A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

Finances After 40 #4: FIREstarting After 40 (Latestarterfire's Story)


Our fourth installment of Finances After 40 comes to us from latestarterfire, a 47-year-old Australian blogger who writes about her journey to FIRE (financial independence/retire early) at latestarterfire.com. 

The path to FI is full of well-prepared, determined 20- and 30-somethings marching towards a life of financial freedom. But what if your early retirement epiphany happens a little later than that? Enter Latestarterfire, who brings a unique perspective, experience, and example to the personal finance community. I'm thrilled she's sharing her story with us. She's inspired me, and I know she'll inspire others, too.

Waking Up To An Epiphany


Hello, I am latestarterfire from Australia! Thank you very much for allowing me to share my story at The 76k Project.

I dreaded my 47th birthday - I don't know why, precisely. Just that I woke up one day, really stressed and anxious that I would be retiring with not 'enough'. At this stage, I did not know what my 'enough' was or when I could possibly retire.

I panicked merely at the thought of retirement being on my horizon. After all, retirement was for the oldies, not me. What would I do in retirement? What if I hadn't saved enough for retirement? How do I know how much I would need after I retired, to sustain me for the rest of my life?

"I want to add an 'older' voice to the mix - as someone who discovered FIRE later in life."

Coincidentally, ABC TV was advertising a new podcast about personal finance aimed at women, hosted by comedian Claire Hooper. As I quite liked Claire Hooper as a comedian, I started listening. It was fun and hilarious and I felt hey, this personal finance thing wasn't that hard or intimidating after all.

Then I was introduced to my first personal finance book, The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape, a phenomenally popular personal finance guru who has been described as having a cult following. From him, I learned about investing in low-cost listed investment companies (LICs) and exchange-traded funds.

While googling "how to calculate how much I need in retirement", I stumbled across the FIRE community and discovered there were people who retired in their 30s - I mean, wow! Here I am, panicking about retiring at 65...

As I read more and more blogs and listened to podcasts, I wondered if I too could achieve FIRE even though I was such a late starter. I decided to try anyway.

I must admit, I do feel old in this space of young 20s and 30s who are crushing it with frugality, minimalism and living with intention on their relentless journeys to FI. It is one of the reasons I started blogging - I want to add an 'older' voice to the mix as someone who discovered FIRE later in life. Many of the bloggers and podcasters in their 40s have already reached FIRE - that was how it came across to me, anyway.

Looking Back


My Twenties

I spent my twenties and thirties working very hard - lots of long hours - 12 or more hour days, 60-hour weeks or more, earning a decent wage as a health professional. I never earned six figures but was privileged to have a company car to use. This benefit alone has saved me thousands of dollars in petrol, insurance and registration fees over the years.

My only financial goal was to save enough to put down a deposit for a house. Owning a house was every Australian's dream - maybe it still is, but stratospheric property prices have made it very difficult for today's 20-somethings. My parents, especially my Mum, had also drummed that into me: owning your house provides you with security. So I saved for this deposit.

In the meantime, I also spent lots of money. Even back then, property prices were increasing rapidly. I would be discouraged by what I could afford and after so many open house inspections and missing out at auctions, I would decide to go on a holiday instead - to New Zealand, China, Europe, Singapore, Malaysia, the Whitsundays.

I was and am still not very good at delayed gratification.

My Thirties

Eventually, I saved enough to buy a townhouse in my early 30s and put down a nearly 60% deposit. My mortgage was very manageable and I had no other debt. My salary was deposited directly into my loan account. And as long as I was ahead in my repayments, I could withdraw the extra payments whenever I needed it.

My parents taught me to be debt averse, to never borrow money for depreciating assets such as a car. They nagged me to pay off my mortgage quickly. But I was also seduced by the conventional wisdom that everyone has debt these days, and that it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy yourself while paying off a mortgage. After all, one has to live.

"For me, the security that comes with a paid off home is priceless. No one can kick me out of this house. I will always have a roof over my head."

So I continued to go on holidays - to Italy, France, London, the US. And I proceeded to fill my house with stuff - I loved buying things 'for the house'. I enrolled in short courses - baking and cake decorating, mainly.

The biggest mistake I made then was to stop making extra contributions to my superannuation, my retirement account. My employer continued to make their compulsory contributions. I was content now as I had achieved my goal of owning a house (even though I still owed the bank at this stage).

My Forties

In my early forties, an opportunity came up to part own a business - I took it. I still worked part time in the original business. Financially, it was a mistake. I used the equity I'd built up in my house. It was tough - we did not make any money. But I learned that I could live with a lot less and still survive. After 3 years or so, I walked away from the business and returned to my previous full-time role.

I've since paid off my mortgage completely and can really say I own my home. This is probably my biggest financial achievement. It was such a weight off my shoulders. I know there are great debates in the FIRE community about whether to own or rent. For me, the security that comes with a paid off home is priceless. No one can kick me out of this house. I will always have a roof over my head.

Being single also plays a big part in me wanting to be financially secure. There is no backup plan - I am it. I cannot rely on anyone else. At times, this is scary. Especially as I age.

"Don't drift. Pay attention to your life, your finances, your relationships, your work. Stay engaged."

In your forties, retirement is looming whether you like it or not, whether you are prepared for it or not. Health care and aged care are potentially two big unpredictable upcoming expenses. In Australia, the heath care system is very good (particularly if you compare it with the US, sorry!) but I would still buy private health insurance for peace of mind. I do not want to depend solely on the public system and be at the mercy of waiting lists for surgery.

Aged care is another matter. The federal government funds part of the cost but as yet, I do not understand how it works fully. The standards of living arrangements differ greatly, with some new facilities looking like 5-star hotels while others are run down and dilapidated. I would like to be able to choose a level of care that I am comfortable with, not be forced to live in a run-down facility that smells of urine.

Additionally, there is dementia in my family so at the back of my mind, I wonder if I too will be susceptible to the disease. If dementia is in my future, then I need to make doubly sure that at the very least, my finances are in order and that I will not be a burden on anyone.

Advice For Other Women


I drifted through life, particularly after I bought my house. So my advice is don’t drift! Pay attention to your life, your finances, your relationships, your work. Stay engaged.

Looking back with perfect hindsight, I should have continued to salary sacrifice into my superannuation. That would have boosted my retirement savings. I weep now to think of the opportunity costs with compound interest. As I did not care or think about my finances, I certainly never cared about what sort of investment vehicle my superannuation was in. Even though it was my money, it didn't feel like it. Because I wouldn't be able to touch it till I turned 60 - and hey, that is decades away. I still have time to worry about such boring things. I should have chosen the high growth option and be 100% invested in equities. Instead, I just left it in the default balanced option. Ah, another lost opportunity.

"Let compound interest do the hard work. You won't then wake up in a cold sweat at 47 years old wondering if you have saved enough to retire at 65."

So my advice to young people in your 20s and 30s is to think about retirement, whether or not you want to retire early. Keep chipping away and save towards that retirement - contribute towards whatever retirement accounts you have at your disposal. Let compound interest do the hard work. You won't then wake up in a cold sweat at 47 years old wondering if you have saved enough to retire at 65.

Looking Forward


"This is the decade where I realise there is no dress rehearsal for life. This is it."

Strangely, taking action to sort out my finances after discovering FIRE in my late forties has led me to question how I live my life and where I would like my future to be heading. This is totally unexpected. But it makes perfect sense. Why else would you agonise over ways to increase savings rate, frugality, side hustles, living with less crap if you don't know how you want to use that money?

I have always been a workaholic - work always came first. I am not overly ambitious but I do want to do a good job and be good at my job. However, the stress is now getting to me. I honestly don't know if age is an issue or that I've come to my limits after years of working in a demanding job. Or perhaps I am less resilient because I now yearn to retire. And I'm sick of being time poor - coming home mentally and physically drained every night. So I am learning to live with intention and carve some time out of my day/week to think about what I want out of life and dream a little.

This is the decade where I realise there is no dress rehearsal for life. This is it.

It goes without saying that it has been a huge learning curve since discovering the FIRE movement. It's not just the numbers and how-to nuts and bolts of the various strategies. That is the 'easy' part for me - automating savings and investments then leaving time to do its thing ... (Mind you, there is a lot of calculation and recalculation!)

The hard part is having the courage to live the life I want to live (and find out what that is!) This is where the FIRE community is really brilliant - there are so many inspiring people living lives that inspire me and that I am continuously learning from.  I am looking forward to the future now, not with trepidation and fear but with enthusiasm and zest.

Retirement - here I come!

Where To Connect With Latestarterfire


Her Blog: Latestarterfire
Twitter: @latestarterfire
Email: info@latestarterfire.com

Thank you, everyone, for your support! I would love to support you on your journey too so feel free to drop me a line :)
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5 comments:

  1. It’s amazing that even with some amount of retirement funds and a paid off house, you felt so behind. The FIRE community can be awesome but I also want to acknowledge your success at setting yourself up to be in a positive spot to start instead of negative or zero. That’s not nothing.

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    1. I feel the same way! She's done such a fantastic job of setting herself up for success. And a paid-off house in Australia... that is impressive.

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  2. Thank you for sharing my story!

    I am very happy and grateful to have a paid off home and some retirement funds. The underlying anxiety about retirement is new and only reared its head as I approach my 50s. I never really worried about money issues in my younger days - as long as I had a job and could afford mortgage payments and travel, I was fine.

    I honestly can't explain it - my head knows I'll be ok, just need to start investing from now on. But the anxiety is still there in the background. Probably has to do with being single too - there is no one to rely or depend on.

    I am getting much better at focusing on my own journey and not comparing my progress to others who have blah blah investment portfolio and rental properties. Trying to explore what my best life looks like is now more the goal than trying to achieve a number.

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  3. Nice job on getting to own your place and have retirement savings! That's not easy to do, especially in Australia. Your home prices... �� Scary!
    One of the better quotes I've seen is, "don't compare your middle/beginning to someone else's end." Meaning, my.journey is at a different place than yours so it's not fair to you to compare and think you're "behind". There is no behind or ahead because someone will always be further along, have more saved, make more money, blah blah blah... It's a PF version of keeping up with the Joneses. Try not to get too hung up in it and congrats in your progress on your journey so far!

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  4. I love your story and we are kindred spirits - women in our 40's just starting to invest. We got this!

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