Reader Case: When Your Best Laid Plans are Derailed

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It’s time for another reader case! This one is about how no matter how carefully you plan your path to FI, sometimes things come along unexpectedly and derail you.

Kind of like parenting actually. No matter how carefully I plan my day, Little Matchstick has a knack for turning it all upside down and you just have no clue he’s going to do next.

So, without further ado, (and before my baby boy wakes up and takes over my day), let’s get to it!

“Hello FireCracker, Wanderer, and Little MatchStick! (congratulations BTW).

My husband is SunShine and I am MoonBeam…Nice to meet you!

The best laid plans…Side railed!

I am 49 years old and my husband is 53.5 years old. I borrowed a copy of Quit Like a Millionaire from a friend back in the fall of 2021 and never gave it back. Since then I have read it 3 times, loaned it to my brother, bought a copy for my nephew’s high school graduation present, and recommended it to several other friends. “My” copy is well loved, has a torn front cover, warped pages, is highlighted, underlined, and dog eared and I plan to read it again. I started on my FI journey, though be it late, when I first cracked open your book. I began the online investment series, read the Simple Path to Wealth, Die with Zero, and most recently, Pathfinders.  I joined travel on points groups and want to thank you for that golden nugget. I have always been a saver and call myself parsimonious. I had to find a fancy term for cheap and thrifty. We were on track to retire at 55 and 59.5. I would be able to take advantage of the 401k rule of 55 and my husband would be old enough he could draw from his IRAs without early withdrawal penalties. 

However, earlier this year, Sunshine was diagnosed with Early/Young Onset Alzheimer’s disease and according to the Social Security Administration the survival for him is 8-10 years on average and they say many people require institutionalization. We do not have long term care insurance and I plan to keep him at home to take care of him. My world came crashing down and I am just now catching my breath. I want to retire ASAP so we can spend his “good years” traveling, visiting friends, and doing the things we planned to do 6 years from now. 

We need to reexamine our investments and retirement strategy. Your book made sense to me. I love math, “Math that Sh*t Up.” Sunshine was fired from his job in September 2022 and has not been able to maintain “substantially gainful employment,” due to his attention and memory deficits. We have been living on my income since then. He applied for Social Security Disability in April 2023 and we are waiting on a favorable decision.We have a condo that we currently rent to tenants and we have our primary home. Both cars are paid off and we have approximately $960,000 combined in retirement and investment accounts. 

I want to know what is the best strategy…

Do we:

1) sell our house, pay off the condo, move into it and live mortgage free?

2) sell our house, invest the money, move into the condo and pay the mortgage?

3) put tenants in our house, maintain the condo tenants, hit the road and travel and stay with family for reduced rent?

4) stay put and not change anything, exhaust investments and sell the house later for my retirement?

5) What other suggestions do you have?

Ideally, I would love to keep our house, but I do not see how that is realistic. My siblings have offered for us to move in with them for cheap rent, say $1200/month and we will likely need the support system. But they live in another State and currently we live in a State with no income tax and also our trust and powers of attorney are already set up here. 

My husband and I made many financial mistakes in our past and I need to be smart going forward. Like you said, the past does not matter, what we do now does!

Can we realistically retire? or do I need to keep working part-time and retire when? I need to consider health insurance which is currently provided for both of us through my employer. I am healthy and other than Alzheimer’s, so is my husband. He should be approved for Social Security Disability which will give him Medicare Insurance after 2 years of Disability retroactively from when we applied in April 2023. Also once he is approved, he will be able to withdraw from his IRAs without the early withdrawal penalty. I can work on a Roth Conversion for my IRA. I plan to use withdrawal and tax strategies to keep our income low to qualify for subsidies for Affordable Care Act plans if in fact we can retire now. 

So here are the numbers:

My gross income $125,000. After maxing out 401k in 2023, Net $102,500. Once approved, likely April 2024, Sunshine will collect $2300/month in Social security for his life. 

Rental Income on condo $1700/month, $20,400 per year, Negative cash flow of -$300, after Property Manager 10%, and $1620 mortgage, $210 HOA

Rental Unit: Purchased June 2021 for $333,000, +$45,000 rehab, with a mortgage balance $261,000 at 5.250% on a 30 year note. Could sell for $330,000 (underwater)

Primary Home Purchased May 2020 for $435,000, with a mortgage balance $333,000 at 2.625%, 11.5 year left on mortgage. Could Sell for $635,000 or rent for $2600/month

Total Monthly Expenses: $7900/month

  • $4000/month in food, travel, utilities, vehicles, etc.
  • Primary Residence $3600/month (PITI $3200, Landscaper $150, Pool $250) 
  • No car payments on owned 2017 subaru crosstrek 67,000 miles, and 2017 subaru outback 73,000 miles
  • Considering selling one car to reduce monthly expenses by $200/month

Investments Total = $956,400. Asset Allocation roughly 70/30 and will maintain that as our comfort zone for now. 

  • I have $33,000 in work 401k with a 4% company match. I have an IRA with $327,000, a roth IRA with $72,000 and an annuity that I can transfer to my IRA in 2025 with $56,700.
  • My husband has a IRA with $143,000, a roth IRA with $80,000, and same annuity with $137,700. 
  • We have a joint investment account with $85,000 that we can use as an emergency fund as needed and a HYSA emergency fund with $22,000. 

Thank you for taking the time. I love your book, emails and website. We wish you well and Happy Holidays!


Sunshine and MoonBeam

Ok, first of all, given that we lost Wanderer’s dad to cancer less than 4 months ago, I just want to say my heart goes out to you. It sucks when someone you love is diagnosed with a degenerative, debilitating disease and there’s nothing you can do about it. The only thing we have control over is how we spend the present moments and living it with no regrets.

As Charlie Munger once said: “The best armour of old age is a well spent life preceding it”.

So, before I even dive into the numbers, my first instinct is to say, spend as much time together, making happy memories as you can. The whole point of FI is to buy back your time doing exactly that, so if you don’t know how much time left you have to spend it being happy and healthy, prioritize “time spent being healthy” above everything else.

I also understand that you want to make sure your finances are still sound for the inevitable healthcare bills so it is a bit of a juggling act. Let’s see if we can make it all work. Time to Math that Shit Up!


Income: $102,500/year (Net) + $27,600/year Social Security (starting April 2024)
Rental Income:$1700/month
Rental Expenses:$2000/month
Investments: $956,400
Debt: -$333,000 (primary home), – $261,000 (rental property)
Property: $635,000 (primary home) + $330,000 (rental property)

Maintain Status Quo:

Given that S&M (teehee!) has monthly expenses of $7900/month but a negative cashflow from their rental property of $300/month, they’re total monthly expenses become $8200/month or $98,400/year. This would make their FI number $98,400 x 25 = $2,460,000 to enable them to safely withdraw 4% per year.

If they were to keep their properties, with investable assets of $956,400, they would need an additional $1,503,600 in order to be FI.

At their savings rate of $130,100/year (after social security kicks in next year) – $98,400 = $31,700 or 24%, this would take:

YearBalanceContributionsROI (6%)Total

12 years!

This is starting from the time next April when their social security has kicked in. They’ll be FI at or before their mortgages are paid off. Once their house is paid off in the year they become FI, their contributions will grow even more and their portfolio will increase even faster.

That being said, time is a factor given Sunshine’s diagnosis, so I wouldn’t consider this good enough. They’ve asked us to run a few scenarios, so let’s see how those play out.

1: Sell house, pay off the condo, move in

After the 5% real estate agent fee, the house should net them $635,000 x 95% – $333,000 (mortgage) = $270,250.

The condo has $261,000 left on the mortgage, so paying it off would leave $270,250 – $261,000 = $9250, which they can toss into their investments. It may not seem like much left over, but remember, they are mortgage-free now, so that should do something interesting to the rest of their numbers.

Moving into the condo would eliminate their monthly housing cost of $3600, and the mortgage on the condo is gone, so they’d only have to pay the monthly ownership costs outside of mortgage, which we can figure out by taking their total condo expenses of $2000 and getting rid of the $1650 mortgage payment, so their ownership costs become a skinny $2000 – $1650 = $350 per month.

This makes their monthly expenses $7900 – $3600 (primary mortgage gone) + $350 (condo carrying costs) = $4650/month or $55,800/year. This means their FI number becomes $55,800 x 25 = $1,395,000. Since their expenses drop, their yearly contributions jump to savings rate of $130,100 – $55,800 = $74,300, or 57%. These are pretty big changes, so let’s throw this into our table and see how long FI will take them:

YearBalanceContributionsROI (6%)Total

Technically 4 years, but let’s just call that 3. Close enough.

So, from 8 down to 3! That helps a lot.

2: Sell house, invest, keep the condo mortgage, and move in

What if they kept the condo mortgage?

Selling the house nets them $270,250 after real estate agent fees, which they can add to their portfolio.

Moving into the condo would eliminate their monthly housing cost of $3600, but they’d still  have to pay $2000/month for the condo, which would drop their expenses to $7900 – $3600 (primary mortgage gone) + $2000 (condo mortgage) = $6300/month or $75,600/year. Savings now becomes: $130,100 – $75,600 = $54,500 or 42%.

This gives them an FI # of $75,600 x 25 = $1,890,000, which would take:

YearBalanceContributionsROI (6%)Total

Slightly less than 5 years.

Eh, not feeling it. Better than the status quo but not as good as option 1. There appears to be no advantage to keeping the condo mortgage around.

3. Rent out house, rent out condo, travel, and rent from siblings

Renting out the house would give them $2600/month which is $1000 less than the $3600/month it costs them! So right off the bat I can tell the negative cashflow option of $1000/month makes no sense, since this would also add on top of the negative cash-flow condo situation as well. Plus, this option seems to involve quitting now, which means they stop their journey towards FI and start spending down their investments now.

So unfortunately, I can’t recommend this option because it will involve eating into their savings while simultaneously losing their health insurance before Sunshine’s Medicare kicks in.

4. Rent out condo, exhaust investments, sell house in retirement

My interpretation of this scenario is they would spend down the portfolio instead of invest and live off the income. In this case, their $956,400 would last $956,400/$98,400 = 9.7 years. Their house mortgage would be paid off in 11 years, so they would run out of money before their house is paid off. This plan also worries me because their entire life savings would be in one illiquid asset–the house–and who knows what the housing market will be like by then. This plan relies too much on luck and the local housing market, so I would advise against this option.

5. Other ideas: Sell house, sell condo, invest everything, move in with siblings

They asked for other ideas, so here’s one: what if they sell everything and take advantage of the cheap rent from their siblings? How does that change the numbers?

After selling the house and the condo, they would net $270,250 (proceeds from house) + $330,000 (condo) x 95% (real estate commissions) – $261,000 (condo mortgage) = $322,750.

Their expenses goes down to $7900 – $3600 (primary mortgage gone) + $1200 (rent) = $5500/month or $66,000/year.

This gives an FI # of $66,000 x 25 = $1,650,000 and a savings rate of $130,100 – $66,000 = $64,100 or 49%.

In this scenario, getting to FI will take them…

YearBalanceContributionsROI (6%)Total

Just under 3 years!

So option 5 is the winner by tiny margin over option 1 because it lets them free up the most equity by selling the properties while dropping their housing costs via living with family. However, there’s a fairly big assumption baked into this scenario, which is I’m assuming that it’s possible for Moonbeam to continue working if they move in with their siblings who live in another state. Many jobs can’t do this, so if the job isn’t portable, then the best scenario would be #1: Sell house, pay off the condo, move in.

This gets them to FI in a little over 3 years, and then after that, they can consider moving in with her siblings. As we learned during Wanderer’s protracted stint in care-giving jail, having family around who are able to help care for a loved is a huge benefit since the burden isn’t all on you. Plus, this gives Medicare time to kick in, which takes 2 years after being approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

Normally, in a situation like this I would suggest quitting now and travelling while Sunshine’s health is the best, but given that we’re facing a long-term chronic health issue under the American health care system, I would not want to risk messing around with insurance coverage any more than you absolutely have to. Stay insured under your existing policy and wait for Medicare to kick in. You do NOT want to be dealing with a medical emergency while stuck in a waiting period between health coverage periods.

What do you think? Which option would you go with?

Update from another reader’s story:

For those of you on the FI path, to keep you motivated and inspired, I thought I’d share an update from a reader, who has one of the most interesting stories ever shared on this blog. Casie went from broke and homeless to having 100K in 1 year. And not only that, her portfolio has continued to grow since 2020, so much that she wrote this to me recently:

“Officially half a millionaire 🎉 I have 470k in stock market and 30k In real estate. its crazy to look back 4 years ago when I read your book and got the courage to open up Vanguard account in Dec. 2019…I will message you every time  I hit a milestone, since you are the one that helped me get started on this mission thank you again.”

Wow! From 0 to $100K in one year, and then from $100K to $500K in just 3 years! Amazing. Hope you are inspired by her story to keep going in your FI paths.

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29 thoughts on “Reader Case: When Your Best Laid Plans are Derailed”

  1. Very sorry to hear about the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
    Very first thing to do is sell a car. Someone with cognitive difficulties should not be driving, full stop.
    Sunshine is not working. Would he enjoy something to do, like landscaping and pool maintenance? The responsibilities and physical activity might be good for him. This would reduce some of your expenses. If the landscape and pool maintenance are too much of a challenge for Sunshine, then driving is likely not a good idea either.
    Please make sure you have Sunshine’s wishes for care well thought out and communicated to your family. Taking care of the legal stuff now will save you grief later if Sunshine becomes unable to make the necessary decisions.
    Good luck

  2. i will concentrate on the positive to make it easier for you guys

    ignore the old 4% rule and balanced portfolio ..

    its 20th C ….. so many great funds today to invest in that are income based ..

    i made $1.5 million in one year during the Covid crisis , buy low etc

    currently making $45k a month in dividends

    the new funds are from the Defiance group .. . its tough for most us to understand but the big dividends of 50 – 100 % are from specialised selling withing the fund

    do your research and good luck

    1. I agree. Ditch the 4% rule in this case. It’s way too conservative and based on 30 year success rate with a conservative portfolio. I’d plan around a 100% equity portfolio and a 5-6% withdrawal rate. If the market does crash for the first few years in a row, then just go back to work for a year.

      1. Dont know about Defi (will read) but I also agree 4% is way to conservative and anything less than 90% equity (in ETFs) is a waste of opportunity. I think more like 6-7% at least for actual returns on equity ETFs.

        1. I could have retired a few years sooner if I didn’t stick to the 4% rule as I’ve always been 100% equities. 4% is safe sure, but it assumes never ever making another dime in life, no old age security’s etc plus investing in dead money assets like bonds. Its shame the FIRE community isnt more realistic. Go 100% equity and retire with 5-6% withdrawl. Get a fun side job if the markets tank 5 years in row.

  3. As a nurse … sell it all and go have some fun. Make some memories while you can. Its just stuff. You don’t want any obligations hanging over you beside making the best of every day with your hubby. You don’t need the energy suck of thinking about a roof, pool or tenants. When things get rough with him, you aren’t going to say, ‘gee, I wish I had worked more’ … and .. write it all down. His wishes for end of life. A will is for your stuff. You both need to decide what he wants with his body- CPR or no. I can not stress enough, this stuff needs to be written down and shared.

  4. Moving in with siblings would allow for a shared care and staying away from institutionalisation for longer. I speak from my experience with my Dad who has got dementia and has been at a care home since January. Dementia affects differently but in any case sharing the burden of care with others helps not just physically but mentally too. Good luck.

  5. Something for S&M to consider, with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, is that the most financially optimal solution might not be THEIR most optimal solution. A good question to ask as they’re weighing options would be how attached they to their primary residence and how familiar Sunshine is with it. As his condition progresses, surroundings he is highly familiar with will help manage his cognitive condition. If at all possible, with their other goals, I would make maintaining their home a high priority.

    1. I agree. Home must provide ease for the immediate couple when his memory deteoriates further. They need privacy, space, and safety, etc.

      Not other family members living so close around them in same house.

  6. I would consider not doing Roth conversions. The medical bills may be significant. If have funds needed from tIRA likely will have medical bills that can be itemized to offset taxes. If spouse was fired for inability to do job sounds like potential ability to collect disability / discriminatory firing due to medical condition. A few other thoughts – Can you reduce your hours to point where have more time to enjoy life but still keep your medical benefits ? Or take a sabbatical and keep medical ?

  7. So sad to hear about the health diagnosis for Sunshine and how it impacts their future together. Glad that they had found Quit like a Millionaire before this dramatic turn for their family, so they were moving in the right direction with their financial planning and also knew they had alternatives. Personally I think if I were in the same boat I would take the option 1 of sell the house, pay off the condo mortgage etc. This would have the advantage of getting to spend more time together quicker, not a major dramatic life change such as moving out of state with siblings, and still give you precious time with just the two of you. Moonbeam must also plan for her future financial stability and being debt free at a time of a lot of health stress, and having stable housing, would be my goal I think. All the best to them.

  8. I have personal experience of Alzhemiers, growing up around my grandmother who was diagnosed around age 50. You may be stable for a period of time and than sharp decline in a short space of time, then stable again and another sharp decline and so on. My advice, get ur affairs in order, sell everything and go travelling overseas while his disease is not too bad. Buy him a tracking device, sew his details on his clothes just in case you get separated. In a few years when he starts becoming really unwell move in or buy near family as you will need all the help and support as both of you will be significantly older by than. You may still be able to work part time and portfolio will cover the rest. Sorry to say this but in 10-11years, your expenses will be less after his passing so calculating expenses for 25yrs or 4% withdrawal is inaccurate. You are good for money but low on time. I am really very sorry for your diagnosis.

  9. I think Firecracker’s analysis was brilliant and thoughtful. While it’s easy to say “sell everything and go traveling,” she considered long-term healthcare costs, etc. which is a reality – it’s much better to plan for that now than to get hit with that at the worst possible time in 10 years. They can take some nice vacations in the next three years while getting everything else organized and prepared for FI. I think the advice was spot on.

    1. I am sorry but there was nothing easy about saying any of the above. I am 4 years away from my FI and tend to math shit it very carefully. But my advice is based on time. Sunshine has already been diagnosed with early onset or the first stage of Alzheimers. The average timespan of this stage is 2 years but according to Moonbeam he is already having difficulty with his memory enough that he cannot maintain a job which means its progressing rapidly and 3 years may be too late. Moonbeam also says she wants to look after him at home which will be financially sensible as most people in Moderate stage (average 2-4yrs) are quite healthy but need round the clock supervision so Moonbeam will have to leave her job early anyway to look after him. She will need help so moving closer to family or having a caregiver to give her a break from time to time would be an option. Moonbeam may be able to get a caregivers benefit for looking after Sunshine as well as his Disability from state. Severe stage (average 1 to 2.5 yrs) is when most people are fully dependent and cannot even do daily tasks for themselves and Moonbeam is also going to require emotional support. Again I am very sorry for your situation Moonbeam and I wish you and Sunshine the best.

  10. I’d look into metabolic thearpy. Try a keto diet. Or at the very least elimate all processed foods. Go for daily walks and challenge the mind somehow.

  11. The Fire community is changing…..I was so excited about Econome after listening to the latest episode of ChooseFI but when I went to sign up I got so frustrated. Half a grand for the conference? Really? Once more I realize that the old frugal days of the FIRE movement is over and now it’s about showing off what they call “quality of life” and “value spending”. I feel like this is not my community anymore! Where are those who seek FIRE through hard savings and living WELL below their means? Frugals and minimalists? It seems everyone in the community is already at fat FI/a multimillionaires and we beginners or struggling low middle class are left out once again! Sorry about the rant but I wish so badly I had a place in this community.

    1. I too feel this every time I listen to a podcast or read something on the current FIRE blogs. Especially after that hideous book “Die with zero” people are just not FIRE anymore, they just want to live a good life…but they don’t realize 90% of their listeners are just starting…so frustrating!! I hear you Mary

      1. I thought I was the only one who hated that stupid book (Die with Zero)! I have given up listening to all these rich blowhards talk about how they struggle to spend their money now— really freaking out of touch. This one and the old MMM blogposts are about the only ones I can stomach anymore.

        1. Absolutely. Another one here who hated that book and I totally agree with you SK on the “struggle to spend” rhetoric. It’s outrageous! We should start a FIRE sub-movement to bring it back to the basics and provide people like Mary above a place where we can discuss without fear of being considered cheap!
          Another cult we should take on is the house ownership. I can’t hear about it anymore…this blog is the only one who advocates against it

          1. Really great points about the quality of the FIRE space. It seems the originators have all become filthy rich, and their new information is not relevant. I made a similar point on a different blog after reading so many of these bloggers state how they are going back to work because they now need to have multiple millions to feel okay with their life. Really… Their spending would have to be above $100,000 US per year even with really conservative withdrawal rates. Most people don’t make this in a year BEFORE taxes.

            Totally in agreement with Ralph about the housing as well. A lot of the FIRE blogs are still pushing housing as an investment when it isn’t anywhere near the 1% rule of thumb in the majority of cities throughout the US and likely other countries. I’m pretty much going back to re-reading Early Retirement Extreme at this point.

            1. Great reminder about the ERE blog. He is the root of all the movement and we cannot forget about those precious lessons. Of course living on 7k a year is not realistic anymore due to accumulated inflation but 25, 30k sure it is

    2. Weird tangent on this particular case-study thread. Perhaps you meant to rant on another thread? And for those complaining about “Die with Zero”, I’m curious whether you’ve ever faced a terminal illness or health challenge? Have you ever faced the prospect of dying before you plan to die? Yes, there’s been a shift in the FIRE movement away from extreme frugality at the cost of living and towards spending on what matters most to you while ruthlessly cutting the rest. As a few others have pointed out above, Sunshine’s time horizon is approximately 10 years, so planning on 25x income for his “retirement” simply doesn’t make sense, and it’s obnoxious and tone-deaf to suggest otherwise or to blast a book called “Die with Zero” on this particular post, of all freaking places. Go back to MMM and the original hard-core, yet miserable, FIRE acolytes. I hope you never face the prospect of running out of life before you have a chance to run out of all that money you saved/earned/invested.

      1. I’d happily die with all my money ..when you die, you just don’t care what happens, you’re dead!
        25x income simply doesn’t make sense? What are you talking about. This is the core principle of FIRE..i see that you’re not part of the root of the movement.

        1. When you have 10 years left to live, 10x your income is sufficient. Why waste 5 of those 10 years working to save to 25x? At that point, you only have 5 years left to live and 25 years’ worth of living expenses, which is just plain silly. The whole point of FIRE was to save up enough money to buy back your time (i.e., the rest of your life). I’m very familiar with the origins of the FIRE movement and its foundational principles, and those principles did not include a hard and fast rule of 25x – 25x was simply a useful rule of thumb. If you were given 10 years left to live and you had 10x your income, how many more days would you spend working?

  12. I don’t understand why you didn’t drop the SS benefit from the annual total needed to be generated from the portfolio. Yes, to maintain the status quo they need to spend $8200/month or $98,400/year, but you neglected to subtract the SS $27,600 from that number before multiplying by 25x. They don’t need their portfolio to generate the whole $98,400, just the amount remaining after accounting for the SS benefit payments. If you do that, then the total portfolio amount needed would be $98,400-$27,600=$70,800 x 25 = $1,770,000, not the $2,460,000 you indicate.

    The way you calculated it, 4% of their portfolio has to cover ALL of their spending, when in reality, $2300/month will come from SS in every scenario you produced. FI number = the amount of spending you need your portfolio to cover annually x 25. Their options improve drastically if you do this. Or am I missing something?

  13. Can someone please help me understand how in the first scenario, contributions between year 1 and year 2 jump from 31,700 to 64100? This isn’t clear. Furthermore, it’s unclear how/why the contributions column continues to change in that scenario. Thanks!

  14. Thank you for sharing this sincere perspective. It serves as a powerful reminder for us all to cherish the soccer skills world cup, prioritize our relationships and live a life without regrets. May Wanderer and their family find solace and strength during these trying times, and may we all strive to make the most of the time we have with our loved ones.

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