and a half old. We also have an alert, agreeable cat called Pringles. 

Peter & Kim’s Careers as Nurses

I originally graduated with a bachelors in psychology in 2007, but once I was in the real world, found that my degree didn’t fit with what I wanted to do for work. I eventually decided to go back to school for nursing and ended up studying in the same city where Kim was working. We met through mutual friends at our local church and started dating while I was attending classes.

Even though Kim had been a nurse for many years, after we married she was gracious enough to “go back to nights” to work the same shift as my new nursing job. For a couple of years, we did the night shift thing together: working and living nocturnally. This double-income-night-shift-lifestyle helped us accelerate paying off my student loans. That’s when I stumbled upon FIRE blogs. These blogs eventually led me to the Frugalwoods, most likely through the Mad Fientist’s blog/podcast. 

A few years after being married, we both were fortunate enough to gain some seniority at the hospital and move to working day-shifts in our respective units. After that, we decided to buy a small three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. For a number of years we tried unsuccessfully to have biological children, including infertility treatments. Ultimately, we decided to try for domestic infant adoption through a Christian agency.

Peter & Kim’s Financial Upbringing

We both grew up in households that felt very loving, but were certainly tight financially, at least in our childhood years. As both of us entered our teenage years, our households became more financially solvent. Between scholarships and family assistance, neither of us accrued severe debt for our bachelor’s degrees. In our young adult years, we both felt privileged to follow our dreams and callings rather than what was most financially prudent. We feel blessed to be in our current financial position and realize that given different family situations, this might not be the case. 

Peter & Kim’s Financial Philosophy

Pre-Covid trip to Arches National Park

We each keep an eye on different financial aspects. Generally, Kim runs the day-to-day finances. This means taking care of the ins and outs in the checkbook, paying the monthly bills that aren’t automated, and keeping track of receipts. We do this through YNAB, which makes it fairly simple to see where our budget sits. I look after our long-term finances including tracking our net-worth, mortgage amortization/prepayments, and investment accounts.

We have a written financial plan which I made, but was “ratified” by Kim. So far this arrangement has worked pretty well, but honestly it hasn’t really been stress tested. Our budget was built on the “minimum hours” scheduled, which in our field rarely occurs.

If we are scheduled to work a 12 hour shift at the hospital, we are usually working at least 12 ½ hours if not 13 hours per working day. With our hourly wage, this adds up over the course of the year. Generally we have extra cash each month, which Kim allots into various sinking funds (healthcare, home/car maintenance, and next larger purchases).  If our cash on hand gets too high, we start dollar-cost-averaging the extra into our brokerage investment account or increasing our prepayments on our mortgage. 

Peter & Kim’s Daughter, Rachel

This brings us to 2020 where, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were matched with a couple who were looking for someone to adopt their (yet unborn) baby girl. In October of 2020, we were able to adopt Rachel from birth. She’s now a year and a half old and keeps us on our toes for all of our waking moments! Her adoption was legally finalized in July 2021, and we were able to apply and receive her social security card late in fall of 2021. We’ve already been reimbursed for some of our adoption expenses through the adoption tax credit, but it doesn’t negate the financial burden of adoption by a long shot. Now we’re waiting for a further refund from our 2020 tax return for the child tax credit (you need a social security number) and expect to receive the expanded child tax credit on our 2021 taxes. 

Peter & Kim’s Hobbies

Peter & Kim on a nearby hike

In our spare time, we are mostly outdoors. We like to go for walks around our neighborhood, trail hikes (for as far as Rachel will allow), and keep up our vegetable garden. While we both like to hike, Kim enjoys running and I enjoy cycling for individual daily exercise.

Fortunately, we’ve been able to incorporate Rachel into both of those activities with a baby jogger and bike trailer! In the next few years, we look forward to getting her into swim classes and, when age-appropriate, an outdoor pre-school. She is most assuredly the center of our lives and we are grateful for the opportunity to parent her. 

What feels most pressing right now? What brings you to submit a Case Study?

Since originally inquiring about submitting a Case Study, our questions have changed significantly. Mostly due to the circumstances of our life and how it has morphed and evolved over the last year and a half, some due to Rachel becoming part of our lives, some due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With all of these changes we feel we are coming to a crossroads of sorts.

A bit more about the last few years will help explain:

  • Prior to adopting Rachel our financial life was fairly flush. We lived as a DINK household (dual income, no kids) and saved a substantial portion of our income into retirement. Our savings rate grew from 15% when we were first married to around 40% of our gross income prior to adoption. Not included in these percentages: saving for the downpayment on our home, saving for infertility treatments, and then adoption expenses.
  • By mid-2020, we were maxing out our Roth IRAs, almost maxing out our 403b’s, investing in our brokerage account, and making increasingly large payments to pay down our mortgage early. To this day, our biggest short-term goal is having our house paid off in the next 3-7 years. Currently we’re paying about $500 extra per month in principle with a couple of $1,000 extra principal payments in the months where we have a third paycheck. 
  • If we continue with this plan, our mortgage payoff date will be circa February 2028. We understand prepaying on a mortgage isn’t necessarily the “best” investment, but it is a guaranteed return. We see our prepayments kind of like adding more bonds to our portfolio. Since bonds aren’t generating very much return right now, making payments on a mortgage feels like more progress. 
  • Our desire for having the mortgage paid off stems from: 1) Not wanting to be beholden to others (e.g. a bank) through debt.  2) If the US healthcare system collapses, we will suffer from a dramatic decrease in income.  3) We want to be able to volunteer at some point in our adult lives and “needing” less income would help facilitate that goal. 

The Baby Change

After adopting Rachel in October 2020, we shifted our work-life balance for childcare purposes. Kim continued working full-time, and I went to working per-diem shifts around her schedule. This worked for a while, as Kim covered our healthcare insurance and I was able to get enough shifts to maintain my competency as a nurse. All the while, we continued to work toward our financial goals. While this did mean we saw our expenses rise and our income decrease, we were still able to save substantial portions of our income into retirement accounts and continue making payments toward our mortgage. Generally this has been about 30 to 35% toward retirement and 10% toward prepaying the mortgage.

The Pandemic Change

In January 2022 we downshifted again, this time due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As nurses both working on high-acuity units, work has become increasingly challenging and burnout became crushingly real, especially for Kim. That’s why, going forward, Kim will be working part-time. Choosing to work fewer hours is helpful to fight fatigue/injury/work dissatisfaction, but means another large reduction to our household income. 

Pre-Covid trip to Fenway Park

I will continue to work per-diem around Kim’s schedule, but will likely have even more shift-flexibility than I had previously. Financially this means we have taken a pause on investing extra to an after-tax brokerage account and substantially reduced my 403b contributions (I had been contributing 35% and will reduce this to 20% or possibly 0%). 

Initially we were submitting our case study to ask if the idea of “Coast FIRE” was a possibility, but now we’re essentially doing a modified trial run out of necessity for Kim’s mental health. In true Coast FIRE fashion, we wouldn’t contribute anything toward retirement accounts and would let them sit and grow until we reach traditional retirement age.

At the moment, we are merely decreasing our savings rate. For our 2022 budget, if you don’t include the tax refunds, we’ll be spending more than we earn most months. However, twice a year when we have a third paycheck, we end up with more cash creating a bit of a buffer in our accounts for the slight overspend. At the moment we’re ok with this scenario since we have plenty of cash. If it doesn’t seem to work financially we could save less to our 403b’s or I could always go back to working full-time with Kim working per-diem. Going back to working full-time feels the least likely given that we highly value our time off together and life flexibility.

Longer term we see ourselves volunteering in some capacity. Whether this is within the States or internationally, we don’t have strong convictions yet. We have both spent time overseas through Christian Ministries (Peter as an adult for three years as a volunteer and Kim as a child with her parents who were missionaries). Ideally we want to do volunteering work (esp. as it may involve frequent moves) when Rachel is younger, up until about age 11. We wouldn’t be moving a lot while Rachel is in middle or high school, as we are hoping to offer her some social stability by staying put.

What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?

The best part of our current lifestyle is the ability for both of us to parent Rachel. Working as nurses provides a living wage and allows Kim to only work two days a week (starting in 2022) and still qualify for part-time benefits. This means we share childcare responsibilities on days when the other works, but also spend a few days a week together as a family. Our days off together allow Kim necessary “introvert time” and Peter the chance to play strategy board games, either locally (when Covid-19 isn’t an issue) or online. 

Having a few days off per week together as a family allows us to get out and experience the world around us. We live within an hour of a national park and multiple other mountain ranges, which provides ample opportunities to go hiking. We are also a couple of hours’ drive from a few major cities, so we can experience some larger scale urban life as well! That being said, our own city has a large university and smaller colleges in the neighboring towns, so it has a number of attractions and diverse restaurants, which are not necessarily present in all cities of our size. 

What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?

Lakeside sunset with family

The worst part of our current lifestyle is the stress from our jobs. Working during the pandemic has been wearing on us and our colleagues. We both want to continue to enjoy taking care of people in their time of need, and we hate what the US healthcare system has done to hospital care. We have reduced our hours partly to care for Rachel without taking on significant childcare expenses and partly so that we don’t burn out completely.

An additional recent difficulty is navigating the “stealth wealth” balance. With us both working for the same employer, when Kim announced she was going part-time, many assumed I would be transitioning back to full-time. Kim is uncomfortable trying to navigate these discussions with her colleagues, many of whom are just as burned and disillusioned with the work. It brings up negative emotions associated with having wealth and being privileged enough to take a step back financially, simply because we want to. With neither of us working full-time, it is a significant sacrifice to our employer benefits and wages, which is probably not lost on our colleagues. 

Another Adoption?

Kim and I are not yet sure if we will pursue adopting a second child. Adoption is a complicated nut to crack and could probably be its own case study of pros and cons!

The adoption process felt elongated for us since it tagged onto our experience with infertility, which was already over two years. The process for getting approved and on a list was about 6 months between initial application, home study, and final adoption list approval. We then waited another 2 years before being chosen by our daughter’s birth parents. Waiting time for us turned out to be less than average. Most people adopting through our agency (who were successful adopting, not including people who voluntarily dropped off the list) waited about 3-4 years. Our friend circle includes two couples who waited around 10 years. Every three years, you need to “renew” your home-study, which is an additional financial cost we were not burdened with. If we only had to wait another two years, we would probably be more open to the idea of adopting a second child, but the thought of having a second child in our late 40s is less appealing.

Pre-Covid Hiking in Redwoods

Regarding the costs, we feel pretty confident that if we develop strong convictions toward adopting again, we’d be able to figure it out. The adoption tax credit lessens the financial blow by about $15k, which is probably 35%-40% of total adoption costs (though that money wouldn’t come back initially, typically 2-3 years after adoption). To “get on the list” costs around half of the total adoption expenses. So we would need around $15-17k in cash. However, our employer just added a benefit for full and part-time employees of $10k or $5k respectively toward adoption expenses. This wouldn’t keep us with our employer, but also is not something we’d turn down if we went down the adoption path again in the future. 

Financially we feel we could stomach the short-term hit to our finances to save the cash for adoption. It would involve a combination of reducing Roth IRA contributions, reducing 403b contributions to 6%, stopping pre-payments to our mortgage, and/or liquidating investments from our brokerage account. If we did all of these things, we’d have the cash to immediately “get on the list” and would be able to save the rest of the expenses over 8-12 months and then resume our former savings/investments.

A second adoption would delay our potential “moving in order to volunteer” plans if the adoption didn’t occur for a while as we wouldn’t be able to move out of state while on an adoption list. The potential waiting game is the big unknown. All that to say, we are considering it, but as of yet are undecided.

Where Peter & Kim Want to be in Ten Years:

1) Finances: 

  • Paid-off house; able to work only to cover day-to-day expenses. 
  • Long-term we know it isn’t the best decision to pay off low-interest debt, especially in an inflationary environment, but we value the benefit of having a paid-off home.
  • Would love to have enough in retirement accounts to “Coast FIRE” to age 59.5, essentially not needing to contribute to our retirement accounts anymore, but still be fine for retirement. Currently I’m using 5% as the inflation-adjusted return for estimating our potential retirement savings in the future.
  • Some of our financial assumptions include:
    • For net-worth purposes we consider our home an asset, but not part of our retirement savings. To be conservative, we’re still valuing it at purchase price until it is actually sold even though the local housing market has gone up dramatically.
    • Social Security will pay out at least 70% of its expected return (around $24-36k per year depending on how long we work or when we start collecting).
    • Our workplace pensions are “sprinkles on the cake.” We intend to take the payout when eligible at age 55 and roll that amount into IRAs so we will maintain control and have access to funds. While our pensions are insured, we don’t trust that all pensions across the US won’t fail simultaneously and therefore be reduced in value.

2) Lifestyle: 

  • We prefer to be at home together at least three days a week. Days off would include time outside together as a family with possibly some sort of team recreation for Rachel, but who knows at this point. Trail hiking at least once a week is desirable. Visiting both sets of grandparents at least two times a year would also be ideal. Basically, spending our days with parenting and childcare. In many ways we’re already there, so that’s a plus!
  • We want to give Rachel the opportunity to see much of the world at some point in her life. Some of this traveling would hopefully happen as she grows up so it becomes common to see other cultures and experiences.
  • We may want to pursue a second adoption.

3) Career:   

  • Both Kim and I would like to be working or volunteering away from home/parenting at least two days a week for mental stimulation, possibly in a different nursing capacity. Unsure if this would be with a new organization or some volunteer nursing gig.

Peter & Kim’s Finances

Income

Item Amount Notes
Peter estimated W2 income $2,400 Estimated monthly net salary minus: 20% to 403b (no match available), taxes, health and dental insurance, 401k contributions, and taxes.
Kim estimated W2 income $2,040 Estimated monthly net salary minus: 10% to 403b (receives 3% match), taxes, family health insurance/dental cost of $888/month from January 2022
Tax refund 2021 $277 Expected minimum amount of $3,600 from 2021 tax refund because we did not have Rachel’s SS number until the end of 2021, hence could not apply for any advance of the child tax credit, divided by 13 since we are paid biweekly
Tax refund 2020 v2. $115 Amendment to 2020 tax return once Rachel’s SS card arrived, $,1500 due, hasn’t arrived yet (can take up to 16 weeks to be completed in a normal year), divided by 13 since we are paid biweekly
Monthly subtotal: $4,832
Annual total: $62,816 Monthly x 13 due to being paid biweekly, without refunds ~$57,708 or $4,440/month

Mortgage Details

Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period and Terms Equity Purchase price and year
$92,237 4.25% 30-year fixed rate, principle & interest is $812.68/month $114,263 $206,500, purchased in April 2017

Assets

Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held/Stock ticker Name of bank/brokerage Expense Ratio
Kim 403b $193,337 10% pretax contributions (~$430/month), additional 3% match from employer FXIAX, VTWIX, FXNAX Fidelity 0.015, 0.08, 0.025
Peter 403b $160,143 20% pretax contributions (~$680/month), no match from April 2021 FXIAX, VTWIX, FXNAX Fidelity 0.015, 0.08, 0.025
Kim Roth IRA $89,656 $500/month to max each calendar year VTSAX Vanguard 0.04
Kim 529 $85,772 Don’t generally include in net worth, currently held by Kim’s parents. Originally for Kim, but now also could be re-designated for Peter or Rachel’s use. Unsure Unsure Unsure
Peter Brokerage $54,373 Sinking funds & long term spending, stopped contributing in Jan 2022 VTSAX Vanguard 0.04
Savings account $23,500 Emergency fund / sinking funds 0.03% Credit union N/A
Peter Roth IRA $15,681 $500/month to max each calendar year VTSAX Vanguard 0.04
Kim 401a $15,664 Prior employer, no additional contributions FFFGX Fidelity 0.51
Checking account $14,000 Monthly cashflow Earns essentially 0% Credit union N/A
CD/alternative savings account $10,487 Cash for next car 2% on first 1k, 0.4% on remainder Different Credit union Taxed at marginal income
Peter HSA $7,275 Prior benefit, no additional contributions VTSAX HealthEquity 0.04
Donor advised fund $4,000 Don’t generally include in net worth Money market Credit Union N/A
Kim Pension $209/month @ age 55 to $349/month @ age 65 Current value, will increase.  Lump sum of $54,480 @ 55, $77,279 @ 65 N/A Current employer N/A
Peter Pension $110/month @ age 55 to $217/month @ age 65 Frozen value, will not increase.  Lump sum of $29,500 @ 55, $41,000 @ 65 N/A Current employer N/A
Total: $673,888

Vehicles

Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
Honda Civic 2008 $4,400 115,000 Yes, paid for cash 11 yrs ago
Honda Civic 2001 Priceless 203,000 Yes, paid for cash 7 yrs ago
Total: $4,400

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $813
Extra to mortgage $667 $500.56/month + $1k 2x/year with third paycheck months
Tithe $500 Approximately 10% of take-home pay, will increase or decrease depending on after tax income
Groceries $480 Food, alcohol, and formula; may be a little less going forward since Rachel is now off formula
Home maintenance $354 Sinking fund goal of 20k, currently has $5800
Property tax/insurance $185 Through Erie
Vacation $177 Sinking fund, currently has $7,000
Medical $175 Includes all expenses and co-payments, increased in 2021 due to Rachel having eye surgery, sinking fund goal of 7k fully funded
Babysitting $120 3hrs ~1x/week
Electric $116 Stove and heat pump/AC are electric
Next car $100 Sinking fund goal of 20k, currently has $12,000
Household $88 Includes toilet paper, diapers, cleaning supplies, cat food, litter
Restaurants $84 Take out, admittedly higher due to Covid-19
Fuel $79
Water $55
Internet $55 Lowest cost for high-speed internet available from Comcast/any other providers
Car maintenance $55 Sinking fund, currently has $1800
Auto insurance $49 Through Erie
Life insurance $45 25-yr term for both Peter and Kim through Erie, will likely ditch once house paid off
Clothing $44
Phone $43 Verizon for Kim, Ting for Peter
Birthday/gifts $42
Christmas $35
Peter “fun money” $30 Sinking fund for Peter, average spend is actually less, but this is allocated for being spent
Kim “fun money” $30 Sinking fund for Kim, average spend is actually less, but is allocated for being spent
Malpractice insurance $18 In addition to automatic coverage from our employer, combined cost for Peter and Kim, considered a must have
Auto property tax $17
Nursing license renewal(s) $12 Sinking fund for renewals every two years on even year for Peter and odd year for Kim
Subscriptions $11 Costco, Disney+
YNAB $7 YouNeedaBudget annual subscription
Next computer $0 Fully funded sinking fund goal of 1k
Next phone $0 Fully funded sinking fund goal of $500
Entertainment $0 Generally taken from “fun” money funds, includes items like redbox, wine/beer tastings, date nights
Monthly subtotal: $4,486
Annual total: $53,828

*Sinking funds for vacation, home, and next car, and car maintenance may be more or less depending on monthly spillover

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
Visa Cash back Local credit union (held continuously by Kim since graduating college in 2009)
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card 1.5% Cash back Capital One (affiliate link)

Peter & Kim’s Questions for You:

  1. Is Coast FIRE really something we can do? In other words, not saving towards retirement starting at age 40/45/50 and only earning enough to live on for those years?
    • Our estimated retirement budget, including taxes, is around $60k/year or $1.5 million in retirement accounts by age 59.5, not including Social Security.
    • Our expected expenses without a mortgage are ~$72k/year, but that still includes $6k each to Roth IRAs and expensive health insurance (see below). If we do not contribute to our Roth IRAs, expenses are around $60k/year.
    • Are the Roth savings too good to give up? So far I feel the answer is yes. The tax diversification gives additional financial flexibility. We plan on continuing to max out our Roth IRAs as long as we can because these contributions could always be withdrawn if needed, although that is less than ideal.
  2. Pre-Covid Hiking in Arizona

    Are my assumptions too conservative or too aggressive? (e.g. expected real return of 5% with low cost index funds):

    • If I’m being too conservative, we’ve already reached “Coast FIRE” with a 6% real return.
    • Current asset allocation is 88% stocks/12% bonds in our 403b accounts and 100% stocks in Roth IRA/taxable.
    • I am planning on rebalancing to 70/30 stock/bond allocation during our 40s with the goal of reaching that allocation by age 50.
  3. What’s the best strategy for our mortgage?
    • Despite the best interest rates in history, we decided against refinancing. We hated the idea of paying money for a refinance if we might pay it off in a few years or move and sell anyway. The break even point would have been around 4 years with our current mortgage servicer. We decided to deploy more of our cash toward the mortgage because of the guaranteed return we get paying down debt vs investing in an unsure market. 
    • Now the question becomes whether to deploy part of our investment account (could use investments by early to mid 2024 with conservative return to pay off the mortgage) or just continue our prepayment strategy and be done by early 2028. 
    • Getting rid of our mortgage payment (required $813 plus extra monthly principal $500 and $1,000 biannual payments) would decrease our expenses by almost $18k/year, which would free us up to either build up our investments again quickly or work less.
  4. What to do about health insurance?
    • Would both of us going per-diem and then getting insurance through the ACA be a good idea? Or would it be better to pay through the nose to keep insurance as a part-time employee (our family plan is currently $888 a month)? Taking advantage of the ACA subsidy (we’re not eligible unless we are both per-diem) could decrease our monthly healthcare premiums by an estimated $300-400/month.
  5. Any thoughts on how to think about some medium-term life goals?
    • Currently both sets of our parents are in their mid-60s and relatively healthy. We know this will not likely always be the case. Recommendations for how to balance the unknown of parents’ health and needing to move closer to them with doing what works best for our family?
    • It is unlikely we will want to move once the little one is in middle or high school. So we have a 12-13 year window until that happens to possibly relocate closer to parents or take volunteer gig(s). The uproot-and-volunteer option would mean we could sell the house and bank the equity into a taxable/money market account or rent it out until we return. We’re not in favor of being landlords, but selling and storing our stuff does seem increasingly daunting. Locally there are a few small healthcare organizations where we might get our feet wet volunteering, but they probably wouldn’t provide a housing and food stipend like some international options.
  6. Any suggestions on how to deal with the uncomfortableness of the privilege of “stealth wealth” we are currently experiencing? 

Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Pre-Covid trip to NYC

Peter and Kim are in fantastic financial shape and I commend them for how carefully they’ve mapped out their future. I think much of what they’re looking for today is confirmation of their math and a double-check on their plans.

In many ways, I don’t have a whole lot to tell Peter and Kim because they’ve already done most of the financial steps I suggest. They’ve clearly spent a lot of time researching and learning how to manage their money and are on a great path!

Peter and Kim have already:

  1. Paid off their student loans and stayed out of debt.
  2. Saved up a robust emergency fund. 
  3. Invested for retirement.
  4. Started a taxable investment account to grow their wealth over the coming decades.
  5. Opened a Donor Advised Fund to plan for future philanthropy.
  6. Accelerated payments on their mortgage in order to have a paid-off home.
  7. Kept their expenses low by driving older cars, buying a home they can afford, embracing frugality, and focusing their spending on their highest and best priorities.
  8. Executed a smart credit card strategy to enhance their credit and earn cash-back rewards.

Doing these 8 steps puts Peter and Kim in the “advanced” echelon of financial management and I hope their story serves as an inspiration and guide to others. Do what Peter and Kim are doing :)!

Ok, ok, I will actually dive into their questions…

Peter’s Question #1: Is Coast FIRE something we can do?

This is a question best answered by a calculator! We’re going to employ one of my all-time favorites from Engaging Data, the aptly named “FIRE Calculator: When can I retire early?” calculator, a must-do for anyone considering any form of FIRE.

For Peter and Kim, I input the following variables:

  • Investments: $528,854 (this is the sum of their retirement accounts + taxable investments. This excludes their cash, Donor Advised Fund, HSA, 529 and pensions)
  • Retirement age: 36 (Peter is 36)
  • Target withdrawal rate: 4% (this is the % they’d withdraw from these accounts after age 60)
  • Asset allocation: 70% stocks/30% bonds (this is what Peter noted he’ll do)
  • Spending per year: $0 (they will not be touching this money until age 60, so their spending from these accounts should be $0)
  • Income: $0 (under the principles of Coast FIRE, they wouldn’t be contributing any additional money to these accounts)

What this simulates is the scenario of Coast FIRE whereby Peter and Kim stop contributing to their retirement accounts today, but continue to cover their expenses (by earning an income) until the age of 60. At age 60, they stop working to cover their expenses and begin drawing 4% from their retirement (and taxable investment) accounts in order to cover their expenses.

Here’s the result:

 

This shows that Peter & Kim wouldn’t reach their FIRE number until age 66. However, what I love about this calculator is that all of the variables are adjustable. Peter and Kim should spend some quality time with this calculator inputting different variables to see where they’ll end up. At the end of the day, this is all conjecture and simulation, but it provides a very useful basis for them to operate from.

I encourage them to evaluate some of their assumptions:

  1. Asset allocation: is 70% stocks/30% bonds appropriate for their time horizon? 70/30 is pretty conservative and they’d see a shift if they were more heavily weighted toward stocks. However, this is a question of their personal risk tolerance (since stocks are higher risk/higher reward) and there’s no one right answer.
  2. Average stock returns: how committed are they to the 5% return projection? 5% returns is very conservative and again, they’d see a major shift if they went with a higher return %.
  3. Savings: how committed are they to being 100% Coast FIRE right now? Would they be willing to reduce their expenses by a bit in order to funnel a bit more money into retirement savings every year?

Peter and Kim should try plugging in different savings rates, different asset allocations, etc and see where they land.

It’s also crucial to note that this calculation does not include their pensions OR social security. The numbers look much more favorable when you do include those two variables.

Peter’s Question #2: Are my assumptions too conservative or too aggressive? (e.g. expected real return of 5% with low cost index funds):

Chatting FIRE by the fire

As I noted above, Peter’s assumptions generally lean conservative, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Conservative vs. aggressive is all about your own risk tolerance and what you feel comfortable with. Additionally, Peter noted they’re not planning on Social Security being there for them, but I honestly think that’s more of an existential question.

If Social Security in the US fails, we all have WAY bigger problems and should’ve been stockpiling ammunition and antibiotics in our bunkers.

I completely agree with Peter’s “belt and suspenders” approach to investing and saving, but at a certain point, we all need to remember that the sun could explode tomorrow and everything would be moot. In other words, sometimes we have to proceed with the best and most likely scenario (that Social Security will be fine) as opposed to all-out apocalypse. If you prefer all-out apocalypse, begin researching bunker availability now.

Peter’s Question #3: What’s the best strategy for our mortgage?

In my opinion, if you want to pay off your mortgage early, the best strategy is often to do it in one fell swoop. This entails employing a version of dollar cost averaging whereby you invest all of the money you WOULD use to pay it off early and then, once you have the total amount needed to pay off your mortgage in its entirety, liquidate stocks and pay it off all at once. The rationale behind this approach is two-fold:

  1. It gives you more liquidity and flexibility in the short term (because your money isn’t tied up in your mortgage; it is technically more accessible in a taxable investment account)
  2. It can be better mathematically from an opportunity cost perspective because you’re not losing out on the potential gains in the stock market while putting the money into a lower-return vehicle (your mortgage).

There is, of course, also danger involved in this approach–as there is with every single type of investment:

  • The market could enter a downturn and you could temporarily “lose” your mortgage pre-payment money. If that happened, you’d have to wait until the market rebounded before you were able to liquidate and pay it off.

All that being said, there’s nothing “wrong” with Peter & Kim’s current strategy of paying it off bit by bit each month. This is just another method for them to consider. 

Peter’s Question #4: What to do about health insurance?

I think this might be more a question of “what to do about our jobs?” because in terms of health insurance, I think the options are pretty straightforward:

  1. Continue paying for employer-sponsored health insurance while you’re working.
  2. Research the ACA in your state when/if you no longer qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance (here are the details on how I signed my family up for the ACA earlier this year. TLDR: the ACA varies WILDLY by state and by your individual/family circumstances, so the real answer is that you have to do your own research).

Peter & Kim’s Jobs:

Peter & Kim on a national park trip

I’m wondering if Peter and Kim have considered taking nursing jobs in a different, non-acute context? Certainly their current jobs are likely to command the highest RN salaries, but they’re reaching the point where this work is no longer tenable from a mental health/life balance perspective.

This leads me to ask if they’ve looked into:

  • School nursing? Not great pay; but, same hours/holidays as the kiddo.
  • Primary care office nursing? I’m sure it’s called something different, but you know what I mean… 
  • Other types of less stressful nursing? Obviously I am not a nurse and have limited knowledge here, but I know tons of Frugalwoods readers are nurses and will be able to offer excellent ideas!

I know Peter and Kim are primarily considering per diem work at the hospital, but I wonder if that wouldn’t still be very stressful since it lacks predictability and still entails nursing in the acute care context?

The job market is on fire right now, so if they’re interested, I have to imagine Peter and Kim would be able to find nursing positions in a lower-stress capacity. A career shift for less stress and less money isn’t going to tank their long-term financial goals and might dramatically increase their quality of life.

Peter’s Question #5: Any thoughts on how to think about medium-term life goals?

In a lot of ways, the answer here is: too many variables and too far in the future to offer concrete advice. I think Peter and Kim are smart to think long-term, but I also think it’s ok to accept that none of us can know our future. I think researching possible future volunteer opportunities is great, as is considering where they might live down the road. But, I personally wouldn’t get too tangled up in trying to map out 20 years in the future because Peter and Kim are already doing the two BEST things possible for their future:

  1. They are saving and investing their money.
  2. They are clear on their priorities and are putting their most prized resources (time and money) towards those priorities.

Beyond that? There’s not a whole lot we can control. Since Peter mentioned both his parents and in-laws, I suggest he and Kim read the book, Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Parents About Their Finances by Cameron Huddleston (affiliate link) and then have frank conversations with their parents. The first step here will be to understand what their parents envision for their own future.

Peter’s Question #6: Any suggestions on how to deal with the uncomfortableness of the privilege of “stealth wealth” we are currently experiencing? 

I personally consider this question within the context of two different categories of people:

  1. Those for whom it is not their business/they do not care and I simply don’t bring up money.
  2. Those to whom I am very close and I thoughtfully broach the topic because it would be very weird if they didn’t know my financial situation.

Pre-Covid trip to Canyonlands – Druid Arch

The first category includes acquaintances, neighbors, people I volunteer with, not-super-close friends, extended family, etc. I’m big on “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the context of personal finance. I don’t go around talking about money and, I find it doesn’t come up in the normal course of acquaintance/neighbor chit-chat conversations. It just doesn’t.

The second category are my close friends, immediate family members and colleagues. I don’t, like, email them my net worth breakdown from Personal Capital (that would be weird), but I’m honest about our FIRE journey because it would prevent intimacy if I wasn’t (affiliate link). It would be tough for me to have close friends who didn’t know about this aspect of my life; just as it would be tough to have close friends who didn’t know other personal details about me.

I too went through a panic of “WHAT IF PEOPLE FIND OUT?????” at the outset of our FIRE journey back in 2014, but over the past 8 years I’ve learned the fundamental, life-long truth that:

Nobody cares what you’re doing with your life.

They REALLY do not. I was walking around back in 2014 thinking everyone wanted to be up in my financial business and, turns out? They do not. My close friends? Those bitches care because they are invested in me as a person. But everyone else? Nope. It’s TMI. 

All that to say, Peter and Kim, you are in charge of what you share with other people. I suggest you:

  1. Come up with a set of answers you feel comfortable telling other people IF THEY ASK YOU DIRECTLY, which I can almost guarantee they will not because people would rather ask you where you buy your underwear than about your finances.
  2. Decide how/when/if you want to communicate this to your family. It really may not be relevant to them and may only engender resentment/jealousy to bring it up in the first place. Again, are they asking? Or are you just feeling compelled to share?
  3. Determine how/when/if to broach the topic with your close friends WHEN/IF it feels like you’re preventing a deeper relationship by NOT sharing this information. Make sense?

You don’t “owe” anyone an explanation about your money or your life. It’s your life, it’s your money, you’re adults, you do you. As Littlewoods says anytime anyone tries to help her with anything:

Worry about your own self.

Other Notes

Donor Advised Fund:

The other way to responsibly address privilege and wealth is to acknowledge it to yourself and to donate money. Peter and Kim already have a Donor Advised Fund for this purpose, which is the same approach I use for my philanthropy. I have two articles detailing how to use a DAF to ensure effective, lifelong philanthropy:

Pre-Covid trip to Neuschwanstein Castle

Kim’s 529:

Kim should have a conversation with her parents about this account. It will likely make the most sense for them to transfer it over to Rachel’s name, which is something they’ll want to iron out well before Rachel reaches college age. This is one of those things that’s probably easier to do sooner rather than later.

Cell Phone Bill:

Peter and Kim should be able to cut their $43 cell phone bill in half by putting Kim onto an MVNO (Peter noted she’s still on Verizon). I pay $28 a month for my both husband and myself. Not a huge deal, but it is a super easy way for them to save more money every month.

Summary

  1. Spend time with the “When can I retire” calculator and test some of their assumptions, particularly around asset allocation, rate of return and savings rate.
  2. Explore/consider finding nursing jobs in less stressful contexts and moving away from acute hospital care.
  3. Consider changing the mortgage payoff approach per the above conversation.
  4. Have conversations with parents about long-term planning, as well as the specific note of Kim’s 529.
  5. Brainstorm responses to “are you rich” questions from colleague/acquaintances and a timeline for when/if they need/want to share their financial plans with close friends and family. 
  6. Feel confident that they’ve mapped out a wonderful future and that the unknown unknowns are ok and that none of us can plan for every eventuality. 

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice do you have for Peter? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask 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.

Advertiser Disclosure: I partner with CardRatings for coverage of credit card products. Frugalwoods and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers at no extra cost to you. Here’s a boring (but important) explanation of how Frugalwoods makes money. The credit card links in this post are affiliate links.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses and recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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92 Responses

  1. Alexis says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m a nurse, and it can be challenging to see concrete examples of nurses doing well with money. I especially love the mention about burnout and stealth wealth. I want to do nursing for many more years, but I’m not sure if it’s sustainable for me to work in a hospital that long. I started doing travel nursing, and I realize besides making more income, I needed to save more. I admire how they’ve saved thus far and appreciate sharing real numbers. No advice here, but thanks!

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for your comment, even sans advice. Happy to see other nurses looking at finances. Good luck as a travel nurse and as you work to save more! When our unit is short nurses I appreciate the extra hired help that occasionally comes.

      In talking with travel nurses who have come through our unit, I would recommend keeping close tabs on your “days away from home / expenses for traveling.” If you don’t have the required amount of time away from home the IRS will re-classify your income and you will owe more taxes.

  2. Kate says:

    Peter and Kim, bless you for working in the hospital through this pandemic.
    You are doing amazing financially!
    In the right social setting, I like to point out things like my 10 year-old Prius with no hubcaps and say I value my time more than a fancy car, or mention that I buy my clothes at Goodwill. I find at this point healthcare workers are so fried that a lot of them are receptive to talking about a way out, so might be interested in frugality.

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for your comment! I love my 2001 Honda Civic especially since it is a stick shift, which might be harder to find when I do need to replace it. A Prius is one car I’ve thought about looking into once my car wears out entirely.

      • Jessie says:

        Just here to say I too covet my definitely older, no frills, stick shift. I’ll drive that thing until the wheels fall off if I can. I joke that at this point in the world a manual transmission is basically a built in anti-theft device. 🙂

        No advice, but I’ve loved reading how your family has worked to carve out time to parent and pursue things you all enjoy!

        • Sadie says:

          2001 Toyota Corolla with high miles checking in. “Value my time more than a fancy car” – beautiful reminder Kate!

          • Melinda says:

            Laughing out loud about the “10-year old Prius with no hubcaps.” My hubs and I are both lawyers with stressful but lucrative jobs and I also get weird looks because I drive a 2011 Prius with only half its hubcaps. I used to replace them with cheapies from Amazon, but gave up a few years ago. What’s the deal with Prius hubcaps anyways?? I wish I could pry the other two off, but they seem to be as stubborn to get off as their mates were to keep on.

  3. Grace says:

    As someone who go spends a decent amount of time in infusion centers, that seems like one of the most chill hospital nursing jobs. When I said this to my nurse last time she heartily agreed. So maybe look into that?

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for responding! I have some colleagues who went to our infusion center, but then came right back. It might be a little “too chill” for us at the moment. I’m an “on your feet all the time” kind of nurse. However, when my feet wear out it might be a good option.

      • Kristen says:

        I am a nurse who works in the dialysis field, you can be constantly on the move if you work in a clinic but then you can make your way to an administrative or clinical support role when you are burnt out. It’s a little more exciting than an infusion center. I make six figures and work from home now and I absolutely love it. There are lots of options out there for hospital experienced nurses if you want to find a less stressful job!

      • Grace says:

        Yeah the line between chill and boring is very thin! Good luck and thank both of you for working through the pandemic.

      • RL says:

        I came here to suggest infusion! I left the hospital a little over a year ago and landed in infusion, which I absolutely love. Ours is pretty busy, but there are slower days. I was falling apart in the hospital and love how much easier on my body this is. Oncology patients are the best! And I was pleasantly surprised at the similar pay scale.

    • Kirsty says:

      I’m not a nurse but I’ve noticed the nurses who work in blood donation clinics seem to be really happy and calm.

      Super impressed by how far you have come on your journey btw.

  4. Peter says:

    A big thank you to Liz for publishing our case study and a thank you to Frugalwoods readers for looking at our situation.

    I am happy to say we’ve already in the process of completing one of her suggestions. Kim’s 529 is being transferred in ownership. Takes one responsibility from Kim’s parents in managing and gives us a clearer picture of our total financial situation.

  5. Kate says:

    God bless you both! Thanks for working during the pandemic.
    As to your jobs, why not consider finding a job in, for example, a day-surgery facility? Your hours would be more regular, it may be less stressful & your salary/benefits would be competitive. My sister did this after she retired from hospital nursing.

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for your comment. I have a family member (also a nurse) who has done work at a same-day surgery. To me grass didn’t seem any greener, but that also might have been where she was working :-/

  6. Anne says:

    Peter and Kim, I don’t have any advice. I just want to echo the other comments in thanking you for doing the work you have been doing. I work in health care and the stress and burnout an emotional toll that nurses are bearing is just so difficult. While of course you need to be financially prudent, do take care of yourselves. You have served your patients and community faithfully and well during unprecedented times, and if you need to step back and offer your talents in some less draining and less “on the front lines” way, that is your right.

    • Peter says:

      Thank you for your reply and concern of our well-being. In the last week or two we have felt a larger relief from Covid-19 patients and are doing better in that sense. Having Kim step back to part-time has helped. Definitely worth it so far even though it has changed our financial picture!

  7. Carol says:

    My wife and I are nurses (of nearly 30 and 20 years, respectively). We are FI and my wife is winding down her career – she recently moved to a 3 day a week schedule (major improvement to mental health and burnout issues) and will retire in a year – we are using her income now to pad our cash savings, given this inflationary environment. Given Kim’s years of experience, I wonder if a clinical instructor position at a school of nursing would be an option. Our profession certainly needs experienced instructors with first hand experience of current challenges. Given we are FI, I took a risk and assumed a strategic advisor leadership position and I love it. One of the many great things about our profession is there are many options, especially for experienced nurses like Peter and Kim! Congrats, best of luck to you in your journey and stay well.

    • Peter says:

      Clinical instructing is actually something both of us have considered as a possibility in the future. I think Kim would be an excellent clinical instructor and it is something she feels she would enjoy doing once her bedside days are done. The real question comes to when to take that leap. Getting the necessary education to teach is our primary barrier. Kim worries she would need a Doctorate of Nursing Practice in order to teach at the Bachelor’s level. I think any institution would take a Master’s trained RN with experience as an adjunct professor.

      • Kimberly says:

        Many community colleges use nurses with a BSN to teach clinical and will accept adjunct instructors who are working on a MSN. There are options to teach before or during a degree program. If she was interested in a PhD in nursing, there are programs that will pay back a portion of the degree for teaching at a college after graduation. For example, in Virginia, the Nurse Faculty Loan Program can pay back up to 85% of your loans for teaching full time after graduating at a qualified school.

    • Jean says:

      When I have had, in my working years as an RN, someone ask me about how we had a paid off house and was able to max out 401ks and IRAs , I take the opportunity to explain what we did to make that happen. Eating mostly at home, working overtime some of the year, having only one child, investing in the stock market, not buying new clothes constantly, not needing or wanting 20 pairs of shoes with matching purses, cutting my husbands hair and letting him trim my long hair. Many of my coworkers would order pizzas, dinners, etc when at work, come in carrying coffees from McDonald’s or Starbucks. I always carried my own lunch, drank my own homemade coffee, no Starbucks for me. Mostly used things until they were worn out, etc. We never wanted the grand 3000 square foot house and were happy with our 1600 square foot home. We never bought top of the line automobiles or fully loaded ones. It was always the middle model. My coach purse was given to me as a birthday gift about 15 years ago. I have since bought another off eBay that I bid 15 for. I would not even consider buying one new. I always worked as many hours as my husband and due to shift work, one of us was always at home. We only needed child care for 1 year when we were unable to have different shifts. So many of my coworkers would immediately go parttime as soon as their husbands started getting overtime work. I loved explaining to people how to save and recommending Amy dacyczian’s tightwad gazette and other books that explained saving and investing. This was in the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s so no internet blogs like we have today. I remember telling them that someday rent would outpace their income and that has certainly happened. Use those questions as an opportunity to help someone to learn and possibly make a difference in their lives. You are both doing a great job saving just don’t cut the money chain too quickly. Be sure you have plenty saved. Going back to nursing after being out of it for years is very difficult. I have seen many who left and tried to come back and they just could not do it. Too much changes too quickly. Good luck to you both

      • Peter says:

        Thank you for your wisdom and advice. Amen to the smaller house and brown bag lunch. A lot of my coworkers bring their starbucks and purchase lunches as well. Even if we shift to a different area of nursing I suspect we will keep our PRN status to keep up some of our bedside skills.

      • Nora S. says:

        Jean, I just want to say that I enjoyed reading that comment very much. It’s hard to explain choosing frugality as a lifestyle without sounding judgmental, but you nailed it. Thanks for sharing.

  8. KC says:

    A huge thank you for being in the nursing field! My wife & I experienced first hand the amazing skill it takes to be a nurse when our daughter was born a preemie & spent almost 2 months in NICU/ICC last fall. Thank you, thank you!

    As far as recommendations, do you have any side hussles that can bring a little extra cash & reduce your hours at the hospital? My wife is a teacher & has added a few tutoring students, that money goes right into our 529 for our daughter. Maybe it can be related to one of your hobbies or special nursing skills. We know first hand with a little one sometimes those extra hours away can be hard.

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for your comment! I think a side-gig may be in my future, but not until our little one is in some sort of pre-school or grade-school. So we’ve got a couple of years or more to figure something out 🙂 Unless the side-gig is amazing working an extra half shift will probably be the biggest impact for time spent, but that also goes against working less at the hospital.

  9. snowcanyon says:

    Please put trigger warnings on your posts that involve adoption. Many adoptees are adoption abolitionists and reading about adoption is very triggering for us.
    Thank you.

  10. Shannon says:

    I finally switched to an MVNO and the quality was atrocious. It did not work on my phone (even though the website said it would) and the sound quality was so poor no one could hear me. I got cut off right when I was talking to the nurse at 4:45am about a child with a temp of 104.6. I had to call back and wait for the nurse to return that call, standing outside in 20 degree weather hoping for a better signal. It also didn’t have visual voicemail, which is super helpful when you get as many phone calls as I do. I will never again use an MVNO.

    • Faith says:

      I also had a bad experience trying an MNVO. It’s not worth the savings to me. I find other ways to save.

    • Peter says:

      That’s a useful experience to hear! Kim’s Dad has been on a MVNO network at times and has experienced difficulty with service, so it is something she has been aware of and why she is currently nervous about switching away from her current carrier. My service isn’t as reliable as hers, but it works well enough for what I want my phone to do. I didn’t know the issue with visual voicemail either. Always interesting to hear of folks experiences. Probably depends where in the country you reside as to how well a MVNO works.

      • Sam says:

        I would say try to find an MVNO that carries the service you already have. I switched from Verizon to Ting and have had zero issues whatsoever (though I do live in a big city). Occasionally if I am driving through a rural area I get 3G service but that is usually fixed by switching data on/off on my iPhone and has never happened in my day to day life. I have visual voicemail and transcription of voicemails and haven’t had any issues. YMMV, of course, but just wanted to chime in to say that I have had a good experience. Might still be worth a shot!

        • Miriam Allison says:

          I’ll echo what Sam says. We switched from AT& T to RedPocket – same service cheaper price. The only (minor) aggravation is we have 10G high speed data per month and then it switches to low speed data for the balance of the month. Of course, RedPocket is happy to give us more high speed data to finish the month at speed, but for an additional cost. 😉 This hasn’t been an issue until this month, when we spent a lot more time on the road and I was transferring data via my phone while in the car. Usually, I’m handling data-eating transactions while on home wifi, so I don’t run short on high-speed data. Checking out MVNOs is worth it, imho. Wikipedia has a good spreadsheet on many, if not all, the MVNO’s out there – I used that to start my research and narrowed down from there. One other thing – check to see if your phone is supported by the MVNO. We were seriously looking at another provider, but discovered they would not support the new phone I had just purchased. That was the factor that moved us to RedPocket – they support all the phones our family owns (4 people, 3 different makes/models of phones).

      • Kelsey says:

        I think a lot of the MVNO experience depends on where you live and what towers the MVNO uses. I use Mint Mobile, which utilizes T-Mobile towers/network. They have excellent coverage in my area, so it has been a very positive experience.

        • Linda says:

          I also have Mint mobile and have converted friends and family to it. In fact I switched to an MVNO as soon as it was possible to do so. It works well for me, and even on the cheapest plan I still have enough data to be able to stream audio drama while driving. .

        • Melody says:

          I also have Mint mobile. I’ve also been on verizon, straight talk, google fi, and redpocket (which was the worst for me). Mint has been just as good as any of the others and the price is amazing.

  11. Caroline says:

    You guys are doing so unbelievably well!

    Something that jumps out to me is that neither of you come from fantastically wealthy backgrounds, indeed have what sound like fairly modest financial beginnings, though obviously the privilege of love, care, support and help with education cannot be over-stated. You’ve made quite a few not-small sacrifices along the way that I can see, the night shifts for years, the embracing a frugal and thoughtful relationship with money generally, so really, people being sniffy or jealous or somehow irritated by your work-life decisions are completely not yours to deal with, least of all the optics of daring to not need to work full time, all the time.

    I realise I sound a bit, let’s say, forthright, but anyone who has any thoughts on your life and how you live it, who is not personally and directly impacted by it, would be best off either respectfully and privately asking you for pointers, or worrying about their own lives.

    You will inevitably rub up against busybodies who feel disposed to insert themselves into your life, but they can be ignored.

    • Lucinette says:

      I second this! As your colleagues who might be expressing jealousy did not choose to be raised in families that gave them fewer advantages, you didn’t choose your family context that gave you some advantages. We’re all doing the best we can with what we were given. You’re conscious of your privilege, and that’s great, but don’t let that stop or slow you down in trying to find a work/life balance that works better for you! You can be understanding of the fact that your colleagues would like to have the same choices – everyone should. But you’re not personally responsible for their situation and you’re not going to improve their situation by feeling bad about the fact that, on top of starting out with some advantages, you’ve made good choices and are now in a position to take care of yourselves and your little one.

      • Peter says:

        Thank you both for your comments.

        I guess it is still hard for us to not feel a bit guilty of our financial situation, even if some of it is our own making. We are incredibly blessed and fortunate to be where we are in life, and we don’t want to forget that. Our privilege give us a greater stepping stone going forward and we feel a certain amount of responsibility to use our time and abilities to make the world a better place.

  12. Alison in NH says:

    Not addressed in your future plans is what you might do what the your house while you are volunteering away from your city for a years. If you haven’t already decided, definitely consider keeping it and renting it out while you are away. I did this, and it not only provided income, but gave me a place to come home to. And it was even more meaningful living there the 2nd time around!

    • Peter says:

      We hadn’t considered the idea of moving away, renting, and then moving back to the same house. We’re not really enthralled with the idea of being landlords, but having a paid off place to come back to does have advantages. In some ways I like this idea more because it would allow us to do minor renovations prior to moving in a second time. Now we know what we would like to change about our current house, but the barrier is the disruption to our day-to-day lives!

      • Miriam Allison says:

        One thing to consider, if you go the rent-while-you’re-away route, is looking into hiring a real estate management firm to handle your property for you. We were long distance landlords once, and it’s an experience I don’t want to repeat. Check on the services offered, but real estate management firms can take care of all the nitty-gritty, day-to-day aspects of being a landlord, as well as collecting rent, screening prospective tenants, and handing evictions (if necessary, hopefully not). This would be especially beneficial if you get the opportunity to do your volunteering out-of-country.

        • Peter says:

          I think we could go with the idea of a management company once our home is paid off. Then cashflow wouldn’t be as much of a big deal and money could be saved for renovations or repairs. Being a long distance landlord isn’t our favorite option.

      • Jean says:

        I believe it was Darrow Kirkpatrick or maybe mr money mustache that wrote a piece on renting a house they owned and it just wasn’t worth it to them. Lots of headaches, repair bills, etc. Our friends rented out a couple of houses in New York and had constant hassles with people not paying and since they spent half the year in Florida it was difficult to be long distance landlords. Having to go in and clean up dog slobber from the walls, replace nasty carpets and try to get blackened tile grout back to its normal color was just too much, especially as you get older too. They had to have furnaces and septic tanks replaced, etc. I know there are many like the Frugalwoods who are doing well with their rental although I never see any mention of expenses related to their rental like furnace replacement, appliances, etc. They must just keep it in a separate account coming from the income it produces. Liz, it would be interesting to see an update on that for someone considering rental income. I know they have a rental agent who takes care of the problems and rental monies too. My mother passed away and we were left with her small 2 bedroom home that she and my dad bought for 6300 back in the 60’s. It is located about 50 miles from us. We considered keeping it and renting it. Driving back and forth to check on it was a hassle. My husband had an illness and surgery which prevented us from getting it ready for market and about the time we planned to sell 2 years later, we noticed an abnormally high water bill online. Drove up and it had developed a slab leak that had been ongoing for a few weeks with mold showing on the furniture. This is south Florida, high temperatures. It had to have everything from halfway up the walls and down replaced, wallboard, floors, kitchen, bathrooms, etc replaced. All furniture thrown out. Mold remediation was done. The house had to be repiped overhead. Fortunately we had continued the insurance on the house. We only had to pay 2600 for repiping. Insurance will fix the problem but with old pipes it can reoccur later on so we paid to repipe. We looked at all of the costs of keeping it, insurance, flood insurance, taxes, repairs, etc and at our ages we just couldn’t make a case for it. Sold it for 142000 and peace of mind. We are in our 70’s. You are much younger. Major difference. Good luck to you both. I love reading posts about nurses and their choices since I am retired from it.

  13. Melissa says:

    Hi- comment/ suggestion from a medical social worker- please look at other options than hospital. Home care nursing is needed right now, and ASAP’s (aging service access points) need nurses to work regular 9-5 shifts. I work in a PACE program here in MA and I love the ability to spend long periods of time with my patients. Our nurses work 40 hour weeks and a few on call weekends per year. Ditto for primary care, dialysis, etc.

    The medical field is broad and wide. If you love what you do, but just need a change from hospital (which I get- I work one to two per diem shifts in a community hospital once a month and that’s just about right!)- there are lots of places nurses work with more regular hours, less stress, fewer patients, and more patient/ provider relationships.

    Good luck on your journey! I love the difference I make every day in people’s lives. I hope you both can find a new way to make that difference!

  14. Jackie says:

    I really resonated with this case study! A question for Liz about the alternate mortgage payment option – how do you think about the capital gains taxation you’ll face when selling a chunk of investments large enough to pay off a mortgage in one swoop? This is something that’s held me back…

    • Peter says:

      That’s actually a consideration we’ve been thinking about as well! I’d like for us to avoid any capital gains tax (if possible) in this scenario. My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that we would need to keep our AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) and any capital gains (e.g. the value increased from an investment, but not the principle invested) below the married filing jointly threshold of $83,350 for 2022. If we do this our federal capital gains tax will be zero. We also cannot forget individual state taxes on capital gains. I don’t think we can avoid those taxes.

      I know that our 403b contributions reduce our AGI for capital gains purposes, and I think our healthcare premiums do as well, but am not 100% sure. Another question is whether we get to count the standard deduction ($25,900 for 2022) for AGI purposes or not?

      This sort of question is something we’re considering talking to a financial advisor or CPA on an hourly basis to get right. My understanding is the capital gains is an all or nothing in regards to going over the threshold.

      • Anne says:

        Another thing to consider in terms of paying off your mortgage is you have a LOT in cash or nearly cash equivalents like CDs. I couldn’t about 50k in various sinking accounts. Since your jobs are so stable and your expenses (minus mortgage and extra mortgage) are significantly less than you earn, you have options to do this quicker. If the markets rebound in the next 12 months and you save the extra money you put towards mortgage each month; you will have 50k existing cash equivalent + 8k extra mortgage payments + 50k+ in investments. So more than $108k in accessible money vs. 90k or less in mortgage remaining at that point. You could easily cash out the majority of the investments and leave a small cash cushion + investment cushion for emergencies that you can quickly rebuild from the money you used to pay in mortgage. Although 6 months of expenses is the gold standard for an emergency fund, with stable jobs you can dip below that for a short time if it is financially strategic.

      • mary w says:

        Worst case is that you’ll owe 15% on the amount of gain (not the entire amount) so it really shouldn’t be that bad. Plus if the capital gains hit is a lot, that means you made a lot more than the 4.5% interest you’ve paid. You could split the final payoff between two tax years if taking in one year screwed up something (e.g., ACA, child tax care credit or whatever).

  15. Bea says:

    I looked into the ACA option when my husband went on Medicare and I was left with no insurance of my own. I was disappointed at the offerings, which were indeed affordable but did not come close to providing acceptable coverage. I ended up paying $1400 a month for COBRA insurance! Look into the ACA options before you decide to give up your insurance.

    • Linda says:

      I had to get ACA coverage when my terminally ill husband went on Medicare. In my state it was much cheaper than COBRA (which we had exhausted anyway) and the offerings were much the same as the COBRA plan. At my age it was still expensive but l had no complaints. It definitely does differ state by state but I was pleasantly surprised.

  16. Lane says:

    Honestly, I think one of the best things you could do is examine where you’re getting most of your information from, and analyze if it is all reliable. I say this because you have made some really really conservative assumptions that are not very likely to happen. Where did these assumptions come from? It leads me to think that your information diet is overly doom and gloom.

    As Liz already said, a 5% annual return is much lower than the historical average, and SS is not likely to completely disappear. What do you mean by every pension failing? What would cause every single pension to fail simultaneously, and is that *really* something that is likely to happen when old people are the most reliable voting bloc?

    The same with your comment about healthcare “collapsing.” What do you mean by that and why would that happen? If you’re talking about the interest in healthcare reform/Medicare for All/single-payer, I’ve thought/worried a lot about this as well because I’m a hospital RN as well. I found a lot of conflicting information about what it would mean for nurses, but I think we can be pretty confident that the nursing unions would not be supporting Medicare for All if it was a done deal that it would tank nurses’ salaries.

    On another note, I think the possibility of a less stressful nursing job is going to depend on how you feel about the 12s. I *love* 12s. I love that 3 days a week is full-time. I love that I’ve been able to get a ton of OT as a traveler and still have 2 or 3 days off each week. So I would only take an outpatient job with more required days if it was extremely easy and well paid. If you feel similarly to me, hospital PD is definitely the way to go. But if you hate 12s definitely look into something outpatient. One very easy option is nursing phone jobs. Drug companies, insurance companies, and practices all have nurses whose only job is to call people.

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for your comments!

      As for where we get our information, many sources and as diverse as possible. Included in the mix are more conservative and bullish estimations for future market returns. The 5% return is from taking the historical S&P average of 10.6% and subtracting something for inflation (we’ve been thinking 3% as an average) and or weaker returns. So, is 5% “real return” a low ball? Yes, and I really hope so! but we’re also planning on reducing our equity allocation at some point as well. Since we’re considering a coasting strategy, we would much rather be too conservative than too bullish.

      With pensions we just don’t trust our employer to pay out indefinitely. They’ve scrapped it for new employees so that means there isn’t additional funding coming in. Since we are on the young end of things the majority of folks in our pension will have been receiving funds for years before we’re eligible to withdrawal anything. I’ve read plenty of stories of pension terms being changed right before payouts happen so it just doesn’t feel like something we can trust these days. Social security will have to change at some point. Will congress actually decrease how much people receive to make it work long term? Like you said, probably not if only because of the older voting bloc, but I don’t want to assume that payments won’t be reduced because as of yet no one in congress has fixed the problem.

      With the healthcare system, it just seems like we’re hearing about more and more smaller hospitals going under and costs continuing to rise. Before too long it’ll start happening to medium sized hospitals as well. Seems unsustainable long term. On the other hand, I do personally agree that our government won’t let it collapse. Kim worries we’ll be out of work and/or be subject to reduced wages. I don’t think it would come to that but could see some rough patches in the future.

      At the moment we still like our 12s. Hardest part about a less stressful nursing job might be giving up those 12s. The additional days off each week is something we would miss.

    • Anne says:

      I agree the forecasts seem very conservative. What helps me in making projections is I make a bearish, a bullish, and a middle of the road projection. I plan based on middle of the road, but also make sure I have contingency plans for if this are much higher and lower.

  17. Dorothy says:

    Is there a FIRE calculator which allows one to enter more than one future income stream?

    • Peter says:

      I believe the website provided in our case-study allows you to do this. It even has start and end dates if the income is temporary. You just have to separate the various yearly income with semi-colons and the start/end dates similarly.

  18. Jen says:

    Since I am a SINK I will keep my recommendations aligned with question #6 above. As a middle-aged SINK I understand what it’s like to be challenged for not following the prescribed American dream, which includes working 40 hours/week until you reach full retirement age. If someone challenges you on how you live your life you can choose to ignore them or you can provide a simple explanation like, “We are doing what is best for our family right now” and end the conversation. However, if the person expresses interests then you could recommend resources to them – this website and Liz’s book; additional books like “Your Money Or Your Life” and “The Psychology Of Money”; bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache, Becoming Minimalist, etc. Help people understand that it’s ok to choose to live differently.

  19. Maura says:

    May the Lord continue to bless you for serving others so lovingly and sacrificially during such a stressful time. You both are doing such an amazing job financially! I can give you my opinion on how to talk to people about stealth wealth. First off, some colleagues might wonder but not ask. That’s not our business.

    Some colleagues might wonder and ask. As an adoptive mom of three children who also has stealth wealth and is employed p/t, I am often asked unbelievable questions.

    My best advice is to respond to them with a curious light-hearted tone, “What makes you ask?” Often people will falter and say, “I’m curious because I…” and it’s about them. Always about them and their situation. Let them unload and you won’t have to answer their original question. People with whom you want to share details will most likely be momentarily jealous and ultimately inspired.

    I loved to read that you tithe! First things first 🌺

  20. Eli says:

    It seems like you’re assuming that you will be spending at your current level even in retirement in 30 years. This seems flawed to me, as due to inflation, 60K will not get you far in 30 years. I would try to use a rough inflation estimation to determine your future retirement spending level. Just a suggestion.

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for responding! We are hoping our conservative expected returns accounts for inflation. Maybe that’s not the best way to think about it, but inflation is a consideration we are thinking about. Our estimates are to try and have the same spending power as we have today, not necessarily the actual dollar amount.

  21. pauline says:

    I just want to commend you for all the saving you 2 have been doing! You are set up great for early retirement.

  22. LongTIme Frugal says:

    Please check into taking a distribution from your 401k (not sure if 403b eligible) or IRA up to $5K for adoption. No 10% penalty, taxes still apply. Don’t know if each of you could do this or only one of you. No limit on the number of withdrawals for adoption but there are rules as to time limit.

  23. Hannah K. says:

    Depending on your personal preference for phone carriers, some offer healthcare/emergency service worker discounts that usually offer even better service due to the priority given those lines. AT&T is one since they stop by my husband’s fire department periodically to offer specials. Verizon may be another one, since I think my husband has had dual coverage with both when he participated in the first responder program.

    Echoing Carol’s comment if either of y’all have considered even part-time teaching. We have a few clinical instructors in my nursing program who work part-time in either a hospital or office setting and then pick up one or two clinical groups per semester. With Peter’s psychology background, I could see students getting a broader perspective that can be helpful, especially in acute settings. The 529 could help cover some costs or your work may offer education subsidies for getting a masters, even with working part-time and may offer more control/flexibility over your schedules as Rachel gets older.

    If y’all chose to go with an ACA insurance, an HSA could also become an option with additional tax savings. Another option is Kim keeping insurance for herself through work, while Peter and Rachel have ACA insurance. While my husband has good insurance through his job, we found there was a significant difference in premium costs having separate plans that have allowed us to basically “customize” our insurance since I see several specialists and usually have an ambulance/ER trip once a year, which saves us around $2200+/year accounting for differences in deductible/premiums/copays.

    It looks like y’all have a good foundation for whatever y’all decide and I hope y’all will consider an update in a year or so, and let us know how it is going.

  24. Kate Semple says:

    There are literally so many options in nursing you could lose years of your life trying to choose where to go. Weirdly less stressful move I just made, caveat this works for me because I’m a LPN not RN (NB, Canada) is that I just took a full time job in my small town emergency department. I work 4-12 amd spend half my shift helping out the RNs and halg my shift working the desk as more of a clerk. Some days are still crazy but the nature of a small town is that there are actually plenty of more relaxed days. Your finances are in such great shape it sounds like you guys could really explore your options and look to step out of your higher acuity roles and in doing so reduce your burnout so you can work a little more and keep saving. But even if you don’t, it doesn’t look like you have to stress about it.

  25. Hailly says:

    RESEARCH NURSING! Great pay, (generally) flexible hours, SIGNIFICANTLY reduced physical and mental fatigue, no nights or weekends or holidays, you get patient interaction and for me one of the benefits is being on the prevention/cure side of disease vs immediate treatment.

  26. KP says:

    I’m not in nursing, but a friend has been an instructor for ages and loves it… maybe something to consider. I do have a question for Peter if there’s a way for him to reach out directly… where are you located (or general area)? Hubby is interviewing this week for a job that would put us ~an hour south of DC… not an area I’m really all that excited about. I’m curious where in the east would be more financially conducive to not spending a million on a home that is a small-medium-sized town with good restaurants, cute town, LOTS of outdoor options, etc. 🙂 Don’t need to be specific, but it sounds like you’re in an area we’d love!

    • KP says:

      Btw, THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you in the healthcare field. Always tough, but with COVID… geez! My mom is in a rehab/nursing home and I consider everyone there to be a saint. Can’t say I’d ever want to be a CNA and have to deal w/bedridden patients like my mom. Nope, gross, but thank goodness there are people who do that! 🙂

  27. Justine says:

    Have you thought about one of you being a nurse practitioner? I work in the hospital as a nurse practitioner and my stress level is actually less…ironically. I was a nurse in the ICU for 6 years and then became a NP (now for 8 years) and I love it. I immediately got away from the drama/politics of nursing and the breakroom and I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to go use the bathroom or take a lunch break (for the non-healthcare folks, don’t worry it’s not about asking the boss but more about somebody’s gotta watch my monitors!). Of course there is drama in the medical world, but I have found it to be much less so for my role. I feel like my boss and doctors treat me more like an adult than nursing admin ever did to my colleagues.

    I also enjoy the autonomy and being able to cut through so much bs to just…care for the patient and not worry about whether or not I did my hourly rounding or finished the 2394u2938 things for charting. Now again…I do have charting in the form of progress notes and I do update patient families…but it just seems a lot easier. If I am having a difficult interaction with a patient family, I am not with them for 12 hours…

    • Peter says:

      What area in the hospital do you work as a Nurse Practitioner? Various areas in our hospital seem to have their own drawbacks. Some have additional call hours. Some don’t really seem to have much autonomy depending on the MDs following them. Some have to work 7 on, 7 off schedules or flip to nights for a week or two. We suspect that we would enjoy becoming educated as an NP, but whether we would enjoy practicing would depend on the individual job.

  28. Dreaming of FI says:

    Burnout is very real. I am currently going through this myself and its hard. I work in healthcare-related role myself and am actively looking to make a career transition within the next year. Its just too darn stressful for me.

    Another path to consider is working for a health insurance company. I know my former company did (and still does) hire a lot of nurses. Most of their roles were remote/WAH as well. At least with remote/WAH, that does help a bit with work-life balance. I have been a full-time remote worker for several years and it helped me tremendously. It is not perfect and it is not for everyone but its an option.

  29. Sadie says:

    Advice from someone in tech – nursing and tech (and medicine as a whole) have a lot of overlaps, and will continue to. We had a RN come to our house when we bought life insurance from PolicyGenius. As someone who was severely underpaid for over a decade on the tech side, it really is a unicorn if you leverage the possibilities. For example (not a software engineer), as a people manager who has no executive power or responsibilities (but is not a newbie in the field), after 15 years of low pay, I went from 40k > 70k > 99k > 130k > 150k > 208k > 278k > now negotiating for $250k + $400k stocks per year = $650k in possible return per year. I have targeted my interviewing with companies that provide digital healthcare solutions for hospitals, mental health services, caregiving paperwork, etc. This is to say, you or your partner might want to consider a PT or FT transition (still offering the knowledge of nursing) on the tech side, to a role that can be WFH, including paid parental leave (my last company offered up to 1.5 years paid – including foster/adoption), paid caregiver leave (up to 6 months), and ridiculously amazing healthcare benefits. My partner has an autoimmune condition and my employer covers the $4k per month healthcare premium for both of us, which includes free therapy, chiropractor, bodywork, physical therapy, acupuncture. Free for kids added to the plan too. There’s just so many invisible perks in tech, and I don’t see the gravy train ending in the next 10-15 years.

    Appreciate you sharing your stories and number. We have similar aspirations (similar age) but are a bit behind financially after so many years of being underpaid, so making up for it now and in the near future. We felt a rush of excitement and possibility reading your case study, as Coast Fire aspirants are rare in the FIRE blogging spaces.

    Wishing you and your family good health and clarity as you move through the waves!

  30. S says:

    Having worked in the hospital with a ton of RNs I totally get the anticipation of personal questions regarding switching to prn. There seems to be a culture of overwork, taking minimal time off, and suffering Olympics in nursing. I imagine you’ll draw some attention by opting out of that and prioritizing family and mental health. Quite frankly it is none of your coworkers’ business (unless they are also genuine outside of work friends), and I agree fully with Liz’s recommendation to come up with a simple “script” to follow if/when you get inappropriate questions about your personal life choices from coworkers. You are doing the right thing by protecting yourselves from burnout, and I think that could give a nice framework for the script: “We are trying not to get burned out / to recover from being burned out by working in healthcare and becoming parents during COVID.”

  31. Danielle says:

    I don’t really have any advice, but wanted to say well done and thank you for sharing! Your situation is remarkably similar to ours, especially the assets, monthly spending, and questions you raised! We’re also located north of Boston, and from the sounds of it you might be nearby as well.

    This post and Mrs. Frugalwood’s responses have me thinking about the next few years. We had been planning to pay off the mortgage next but I really like the idea of investing the money and being able to pay it off whenever we want instead. My husband and I both also need to have some tough conversations with our parents about their finances and end of life plans, as he and I will likely be solely responsible for all 4 of them!

    Thanks again for sharing and best of luck on your journey!

  32. Julie says:

    Really refreshing to see another family tithe. You’ve done a lot for saving, too. Well done!

  33. LC says:

    Have your considered refinancing your mortgage to 15/10/5 year since you want to pay it off early anyway so that you can get a lower interest rate? We went from a 30 year to 15 year and our interest rate dropped from 4.25 to 3.0% with no closing fees – we could have gotten the interest rate even lower had we been willing to pay points up front. We used credible to get a variety of refinance offers and were overall happy with the experience

    • Peter says:

      Good question!

      We have been more than a bit cautious to refinance because our initial mortgage loan was sold and upon transfer to the new mortgage servicer, we had nothing but problems. Our initial payment (sent with their paystub) was cashed but not applied to our loan. For a month I kept getting the run around that it “wasn’t a problem” and “would be processed” but that they couldn’t see the check yet. Finally, after calling everyday and not getting a straight answer I filed a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Then the mortgage servicer started calling me and seeing how they could help fix the problem. Magically it was fixed in a few days and within 3 months they sold our mortgage to yet another servicer (3 servicers in the 1.5 years of having a mortgage). We never had a late payment or any issues with our first or current servicer. To add salt to the wound when our mortgage was transferred the problem servicer also didn’t send our insurance information to our new servicer so at one point they said we were uninsured on our home!

      With our current mortgage servicer we have had no issues (insurance issue was cleared up with one phone call) and so are reticent to switch away from them given our poor experiences with the prior company.

      Unfortunately, when doing a refinance calculation it hasn’t seemed worth it given our short time horizon and closing costs (benefit would be if we held loan for >6 years). Admittedly this is disappointing in a low interest rate environment and our excellent credit. We have certainly overvalued flexibility (reduce our pre-payment to our regular payment if needed) over optimization. When we initially got our 30 year loan we planned on paying it off in15 or less years, but always liked the option to reduce our pre-payment if need be. So we’ve paid for that flexibility, but that’s ok with us.

      • LongTime Frugal says:

        Even if refinancing made sense, the window to do so is now closed IMHO. We made double payments for a few years then just paid the rest off from savings (which as we all know, earned little and won’t earn much for a while despite rates rising. Banks are notoriously slow to increase savings rates). Your finance company (be it bank, mortgage only) *may* offer to automatically make bi-weekly (usually) additional payment. Pass on that too because they expect you to pay for them doing so, sigh… The beauty of making payment to principal on your own is IF financial situation changes, you are not obligated. Same would go for refinancing to a short term = usually higher payment.

  34. Jessica says:

    Hi, since you express your priorities of giving back, I would recommend reading Doing Good Better. Some of the specific recommendations are a bit outdated now, but it really helped me develop my overall sense of how to have a positive impact with my time and money.
    This may not resonate with you, but it’s possible that you can have more impact by continuing to do some sort of (lower stress) nursing rather than by volunteering instead. In addition to providing a crucial service to people, you’re making an income that you could then deploy to help others. It’s quite possible that volunteering your nursing skills could also be high impact, but if you’re considering more general volunteering that doesn’t use your highly trained skills, it might actually be better to continue nursing and donate your excess income. Just food for thought – I’ve thought about this a lot in my own life, and my current approach is to use my engineering skills in an industry that I think is highly important (renewable energy) and donate an increasing portion of my income through GiveWell.

    Separately, you raise a lot of potential plans and questions of how to consider them. I think you will be able to get much more clarity on that once your wife has had some time to decompress from full time work. It’s so hard to think clearly about your future when you’re burnt out. Maybe once she’s had a few months to decompress, you can spend a day together planning and talking about your dreams for your life and the potential timelines you could consider to make them happen.

    Congratulations on the excellent position you’ve put yourselves in, and good luck!

    • Suzanne says:

      Another recommendation for Doing Good Better (and ‘The Life You Can Save’) and researching effective altruism in general. I think the movement ties in well with frugal living as it’s all about value for money, something we can be obsessed with when it comes to personal spending, yet often turn a blind eye to with our charitable giving. It also changed my perspective hugely on living a life / career that aligns with my values – we don’t all need to up sticks and move to countries where the most aid is needed, and in most cases we can be more helpful by earning salaries in richer countries and helping to fund locally-run programmes overseas.

  35. Abby says:

    Congratulations on being in such a great spot! Lovely to hear about the adoption of your little one as well. My husband and I are in the midst of a similar journey and happy stories like this are so inspiring.

  36. Donna says:

    Liz: In your response to Peter’s Question #1, was this correct: “Retirement age: 36 (Peter is 36)”?
    I was trying to follow your input for the calculator.

    • Kirsty says:

      By putting in retirement age as now and expenses/withdrawal as zero she has simulated the scenario where he no longer contributes and it just calculates growth of the money already invested. In that scenario he reaches his retirement goal age 66.

  37. Kirsty says:

    Not read all the comments so I might be duplicating stuff here, but here’s my two cents:
    1 find a work life balance you are happy with now. If that means temporarily reducing retirement savings and increasing them later then that’s fine. You are both close to burnt out, you need to look after current you first!bit seems like for now that is behaving as if you are coast fire.
    2 it seems like you have achieved coast fire if social security is ok OR if stock market return is greater than 5. I think the chances of at least one of those continuing are pretty good, ignoring apocalypse scenarios.
    3 if and when you feel up to going back full time, redo your calcs at that point. Or redo them every year and see how you stand.

  38. Space Doc says:

    As a physician I know you have one of the toughest jobs, so first off, thank you for what you do.

    Couple of thoughts.

    People asking you about your finances is a good opportunity to share your knowledge and help others. Those that are interested will listen, others won’t care. You don’t have to get too specific. You don’t have to mention FIRE, just talk about good financial habits.

    Make sure you are maxing out your retirement contributions before anything, and consider a Roth IRA or backdoor Roth, if you exceed the income limits (I don’t think you do at this point).

    Agree with Frugalwoods, consider a higher proportion of stocks in your retirement accounts. You are still pretty young and your investment horizon is long. Let compounding work its magic.

    Social security probably won’t go away, but the payout may be reduced or delayed to older ages, so it’s great not to factor that. If you get it, it will be gravy.

    Consider working in telemedicine. The space is exploding right now and the pay is decent, and you save money not having to drive to work and so forth. Alternately, consider transitioning into management, which would pay well but might be more time away from home.

    Last bit, looks like you live in a nice place. Maybe get your parents to move closer to you, instead of you moving closer to them?

    Good luck!

  39. Space Doc says:

    PS Here is my favorite financial calculator. It takes playing with it a while to figure out how to use it, but it’s pretty powerful “what if” tool.

    https://www.portfoliovisualizer.com/financial-goals

  40. Have either of you considered travel nursing, taking local contracts, or working per diem shifts through an agency? I’ve been a travel nurse since 2015 thanks to severe burnout, and my husband works seasonally for a major airline (as of this evening both of us are FUNemployed for the next two months – woohoo!). As a staff nurse I carried the insurance so when I went PRN at my last real job we just went through the marketplace. We’ve had two daughters while travel nursing (now seven months and almost three years) and we are all on a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan through North Dakota, where my husband is from. As a traveler I’m able to make 2-4x what staff nurses are making doing the exact same job and for the past five years (after discovering FIRE) we used that to our advantage, maxing out all our pre-tax retirement accounts (both our 401(K)s, both our trad IRAs, and my husband’s HSA), and putting everything leftover into a brokerage account. And there was plenty leftover as during covid I was making as much as $5700/week (some of my friends were making $10k/week!!). Since our taxable income is so low we qualify for all the healthcare tax credits but not Medicaid, which is how we want it. Our BCBS coverage is nationwide (as opposed to state-specific Medicaid) so even though we’re based in North Dakota, I was able to have one daughter in Tucson, AZ and another in Salt Lake City, UT, and get all their well visits and vaccines, no problem. The last contract I took as a traveler was only TWO 12-hr DAY shifts a week in an ICU (in nursing this is a huge deal) and while I made slightly more as a traveler, the same job was offered as a local contract for 13 weeks at $130/hr. As a staff nurse on the same unit, with 11 years ICU experience, I could expect to make $30/hr. YES, $100/hr LESS. Please. Before covid, my husband and I traveled the world between and during contracts using our flight benefits (I bring home the funds, he brings home the FUNs), on average taking off four months a year just to travel for fun. This year we started investing in real estate and have already purchased two rental homes – one of which we rent furnished to other travel nurses! You could do the same with your house and travel nurse around the country, or take local contracts for 13 weeks with options to extend if you’d like, or just work per diem through an agency, or download the Nursa app and work whenever you feel like it. There are so many options and, to me, ZERO incentive to ever be a staff nurse again. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely on the staff nurses’ side, but I’m not going to give up the chance to spend more time with my family, travel the world, and build real wealth by helping a broken system work. We should all be paid as much as LeBron James. But until then, I’m going to keep working when I feel like it! Make hay while the sun shines.

  41. DEE says:

    Definitely consider a total day office hour job such as an Oncology Infusion center. The pay is good and you have after 5Pm or4:40 daily and weekends off….I have concerns about everyone cutting hours -working less when they could work F/T to get the ACA benefits if not needed. Some people do not have access or education to have jobs that pay well so they need the Government subsidized back-up but if you can work it s not fair to the worker bees who have to help you out with their tax money!!!

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