“Don’t have a dream. Have a goal.” ~ Jackson Sousa

Following conventional wisdom is often conflated with “common sense,” but I see nothing common or acceptable with how this line of thinking leads us in our financial lives. Americans save so little money these days despite consumerism and the markets being on an absolute tear. So, why not try to break the mold? This is our path towards growth.

Misses Cat and Myself got married in the summer of 2016 after dating for just a year prior and it’s been an absolute adventure every day since. We’ve lived all over the world, had a baby, switched jobs, bought a house much more together and the process has taught us an unbelievable amount about ourselves and each other. What’s maybe most remarkable is that we have both leaned into the fact that we not only love and accept each other for who we are, but that we are constantly willing to challenge ourselves to be better and try harder in aspects that we are lacking. We think that this might be one of the secrets to keeping things fresh and interesting the marriage and also providing more opportunities for ourselves and our child as time goes on.

Misses Cat and I both grew up relatively poor with close knit family units nearby geographically. We certainly both inherited a lot of preconceived notions about life, relationships and money and have had to spend considerable time and effort unraveling the nuances between what works, what’s ineffective and what can be adjusted to work in our modern day lives.

  1. X-debt is “good debt”
    This is the one I fell for hook line and sinker when I was 17 years old and looking to get into college. I borrowed over six figures worth of debt for an undergraduate degree in journalism (a notoriously poor paying field of work), which lead me to struggling throughout my 20’s and early 30’s trying to dig myself out of debt. Mortgages also fall under this category as something that people just accept as true. Unless a debt is 0% interest, the more you borrow the more you pay as time passes. This is your freedom in life slipping away.

    Misses Cat never really struggled with debt, unlike me, so this is really something I needed to overcome and have a major mental shift on. Once we got past our debts, the options in life opened up for us big time.
  2. You might as well buy a new car
    New car smell is pretty awesome and knowing nobody beat on your mode of transportation before you owned it is equally reassuring. However, as a kid I never for a second thought about what a “depreciating” asset was and I sure as hell would have never thought of a shiny new car as something that could lose value. But indeed, after buying not one, but two new cars after moving back to the US and having one of them get the rear end smashed in a car accident right after paying it off in whole - well the point that buying a new car as a bad investment became crystal clear.

    After that, we sold both new cars, bought a used economy car for a good price (in full) and turned our mindset of maximum utility transportation for minimum price into a mantra worth repeating. Even though I lust after the idea of being one of the first buyers of the Tesla Cybertruck when it comes out, I have a feeling that we’ll likely wait a year or two until some used ones come on the market for purchase.
  3. Eating healthy is expensive
    One of the most fun parts about working towards financial independence has been the challenge of food shopping. Misses Cat and I love to eat! We have spent way too much on food because our health is important to us and we like to indulge. Especially now that we have a little boy who eats like a beast, we just hate to cut corners and felt like food would always be this uncontrollable budget item that we couldn’t reduce. However, we reached out to some friends who are also working towards financial independence and who regularly are able to keep their food bills reasonable. This gave us a lot of inspiration on how we can do things differently and still enjoy the process of cooking and eating on a tighter budget.
  4. You have to suffer to be frugal
    Going without the things that you’ve come to enjoy can be uncomfortable at first, however we’ve found that making progress on financial goals, even if it’s slow, feels way better. Even more-so, as a couple we look for new and creative ways to enjoy and express ourselves and indulge when possible without bringing us totally off track financially. It’s a new mindset, so there’s always growing pains associated with it, but if you stick with it your reward system for doing the right thing outweighs the brief dopamine hits of just buying whatever you want all the time.
  5. Save Money and Time - Avoid DIY
    We both thought we’d never buy a bread-maker (and we're so glad we did) until we had dinner at another FI couple’s house where they made us home-made pizza which had dough from a bread machine that they got second hand off craigslist. Misses Cat was instantly intrigued! We found our own second hand bread maker and started making breads and pizza doughs after some trial and error. Add on top of this experiment making our own house cleaning spray solution and more - we keep learning new techniques and tricks to not only save money but do things better!
  6. Credit cards are evil
    Mr. Bear has had credit card problems in the past and gave up on them. Misses Cat never had much use for them. We avoided them for the most part. But we learned about travel hacking and rewards cycling. So far, we’ve been able to stack hundreds of dollars in rewards using credit cards wisely. We don’t ever carry a balance though, so technically we’re bad credit card customers, but we’re extracting all the value we possibly can. All it takes is discipline and a goal.
  7. Keeping up Appearances
    See the point about the new cars above. Mr. Bear loved his brand new Subaru Forester and Toyota Tacoma. He got a lot of compliments on them. But, the money was bleeding out of us and needed to stop. Selling both vehicles and buying a much cheaper used car was difficult to think about. Even looking in the drive way of our home and not seeing them there felt like something was missing. But boy and I glad we decided to get rid of them which put us ahead.
  8. Separate is better when it comes to couples finances
    Like getting married, joining finances with another person can be a big leap of faith for both people. Just because you love someone, they may have financial habits that you don’t love that will hold you both back long-term. In this case, Mr. Bear and Misses Cat definitely had a lot to learn and work on from a financial perspective. Individually we had not made much progress alone up until our marriage and that continued as we kept our financials separate for the first couple years of marriage. This was actually Mr. Bear’s idea, but after hitting roadblock after roadblock and realizing that a big missing piece of trust in our marriage revolved around money, we decided to just take the jump and abandon the separate finance model.

    This was extremely hard at first and took a lot of adjustment and learning, but after about a year of doing join finances, we’ve never been happier or financially better off. This was the key!
  9. Money for Money’s Sake
    We sacrifice a lot to be frugal and work towards financial independence, but we’ve also tried to have the hard conversations about why we want to get to the point where we don’t have to work anymore. It’s ok for everyone to have different motivations for going the road of FI, but it’s important that everyone have a clear idea why they do it. When you have the courage to say out loud what your “why” is, not only do your options become illuminated, but the path there and the sacrifice required to get there does as well.

Hopefully everyone else has had a chance to be mindful about their setbacks and well as how they overcame them in the previous year, decade and more. Life is forever a game of improving! As we continue to move into 2020 we hope you'll join us on our new blog sharing tips, trick and troubles we've found along the way of trying to become financially independent.