One of the biggest mistakes we make as humans is to believe that our pain is exclusive and our beauty is ordinary. – JM Storm
The year 2011 marked the beginning of the long and winding road, in search of answers to my mounting health concerns. If you’ve been down this road, you know well the number of blood tests, prescriptions, doctors appointments, and referrals I’m speaking of. You know the countless hours spent in the car, in the waiting room, awake in bed, and then out of bed with Google to keep you company in your search for answers. You may also know well a nagging feeling, like a tugging at your soul; a tapping on your shoulder; a whisper in your ear saying, “These days – they are precious, and they are numbered.”
That voice has a way of cementing abstract ideas into reality:
By late 2013 I cemented all the abstract ideas above into my reality – a true pivot point in my life. A teammate at work was telling me about yet another class or meeting or professional development opportunity (it doesn’t really matter which), all occasions I typically jumped at and volunteered for first. This time I found it too heavy, not just a weight, but an utter waste of the precious time I had with my family. When she heard me sigh, she let me know that there would be a stipend involved to make it worth my time. That’s when I let it all sink in by saying, “I don’t NEED more money. I NEED more time.” Those are ideas you can’t unthink and words that cannot be unsaid. It was true. I had all that I could buy with money (keep in mind I’m not a fancy person or a big spender). I was short on time, and I didn’t know how my money could buy me that yet.
The following May, in 2014, I found myself without a job, staying home to work on my health and enjoy being fully present with my family. This was a profound leap in our home, because we had always been a two income family. Our goal as a couple was pretty typically American in nature – work hard, save for retirement, earn a good pension, and enjoy life some day when you retire. It’s not that we didn’t have joy in our careers and daily life, but we always had this “some day” idea in the back of our minds. As though if we just worked hard enough and long enough it would all pay off when we were 65, fully vested, and could enjoy the the benefits of our retirement. Then we could live it up!
What if some day never comes?
It took some troubling test results before that question really sank in.
One leap does lead to another and another if you keep leaping, taking just the next step. The search for freedom with health in our house – freedom from specialists and tests and pills and waiting rooms – lead us to growing our own food. The search for freedom of time – time to enjoy life with our children while they were growing up – lead us to prioritizing and tightly budgeting our money so that we could afford to become a one-income household. These bits of freedom just fanned the flame and hunger for even more. We began homeschooling our daughters, freeing up even more time to spend together and to go, do, and see what we wanted when we wanted. Then we began asking ourselves, “Could we actually be financially free?”
For those of you new to this idea, financial freedom (insiders like to call it F.I. for financial independence) means freedom from a W2 income. There are many ways to get there – dividends from stock investments, residual income from intellectual property, passive real estate income, etc. However it happens, the end result looks the same – enough money saved, reinvested, then passively flowing back in each month to fund the monthly budget for the rest of your days.
In 2016 we took the first steps in answering our question about achieving financial freedom, by purchasing our first two rental properties. We spent hours reading, researching, listening to podcasts, and generally soaking up as much information possible. We decided we could really wrap our heads around investing in rental properties. We felt confident we could make it work and survive the hits that were bound to come. We were certain that our hard earned savings could make a much better return through real estate, than the nearly zero percent we were getting in our savings account. We made the leap. We took the first step. We didn’t know all the steps, but we didn’t need to. We knew the first one, and in spite of fear, we started taking the next steps too, one after another.
Now, roughly two and a half years later, in 2018, we’ve turned about $60,000 into 16 rental homes and counting. We cash flow (that means after all withholdings and expenses) nearly twice what I was bringing home each month as a public school teacher, after over 14 years of service. This income will continue growing its self, while our tenants pay down our mortgages and rent rates increase with inflation. It will do so for the rest of our lives, the remainder of our daughters’ lives, their childrens’ lives, and so on if they desire. That’s freedom! That’s independence!
Today we still have some things to figure out. We’re doing it as we go. Very soon, we’ll be able to walk away from W2 income all together. It’s taken just two and a half years to decrease our spending and increase our passive income enough to do that. We’d like to have a clear and affordable plan for healthcare in place before doing so. (I’ll share that all here too.)
In the mean time, there are a few things I know for sure. If you’re interested in FI, you can get there too. It doesn’t take a magic wand or a lottery ticket. Those are sure ways to have you feeling powerless with money and wishing for more of it for a lifetime. Working toward financial freedom can empower you if you’re struggling with your health too. I’ve made a list of clear, actionable steps you can start taking today, in this follow-up post called, “5 Steps Toward Financial Independence You Can Start Today.”
How would financial independence improve your chronic illness? Are you already taking steps to get there today? Let us know what you think! Share with us in the comment section below. Like I always say, imperfect progress is so much better when shared.