I’m excited to bring Caroline’s story to you! Her story shows that you don’t have to choose between living in the city or being able to retire early. You just have to be very intentional about making smart money decisions along the way in order to get there!
Living in New York City is not cheap. If anything, it’s the opposite of cheap - it’s ridiculously expensive! So expensive that many people choose to leave the city in order to live more affordable lives. That thought never even crossed our minds though. It wasn’t an option. My husband and I grew up in the city. Our families live in the city. And we LOVE this city! We love how convenient everything is, the cultural diversity, and the thriving art scene. There is never a day that goes by that you can’t find a show, fair, or museum to enjoy. This is where we wanted to live, to raise our family.
With that decision made, we had to figure out how to afford this life - this crazy expensive, but awesome life! The first decision we made was to take on the highest paying jobs we could find early in our career. This ended up being in management consulting. We worked nonstop and traveled constantly! Not only did this allow us to pay off our student loans quickly and max out of 401k’s, we could afford to live right where we wanted - the creative, hip East Village of Manhattan, close to all the major transit hubs and our families!
During this time we had our first daughter and life became really full. My husband and I tried to arrange opposite travel schedules so one of us was home in the evening. When we couldn’t avoid overlapping schedules, our family was right there and able to help. Luckily, we had the money to afford a full-time nanny and the energy to keep going. We stayed in these jobs for about five years, setting us up to be able to downshift to corporate jobs that allowed us more time with our daughter and baby number two! By the time our daughters were 12 and 6 years old I was able to leave my office job adn start a consulting business with a former colleague that allowed me to work flexibly and remotely, and my husband was able to switch to a non-profit job he loved!
While our first jobs helped us set up a solid financial foundation, we needed to be very intentional with our money if we were ever going to be able to retire at age 65! With everything in the city being so expensive and housing prices so high, we needed to live small and be frugal. We had to make our 2-bed, 1-bath, 1,000 square foot apartment in Manhattan comfortable for a family of four.
I was constantly decluttering and questioning every purchase that would be brought into our home. Every nook of our apartment had a purpose, or multiple purposes. I focused on buying groceries in bulk, shopping at flea markets, and using craigslist in order to save money. When we wanted to go out and enjoy the city, instead of paying high prices, I learned to look for bargains and take advantage of Free Admission days. Developing these skills kept our cost of living down in New York City so we could allocate more money towards the future.
Investing In Our Future
Besides maxing out our 401k’s we looked into other ways to invest. I had always been interested in real estate so we decided to try investing in this market. We bought a small weekend house in New Jersey that appreciated well and allowed us to obtain a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) in order to buy our next property. We found two great places in Asheville, NC that we were able to purchase at a low cost and have profitable rent right away. With this investment being a success, we decided to use our profits to expand our real estate portfolios to Jacksonville FL, Indianapolis IN, and Tamarindo, Costa Rica - all places where the numbers worked in our favor!
I like to think of our real estate portfolio as a type of geo-arbitrage. Instead of making money in a high cost-of-living geography and then moving to a lower cost-of-living place, we did geo-arbitrage with our investments - making our money in NYC, but investing elsewhere.
Between our frugality and successful investments, my husband was able to retire last year at the age of 46! We hadn’t set out to retire early, but discovered the possibility as we were moving into our non-corporate way of living. Learning about FIRE gave us the inspiration to keep making financial decisions that would allow us to have the flexibility we desired.
Our FIRE Life
As our oldest left for college and our youngest was starting high school, my husband and I were talking about how we wanted to live in this new stage of life. We found ourselves less tied to Manhattan. We love NYC, but we didn’t feel like we needed to be in the middle of it all.
We ended up finding a comparable 2-bed, 1-bath, 1,000 square foot apartment in the Bronx we fell in love with. It was in the Riverdale area near the NY Botanical Garden in a lush, quiet, close-knit neighborhood. To make it even better, it was an estate sale, so there was a big discount! This place was a fraction of the cost of our Manhattan home and would allow us to still get into the heart of the city easily. It was an easy decision for us to move and we are enjoying our new home the change of scenery.
Looking back on this journey it’s easy to ask - Could we have moved to the Bronx earlier and retired earlier? Maybe, but choosing to stay where we really wanted to be helped us figure out our priorities and forced us to make smart money decisions early on. Had we moved out of the Manhattan we may not have been so focused. We may not have been able to retire early. Choosing to stay in Manhattan when the girls were little allowed us to be a quick walk or ride to school, activities, and family. That was completely worth it for us. We have enjoyed our journey along the way to FIRE - and that’s really important too!
Do you have a freedom story you would like to share? We would love to hear from you! Submit your story here!