Jim Achieved His Dreams of Building Wealth, Retiring Early, and Doing What He Wants... In Panama

Tell our readers a little about yourself, your blog, and your early retirement.

Hey everyone, I'm Jim from the Route to Retire blog, a site I started back in 2015. Through a high savings rate and our natural frugalness, we reached FIRE at the end of 2018.

I'm 43 and currently live in the Cleveland area with my wife and daughter. However, we're moving to the country of Panama this summer for our next adventure!

I consider myself a regular guy that was able to take control of his finances (with the help of my wife) to get us to the point of financial independence. Now we have the freedom to try new projects and hobbies and to be able to spend more time together.

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Tell me about the early days. How did you get started?

I was always a good saver and had this vision that I'd be rich one day. It took a good number of years though to realize that you don't need to be rich to be financially independent.

After reading a couple of the Rich Dad books, I did a little learning and bought a house to rent out back in 2003. I also found out that I didn't know what I was doing and it didn't go as smooth as I had hoped. I was beginning to give up on the idea of wealth, but then my daughter was born in 2010. I hated that I had to go back to work and couldn't be with her as much as I wanted. I started to resent being at work every day.

Then I stumbled across Joe's blog Retire by 40. His story was mine and I realized that there were other options. That became my wake-up call and introduction to FIRE.

From that point forward, I was on a mission to retire early. It took some doing, but I got my wife on board as well. We dramatically pushed our savings rate up by cutting back in areas of waste (but not from the things we loved!) and found different areas to increase our income such as new side hustles and another rental property.

What roadblocks did you hit along the way? Any mistakes we can learn from?

There are two mistakes that I ran into along the way - one financial and one a frame of mindset.

The first was that rental property I mentioned… and I need to be careful about saying it was a mistake because it was a great learning opportunity. The idea to buy a house to rent out was absolutely one of the smartest moves I ever made. I love the idea of having income streams in multiple outlets and rental property is a great option for diversification.

The reason I consider it a problem though is that I jumped in without enough knowledge of what I was doing. There's definitely a point of "analysis paralysis" where you've studied and learned and now it's time to do something. However, I wasn't at that point. I just wanted to do it and thought I knew what I was doing.

I was very lucky in that I was able to make it work to a point, but I made so many mistakes with that property that all I had was luck to save me on it.

However, in hindsight, I learned a tremendous amount from that property (which I sold in 2018). When we purchased a duplex in 2015, I bought in a smarter location and the numbers made so much more sense. The duplex was newer and rent-ready and continues to cash flow very nicely.

The second mistake I made along the way to FIRE was letting the whole concept take over my life. I had a year or so where I let the idea of making more and spending less consume me. I wanted to reach FI and leave my job so bad that I started to become miserable trying to cut everything out.

I finally had a realization of this mistake when I heard Paula Pant from Afford Anything on one of her podcasts. She talked about how important it is not to trade today's happiness for tomorrow's. And for whatever reason, that struck me. She was 100% right.

I then slowed things down a little for the rest of our journey. I stopped to smell the roses and be more involved with my family again. After all, the reason I started on this path was to spend more time with them. I became much more conscious of enjoying the moment instead of scrimping for a future that could possibly never come.

In other words, mistakes will always happen, but the key is to learn and grow from them so you're making smarter decisions in the future.

What does your lifestyle look like? How were you able to save such a high percentage of your income?

We've always been pretty frugal, but we still do what we love. For instance, we love vacationing and cruises and we do that routinely. But, we're careful in booking and finding deals for the trips. And when we're on the trips, we're not buying souvenirs or other junk.

By the time I left my job at the end of 2018, we had about a 60% savings rate… and that was with my wife not working at the time. I made a good salary, but nothing exorbitant. But we've always kept our spending in check along the way. We still buy most of our groceries at Aldi, we're not following the latest fashion trends, and we enjoy a lot of lower cost activities like going to the zoo and camping.

What's the biggest misconception about FIRE?

That FIRE is the end of the journey. FIRE is actually so much more - it's an opportunity to start a new adventure. Just because FIRE has "retire" as part of the acronym doesn't mean you're going to sit on your butt all day.

With the ages of people reaching FIRE being in their 30's, 40's, and 50's, you're young enough that it would be hard not to do anything productive any longer.

Instead, FIRE is a chance to chase your dreams and do projects that you've always thought would be fun. You can try doing new things to see if you enjoy them. And if you don't and want to move onto something else, you don't have that worry over your head that it's not producing enough money (though a lot of what you do may bring in additional income!).

What books, tools, resources do you recommend to others?

Route to Retire, right? :-) Ok, I guess you're looking for something more.

If you enjoy reading, I think "Rich Dad Poor Dad" and "Cashflow Quadrant" are good eye-openers. From there, I love "The Millionaire Next Door" and "The Automatic Millionaire." The concepts are simple - you just need to step back and make some changes.

For those that like to listen to good stuff, I regularly enjoy a number of podcasts like "ChooseFI", "Afford Anything", "Mad Fientist", "Radical Personal Finance", and Pete the Planner from the "Million Dollar Plan Podcast."

But, believe it or not, I listen to "The Clark Howard Show" almost every day. Although it's not necessarily a FIRE podcast, I absolutely love this show. I think I pick up a couple small tips from almost every episode. It's entertaining, informative, and he's always on top of things to help you in the personal finance arena.

What's next for you?

Well, we're in the middle of counting down until our move to Panama in August 2019. We're moving there for the weather, simpler lifestyle, and the lower cost of living. It's a new adventure and it's going to mean a lot of change in our lifestyle.

But the three of us are excited and consider it a new adventure. And, if we don't like it, no big deal… we're giving it at least a year and we can always move back to the U.S. I'd rather hate it and move back than be an old man wondering "what if…"

I'll also be continuing to grow my blog and plan on writing a couple more books while my wife will focus on volunteer work.

Come follow along at the Route to Retire site! You can also find me on Twitter or Facebook.