Financially Independent Before 50? Yes, It’s Possible! A Conversation with EWA Clients, Bryan and Jennifer McNutt

July 6, 2023

Wealth Advisor

Episode Transcript

Welcome to EWA’s FinLyt podcast. EWA is a fee -only RIA based at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We hope all listeners of this podcast will benefit as we deep dive into complex financial topics that we will make simplified for you.

And we hope that this really serves as a catalyst so that you can make the best financial planning decisions for your family and also save time. This week’s episode of the FinLyt podcast, I’m joined by Jen and Brian McNutt.

Jen and Brian, they work for American Eagle here in Pittsburgh. They’ve found a way to become very high income earners early in their career. And now with sound financial planning, they’re going to be in a position to be financially independent in their early to mid 40s.

So in this episode, we talk about ultimately why being financially independent doesn’t mean that you’re going to completely stop working, but you’re able to live life by design rather than default and make choices to spend your time and how you’re working on the areas that you want to and not when you’re reliant on a paycheck.

Jen and Brian, thanks for joining us for this podcast this week. Super excited to hear your story and share with everybody. Yeah, thanks for having us. Yeah, excited. Let’s start. So I want to go through just your, I guess life progression.

So tell us whoever wants to go first, just early years, childhood, zero to 18, what do we need to know to understand like who you are and how you got to where you are today? Okay, I guess I’m starting.

So I grew up in Mars, Pennsylvania, so just a little bit north of the city. My dad was a general contractor, which we’ll lead into things we’ll talk about later, but he was a general contractor growing up and my mom stayed home with me and my brother and helped him with his business for a while.

So I have an older brother and I was the first person in my family to graduate from college from four years. University. I had a couple of aunts and uncles that started, but nobody actually finished.

So I was actually one of the first people in my family to decide to go to college. So growing up, I had a bunch of part -time jobs. I worked at a movie rental store in Mars, which was like a tiny little shop.

And when I was 16, I had keys to it myself. And I used the money to buy, you know, fake nails and gas from my car, like every 16 -year -old does. But like started working from the day I could get like a workers permit and then took that all the way until I went to college at Penn State.

Yeah. I grew up in Penn Trafford, not too far from Pittsburgh. And my parents were, my mom was a first grade teacher for her entire career. My dad was an electromechanical engineer at Westing House for his entire career.

So that will make sense. I see a trend here. Yes, you see a trend here. But growing up, it was a great school district. I played a lot of sports. My parents were into volunteering. So I got into that as well.

We had a big family and friend network that we spent a lot of time with. And I think growing up, my parents always provided for us very well. Not only health care, but also financially. They bought me my first car.

They paid for my college, things like that. But at the same time, always taught me about money and how to manage that. I always had a job since I was 16. Taught me how to have a credit card and make sure I wasn’t carrying a balance on that early on.

So I think some of those things were things that I’ve carried into my life later on too. So some financial principles. It’s such a, it’s conversations with a lot of clients, like not a quick one, you guys, but fine line between helping and enabling your kids.

And so it sounds like that was a pretty good job of helping, but still creating a drive and work ethic and teaching good principles. I remember the day when I had graduated college and we went out to dinner with my parents and the check came and he was like, so we’re splitting this?

And I was like, whoa, this is the first time I’ve ever heard this. But from then on, it was like, you’ve done your part, you’re on your own. So it was great. Mine was a little different. My parents saved enough for my first year of tuition in college, but then after that, I had to take out loans and do all of the things that you have to do whenever your parents can’t pay for you for college.

And being one of the first people in my family to go to college, nobody even knew how to do fast -fa forms or get scholarships or anything like that. I got a $1 ,000 scholarship for my grandpa’s bar.

He was a member at the Moose and I got a $1 ,000 scholarship from there. was so proud about it. But that was one of the only things I had. So mine was a little different. My parents, my mom taught me about credit cards, and I think they made us have jobs so we could afford the things that we wanted that we didn’t need.

So that was really great for sure, but a little different there. I never had school loans until I married Jen. Yeah. Yeah. Coming on board, I was like, hi. I make $10 .25 an hour, and I have a bunch of loans.

So coming at you. How do you think that working, paying for college, figuring out how to do FAFSA, how do you think that impacted getting to where you are now? I think I just work. I’ll do anything. I work hard.

Even in my current job as a leader in the organization, I still do the work itself. I still actually source people and recruit people myself, which we’ll talk about later. But I was never afraid to do that.

Like in college, I way dressed. A Chili’s on Allen Street in State College PA. If anybody wants to pen state, it is now a champs. But I remember I had an envelope in my top drawer of my dresser in college with just all my ones from Waitressing at a poor, cheap college town.

And that’s what I used. And when I ran out, I ran out. And I didn’t overspend because I couldn’t, because I didn’t have it. Wow. Just a hustler from a young age. Yeah, I guess maybe. Yeah. Yeah. And then so let’s progress.

So pen state, talk about then, however you ended up getting to, whatever comes next to getting to American Eagle, and where you guys met, and where you’re at now. So I went to, like we said, I went to Penn State.

My degree was in psychology. No idea why, probably because I had a lot of fun freshman year and then couldn’t get into the business school. So I became a psychology major. Didn’t really know what I was going to do after I graduated.

I had had an internship with UPMC with behavioral, so like a TSS working with kids with autism for the summer. And I realized mental health field was not something that I wanted to go into. So I was like, who the heck’s going to hire somebody with a psych degree out of college?

But I graduated. I ended up graduating a semester early, actually, I should say. Because I was paying for college and I could. I worked better when I was more busy. So when I had 18, 21 credits, I got better grades.

So I stayed busy and then come senior year, I was like, oh, crap, I’m done. So that was kind of regret staying in school as long as you possibly can. Don’t move early. But it saved me a semester of tuition.

So when I was getting out, I had no idea what I was going to do. And my best friend’s older sister worked at American Eagle in corporate. And she was like, I work at G -Instork every day. I was like, cool, thank you.

That sounds great. No clue the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes of what we do and to get product where it needs to go. But they were hiring us up. and actually my job in high school, the guy that I reported to when I first got hired is still currently there.

He’s our VP of talent management now. And he told me at one point in time, the fact that I was 16 and they gave me keys to a store told him that I was responsible enough to work at AE. So that like silly movie store job helped me out.

Yeah. And so it was a receptionist job and it was 10, 25 an hour. And I was like, I can’t live on this. Like I just graduated from college with a four year degree. What the heck am I doing? And my brother was like, you’re gonna answer phones with a college degree.

He didn’t go to college. So he gave me a bunch of crap for it. And I always say, I equated it to buying the worst house on the best block. Like it was a crappy job, entry level. I answered phones all day.

got yelled at by customers sometimes that were looking to get to customer service and not, you know, the corporate office. But it was the company I wanted to be at and the, you know, the environment and the people that I wanted to be around.

So it ended up, obviously, ended up working out well. But yeah, I always equated to buying the worst house on the best block. So that’s what I got. Okay, so this will be interesting to talk about the, just the journey from receptionist up to where you’re at now.

But what lessons did you learn at that entry -level job that like, just like, be nice to people and do as much as you can. If somebody needs help, don’t ever say that’s not my job. Be like, yeah, sure, what can I do?

How can I help you? I got my start in recruiting because the current coordinator in recruiting was going on vacation for two weeks to, I think Italy maybe, and at AE when people come into the office, you would physically move them from meeting to meeting and like somebody needed to be there with them all the time.

So when she went on vacation, they asked me to step in and take over for her while she was doing that. And I was like, yeah, absolutely. And then they launched a new applicant tracking system. So before it was just straight up, like you would email your resume to an inbox and that was it.

Now, when I started, they launched an applicant tracking system, which is actually like the website that you apply to and they thought they’d get like 50 applicants a week and we ended up getting 500.

And so the recruiters didn’t have enough time to go through all of them. So I had done my little stint with the coordinator when she was on vacation. And then they said, hey, would you be willing to do overtime each week outside of your regular receptionist job and just go through these applicants for us and like filter out the bad ones and just like leave the good ones for the recruiters to look at.

And I was like, sure. Because at the time I was working at the receptionist desk five days a week, and then Saturday and Sunday mornings, six a .m. to 2 p .m. I would waitress at the Marriott in Cranberry doing like it was a server for their breakfast buffet.

I just like did whatever I could to make money. And so- Worked out for me, I got free breakfast. So I worked seven days a week for one year straight. Wow. For like my very first year out of college. And that’s cause also I wanted to leave my parents’ house.

I didn’t want to live there. So I needed to be able to afford rent and stuff. So like I chose to do that. But when they asked me to take on this, I was like, heck yeah, I can do it for my laptop at home whenever the heck I want.

So I did 20 hours a week of overtime with them. On top of the receptionist. So I was working 60 hours for a couple of months until like we got in the swing of the new ATS. So I would say just like work hard, like work your butt off, do whatever anybody wants, be helpful, like if you have the time and the ability, like you know, it doesn’t hurt to like lend a hand in some other areas.

Yeah. So, okay. So I didn’t necessarily have like the job or the career of the education that would like immediately put me in a high paying job. I like worked my butt off. to be able to get there. How much you gave up though?

Okay. This is what your biggest regrets are. Really, when I was in college and doing psychology, a big portion of me really wanted to be a dolphin trainer, like legitimately, like I wanted to work at an aquarium doing like animal training.

And I had an unpaid internship lined up for after graduation in Key Largo, working at a company that used dolphins as therapy for like children with disabilities. Sounds so fun. I know, but it was unpaid.

And as we discussed, I was broke as a joke. I was paying for everything myself. She could do it. Yada, yada, yada. So I was gonna do it. And then I got the job at AE. I met this one, blah, blah, blah.

It is what it is. So yeah. So instead I waitressed at the Marriott. Same, same. Same, same. We’ll come back next. I wanna go through like your, how you got, keep going from that. But Brad, how did you get then, yeah, go through post high school to them getting to American University?

So I went to the University of Pittsburgh. I went right into their business school and I majored in marketing and finance. I almost had a minor in English Lit, but my dad said I had to pay for that extra credit if I wanted to stay.

So I was like, okay, I’m done. But I was always interested in business. I had always thought, you know, someday I’m gonna own my own business. I’ll be my own boss, things like that. So as I was going through school, during the summers I would always get a different internship.

So one summer I did door -to -door disability insurance sales, which was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had in my entire life. And I learned very quickly that I didn’t wanna do that. That their door -to -door sales, any type of sales, is the like, anybody that wants to go into business, in my opinion.

and should experience that, because it’s awful. But what did you learn to do then? The lows are low, and the highs are high. Whenever you would get somebody, I wasn’t licensed at the time, because it was just an internship.

So I would go out, and I would actually try to get the leads for people, which was even harder, because you start going through your spiel. And even if somebody’s like, OK, I’m interested, I’d be like, OK, well, I’ll connect you with someone.

And then they’re like, oh, we’re not doing it now. They’re not doing it. Everyone’s talking. Sometimes people would invite me in for lunch just because they felt bad for me. So those were nice days. But at the same time, if I got one or two leads a week, they were ecstatic.

And if I would get one of those every once in a while, then I would take other time during that week, and I would do another job doing line striping and parking lots with another guy. So it was like.

I was kind of doing double work, two jobs at the same time. But I realized quickly that was not going to be the career for me. Another year I had an internship at a company downtown called Free Markets, and they were kind of like a reverse eBay for companies.

So it’s now a Reba, right? It’s now a Reba. But they were a young company, tech startup. Everyone there was probably below the age of 40. So it was like a very different work environment from the insurance sales company that I had worked for previously.

But they would go out, and if there was a company who was building a building and they needed millions of tons of steel, then we would go out to all the steel companies, give them time to put together a bid for the job, and then they’d have three hours to do an online bid for the job.

So it was really interesting. It would get the buyer the lowest price on the goods, but it would also open it up to a lot of different people that could bid on that job. So that was a lot of fun. And I think that is where I learned that I wanted to work for a young, fun company, that the work environment was a little bit more important than the actual work.

So that’s kind of what I had my eyes open for. So when the time rolled around for job fairs, there was one day where there was a lunch and job fair, and you had to go to this building and sit down with a company that you were interested in getting an internship or a job interview with.

And I was looking at banks. I was looking at financial institutions, things like that. And whenever I got there, all those tables were filled up. And there was one table with a very nice recruiter sitting there, and she was from American Eagle.

And I sat down with her, and I talked to her for two hours. And after I was done talking to her, I was like, this is the job that I want. She talked to me about merchandising, which is the creation of the product from conception all the way to end of life.

And it was really interesting, because it was a perfect blend of marketing and finance. It had the creative piece, which I was looking for as well. And it was a super young company. So I interviewed there, started in their teammate training program as an assistant buyer, and moved my way up from there.

So you started literally at the bottom of what you’re doing. Like the same department team. Yeah, merchandising my entire career. Wow. I wanted one thing you said about the culture being more important than the work, which could not agree more.

And I know you’ve talked a lot about what you do with your team now, just making it like a fun culture. But what elaborate on that? I mean, it’s cliche to say sometimes, but making work, family and friends is really important.

And I think we’ve always tried to stress on our teams that the bond of the people is really important. They help each other, but it also makes the day go by a lot faster because you are working with people that you love to work with.

So I do think having that time inside and outside the office together is great for the bonding of a team. It creates a stronger team for sure. And I think the other thing that we’ve always stressed is work -life balance.

There’s no time when we would ever say to somebody, like, you have to be here for this. It’s always like, hey, if you have something going on, we’ll figure it out, we’ll cover for you. It doesn’t need to be stressful.

In the summers, we have early out Fridays. And most of the time, we try to carry that through the whole year and say, like, hey, you guys have worked hard this week. Head out early if you can. You spend the majority of your waking hours at work.

Yeah. Why would you not want to work somewhere that you love? I heard, I’m probably going to say this incredibly, if you Google a company, the definition is a community of people or a group of people or something, which is interesting.

It’s super basic, but a company is made up of the people that you’re out. And making it a good, welcoming community is so important. It’s funny, working in HR, we talk about culture a lot. And I read something one day that you can’t make a culture and you can’t have somebody fit into your culture.

Your culture is representative of all of the people that come. And that is what creates it. And so if you hire people that are smart and passionate, but also bring diverse people. perspectives to the table like you can create a really great environment and that’s something that’s cool and recruiting is like we get to Help with that.

Yeah, you know. Yeah, so you from day one when you interviewed with this American Eagle recruiter You knew that yeah It was a it was a great opportunity as soon as I got that interview and I got my offer I Told my roommate.

I was like you have to interview here He did he ended up interviewing there didn’t get a job in merchandising ended up in planning an allocation and He’s built his entire career in that area as well.

He’s a director at Victoria’s Secret now. Oh, wow Yeah, well whoever wants to go first. Let’s now go through your progression at American Eagle through entry level to today I’ll actually let’s go. How’d you where’d you win?

What point did you guys meet? well, I was a receptionist, so I was sitting in like the main lobby and Back in the day in our old office in Warrantale in order to get from like the cubes to the cafe you had to walk past my desk So Brian would always like walk past my desk and like sit in the lobby and like be waiting for his friends to go to lunch And we chit chat and talk and stuff.

So I started in April He had already been there for two years and I started in April and then we started officially dating in September of that year So a couple months after Took her a while to say yes, but We did a couple group dates with like mutual friends first, but yeah So then I’ll go through mine because it’s easier.

It’s easiest. So I’ve been in generally in recruiting So I did the receptionist job. We have a rule where once you’re hired We ask you to stay in the position for at least a year before you explore anything else so that you’re not like constantly churning the entry -level jobs So I did like some of the recruiting side work in my receptionist job And then my year was coming up and I was like I want to be in recruiting and they just didn’t have anything And I was like I cannot answer the damn phone one more time.

So we had a job in our benefits department open and I applied and got it and Was there for about four months and during that time realized I did not also like insurance it was a good learning experience and I think Helped from a recruiting perspective to really more inter intricately understand our benefit offerings for candidates But I was like meeting with insurance companies not for me.

I actually I guess I can say this 15 years ago Really wanted to be in recruiting and it was just not happening at American Eagle So I interviewed and I got another job offer at EDMC Like education management corporation.

They live right used to run the for -profit company for -profit schools in Pittsburgh I Don’t think they’re around anymore more, but I resigned and our old CHRO, they didn’t even counter offer me, but our old CHRO, like, grabbed me and I felt like I was going to the principal’s office and he was like, do you really want to do this?

And I was like, no, I don’t, but I want to be in recruiting and there’s no job here. He’s like, okay. And then like the next day they gave me an offer to join the campus recruiting team and move over to the campus team.

So it was really fortunate because of the way that it like transpired, you know, there happened to be in the works this opportunity for me. So I ended up transitioning into that. And then just like, I did campus for about four years, then took on experience, tiring and then took on leading people and then like took on like where I’m at now, which is like executive search.

Why, that’s interesting. Why do you think he, like, do you think they just knew that you were like the… I think this person’s great. We need to keep them in the organization. Did you have a relationship with that person?

Like a mentor? We were really small at the time. Our HR department was maybe 50 people at the time. So everybody knew everybody. And I was very vocal about the fact that I wanted to get into recruiting before I went to benefits.

So everybody knew. And I think looking back now as a leader in the team, you know conversations that are happening. You know when they’re adding headcount before people do. So I think it was already in process.

They were already considering adding a position for me to be able to move into the team. But I didn’t know that. So like I just was like, well if there’s nothing I’m gonna go, you know. But so whenever I did, I think they were like, okay we gotta speed up what we were already planning to do.

So then from there you just worked your way up recruiting into now what’s your title director of? That’s something new now. Senior director. I got promoted a couple weeks ago. But yeah, senior director of recruiting.

So I oversee all of corporate recruiting for pretty much the Pittsburgh office. So supply chain technology, marketing, finance, merch planning, inventory planning, quiet logistics, which is like a small subsidiary that we just bought.

That’s it I think. So most of the back office corporate things. And then I have a counterpart that does the creative side of the house, design, production, merchandising. And then there’s a third gal that does all of our high volume stuff.

So DCs and stores. Through your journey the whole way through being recruiting up to now being a director, what was either biggest lesson learned, biggest failure along the way? So recruiting is somewhat transactional.

Like so we are strategic, we are strategic partners of the business and we help them think about what they need in terms of their team. But we have an open job, we source, we find somebody, we fill it, we move on.

So, you know, in that process, you’re not gonna get it right every single time. You’re gonna hire people that you missed something on throughout the process, and you’re gonna hire people that, you know, I’ve hired people into our training programs that are now VPs in the company too.

So you don’t always get it right. The best thing that you can do is whenever you have those ones that don’t match and don’t work out is to learn why. Like what did I miss? What did I miss in the interview?

Did I do my due diligence in the references? Like what happened that I missed it that this person didn’t work out? And then just learn from that and move on. So I would say like there’s not one major thing, but it’s a culmination of little things along the way.

Was there a big like one like huge miss on one that like you totally regret or that like? No, I mean, not that I regret because at the time, ultimately to a recruiters, Not the final decision maker. The hiring manager is.

She was getting a bid, though. Yeah, like, I can’t make you hire somebody on your team. It has to be your decision. So there have been times where I’ve, like, influenced hiring managers probably a little bit more than I should have for whatever reason.

So really, it’s their decision, ultimately. So there’s not necessarily any specific one person that I can think of over the years. But there’s definitely been misses where I’m like, I should have seen that one coming.

Like, that wasn’t that. I was just trying to fill the job. And I should have advised the hiring manager against it. Because sometimes hiring managers, too, are, like, desperate for anybody and a body.

And they’ll make decisions too quickly. And sometimes you can see that happening, too. And you have to be like, don’t do it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very rarely. There’s only been a few times that I’ve said, I’m not hiring this person.

And it’s usually if, like, references come back funny or something like that. Like, I caught somebody a couple months ago, a couple years ago at this point, times crazy. But she gave me a fake reference.

And you can tell because I called the guy. And he’s like, oh, yeah, I know. So and so from when we worked together at American Eagle. And I was like, American Eagle? He goes, oh, did I say American Eagle?

I meant blah, blah, blah company. And I was like, OK. And so Miss Alph. And I called her to talk about it. She never answered her call or called me back. So I was like, you’re out. Gotcha. We said Brian’s is much more interesting.

So let’s hear. Maybe, maybe not. So like I said, I started at the lowest role in merchandising. I was a merchandising teammate. So at that time, you start out, you go through a training program that’s about four months long.

And then coming out of that training program, which teaches you all the systems and what merchandising is. I mean, Pitt didn’t even have a merchandising program. So this was all new to me. But I was young and wide -eyed and didn’t know any better.

So I was going along for the ride. But I graduated that teammate program, became an assistant buyer, and then from then started slowly moving up different departments here and there. And then at one point I was kind of waiting for a promotion.

It was that promotion for when you’re a senior assistant to when you become an associate buyer. And that’s when you truly own your own department. You are the boss of a specific product category. And at that time there just wasn’t any openings.

And one opening that was available was a merchant for our website. So at that time we had different merchants that handled our mainline stores, our factory stores, in our website. So I said, heck I’ll take it.

It’s something new. It’s a promotion and I can learn something new. So I took that job. That was in 2007, yes, and yes, I’m older than Google. But at that time, the internet was truly just starting to ramp up and online shopping was becoming bigger and bigger every year.

So in that business, it was really fun because every year your growth was like 30, 40%. So you could make mistakes that didn’t really matter because they could get covered up by the growth. So that was fun because it did allow you to experiment and do some different things.

But even within that, outside of just helping to create and buy product for the website, I’d get thrown different projects here and there. So it would be like, hey, we want to sell third party footwear on our site.

Well we create all of our own products, so we never have done that before. So they’re like, can you figure this out? I’m like, OK, I’ll go to a shoe show and try to figure this out. And it was fun because it was a challenge that nobody had done before.

I got to work with a lot of different cross -functional partners that I never would have before. So there was a lot of those things throughout my time working for our website. And then in around 2015, we went to an omni -merchandizing organization.

So the change there is you have one merchant who owns a product category, say Men’s Denim, but they buy for the web and all stores, no matter where they are. So that streamlines things a lot and helps those merchants become true experts in their category.

So when we did that, I got placed in Men’s Denim, which was the biggest men’s category at that time. And it was a lot of fun. Like from the very beginning, that’s kind of the beginning of when Stretch Denim started.

So there again, it was like a whole new opportunity in that category and it was just massive growth. So I did that for a while, then I took over all of men’s bottoms, so pants, shorts, swim, jeans. And I was in that category for a while, ended up adding on our accessories division later on.

And then in March of 2020, I got asked to move over to our men’s tops division because we had put so much emphasis over the years on growing bottoms and jeans and becoming a true jeans brand and cementing that in the market.

But we had kind of ignored our tops business for a long time. So it was kind of like, can you go over there, lend a helping hand? You’ve grown businesses before, you’ve figured things out, so can you help out with that?

So, I did that and then my first week in men’s tops, I was in New York and halfway through the week, it was like everybody needs to go home because COVID was rampant in New York. So that was an interesting experience and I learned to not only get to know my team over video for the next couple of years, but also again, it was like, how are you gonna figure this out?

This has never been done before. So how do you organize the team? How do you grow your business still? Like how do you react? And that was stressful, but also a lot of fun. And I think it was one thing that also brought our team closer together because we were in constant contact.

Whether it was just, how are you doing today? Are you okay? Like my team was in New York, I was in Pittsburgh and they were like, we’re locked down. This is tough. So from there, that was really my progression.

I’m still doing men’s tops and accessories as the vice president and it’s been great. Common thing is you’ve said I’ve just figured it out. So I heard this once somewhere and I loved it. It was everything in life is figure outable.

I love the worst figure outable. Yeah, I never heard that until I was like a podcast or something. So trying something new, so that was fascinating like the internet in 2007. But really like nobody probably knew how to sell stuff on the internet.

We didn’t have apps and we weren’t shopping on our phones all the time. I was just before an iPhone came out. Yeah, so you just started doing, like started something new and then figured out how did you, a lot of people were like scared to try something new and take on a new thing.

How did you develop that mindset to do that? I like it sometimes. And sometimes I don’t. And it’s scary. I knew nothing, and I was jumping into an area where you’re responsible for a lot, and your job can depend on it.

But there’s great people who work at our company who are always there to support you. So versus it being a scary thing, it’s a little bit easier to be like, this is a learning experience, and I’m not taking it on by myself.

I’m still taking it on with an entire team. I think it was actually really brave to do, because at the time, the direct team is what we called it, like the internet web e -com team, was kind of seeing a little bit like the stepchild, because all of our money came from stores.

So it wasn’t necessarily seen as the desirable place to be in the business. But by the end of the Brian’s time in the web, it was like amazing. This is the growth vehicle. And then when we went into omni -merchandising, none of the stores merchants knew anything about website buying and how to run that stuff.

So I was like the go -to person for that. That’s cool. OK, so where you’re at. So this is where I want to spend a lot of the conversation. So where you’re at now, explain the acronym that you wanted to title this podcast.

You mean the acronym that we are going to name this podcast? It is Fire Dinkwads. Financially independent, retiring early. Dual. Dual income, no kids with a dog. Oh, God. So basically you’re in your your 40.

Speak for yourself. In your 40s, you will. No, no, no, no. I said when you’re in your 40s, you will be in a position to not saying we’ve had deep conversations around this, but will be in a position where you could no longer work if you wanted to be financially dependent.

What has first question. So first off, most people never get to that point in their lifetime, let alone this early. So that’s fascinating. But what has first question, what has contributed to that? I think there’s a lot of things.

One, not having children is a big money saver right now. Some of the other things, too. I mean, we’ve we work in a industry that is very lucrative. And we’ve been able to grow our careers with the same company, which is great.

But that’s allowed us to do a lot of different things, have a lot of different experiences. Yeah, I think sometimes people don’t realize retail as a career path and as a corporate opportunity where you can really make a big career for yourself.

Honestly, I had no idea. I remember when I graduated with my degree in psych, I remember reading a textbook. It was like your income, if you go into Iow psychology, which is like HR, could be 60 to 80 ,000.

And I was like, oh my god, that’s so much money. And you don’t realize what you can do. Now, I will say, I think we’re both very privileged in the fact that we landed where we are and we have families that supported us and that we just had the ability to do it more than anything.

It’s a big barrier for people sometimes for various different reasons. So we were definitely very privileged in that regard and fortunate, I think, to be able to. to have the career we have had. But yeah, Pittsburgh doesn’t hurt either.

I think living in a city that is so livable and reasonable. Like we bought our first house when I was 25 and Brian was 27. We bought our current house for under $200 ,000. People underestimate the Pittsburgh and what Pittsburgh can provide to you.

Cost of living to Pittsburgh, making $50 ,000 in Pittsburgh is equivalent to like $100 ,000 in New York City in San Francisco. It’s literally double. So you get, yeah, you could work the same job and expenses are exactly half.

Absolutely. And you see that happening right now with remote work everywhere. People are moving to smaller cities and lower cost of living cities, but keeping their big city salaries in a lot of ways.

But I think that definitely has helped. We also, I’m taking your idea, but we also turned some of our hobbies into profit centers. So I ran a small wedding rental business with my friend Laura for a year back in 2014 when I was feeling like I needed a little bit more.

Out of that, after she moved to Columbus, we kind of dissolved that. But then out of that, I started an Etsy shop because I like making things. And that was just like a little fun hobby. But I made $5 ,000 the year I had it, which was great.

And then flipping. So Brian’s like, can you have a cheaper hobby? But I will turn it. And the first time we met with you, you were like, OK, the most risky thing is real estate. And I was like, James said, I’m going to flip a house.

But I’m like, I swear, I’ll make you money for it. So that has been nice. It’s like, I enjoy it and it takes up my time. But it also gives us money back, which has been great. Yeah. And I also think another big thing is we live in a time of accessibility to stuff.

massive degree. Everybody has Amazon packages on their front porch every day. And I think we’ve always kind of been aligned in the fact that like we aren’t minimalist but at the same time we buy what we need and just because we can afford to have a bunch of other stuff doesn’t mean we buy it.

And we love to do a one in the house one out of the house kind of thing. Like I think that just financial responsibility is something that we always have practiced. And again over the years as we’ve progressed probably in the last 10 or so years like our salaries increase our jobs change we move up but our lifestyle for the most part doesn’t really change all that much.

Like maybe we can get a nicer hotel when we go on vacation but It’s not like we’re all of a sudden trying to buy the fanciest car, the bigger house, things like that. We’re very content and happy with our lifestyle and what we have.

So I think that’s contributed to it a lot. Living below your mains and not even as salaries jump significantly, you’re not increasing lifestyle. And you know what I think really set that off for us was COVID.

Like when we were in lockdown at home, it was great. Like I miss traveling. That was probably the only major thing that we missed during that time period. And that’s when we started working with you.

And whenever we met with you, we were like, yeah, we’re good. This is good. Like this is a good spot for us. And I think if we hadn’t started working with you, once the world turned back on, I don’t know if we would have kept up with it, like kept up with the rigor and like, you know, having the set plan in place of like, this money goes here and that money goes there.

And this is how you set up all your accounts and stuff. I don’t know if we would have done it. So that was like great when you got your position now, right? So there’s a significant salary increase. And so I, we were a lot of doctors.

And so the going from like residency, you didn’t make this, it wasn’t this big of a jump, but like residency making like $50 ,000 a year till you sign your first contract as an attending, you’re making half a million a year.

And so all of a sudden, like, but like you have now a significant salary increase. And it’s so easy to just like, oh, I’m going to go buy the car, buy the house, do all these things. And you like didn’t do that and controlled it and maintain the same lifestyle.

Probably COVID probably did help. Yeah. Because you weren’t used to going and spending, but it’s very easy to be tempted to like significantly increase lifestyle. Yeah. But I think like in talking to you though, it keeps like your eye on the prize, which is financial independence.

And that doesn’t mean not working. That just means the ability to have the choice and have the option to not work if you have to or if you have to or want to. And I think like working with you helps to keep that in check too like as we’re progressing So let’s talk about this now like within the next say conservative five years you can You won’t be relying on a paycheck like you’ll keep keep working because you want to not because you have to but what is that like How is that shifted your mindset outlook on life anything knowing that like hey we Could stop working we could spend more now work longer later Work work longer than five years like talk about that a little bit.

Yeah I think it’s a huge weight off your shoulders for sure it kind of lets you focus more on the future and say and Thinking about like what does that look like? What do you want to do? I don’t think we’ll ever stop working in some sense of the word.

And we love what we’re currently doing until that changes. Like, we’re there, you know? But I do think it makes you think about what’s your time going to look like when you’re not working 40 hours a week?

What can you do where you still make a little money, but it’s part time and it can be in a location that you want. We love to go skiing, so I’d love to spend a winter somewhere in a mountain town and ski and kind of do some of the things that we enjoy extracurricularly.

So I think that’s kind of made us stop and think about the future, because no matter how many times you talk to us, you say, OK, what are you going to do when you retire? And we’re still working on that.

Yeah. Well, like, time is like. So it’s finite the word. I don’t know. Like, you don’t know how much you’re going to have. And like, so to be able to know that if you need to or want to be able to do something on your own and spend it how you want, like, that’s the important part, like being able to have that choice, I think.

And that actually motivates us, I think, to stick to the plan that we’ve set with you is that piece of it. You know, being able to look forward to what your life could look like versus what it has to look like.

Yes, that’s the way to say it. I think people like. People want wealth, like you want to accumulate assets, but it’s not it’s for the utility and the autonomy and the things that the wealth provides is from what I found I’m talking to, you know, that and being in thousands of client meetings.

So from how has it you talked a little bit about, like, being more intentional. with how you will spend your time. Have you been more intentional with your time in the present? Wait, yeah. I got a good story for you.

You’re going to be proud of us, maybe. We’re going to, so in all these conversations with you, you’re like, how you spend your time now, and what could you change now to make your happiness scale bigger or whatever.

We booked a trip to New Orleans. We’re going for Memorial Day weekend just to eat our way through the city. And we have all these airline points. And we could have had a free ticket with airline points, but it would have been 10 hours of travel with a layover, or pay $400 for a ticket nonstop, two and a half hours.

And literally, Brian was like, how are we spending our time? And why are we saving our money? What would Jameson do? I was like, Jameson would say buy the nonstop ticket. Because it’s so true. Put yourself through terrible two days of travel to get some of it somewhere.

But we have the option to do that. And then the travel credit cards. But then the hotel was free because of the travel credit card that you gave us. Yeah. So, um, well, no, that’s so I think it’s important because like a lot of it, a lot of unfortunately the industry that advisors will tell you just like save here’s all your investments accumulate.

But like in your situation, if we over accumulate, like realistically, like you just said, you’re not going to stop working and yeah, next couple of years anyway. So it’s like, that’s a total failure.

Why would we build like, why would we just accumulate assets for no reason when like, why would you stress yourself out now to do that when we could strike that balance of like spend now while you’re still saving to maybe not be financially dependent like next year, maybe it’s in like four years.

Yeah. You’re okay with that because you’re enjoying life along the way. Yeah, exactly. I’ll never forget the day two when you said, okay, well, you when you die, you can have X amount of money and I was like, why would I ever want that much amount of money when I went to die?

Zero. It goes to zero at that point. We do have some nephews that we would like to take care of. Yeah, it goes to people. But at the same time, like there’s it’s an excess of, you know, not like you could be not enjoying or not helping people out before you die.

If you’re not watching that, I guess. It is like a weird thing to think about though, like, because we are so young to have conversations and think about retiring and how much you’re going to have in your bank account when you die is like a very weird thing that I think people don’t think about unless they’re forced to with somebody like you.

And then that’s a whole nother dynamic of not having kids where it’s like people want to leave money to kids and like you said, I mean, you’re there’s charities or nieces What are your thoughts around that?

If like, I think one of the great things that you also helped with was the estate planning piece, which, again, at our age, it’s not something, and especially not having kids right now, it’s not something that’s top of mind of, like, where’s my money gonna go when I die and who needs taking care of?

But I think that was one thing that, you know, you made us sit down and think about that and helped to manage a very complex process, but it did allow us to say, like, okay, here’s the family that we care about and we wanna make sure that they have everything and not only, hopefully, you know, 50 years from now when we die, but in the unlikely event that it’s sooner, like, we can take care of more of our family as well.

So I think that’s just, it’s a nice weight off your shoulders and it’s something nice to think about. Sometimes I’m like… Is your math right? Are you sure we’re OK? Because it seems so unrealistic.

Like the way I grew up and the way I hustled in the beginning, it seems so unrealistic. But I will say, I think we’ve been very fortunate to be in an organization that supported us and provided us with opportunities along the way.

It is very lucky that that had happened. Well, I think your luck increases from hard work and hustling. And you expand the surface area of luck from hard work. What is there like a saying about that?

Maybe. Luck is opportunity and meets preparation or something like that. Yeah. OK, so one thing. So we went through the exercise we’re making. We go through your values that you can change. That’s called therapy.

When you were our therapist. At least for me, that’s helpful for me personally to calibrate how I’m spending my time, what’s I think, at least from working with many clients, like being in a position then where you’re finishing a pendant, that kind of helps narrow down what’s important.

How do you want to spend your time? Like what were your, did you have any big takeaways from going through that? Yeah, I mean, in that exercise where we picked out those words that we felt meant the most to us, I won’t say which words were not aligned.

I think family, friends, adventure, fun, security, those were some of our big words. And it makes you think about how are you addressing those right now and where do they rank. And I love the thing you kept saying is, OK, where does this one rank?

It might be an eight. OK, what makes that a 10? And then you really have to step back and it’s like, OK, well, more time would. Nine to five is taking up a lot of time when you could be vacationing, spending that with friends, spending that with family.

And trying to think of ways that you can increase that while still working is interesting. Like, how can you make an intentional night of the week during your work week where you go out with friends and, you know, you get extra connections throughout the work week and throughout your life.

So, and also open up things for Jen, like where you could work from in the future. You know, you can still do what you love, but also work in different locations. Yeah. I think you get stuck in the day to day and you don’t take time to think about this kind of thing.

So it was a good exercise to actually like take a beat and think about it and actually have those discussions. I think people wait too long to do that. Too long in their life. Yeah. So your big takeaway was the, your solution was like fitting more fun in during the week Or if you want to say fun or connection with friends during the week, so it’s not some work focused.

Yeah I think that’s a part of it. Health was a big one on both of ours, which I think also is very important for us, and I think like we have started working out more From doing from the exercise Yeah, cuz you were like that was one of them Like I have the time and no excuse Well anything else that you guys wanted to make sure we covered I think this was Super insightful and it was great to hear your story.

I mean I think at the end of the day We didn’t start working with you until we were Well into our careers. Yeah, and I feel like we had done our best Great job, but We could have been doing so much better So much sooner so I do think like You know you always say this part of this podcast name you’re the catalyst For helping people out to figure these things out and take some of that stress at other life So I mean between financial investing estate planning taxes Helping Jen figure out how to finance Houses to flip very easy and seamlessly Like a lot of those things are big stresses in the back of your head that Now don’t seem to be there as much and I do think it helps to Be able to enjoy life and enjoy what you’re doing without something hanging over you, you know Like you’re wet you’re smart enough to have figured this out for us But I don’t want to yeah, and I don’t want to and you geek out over it Yeah, you can you can like you can Honestly invest it like investment management, you could figure it out online.

You could do research and figure it out. But most people like. I have zero interest. Yeah, your time’s better spent doing your job, doing the things you love, and not actually spending your time on it.

I’m going to delegate it in my opinion. But again, I think it’s more than we had originally expected and probably a lot more than most financial companies would do for you. I mean, you sat on our couch and were a therapist for four hours one night.

I mean, it’s just things that we don’t typically think about or we push out because you don’t want to think about them. But you kind of force us to. And you’re like, I’ll make this easy for you. Just sign the papers.

I’ll pick them up at your house. It’s easy. And I think a lot of that is a blessing for us because it really alleviates a lot of stress and anxiety. Thank you for the kind words. That’s what we’re here for and the whole purpose of our company.

So glad to hear it in practice. But thanks for joining us guys. It was super fun and I hope other people are able to hear your story and be inspired to say that again financially independent. Fire Dinguao.

Fire just fired Dinguao’s. Thanks for tuning in to our podcast. Hopefully you found this helpful. Really hope this is as beneficial and impactful to as many people across the nation as possible. So hit the follow button.

Make sure to rate the podcast and please share with any friends or family members that would also find this beneficial. Thank you very much.

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