I Was Financially Independent by My 30s — This Is My Story

Discover how this woman gained financial independence.

The year 2009 ended on a scary yet empowering note. I stood, resignation letter in hand, hoping that taking the plunge was a good idea. The math said I no longer needed a day job to survive, but was it the right move?

A week after leaving the corporate world, I packed my life into two bags, moved to Morocco and started experimenting with location and financial independence.

Click to read more about how to prepare your finances for a job change.

Eight and a half years later, I am 37. I spend most of my time traveling the world, seldom see a winter and only set my alarm clock when I have an early flight. This is the culmination of a life of freedom I started building in my teen years.

Starting Young

Unlike many, I didn’t start in debt. I hustled in middle and high school, tutoring, teaching music and making a lot of money compared to my peers. I was fortunate to get such an early start because my youth made me resilient, never questioning the long hours, and my broke friends kept my spending low.

One of the first money concepts that stuck was the real hourly wage. If I wanted, for instance, a $100 pair of shoes and made $10 an hour after costs, I would have to work 10 hours to buy it. Was it worth it? Quite often, the answer was no.

More on Hustling: 15 Weekend Jobs and Side Gigs to Boost Your Income

Delayed Gratification

Next, I planned a gap year after college — with half a dozen side hustles and a double degree, it seemed deserved. Delayed gratification was already in my DNA. I figured I would need $12,000 to backpack for a year, which was daunting, but the arbitrage between a $50 bar tab or two days exploring Thailand was an easy one. My friends made fun of my frugal ways; nevertheless, it did the trick. I graduated college with $25,000 in savings, and instead of spending it, I bought a tiny studio, rented it out and used the rental income to travel.

Instead of blowing my savings, I got to enjoy the same trip and still own a rental. This was my first exposure to passive income, and I was hooked.

A Life Plan

High on this newfound financial knowledge, I drafted a grand life plan that included building a real-estate empire and retiring before age 40. The only caveat was, without an income, no bank would lend me money.

So, I accepted a job in the United Kingdom. It was wet and cold, and the job was miserable, but I kept my eyes on the prize. After a couple of years, I had saved for a down payment, and the bank agreed to finance a mortgage.

At the time, I was making about $1,500 a month writing travel articles on top of my day job. I would also teach French or Spanish almost every night for $30, and on weekends you could find me waitressing at weddings until midnight. Thanks to roommates, I was living for free.

Homeownership and No Debt: I Paid Off My Mortgage With a Credit Card — Here’s How

Check Out: 30 Way to Retire Earlier

Although I was living frugally, my wealth-building skyrocketed from having multiple sources of income. You can only reduce your budget so much, whereas you can save 100 percent of your extra income. Not only does it help achieve your goals faster, but it also makes you less vulnerable to crises.

Quickly, things started snowballing. My passive income grew and, between that and those side hustles, I realized that I could quit my job. I was not fully financially independent yet but decided to quit anyway and take a little longer to reach that goal in exchange for a better quality of life.

Financial Independence

Leaving the U.K., I rented my room out and used that money to rent a place wherever I went. My savings provided a comfortable cushion for me to keep taking risks; I started investing in land and stocks, and used geo-arbitrage to keep my expenses low. I eventually built a guest house in Guatemala, and am now starting a mountain cabin on five acres in Colorado.

Today, I am financially independent. My rental and passive income provide enough for me to live comfortably anywhere. I run five money blogs, the guest house and have a few side projects, so wouldn’t call myself “retired.” But knowing I don’t have to work another day in my life unless I want to is priceless.

Click to read more about what it’s actually like to retire early.

More From Our Smart Money Squad: