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Hello and welcome back to our FIRE series! In my quest to find out whether FIRE still works in a bear market, I’m interviewing people on different parts of the FIRE journey in our community.
Today, I want to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs Chaos, a couple with 4 kids, whom we met at the Greece, Chautauqua. Trying to get to FI is already hard enough, but to do it with 4 kids?! Yikes!
Mrs. Chaos is what we refer to in the FIRE community as a “drag along spouse”. Mr. Chaos having just discovered FIRE in early 2018, “dragged” Mrs.Chaos to Chautauqua to find like-minded people to “convert” her. Mrs. Chaos having never heard of Mr. Money Mustache or the 4% Rule on the first day of Chautauqua, after being introduced to JLCollins (aka the founder of the Chautauquas) asked:
“Oh, is this also your first Chautauqua?”
Gotta love her for keeping us humble!
If you want to read all the juicy details about how reluctant Mrs.Chaos was towards the Chautauquas and what changed her mind, read her brilliant post here:
A lot has changed since we last saw them in 2018. Mr. Chaos quit his job and their entire family of 6 has moved to Spain. They are now spending only 800 Euros a month renting a Spanish villa with swimming pool. They’ve documented their experience of living aboard with kids here:
I wanted to follow up with them to find out what it was like under lockdown in Spain and how the pandemic has affected their finances. So without further ado, here’s Mr and Mrs. Chaos:
1) How far along are you on your FIRE journey? (please provide %)
Mr Chaos – This should be such a simple question given I work in finance and I know how to multiply by 25. But, we don’t know where we’ll end up in the longer term and we have experienced how widely our living costs vary by location. I’d estimate we’re somewhere between 50% and 70%.
2) How did you discover FIRE?
Mr Chaos – A friend recommended the ChooseFI podcast in early 2018. I had about five simultaneous thoughts on discovering FI. 1) the math is crazy easy, 2) why hadn’t I thought of this before 3) FI opens up soooo many options 4) seriously, how did I not figure out this myself, and 5) how do I get Mrs Chaos on board.
Mrs Chaos – My husband is very sneaky. He convinced me to go to a “personal finance conference” in Greece. All under the false pretext that I only had to attend seminars for an hour a day, and I could spend the rest of my time eating Greek food and sunbathing. And he arranged for my parents to take care our offspring for a week. That may have clinched the deal. You can read more about my Greek ‘holiday’ here.
Historically I used to switch off when he started rambling about finance, but he had become increasingly hard to tune out since he discovered FI. To be honest, by the time we went to Greece, Mr C had persuaded me of its merits, since it largely mirrored my own value system. Less emphasis on stuff, more emphasis on people. Though he was a little disappointed that I spent our flight to Greece watching uninterrupted movies and drinking wine rather than reading the bios of the FI superstars who were going to be there. Jim who?! Millennial what?!
3) What I find fascinating about your story is that you have 4 kids and your whole family moved to Spain after we chatted about it in Chautauqua! Can you tell us about that?
Mrs Chaos – Well that ‘holiday’ to Greece was in fact lifechanging… We made some pretty big decisions after that. Such as Mr C resigning from his job and the decision to have a year-long family sabbatical from ‘traditional’ work whilst living in Spain. Some were decisions that we had been mulling over for a while but needed a gentle nudge on. Some changes were inspired by people at the Chautauqua.
It was Millennial Revolution who reviewed our numbers with us and gave us comfort that we had enough margin as well as suggesting Spain or Portugal for a sabbatical. Without the Chautauqua, I don’t think we would have had the courage or the belief that is was financially sensible. It’s a blessing and a privilege to have the means and the time together now rather than when our kids are at college.
4) You mentioned you managed to get a discount at your kids’ school by bartering for financial advice. That’s amazing. How did you manage to do that?
Mr Chaos – We found this great alternative education private school we thought would be perfect for our younger two kids to give us the space to world school our older two. The school really wanted us to enroll all four kids for the fees as they thought it would help the local Spanish kids with their English. Enrolling our older two would free up our time and give them a network of local Spanish friends, but the extra cost was more than we had budgeted for.
So we had a chat with the school to suggest a reduction in fees in exchange for Mrs Chaos running an afternoon science club and myself helping with finances (given my background as a chartered accountant). The school were very willing to compromise. Sometimes you just have to ask. An unanticipated benefit of our ‘volunteering’ has been getting to know the school staff and lots of parents really well. There is no doubt that this helped us settle more quickly than we otherwise would have.
5) How has the pandemic affected your finances?
Mr Chaos – we’re invested largely in index funds and our net worth has taken a hit. It does seem to be bouncing back, though I hadn’t looked at it this year until I had to answer question 1 above. On the plus side, we’ve not had to sell any investments as we’d set aside enough cash to cover our sabbatical. From a day to day perspective, our living expenses are a little lower over the last couple of months, though perhaps not as much as you might expect as we were already living fairly frugally.
6) Since schools are closed, you’ve had to world-school your kids during the shutdown. What’s that been like?
Mrs Chaos – Honestly, the first couple of weeks were not pleasant. We’ve written about it here. But in summary, Mr C and I had differing expectations and the school overloaded our eldest with a ton of work to justify their fees. But we’ve sorted out those teething problems and have hit our groove.
I’d also highlight that home schooling under lockdown is very different from how we would do world schooling. So much of world schooling is about learning on location – visiting local museums, nature reserves, and local attractions. That’s not been possible during lockdown. An extended road trip of the Americas is still on our radar – and we’ll be practicing world schooling in its purest form on that trip.
7) What are your plans after FIRE-ring? Any passion projects you want to work on?
Mr Chaos – Wow, I could write a full blog post about every one of these questions. There is so much I’d love to say about this one. But in all honesty I also don’t think we’ll ever RE in the true sense of the word – though the ‘work’ that we do once FI will be entirely because of the purpose it brings rather than for the salary attached to it.
Our approach to FI is not a sprint for the finish line. More like a hike in a national park where we’re trying to enjoy the views and the journey (whilst ignoring Mrs Chaos our kids whining about the heat and hunger). While our kids are young we’ll continue to prioritize spending time with them whilst they still want us around .
We could work our asses off and retire in 5 to 10 years but we’ll have missed lots of important stuff by then. FI has given us the insight to look at our finances in a different way and realize we have a lot of flexibility. We’ve made the decision to step out of the rat race and do what really matters for us. For right NOW. If retiring takes us longer, we are okay with that. One of the things I have a passion for is using my accountancy and finance skills and experiences to help small organizations overcome their fear of finance. I love showing them how the right finance information can lead to better decisions. The plus side of this passion is that it can generate an income (or a cost reduction if you barter!), and I’m looking to do a bit more of this in the coming months.
8) What do your family members back in the States and in the UK think about your FIRE plans?
Mrs Chaos – We focus on the options that FI gives you when speaking to family and friends – and how for example, those options have allowed us to take a sabbatical in Spain. Its been an interesting mix of responses. Some are genuinely interested and really want to understand how they can apply some of these principles to their lives. Some disengage when they conclude that the changes required are not a possibility for them.
We have found that getting a sense for where someone is before launching into a discussion of FI works best. If they are interested and keep asking questions, then you keep going. But if their eyes glaze over, then its time to talk about granite worktops or the weather. What has been exciting has been distant friends getting in touch to say they’ve heard what we’re doing and wanting to meet up to find out how they can do it. A family member recently called about a year after our last conversation, to say he’d just read The Simple Path to Wealth and wanted to discuss it.
9) What were your finances like before and after discovering FIRE?
Mr Chaos – we’re both frugal and always held fast to the principal of never spending more than we earned – and never borrowed money other than for a house. I remember saving over 15% of my take home salary of $1,100 per month from my first ‘real’ job.
My problem was always uncertainty around investing. Because of that uncertainty, we ‘invested’ in a much too large house in 2007, and continued to ‘invest’ our savings in extra mortgage payments… We sold that house last year and are now all in on global index funds.
Mrs Chaos – I’ve never been interested in personal finance. Still not. But I don’t like wasting money. The big thing for me that has changed since discovering FIRE is that we are much more comfortable with our financial position. That meant we knew we could take a yearlong sabbatical instead of a 2 or 3 month break. The pursuit of FI has given us more flexibility.
10) Do you have any advice for families trying to become FI? And any advice for them on getting through this pandemic?
Mrs Chaos – The pursuit of FI can be a long haul at the best of times, and it stretches out even further in front of you when you have kids. But FI is not binary, and my advice would be to give yourself permission to slow down and / or take breaks along the way by working part-time / taking sabbaticals.
Those pauses to recharge and recalibrate as a family can give you the energy for the next push. Or can show you that a longer slower journey might work best for your family.
I was hoping you were going to give us some advice on getting through the pandemic! A week in we thought that zoom was the answer. It’s not. We’ve tried a few things, but the most effective one for our kids (and Mr C!) has been a wish jar.
Bwahahah. You guys crack me up. Thanks, Mr and Mrs.Chaos for sharing your story.
If you have kids, have you ever considered living in another country with your family? What do you think of Mr. and Mrs Chaos plan to slow down on the way to FI by working part time or taking sabbaticals along the way?
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