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Brother opened eyes to possibility of ER
Old 02-17-2015, 10:28 AM   #1
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Brother opened eyes to possibility of ER

My brother opened my eyes to the possibility of ER.
He retired two years ago at the age of 55. I consider him, and all others with a work history similar to his, an anomaly. He graduated with an engineering degree, and, straight out of college, was hired by a California defense contractor. He worked for the same company for 30 years (company was sold to different huge conglomerates, twice). Not many people work for the same company for that long anymore. Also, he and his wife were VERY frugal. A heart condition opened his purse strings a little and made him pull the trigger for ER; I think he was afraid he would keel over at any moment and die and not enjoy all that money he had saved. Anyway, that's his story. The point is, he stuck to his plan, and now is happily FIREd and I look at him with a little envy.

My story is not even close to his!
I started out in engineering school too, but, for lack of a motive for being in the program (but not for grades; I was on the Dean's list) and because I found it so dry, I switched to an art program! Hah! I was the classic case of a high school kid who had a scholarship to college but had no idea what to do for a living. However, I couldn't just NOT go to college and let that money slip away, so I enrolled in what I was good at (science and math). But, boy, was it dry. It would have been better if I had taken a few years off after high school, but it was what it was. I knew if I quit college I wouldn't ever go back, so I switched to something I liked; got a BFA in Photography. Of course, there are no jobs in photography. I'm not a mover and a shaker; pretty introverted actually, so making it as a photographer professionally was a no-go for me. The change in majors was so radical that, in the end, it took me 6 years to get my undergraduate degree. 24 and still no real job.
I dabbled in New Age nonsense, worked for 5 years in a health food store...I reached a point where I needed some adventure. I felt if I didn't go to Europe and travel a bit I would never get the chance. So I sold all of my (meager) belongings and went to Europe for 6 weeks; then promptly to Japan on the HOPE I would get a job "teaching English" there. Lots of my granola friends were doing it, so I sort of had a connection there. I was there for about 3 weeks and I had $50 to my name, the clothes I brought with me, and a one-way (flexible) plane ticket back to the US, and no job. It was November, 1989. I was 28. Still no real job and no savings.

Then: I did get a job at one of the English schools in Osaka (living in Kyoto). Hurray!
And, for once, I made a good financial choice: Except for food and living expenses (and a little for touristy stuff), I started sending almost all the money I made in Japan back to the US.
That stash reached about $5000. I'd never had that much money to my name. One day in Japan it occurred to me that I didn't really want to live there forever, and that I really needed a real job. I needed to get on with things. So after 9 months, I packed up and went back to the US.
I floundered for a few months... and then sort of fell into a graduate program in the medical device field (there was definitely some Divine Intervention there). Took a year of pre-requisites and applied for acceptance at the same time. I was fortunate to get in. Took two more years of masters level courses and then landed a job for a supervised year of training. Recap: It's now 1996, I'm 35, and now I am finally a certified professional. But, no job, and I have $8000 in student loans.
The definite upside is that at this time I met my lovely wife! (More Divine Intervention.)
I got a job back in my home state and we were married and moved there. Two children followed (now 12 and 15). My wife just returned to the work force last September after 15 years as a SAHM (part of that was as a home-schooling mom, too).
I remain in the same medical device industry. I'm on the software/tech support side of things. I have never been paid a lot of money, but I faithfully contributed to my 401k along the way. (Never able to max it out.) I also set up regular IRAs for my wife and I and tried to contribute what we could. At the bottom of the housing crisis I converted them to Roths. (2nd good financial decision).
I'm now 54. We just passed $600,000 net worth mark (including the house). This number would be significantly higher, except that I had no alternative for a location transfer in my job also around the bottom of the housing market. We lost probably $60,000 in equity on the house and had to write a check at closing to get out of it. Our current home is very nice, but I wouldn't call it extravagant. It's our dream home. We will never sell it. We wanted to buy a house suitable for gathering grandchildren! (I will post the the incredible purchase story for that at another time; it was a nightmare, but oh so educational). Current house is worth $370,000+; the loan is now 28 years left at 3.625% with a $272,000 balance.
I'll state my goal simply: I would like to retire in 10 years when my second child finishes college. My wife is on board with that. She's the type who will love to keep working. I could retire from the rat race tomorrow if it were financially possible.
FIRECalc says the 10-year goal is possible. Using that app was my first glimmer of hope! I need to really buckle down on some things, though. I have been the culprit in wasteful spending in our household. My wife is the gold standard when it comes to frugality. I am so thankful for her. So, savings here we come! I'm also trying to bring my children on board with the FIRE philosophy.
Thanks, I look forward to many discussions on this forum!

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Old 02-17-2015, 11:06 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by dadu007 View Post
My wife is the gold standard when it comes to frugality.
Given this your chances of a successful ER are highly likely. Congratulations!

Numbers is hard.

Retired in 2005 at age 58, no pension

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Old 02-17-2015, 11:07 AM   #3
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Wow, that's quite a long and winding road you've taken to get here.

Welcome aboard, dadu007. Having a frugal spouse will certainly make LBYMing and reaching FIRE much easier and faster.

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Old 02-17-2015, 11:15 AM   #4
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Great story. For a relatively late start to your career and two kids, and the little loss of equity situation, that's a remarkable sum and your focus should get you to your ten year goal.
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Old 02-17-2015, 11:17 AM   #5
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Welcome, and having your wife on board with the goal greatly increases your odds.
I heard the call to do nothing. So I answered it.
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Old 02-17-2015, 11:30 AM   #6
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Great story! Welcome.

Got any links you'd like to share?
Living well is the best revenge!
Retired @ 52 in 2005
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Old 02-17-2015, 11:38 AM   #7
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Good story. Interesting idea about not being ready for college despite the grades. I was in the same boat - accepted to UC Berkeley out of high school but had NO IDEA what I wanted to be. Panicked, got a job locally, and moved out. A few years of working crappy insurance clerk jobs convinced me to go back to school in engineering. I doubt I would have been an engineering major if I'd gone to Berkeley. It ended up being a great field for me... even though I didn't graduate till I was in my mid-20's.

Welcome aboard.
Retired June 2014. No longer an enginerd - now I'm just a nerd.
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Old 02-17-2015, 11:40 AM   #8
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Welcome! It's wonderful to read stories about people who finally found a professional niche after some wandering. The wandering shapes us, too!

You've got compound interest on your side on the nest egg you have so far, but you can do a lot in the next 10 years, too. DH and I married in 2003 and, with the combination of 2 households, DH starting SS (he was 65, I was 50) and moving to a LCOL area we stashed away a lot of money in 10 years, managing to get DS through college, too. The amounts we were able to save and invest after we married allowed me to walk out of a job that wasn't fun anymore last year at the age of 61.

And yes, I have a frugal spouse, too. What a blessing!
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Old 02-18-2015, 04:54 AM   #9
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Wow great story

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Old 02-18-2015, 08:26 AM   #10
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Great intro. You can do it. Use firecalc as your guide and save as much as you can while still not depriving yourself. You might need to be a little aggressive on the investment side to get to the goal.

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