Road Less Traveled Challenge

Gentle Readers,

If you are not reading Our Next Life, you are missing out on some delightful people. They have issued a challenge whose mantle is well-worth taking up.

The challenge: Instead of talking about what we’re all doing that’s the same (saving at a high rate, optimizing our budgets, etc.), let’s celebrate what we’re each doing that’s unique.

My unique path is relatively simple. I’m a dyke and have been setting my own course from a very early age. If you do not conform to heterosexuality and the assumptions that many people attach to it, you must necessarily decide what life should be for you because there are fewer examples. This is a blessing. You have to figure out what is important to you. You have to create your joy. The day I graduated from high school, I moved out of my “family” home. I’ve been forging an expanded version of family and what life means for me ever since.  It changes with new information and new versions of myself. Self-improvement means that you have to accept new ways of being.

I was fortunate to find other families to take me in at all times. I was never on the street. In other people’s homes, I found a way to contribute, but mainly I learned from them and appreciated the safety and food they provided. The conclusion I reached from living with so many diverse people was that every person believes they are normal. Every person thinks that the way their family has always done something is the way to do something. Everyone’s assumptions are hidden from themselves because they’ve lived in them for so long. The greatest thing about my early nomadic lifestyle was to see through the veil of normal. There are a million ways to “properly” prepare dinner, and all of them are right for someone.

The way you’ve always done something does not have to be the way you continue doing something. 

Until very recently, I never imagined that I would be able to retire at all. I have significant student loan debt and some personal debt. My net worth is hovering around -$150,000.  However, there has been a change brewing in me. I see hope to drastically alter my situation through two different mechanisms.

The first mechanism involves learning a skill that will double my earnings. I’m really enjoying the learning process and plan to continue learning it even after it becomes profitable for me. Once I’m able to do temp work based on that skill-set, my take home pay will skyrocket. It will be enough money that I could realistically pay off all of my debt and save for a down payment in a high COL area in three years or less. With a much higher income, I intend to take a “balanced” approach. Credit card debt will be knocked out entirely in a month. Then I will save a down payment while increasing my emergency fund. If all goes well, I’ll find a small place that is affordable. Once I get an understanding of what my mortgage feels like on my bank account, I will shift focus to buying index funds and paying down my student loans. After the educational debt is gone, I will probably work one more year doing the highly lucrative temp work and plow most of my earnings into index funds.

Then, I will stop.

I will shift to my second mechanism. With the encouragement of my best friends and girlfriend, I started an LLC two years ago that will eventually allow me to live the lifestyle I desire. The work is a passion of mine and contributes to making the world better. With an appropriate nest egg and low expenses, I could work 20 hours a week doing something of value for the world without wearing myself out. My free time will be mine. I will have slow mornings with strong coffee.

I will use the freedom to travel to practice languages I’ve learned. To go on miniature adventures and learn even more ways people view their choices as normal.

I will use the freedom to create things. I like to write stories and paint furniture. I think I will continue to like that in the future.

I will use the freedom to properly learn how to cook. I’m an excellent baker, but my cooking skills are mediocre. Classes would be wonderful. I love food. I’m sure I can learn.

I will use my freedom to continue volunteering for organizations in my city. I will use my freedom to be a more involved citizen.

I will use my freedom to get a puppy. A big one.

What is your unique approach to life and FIRE?

Author: ZJ Thorne

Lesbian on the path to Financial Freedom

  • “I will have slow morning with strong coffee.” I love that. I don’t even drink coffee (for shame!), and that speaks so clearly to me. Hmm. I jumped in another series with ONL about “Our Next Life”, and I think that made me pretty unique in the sense that I wrote about how we actually aren’t striving to retire early. We’re both really happy teaching. Unless things change dramatically (and with the politics and red tape, they very well could!), we plan on hanging on for another few decades 😉 So happy to have connected with you ZJ. You are so inspiring and talented and insightful.

    • I’m so glad when I hear that good teachers want to remain teaching (barring horrible red tape/political changes). Not contributing to society is not my idea of being a good person. I just want to control my terms a little more.

      I did get my college best friend addicted to coffee, but it is not a requirement for being my friend.

      Thanks for making me blush late on a Sunday.

  • Mr. PIE

    “The way you have always done something does not have to be the way you continue doing something.”
    I absolutely love this quote. No matter how old you get and boy, I feel old these days, there is always something new to learn. In work, from children, from others. I learned a few things reading this post and that is a very good thing. Thanks for sharing a bit about your journey. You sound like a very strong and determined person.

    • I’m so glad you liked it. Continued learning is so important. Especially if it is learning about yourself and what makes you tick.

  • So glad you took the challenge, ZJ! I loved reading this. Your vision for your life is so inspiring, and you’ve got so many high five points built in along the way — including the end of your credit card debt that’s coming up so soon! I love that you’re building your own LLC to give you both an ongoing income stream and a way to do work you’re passionate about. All sounds pretty great to me. 🙂 (And thanks, of course, for the lovely shoutout!)

    • I love concrete steps on the way to big goals. Thank you for creating this challenge. It was really fun to think about.

  • A business that is your passion and that will make the world a better place…that’s awesome!

    • I’m really fortunate. I just need to keep building up my client base.

  • Mr. Groovy

    I agree with Mr. Pie and Penny. Two great quotes, ZJ. And thanks for sharing the ONL challenge. Right now I got nothing. I’m kind of boring. I want to pick up litter, bake bread for the homeless, travel, and blog about my financial adventures in retirement. That doesn’t strike me as very unique. Oh, well, no one said this retirement thingy was going to be easy. I got some thinking to do.

    • What type of bread do you bake? I love baking. I used to make a beer and smelt bread that was divine.

      Do you give to veterans directly or through an organization?

      I think your plan sounds lovely.

      • My brain translated homeless into veteran. Those are not necessarily the same.

        • Mr. Groovy

          No, it isn’t. But isn’t it sad how many vets lose it without the structure of the military and wind up homeless?

          • It is very sad. Structure is necessary for so many folks. Especially if they have unmet psychological health needs.

      • Mr. Groovy

        Thanks, ZJ. I don’t actually bake bread yet. Next year when we build up in Wake Forest, I want to build an outdoor, wood-burning brick oven. That’s when I planned on starting my bread-baking career. But nothing’s holding me back from starting it now. The bear and smelt bread does sound divine. When you get a chance, can you send the recipe my way (as long as it’s not a treasured family secret, of course)?

  • So glad you took the challenge, ZJ, this is inspiring! It’s also eye-opening about the kind of privilege so many of us have in a hetero-normative world.

    And wow do I love the declarative sentences here – “My free time will be mine” – damned straight it will be! 😀

    P.S. If you’re ever in the Boston area you can borrow our big puppy for a while 😉

    • I love Boston!

      And strong declarations.

      Will absolutely take you up on that puppy offer.

  • What a beautiful post, ZJ! I loved reading this. The way you’ve paved your own path to turn your lufe around is inspirational and the plan you have for the future is admirable. I can feel your passion and kindness all the way here! Thank you for making this world better and kinder.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words.

  • Finance Solver

    Inspiring post. I like how you’re continuously looking to learn new skills and it resonates with my approach to reaching FIRE. I believe I only scratched a tiny speck of information to learn during my time in school and am looking to learn so much more now and continuously try to expand my knowledge base. I have faith that you’ll get there and glad to have found this blog!

    • I’m so glad that you are continuing to seek new knowledge and skills. Curiosity is a great big part of growth as a human. I would not want to stop growing.

  • A really inspiring and encouraging post ZJ. It’s great you’re learning the new skill – and fantastic you’re going to earn so much from it! I can’t wait to read about how you got your net worth to $0 pretty quickly. What puppy are you going to get?


    • I can’t wait to write that post!

      A big puppy! Full of fierce cuddles

  • Apathy Ends

    Thanks for sharing your story, I love this challenge, learning about everyones backgrounds makes this community tighter.
    Intrigued by so many things in this post – would love to see some pictures of the furniture you have painted – I love when people create unique pieces (especially if they are DIY and don’t pay a fortune for them).

    Oh – and cant wait for you to get a puppy, having a dog in the house brings so much joy

    • So far I’ve just painted some simple crates. When I’m closer to buying I will take advantage of currently having a garage and buy and paint a bench, too.

      • Apathy Ends

        Awesome! We have built some items out of recycled wood (mostly pallets) and I love the look. I want to do a few crazy tables with paint that will last outside.

        • Recycled pallet furniture is so fun!