Last Friday afternoon, I signed out of my work e-mail, shut down my company-issued laptop for the last time, and walked away from my full-time job. At age 28, I’ve declared financial independence. Starting next month, my partner Daniel and I are planning a variety of adventures around the world, starting with a months-long road trip in our 1996 Dodge Caravan.
As I hinted in my most recent post, though, there’s a minor wrinkle in our plan: While we’re similar in many ways, Daniel and I have chosen different career paths, and we’re in different financial situations today.
I’ve reached financial independence, but Daniel is years away.
So, what does this mean for our upcoming adventures?
From a tactical financial perspective, my FI stash will need to cover both of our expenses.
Looking at the numbers, my passive income today is sufficient to fund my ordinary one-person living expenses (> 90% chance of success per cFireSim). But adding Daniel’s living expenses – nearly doubling the burn rate – destroys the whole model (< 10% chance of success). On top of that, we’re making so many changes to our day-to-day lives that I don’t know exactly what level of expenses to project. Depending on where our adventures take us, our spending may even go up over the next few years. Oh, crap!
If I lived and died by the 4% rule, I would be sounding the alarms. Danger! Abort! Return to soul-crushing office job immediately!
Yet here we are, selling our possessions on Craigslist and proceeding with the plan anyway. I’ve gotten comfortable with all this uncertainty for several reasons:
- I’m open to my withdrawal rate temporarily exceeding the 4% rule. If there’s one gripe I have about the way FI is typically discussed, it’s that this idea is near-sacrilege. The framework is too strict: work to save $x, quit your job and never earn a single dollar again, and you can safely spend up to (but not more than) 4% each year. That’s all fine, but the reality of our lives will be much more variable. Some months we’ll spend a lot; some very little. Some months we’ll earn nothing; some we’ll have plenty of side income. And at some point, whether it’s in six months or six years, I expect that we’ll want to slow down our full-time vagabonding to live a more geographically settled life. If we choose to spend more on traveling in the meantime only to recoup part of the stash when we return, that’s fine. FI isn’t about restricting ourselves to an exact spending level; it’s about having the flexibility to live as we choose.
- We can flex our spending by adjusting our destinations. We’re already finding ourselves making these choices while planning our first few months on the road. Three months of hopping around from ski town to ski town (at significant expense for lodging and lift tickets) sounds fantastic, but so does camping and hiking in state parks for just a few dollars a night. We would love to return to expensive parts of Western Europe, but we’ve also never explored regions of Southeast Asia where luxury apartments can be rented for $375/month. As we learn more about our travel spending habits, we can plan future destinations accordingly.
- I expect to continue earning active income as we travel. Over the past few months, I’ve built up a moderately active side hustle business that I can run from the road. This income, along with any other money-making opportunities we find as we travel, should help cover our two-person expenses. I’m also open to the possibility that some day, I may actually want to pursue a full-time money-making endeavor again. This blog is called The Resume Gap rather than I’m Retiring Forever, Suckas! for a reason: I fully expect that at some point, I might choose to work again (whether in the form of a new entrepreneurial venture, a part-time gig, or a real full-time job).
Finances aside, this is a major change for our relationship.
We’re making multiple enormous adjustments to our lives all at the same time:
- Leaving our jobs (the first time either of us has had no predetermined “next step” of work or school lined up)
- Traveling together full-time (previously, we’ve spent a meaningful amount of time apart each week because of our jobs and my frequent work travel)
- Combining our budgets into one (the first time we’ve ever managed our finances together, with the exception of a few shared bills)
Search around online and it’s not hard to find a hundred examples of how major life changes (in particular, combining drastically different finances) can be a total disaster:
- Financial disagreements: Partners with different values and spending habits critique and criticize each other’s spending decisions, leading to fighting.
- Undue resentment: The higher-earning partner gets bitter about being the primary breadwinner only to have the lower-earning partner “freeload” by spending more than he or she earns.
- Concern about dependence: The lower-earning partner starts feeling uncomfortable that his or her lifestyle is reliant on the higher-earning partner’s income.
- Keeping control: In the worst-case scenario, the higher-earning partner becomes manipulative and controlling, putting the lower-earning partner in a borderline-abusive situation.
We’ll both have to grapple with these potential issues over the coming months. I track my spending down to the line item today; will I start questioning every decision Daniel makes? Will I start resenting that I’m financing our adventures? Will I turn into an unscrupulous and conniving asshole and put Daniel in a situation where he ends up 30, single, and back at his parents’ house?
I don’t think so. We’re going in with eyes wide open, and we’re working to be as transparent as possible with each other about this potentially awkward dynamic.
On top of that, I feel reassured that our financial differences today have been driven primarily by our career choices, not by major discrepancies in lifestyle or financial philosophy. While I built up my savings rapidly through seven years of full-time work in a high-paying corporate environment, Daniel chose a completely different career path in social service. After two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer, he worked in a variety of settings serving people experiencing homelessness, living with HIV, and coping with major disabilities.
We could debate forever about whose work was harder (his), more stressful (his), more emotionally challenging (his), or more important for the well-being of thousands of people (his), but it’s clear whose work paid more: mine.
On the more important dimension – financial philosophy – I believe we’re highly aligned. Daniel lives more frugally than I do. He’s never owned a car. He biked to work every day for years. He doesn’t buy frivolous junk. He paid off five figures of student loan debt in just a few years. And even on a non-profit social service income, he banks 30-50% of his income.
Those traits, in my opinion, are far more important than the different dollar amounts we’ve saved.
Dear readers, we would love your input on this uncharted territory for our financial relationship. Have you had a major financial difference in your relationship or successfully merged finances with your partner or spouse? What worked for you?