They say the first is the hardest…

Let me state some things about myself that I’ve mentioned before across various posts.

I’m in my mid-twenties. I live in DC, an area known for being hella fucking expensive. I work at a non-profit, and no, I don’t make “a non-profit salary” that just happens to be six figures. Two years ago I picked up a part-time job I work on weekends in order to bring in a bit more cash (and I mean a bit. To the tune of about $5k this year. I’m not getting rich off this). I’m sure as hell not making money off this blog—I’m losing money by blogging.

I am dating someone on his own FIRE journey, but I’m financially single (other than the fact that we don’t split rent evenly, so blessedly since moving in with him I’ve been saving $350/month on that front), although that does still give me advantages when it comes to saving money.

I’m a straight white cis woman who has had an untold number of advantages in life, including the fact that my parents helped me pay for college.

We can talk all we want about reducing spending/growing income, but my birth control is my secret weapon on the path to FI (yes, I’m talking about birth control yet again. No, I’m not going to stop doing so).

I publish my income and spending numbers every month so people can see that it is possible to make a modest income and live here and still also save money (and live an awesome life while doing so!).

I also have ridiculous money anxiety despite the fact that I’m doing just fine. This largely stems from my experience of two months of unemployment out of college where I just couldn’t find a job and was down to one month’s worth of rent in savings when I did finally get a lowball offer for a shitty receptionist job. Which I of course gratefully accepted, and which has set me up for a lower salary than I might otherwise be making now. So yes, being financially independent would go a long way towards assuaging that anxiety, and being on this path has already set me up well, despite the fact that I have a very hard time accepting that I would be just fine for a few months if I lost my job tomorrow.

I do not share my net worth. I’ve struggled plenty of times with comparing myself to others in the FIRE movement: I don’t make enough money, I don’t have the time or energy to start an awesome side hustle, I’m starting all of this too late, I’m not saving enough, etc etc. I never want anyone to read this blog, compare themselves to me, and feel like they’re the ones who are behind. So I don’t share my net worth.

But I am making an exception just this once because towards the end of November I finally hit a net worth milestone I’ve been working on for what seems like forever: I just hit a $100,000 net worth!

!!!

27 years old with a salary below $50k

I honestly did not expect it to happen anytime soon. Given the huge leaps in my net worth month-to-month lately (thank you, ridiculous bull market!), I had a stretch goal of hitting $100k by the end of the year but knew that probably wasn’t going to happen.

Honestly my real goal was to hit it before I jump up above a $50k salary (which should finally happen next year with a COL adjustment). There’s no real reason for this goal, other than to be able to say I hit a $100k net worth on a salary of less than $50k. So I was hoping to hit it before July of next year.

The fact that it happened so soon is 100% thanks to the market, and it’s also lucky timing for me that it coincided with an extra paycheck month and before the market dropped a bit again.

A caveat here: I do make more than $50k. In theory my salary puts me at just under $50k ($49.5k if we’re being exact), but that’s with this year’s COL increase, which didn’t kick in until mid-year. So I’m only making my new salary for half of this year and made considerably less for the first half of the year (I got a 4% raise in April and then a 2.5% COL increase that kicked in in July). I make under $50k at my full-time job, but I’m also bringing in a few extra thousand thanks to my side hustle. I can absolutely say I hit this number with a salary of less than $50,000, but I’m not going to hide the fact that my second job means I do make more than that.

Caveats aside, this is fucking awesome and I’m pretty dang proud of myself.

Sometimes when I feel like I’m not making any progress, I like to go back to the very first month I calculated my net worth, which was December 2016. I wish I’d started earlier—especially because with my $7k of student loans I definitely had a negative net worth in December 2014 (remember those two months of unemployment fueling my money anxiety? I didn’t start that shitty receptionist job until January 2015) and don’t know at what point I crossed back to a positive net worth—but for better or worse, December 2016 is the first month I have. I had $2,700 left in student loans and my net worth was all of $14,790. Which means I went from $15k to $100k in three years.

Which, again, is pretty fucking awesome.

Let’s be real: I’m not expecting this to be the first time I hit $100k. The market could drop precipitously tomorrow and I’d be way under six figures again because an outsized proportion of my net worth is in investments. Actually, between the market dipping the last few days and Black Friday/Cyber Monday purchases showing up on my credit card, I’m already back to slightly below $100k. Oh well!

But you have to have a high-paying job!!!

Can we talk about “just get a new job” for a moment?

Sure, boosting your income is a key part of FIRE. For years I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t and that I could just focus on reducing my spending, but there’s only so much you can cut before you can’t anymore. So I got a second job.

People (honestly I’ve noticed it’s largely higher income people who say this, and yes I’m essentially subtweeting one ass in particular here) will point out that if you don’t make a lot at your job, you should get a side hustle, work overtime, find a new job, switch careers, etc. That’s the only way you’re gonna reach FIRE!

I got a raise this year. It was all of $2,000; don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I got it, but that amount is rather anti-climactic. Especially because it wasn’t enough to push me over $50k in salary when my COL increase kicked in a few months later. Overtime isn’t really a thing at my company for us lowly hourly peons, but I’ll sneak in an extra 30-90 minutes on my timesheet here and there (and since I work a 35 hour week, that “overtime” isn’t time and a half, just my usual pay. Time and a half pay over 40 hours would never be approved). I have a side hustle. It generally averages out to a higher pay per hour than my full-time job, which is the definition of a good side hustle that’s not just ultimately a waste of my time.

I would happily go back to school if it meant I could sit in class and learn things again and that was it. But that’s not it—a degree would also require papers and group projects (kill me) and homework and stupid “class participation” points like commenting on x number of people’s posts on Blackboard. I’ve been out of college for 4.5 years now and the thought of all that extra stuff still elicits a very strong oh god NO reaction in me. (I guess I’m a writer now that I have this blog, but you could not pay me to write another academic paper, ugh.) And that’s not even factoring in how expensive it is to go back to school (even part-time while still working, which at least avoids the huge opportunity cost of your lost salary/retirement contributions if you quit working and go to school full-time). I killed my student loans last year and I have no intention of ever having them again. Plus, I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up (I’ve said before that this is one of my motivations for pursuing FIRE) and it’s beyond ridiculous for me to go get a Master’s degree just because.

Honestly, I don’t ever see myself making much more money in my job than I do now. Maybe I’m limiting myself here—perhaps I should manifest “I’m going to make a shit ton of money one day” out into the world. But I don’t ever see myself with a job where I’m making anywhere close to six figures. Perhaps that’s just a fault of my imagination, but it’s also me knowing that the things I’m interested in don’t tend to pay overly well.

Then again, I’ve managed to hit a net worth of $100k at age 27 by working at a non-profit on a salary less than $50k and a part-time weekend job. And that’s pretty goddamn amazing, especially when you take into account how expensive life is in DC. I’m not going to magically have a net worth of a million by the time I’m 30, but I’m making pretty great progress, so no, I don’t think that it’s impossible to FIRE on a lower salary.

(I’ve said this on the blog as well as other places, like on the What’s Up Next podcast.)[*]

Not everyone can do this BUT

I don’t want to get into survivorship bias here and imply that just because I’ve already saved $100k on a salary less than $50k in a HCOL area before the age of 30 that anyone/everyone can do it!

It honestly makes my blood boil when people imply that “anyone can FIRE! You just have to move to a cheaper area!” Or you “just” need to get a different job and work overtime and get a side hustle (which honestly is pretty damn easy to say when, like the dick I’m subtweeting (subblogging?) here, you have a ridiculously high salary AND a side hustle that makes seven figures) because who even needs downtime, you weaklings? Optimize every second!

All of that bullshit is disingenuous as hell and I’m not here for it.

And for anyone who would suggest that I should work harder at growing my income, let me tell you something: I worked my ass off for this net worth milestone. I do work my ass off.

I contribute a shit ton to my 401(k) with every paycheck (currently 41% of my salary) which has absolutely boosted my progress, but it’s also meant sacrificing a lot of cash flow. I would feel a lot less anxious with a larger emergency fund, but that would come at the expense of my retirement savings. I’ve chosen to front-load my retirement accounts, but it makes things like contributing to my Roth IRA fairly difficult (six thousand dollars is A LOT of damn money!).

Making this extra $5k at my second job requires a lot of time on weekends, to the point that I’ve stopped even pretending that I’m going to barre on a weekend I’m working. It’s already hard enough to fit in a hike or other outdoor activity and some meal prep and maybe some laundry on the weekends when I’ve got one side hustle shift scheduled. I’ve worked both Saturday and Sunday before, and while the paycheck certainly helps boost the savings rate that month, I’m beyond exhausted afterward.

Also, newsflash, I’m a human. A human who needs some downtime (even beyond writing for the blog, which I’m clearly not great at lately). Moreover, I staunchly refuse to sacrifice all of my free time in the pursuit of making more money.

So the “I did it so you can too!” attitude doesn’t fly around here.

A hiking pic from early November as misdirection so the social media previews don’t share the net worth screenshot

Convincing myself too

I started my blog because I didn’t see anyone pursuing this journey while working at a non-profit (again, a <$50k non-profit salary, not a six figure one) and paying an insane amount for rent (just move somewhere cheaper!!!). That’s not to say that I’m the only one doing it. But I wanted to add my voice to the online personal finance community because yes, it still overwhelmingly presents a white, cis, tech (or doctor or engineer or other high-paying career) bro façade.

I’m writing both to document my journey and also to convince myself that FIRE is possible in a situation like mine. Sometimes I doubt it, but I will get there some day, just extremely slowly. I haven’t figured it all out by any means. But honestly hitting a six figure net worth is an extremely good indication that I’m doing something right.

So I’m not here to say that of course everyone can do this if I can! But I am breaking my silence on the net worth front to say that yes, it is possible to pursue financial independence even if you can’t save half your salary. Hell, I just told y’all that I’m in danger of not hitting my goal of a 48% savings rate for the year (a goal that includes my retirement contributions—forty-one percent of my paycheck—even though it still bugs me that it includes both pre- and post-tax numbers).

That privilege word again

There are absolutely circumstances and structural problems that mean some people can’t pursue FI. It is a privilege to be able to think about how to live more frugally: people making minimum wage and struggling to survive do not have a choice about being frugal. Personal finance IS political because money affects everything and anyone who tries to tell you any differently is probably a white male (and most likely would call himself a libertarian). It’s just straight-up not possible for everyone, despite the fact that I would love for it to be otherwise.

But I’m a firm believer than anyone who is able to pursue FI should be doing so. This goal—making my own safety net, having enough money that I am not forced to work a job I hate, having the flexibility to figure out how I want to spend my time without worrying about being compensated for it in order to pay the next month’s rent—is worth it. And, obviously, I’m also a firm believer that you don’t have to be making a huge salary or saving thousands of dollars a month to do so.

This is a one-off

So, that’s my first big net worth goal announcement. And it will be my last—I’m not going to document how long the next $100k takes. Comparing my net worth makes me feel like I’m behind, but I’m always interested to see how people spend (or save) their money in a given month. So I’ll be returning to my usual policy of just sharing my monthly numbers.

But this is a major milestone and it’s worth celebrating. I hear things start to go even faster from here and I’m looking forward to seeing if that’s true.


[*]Me, in my post two years ago about getting a second job: “First up, I’m going to say it: I’m resentful of feeling the need for another job in the first place because my 9-5 barely pays me enough to live in this city. We are not having the conversation right now about me needing to get a better-paying job because I cannot just waltz right out and find another job in an hour. That shit takes lots of time and effort, and I’m tired of seeing it thrown out as a casual suggestion for saving more money.” You’ve gotta hand it to me, I’m consistent as fuck!

Edited to add: it occurs me that sometimes I forget that I also have huge money anxiety stemming from the fact that my dad lost his job while I was in college and it took him a year and a half to get a new one. I felt hella guilty that my parents were helping to pay for part of my education on one income during that whole time. I don’t know why I forget that, because that shit stays with you. I was on a Pell grant and had a work-study job my last two years of college. Dad’s difficulty getting a job, combined with my own difficulties finding one beyond just that desperate time after college (that shitty receptionist job? I applied for jobs for seven months before I got my current one and could leave that one. I’ve applied for jobs since starting this one three years ago but aside from one instance have been rejected—or ghosted—right off the bat. The one interview I’ve had has been for an internal position here, and I didn’t get that one either, for better or worse) mean I know, viscerally, that it’s just not that easy to get a new job. So fuck right off with that “advice.”

15 Replies to “They say the first is the hardest…”

  1. Erin, this is an amazing accomplishment! Congratulations!!
    From this early milestone, you can expect to have 4-5 doubling periods before full retirement age, so this money will become $1.6M-$3.2M by then, not even counting any future contributions.
    I often forget that you’re “only” 27, not an Old like me, who will be turning 37 later this month. My net worth at 27 was Negative $150k, and it’s improved nearly $450k since then, and I didn’t have $100k net worth until July 2016 at age 33.5. I know you’re not encouraging comparison here, but I want to praise you a little bit for being on such a great start!!

  2. Wow this is a seriously impressive milestone! So much congrats and well deserved!! I hope that partner of yours has a celebration or two in store! 🙂

    You speak so many truths in here though. There are so many people who claim it’s easy to double your income, and then they suggest doing the exact things you’ve already done… change careers you say? Newsflash: not everyone wants to be an engineer, which doesn’t make changing careers an easy thing, if the work you’d have to do isn’t easy…

    Anyways, preaching to the choir here, congrats again and I can speak from experience that the net worth with grow much faster from here!!

  3. Erin, you have so much to be proud of! And it’s so important to hear from other voices that aren’t the norm–so keep it up!

    I too balk at the advice of just ‘go get a new job.’ Getting a new job is hard af, as well as the mental gymnastics of applying for jobs. For me personally, it’s always been a lot easier to cut my expenses.

    I also feel like I can’t share my net worth anymore. It’s unrelatable without the proper context involved.

  4. Wow you are such #goal! We are around the same age but you are far ahead of me in this FI journey. It’s weird to say but I am so proud of you (when I don’t really know you but I feel like I kind of do from reading your post). Hope you keep it up! And I hope I can join you in the $100k NW in the future.

  5. I had a hunch this might be your milestone! Way to go! I like how you thank the crazy market, but you have done a lot of work to get here and definitely deserve some credit.

    I don’t earn megabucks, so this is inspiring for me to see. Things might be within “reach” 🙂

  6. I’ve been lurking for a while, but I wanted to say congratulations on your huge milestone! It’s amazing that you live in a HOC area and are still killing it. I love reading your spending report posts, and you’re inspired me to start keeping track (and maybe writing my own posts about it too). Thank you for sharing everything you do, I hope one day to run into you at a fincon!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing! Although it’s understandable you didn’t want to share this in the past, seeing someone with a salary similar to mine achieving personal financial goals I have only dreamed of previously is very inspiring and hopeful to see it can be done with my same job and consistency.

  8. YAY Erin! Big huge congratulations! That first $100K was like fireworks going off for me too and soon after I stopped sharing my NW for a variety of reasons but it was so pivotal.

    I’m also glad to read the rest of the context around it because this is important stuff to hear / read. That context is easy to lose sight of in the soundbyte world that PF tends towards, as does the glib assumptions that ignore reality that one can, say, “JUST” get another job, pick up and move, add another side hustle, bike to work and everywhere else.

  9. This whole post is gold but I especially like this part: Dad’s difficulty getting a job, combined with my own difficulties finding one beyond just that ….. viscerally, that it’s just not that easy to get a new job. So fuck right off with that “advice.”

    $100K is amazing and things will start to accelerate from here. Reflect on the grind but also what an amazing success this is.

    Any large increases I gained over my career happened when I did some big pivots, the 1st of which took me 5 years to pull the trigger and I had the confidence to make the change. It’s not easy, it takes a ton of work on the outside and the inside. I don’t know what my net worth was at 27, but I wasn’t close to that and didn’t even know what FI was. You are crushing it!

  10. That.Is.Awesome!!!

    I finally hit a similar milestone last year, and the very best thing has been seeing what a huge difference having 6 figures in the market makes to interest and dividend growth. It is like adding rocket fuel😊

    And good on you for not bowing to the side hustle culture. I side hustled along with a full time job for several years, and am still trying to recover from the burn out and what it did to my social life. Slow, steady and manageable wins the race.

  11. Congratulations Erin! Loved reading about your journey to get here, and also appreciate your insightful points about the privilege of pursuing FIRE.

    I’m turning 30 next year, and I’ve been toying with the idea of setting a goal to reach my first 100k by the end of 2020. It’s a pretty lofty goal, and the markets could totally foil my plans, but based on how excited I got just now hearing about your accomplishment, it may just be worth it!

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