Financial Freedom, Money

You CAN Reach FI Without A Master Plan!

In the last few weeks, I was asked to participate in several interviews by other PF bloggers. Truth be told, they scare me a little (No not the bloggers!! The interviews!). Unlike many other PF bloggers, I didn’t have a master FI plan to get me where I am today. I followed some simple money rules over the years, made some mistakes (ok, maybe lots of them) and eventually realized I could become FI early. There is no year by year breakdown of my investments and expenses, or records of what my money goals were along the way.  I have only been tracking everything closely in the last year, after I was already FI (I guess I won’t be the poster child for future FI campaigns). But it’s possible,  you can reach FI without a master plan!

In My 20’s:

In my early 20’s, my first jobs paid minimum wage or close to it. Once rent and food were paid, we didn’t have much money left. And if there was any, we would usually spend it (socializing mainly). None of it was excessive spending but, except saving for a down payment on a house, we weren’t saving anything else! We were young and foolish and trying to enjoy a little of what life had to offer, with limited means.

We bought our first house at the age of 24! Probably not the best decision but at the time owning your house was still the thing to do.  Our parents were so proud!

I bought my first car at the age of 25, a brand new Mazda 3! It was the first and last time I ever bought a new car.

It was only in my late 20’s after reading The Wealthy Barber, that I finally started saving money. I tried to maximize my RRSP (even if I didn’t understand it all), had an emergency fund set up and avoided unnecessary debt.

Then Came The Kids:

We didn’t have much disposable income so we HAD to be frugal and bought everything second-hand. After our first daughter was born, we set up an RESP and started contributing to it bi-weekly. I don’t remember how much we contributed at first. It wasn’t much but we automated the process and did it consistently. Out of sight out of mind. Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) worked out really well for us all those years.

By the time Child #3 came around, we still didn’t have much spare cash to throw around. But we increased our RESP contribution so each of our kid would get the same amount invested every two weeks. We opened a family RESP in case one of them didn’t go to university/college, the others could take advantage of the grants . Remember, in Canada, the government “grants” you 20% every time you deposit money into an RESP (to a maximum of course but still 20%!). And you get to invest that money.

My two daughters are currently in University and we haven’t touched the principal yet!

In My 30’s:

We focused on paying down our mortgage faster, contributed bi-weekly to our three kids RESP (529 plan equivalent) and tried to max out our RRSP (401K equivalent) contributions. We did the best we could. We also scheduled regular trips back to France (where most of my family lives) and Martinique (where my mom lived) so my kids would get exposed to my culture and get to know my family. As my parents got older, I often made the trips a priority over any additional savings. It was very important to me.

So far, no master FI or FIRE plan, I was just following the basic money rules:

FIRO (Financial Independence Retirement Optional)

Then in my early 40’s I came across FI and , with a little more focus, became FIRO in my late 40’s. If you set your mind to it, there is no reason you can’t get there.

What changed in my 40’s:

  • Paid down my mortgage
  • Bought three rental properties (so I could increase my equity without investing any of my money! I used my HELOC)
  • Became a lot more frugal so I could increase my savings rate. It almost became an obsession! Still is!
  • Slowly started learning more about dividend investing but only revamped my portfolio in my late 40’s. I used to like playing the stock market (I would hate to know how much I could have made all those years with good dividend paying stocks instead of potential stock winners!)
  • Aggressively automated all my savings. I estimated how much I should be able to live on and had the rest automatically transferred to my various investing accounts. I still do, whatever is left in my chequing account is all I can spend. It’s so simple,  I wish I did it in my 30’s!!!!

Could I Have Been FI Earlier??

Of course! 100%. Much earlier! Even with 3 kids. I could have been way more frugal along the way, mostly with groceries, entertainment and travel and save a lot more. But we had fun and kept our s**t together and that is what matters. I also could have been a much smarter investor. I was a slow learner.

Do I Have Any Regrets About How We Did It?

I wish I paid more attention to some of our day-to-day expenses, the ones that wouldn’t have made a difference in our life but would have increased our saving’s rate!

I also wish I was smarter about my investment strategy and didn’t try to beat the market all those years. Some losses took years to recover from.

But overall, I am happy with my journey. We all learn at our own pace and it doesn’t always matter what people tell you, sometimes you have to learn the hard way and make your own mistakes.

I lost both my parents and my husband in the last 6 years, so I am happy we (sometimes) prioritized the trips home instead of trying to save more. I have amazing memories to hang on to. It would be too late if I wanted to do it now!

Final Thoughts

I am glad I didn’t think know about FI/FIRE when I was younger.  I probably would have missed out on a lot of great life experiences and memories so I could save more money and be FI earlier. (My overachiever side). It’s all about balance and I may not have been able to manage it as well when I was younger. At the end, I still reached FI without a master plan!

While it is important to plan for the future, you need to also take the time (and money) to enjoy the present! Remember, s**t happens!

How about you, did (do) you have a master FI plan?

32 thoughts on “You CAN Reach FI Without A Master Plan!

  1. No master plan here Caroline. Just an interest in personal finance and building wealth that was instilled in my by by Dad. It’s ironic that FI takes time and it’s best to start early with a plan. But, at a young age and for a variety of reasons, it’s hard to master plan anything. Tom

    1. Hi Tom, I picture you as a very organized young man who probably had his s**t together much earlier than most:) But you are right, it is hard to master plan anything in your early 20’s!

  2. When I first started my blog, my goals were to help others out with my experience in not only personal finance but in other aspects in my life. I never had the intention to reach FI but after reading many blogs, I’m roughly going to aim for 10 years for reaching FI, I will be in my late 40s/early 50s at that time and have started to put a plan in place to try to achieve FI. Their are many factors in order to make that happen but hopefully we can achieve it.

    1. Hi Kris, there is no reason you can’t achieve it. I think having realistic goals is the key. If you want to enjoy your life and still work towards FI, late 40’s is totally reachable, maybe even earlier!

  3. This is so weird but as I was reading your “20s” section I thought…I never heard of wealthy barber before. And this money/class documentary I was watching suddenly FLASHED that title from a shot on the bookshelve. It’s a UK show, must not be an American thing! It’s like a classic money book for Europeans or something? OMG so weirddddd. What in the world are the odds of that.

    I should freaking read it.

    This is an interesting way to look at FIRE! I would be much different if I didn’t stumble upon this community online that’s for sure.

  4. Hey Lily,

    The Wealthy Barber is a book by Dave Chilton, he’s a Canadian, it’s a great book! He even wrote a sequal, the Wealthy Barber Returns. He has a funny twitter account and he also was on Dragon’s Den (The Canadian equivalent of Shark’s Tank)


    That’s actually my first book that I read as well that got me interested in investing and saving money. I think we owe a lot to Dave Chilton! Lol. I wanted my money to work harder since I got out of college and started slaving away at work haha.

    I also didn’t know what I was doing (I think most Canadians probably don’t) with investing, so if I had done what I do now in my 20’s, I think I would be far more ahead.

    I think prioritizing trips is the way to go- that is important to you, they are your values. Family is your value, and if you prioritize saving money then you’re not valuing time spent to see family in France 🙂 I value travel and family as well, so even though I blew $10K a year on trips sometimes I don’t regret any money spent on my trips.

    Thanks for sharing your FIRO store Caroline!

    1. Hi GYM, he made it so easy to read when I knew nothing (or not much) about where to start. I saw him at a conference and he is hilarious! I didn’t like his second book as much and wouldn’t recommend it but still a big fan of the first one:)
      Prioritizing based on your value is critical, you don’t want to have any regrets (or not as many). Amy had a good post on values:
      We usually end up following bloggers with similar values:) You rock! Cheers.

  5. Great advice, Caroline. I can relate to this in some respects. Even before I knew about early retirement and had half a financial brain, I was averse to carrying a lot of debt, and sort of drifted into minimalism – not needing a lot of fancy toys and such.

    I’m glad you found a path that got you to freedom — and I couldn’t agree more with the concept if FIRO. Can’t wait to get there myself! Cheers!

    1. This is what helps THE MOST…not needing a lot of fancy toys! Some people just keep buying looking for instant gratification, it is the only thing that keeps them from FI!
      Thanks for stopping by:)

  6. Master Plan…? What’s that? .. ha ha!

    It seems to me that the main purpose of a Master Plan is to frustrate you when you end up temporarily off course. Being able to be conscious with my money and achieve my goals without the stress of a big “Plan” is priceless.

    So, like you, I can look back and see the dumb things I did. And I can look back and say that I could have done it earlier if I was more disciplined. But what good is that looking back? I am living now, living here, living in this life, not in the past.

  7. No grand plan here either! Coming up to 30 and kids are on the horizon, which will have a big financial impact. Moving from public to private sector with better pay and benefits is one thing that’s definitely sped up progress recently.

  8. Caroline, this is so good! So glad to hear you mention the importance of taking trips and making memories. Sometimes I catch myself trying to save a buck and not thinking about the things that are more important than money. Thank you for this today!

    1. Hi Mr. DS, I still do it all the time! I am planning a trip with my kids this summer and every so often I start wondering if I really want to spend that much money (four of us!). I do…I just have to remind myself why!:) It is totally worth it.

  9. Hi Caroline!

    This is great! I agree that someone can reach FI without realizing (without a plan) as long as they live below their means, increase income, and invest their money for the long term. If they had a “plan,” they’d realize they would’ve done better — everyone feels that way.

    But honestly, with or without a plan, you have done amazing!! You’ve come a long way and your story of how you immigrated to Canada is very inspirational.

    Btw, I love Chilton’s book! Both if them actually 😊

  10. Great post! I didn’t start with a master plan either. I just lived modestly and started saving early. By the time I found out about FI, we were already most of the way there. I still wished I’d know about FI earlier. It would have given me more focus and I would have been less wasteful.

  11. What a comforting read. I only have a “vague” plan for FIRO right now that’s a combination of living frugally, investing smartly and buying rental properties, and in the back of my mind, I wish I have a better, more detailed plan. But your story shows that good ol’ “doing the sensible thing” still prevails. Thank you for offering your unique perspective (a breath of fresh air, really), and I’m happy that you got to have plenty of fun on top of achieving FIRO early. 🙂

    1. Thank you! Sometimes I wish I had a detailed plan too and then I realize I may not have fully enjoy the present if I did have one. You have to do what’s right for you. It sounds like you are doing all the right things to reach FI, just keep it up:)

  12. looks just like our journey, caroline. almost exactly. if i could adjust anything it would be the amount we spent while travelling. it was in the budget and paid in cash on hand but we didn’t need to spend it to zero when we had higher incomes just because it was there. i’m glad we didn’t discover it earlier too. the contrast is really something valuable.

    1. Hi Freddy, I wonder how many of us are glad we didn’t “discover” it earlier? Sometimes I read other bloggers’ posts and feel like they may be missing out on life, in the name of FI.

  13. Hi

    FI give me a perspective. I know that there is an option of retiring early. This will eliminate the pressure of leading a life without the full-time employment.


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