Debbie learned that the symptoms of a chronic condition she and her husband Chris had discovered in 2012 were getting worse in 2014, not long after they had welcomed their second daughter into the world. She was, however, adamant about sticking with her job as an elementary school teacher and continuing to bring in money to support her growing family.
That is until a coworker once inquired about Debbie’s attendance at a weekend professional development event. Debbie paused. If it was a financial issue, Debbie’s coworker reassured her that there would be a stipend.
Debbie says, “I remember this little thing clicking.” “I believe I also told her aloud that I didn’t need any more money. More time is required.” The Emicks, who intended to retire in their mid-60s, started to rethink their financial goals once Debbie left her work later in 2014. Debbie adds, “I suddenly started to understand that I was working for a retirement I might never enjoy.
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The Rocky Ford Colorado couple cut back on their expenditures, increased their savings, and stepped up their real estate investing. Chris was able to quit his job as a network engineer in 2019 since they were able to make enough money from their homes at that point.
Between 2016 and 2019, a period of four years, the couple bought 19 rental properties. Their combined annual rental income from their residences was $45,000 when they retired in 2019 at the age of 40. These days Debbie and Chris both have a net worth of around $1.5 million thanks to a combination of investments, savings, and real estate holdings.
Focusing on saving early on: “All I wanted was enough money to pay the bills”
The Emicks always knew how to save money and stick to a budget. They say that their early family life taught them good money habits.
Debbie grew up on farms and ranches in “the middle of nowhere” before her parents got a divorce and she had to move around a lot. She says, “Not knowing how much money I had made me act and think differently about money.”
That usually meant putting your attention on the here and now instead of saving money for long-term goals. She says, “All I wanted was enough money to pay my bills.”
Debbie’s main goal when she graduated from college and started making $24,000 a year was to pay off her student loans and her car payment. She hoped that if her Chevy Malibu broke down, she’d have enough money left over to pay for repairs.
Chris, on the other hand, was always set on becoming a millionaire. Chris grew up on a farm with his grandparents, who, he says, taught him how to save money during the Great Depression. He says, “I was always ready for an emergency or the worst-case scenario.”
When he was 21, he read the book “The Millionaire Next Door” and realized that if he saved hard for the rest of his life, he could become wealthy. “I just thought that a person with a million dollars couldn’t possibly ever have any problems.”
Saving more: “We finally got serious about having a budget”
Before Debbie quit her job, the couple had paid off all of their debts, except for their mortgage. Chris had been working in IT for 18 years and was making just over a six-figure salary. Still Chris and Debbie had to look at their finances again because the family was going to lose Debbie’s $32,000 salary and the pension she would have gotten after 20 years of teaching. Debbie says, “That’s when we got serious about making a real budget.”
Chris thought he would have to make big changes to his life, but he found that the only thing he had to do to save more money was to be more careful about how he spent his money. He only remembers one way he saved money: he stopped getting takeout for breakfast and lunch at work.
Chris says that the couple found that their values were centered around travel, family, and good, healthy food. This helped them avoid spending money on things like new clothes, jewelry, and makeup that “wouldn’t change our happiness meter.”
They said that 50% to 60% of Chris’s salary went to the Emicks every month.
“Pretty fast and furious” when it comes to buying rental properties
Even though they cut back, the Emicks didn’t like having only one source of income. Chris was afraid that if he lost his job, his family would be in a bad way. They wanted to try owning real estate, so in 2016 they put a total of $60,000 down on two rental properties. They took the money from their savings of $90,000.
At first, it was hard work to be a landlord. Debbie says that the homes they bought were “a little bit like ugly ducklings.” The couple worked on them at night and on weekends to get them ready for renters. The work was worth it. The rent from the first two properties was much higher than the mortgage payments on the house. This made Chris and Debbie think about doing things on a bigger scale. They realized that rental properties could be the main way the family made money, instead of Chris’s salary.
“We both kind of wondered, “What if you ever want to quit your job? What if we don’t want things to stay this way?’ “says Debbie. “That thought quickly turned into, ‘How can we use our money to buy more time?'”
The Emicks bought more real estate with their monthly savings and the money they made from their renters. Between 2016 and 2019, the couple bought 17 properties in Colorado and Memphis, Tennessee, with a total of 19 units.
“That was really how things went. So those four years were pretty busy and fast-paced “Chris says.
Enjoying the Freedom of Retiring Early
Even though they quit their day jobs, the Emicks still have a lot to do. Together, they take care of their rental properties, which bring in between $4,000 and $6,000 per month after taxes, insurance, and other costs. Debbie spends one month per year selling a specialized type of drought insurance for ranchers, which brings in roughly $23,000 in commissions annually.
For the Emicks, retirement is less about not working and more about turning the traditional work-life balance on its head.
Chris says, “Instead of having a job where I worked 48 weeks a year and had 4 weeks off, I probably work 4 weeks a year and have 48 weeks off now.”
The couple keeps saving and investing. They spend from around $2,500 to $3,000 per month and recently have been investing the remainder in a combined effect of retirement and making investment accounts, health savings accounts, and various cash accounts. In total, they have saved up about $740,000.
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They have also been able to follow their dreams. Debbie wrote a book and started learning how to surf. Debbie and Chris also started “Go Bucket Yourself,” an online community for people who want to retire early and plan their own events and retreats. Chris says that when it comes to what comes next, they love having the freedom to make connections, travel, and discover. And as for how all of this started, Debbie says that her health has gotten a lot better since she quit her 9-to-5 job.
She says, “I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s changed a lot since I quit my job.” “Because I don’t have that daily stress and because it gave me time and energy to work on myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
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