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Yesterday, a dentist came to the dental practice to do a working interview. He would be the doctor to take my place at our busy practice. Upon meeting me, he asked why I was leaving. I told him the truth – that I wanted to take a break from dentistry and spend time living life.
He looked at me quizzically, as if confused by the language I spoke.
“But what are you going to do with your student loans?,” he asked incredulously.
So I explained to him our financial journey. I tried to tell him that we live a life of financial independence. We don’t make our life decisions based on money alone. Rather, we decide what to do based on a happiness meter.
“But how can you do that? Aren’t you worried about your debt?”
When I told him no, that we had planned ahead for a lifestyle such as this, he scoffed lightly and said, “Most people decide to do that after loans are done.”
I simply shrugged and said, “I guess.”
I didn’t really have the energy at the time to convince someone that it is possible to live life financially independent. I recognized someone not ready to open up to the possibility of an alternative life, free of societal expectations and a pre-formulated timeline.
Even though we still have student debt, we have created all the micro-steps to be paid ahead of our original plan, build wealth, and have the reserves needed to create flexibility in our lives. What I did not explain to him was that most people are on a 20-25 year forgiveness plan. Only a few tackle a ten year repayment plan. We were on track for six years, despite having one of the largest debts possible caused by higher education. We have not ignored retirement accounts and have secured a real estate property that is both commercially zoned AND a residential address. We built a savings account that can support a 14-month hiatus from work without curbing our spending or selling our house. (If we sell our house, neither of us need work for over three years and still support our current living expenses, although I hardly see us not working for a few months in reality because that’s just my personality…) We made certain life decisions, such as buying a home in a lower-income area, choosing not to have kids (sorry mom and dad!), living a frugal lifestyle, prioritizing our passions over money, and living a life of less waste in order to get to this place. Some of these decisions were harder than others. We were both born into families that could not financially help us and we have worked hard and diligently to be here.
If he hadn’t been so judgmental about my decision to quit, I probably would have told him how he could do it, too.
On here, I wanted to share with those who were interested exactly how to gain financial independence and quit your job, if you wanted. It isn’t for everyone, and the path might not look exactly the same. I suppose in the end, I can only speak for myself, my life, and what I have done.
I am not sharing this because I think this is the best way to live life. I am sharing this because in resigning from work, I had more people come out of their shell and tell me that they’ve always wanted the freedom to do the same, but feel trapped in the workplace. I am sharing this because I want people to have hope and empowerment. I genuinely want to help.
Here is my not-so-secret, not-rocket-science, not-traditional, not-socially-approved-nor-socially-accepted way of gaining enough financial independence amidst student-debt enslavement to quit a job that was not right for me.
- Figure out what you want in life. Decide on your main priorities. Identify your values and try to marry your lifestyle with those values. Only then can you curate your life in a way that brings you complete joy.
2. Eliminate all the unnecessaries. For me, that meant unnecessary material things, as well as unnecesssary people. Even quitting my job was a practice of getting rid of the unnecessaries. It started with de-cluttering my life, then severing toxic relationships, then separating myself from obligation and societal expectations and norms. Now, I have the ability to assess whether things improve my life or not. If not, then I let go.
3. Begin to grow your wealth. After steps one and two, all that is left are the bits of life that add value. It started with Mastering a Budget. I wrote an entire course on how to do it, and I shared it with the world for free. I have been told by my students that it has been helpful to their journey. Here are a few testimonials:
Prior to this course, I considered myself pretty familiar with my expenses and a mindful shopper. However, at the end of each month I constantly found myself wondering where all my income had gone. I realized that I was in denial about my budgeting skills & decided to purchase this course. “Mastering a Budget” challenged me to think hard about my goals and how my finances play a role in achieving such goals. Developing a clear understanding of my “why” for budgeting has kept me on track when I feel like I am going off course with my finances. While on this budgeting journey, I realized that I was spending more than expected on certain categories and not saving nearly enough towards my goals. Additionally, the frugal challenges detailed in the course put me outside of my comfort zone but had long last financial benefits that I will continue to carry on. “Mastering A Budget” provided me with the motivation and tools to create a budget that is well suited for my lifestyle and goals. I highly recommend this course to everyone!
“Having graduated with a significant amount of student debt, I realized I needed to be more aware of my budget and how I spend my money. However, I did not have much insight on how to properly manage my finances let alone having a game plan on how to do so. This course not only helped provide me a fundamental understanding on budgeting, but was also very concise and easy to follow. To anyone that wants to better understand budgeting but doesn’t know where to start, I would definitely recommend this course.”
4. Get rid of debt. We use the snowball method to tackle debt. Trust someone who has a lot of it – this part is no fun, but necessary. I decided that I would not feel financially free until I remove the debt completely. I did not want to wait for a government to remove it 20-25 years later. I know myself well enough to understand that I would psychologically feel the burden of my debt until it was completely gone. If I had chosen a loan forgiveness plan, I would not only depend on the government’s promise to pay off the debt, but I would also be completely dependent on my job. Dependency on a job was the last thing I wanted. Here is why:
My father was very dependent on his job – he had a family to support. He had to do things that were not aligned with his values in order to keep his work. His job as a sales engineer was stressful for him, as his higher-ups dumped uncomfortable confrontations between the factory and the company on their middle man. He then had to give up his pride as he went on to his second job as a janitor for Staples on weeknights. When that ended, he worked at Hollywood Video pushing tapes at a check-out stand alongside high-school teenagers. When we were older, he worked weekends at Robinson’s May, where his boss who paid him minimum wage forced him to miss the important things in life – like his children’s performances and sports matches. He finally quit his retail job when his boss threatened to fire him because he did not want to work on Christmas Eve. I remember the night he came home. He seemed very proud of standing up for what is right, but also, a bit beaten by a system holding him down. After watching my father go through that, I vowed to fight for my financial freedom so that all his sacrifices and hard work were not in vain.
5. Save as much money as possible. This may seem like basic advice, but seriously, be as frugal as possible. We experimented with many ways to pinch pennies, such as eating rice and beans for a whole week, as well as taking on a room-mate as a married couple. All of my frugal challenges can be found here. I would highly recommend implementing as many frugal life-hacks as you can!
6. Build an emergency fund. An emergency fund can reflect your risk tolerance. We are both risk averse people. I wanted to have a healthy buffer via an emergency fund in preparation for unexpected expenses. Some budgeting strategies allow for flexibilities within the budget so that emergency funds are unnecessary. Despite keeping additional savings in each category of our budget for unexpected events, we still keep a separate emergency reserve. I know it’s traditionalist, but diversifying financial strategies is one way we prepare for the future. In order to speed up the process, keep your money reserved in a high-yield savings account. We have opened an account with Marcus, and you can use this referral link to earn an additional 0.2% APY for up to 3 months.
7. Invest in the future. We could have easily been close-minded and focused on attacking my student debt wholly. But I wanted to be very well-rounded in our financial approach, so we made sure to contribute to our 401-K retirement accounts (we each have one) along the way. Even though it means slowing down our loan repayment progress, it also meant diversifying our assets in order to compensate for the ups and downs life might throw our way. If you do not have a business or work for a company that provides a 401-K account, look into opening up a Roth IRA.
8. Look to real estate. Rent in California is not cheap. Once we set up our 401-K’s, removed credit card debt, and funneled our hard-earned dollars towards my student debt with auto-payments, we started to look at buying a home because we viewed renting as a sure-fire way to throw away money. We had saved an emergency fund in step 5, and essentially used that emergency fund as a down-payment. Being the avid finance people that we were, we had been eyeing the market for the past two years. This allowed us to know the price point within our budget, as well as knowing the best bang for buck in our particular area. We ended up purchasing a commercially zoned live/work loft which is considered both a business and a residence for less than my student debt! Since we spent some of the emergency fund money, the minute we bought the house, we started all over again and grew our emergency fund back to what it was over the course of the next year.
9. Create passive income streams. On top of our jobs, which provides active income streams, we wanted to set up sources of passive income. I have alluded to a few of those passive income streams above. One passive way to build wealth is our Marcus Savings Account, which gains interest over time and builds our emergency fund. Another is our 401-K, which gains interest over time and builds our retirement fund. A third is our room-mate which helps pay down our mortgage and build equity. Even this blog brings in passive income from past posts via affiliate links. I like things that continue to grow even when left alone. There are many ways you can create passive income, and I would definitely set yourself up for success in those venues because you never know what will happen to your active income stream.
10. Earn more money. There are many ways to earn more money. I personally love the side-hustle. In the past few years, I have been a dog-sitter on Rover, worked at a bakery, opened my own bakery, baby-sat, made wedding favors, signage and decorations, sold my stuff on Poshmark, and wrote on this blog. I am not trying to sound insensitive to the effects of COVID on many people’s work lives. The opposite is actually true. I want to instill hope that there are ways to earn money all the time. People just have to think outside the box. A few examples relevant to this time in particular:
- baby-sitting so that WFH parents can focus for at least an hour a day
- tutoring to help kids who have fallen behind in their schooling
- meal-prepping for over-extended parents and family members
- financial planning or guidance for those who want to get out of debt accrued this year
- mental health services for those who suffer from stress or depression
- online yoga classes via ZOOM (so what if you’re not a certified yoga instructor?)
- create websites for small businesses that need a digital place to grow
- a longer list in my previous post: The Ever-Growing List Of Ways To Earn Extra Income.
I know these are only a few examples, but before you can find ways to earn extra income, you need to first give yourself permission to do so. It’s possible you may find that you are the only one stopping yourself from making more money!
Despite Mike not working since February, despite COVID, despite dental offices closing down temporarily, I feel a strong sense of certainty that taking time off during this most stressful and precarious time is the right move for living a balanced life. I only speak for myself, but have found that in doing so, other people have reached out to ask just how.
I hope this has been somewhat helpful, but I know that none of this happened over night. Small steps every day is what it takes to create the space for change. If it feels too over-whelming to think about, try to start with Step 1. Write down your wildest dreams, your values, the things that excite you… Then go from there.
I want to sincerely offer advice so as always, do not hesitate to reach out if you need a helping hand with getting started or finding your way. If you want to read more, here are a few posts you may be interested in.