3 Moments that Forever Changed my Financial Trajectory

There are times in life when you do something or learn something that will permanently change how you think of things going forward.

Those inflection points usually seem so happenstance and sometimes insignificant at the time, but they profoundly change the direction of your life.

Mr. Chedda and I met on the first day of a training session for summer camp counselors. We were playing an ice breaker called human bingo.

Find someone who has more than four siblings and you get to cross off a square on your bingo card. Find another person who’s been to Asia and you can cross off another one.

So, I was walking around the room trying to meet people who satisfied a bingo square criterion, and I bumped into Mr. Chedda. “What boxes do you need?” he asked.

“I’ll take whatever you can give me” I replied with a smile.

I didn’t mean to sound overtly flirty, but apparently I came off that way. And, just like that, my reply changed the trajectory of my life.

Mr. Chedda thought I was being very forward, so he felt confident when he asked me to get a drink with him later that evening. So began our love story.

Similarly, there are a few moments that stick out to me where I learned something or did something that seemed small at the time, but those events had an enduring effect on my financial future.

1. The Compounding Interest Parable

I was a frugal kid. My first side hustle was picking up pinecones from my grandma’s yard, which earned me 1 cent per pinecone. I opened a savings account in Third Grade, which I deposited money into but never withdrew from. I went to the mall with my own $20 to spend, and returned home with half of it, while my friends were dropping $40 a polo shirt. And layered polos were all the rage, so they needed to buy two for each outfit.

Basically, I was never positioned to be an adult deep in debt, but I also wasn’t on track to be the money piling machine that I am today.

I think the first thing that really lodged in my mind and convinced me to save even more than I had been was the classic story of how compounding interest affects two different investors. I don’t know how I came across it, but I remember the lesson really well.

financial inflection point
Blue starts saving at 25, Red starts at 35. Who wins?

You know what I’m talking about. Blue starts saving $200 monthly at 25 years old, while Red starts saving the same $200 monthly, but at 35. When they retire at 65, Blue has twice as much money as Red does.

That picture is a really good way to convince a 20 year old to start saving NOW.

And it worked on me. I started saving almost all of my income and investing it before I even left college.

2. The blog post

This was the biggest inflection point in my financial life by far.

One day at work I was browsing the personal finance subreddit. I was pretty newly employed, and I was obsessed with learning about employer sponsored retirement accounts. (NERD!)

People were always posting links to Mr. Money Mustache’s blog as answers to personal finance questions. The name kind of turned me off, but eventually I got curious and clicked on one.

financial inflection point
Mr. Money Mustache’s blog logo—Financial Freedom Through Badassity

I don’t think I did any more work that afternoon. I also think I went to bed late the next three evenings, just gorging myself on all of his past posts.

Retiring early was just something that had never crossed my mind. Up until then, I had been saving money for the point of saving, but MMM’s posts gave me new purpose.

Retirement was possible, and even plausible, in a decade or two instead of four! I could become financially independent and live my life doing only things that would make me happier! I could create, and learn, and love, and play for every hour of the day that I wasn’t sleeping!

It was the most cliche of revelations. My newfound joy was immediate and overwhelming. I estimate that one afternoon’s discovery increased my cumulative lifetime dream fulfillment potential by at least 896%.

I owe a big thank you to Mr. Money Mustache! I firmly believe that his inspiration altered the course of my life. I definitely wouldn’t be writing this blog if it weren’t for his.

3. The talk

It only takes one to read a MMM post and get inspired. It takes two to be a total financial power couple who crushes early retirement and bikes off into the sunset together.

When I came home after spending the afternoon binging on Mr. Money Mustache blog posts, I was really excited to talk with Mr. Chedda about all my new ideas, but I was also a little nervous. I was convinced that early retirement was possible for us, but what if he wasn’t?

He is such an important part of my life that I couldn’t imagine retiring while he still toiled away at his office. At the same time, I wasn’t interested in working longer than I had to. I wanted him to be my teammate in approaching financial independence.

So, I braised some beef (still remember how tasty it was) and broached the subject over dinner after he came home.

I think I asked something like: “What if we saved more money than we needed to retire at 65? Would you be up for retiring sooner than that if it were possible?”

“Sure!” he replied.

That was kind of a softball question. I think almost everyone would say yes to it. So I went in for the kill.

“I think we could retire in our 40s with the way we’re saving right now. We could probably even pull off our 30s if we tried a bit harder.” And, just like that, he was hooked.

He got really enthusiastic and started asking a ton of questions.

financial inflection point
Mr. Chedda and me dancing together—living our shared dream of seeking happiness outside of work

It helped that I’m pretty number-savvy and data-driven, so I had already worked out what we were saving and what we were spending. I laid out my proposal of how much more we could shovel into savings if we cut back on eating out at restaurants and buying home decor. I had read enough about safe withdrawal rates and early retirement account withdrawal methods that I could answer most of his questions.

Though we still had plenty of specifics to nail down, a dream was born! A shared dream of living below our means and rising above the din of the rat race.

As soon as I had that conversation with Mr. Chedda and I knew we were working together toward the goal of financial independence, it became a reality for me. That goal has stayed at the forefront of our minds in the years since our first conversation, and has driven many of our biggest (and smallest) decisions.


Did you have an “aha” moment or an inflection point in your financial life? What was it?

4 thoughts on “3 Moments that Forever Changed my Financial Trajectory”

  1. Hi Ellie. Great post! Mr. Grumby and I had a similar experience discovering the great MMM, binge-reading his blog, and then having life-changing “what if” conversations. I’ve also spent many happy day dreamy moments with compound interest charts. Congrats to you and Mr. Chedda on your journey toward FI. Looking forward to reading future posts.

    1. Thanks! I hear you on the dreamy moments with compound interest charts!

      Every once in a while I open our net worth progress graph and just stare at it for 10 minutes. I don’t know what my brain is doing while that happens, but I just drift off in some kind of contented reverie.

  2. Hi Chedda,
    I found your blog while learning that Mr & Mrs PIE were opting out of blogging for the next couple years (for good purpose).
    I was way late to the FIRE concept, coming across this small but growing on-line community in my late 50’s 🙁
    But even with that, I quickly realized that we could jettison the Corporate gig by 60 instead of some later date. Almost by luck, we had plowed heavily into my 401K (Mama Badger was always a mom, housewife, and, born frugal) and always into a small portfolio of index funds and target date funds with very low ER’s.
    So, we’re trimming a lot of wasteful spending (subscription tv, overpriced security system, excess eating out, etc) and doing exactly that. Planning 7-4-2017 as last working day.
    Many thanks the MMM, JLC, Mad-F, PIE’s for 2-4 years of extra freedom that was right in front of us – we just needed to see it 🙂 The most important things I learned from those pioneers was: a) we only needed to replace about half our gross pay to make the leap and not the 80%+ eBulls__t that is peddled by the snake oil financial planning community, b) the odds of a financial planner adding value to your retirement was going to be “rare as baptized rattlesnakes.” (Thanks JLC), and, c) financial planning is not that hard (and that is why the aforementioned snakes* spend so much telling people exactly the opposite).

    Looking forward to reading your blog Chedda – good luck!

    For the record, snakes* are an important component of our Eco-system and I value the real kind.

    1. Wow, less than a year left of working! Big congrats to the Badger* family!

      I really like reading about other people’s FIRE stories, so thank you for sharing! It’s especially impressive to me that even though you started in your late 50s you gained yourself several extra years of freedom. Good luck on your last few months of work!

      *Don’t badgers eat snakes? If so, I’m not surprised to hear that you “value” them 😉

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