We are the Horizons (not in real life but it is fairly catchy…). Our financial independence journey began as the result of an evaluation of our lives. We adjusted our lifestyle to fit our values and what we enjoy. For us, exploring the great outdoors and creating unique adventures that few get the opportunity to experience was a very high priority. Our interests typically do not align with mainstream consumerism. We found we get more fulfillment from a week out on the Appalachian Trail or skiing the American Birkebeiner than we could ever get from material goods. Most of our personal identity does not come from our careers so we define ourselves by the lives we live away from work. Our hopes are to raise our children valuing faith, nature, and life experiences well above titles, status, and belongings. This isn’t to say we are cheap or skimp on everything. We live happily but cut costs were we feel it doesn’t add value to our lives. For example, where some would spend $100 on an extravagant meal at a fancy restaurant, we would rather eat re-hydrated meals on a trail overlooking mountain peaks dotted with alpine lakes. This mindset and prioritization of our lives allows us to live well within our means and pursue our goal of FI. Our version of a fulfilling life allows us to live like most others won’t for now, so we can live like no one else can later.
I grew up in a household that did not have a solid understanding of money. My father was always a saver but did not understand investing or how to make your money work for you. My mother and step father had difficulty managing money and constantly fought over it. They had 2nd and 3rd mortgages on our home growing up and eventually it ended in foreclosure.
I had a fascination with how money worked at a very young age. I remember by the age of seven I would deliver soda to aunts and uncles at family gatherings in return for their loose change. From there I would count my change and see how much I could save. By 10 I had opened my own bank account and was saving money from cutting grass and raking leaves for houses in the neighborhood. This is where I was first introduced to simple interest. At the time all I understood is the bank was paying me for nothing, all I had to do was give them money that I had no intentions of spending and they would pay me a small amount to hold onto it.
As a teenager I worked as much as possible and opened my first investment account at 16. An economics teacher at my high school taught me more about simple rules and investment principles. Nothing major, just the very basics.
After high school I was not ready for college and wasted all the money I had invested since 16. So I closed my investment account and joined the Marine Corps. During one of my flights I bought one of the most influential books of my young adulthood. It was The Automatic Millionaire, by David Bach. I still have that book and to this day believe and follow many of the principles with in it.
While in the military, I began the principle of paying myself first by opening a Thrift Saving Plan (TSP) and having money automatically deducted from my paycheck. This was my first introduction to retirement savings. I continued to save what I could while in the military.
When I got out of the military I had a small amount of money built up and an even smaller TSP account. I used the money I had saved to purchase a home and went back to school using the G.I. Bill to fund my education. It was at college where I met Mrs. Horizon. We had common interests and also worked on school work together. This was prior to us pursuing our respective disciplines at different universities. I worked my way through college allowing me to max out an IRA each year even though my employer did not have a sponsored retirement plan. I invested this money in actively managed mutual funds and still maintain that IRA of actively managed funds today. At the time I did not understand all of the different expense ratios and fees associated with them. I was not an expert, but I knew doing nothing was a recipe for disaster. I was still young and with time on my side and the effects of compounding interest could still work for me. Each summer over the next four years I set aside money to renovate the home I had purchased. I graduated college right as my G.I. Bill ran out with no debt other than the small mortgage on my home.
I sold that house and got my first post-college job. With the small profits I made from the house, I was able to start investing in low cost index funds and even put a small amount of money into peer to peer lending. I currently work very hard to max out my 401K and an IRA (the same mutual fund noted above). I also save in taxable index funds and own some individual stocks. On top of that I keep a small amount in peer to peer lending.
I would say I am a bit more hands on than Mrs. Horizon, but still set up as much as possible to be automatic. I believe by making the majority of your savings automatic and investing in a well-developed strategy that focuses on long term investment returns and minimizing day to day costs of investing will lead to the best results. I do not try to time the market and keep the majority of my portfolio in index funds, but will look for under-valued stocks in a small part of my portfolio where I purchase shares of individual companies.
I grew up in a large family and my parents were very frugal. We bought most of our toys from garage sales, our clothes were hand-me-downs, and our cars were never new. Growing up this way showed me that belongings had very little impact on our family’s happiness. My parents could have afforded brand new clothes, toys, cars, and furniture but instead they saved their money for things that were more important to them which were memorable family vacations. Yet we didn’t have massively expensive vacations either. We went camping in tents, canoed in the wilderness, and road tripped to see different parts of the country. Since they never spent tons of money on our vacations we were able to take three weeks of adventurous vacations every summer! It was an incredible way to grow up and ingrained saving as a way of life.
When I got my first job at 16 I knew that I needed to fund my own college education since my parents has made it clear that it was each child’s responsibility. So I immediately began saving as much as I could. I had very little interest in personal finance but I knew how to save. When I graduated high school, I stayed in my hometown and lived at home while going to a two year university full time, all the while waitressing nearly 40 hours a week. My parents allowed me to live at home which was a huge contribution to my college savings. The college I went to cost very little and since I was working so much I was able to save lots of money. It was at this two year university that Mr. Horizon and I met. I then transferred and moved to a 4 year university that had my major and finished out my bachelor’s degree. While I was at that college for two and a half years I was a TA part time and did a small amount of part time research. During this time I was able to work a 9 month paid internship and another 3 month paid internship in my hometown where I was once again living at home. Eventually through all of this I was able to graduate with $800 in my bank account and absolutely no student debt!
During my last semester of school, Mr. Horizon mentioned that he thought we could retire early…like reeeeaally early. I had never heard of financial independence let alone retiring in your mid-thirties and with graduation looming, I didn’t give the idea much thought. After graduation, I fortunately had a job lined up and was able to start quickly. Mr. Horizon kept bringing up early retirement and finally after being shown the numbers I realized that it could be a reality. Once that fact sank in, my interest in financial independence and personal finance grew. Although I like learning about FI and researching different financial ideas, I am not very hands on in my investing style. Automatic reinvesting, re-balancing, and payments are right up my alley. My hands off approach to investing has lead me to using Betterment and my employer’s 401K.