A Lull on the Path to FIRE

I am a pretty optimistic person. If you read this blog regularly, I think you’ll find that I’m generally focused on the positive more than dwelling on the negative. Lately, though, I have found myself struggling to maintain a completely sunny outlook, as progress has been quite slow, and we’ve entered a bit of a lull on the path to FIRE.

It’s not that things are going poorly. In fact, a large number of things which will positively affect our progress towards early retirement are that close to coming online. The new rental property that I purchased late last year (and closed on in February) will hopefully be completely occupied and cash flowing by the first of June. I incorporated my consulting business as an LLC last month, and that should start to reduce my taxes very soon as well.

Despite all of these positive steps, I’ve still been feeling down about the lack of bottom-line progress. My safe monthly retirement income, which is a calculation of the amount we could safely withdraw on a monthly basis if we were to retire today, hasn’t changed substantially in almost six months. Getting the new rental property operational has been one expense after another totaling thousands of dollars. No single item has been outrageously expensive or even terribly unexpected– we are talking about a hundred-year-old house, after all. It just has felt like such a grind. Wake up, start working, discover another item that needs repair. Approve estimate. Approve eviction of existing tenant who hasn’t paid her rent since I bought the property. Wake up, start working, discover another item that needs repair. Approve estimate.

Oh, and when it comes to setting up that LLC? There’s countless layers of bureaucracy to wade through, whether it’s the secretary of state, the state tax board, the IRS, or even my local bank. My accountant, who happens to also be the one used by Mr. Money Mustache, hasn’t been responding to my emails in the past several weeks, and I have had to explain how to calculate my maximum individual 401(k) contributions to his employees several times (maybe I should just send a link to the blog instead?). Six weeks in, they still haven’t shown me a tax calculation that results in any savings for me, and my emails asking for clarification have been ignored (though they were quick to invoice me). They’ve billed me to set up a lease agreement for my home office space that they have yet to deliver. I can only guess that they have taken on more work than they can handle thanks to their recent publicity on MMM. I am, to say the least, frustrated.

In my less optimistic moments, I look at my expenditures over the past few months, and I wonder whether I’ve gone completely off the rails.

FIRE is Like Building a Skyscraper

If you live (or have ever lived) in a city, you may have seen a skyscraper being built. For months, hundreds of workers toil deep in the ground. They clear away the earth, pound girders hundreds of feet into the ground, then pour a strong foundation of rebar and concrete to support the weight of dozens of floors.

At first, it seems that there’s no progress whatsoever. People file in and out of a glorified hole in the ground, and there’s little sign of the skyscraper that will one day take its place. After the foundation is complete, however, something amazing happens. Almost out of nowhere, the building springs out of the ground, and floors are added at an astonishing pace. Almost before you know it, a mighty marvel of modern engineering stands in the place of an undignified pit.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this metaphor applies to the path to Financial Independence. Everyone’s journey starts with the building of solid foundations. Want to start investing, but neck-deep in credit card bills? You are clearing away the earth as you pay off all of that debt. Want to earn income from a rental property? Every cost involved is a girder driven deep into the ground that will one day support a lifetime of freedom.

Truthfully, even knowing this, I’m still battling through discouragement. I wanted to share these experiences for everyone who might read and wonder why it is that personal finance bloggers only ever seem to have good news for you. The truth is that some days are just a struggle. We’re all building the foundation of the rest of our lives, and sometimes that’s a grimy, irritating, infuriating business.

In the end, there’s only one way to look out from the top floor, and that’s by starting in the basement.

20 thoughts on “A Lull on the Path to FIRE

  1. Harmony @ CreatingMyKaleidoscope

    I love the analogy, and can definitely relate. We are still clearing the ground by paying off credit card debt. There are difficult days – when all I want to do is veg out and be a zombie in front of the TV like everyone else. But if we want to meet our goals, we have to HUSTLE. I often remind myself of what Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else.” That helps sometimes. Other times, I try to imagine our future to give myself some extra motivation. And other times, I give in and take a nap. It really does wonders for when you need a little more steam.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thank you! I have yet to completely turn the corner, but I think once the new rental is completely up and running, it will do a lot for my mood. Just as long as the needle is moving in the right direction!

  2. Fervent Finance

    The middle is the hardest part for sure. I doubt it was the intention of your post, but it made me thankful of my KISS (keep it simple, stupid) strategy. I sometimes think that I’m not doing enough since my only real income comes in the version of a W2. But I guess as long as it keeps going up every year at a good rate, then I’m not doing too bad.

    Although I’m not a tax accountant, I know how busy they are at this time. It sucks but your 2016 new tax structure is probably at the bottom of the barrel of tasks to complete with all the 2015 returns they need to finish. Take care!

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      I see it as a bit of a sliding scale– I acknowledge that I am trading complexity in the short run for better long-term returns. I could easily keep my investing simple, but my returns are 3-4x better over the long run in real estate, so I split the difference somewhat. I’ve got the ability to deal with the up-front costs (both emotionally and financially), and my experience has been that once things get settled, the level of frustration goes way down– I just need the mental “win” of putting one of these big ones behind me!

  3. Claudia @ Two Cup House

    The last month or so has been rough for me, too. Trying to balance today’s priorities while we also build the future is exhausting. I’m hoping that things improve for you quickly! We’re in your corner. 🙂

  4. Brandon @ Nurse on Fire

    Incredible analogy; we are definitely in the basement right now, as we are working on paying off all our debt. Thankfully, progress is moving along well…but it will still fill a helluva lot better when the sun hits our faces as we emerge from that basement, the stories start climbing, and the assets start piling up on top of one another. Excellent post!

  5. Mrs. Groovy

    I can empathize. Anytime circumstances make your day to day world feel like a monotonous grind, optimism is sucked right out of you. As you mentioned, when the rental is up and running, you’ll feel much better. Then it will become more of a passive income and effort. At least there’s light at the end of the tunnel! For many, all they have to look forward to is more of the same daily grind.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      You are totally right, Mrs. G! I was thinking along those same lines myself last night– It may be a pain, but at least it’s not going to be thirty or forty years worth!

  6. amber tree

    Same feeling of Lull here… the last few months, our progress on the overall FIRE Journey was rather negative than positive. I know we do all the rights things – some improvement is of course possible. The progress just looks to slow down…
    I guess that is a faze we need to go through.
    The analogy with building is great. It actually made me think of phases in projects I do for work. There always is this feeling of total dispair and disbelief, you the get your act together and deliver.

    Thank god, in our case it only looks like a blip on the radar.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Hang in there, you guys will totally get through it! You’re right, I think we all just hit phases like this. Sometimes you’re just doing the grunt work and it’s not very glamorous!

  7. Greg

    You are definitely not alone here as the above comments have proven! I am also on the same boat as you and have found myself between the cross roads of investing my W2 income into rental properties, or focusing on building a business that will later by me those same rental properties 10x over later on (speculation).

    Either way good luck.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks, Greg, and good luck to you as well! I feel like I’ve almost come unstuck now… made a decent amount of progress last month, made a good contribution to retirement accounts, and the new property should finally be 100% occupied by the end of the month. Thankfully, these periods where nothing at all is happening are relatively rare, as they’re not much fun!

  8. John

    Lulls like these are when people drop the dream of FIRE. It’s like exercise/losing weight. Sometimes you feel you’re making a lot of progress, and then other times not so much. That’s when it’s easy to “fall off the wagon”.

    Hang in there. It will get better and be so worth it in the end.


    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks, John! I can totally see that being the case. We’ll hang in there, the goal is just too appealing! Even now, things are starting to feel a lot better.

  9. Daisy

    The slow growth is actually what gets you through. We may know that in our heads but it’s hard to keep motivated sometimes. Sending some patience your way! ?

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