Today, we, Ali and Josh, are married and run The FI Couple, a platform where we use our training as a social worker and a counselor, respectively, and our passion for personal finance to help other people feel empowered and confident about their money. But it took some time for us to get to that point with our own finances.
In 2017, we were officially done being students. Between the two of us, we had accumulated two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree — and almost zero personal finance skills. Along with our degrees, we had $102,000 of student loans and another $15,000 worth of car and credit card debt.
Retirement accounts like 401(k)s or IRAs were foreign to us, we were spending far more than we were saving, and our "emergency fund" was an almost maxed out, high-interest credit card. We were in more debt than we knew what to do with, and we were financially clueless.
A job loss prompted us to drastically change our trajectory. In 2018, we got married and Josh was unexpectedly laid off by a long-term employer. We were living a highly leveraged life, and now we had only one stream of income: Ali's 9-to-5 job.
Video by Courtney Stith
We knew we wanted a family one day, and we wanted to be able to spend valuable time with them. We realized how financially unprepared we were for all our hopes and dreams. We recognized that we needed to make serious changes, but we had no idea where to start.
Today, we have paid off almost $70,000 of our student loan debt. Our car loans and credit card debt are gone. We have also been able to simultaneously fund Roth IRAs, invest in a taxable brokerage account, and build a rental property portfolio. Our emergency fund is no longer handled by high-interest credit cards. Instead, we have a separate savings account at a high-interest online bank.
And we are on track to retire in our 30s. We turned it around, but we didn't do it alone. We discovered some incredibly helpful books and podcasts that made us feel more in control of our financial future.
Video by Courtney Stith
"Set for Life" by Scott Trench: We often refer to "Set for Life" as the blueprint we are using in pursuit of early financial freedom. Scott Trench writes this book in a very straightforward style that outlines a path for the everyday person to build wealth. In this book we became introduced to the concept of house hacking, which has not only reduced our housing costs, but in turn, has enabled us to aggressively eliminate our credit card debt and pay off more than half of our student loans.
"Simple Path to Wealth" by JL Collins: Building wealth, especially making use of the stock market, can be daunting. Author JL Collins does a terrific job in "Simple Path to Wealth" of simplifying the process and helping investors understand how basic investing in the stock market can and should be. Collins also does a tremendous job in the book of laying out the psychology behind his investing philosophy. He advises focusing far less on trying to choose an individual stock that may or may not perform, and instead purchasing broad based index funds and earning passive income from those investments.
"The Millionaire Next Door'' by Thomas Stanley: There is often a perception of how a millionaire handles their money. It's often glamorized by what we see on TV and in movies, but according to Stanley, the reality is that the everyday millionaire lives a fairly normal life and focuses not on get-rich-quick-schemes but instead, sound investments including a workplace 401(k), paying off a primary mortgage, and avoiding taking on additional debt. In his work, Stanley shows how seemingly aspirational wealth is actually attainable, thanks to steps that anyone can take.
"I Will Teach You to Be Rich" by Ramit Sethi: Ramit Sethi's bestselling book is somewhat of a contrast from many of the traditional books on personal finance that offer up fairly regimented suggestions for how to manage money. Sethi does a terrific job of challenging the reader to think about their values above all else; learning to spend comfortably on areas that enrich your life while working to reduce or eliminate spending on areas that do not. This book was transformative for us because it gave us permission to still spend on the things we enjoyed, while ensuring we had more than enough money left over each month to still hit our saving and investing goals.
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"Bigger Pockets Money": Bigger Pockets is a real estate education platform with a variety of podcasts and resources. We love their money podcast because they do a great job of featuring guests that invest in real estate as well as other wealth-building assets. The podcast does a great job of emphasizing that wealth building is not one size fits all: There are many different investments that can help people reach their goals, and you do not need to be a super high income earner in order to reach your financial goals.
"Choose FI": Hosts Jonathan Mendonsa and Brad Barrett talk about personal finance, financial independence, and lifestyle design on the "Choose FI Podcast." This is a great resource for anyone looking to better understand the ins and outs of financial independence, and how simple investments done consistently over time can grow into passive income. What we love about this podcast is that they routinely feature guests that come from all walks of life who share their experience and wisdom with the audience.
"Afford Anything": Host Paula Pant is an investor, author, and business owner who interviews a diverse array of entrepreneurs, early retirees, scientists, psychologists, and more. The podcast highlights that when it comes to finances, people can afford anything, but not everything. And as a result, we must make daily decisions about our money, time, energy, and focus. Pant often highlights the importance of that intentional decision-making process, a reminder that has been so helpful to us as we work toward our goals.
"Marriage, Kids and Money": Host Andy Hill interviews everyday people with a variety of backgrounds who have decided to change their lives, pay off debt, and become financially independent. The Plutus award-winning podcast has over 300 episodes on topics like how to pay off your mortgage early and how to start a business. Hill is an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and relatable presence who knows how to make personal finance fun. We especially love his new "Bread and Wine" series with his wife Nicole, where they discuss the ups and downs of pursuing financial freedom as a married couple.
A few years ago, we were basically starting from scratch. Neither of us came from families that talked about finances or investing. We didn't get info about personal finance in primary school, or for that matter, during our expensive college experiences either. Despite our lack of resources or knowledge, though, we were curious and wanted to learn.
We started dedicating hours every day to educating ourselves about how to manage our money in a more effective way using the resources above as well as others. We realized that what we earned in our day jobs was just one piece of the wealth-building puzzle. We worked to strategically reduce our cost of living, and increase and diversify our income.
Any money that was left over after covering our expenses, we invested into assets like stocks and real estate.
We still have a way to go before we reach our ultimate goals, but we have already made so much progress on our journey. We wouldn't have been able to accomplish what we have so far without the resources and community that we have found online, and through the books and podcasts that continue to educate us on our way to financial freedom and early retirement.
Ultimately, we hope these resources can be as instructive and inspiring to you as they have been for us.
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