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

Finances After 40 #7: Investing In Herself (Dragon Gal's Story)

After a three-month hiatus, Finances After 40 is back! This time, we're hearing from Dragon Gal, a 42-year-old early retiree with a passion for travel, art, volunteering, and minimalism. Dragon Gal and her husband, Dragon Guy, write about FIRE and living/thriving with a chronic health condition (Dragon Guy was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia eight years ago) on their blog, The Dragons on FIRE

I'm very inspired by Dragon Gal - not only by her words of wisdom, but also by the way she lives her life. It's clear that she strives to align her lifestyle with her values. 

Thank you, Dragon Gal, for writing this piece. Take it away!

A Peek Into Early Retirement Life

I was an educator for 18 years before I quit in 2017. My husband, Dragon Guy, continues to work for now [note from $76K: It's been a few months since Dragon Gal submitted this post, and since then, Dragon Guy has solidified his retirement plans. His last day is November 1!]. I’ve been enjoying my early retirement—I like volunteering, exercising, reading, and writing.

I’m also big into the arts. I love art in all its forms: music, visual art, writing, dance, and theater. They are all a great source of inspiration to me! I love being creative and seeing others’ creativity! I have been in an improv theater group for 10 years, where I act and play the clarinet.

Healthy living is a top priority in my life. Ever since Dragon Guy was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011, we’ve focused on eating right, exercising, and having a positive attitude. We also believe it’s important to have community in cancer survivorship, so we are involved in a local cancer non-profit. 

"The FIRE movement has gotten us on the same page with our money goals, and for the first time in our marriage, we are really approaching our finances more as a team effort."

These past few years I’ve really gotten into minimalism. I started a declutter challenge of 1,000 items this year. This challenge has had a trickle-down effect in my entire life, as I’m looking to simplify my life and prioritize the parts I value most.

Dragon Guy and I write a blog together, where we focus on early retirement, living with cancer, and travel. We’ve been writing for over a year, and it’s been so fun to have a creative project together—it’s been a great bonding experience for us!

We've been married for 17 years, and travel has really defined our life together. We love learning about new cultures and seeing how others live. We enjoy nature and hiking and we look forward to visiting more places around the world!

Financial Wins and Challenges

I’ve retired, and Dragon Guy is close to retiring. I’m proud of all the changes Dragon Guy and I have made in our lives since learning about the FIRE movement in 2017. We’ve cut about 20% of our annual spend. We’ve had many productive conversations about our financial situation—I’ve learned so much about finances since catching on FIRE, and it’s brought us closer together as a couple. We never really fought over money, but the FIRE movement has gotten us on the same page with our money goals, and for the first time in our marriage, we are really approaching our finances more as a team effort. Whereas before, he managed our portfolio and most everything money-related.

"I think there is so much pressure from society for our lives to look a certain way (house, career, kids, etc). It’s exhausting to juggle all of these things."

We’ve paid off our mortgage and our cars. We don’t have any other debt. We were very lucky that both sets of parents paid our college tuition, and we are forever grateful to them for that. We don’t have any children, which we do believe has helped us get to this point in our lives financially.

Our biggest financial or finance-related challenges right now are:

(1) Healthcare for Dragon Guy. Dragon Guy and I have reached FI, but a big challenge for us is health insurance. Dragon Guy has chronic myeloid leukemia and is currently on track to get off his medication to see if he can remain in remission without treatment. This is great news!

At the same time, stopping his meds means more lab tests to monitor him, so there is some uncertainty surrounding what would happen to his care, because he hopes to stay with the medical team he’s been with for over 8 years. However, the current marketplace health insurance plans don’t cover the hospital where he’s had treatment. This is why Dragon Guy has continued to work, though he is considering quitting soon.

Dragon Guy is currently doing research on his different options for health care. We have drastically cut numerous categories of spending in anticipation of me going on the marketplace plans and for him to be on COBRA.

(2) Living in a house. We bought a big house with the idea that we’d have children. We’d considered moving throughout the years, but our mortgage was so low, and we felt the only reason we would move was to be in a nicer location (which would cost more).

Now, my parents have moved back to the USA and bought a house in the same neighborhood, so it seems silly to move away. So now we have this huge house, which costs over five figures every year in utilities, taxes, insurance, HOA fees, and maintenance. We are wondering if we should get a renter or if we should do Airbnb. But, we feel we have to renovate a bit before we can have others stay in our home. In the short term, we’ve decided to look into renovating with the thought that we could put it on Airbnb eventually.

"Invest in yourself, not things. The greatest asset in my life is ME! It’s not my house, my car, or even my portfolio."

As I’ve grown older, I’m starting to think about healthcare, aging, estate planning, dealing with assisted living costs and having a caregiver. Also: Who can I trust to take over my finances when I’m no longer cognitively competent? We have two nieces, but I’m not sure if it’s fair to rely on them as they will have their own parents to look after.

In Retrospect...

Looking back, I would not have done the following:

  • Bought a wedding band with diamonds. This cost $1,500. A simple wedding band would have been fine.
  • Had a wedding. This cost $10,000. While we made all of the money back via cash gifts, I think we should have just had a small reception.
  • Bought a large house. I didn’t want a “starter house.” I wanted my “forever home” so I didn’t have to move when we had children. I assumed we would have children. I assumed having a house was just a “thing” people were supposed to do when we became adults. I wished I would have examined my assumptions more before I acted.
  • I would not have shopped so much--and I don’t even consider myself a shopaholic! But I liked window shopping and browsing on the internet. And all of that took up time and also money!

But I don’t regret all the travel we’ve done. I think travel is very educational. Our style of travel has changed drastically now that I’m no longer working, and this has helped us travel more on a budget. We stay at AirBnBs, cook our own meals, and seek out free activities as much as possible.

Looking Towards the Future

In the future, I envision happiness and health! I try to eat right and exercise, though this is very hard for me at times; I’m not always good at this and there are plenty of moments where I fall off track. I want to do more things that make me happy. And fortunately, since I’m retired, I can be more choosy about the things I get involved in. I’m hoping to journal more, as this helps me mentally and emotionally. I’ve started reading more books and I find this makes me feel happy too!

"When I turned 40, something really changed for me... I started questioning everything and really reflecting on my life experience."

It’s taken me a couple of years to find my groove in early retirement, and I find I enjoy volunteering. So I hope to continue volunteering for the cancer non-profit that I’ve been with. Dragon Guy and I launched a healthy habits support group program this year with them, and we had a great first session. We hope to have more sessions.

Dragon Gal's Advice: Invest in Yourself

I think there is so much pressure from society for our lives to look a certain way (house, career, kids, etc). It’s exhausting to juggle all of these things. When I turned 40, something really changed for me. I thought, “This is the rest of my life, and is teaching what I want to be doing?” I started questioning everything and really reflecting on my life experience. And I wasn’t sure if I bought into some of the pressure from society for my life to be a certain way. This is why I quit my job. I’m still questioning what I want in my life as I move forward.

"I think the most important thing for women to do is to start talking to each other... I think if we sought each other’s help and counsel more, we’d learn so much!"

Invest in yourself, not things. The greatest asset in my life is ME! It’s not my house, my car, or even my portfolio. Invest in your education, in eating nutritious foods, in exercising, in your happiness, in having good relationships. Make sure your mind, body, and spirit are healthy. Have a good relationship with yourself!

Be confident, make good decisions, and be open to improving. Investing in my own well-being has become very important in the second half of my life. This is something I have to work hard at, as there are days where I don’t want to cook for myself or do yoga, etc. etc. (And I do slack off, don’t get me wrong!)

I’ve fallen off the path of eating well and exercising often, but I’m really trying to listen to my body better, and ultimately, I know this will pay off for me in the long run. Think about how you want to live your life. Everyone has different priorities, consequently, how each of us spends our money and invests is very different. We can read books and talk to other people, and at the same time, we need to consider how the advice fits into our lives (if at all).

I think the most important thing for women to do is to start talking to each other. This is something I need to do more of myself. I think if we sought each other’s help and counsel more, we’d learn so much! And feel more connected, as well.

Where To Connect With Dragon Gal

Blog: thedragonsonfire.com
Twitter: @DragonGuyAndGal



  1. Thanks so much for featuring my story! Love that you have created a platform for us to explore finances after 40. I enjoy reading from the variety of perspectives and am excited to be included. Cheers! Dragon Gal

    1. Thank you for writing it! (And then waiting for months for this slacker over here to post it...) I agree, I love the variety of perspectives and experiences that this series brings to the table.

  2. Love the candor of this story. Agree 100% that women have to talk more -- it provides inspiration, ideas and insights. Health care is also a BIG issue with our FI plans. We have been on COBRA for the last 3 years, and it's still over $3k per month just for the premium. Now that we are both consultants, company health plans are not an option so we'll be on the exchange by next year. We're still expecting about $2k per month in premiums -- easily our single biggest line item. That said, we both don't regret leaving the 9-5. The FIRE lifestyle makes all the financial gymnastics worthwhile!

    1. Hi Caroline, Thanks for sharing your experience with COBRA--glad to hear the healthcare situation didn't stop you from leaving the 9-5. You are an inspiration! Cheers, Dragon Gal

  3. Thank you for commenting and for sharing your FIRE health insurance strategy! It's so tricky. Health insurance is such an important topic of discussion: although there are no *great* (or even good) options, there are, indeed, several options.

  4. I hear you on the diamond wedding rings! I have three diamond rings and these days I only wear the flat band. The other rings scratch my wiggly kid's skin too much! Very practical advice :)

    Congrats on Dragon Guy's upcoming retirement!

    1. Hey Kim, My mom's ring scratched me too much too. Thanks for the validation, lol. Thanks for your good wishes for Dragon Guy! Cheers, Dragon Gal

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