How to Become FI with 6 Kids, Zero Privilege, and a Small Salary

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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After our “what do you want to read about” poll, I heard you all loud and clear. All guest posts all the time!

Seriously though, you will like this guest post I swear (also I had this post scheduled before I ran the poll so deal with it)

Anyhoo…today, I want to introduce you to a very special person I met at Fincon. I didn’t know her background at the time, or the fact that she become financially independent at 32— despite growing up poor, like me, and never having a 6-figure salary. She even managed to become FI, while raising six—yes you read that right–SIX kids! Two of them are her biological children and four are adopted.

Jillian and her family. I mentioned 6 kids, but there are 5 in this picture. Read on to find out why.

All that would’ve completely blown me away, but at the time I didn’t know any of this, and I was STILL blown away. All I knew at the time was Jillian is the most carefree, bubbly, outgoing person I’d ever met. Not only was she floating around the dance floor like a carefree butterfly,  she was the only one who’d lost her voice completely by the end of Fincon by being the most outgoing, friendliest person on earth.

Little did I know, 6 years ago, Jillian had lost her son.  How could someone so happy and positive been forged in the crucible of hardship and poverty?

Well, today, I invited Jillian to tell us her story, so we can find out. She is living proof that you can become FI, build your dream life, and do it with kids—even if you didn’t come from privilege and never earned a fat salary.

For those of you who are frustrated about your FI date being too far away, or FIRE being too lofty of a goal, Jillian’s got you covered. She’s going to show you an even better way to become financially free…

Take it away, Jillian!

***

I always had big, audacious goals and dreams. Ones that I didn’t feel entirely entitled to have. Dreams that didn’t seem reasonable or even possible.

I met my husband when we were in college. Together we had $55,000 in debt and I was living in a camper. The starting salaries in our chosen fields was $24,000. $24,000 if we were lucky. Some of our friends graduated with debt and started their careers earning $16,000 or $18,000.

That all would have been fine if I had been able to settle into a normal life and normal trajectory.

But we had other plans.

We wanted to adopt kids. We wanted to travel the world. We wanted to take mini-retirements. And I wanted to create financial freedom. Oh, I also wanted to pay cash for a house. Sooner than later, preferably.

George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

I knew there was a well worn path. Get a good job, buy a house, upgrade your car every four years, save 10%, retire at 65.

I was incredibly curious if we could do things differently. Different choices and different outcomes.

It would take a lot more intention. We would need a really clear (and small) list of the things we wanted and wouldn’t compromise on. Everything else would need to be flexible. It would take more creativity to custom design our life.

Given our situation, I assumed we would not become financially independent until our 60’s. FIRE wasn’t a movement or an idea I had ever heard of. I just knew I wanted more financial freedom. Growing the gap between our earning and spending seemed like the best way to go about that.

Because I assumed financial independence was decades off, we got busy fitting in our dreams any way possible. Life delayed wasn’t an option.

Our combined annual income never hit $100,000. We would have to come up with another plan.

Mini-retirements seemed like the best option to do the time sensitive things we wanted to do instead of pushing the best of our life until 65.

We took four mini-retirements before we became FI. From a month long to 9 months. I used a month long one to travel coast to coast with my best friend. We used two of the mini-retirements to buy and renovate rentals. Because of the mini-retirements we were able to buy homes that needed extensive work. That enabled us to pay for our first house with cash and then add two rentals. The mortgage savings is about $1200 a month and we earn $1200 a month between our two rentals.

We took our last one after we hit FI and it lasted three years. We spent it resting, traveling and starting a new career doing our best work.

Without high incomes we became more focused, more creative and intentional with what we did have.

Years back we started doing a Quit List.

We would list out all the expenses, activities, hobbies, relationships, or physical possessions we were willing going to get rid of for the coming year.

It was like a game of poker. We had a new hand and wanted to be able to double down on it. Everything we gave up was extra poker chips to push to the middle of the table. We were willing to allot more time, energy and money for the chance of these new things working out. Trading the good for the great.

Our Quit List is made up of three parts.

1. Stop: All the things we are just stopping. Toxic relationships, hobbies that no longer fit, possessions that aren’t serving us well, or expenses that aren’t adding a lot of value.

2. Pause: These are good things. Things that we love and do add value. But we pause them for the month or the year. We let them go, knowing that they will have a spot in our life at some point. For example, I’m almost obsessed with ducks. They are my dream pet. We had ducks for a number of years, but two years we decided to go all in on traveling with our kids. We hit pause with the ducks. They aren’t the best travelers! Ducks will come back when the time is right.

3. Say: Not Now: There are things I know would add value to our life and are a lifelong dream. But I’ve said to those things, “not now.” I’ve wanted to build a lovely, bespoke home since I was 11. Instead, for the last 16 years of marriage, we have lived in a camper, small apartments, had roommates and purchased an ugly, mold filled home for cash. Because while a bespoke home is still a dream, other things had to come first. Travel, living abroad, adopting, and becoming financially independent.

I think there is a lot of power in knowing what you want out of life.

There are so many things we could do. An equal amount of things that we might feel like we should do. But what do you want to do?

The Quit List freed up the time, energy and money to devote them to the great things. The things we really wanted.

How to get started with mini-retirements

I’m a huge fan of mini-retirements. They are more accessible, more practical and easier to get started than FIRE. You don’t even have to leave your job. Once you have a bit of financial freedom, it’s possible to negotiate a month off. A month off, spent wisely, can be life changing. If your burned out, tired or in need of some adventure and inspiration, a month can take you a long way.

Benefits of Mini-retirements

1. More accessible: It can take years to achieve financial independence. If you don’t earn a high salary, it might be 10+ years. Most people can get started with a mini-retirement in 1-2 years.

2. Recover from burnout: If the idea of keeping your head down and pushing through for a few more years makes you want to cry, you might be burned out. If your biggest goal for retirement is sleeping in and naps, you’re probably burned out. The only way to recover from burnout is to rest. It’s incredibly hard to think creatively, dream or plan out your best life if you’re burned out. Taking a few weeks or months off can give you the fresh eyes you need.

3. Time sensitive things: Some things can’t wait. The window is closing. This year we took a 10 week road trip to 10 National Parks in a pop-up camper with our five kids. We could have waited another decade, but it’ll be a different trip in ten years. Our kids are 2-10 right now. In my 20’s, I took a month long road trip coast to coast with my best friend. It was amazing. And those days are long gone. Even if we wanted to do that again, that season has passed for both of us. We have more epic trips ahead of us, but not that one. Some things have a shelf life. Mini-retirements lets you do those before the moment passes you by.

4. Test out FIRE: Change is scary. Step into the unknown and things might not work out like you plan. Retiring in your 30’s or 40’s is no exception. A Mini-retirement let’s you test this thing out. “Experiments” are easier to stomach than “this is our new life forever.”

5. Start something new: My working definition of a mini-retirement is this: any time we step away from the 9-5 to do something that matter to us. You get to define what that is. I think it’s a great time to start something new. Tour with a band. Renovate or build a home. Write a book. Start a business. Learn to surf. Just start something new.

6. Less risk: Stepping away from paid work forever feels risky. Really anything new that stretches us and puts us outside of our comfort zone feels risky. I mentor people through work transitions. People starting mini-retirements, stepping away from the 9-5, restructuring or selling companies, or starting a new business. You know what they all feel as we go through the process? Fear. It’s not a bad thing. It’s always there, everytime we grow. It’s only bad if it causes people to stay stuck. One more year. Just another 100k, or another 200k. Almost everyone blames the numbers. “I just need a little bit more and then I won’t feel hesitant.” BS. I see people’s numbers every single day. No matter what the numbers are the feelings are the same. Just start. Maybe start with a month or a year. Start where ever you can stomach. The people I mentor have been able to use the confidence they have because they have more financial freedom (even if they aren’t 100% FI) to negotiate 6 months off, a month off, part time work, become self employed or switch jobs. Once you have some financial freedom, it’s time to start experimenting with how you can use that to make your life better.

7. Easier to explain: Ok, let’s be real. “Retiring” in your 30’s is weird. Same for 40’s. Actually, same for 50’s. It’s weird. Ask anyone. And it’s weird to explain. A mini-retirement is still weird, but less so. Your not burning bridges. Your friends and family will be a little bit more comfortable. Don’t get me wrong: Live a big life, a life on the edges of the norm, your best life, and someone will be uncomfortable. But a mini-retirement is a more palatable way to start. And what do I really want you to do: Just start!

Mini-Retirements on the Path to FIRE

I wasn’t planning on hitting FI so early. I was 32 when our passive income covered our expenses.

People’s biggest concern with taking mini-retirements is that it will slow the process down. The idea is “just keep your head down and push through for a few more years.” For us mini-retirements helped us speed up the process.

First it helped us be more intentional. The payoff for our savings and frugality came sooner. And it helped us figure out what we really wanted. We lived in Europe for four years and traveled every month. I learned that I love traveling! Having the flexibility to travel for 10-15 weeks a year was wonderful. I also learned, I don’t really want to travel full time! I liked coming home and doing other things. After we hit FI, we were able to build that exact life. We travel 10-15 weeks a year and are home the rest of the time. Renting out our house while we are gone covers up to half our travel cost.

We were able to buy and renovate three homes during our mini-retirements. It dramatically reduced our fixed expenses and created 30% of our passive income. Plus they created savings and earning before we hit FI which helped grow our stock investments.

Our current expenses average $30,000 a year. Only $700 a month of that are bills (insurance, cell phones, wifi, electric, water, ect) so it’s leaves a lot of room in the budget for travel and fun stuff. Our passive income includes: $17400 military pension (plus health care) and $14,400 from rentals which covers all our expenses (total of $31,800 year). We could also pull (at 4%) $8000 from investments, but we haven’t needed to pull from those yet (total passive income $39,800 year).

Mini-retirements also gave us a chance to figure out what we really wanted our life to look like. Often people work a FIRE plan for a decade based on an assumption of what they think they will want, only to find out, they don’t actually want that life. Because of mini-retirements, I was able to test different variations of FIRE. I found out that I like working on a few projects a year. I like to have a few days a week with a few hours of structured work time. So I used our last mini-retirement to figure out what work I would really enjoy. Because we don’t need the income to pay our bills, it’s fun to figure out what to do with the extra money.

Mini-Retirements don’t have to set your plans back. They can be as short as a month and very affordable. Plus they can give you a better understanding of where you want to end up. You might learn your FIRE lifestyle isn’t as expensive as you thought, or how much you can rent your home out for, or that you would want to work 10 hours a week. All that info can dramatically speed up the process.

***

 Want to find out more about Jillian and how to create your own mini-retirements? Check out:

Montana Money Adventures

She’s also designed a FREE 10 day video course, to teach you how to walk a better path:

Live with Intention

If you want to go one step farther, to meet and hang out with Jillian in person? Great news! She will be joining us as a speaker at Chautauqua this year:

UK Week 2: June 15-22

Add your name to the Mailing List for first notice when tickets go on sale.

And finally, want to hear JLCollins, the Godfather of FI’s take on Jillian’s story? Check out his post here:

“I wanted the unreasonable”

***

What do you think of Jillian’s story? Would you consider mini-retirements? What would you do with your free time?


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41 thoughts on “How to Become FI with 6 Kids, Zero Privilege, and a Small Salary”

  1. Wow. I’m impressed. This post is less about “how we achieved FIRE with six kids” and more “how everyone can achieve mini-retirements.” Too often, FIRE talk degenerates into “Yeah, but it’s only for the 1 percent” or “It’s only for insanely frugal people.”

    Jillian and her family have figured out a way to make it work with less income and more time and physical effort, putting their money into real estate rentals. They’re also giving back, speaking out for foster children instead of bragging about their millions of dollars.

    They seem like role models for life, not only for a money blueprint. I appreciate how they look at their children in the family photos, instead of the camera. I’m most moved by how their son with glasses is holding on to his father’s arm. He loves and is loved.

    Finally, I like the sound of her at FinCon. Honestly, I have minimal sincere interest in Alexa ratings and ad revenue, but enthusiastically connecting with people? YES.

  2. First time commenter here! Jillian sounds like an amazing person who has mastered the skill of choosing happiness in the face of serious obstacles.

    Mini-retirements sounds great for me as I love my career, my job will one day offer college tuition benefits to my kids, and it offers the opportunity for half-year (full pay) and whole year (half pay) sabbaticals, plus unpaid leaves.

    My question has always been how to fund mini-retirements (sabbaticals). Millennial Revolution is all about socking money into tax deferred retirement plans and then taking that money with you when you quit. As far as I can see, my employer’s 403(b) has pretty stiff penalties for getting your hands on that money while you’re still employed. I would love to hear more from Jillian or anyone else about how saving and investing strategies might differ for sabbaticals. I’ll also check out her blog to see what she says on the subject.

  3. AMAZING!!! Sometimes it’s easier when you have a regular job easy to get in/out of.
    Unfortunately if you’re stuck in a job that pays quite well and hard to find you cannot afford to take mini retirements and lose that job. If you do that you might end up taking a lot more time to achieve FIRE.

  4. Love the idea of mini-retirement, I did one over Christmas, spent time to set up my mock music studio, and considered what it would be like to spend more time there.

    We have done this to go back to Taiwan, but not for a long time. Bank all my holidays, and go in Dec/Jan, then I can take holiday from both calendar years, plus my bank.

    I signed up for Jillian’s email course, review to follow… (she lived in a camper? I love her already….)

  5. Those are some good ideas about mini-retirements. I was lucky enough to take a couple mini-retirements myself, due to changing jobs. A couple were only a few months, but one was as long as a year.

    Inevitably there’s a time gap between ending an old job and a new job, and that’s the perfect time to take a mini-retirement.

    1. A gap is an incredible opportunity! I have one client who just got a much better job and negotiated a 3 week gap to go to South America. For people who feel a little burned out, it’s a great break before starting a new job (and nice when there is a great job waiting for you!)

  6. I actually like the guest posts, I think the reason why they did so poorly on the poll was because you could only pick one answer so who here is going to go on your blog and cast their vote for hearing from someone else instead? I think I’ve read all of the guest post/interview on here and each one offers an interesting new perspective. This one not only outlines the benefits of a mini retirement but also reminded me of how much you can get done in a month if you act with intention.

    1. ^This. Liz is right. The guest posts can be excellent, like this one.

      I will always prefer to hear your voices because this is your blog. But if the poll had asked for my top three options, I might have included guest posts in my selections. I love hearing from other people in this community. They usually give me a different perspective on an aspect of FIRE I wasn’t thinking about.

      This is your blog and you can do anything you dang well like with it! If you like guest posts, post the guests!

  7. All good things are possible to those who believe and do the transformation business work out of inspiration or desperation and operate in faith at full strength! 🙂

  8. Jillian,

    Would you still have been to retire if you didn’t have the military pension and paid for medical ?

    What would medical have costed your family if you had to pay for it?

    Thanks

    1. Exactly my thoughts when reading the guest post. Almost quit reading when I saw the ‘military pension’ which is more than minimum wage many people live on. And health care (presumably Military TriCare). The thoughts about buying rental property are probably right on, but without the military pension I wonder if they would have qualified for the mortgages….So many inspirational speakers either underestimate or gloss over key factors which turn their self reliance tale into yet another story from Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”. This is not to diminish the importance of the other many frugal mindset tips, and the ‘mini-retirement’ term. Never heard that before even though my spouse and I are currently on one! Thanks for that.

      1. We paid cash for our first home. Our first rental we took out a $38k loan. For our second rental we were both working full time. Having the pension is a great way to balance our income sources, but didn’t play a role in getting our 3 homes. I think most hard working, creative and smart people can figure out a way to create $1450 in monthly income. With the internet, so many more things are possible than they were 20 years ago.

        While I’m so proud of my husband for his service in the military and love the military so much, I would never recommend it just for a pension. There are much easier and faster ways to get that outcome.

    2. I think we would have gotten to FI much faster if my husband didn’t join the military! But he had his heart set on public service. I haven’t ever researched what our premiums would be, but Justin from Root of Good used the ACA and pays less out of pocket than we do. Because we have insurance we can’t switch. But I imagine we could pay less with out military coverage. Medical is still our 3rd largest yearly expense.

  9. Jillian, the quit list is something we will be using going forwards. Time is so limited with kids. If we don’t quit some things, there is no space for anything new. And that could lead to settling for the ordinary instead of intentionally choosing the extraordinary

  10. I love the idea of mini retirements. I wish I was more aware about FIRE during my two first mini retirements. I think I could had enjoyed more and learned skills no related to my carrer. Nowadays I realize it is not so positive to focus on specialization. It’s is healthy to find who you are without a carrer.
    Jillian you have a unique experience, thanks for sharing your learnings!

    1. There are so many money earning options out there for those willing to be self taught. I have friends who freelance and travel full time. Learned everything they needed for almost free online.

      1. I heard of a couple who went from broke to side hustle travel blogging millionaires. Regardless what’s going on in the world today, there’s all kinds of money to be made online. Millions of dollars in long $ gUaP $ to tap into! 🙂

  11. FI at 32 with 6 kids ? lol, suppose it depends on one’s definition of FI

    if those kids go to University they will be laiden with massive debt…esp if they head to a professional faculty. Good grief

    1. Who says they have to go to university? From where I’m sitting, a bachelors degree is becoming less and less relevant. I haven’t even bothered to pick mine up after graduating yet.

      What the world needs – and is increasingly paying for – is people who can get things done: trades like plumbers, electricians, and pilots.

      And even if you decide university is the way to go, there are options that don’t cost a fortune, especially for those willing and able to study abroad. It’s mostly just in the US that you indebt yourself for life. Even in Quebec a bachelors from a top university costs as little as $12,000.

      You don’t need to make spending six figures on university the end-all, be-all of having children.

      Good grief.

      1. just in the US? clueless

        dental school or medical school in Canada is $35,000-40,000/yr tuition

        University of Waterloo, engineering- approx $20,00o /yr tuition

        and you are from Canada, no less. lol

        ‘You don’t need to make spending six figures on university the end-all, be-all of having children.’

        WHO said you did? good grief

        1. And a bottle of Dom Perignon costs $1,000, yet I still enjoy my $6 Henkel just fine.

          Even an engineering degree from a school like McGill costs somewhere on the order of $4000/year for residents. Given that information, what do I care what Waterloo costs?

          If my dream were to have 6 kids, I don’t think the possible unavailability of sending them to dental school would sway me from reaching my goals. Call me an anti-dentite if you want.

          Your initial post – with its lol and “good grief” – reeks of pessimism; I was just trying to point out the other side, for those without complainypants disease.

          1. ‘Even an engineering degree from a school like McGill costs somewhere on the order of $4000/year for residents. Given that information, what do I care what Waterloo costs?’

            what? cause your original post was blatantly inaccurate; only in the US are you indebted for life. Its expensive IN YOUR country, lol. Unless Quebec finally got its separation? haha. Canada is graduating doctors and dentists that will have MASSIVE debts,…. now you know.

            AND speaking of indebted for life, …..Canadians largely fit the bill with its pathetic housing costs. Yikes, what has happened to Canada!?!! OUCH!!!

            1. One thing I learned, and I think fits the theme of this guest post nicely, is that you tend to get back what you put in. I used to be pessimistic, too, and it seemed like things never went my way. After I learned to be thankful for my good fortune and to look out for more good opportunities, it seems like good things kept happening to me.

              You’re (for some reason) ranting about the high cost of education and the deplorable housing cost in Canada. I live in the same country and easily paid for a business degree and am writing this post from our 2,700 sq ft house on a 25,000 sq ft lot paid for by my girlfriend’s and my very regular incomes.

              1. ‘You’re (for some reason) ranting about the high cost of education and the deplorable housing cost in Canada’

                not ranting, just stating a FACT, as the one you posted about the cost of education only being expensive in USA was grossly inaccurate.

                good for you with regards to your personal experience. But you may want to get up to speed of the struggles of Canadians. They are now in greater debt than their neighbors , the Americans and that’s saying a lot. Largely do to the housing shit show.

                surprised a Canadian is so out of touch . Really?

                1. Call me out of touch if you like, but we’re in the comments section of a guest post about a lady who managed to retire young with six kids on an ordinary income, hosted on a blog by Chinese immigrants who went from poverty to millionnaires in their early thirties, and what you took away from all this was to write a dismissive post about the future education costs of the lady’s children and how terrible the plight of Canadians is.

                  Then you proceeded to talk down to someone who offered affordable alternatives to the high education costs you were complaining about.

                  I think I’ll concede the argument to you: you’re smarter than me, life is terrible, and we should all be unhappy. Now if you excuse me, I only have 3 days left of my 4 days off this week, and I need to study a little before I go on another flying lesson tomorrow.

                  1. ‘I think I’ll concede the argument to you: you’re smarter than me, life is terrible, and we should all be unhappy.’

                    should be unhappy? is that what you got out of this?

                    someone correcting you about your inaccurate statement about the cost of education and the current financial situation for many Canadians and you got all butt hurt? You should be appreciative that someone provided correct information to you.

                    might be a Quebec thing? ya know, outside its provincial borders is another country called Canada? You had no clue about the cost of education in Canada other than Quebec? And proceeding to project. And claimed USA to be an outlier in education costs? Someone had to correct you, no? 🙂

    2. We have an amazing community college here they can attend for almost nothing. If they want a ton of student loan debt, that’s their choice. But I think we are teaching them that there are very industrious, creative options for life. 100k in student loan debt isn’t the only path to success. But I would never force them to choose a FI path. Nor would I personally take on 100k in debt so they can have “premium” degrees.

  12. Where ever you go, there you are. Sometimes just look around where you are and scope the opportunity instead of focusing on where you are going, is the ticket to a different reality. One day I was an engineer the next I filled out a matchbook cover and wound up in medical school. It wasn’t a “plan”. It took a couple years of preparation and execution is all. You just simply make your life what you WILL it to be. One day we were childless the next we adopted an orphan from China and then another. One day we decided the school system was crap, the next we became the teachers of our children. One day I was working the next retired. It’s more Brownian than linear. More Bayesian than stochastic. More 3 cushion bank shot than strait in, so have a gas along the way. Life is not about maximizing return but about controlling risk in the face of chaos. Great article.

  13. I like following Jillians blog. Although I find it a bit funny to call a month a miniretirement. That would be what we in most of the Europé call vacation.

    I am currently on a 8-9 month sabbatical or if you like to call it miniretirement. Or maybe student because I have to study at the university to get a leave of absence from work. I have been touring around in Asia and studying through internet.

    1. I wish we had the culture of everyone easily being able to take a month off! We lived in Germany for 4 years and it was so great. I think that time away to decompress is so great for our mental and physical health. But for now in the US, getting a month off is a big deal for most people. Have fun on your 9 month adventure!

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