This is our third FIRE Family interview. We have learned from our other two interviews that families may have a different approach to reaching Financial Independence but that the core values are the same.
This also holds true for today’s FIRE family. Today, we talk to Kayla and Ryan from Family and FI.
Together they have faced adversity and overcome challenges. They have worked hard to educate themselves about money management in order to provide a better life for themselves and their children.
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Meet today’s FIRE family: Kayla and Ryan Appel
Kayla and Ryan are in their early 30s. They have two children – Ages 8 and 11. The Appel family live in the beautiful state of Tennessee. They have a goal of Financial Independence and hope to Fat FIRE in 8 years.
What are your occupations and income level?
Ryan: We wear many occupational hats. For most of my life, I’ve worked as a Paramedic. Paramedic pay is usually pretty low. Over 10(ish), I probably averaged $14.00 an hour.
Two years ago, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith from what I was comfortable with and change careers to something that would make more money. I ended up getting hired in a low level management position at a factory.
By switching careers completely, I was able to double my income immediately. Occasionally, I still work as a paramedic, but not much. Recently, I’ve added blogger onto my title as well.
Kayla: I’m never sure how to best answer this question. I’m a stay at home mom, student, side hustler, and occasionally homeschool teacher.
What motivated you to start your FIRE journey?
Kayla: To fully understand our motivation, I’d have to give you and your readers some backstory.
You may have read on our blog that we were so poor once that we had to rely on food banks to help feed our family. For years we were a family of four living on a Paramedic’s salary. It wasn’t fun.
For about 9 years we lived just above poverty level income. People who don’t know anything about overcoming poverty might think to themselves, “well, at least you weren’t below poverty level.”
That statement is ignorant. We’ve been in all sorts of income brackets and I can tell you right now that being just above poverty level is the worst.
When Ryan and I first got married, we were below the poverty level. Then, we got a lot of government assistance and were able to live okay. The government paid for half of our rent in a nice building, we got an EBT card for food, and healthcare.
Of course, that wasn’t living life like the rich and famous, but we were able to live comfortably.
We always wanted more though – no one wants to have to use an EBT card. Ryan was an EMT then, so that’s why he decided to go back to school for his Paramedic certification.
After graduation, he got a raise and made a tiny bit more money.
We decided to move from PA to TN for a lower cost of living and to own a home instead of renting. After we bought our home, we discovered how expensive home ownership really is. Before long, we realized we couldn’t pay all of our bills and feed our family at the same time.
Naturally, we applied for government assistance, but were denied due to making $30 over the monthly income limit. Therefore, for the next several years, we barely scraped by and ate a lot of rice and Ramen while hoping that one day things would change.
One of the worst feelings in the world is waiting in a cafeteria for four hours to get a couple boxes of expired food. That is why I say being just above poverty is the worst financial situation to be in – and it’s the hardest to get out of.
Ryan: Notice that Kayla said that we “hoped” that one day things would change. That was probably our biggest mistake.
Like most people, we never had someone to teach us about money. Money was never a topic to be discussed; people struggle and that’s the way it is. Here’s the secret to money – you can’t just hope for it. Money is a game and you have to learn how to play.
What inspired you to make some changes in your life?
Kayla: During those hard times, I knew we had to pay off some of our debt to survive. However, I didn’t know how to do it.
One day in the Summer of 2016, I went to my local library and checked out the book, “Rich Dad’s Plan for Financial Success,” by Robert Kiyosaki. I read the whole book in four days (which is abnormal for a YouTube watcher like me.)
That book changed my life and financial freedom has not left my mind since.
As far as FI and FIRE specifically, I first heard the term listening to a podcast. After hearing the excitement from the FI community, I was hooked. It was all over from there.
Ryan: My journey has been a little slower than Kayla’s. Stupidly, I didn’t read that book back then – even when my wife was losing her mind over it.
Truthfully speaking, I’ve always been a spender and financial education has never been a topic I thought I could make sense of. I jumped on the wagon very, very slowly.
What are some things that you want your children to learn from you in regards to finance and/or life in general?
Kayla: We want our children to think outside the 9-5 box. We don’t want them to be afraid to make mistakes.
How do you manage finances as a married couple?
Ryan: Kayla really took the reins with our finances since she was more motivated than I was for change. Since there was really only one person interested in making changes at that time, there was a lot of marital tension.
My wife was extremely “on FIRE” once she made up her mind and giving up financial control was difficult for me to do for two reasons.
First, I knew I didn’t handle our finances well before and I felt a little embarrassed when Kayla made our first budget.
Second, we budgeted down to the cent which meant that I wasn’t able to spend money randomly anymore.
This caused a lot of arguments. I was frustrated because I didn’t think managing finances would make a difference in our lives and Kayla was frustrated because she knew that it could.
One day Kayla and I were discussing our finances and she said, “you don’t have to believe we can do this or be on board. However, I do need you to believe in me and to not slow me down.”
Well, my wife is a determined person and that conversation hit home. It was then that I decided to keep my negative thoughts to myself and just listen to her. Once I did that, we skyrocketed in our financial journey and soon became completely debt free.
Kayla: 100% agree with that last statement. Ryan brings the bulk of our money home, but I manage it. I believe both spouses should be aware of the household finances, but one person should be the manager so that money is easier to keep track of.
Also, y’all know by now that I don’t currently work outside the home. When I first took over our finances, I wasn’t in school either. Since I had more free time than Ryan, I was able to dedicate my time to financial education – which is what is most important.
So if anyone is reading this in a similar situation – don’t let yourself believe that the person who brings home the bacon would automatically be the best person to manage your family’s finances!
What does your family and friends think about your FIRE goals?
Ryan: At first, no one put any thought into our goals. Either no one really understood the idea or they just thought it was impossible.
I think some people thought it was a “phase” we were going through. Then, once we started really cutting back, some people tried to make us feel like we were.. um… too cheap?
Before long we started getting some negative opinions followed by not so great “advice.” However, eventually we transitioned from “those crazy cheap people” to “those inspiring people.”
Kayla: We are amazed by how many people we inspire now.
What strategies do you use to reach your goal of Financial Independence?
Ryan: We build on the three pillars of FI (Save, Earn, Invest.)
Kayla: We save money by negotiation, asking for discounts, couponing, using credit card rewards, etc. We’ve been able to increase our income by doing side hustles and again by changing careers.
Ryan: As far as investing, we invest in tax-advantaged accounts and are currently putting money away to invest in real estate.
Kayla: Lastly, I’d like to add that we are debt-free so not accumulating more debt than we have to pay for is certainly part of our strategy.
Can you tell us more about some of the side hustles that you do or have tried to increase your income?
Kayla: We’ve tried a lot of side hustles. Some have been failures and some have been great.
For example, our favorite side hustle right now is teaching CPR. Income from the classes depend completely on class size, however, Ryan is usually able to bring home a couple hundred dollars from each class.
Additionally, I really love flipping college books. It’s easy and takes minutes if you find a good method.
I’ve done many side hustles over the years though. Babysitting, reselling, photography, etc. Too many to name.
Ryan: Also, the worst side hustles we’ve tried are those blasted surveys. Now, I’m not saying they are all bad. In fact, we keep a few of those survey type apps on our phone.
However, those surveys that promise to pay you $50 but then cut you off ten minutes in saying that you don’t qualify are really terrible. We don’t even try for those anymore.
Are there any particular blogs, podcasts, books, etc that you have found helpful and inspirational to reach FIRE?
Additionally, I also think that financial independence communities on Facebook are helpful – I’m in a few of them.
When do you expect to reach FIRE?
Ryan: Ideally, we’d like to have the option to fat FIRE by 40 (8-ish years.)
Do you plan on retiring when you reach FI? If so, how do you plan on spending your time?
Ryan: No, we do not plan to retire then. Our end goal isn’t financial independence, it’s financial abundance and freedom.
Kayla and I have a lot of big dreams that require money.
A few years ago we fostered children and we have a few ideas on how we could help those kids and help correct the system itself.
Kayla: When we do eventually decide to retire, there are a number of ideas that pop into our head as far as how we are going to spend our time.
Ryan enjoys cooking, so we occasionally toss around the idea of a bed and breakfast.
As for me, I have a secret desire to drive around a snow cone truck and serve snow cones to kids! Everyone loves the snow cone lady!
What has been the most challenging part of your journey?
Kayla: Getting started and getting on the same page with your spouse! Once you start reaching milestones though, the journey gets easier – and more fun!
What advice would you give to other families who are trying to reach FIRE
Ryan: You can only save so much money, but you can always increase your earnings. Do whatever you need to do to increase your income, even if that means leaving a job you’re comfortable with.
Kayla: Surround yourself with other people with similar goals – even if you can only find those people online. People like us are going to validate your personal goals and make you feel normal.
You will need people like us because no one else in your family is probably going to understand what you are trying to achieve! When you tell people you want to retire before 60 they’ll look at you like you have 5 heads!
Where can you find this FIRE family?
Kayla and Ryan write about their FIRE journey on their blog Family and FI. You can also join them in their Facebook Group where they have formed a community with a collective goal of freedom through Financial Independence.