A Cheesy Story

It’t time for a very Cheesy story. Why? Because I just did an interview with a woman’s magazine. I’m not sure when the interview will be posted and the magazine comes out, but I wanted to have this post ready before it does. Again, but why? Because albeit interviews are great, it’s hard to get the (complete) correct story out. There are simply not enough words available in such articles to get the right overall picture of who we are, what we do and, importantly, why we do what we do! In short, today a Cheesy story about us! So yeah, it’s the extended version of the “about us” 😉

A Birthday

It all began in 2004 with a birthday of a mutual friend. She was sitting in the corner, I was impressed. I asked for her phone number via mutual friend, she said it was okay! First win 🙂

We went on a date, we walked (yes, we already started very frugal!). More dates followed, restaurant bills were split, we went to the beach/the woods/lakes, life was very good and it turned into a relationship.

A Cheesy Story – the Birthday

2004-2005: A frugal beginning

We both (still) lived pretty modest in our student apartments/rooms, this kept housing costs pretty low, which was good as I was still finishing my studies. Since Mrs CF was already working in finance when we met, we had a company car to our disposal! This made travelling rather cheap.

Despite still studying, I had up to 3 different side jobs at one time (I’ve had side jobs since age 12! So always had some money too). This, plus some support from my parents (tuition and books), allow me to finish my Masters degree without any student debt (big win!). Mrs CF did need to borrow money to finish her studies, but was able to kill all that debt within about 1,5 years after competing her Masters degree. Not bad, eh?! That being said, tuition fees and books were not too bad at that time. Living expenses where definitely higher on a yearly basis (assuming not living with your parents, which we didn’t).

This all would not have been able if we didn’t live simple and frugal. Yet we both had the opportunity to travel, have fun, go the parties and enjoy life. We never had the feeling we were “missing out” on anything.

Lessons Learned

Lessons learned from this time in our life:

  • Lesson 1; life is all about balance and perception!
  • Lesson 2; living life as a student is not easy, but probably one of the most fun times in your life. Enjoy it while it lasts (side note: I realise that it’s a lot tougher now for students due to higher study and living expenses, and stricter regimes at schools/universities).
  • Lesson 3; having to save up for something you want to do or buy is a good thing. You savour the money spent longer due to the effort you had to put into it.

2006-2008: Jobs & Money

By the time we got to 2006 we both had jobs and decent (but not excessive by any standard) incomes. More money did mean we started to spend more too. Especially me, as I did love “stuff”. Some of the things I (sometimes “we”) bought included a big screen a TV, SLR camera, many foreign holiday trips, “new” used car, lots of DVD’s, beer and much more.

Fortunately, we did keep our housing cost under control by staying in our student homes for a few years and living together in a small apartment after that (which we rented for around €600). We also looked out for cheap insurance and didn’t go too crazy on food shopping or restaurants visits. We were “smart” with the money we made, to a degree… We never invested in these years, albeit we did get a savings (“deposito”) savings account with 4% interest for a few years.

After a some years money was really piling up, despite the occasional splurges. I wrote a sarcastic post a while back about how we saved €100.000 in 3 years. However, due to international work assignments (very high pay and low expenses) and frugal living, we actually got to that 6 figure mark well within those 3 years (which is impressive as well as ridiculous if you think about it). If we only had invested that money at that time! This was our biggest “mistake” in the beginning of our careers. Albeit we never realised it at that time.

Lessons Learned

Some more lessons learned from this time in our life:

  • Lesson 4; live (well) below your means when possible. You will need to “work” for this though! Resisting to act on what others think of you can be difficult. Hint: they really don’t give a shit.
  • Lesson 5; start early with investing. Even if it’s only small amounts! Time really is your friend.

2009-2013: Career Tigers

We switched jobs, switched countries and went full-out on our careers. During this period we both worked full-time and were loving it. We bought new (used!) cars, used motorcycles and our first brand new house (which was a massive one at 280 square metres and gobbled up pretty much all our savings). Life was really, really good.

But we were not savings more, despite earning more money. The hedonistic treadmill was in full swing. That being said, we were still living well below our means! We never made any debts either (outside our mortgage). If we couldn’t buy something (or do) we wanted, we saved and waited before we did. This included the motorcycles for example.

My investment mistakes
A Cheesy Story – Investment mistakes

Investing or gambling?

During this time I did try my hand at some day trading with sprinters and shares. This ended badly and got me off investing for quite a few years. I obviously was looking to get rich quick, instead I got poorer a lot quicker.

Mrs CF on the other hand was much smarter (as she usually is, especially when it comes to investing!). She never invested until she was ready mentally, had done her research and found the right opportunity. At the end, this took her years, but ultimately it was Mrs CF that got us on the fast-track to FIRE.

By the end of this period, we had a dog, a kid, two cars, a motorcycle and a big house with a yard. Life was getting hectic and busy. But then I also started wondering, is this it?

Lessons Learned

Extra lessons learned from this time in our life:

  • Lesson 6; your working life can be great fun and rewarding. Making promotions is great, getting more responsibility is fun and challenging. Travelling for work is awesome! Personal development is really important too.
  • Lesson 7; when investing, make sure you have a longer term view. Albeit there is money to be made with short(er) term trading (especially options and sometimes flipping of real estate), it requires a lot of time and effort (to understand what you are doing and how the systems work). Risks are generally bigger too! It’s not for everyone and it’s definitely not for us.
  • Lesson 8; some lifestyle creep is not necessarily bad, you don’t always need to live like a student! Spending some money to make life better/more comfortable/more interesting can be a good thing. However, always keep living within your means and make sure there is a financial safety net at all times!

2014-2018: On FIRE!

After years of life just getting better, this period marks a big change. Mrs CF was still enjoying her work. However, I was not. I had just come off from a very cool project, but the work that followed was not even close to as much fun. I tried switching jobs and positions (and even countries again), but nothing got me that same satisfaction as I used to have.

You suddenly realise that you don’t have all the parts of life under control. You are also subject to macro trends in the world economy that affect what jobs are available (and where). Oh, and office politics! Things you want or like to do, are no longer available. You realise that companies are not loyal to employees, but to their shareholders or owners. If they want you gone, you are gone. This fortunately never happened to us (yet), but having seen what it does to other people, it’s ugly!

A Cheesy Story – bring on that FIRE!

Enter FIRE

During the beginning of this period Mrs CF showed my a magazine with an article about ERE (Jacob Lund Fisker). The concept of not being dependent on an employer obviously looked extremely appealing. Not going to work with a smile, but because you have to, is frankly horrible. Yet you have to if there is no passive income to sustain you in your living expenses.

Similar to most of you, I read every blog and piece of information I could find about the topic of FIRE. It took a couple of months before I fully grasped the idea and understood the investment methods available. It took a few years before we both were completely comfortable with what we did (taking calculated risks with investing our hard earned money and turning our life around financially).

Enter Investing

We bought our real estate during this period, developed our dividend portfolio, bought index funds, started with crowdfunding, sustainable loans and more. It took time to figure out what worked for us and what didn’t. And as mentioned, it took time to get comfortable with taking risks. Not taking any risks also means no rewards! That being said, you still need to be able to sleep at night too.

Ultimately, we want from having only about 6% of our assets invested in income producing investments, to around 80-85% in only a few years (and the value of our assets grew fast during this time). The high percentages from 2006-2009 in the graph below is because of the use of savings accounts, we used most of this money in 2010 to buy our house.

A Cheesy Story – Historical asset allocation in investments

This is pretty drastic turn-around (see jumps in 2014 and 2015) and certainly not for everyone! However, it got us close to the point of FIRE, but more importantly it gave us options, passive income and peace of mind.

Lessons learned

During this period we learned the following lessons:

  • Lesson 09; the only one that can gain some control over your life is you. But you need money for this! Make sure you have some, and if you don’t, go get it. Work, save, invest, repeat!
  • Lesson 10; try several different investment types, find what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes. You learn more from them then you do from your successes! However, take calculated risks and don’t go full in until you have done your homework.
  • Lesson 11; accept that it takes time for that mental chance to follow the path to FI (or whatever form of FIRE you strive for). Both for you and your partner, if you have one. Be sure to talk about it a lot if you are in a relationship! It’s really team work.
  • Lesson 12; it’s good to overdo it. Getting uncomfortable is critical to find out where your boundaries are. It’s applicable on both the savings and investing sides of your path to FIRE. It also help you determine what’s possible in the long-term without having the idea that you are missing out on life.

2018-2019: Now what?

After dragging out my job(s) for as long as possible we agreed that it was time for me to quit. We could easily live on one income and we had made a massive safety net. Next, we travelled for many weeks to enjoy said freedom (Mrs CF took paid and unpaid leave for that time).

Upon returning from the long road trip, I played around with some side hustles. Kept the house in order, made food, did some renovations, worked-out, watched Netflix, walked the dog, etc. Getting away from the morning commute was one of the best things ever! Albeit I never really experienced much stress at work, I was experiencing a stressful life due to not liking the work I was doing. FIRE (or getting close to FI) was a way to escape that stress, and it worked miracles. But it’s not perfect!

FIRE is not perfect

The problem with running away from a situation that you don’t like, is that you are also running away from things you do like. I’ve started to miss having people around me, having certain challenges that I cannot find at home. I also had several ideas that I wanted to pursue with my new found time, but those didn’t gave me the satisfaction I was hoping for. It’s therefore important to look (and keep looking) for activities with purpose (yes, this is easier said then done, I’m personally having difficulty finding such a thing/job/activity/etc.).

I’ve also become a lot lazier, as deadlines are no longer really applicable. This not a good development, but understandable and changeable. However, these experiences are also things I value as I learn more about myself every day.

The good thing is that you have time to think about what you like and don’t like, and can try new things both before and during FIRE (as long as you have some money, you have time and opportunities!). Heck, you might even decide to back to work!

The Job Hunt

At this time Mrs CF has also quit her job (the benefits of having a big safety net) and we have been happily unemployed for almost the last two months and have no stress about money at all. As you can see below, the Cheesy Index is still doing great, but without added capital, it’s bound to drop in the coming months. In short, we still need one of us to work and become fully FI (both in wealth and in cash-flow terms)

So this is where we are today. Both of us are looking for employment options, but only for jobs we really like. I’m focusing on international jobs and projects, Mrs CF is focusing on job that are challenging but also part-time (preferably 3 days per week). We might end up with one job, perhaps two, we don’t know yet at this time. Having the option to be critical at what you want do is great thou! It also give you a better negotiation position with regards to salary and benefits.

Money really makes you life easier!

A Cheesy Story – August 2019 Cheesy Index

Lessons Learned

Final lessons learned for today:

  • Lesson 13; have a plan regarding what you are going to do when you don’t have a job anymore. But don’t underestimate the work around the house and for the family. I got a lot of respect for stay at home parents since I quit my job!
  • Lesson 14; stay flexible! Make sure that you adapt your life and expenses to fit your needs and (sometimes) your wants. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. But I have learned to “go with the flow” as you cannot control everything in life.
  • Lesson 15; it’s okay to change your mind. It’s also okay to go back to work if you don’t like your post FIRE life as much as you thought you would. It’s way more important to be happy in life and with what you do everyday, than sticking to one pre-set course.
  • Lesson 16; make sure you have a passion for what you do. If your jobs lacks satisfaction, or if that passion is fading, do something about it! Take time off, change jobs/professions, but make sure take control over your life!

It’s fucking simple really: spend less than you make and invest the remaining €/$’s. The rest of life is for you to figure out 🙂

What’s your story? How did finding FIRE change your life?

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14 Comments

  1. Hey Mr Cheese, nice recap of the Financial Life of House Cheesy!

    I reckon I’m in a pretty comparable spot, albeit I have the international job already and though satisfaction is on the wane, I don’t dare give it up too soon because I know it’s a special kind of asset. If I let it go I don’t expect to get it back.

    I’m also aware that left to my own devices I also get lazy and listless. The RE part of FIRE may not be good for me.

    Downshifting to 4-day weeks though as an effort to rebalance. Call it 20% FI/RE 😉

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