Our Next Life - Retiring to a Life in the Mountains

Our Next Life – Retiring to a Life in the Mountains


Later this year, at the ages of 38 and 41, the couple behind OurNextLife.com will be quitting the stressful, time-consuming jobs that they’ve held for most of their adult lives and will be retiring to a life in the mountains.

This is particularly interesting to me because one of my dreams is to live on the side of the mountain and get a part-time ski patrol job. Because really, what could be better than waking up early after a big snowfall, grabbing a cup of coffee with your buddies, then strapping on your skis and heading up the mountain to throw bombs and trigger avalanches?

It was actually the Our Next Life Instagram feed that prompted me and Jill to start talking about making that mountain dream a reality within the next ~5 years.

Here is one of their many photos that make me sick with jealously:

Our Next Life Instagram

So much glorious snow

Join me for a Financial Independence Podcast interview with Ms. ONL to hear all about this exciting transition to the mountains and to find out what their next life has in store for them!

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Highlights

  • What to do if you’re not naturally frugal
  • Why you should gradually trim your expenses if your spending is high
  • The risk of losing your identity when leaving a long-term, time-consuming job
  • Finding meaning after early retirement
  • Using your money to help out your family
  • What it’s like living in a ski town
  • The additional costs of mountain life
  • How to transition from the big city to the mountains
  • Preparing for the two phases of early retirement

Show Links

Full Transcript

Mad Fientist: Hey, what’s up, everybody? Welcome to the Financial Independence Podcast, the podcast where I get inside the brains of some of the best and brightest in the personal finance space to find out how they achieve financial independence.

Before we dive into today’s episode, I just want to let you know that I released version 2.0 of the credit card search tool I created for travel hackers. You may remember a few years ago, I wrote a web application to help travel hackers find the best credit card sign-up bonuses. Well, I got a lot of feedback from you, so thanks a lot of that, and I’ve implemented a lot of the new features.

So, if you want to check it out, just head over to Cards.MadFientist.com.

I also created a short video just describing why I think it’s the best card search tool for travel hacking. I’ll put a link to that in the shownotes if you want to check that out too.

Today, I’m excited to introduce my guest. It’s Ms. ONL from Our Next Life. Ms. ONL has a sensitive employment situation, so she wants to remain completely anonymous until she quits later this year. I completely respect that. That’s why she will be referred to as Ms. ONL for the rest of the episode.

But she is living one of my early retirement dreams actually. She put herself in this position with her husband before hitting financial independence. I am excited to talk to her about it because it’s something that my wife and I are considering as well.

She currently lives in the mountains and is just enjoying all the fantastic things that come with living in the mountain like skiing and hiking. It sounds like a really exciting existence. I think that may be one of our next steps as well, moving to somewhere like that, so we can just enjoy all the free things that the mountains have to offer.
So, I’m excited to talk to her about that. I’m excited to see what her next life looks like because she’s going to start it at some point in 2017.

So, without further delay, Ms. ONL, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

Ms. ONL: Yeah! Thanks for having me.

Mad Fientist: So, this one is going to be a little different because you still haven’t revealed your true identities yet. But that’s coming in 2017, is that right?

Ms. ONL: That is right! We are super excited to unveil ourselves because the whole anonymous thing and referring to ourselves with fake names is getting a little old. We can’t wait to do that.

Mad Fientist: Nice! And that was all based primarily on just the fact that your jobs are quite sensitive I think and you’re just worried that that would maybe hinder your progress to financial independence if they found out?

Ms. ONL: Yeah, that’s exactly right. We’ve wanted to share our journey. We started really just to have a log of it for ourselves. But then it really turned into something where we’ve been able to share with a big community, and we’ve loved that. But it would pretty much destroy our whole plan if our employers found out. We sort of need those incomes to get to full early retirement.

Mad Fientist: Nice! Yeah, and I completely respect that. Maybe just tell a little bit about yourself. I know you can’t say exactly what you do and how you got to financial independence, but maybe just give a little idea of your journey.

Ms. ONL: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to awkwardly refer to my husband as Mr. ONL even though he has a proper human name. We’ve been married for, my gosh, almost nine years. And unlike a lot of folks who got into FI, we didn’t start out as naturally frugal people.

We met when we were in our twenties, and Mr. ONL was definitely in kind of that bachelor phase of life where he had the big TV and the fancy sound system and really liked to impress me when we were first dating, and so he introduced me to some embarrassingly expensive meals along the way (though I will say that those are the kinds of meals that you remember for your whole life. We don’t regret spending that money).

But somewhere along the line, we realized that we could still do fun things and save a lot as well. And a big part of that is we have above average incomes. We’re both consultants. We travel a lot for work. We do the kind of work where you’re expected to be online essentially 24/7 and trade your soul and all your free time and all your free brain space to work, and so they pay you a little more in exchange for that. So, that really gives us the luxury to be able to have a nice life and still save a lot.

But once we actually learned about FI and did the math, we realized that we actually could make some pretty minor cuts to our lifestyle and get to FI within about 10 years. And so we initially had what we call the “10-year plan.”

And then, over time, we realized—actually not over much time. Over about a year, we realized that we could cut some other stuff and we could get there a whole heck of a lot faster. And so then it turned into the “6-year plan.”

And by the time we quit our jobs at the end of this year (or possibly a little sooner), it will actually have only been the 5-year plan, which, we realize, is super fast! We know that that’s totally just a factor of higher than average income and a few other things we’ve been really lucky with.

We’ve bought our house which we just paid off in 2011 when it was pretty much the bottom of the housing market. We got a really good deal there. If we bought two years earlier or two years later, I think we’d have to save up a bit more to be able to do that.

So, I think luck has been a huge factor in all of it, but also, we’re so thankful that we discovered this concept.

I think we always knew we didn’t want to work forever. But we didn’t really know how to do that. We just knew that as a theory. And yeah, that’s the basics.

Mad Fientist: That’s awesome! And congratulations on paying off your mortgage. That’s very exciting stuff.

Ms. ONL: Thank you. I know not everybody is in favor of doing that. But for us, it felt like the right thing, to just know we’d always have a permanent home base, a roof over a head, and we could really then reduce our living expenses a ton.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, absolutely. And you live in an amazing location which we will talk about soon definitely because I’m really interested in it.

But five years ago, what made you switch? Was it a pretty drastic change from those spending years to the “saving tons of money” years? What was the catalyst for it?

Ms. ONL: There was never a drastic moment to be honest. We had started saving really in earnest a couple of years into our relationship to buy our first place. We lived in a really expensive city, and I was definitely the bubble years. We felt like even earning very good incomes, we were never going to be able to afford a home. And so we got pretty aggressive about saving.

But it wasn’t in terms of making big cuts. It was just like we would bank every year-end bonus. We know that actually just having a compensation structure with a year-end bonus has been a huge factor in our success and not one that we can tell people, “Go out and replicate that.” But having a chunk of money that comes in at the end of the year that you can save straightaway has been such a gift to us.

So, we started doing that. We started banking all of our pay increases, so that we essentially still live on, I would say, our 2007 salary. So, for 10 years, everything that we’ve gained in raises is just going straight into savings.

And then, it really helped a lot actually when we moved to the mountains from the big city about 5 ½ years ago. That let us start saving on restaurants and on the types of things that you just easily spend on the city.

When you get together with friends in the city, you’re easily in for $100 a person if you’re going to a restaurant. But here in the mountains, it’s totally different.

First of all, there just aren’t as many restaurants. And the ones that are here are much cheaper. And so if we go out with friends, it’s not a $100 per person affair. And people are much more likely to say, “Hey, do you want to go for a hike?” or “Do you want to have a picnic?” or “Do you what to come over and play games?”

And so the types of things that we’re doing with friends are just free most of the time.

And that has helped us save money—and then, some other little stuff like we cut the cord, so we only have Internet in the house instead of cable, and little optimizations we’ve made along the way.

But I still wouldn’t describe us as extremely frugal. It’s been more just kind of a gradual set of trimming here and there, so it never felt like a huge lifestyle shift and nothing we have ever done has ever felt like a big sacrifice.

We’ll still splurge on things once in a while. We have a big international trip coming up. I know that’s not going to be cheap. And we’re okay with that. That stuff is still worth it to us.

But I definitely recommend for those who are used to spending a lot, used to living a certain lifestyle, trim those things little by little. Don’t try to cut it all at once or you’re just going to feel really miserable.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s great advice. You definitely don’t want to get into the deprivation zone. And trimming little by little makes it a lot easier.

Yeah, it was the same for us. We found we didn’t miss anything. We weren’t huge spenders to begin with. But the stuff that we did cut out, we actually are happier now that we don’t have that stuff in our lives because a lot of that stuff just adds stress and complexity.

So, what was it that put you on the path to financial independence then? So you’re saving your year-end bonuses and you’re cutting back in some ways. But then, it sounds like you really ramped up at some point.

Ms. ONL: Yeah. After we saved for our first place which we bought in the city, we realized that even though our expenses went up a little bit at that point (because we have been living in a super cheap rent-controlled apartment which let us save aggressively at that point), after we’ve adjusted to the new mortgage payment, we realized that we could still save. And so we kept saving.

And this is maybe more history than you want, but then we decided to buy our house in the mountains while we still lived in the city. And we kept that place. We actually had a couple of years when we owned two places which I feel slightly embarrassed admitting as an FI person.

But given everything, it actually worked out because then, the market picked up in those years. And when we sold, we were able to do okay with that. And then, we were able to actually put that money into the rental property that we own now. So it all worked out.

But we realized that even with the two places, we had gotten sufficient raises that we could still be saving. And so we just made a decision not to inflate our income. And that realization I think that we could still save even with that, and then after we sold the place in the city, we realized we could bank all of that.

It was sort of that combined with, I think, reading an article somewhere about Mr. Money Mustache. We read a great book by Robert Charlton and Robin Charlton called How to Retire Early that’s on Amazon. It really laid out the math. We applied our numbers to it and realized we can actually do this quickly.

And I think that was the thing. After we moved to the mountains, there’s so much here that we want to do. We felt like, “It’s great that we live here, but we aren’t really getting to enjoy it the way we’d like to. We’re still standing in the long ski lift lines on the weekends with all the crowds. We’re going out on the trails on the weekends when it’s packed.

We want to be able to do the mid-week stuff, and we wanted to be abl do all these outdoor aspirations that we have while we’re still young and able-bodied enough to do them.

And I will also say there’s an added factor for me which is my dad has a significant disability which limits his ability to do the kinds of stuff that we do outdoors. And we’ve never known if I’m going to get that. It has a genetic aspect to it. Some people have a non-genetic form. Unfortunately, it’s not well-studied, and so they don’t actually have a test for it. And so I don’t know if I have the gene to get what he has.

As every year passes, the chances that I’m going to get it get lower and lower. So I think now at age 37, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m in the clear. But when we started on all of these, we didn’t know that.

And so it was really important to me to, first, move to the mountains. And then, to pursue FI as fast as we could, so that I can still make sure that I have some good years even if this happens.

And that’s just always been a big thing on my mind. My dad came down with that when I was late in elementary school. So it’s something that I grew up around. It was a big part of my thinking and deciding that I didn’t have kids because I don’t want to risk passing that on. So, that has always been a big factor.

And I think connecting the dots between that and FI was really such a gift and something that really helped to motivate us.

Mad Fientist: Wow! Yeah, that does sound like that would be very motivating. So, when your father came down with that, how old was he at the time?

Ms. ONL: I think that it snuck up for a few years before I was really aware of it. And he’s like a stoic guy of the baby boomer generation, so I wasn’t kept up-to-date as a kid on all the in’s and out’s of it.

But he had to stop working because of it when I was in 7th grade. And I think it was outwardly visible from maybe about 5th grade for me. He was I think 40 when it started to be visible, and 42 when he stopped working—which is a whole other funny thing because it means that I grew up with an early retiree. That is our role model—which is funny because Mr. ONL also had an early retiring dad. He retired in his early fifties from a military career. So, in a weird way, we’re both just living our family destiny.

But yeah, I think from middle school on was really when I saw that. And then I saw it progress to some extent.

He’s still healthy. It’s not something that’s ever going to shorten his life. It just really limits his mobility.

Mad Fientist: Sure! So, you moved to the mountains. That must have been a big change from East Coast big city living to West Coast mountain town living. How has that transition been because it’s something that I’m really interested in potentially doing at some point? I think living close drive to ski destinations is probably the early retiree life that would make us happy, just being outside a lot and always having some activities to do that are fun. So what was that transition like?

Ms. ONL: The transition wasn’t as jarring or dramatic as you might expect. I think the thing that people maybe don’t understand or appreciate about ski towns is that they are full of people from the cities because people are traveling here. There are a few sleepy ski town still, but for the most part, we all get kind of a deluge of weekend folks or we get lots of people like us who moved from the big city to be here.

So, I think unlike a small town that’s not a ski town, we still mostly are populated by people who have lived in the city at some point, people who are educated, who are interested in the world.

In terms of the people we met here, I think we feel like they’re mostly pretty similar to folks we knew in East Coast cities and then when we were in the West in a big city. I will say the things that I love the most are the lack of traffic except maybe on powder days to the resorts. That’s obviously a huge factor in most big cities.

And then, little things like, at first, when we first moved in, we didn’t have our kitchen boxes unpacked, and we were trying to get food delivered at 9 at night and realized that no one would bring us food, that was a funny moment of realizing that.

But after you accept that stuff, it’s actually—at least in our town—not that different. We have a big grocery store. We have all the services we want. Plus, you can order things online now. So if you need something, you can get it in town. It’s still easy to get it.

And just if anyone has this image of us living up on a mountainside all by ourselves, that is definitely not our situation. We live in a normal subdivision which looks like probably a suburb anywhere except that we have bigger trees and the houses mostly have wood siding instead of being painted or something. They look like mountain houses, but it’s just a normal neighborhood.

I think interacting with the neighbors, that’s actually really nice. In the city, people don’t often have that same kind of connection.

But I think the adjustment overall was not really that big of a deal other than just recognizing that we’re going to probably want to travel to the city more. When we lived in the city, we would spend all of our vacation time going to mountains or going to wilderness areas. And now, living in the mountains, we spend our vacation time mostly going to cities. So that’s been the big flip.

Mad Fientist: Nice! Yeah, we always want what we don’t have. It’s always the case no matter how much you try to stop that from happening. You’re like, “Oh, man. I got to get back into the city again.”

Ms. ONL: Yeah.

Mad Fientist: So, how is it to build community in a place like a ski town? Like you said, there’s a lot of people just coming in for the weekends. I guess there are quite a lot of people that do live there.

But when I was in Ecuador, I was listening to Mr. Money Mustache’s talk down there. He was talking about happiness and all these things. He was talking about how community plays a huge part in happiness. I realized that’s something that Jill and I don’t really have because we travel so much, and we want to see so many different places, and we always are flip-flopping back from Scotland to America and vice versa. We’re never really settled in a place for more than two to four years. It’s hard to build that community around you in that short of a time.

So, the big question on these ski town questions is: we’re thinking about maybe our next big move being a more permanent one and somewhere like a ski town or somewhere obviously with mountains around it that we could get to easily at least, is it easy to build a community in a place like that?

Ms. ONL: Yeah. I actually think it has been super easy. It’s certainly much easier to build community here than it was in the city. In the city, it took us several years to feel like we had a good group of friends, especially after we were both working remotely and didn’t have that kind of built-in social structure at work.

But the biggest thing is everybody who moves here has a set of common interests. No one would move up here and deal with all the winter snow and all the tourists on the weekends if they didn’t love all of the things that the mountains have to offer.

So it really makes it easy to just strike up a conversation with someone and have a common understanding. The biggest differences are: do you ski or do you snowboard? Do you ride full suspension or hard tail? Those are the only differences. But otherwise, everyone is into all the same stuff. And so that, for sure, makes it easy.

You may not have necessarily the greatest intellectual connection with someone, but you can at least find people to go on a hike together or to go out paddling with you or do whatever you’re into. And so that has made it easy.

And the other thing is, I don’t know if you found this in the city in the past, but traffic is such a factor in so many places that people won’t get together during the week or people are busy and you have to schedule things a month out. We felt like we were doing really well in the city if we saw our good friends once every other month. That felt good.

But here, we’re more likely to see people almost every weekend. Especially with a very small town center, if you just go downtown, you bump into people and you say, “Hey, you want to grab dinner?” and you can actually make spontaneous plans which we never did in the city. And so that is definitely something I love.

I can’t speak to every ski town. I think that they all have a little bit different vibe and some tend to be a little bit more resistant to outsiders moving in and they have a much more pro-local vibe. That’s something we definitely discovered when we used to travel a lot more for skiing and went all over. But there are definitely plenty of good ones that have a really good, inclusive vibe and are thrilled when cool people move to town.

So, I would say for folks considering it, I think go check out the place you’re considering moving. Don’t just blindly move there. And make sure that people feel warm and open to you. But if you find that, I think it’s definitely easier here to form a social circle.

Mad Fientist: That’s really cool! That’s great to hear.

Ms. ONL: I think you should do it. You guys should definitely maybe move here.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, it sounds great. I’ve been talking to Carl of Mr. 1500 from 1500 Days for the past couple of weeks. We realized that we both have the exact same dreams of building a ski lodge—not a lodge, it probably makes it sounds a lot bigger than we’re thinking, but a little energy efficient ski house somewhere on a mountain. So I’ve got him scoping out Colorado for me. I’ll have you scope out west as well.

Ms. ONL: Yeah! No, talk to me about that. We can get in on that with you guys.

Mad Fientist: That would be awesome. One last question for you before we move on though. Is real estate prices a lot more? Obviously, you went from a big East Coast city, so you’re probably used to high prices. But were you surprised at how reasonable a house in the mountains is or where you…? Was it what you expected?

Ms. ONL: No. No, it’s expensive here. And I think that that’s true of virtually any ski destination—at least in the U.S. There are probably still a few hidden gems on little, itty-bitty mountains. But for all of the ski resorts that have real services, you’re going to pay a premium to live nearby.

And so we knew that. And that’s actually been an essential part of our FI plan, acknowledging that we want to live in a high cost of living place.

And there are so many different things too beyond just housing prices where we call it the “mountain tax” of what we pay at the grocery store or we pay for gas or we pay for utilities. I mean, that is definitely something to take into consideration because it was a rude awakening for us when we got our first natural gas bill, and it was $400 to heat our house to 62°. Do you know off-hand what that is in Centigrade for our…?

Mad Fientist: No, geez.

Ms. ONL: It’s cold! And that’s actually the area where we are most weirdly frugal. Now, we keep our house at 55°.

Mad Fientist: Nice! Well done.

Ms. ONL: Yeah, I know. You can’t see me now, but I’m super bundled up. And that is just how we do that because utilities are a fortune in rural areas. But I do think that that was, to us, such a huge part of being lucky and buying in 2011 when housing prices were way down.

So, what I can equate it to is the home prices here were roughly similar to what we were looking at in the big city. But you’ve got a bit more space. So, what we would’ve paid for a condo in the city, we could get a medium-sized house here.

And so, we didn’t save money, but we got more space. We aren’t sharing walls with neighbors anymore. We don’t have the condo board president coming in and being nosy in our business. So, it’s definitely been a good trade-up for us.

But then now, housing prices are back up to crazy levels here. So, I do think timing is hugely important as well.

Mad Fientist: Sure, definitely. So, you’ve paid off your mortgage, you own your own house, you have a rental property. What other sort of investment strategies have you used over the years to get to within a few months of FI.

Ms. ONL: And actually, we are technically a FI. We know that, at this point, we could live off the investments at a low level—I mean, above like an early retirement extreme level, but not quite where we want to be. So, we’re working this last year to get to where we can be pretty comfortable.

But overall, our investment strategy is super boring. We completely do the low cost index funds. We’re all about Vanguard. We mix roughly 70/30 of stock funds to bond funds (although we’ve been reducing our bond funds lately because we have a personal loan out that we’re using instead. And then, as those payments come in, then we’re buying bonds with them to keep that mix).

We like the SMP fund. We like the total market fund. We have been putting a little more on the international side lately just given all of it. But we try really hard not to time the market. So, we put money in twice a month no matter what.

And I think the thing that’s been the best for us is that Mr. ONL especially got a really early start on his 401k. So he started maxing in his early twenties. He’s definitely way ahead of me.

So, our 401k’s have actually been at a point for, I think, well over a year now where we could stop. And then, by the time we hit 60, they would support us. We’re still maxing because we can, and because why not. We’d rather have a big chunk of money sitting there for us later.

But I think the big difference in our strategy is we’re thinking of our retirement in two phases:

So, in the first phase, we’re really just going to live off of taxable. We’re hoping not to need to do any of the backdoor ROTH stuff and bring any of that 401k money over. So, we call it kind of our “dirtbag” year.

So, between about age 40 and age 60, we can live a little cheaper. We can travel the less fancy way. If we need to stay hostels, we will. We have a ton of airline miles which is great. We’ll hopefully be able to travel on planes for quite a few years on those.

So, we can live pretty cheap until we hit 60. And then, once we can get to the 401k, then based on our current projections, at even pretty low returns on the market, we should be able to double or possibly triple our annual spend by the time we hit 60.

And I would say that’s not even living super meager, 40 to 60. It’s just a more scaled back kind of thing.

So, for us, that’s comfortable. We’d rather know that that money is sitting out there because who knows what’s going to happen with healthcare, who knows if we’ll have high healthcare expenses. There are so many variables out there in the world. We could have to take care of family members; we just don’t know. \

So, having that, what we call the “big nest egg” for later, having that there is something that’s really comforting.

Mad Fientist: That’s cool! And your rental property experience, how has that been?

Ms. ONL: So, we probably broke all the rules. I think most people who are professional landlords would not love how we went about it, but we specifically bought a rental property to rent to a relative. And so we were a little picky about the property and made sure it covered all the needs, checked all the boxes.

And it’s still a good cap rate (the ratio of rent to purchase price that people look at), but it’s not awesome. I think we would’ve looked for a cheaper place if we were just doing it strictly for the money. But to us, we sort of feel like “Why save all these money if we can’t help the people we love and if we can’t do some good in the world?” And so, that was a priority we placed.

Right now, the rental is cashflow neutral. We’re actually a little bit cashflow negative if you look at the income tax on it because we’re on a pretty high bracket right now. But once we retire, then it will definitely shift into a tiny bit positive. And then, when we pay off that mortgage in 12 years (we’re not speeding up the payments on that one. We wanted to pay off our house fast, but we’re going to just let the rental mortgage on schedule), once we pay that off, then that’ll be really good cashflow. And that’s definitely factored into our planning.

Mad Fientist: That’s cool! Is your relative still renting it?

Ms. ONL: Yup! And we feel super happy. That relative has a really solid stream of income. So that feels like really rock solid. We feel like we have the world’s best tenant. We feel super lucky about that. We know that it’s going to be a long-term gig.

I think if we were thinking about tenant turnover, and having to find good tenants, I don’t even know that I would want to do that. That’s not something that interests me particularly.

Mad Fientist: That’s cool! So, no more real estate for you then? You’re just sticking with the one then?

Ms. ONL: Maybe. I mean, you talked to Chad Carson recently. He’s so knowledgeable about this stuff and has helped us see some of the possibilities. So if the real estate market goes significantly down again, I wouldn’t say never on that, but it’s not top of our list.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, definitely. I think I’m in the same boat.

So, you obviously live in the mountains, but you are a consultant. So that’s a lot of telecommuting and a lot of travel as well. How long have you been telecommuting for?

Ms. ONL: Six years for me, and a bit longer I think—actually, possibly 11 years for Mr. ONL. So, we’ve been at this a while. And people are always asking how we got this gig, and I can’t actually give any solid advice there because it was just completely circumstantial with our companies. We didn’t apply for telecommuting jobs. We both have proper bricks-and-mortar offices. And then, for a couple of different reasons that we’ll share once we unveil ourselves, we were just able to start telecommuting.

So, it’s definitely different, but we feel super lucky to have been able to look into this and live in the mountains and still do these jobs that pay us enough to save rapidly for FI.

Mad Fientist: You’ve been with your current companies for quite a while—most of your career, right?

Ms. ONL: Mm-hmmm… yeah.

Mad Fientist: So, are you at all concerned about maybe like having a loss of identity when you finally walk away from your jobs because it seems like you’re quite tied to the company and the job itself?

Ms. ONL: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that’s something that people really should think through. Think about what is it that defines you, what is it that you want to define you in the future. This is something that we think and write about a lot on the blog.

But yeah, I think we have the types of careers that are really defining. Especially just feeling relevant in the world is something that I wonder about. We’ve thought about that and thought about ways that we can replace a little bit of that through some of our volunteer work in the future.

Also, we don’t see early retirement as not working. It’s just going to be working on projects that we want to do and that we care about. So I think that, for me, it’s really important to have creative outlets. I think the blog will do some of that. There are some other things we’re going to do to try to just create a new identity.

I agree with you. I think having all this diappear overnight could be really tough. And if you look at the research, I know early retirees don’t often want to compare ourselves to traditional retirees, but there are actually pretty high rates of depression that set in right after people retire. I think early retirees have this incredible luxury of retiring on our own terms, which isn’t true for most people.

Most people envision that they’re going to work until 65 or later. But in reality, something happens, and they get forced to retire more like at age 62 or earlier. And so just being able to retire on our own terms, to do some of these thinking ahead of time of “What are we going to do? What’s important to us? What are our goals?”, I think all of that is super helpful to kind of ease that transition.

Although all of that said, I haven’t actually retired yet. So this could all just be an academic exercise.

But what have you found? Have you found that that was tough?

Mad Fientist: Oh, yeah.

Ms. ONL: Yeah?

Mad Fientist: Well, I was so thankful to have a few projects that I have already started before because I think that first Monday, I freaked out a little bit even with having all these stuff. And even though I was telecommuting, and really, from an outsider’s point of view, that Monday looked pretty much identical to the Monday before it when I was working, had I not had the Mad Fientist stuff to work on and a few other software projects I was working on, and some of my hobby-based projects that I was working on, I think I would’ve really freaked out.

And yeah, I think depression would’ve been a possibility have I not found something quickly to fill the void even though my work void was probably a lot smaller than your work void—it sounds like it could be.

So yeah, I think that’s a huge thing. And that’s definitely something I’m going to focus more on in the writing this year, sort of trying to figure out how best people can find these other things to find meaning in things.

Ms. ONL: I love that you’re doing that. It’s so important. And I think it’s so easy with especially FI bloggers to just talk about the money, but the money is a tiny piece of it. Of course, savings is important. But really, once you automate this stuff, mostly, saving for retirement is just waiting. It’s just waiting for the money to pile up. And so, while you’re waiting, you might as well do some of that work to think about: “What do I want to do next? What wheels can I put in motion now to give me something that’s fulfilling later?”

And maybe it’s different for some folks who don’t love their jobs or don’t feel defined by them, but I still think that there’s value in thinking that stuff through.

I’m so thankful to have the blog now. That’s pretty time-consuming. So I think I’m still going to have something that feels a little bit like a job. But I’m so excited.

I don’t know if you felt this way. At FinCon, when we hung out, I didn’t notice you reaching you for your phone compulsively every five seconds like I do. But I cannot wait to try to break that twitch—to wake up in the morning, and not (as soon as my eyes pop open) reach over for my phone and get into that world right away or not to get out of bed and come right to my desk.

That’s the stuff that I hope will change where, even if we’re doing cool work and feel perfectly well-defined by it, that it’s not so dominating, that we can still be humans and not humans with this robot appendage.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. No, you’re going to love that. It’ll probably take you a while to detox from it and come down from the habit…

Ms. ONL: I bet!

Mad Fientist: But yeah, you’re going to love it.

So, your blog is called Our Next Life. You’ve already given us a glimpse of what your next life could potentially look like. But is there anything that you didn’t share that you’re looking forward to doing once you finally are free?

Ms. ONL: Oh, my gosh, yes. I think the reality is that even when we don’t have these super time-consuming jobs anymore, we’re still not going to have enough time to do everything we want.

We love to travel. There are so many places in the world where we want to travel, and we want to go slowly. I recently crossed over to a million lines in my United account, so I’m plotting every day how to use them.

And I think we’re trying to prioritize that in terms of places that are changing most rapidly. So we have Iceland at the top of the list, to make sure that we go see the glaciers there before global warming takes them away. I think some of the islands in the South Pacific, we want to hit up on their earlier sides since, someday, they’ll be underwater soon.

Things like that are definitely how we’re structuring our travel dreams.

We also want to buy a small RV and be able to travel around. We have this concept of [inaudible 00:35:16] This is a well-known name with skiers. We want to do the endless winter where we take our little, tiny RV and just follow the snow for a whole season. And ideally, we’d love to follow it down to South America and ski there through the summer and do that for a whole year.

I don’t know if we’ll pull that off, but that’s definitely something that we’re dreaming above. Mr. ONL I think is especially stoked about a lot of the outdoor stuff here in our larger region.

We love all of it! We love skiing probably the most. And then, in the summer, we like to backpack and do some mountaineering which really is just hiking but with some ice tools up glaciers and things. I think “mountaineering” sounds very mysterious to people who have never done it, but it’s really just walking with spikes on your feet.

Mad Fientist: That’s right.

Ms. ONL: I rock climb a little bit, but I think he’s much more into it. Who knows? We might get more into climbing and want to go climb the big walls like some of the ones in Yosemite. But that’s all stuff that we’d love to figure out.
And then, I think I’m more on the side of wanting to do some creative stuff. I would really love to start writing books. I have some ideas there. And then, we’re looking at some different ways of doing some multimedia storytelling that will probably tie into the blog—and a couple of other things.

So, I think we’ll be plenty busy.

And I didn’t even talk about the volunteering which is we really want to help the non-profits in our area be as effective as possible. And so we’re hoping to do some non-profit coaching for free or maybe just a tiny, tiny, little fee if it makes sense at that time. But that’s something where we want to still have that really good purpose and do good work and have a local impact which we can’t do right now. We can’t devote that kind of time, but we’ll feel really lucky to be able to do that once we have more time.

Mad Fientist: That’s great. Well, if you need housesitters when you’re off and traveling the world, just let us know, and we’ll come and watch after everything for you, no problem!

Ms. ONL: We’ll talk.

Mad Fientist: I usually end all my interviews with just asking for one piece of advice you’d give to somebody on the path to financial independence. So what would that be?

Ms. ONL: The one that I’ve been saying the most often recently is for folks who feel like I’m getting too late a start. It’s easy to look at folks who—like you think about the Frugalwoods who were able to pull off their big move to Vermont in their early thirties or Steve at Think, Save, Retire who retired at 35 recently or Matt and Daniel at the Resume Gap which is one of my favorite blogs, they were able to pull it off in their twenties, they’re people who are doing this so early that I think it’s easy to feel like, “Oh! Well, I’m 35 and just starting, so haven’t I missed the boat or isn’t this too late?”

But I think if you just compare yourself to this tiny, freakish fraction of people on the Internet who have blogs, then you’re bound to feel dissatisfied. I remember, we even wrote a post about this about a year and a half ago on feeling like we were late to the game. We’re going to be retiring at 38 and 41, so not late at all!

But my advice is, every day of freedom that you can steal back from 65 is a win. And so even if you are retiring at 64 ½ or 62, that’s still huge. And that’s still a lot more life that you get to live on your own terms than most people will ever get to say. Or just even being able to retire on your own terms is huge.

So, don’t be discouraged by how old you are now or where you’re starting. This stuff tends to accelerate and pick up the pace. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t ultimately end up getting there faster than they thought they would because as you get into it, you start optimizing things, you start finding other ways to cut expenses and save more or to side hustle and get more income that you can save.

You still have a lot of capacity no matter when you’re starting to make this happen for yourself. So there’s really no downside to it.

Even if early retirement isn’t on the table, if you’re 60 and you’re thinking about this, there’s still huge value in becoming financially independent and knowing that you can support yourself no matter what happens.

Especially right now, with so much uncertainty in the world, there has never been a better time to pursue FI.

So, it’s always worth it no matter where you are in life or in your journey. Go for it!

Mad Fientist: Fantastic advice! How can people get in touch with you?

Ms. ONL: They can go to our blog which is OurNextLife.com. We have, on the about page, all the ways you can contact us. We have our email address there.

We’re also super active on social; Twitter is where I do the most. And unfortunately, someone else got the @ournextlife handle to do a sad unrequited love Twitter that they haven’t used for five years. But you can find us there at @our_nextlife which is also our handle on Instagram where I post a lot of photography from our different mountain adventure and travel. So that one is not going to be any financial wisdom. That’s just going to be pretty travel and outdoor pics.

And then, we do Facebook too. But really, Twitter and Instagram are where we focus.

Mad Fientist: Cool! I’ll link to all those. And I definitely have to give all of the listeners out there a warning. Do not look at the Instagram if you’re a fan of snow and skiing because it will just make you so sick with jealousy. I look at it constantly, and then I just feel terrible.

It’s great though. It’s making me more enthusiastic about our potential mountain move.

Actually, the reason I started looking into that in the first place, I saw your Instagram and I was like, “Oh, my God! I need that in my life.” I started looking into it, and then I started talking to Carl. And now, who knows what’s going to happen from all that? I blame your Instagram.

But yeah, I’ll link to all that good stuff in the shownotes. This has been great!

So, thank you so much. Hopefully, I’ll get out there soon to see how good the skiing actually is.

Ms. ONL: Yeah, please do at any time. You guys are always invited. It’s been a total pleasure to talk with you. Thanks so much for having me.

Mad Fientist: Yeah! No it’s been great. Thanks! Talk to you soon.

Ms. ONL: Okay, bye.

Mad Fientist: Bye!

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27 comments for “Our Next Life – Retiring to a Life in the Mountains

  1. Zed
    February 27, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Excited to finish listening to this on my commute! I think there are a large number of us who are jealous of all those amazing instagram pictures. I am always impressed by the massive amounts of fresh snow! We’ll be there someday… Maybe 10, or 6, but hopefully 5.

  2. February 27, 2017 at 8:16 am

    Great to put a voice to a name, even if that name is not a real human name!

    Also I think I *halfway* thought you guys lived an isolated existence in the mountains, and now a small part of me is sad. The rest of me is super happy for you both about retiring this year!!!! :D

  3. Alberto
    February 27, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Amazing vision and thought. Love the idea of living on the mountains but fortunately or not I am a city person so it wouldn’t suit my style of live. Again amazing vision and it is certainly less expensive.

  4. February 27, 2017 at 9:45 am

    I think that’s great. I love the Smoky Mountains and would love to retire near them. However, my wife is more of a beach person. For now though, given our public schools and our kids in school, we will probably early retire in place.

    I’m 40 and working with the desire to retire ASAP and the wife is 39 and has stayed home for 5 years now.

  5. Mark
    February 27, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Ms. ONL, love your comment that “every day of freedom that you can steal back from 65 is a win”. As a late-bloomer to the FIRE world I may be retiring later than average for this audience, but still 10 years sooner than I would have, had I not found websites like yours and Mad Fientist to point me in the right direction.

    • March 1, 2017 at 12:55 am

      That’s so awesome, Mark! Stealing 10 years back is a HUGE win, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. :-)

  6. Alex
    February 27, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Great podcast. Definitely a down-to-earth guest who has wisdom to share.

  7. Matthias
    February 27, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Love the podcast – it was so good to hear about someone who retires to the mountains! And the fact that ‘inclusive’ mountain towns do exist somewhere – they are tough to find around here in the (Austrian) Alps. Fortunately good skiing is never very far from the cities, especially ski touring, as we call it as soon as you skin up.

  8. February 27, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    Great podcast and great to hear another story to FI! I had only learned of ONL just recently then proceeded to read every post they had. We already live in a mountain town (going on 18 years now) and love our local mountains for backcountry skiing and exploring, plus affordable housing. We often wonder where else can we get this great combination of amenities, affordable housing, mountain access, and low number of outdoor users. Someday we’ll go explore in our little trailer and find out!

  9. JP
    February 27, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Great pictures. Having grown up skiing on the right coast – (not necessarily the correct coast) – I am used to skiing on ice, or would that be skating? Wish I could try that powder !!!!

  10. February 27, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Madfientist, Great podcast, very down to earth no complicated solution to getting to the end zone. Bring more :)

  11. February 27, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    It was super refreshing to listen to a story that is very similar to mine. Definitely helps add some perspective and motivation to what we have been working so hard to accomplish. Such an inspirational story!

  12. Shashi
    February 27, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks for another great podcast.

  13. February 28, 2017 at 8:45 am

    What? Count me in! This is amazing! Can’t wait to listen it all in my quiet room! May I dream!

  14. February 28, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    When we listen to podcasts like this we feel like we’re getting to meet kindred spirits. Thanks for this sharing of ideas and dreams, which will no doubt motivate others to begin saving (or continue saving with more gusto) for early retirement and financial independence.

  15. Kootenay Hippie
    March 2, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    “There are a few sleepy ski town still, but for the most part, we all get kind of a deluge of weekend folks or we get lots of people like us who moved from the big city to be here.”

    Small sleepy ski towns do indeed still exist, but they are few are far between. I found one where the hill barely has lineups on weekend powder days. Only fixed gripped chairs to boot, so the powder lasts the whole day. Combine that with a good income, an implied agreement that powder days are flex days and you get some oh-so-sweet fresh tracks to FI.

  16. RayinPenn
    March 3, 2017 at 6:31 am

    If your chasing retirement – it is very possible your have goals out of order. Funding retirement and building a ‘pile’ should be part of your safety net for change and the ultimate stress reducer and nothing more.

    God I Hate my job.
    I’m 63 and long past the time when the ‘pile’ was sufficient to retire; I’ve had more then one friend say why don’t you just retire? The answer is I like my work -it is often diverse and challenging; I like the people I work with I find them interesting. I can’t understand why anyone would work a job that they dislike for 35 years and live everyday for their retirement. If the job you are doing doesn’t stimulate you then find your passion and build an execute an exit strategy. Ah you say that’s easy for him say – the thing is I did it. I started my career as an accountant BS, MBA, MS and I worked for a huge company and I was life and the job was ok but I can’t say I had a passion for the work. Thats when I read my first book on programming; it had an immediate impact on my work. I became the go to guy for automation; I took every computer course the company would pay for. I won a $5,000 recognition award for my work. My position changed with time and I’m now I am ‘big data’ guy. I took my work home gladly because I loved the challenge – if work is just a means to pay the bills – you might be wasting your life.

    The pile as a means to deal with change
    I’ve managed to save 20-30% of my salary for nearly 25 years. The Mrs and I both came from very humble beginnings – the truth is I was poorer then a church mouse. We were determined to change all that and quietly without discussing the budget we adopted a LBYM strategy.
    1. We bought a small home and paid off the mortgage early.
    2. Friday night pizza or Chinese and a $1 movie was our entertainment
    3. I was the plumber, carpenter and mason
    4. She was the painter, coupon clipper and sale shopper.
    5. We bought simply reliable cars kept them for ever.
    6. We saved wind falls like tax returns, bonuses etc
    7. We kept our vacations modest.
    8. We invested our savings.

    The result of all this is that we are able to deal with most the curveballs life throws our way without stress. The dentist, tires for the jalopy, the roof, etc. That pile will also serve us in retirement. I never felt I was doing without and I never felt we were chasing a pile or retirement. It was simply incidental to living right and seeking a low stress life.

  17. Nebuchadnezzar
    March 4, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    Thoroughly enjoy the insights from your podcasts, postings, comments, financial tools, etc. Thank you!

    One observation: It’s rare to read or hear stories from people who reached FI and actually “retired” in the sense most people think of (i.e., devoting themselves entirely to travel, volunteer projects, etc.). Somewhere in the conversation is almost always the statement about having an income-earning blog, book publishing sideline, rental properties, consulting gigs, etc. I may be wrong, but I think the vast majority of those marching toward FI do not have the skill sets necessary to create these income streams after their regular paychecks come to an end. It might be helpful to interview those who achieved FI and are flying without one of these nets. These other courageous achievers might offer some practical insights into how to survive after FI – and what one can do to ensure that their FI does not vanish 20, 30 or 40 years hence, should stock markets turn south, investments implode, health issues arise, inflation rear its ugly head, or job skills become obsolete.

    Just a thought . . .

  18. Nick
    March 5, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Great podcast! I left the rat race in August 2014 at the age of 36 primarily thanks to my lucrative job in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We then moved back to the town we grew up in, the flat lands of Southwestern Ontario, Canada, to try it out and see if we like it after spending 11 years in Calgary. Our plan is to move to Canmore, Alberta, Canada which is a nestled in the Rocky Mountains in June of this year. Can’t wait to dust off our mountain bikes and snowboards which have been stored for the last few years. We plan on renting for a while and then finding a mountain town which fits our budget because buying a house in Canmore will be out of reach. The average house price is $700,000CDN which does not work. Hoping to find a piece of land and build our own home. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do and it should keep us busy for a while. Good luck with your search for a spot to settle down in.

  19. March 5, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Great chat, you two! Ms. ONL is one articulate young woman — I look forward to reading a book of yours someday, and I’ll bet you look forward to having the time to write!

    Will we get to hear from Mr. ONL at some point?

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • March 6, 2017 at 5:26 am

      Thanks, PoF! Though I’m not that young anymore. ;-) And YES! Everyone will be hearing much more from Mr. ONL as soon as we are “out” later this year.

  20. Sixty plus and killing it!
    March 6, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Great podcast, but that thing that invariably pops up when young adults talk about the future happened. The idea that you’ve got to do all of that active stuff, running, climbing, hiking, skiing, traveling, cycling, got to do that in your thirties and forties. While your guest might have a tragic genetic clock ticking the vast majority of us, my wife and I are early sixties, are essentially as fit now as we’ve ever been. It sounds so condescending when people decades younger refer to iur age as if it equates with decrepitude. Unless you are quite a specimen you might find it moderately
    difficult to hang with my wife on an extreme hike or beat me down steep terrain on skis, or best either of us in a marathon. And we aren’t that special, athletic drop off with age is much slighter than younger folks think, thank heavens. So please when you talk about old timers lacking stamina limit that to ninety and above. And when I hit ninety, I’ll probably still gripe at you. We are retired, financially independent and young! Keep up the great work, love the podcast and blog in spite of my crotchety grousing.

    • March 10, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      I appreciate this comment, and think I did too much short-cutting on our thinking, so want to offer a little explanation. For me, it’s absolutely true that the possibility of the genetic ticking clock is very real, and that’s always been on my mind more than the idea that “older” folks aren’t physically able. (Trust me, living in a mountain town has disavowed us of any past prejudices we may have had! We regularly get lapped by 70-year-olds.) But generally, and assuming I don’t get what my dad has, our thinking is more that if we keep working these stressful 60+ hour-a-week jobs with tons of travel for 30 more years that our health and fitness will continually decline, and by the time we reach traditional retirement age, it will be too late to regain that health and fitness at that point. Not that people over 50 or 60 or 70 can’t be crazy athletic studs, because we see that all the time around here.

  21. March 8, 2017 at 1:30 am

    Another great episode of the podcast! We love the Our Next Life blog and Mrs. ONL’s deep discussions of the non-financial aspects of FIRE. The point about the financial decisions they’ve made that aren’t “ideal” on paper but are the right decisions for them (like the modest return on their property rented by a family member) really resonates with me. What’s the point of saving all this money if we don’t feel empowered to use it to help others? Good stuff!

  22. JB
    March 9, 2017 at 11:18 am

    This podcast was timely because my wife and I are about to both start working remote for our full-time jobs, and we’re looking to move to the mountains as well! Lots of similarities. We were looking in the Colorado area and now we’re also looking around North Carolina.

    Happy to discover Our Next Life. Looks like an awesome blog. I really enjoyed the “Stop complaining about work” article already. Lots of truth in there.

  23. March 12, 2017 at 5:53 am

    Amazing views. Very beautiful.

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