FIRE/ Frugal Millionaires On Fire/ Frugality

Frugal Millionaires on FIRE – Modern FImily

November 5, 2019 (Last Updated: November 18, 2019)

Welcome to our first ever Frugal Millionaires on FIRE post. This is where we interview people who have lived a frugal lifestyle in order to reach financial independence and retire early (FIRE), usually in combination with having a net worth of over a million dollars. Topics include uncovering their journey to FIRE and delving into their best frugal habits they’ve picked up along the way.

Image with the text Frugal Millionaires On FIRE

Many of the FIRE and frugal community around us are trekking along their own FIRE path (us included!). So, we thought it would be great to start conversations with those who are further along in their journey and have achieved what we wish to in the years to come. We understand everyone’s path is unique, every FIRE number or end goal different to another person or family on the journey next to us. However, we also know that we can learn so much from each other, whether it’s a new frugal hack in the kitchen or a pitfall to avoid when investing.

Disclaimer: The following are stories from the wide and vast FIRE community and are not intended to be financial advice. Our website and content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide financial, investment, accounting, tax or legal advice.

Frugal Millionaires on FIRE – Chapter 1 with Modern FImily

We first ‘met’ Nic & Court over on Instagram, their stories and sense of humour crack us up! We also have similar outlooks on life, so we couldn’t wait to get them on the blog to share their story with you. These guys are seriously amazing, but we’ll let them tell you all about why.

Over to you Court!

Hey, we’re Modern FImily! We are a lesbian family of 3 who have reached financial independence at the ages of 32, 30, and 1. Nic became a stay-at-home Mom when our daughter was born in 2018 and Court is still working part time for 1-2 years as we are hopeful to become a family of 4 in the future, and are saving for a higher FIRE number with that in mind. We went from $110,000 combined student loan debt to a net worth of over $1 million within 9 years all while enjoying life along the way. We consider ourselves as “valuists” and currently spend under $25,000 annually as a family of three, yet we do not feel deprived in any sense.

 

The Journey to FIRE

How long has your journey been to reach your goal?

It’s been roughly 10 years. I graduated from my Master’s degree in December 2008 (dun dun dun Great Recession) and luckily got a good paying job right away that started in January 2009. I had $70,000 in student loan debt that I paid off in 2.5 years in 2011. Then, I saved for a down payment for a townhouse which I bought a little over a year later in 2012 and house hacked by having roommates pay WAY more than the mortgage payments and was able to pay off the house in 2.5 years in 2015.  

Also in 2015 we both quit our jobs with nothing else lined up and took a 6 month travel hiatus before moving from Florida to Calgary, Canada. In 2018 we welcomed our little girl to the world and also reached our FIRE number for our family of three. This is when my wife quit her job and retired early to become a stay-at-home Mom. We are hopeful to become a family of 4 in the future so I am working part time for another 1-2 years until babes 2 is hopefully born and the plan is to be at our family of four FIRE number once the little one is born so I can utilize Canada’s gracious 18 month paid parental leave benefit to help glide us through my first year of early retirement.

 

Frugal Millionaires - two women and their child with smiling faces.

The Modern FImily – Nic, Finn and Court.

What age were you when you achieved FIRE?

I was 32 in 2018 when we reached our FI number for our family of three. My wife was 30 (and our little one was just born). We are anticipating to be at our family of four FIRE number in a year when I will be 34 and my wife will be 32.  

How did you feel when you hit “your number”?

I honestly didn’t even realize it happened. The markets have been on this bull tear and we passed our number likely months before I logged into all of my accounts to check our net worth (I was only checking our net worth 2-3 times a year at that point). Once I realized it, I thought “oh wow, we’re there”.

We didn’t really do anything to celebrate because we are hoping to become a family of four, and thus I am still working, so once we reach our family of four number (hopefully in less than a year from now if the markets continue to climb but I’m a bit wary of that happening) there will be a much more grandiose celebration! Maybe a trip to New Zealand and Australia!?

We did do quite a bit of travel in 2017 prior to our little lady being born (10 days in Florida, 2 weeks in Hawaii, a 2 week road trip to Vancouver & Seattle, and 3.5 weeks in Europe – all thanks to travel hacking and working shift work which allowed for a lot of time off and a great work life balance). I’d like to stress that never in our journey have we felt like we are living a deprived life.  

What (if anything) changed for you when you reached millionaire status?

Nothing really. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing feeling to know that 10 years of hard work lead to becoming a millionaire. However, now that we have crossed that threshold, I would not say we are living our life any differently.

Did a significant other, friend or family member help you reach your goals?

I’ve reached these goals with solely my own income, savings, and investing. That is not to discount my wife in any sense. She is totally on board with the FIRE/frugal/minimalist/valuist mindset and is the first one to go to YouTube to try and fix things herself rather than outsource it to someone else. My wife graduated from her second bachelor’s degree in 2013 with $40,000 of her own student loan debt. She worked for 4 years before becoming a stay-at-home Mom and in that time frame she killed off her student loans, helped contribute to the mortgage of our Florida townhouse when she moved in while we still had a mortgage, bought a used reliable car, and has about $25,000 of her own savings to her name. We view this $25,000 separately as our true “emergency fund” but do not include it in any of our calculations. 

The cost of education in the States is pretty insane (and I’m glad to be in Canada now where it is much more affordable for my daughter’s sake – we are maxing out her Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) each year and have that included in our FIRE numbers which should be more than enough to cover her university costs). I received a 50% scholarship for my undergrad degree and that still meant tuition of $20,000/year ($80,000 total). My parents took out a loan for half and I took out a loan for the other $40,000. I then took out more student loans to pay for my graduate degree. Other than that, I have not received any monetary help from friends or family. 

I do recognize my privilege in that my parents were always supportive of my hobbies and interests growing up where I ended up falling in love with ice hockey, which is not a cheap sport to play. We lived in a middle/upper class neighborhood and they always made sure we were able to do the things my brother and I wanted to do. So I am very grateful to them for all those experiences and being able to play a Division 1 sport in college. They were always encouraging me to do the best I could in academics and helped shape me to become the math nerd I am today.

I also recognize that I am a high earner (my income has ranged from $69,000-$130,000 over the years and I now earn $56,000 base + bonus (~$15,000?) working part time). It would be MUCH more difficult for someone to do what what I’ve done with a minimum wage job and I fully understand that and am grateful to have landed these jobs over the years which have also been rewarding and fulfilling (I work in the renewable energy space). A lot of people would call this luck, but it was hard work and dedication, starting from a very young age. Funny side story (to me at least) – in third grade I received my first “B” on my report card and I sobbed and sobbed and my Mom had to explain to me that getting a “B” is more than OK. So yeah, I’m a bit of an overachiever and have a go-getter work ethic.        

Do you worry more, less or the same about money or your finances?

I’m not sure if worry is the right word because we don’t budget and I never worry about how we can afford this or that item as we use credit cards for everything (points baby!) and have all our accounts set up on auto pay to get paid in full each month from our checking account. We do keep track of every single penny we spend though in a simple excel spreadsheet (this is step number 1 to taking control of your finances and if you are not tracking your spending/income I recommend you start doing so today!). We also are valuists and don’t really spend that much money anyways. It’s a mindset shift that I am so glad we have figured out. By realizing that true happiness does not come from things, it allows us to keep our expenses low, and not have to worry about our lifestyle in that sense. We avoid marketing, advertising, and the general consumerist lifestyle that has plagued the society we live in. 

However, now that I am getting ready to pull the plug from the part time corporate gig in the very near future, I do worry about a market correction coming. We’re very fiscally conservative and using a 2% safe withdrawal rate versus the frequently talked about 4% safe withdrawal rate within the FIRE community thanks to geo-arbitrage (about ⅔ of our investments are in USD but we are planning to live in Canada for the foreseeable future so the USD/CAD exchange rate of ~1.30 really helps us out) and the Canadian Child Tax Benefit (we will receive ~$5,000/child/year tax-free income until each child is 17 from the Canadian government thanks to being a low income family once we FIRE). 

Also, we realize that if the market tanks as soon as I quit:

  1. We will be receiving parental leave pay which will pay for our expenses for the first year so we will not need to withdraw anything during that time frame, and
  2. Just because I quit it does not mean we cannot ever work again. We totally get that. If there is a dip and we do not feel comfortable withdrawing from our portfolio right away, I can easily find a job that pays $25,000/year which is roughly what our current annual expenses are. Hello local coffee shop! 

It is very rare for people within the FIRE community, who tend to be very driven and calculated individuals, to not do SOMETHING once they retire early. Who knows, maybe we sip pina coladas and take siestas all day long, but that’s highly unlikely. It’s more likely that we will dig into our hobbies and interests more (hockey, skiing, hiking, painting, etc.), continue to work on our blog (Modern Fimily), and volunteer at our kids’ school in some sense. We also want to continue teaching others about personal finance. The beauty is that we do not NEED these to bring in some sort of income. If they do, that’s great, but it would be icing on the cake and not necessary financially for us to get by.          

Toddler surrounded by trees.

Are your investments weighed heavier in shares or property or something else entirely? Why?

Right now we are sitting around 50% stocks, 25% bonds, and 25% cash (sitting in a high interest savings account earning 2.8% interest). Again, this is because we are being very fiscally conservative at this point in our lives as we approach early retirement. The goal is in 5-10 years to be back to 90-100% stocks for the long term.

When we moved from Florida to Canada we held onto our Florida townhouse for 2 years and rented it out to a lovely family and made great passive income that way. However, we learned that we did not enjoy being landlords from so far away (the control freak in me couldn’t handle it). So we sold it after those two years and the proceeds are able to pay off our Canadian townhouse mortgage. (We decided to take out a mortgage rather than pay for our new Canadian townhouse in cash upfront. We are able to keep the cash in a high interest savings account which is earning more than our mortgage interest. So we are actually making money by having a mortgage which is pretty bizarre. We also like the option of having cash on hand if we want to throw it at the market instead if there is a correction in the near future. The plan is to have the mortgage paid off in 2021 when we FIRE so we do not need to include a mortgage expense in our FIRE calculations.) So while we do not actively invest in property, we do understand how lucrative this option can be as we made a nice chunk of change off our past real estate experience. 

We are boring investors in that we prefer to invest in low fee index funds (VTSAX for our US funds and VUN.TO for our Canadian funds) – both of which track the overall US stock market. Our bond holdings are also in bond indexes. We like the broad selection of funds that these indexes hold and I only hold one individual stock within our portfolio which is for my previous employer and it makes up ~5% of our portfolio. 

Do you still work? If not, what do you do to fill your days?

Yes, I am working part time for another year. I work 12-hour shifts so my schedule is as follows: 3 shifts on, 14 days off, 4 shifts on, 14 days off, on repeat. That comes out to 20 different intervals of 2 weeks off a year. I did the math and I will only be working 73 days in the entire year. It’s pretty awesome and a great way to transition into early retirement. I created this job with my old boss which just further illustrates the power of FI.

You can create the life you want to live. 

My wife quit her job in March 2018, a month prior to our little lady’s birth, and she has no plans to go back. 

Our child easily fills up our day haha. She is VERY active and up bright and early at 6am every day.

A typical day when I’m off looks like: slow mornings having breakfast, playing with toys & reading books, saying our good mornings to the world (something we do every day with our little one), and heading to our local library or parent link center to play with other kids. Around 11am we’re home for lunch and then she naps from 12pm-2pm which is when we have quiet adult alone time. Our afternoons consist of being outside in some fashion – be it going to the park, or going for a hike, or skating on the outdoor rinks, etc. Then a slow dinner time, bath time, and bedtime routine until she’s asleep around 7pm. Then again a few hours for adult quiet alone time – but let’s be honest we are grannies and are typically asleep by 9pm. 

Once she’s school age, we both likely will do some sort of volunteer work, hobbies, or part time job for fun during school hours. We’re already scheming ways to drop off the kiddo(s) at school, drive out to the mountains to ski for a few hours, then head back and pick them up once school is out.

What book do you recommend someone should read if they’re just starting on their journey?

I have quite a few books, blogs, and podcasts that I recommend on Our Favourite FIRE Resources blog post that have helped us out along our journey but the number 1 book would be The Simple Path to Wealth by Jim Collins (or you can read his Stock Series online too). Another great book is The Story of Stuff by Anne Leonard. 

 

Living Frugal

Tell us about one of your biggest frugal wins:

Our Travel Hacking

It would have to be all of our travel hacking wins. The US banks offer some pretty amazing credit card sign up bonuses that provide tons of free travel opportunities if you do your research and do it right. It can be a huge curse for those not diligent with their credit card spending and get hit with the 15-25% interest rates. If you are diligent about using your credit cards wisely and paying off your balance in FULL each and every month, credit cards can be an amazing thing. 

I first learned about travel hacking in 2010 and have since visited 25 countries and have flown all over the US and Canada and only paid the taxes on these flights. We used the Southwest Companion Pass for 4 years which provided $11.70 round trip flights per person within the US so we visited many friends and National Parks during those years. All while still signing up for other credit cards to bank off of future travel. We still have over 1 million travel points in our bank which is pretty incredible. 

Now that we are in Canada, the points offered up here are nowhere close to as alluring from a bonus points standpoint so we still sign up for US cards (somehow we are still approved for them, not too sure why honestly). Once we are at our destination we typically will stay at an AirBnB or go camping to keep our costs down. We also prefer to live like a local and explore by foot, stop at local coffee shops off the beaten path, and eat at local markets.

General Frugal Wins

More generally, I’d say our overall frugal win is just not spending a lot of money (obviously). As mentioned above, we spend about $25,000 CAD/year (it’s actually closer to $24,000 CAD). Again, our mortgage is taken care of so it does not include the mortgage but that figure includes EVERYTHING else. We have not let lifestyle creep impact us and for that I am very grateful. We both drive used reliable cars (and plan to become a 1 car family once I quit my job), we cook 95% of our meals at home, we enjoy free activities our town offers, we love spending time outside, we hardly ever buy new clothes and do not really care about the latest fashion trends, and we also don’t wear makeup or go to a hair salon or get manis/pedis. 

Kid Frugal Wins

We’ve also learned that having a kid does NOT need to be expensive. 

Our little girl is currently 18 months old and on average we spend $50/month for her additional food, $208/month maxing out her RESP education plan, and $100/month on EVERYTHING else. That $100 monthly average includes everything from her nursery set up, car seat, stroller, high chair, toys, books, clothes, plus consumables like diapers, wipes, teething medicine, lotion, you name it. We have spent ~$1,650 on everything so far in her 18 months of existence (Yes, I keep track of every penny we spend on her, come on you guys!).

Some people spend that much on a stroller alone.

This is not because we were flooded with hand-me-downs from friends and family we know. We were given a few things, but we have learned that there are a TON of second hand kid items from parents that are DYING to get rid of them. They’re usually items used for a few weeks, maybe months, that then get piled up and take up space. Our town has tons of young families and we use the app called VarageSale where there are constantly baby items (along with other items too of course) being posted for free or pennies on the dollar.

We have never paid a penny for any of her toys (not that she has a lot, we purposely maintain all of her toys in 1 single toy box and only a max of 5 are out for her to play with at any given time). Some of the clothes we receive still have the tags on them. Our neighbors also have 2 young boys and they are constantly giving us hand-me-downs (the beauty of creating a community!).

Here’s just some of the items we’ve received for free:

  • jogging stroller 
  • umbrella stroller
  • rocking chair
  • walker
  • booster seat
  • changing pad
  • baby tub
  • kids bath mat
  • bouncer
  • nursing pillow
  • book shelf
  • plus TONS of free books, clothes, shoes, burp cloths, swaddle blankets, and toys

I’m sure I’m missing more items. The point is – if you are willing to look around, there are tons of free baby items in excellent condition out there.

Toddler reading a book in a chair.

Tons of free second hand books to choose from. No tablet or smart phone for her!

What are your top 3 purchased items that bring or hold the most value in your life?

  • My fuzzy housecoat
    • My wife bought this for me for my birthday earlier this year and I LOVE it. It is so fluffy and warm and I love lounging around the house in it. I also get bonus cuddles from the little one because she loves nuzzling up into it too.
  • Our BBQ
    • My wife is the cook in our house and the one item she made sure we had to have in our house when moved up to Canada was a barbecue. We use it at least once a week, if not more, and not only love how our food tastes but also how convenient it is and how easy it is to clean up after using it. To that point, we also enjoy using our crock pot at least once a week too for the same reasons above. We also love our deep freeze to store items we buy on sale in bulk at the grocery store. But those last two items we received as hand-me-downs and not purchased ourselves to I guess they technically don’t make the list.
  • Good winter gear
    • Living in Canada, it gets COLD in the winter time and it is very important to us to have good winter gear so we can enjoy all the fun winter activities we can access in this beautiful part of the world. We have purchased high quality toques (winter hats for any non-Canadians reading this), ear muffs, scarves, jackets, pants, long underwear, gloves, and boots. This equipment allows us to skate on outdoor rinks, or go downhill skiing on world class mountains, or go cross country skiing, or hiking, or sledding, or building snowmen all while staying warm.   

What’s your favourite frugal tip?

There are SO many things that you can do yourself now thanks to the internet. You can literally google/YouTube anything and figure out to fix something or do something yourself. For example, my back signal light in my car died and my wife YouTubed how to fix it. Six dollars later we bought the light bulb and within 15 minutes she replaced it herself (rather than spending $50+ to bring it to the mechanic). 

Another example is that our refrigerator door was making an awkward popping/clicking noise every time we opened it. A simple google search allowed us to determine that a $2 part from Home Depot would do the trick. We ordered the part (with free shipping) and again 15 minutes of work and it was fixed. 

Same goes for changing our car tires, changing out our car battery, and replacing our bathroom vanity on our own. (And when I say “our”, I mean my wife – she is a rockstar.) Some non-Google/YouTube DIY examples are that we cut each other’s hair (well I should say my wife cuts my hair and her Mom cuts her hair because she doesn’t trust me haha), we clean our own house and car, we painted our own house, we’ve made our own furniture pieces, we painted all the artwork in our home, we painted the exterior of my in-laws garage in lieu of rent during our Florida to Canada transition for a month, we mend our own clothing, etc. There are so many items that can be done yourself, you just need to prioritize your time wisely.

What’s your favourite frugal activity?

Being outside. Not only are there physical benefits to being active and getting fresh air, but there is also the mental benefit as well. Mentally, being outside is a way to recharge and get out of your thoughts. I’d highly suggest not bringing any technology with you and disconnecting from it all. We make it a mission to get outside for at least an hour every day. (Unless it’s -40°C outside, then I’ll be sitting inside all day reading a book!) We really enjoy hiking and exploring in the summer and skiing and skating in the winter. We are so proud that our little girl stops to smell flowers, calls out birds and berries along our walk, points at the trees and yells “hike!”, loves picking up pinecones, eats wild berries (that we pick for her), and knows all about rocks, dirt and sand. 

Woman and toddler overlooking a lake.

Nic teaching Finn how to skip rocks like a pro.

How does living a frugal lifestyle align with your values?

From an environmental standpoint, being frugal means we are reusing items that would otherwise end up in a landfill before its true end of life. This helps us do our small little part of helping mother earth in whatever way we can. We have no problem accepting used items if they are in good condition and will bring us joy. Sometimes people think being frugal can mean getting things just because that item is on sale. I think it’s important to realize that just because something is on sale does NOT mean you need it. We also do small things like turning off the lights when we’re not in a particular room, unplugging chargers when not in use, and walking to a destination whenever possible (and picking up other people’s garbage along the way).

Being frugal, for us at least, is also tied to being minimalist in that we do not have clutter in our house. Again, this helps out not only mother earth but our wallets as well. When we moved from Florida, we sold EVERYTHING that we owned except for three bags each. Getting rid of everything was such a freeing experience.   

We value time more than things (be it time spent doing what we want or time spent with people we want to spend our time with). Being frugal inherently allows us to do more of what we want to do. Because we are frugal with our spending, we are able to keep our expenses low, which means do we not need to work until 65+ to fund an expensive lifestyle. This then gives us the freedom to spend our time however we choose with whomever we choose. We also have never worked more than 40 hour average work weeks. We believe you need to balance your time wisely to avoid burnout. 

While you’ve been living frugally, have you felt like you have ‘enough’?

Definitely. The median household income worldwide is $9,733 USD. I always think of that and realize how incredibly privileged we are to live where we do and have the CHOICE to live the way we do. So many people in this world are living a MUCH tougher life and I find it nearly impossible to think that we are “sacrificing” in any sense. 

 

Modern FImily Blog

Where can people find you?

Either at our blog, modernfimily.com, or on Instagram at ModernFImily.

What’s the first blog people should read on your site and why?

Our Master the Big Stuff Series.

It is a series of 3 posts – one on housing, one on transportation, and one on food

Mastering the BIG expenses in life (in the typical top 3 spending areas) means you can enjoy that latte or whatever small expense that brings you joy on a daily basis, and still reach financial independence within 15 years.

It’s not about cutting out the $5 pleasures, it’s about shaving hundreds if not thousands, from your spending by being creative. We go over on these blogs posts exactly what we did to shave thousands off our monthly expenses just by focusing on these three categories.   

Thanks so much to Court from Modern FImily for sharing her family’s journey with us on the blog today!

If you want to read more about FIRE or Frugality, you can check out these recent blog posts:

2 Comments

  • Reply
    Court @ Modern Fimily
    November 6, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks for having us on ladies!

    • Reply
      Sarah & Laura
      November 7, 2019 at 1:42 pm

      Loved sharing you’re story! Thanks for contributing! 😀

    Leave a Reply