The Educator on FIOR (Financial Independence Optional Retirement) series features the stories of educators pursuing financial independence. We’re taking a variety of paths, at a variety of points, with a variety of goals. These educators show that it’s possible to do the work we love while making financial progress.
Today we hear from Steven and Lauren from Trip of a Lifestyle. They made great choices early on, and are seeing the benefits now. I know you’ll enjoy their story.
Take it away!
Tell us about you.
I’m Steven Keys, a former high school physics teacher who now works for a private tutoring company in Florida. Since college graduation, my wife, Lauren, and I have been pursuing financial independence while taking extended travel sabbaticals along the way, without breaking the bank. In 2015, we took a 6-month honeymoon in Hawaii which cost us a grand total of $0, and just this year, we spent 7 months visiting every National Park in the United States and its outlying territories.
What do you like most about working in education?
Honestly, I think one of my biggest hobbies is just teaching people stuff, whether it’s teaching physics on a whiteboard in a classroom, writing about finance and travel on a blog, or just telling a friend about something cool I learned. So for me, the best part about education as a career is getting to do the one thing I really love doing, which is sharing knowledge.
What do/did you like least?
I’m not sure there is something I really “dislike” about education, but I think the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced (and continue to face) in the field is figuring out how to convince people to want to learn something. As a high school teacher, I faced this problem in a huge way, since secondary schooling is compulsory, and not every student I taught wanted to learn. Now that I tutor voluntarily paying customers instead, I definitely face this issue less, but it can still be challenging to get people to actually like what they’re learning, rather than just wanting to pass a class.
What is your Why of Financial Independence?
I think happiness is best achieved through freedom, and on a personal level, becoming financially independent is probably the single most powerful thing a person can do to open up their options in life. My wife and I want the vast majority of our days on Earth to be self-directed rather than prescribed. There’s just something great about waking up every day and actively choosing what you want to do, free from any obligation.
- FI Curious – Just learning and becoming interested in financial independence
- Future FI – On the path, but still learning. Destined for financial independence!
- FI Success – Financially independent!
I’d say we fall into the “Future FI” category. I still work full-time, and Lauren does a lot of freelance gigs in addition to running our blog. At this point in our lives though, we’re close enough to financial independence and have enough streams of income that we feel completely untethered to any particular jobs or financial responsibilities, and that’s been a massive boon to our happiness. I think financial freedom comes on a spectrum, and the liberty you have to make your own path in life increases the further you get along that spectrum. A lot of people like to depict FI as a specific goal line you cross on a specific day, but it’s never felt that way to us at all.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing.
For both of us, our first “real jobs” came around age 23, and we each started out in the $34-38k/yr range in terms of salary at our full-time jobs. Since then (we’re 29 and 30 now), we’ve both made more and more over time, but neither of us has ever made a six-figure salary. We’ve always supplemented our employment income with a small photography business, a few random side gigs, and of course, credit card and bank account sign-up bonuses galore.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
I think the biggest initial success that catapulted us forward financially was saving over $100,000 in two years right out of college by just maintaining that stereotypical “college lifestyle” into adulthood a little longer. Having that baseline cash buffer is what gave us the courage to delve into long-term travel and really start to get more creative with the way we wanted to live our life.
What are your challenges?
Lately, our biggest challenge has been figuring out how much we really ought to be working any more, and what we might be doing instead. It can be tough to actually cut the cord on employment income when you’re used to having it around, and we’re working on figuring out how and when we want to do that, and what that looks like exactly.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
We used to have a “number” we were specifically shooting for, but that notion disappeared pretty quickly when we realized how much freedom we had after getting less than halfway there. We both think the FIRE community should focus less on hitting a specific “number” and more on how a buffer of investments and valuable skills, like photography and tutoring for us, can just make you feel invincible and totally job-independent long before you’re “properly FI.”
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
I don’t foresee either of us working a typical, full-time job ever again after financial independence. I also don’t foresee myself ever giving up teaching or educating in some capacity or another. Other than that, I’m hesitant to speculate about what our lives might look like in the future. We’re not much for planning.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
In the past, we’ve always sought adventure and fun in exotic, faraway places. Right now, we’re working on enjoying our home state and everything we have around us, which we have always tended to take for granted.
Who/what inspires you?
In terms of Financial Independence, I think the person who we feel the most inspired by and connected to is Mr. Money Mustache. He is just so right about so many things, and he gave us so much of the knowledge and inspiration we needed to stay motivated, especially in the early days.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Please talk to your students about financial independence. They want to hear about this stuff. The younger someone is, the more they stand to gain from financial education. You can make a huge difference in their lives. We’d love for you to use any parts of our blog in your classroom.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
Honestly, we’d just love to hear anything, good or bad, from anyone who reads our blog. It’s kinda weird when you’re a content creator how you can have thousands of people check out your stuff, yet somehow hear almost nothing from anyone about what they thought. If anyone wants to drop us a line on social media or just shoot us an email, we’d love to hear what you think.
Where can readers reach you if they want to connect?
Our personal finance & travel blog is Trip Of A Lifestyle
Thanks, Steven and Lauren!
I love how they started strong right out of college by building up that $100,000. I’ve shared that our biggest financial mistake was not starting early. They nailed that part and have an incredible financial future in front of them. Make sure you check out Trip of a Lifestyle.
If you missed it – don’t forget to check out our last interview with JJ, an international teacher building a path to FI.
You can find all the Educator on FIOR interviews here.