Growing Up in Canada
Mrs. Song grew up in a non-traditional family where the mom worked and the dad was a house husband. We were your average low-income family, but we got by pretty well because Mrs. Song’s parents saved extremely hard when they were young and purchased a home mortgage free. This was back when Vancouver housing was actually affordable. Mrs. Song’s dad was extremely frugal. He almost only buy groceries that are on sale. We don’t buy fruits and vegetables that are out of season because they are more expensive, we eat more chicken and pork than beef because beef is pricier, we never eat out unless it was for some special occasion, and we only had annual staycations. That frugal mentality definitely rubbed off on Mrs. Song.
On the other hand, Mr. Song grew up in an entrepreneur family that had their ups and downs. There were times when they were extremely poor, and times when they were pretty rich (in my books). Unfortunately, his parents had no financial concepts, didn’t know how to save or invest, and they spent pretty much what they earned. This worried Mrs. Song, because they had no concrete retirement plans even though they are retired, and this type of spending habit was definitely reflected in Mr. Song. Mr. Song is definitely the type that wants to buy the “best in line”, in his words quality will save you money in the long run, whereas Mrs. Song is the type to meet in the middle regarding price and quality, and will save the difference. Fortunately, Mr. Song was pretty moldable, and while we still have our disagreements regarding spending here and there, we’ve mostly learned to communicate and compromise.
No Student Loans and Debt Free Start
We consider ourselves lucky to have ended our school life debt free. We both attended in-province universities so our tuition wasn’t crazy expensive. I don’t know about Mr. Song, but mine averaged $3K-$4K a term. Both our parents helped us with our tuition and allowed us to live at home free, so we had almost zero expense. Because of that, we were able to get a positive head start on our journey to FIRE.
Beginning Our Work Life in US
I had secured a job offer from a tech company in Washington right out of university and decided we would migrate down south because the salary offered was way higher than anything I could’ve possibly gotten in Vancouver. Until then we had never thought in our wildest dreams that we’d move out of Canada. As luck would have it, Mr. Song is actually an American citizen because he was born in US. Since he didn’t know what he wanted to do in life, I let him tag along (just kidding, I was super glad he came with me).
Our simple work life in US started out in a 700 sqft studio in Bellevue. Money was tight in the beginning because we only had $20K from my sign-on bonus and relocation package. One could argue $20k is plenty and is many people’s annual expense. But Bellevue is pretty darn expensive and rent for a 700 sqft studio was near $1.6K/month. We only had one car that Mr. Song brought with him from Canada, and because we didn’t want to buy a new car just yet, we chose to live near city center where I could commute to work easily.
We had a lot of expense in the beginning because we were starting out fresh and needed to purchase almost everything. Thankfully there was IKEA! In hindsight, we probably could’ve saved some money by purchasing second hand furniture and goods. But this was before we discovered FIRE. We were two new naive lovebirds enjoying their freedom.
Life got easier once work began and paychecks started going into our banks. One of my biggest regrets from this period was not reading more about saving, finance, and investing. Things worked differently in US vs Canada, and I’ve never had a full time job with benefits before. We don’t have 401K and IRA in Canada, we had RRSP and TFSA instead. And I’ve never heard of ESPP and HSA/FSA. I’ve never traded a stock in my life, especially online. Back in Canada my parents simply went to the bank, talked to a financial advisor, and had them put their money into a low risk bank managed mutual funds, and I learned to do the same. I missed some good opportunities, like maxing out my 401K and getting the tax benefit, or purchasing ESPP for some immediate gains. Luckily I still had some good intuition to at least put enough into 401K to get the company match, and to max my HSA.
Our First Home
After our lease was up the first year, our apartment raised the rent price by nearly $200. That shocked us. There was no way we would be willing to pay near $1,800 for a 700 sqft studio. We took the opportunity to downsize even further to save money and moved into a 500 sqft studio for a bit under $1.5K/month. People thought we were crazy and couldn’t comprehend how two people could live in a 500 sqft studio. It wasn’t too bad actually, especially during the daytime we were at work and after work we were on our computers most of the time playing games.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned yet, Mr. Song’s family dog passed away due to old age during this time. He wanted a new puppy, so we had our first miniature Aussie. That’s why the rent was a bit more expensive because we had to pay for pet rent… not all things you get in life can be measured by money right?
By the time we started house hunting we’ve been working for a bit past 1.5 years and had some money saved up. The stock market was doing well, so that certainly boosted our investments. You may wonder why we wanted to buy a house rather than continue renting. Perhaps it’s because we were tired of our 500 sqft studio. Perhaps we were tired thinking about having to move every year because rent might increase at an amount we didn’t like. Perhaps we didn’t want to continue paying money for someone else’s property. We wanted a place we could call home and pay monthly on that home instead.
House hunting didn’t take us too long. After about a month we found a 1300 sqft ranch house at a price tag we could afford and at a location that was decent. It wasn’t a fixer upper, but there were definitely things that could and should be done for the house as it is 50 years old and the previously owner seemed to have neglected it until sales.
I had to sell most of my stocks to pay 20% down payment so we could avoid paying PMI (private mortgage insurance). We had to purchase a new car as well because there wasn’t any easy commute from our new home to our respective workplace. Was the move from renting to home ownership a good move? At least from quality of life it was.
Where We are Now as of 2017
I am still working at the same tech company and still loving it (albeit the stress and occasional frustrations). My total annual income (salary, bonus, and stocks) has increased by 46% since I started working 3.5 years ago, so I have no complaints. Mr. Song has transitioned from a part-time sales person to a corporate financial analyst and has increased his annual income by 185%. Most importantly he loves his job because it’s relaxing so he currently has no plans to retire even if we reach financial independence.
Oh yea, we got our second dog, a standard now 55lb Australian Shepherd because Mr. Song insisted our first dog needed a playmate.
Last Updated: 3/30/2017