From 6-Figure Debt To Financial Independence In Less Than 5 Years

Today I am bringing you a guest post courtesy of Jared Casazza, who writes the blog Fifth Wheel Physical Therapist. He is a just starting his career  as a PT while working to rapidly achieve financial independence. He recently reached out to me due to our shared career and interest in FIRE. We quickly hit it off.

We discussed writing a guest post. I told Jared I would consider a post on any topic, as long as it would add value for my readers. I suggested he could build on our themes, but share how he was doing things differently and preferably even better than us.

I recently announced that I quit my job as a physical therapist after 15 years, thinking I had done pretty well. Jared shared that he would use the same profession and start with a good bit more debt (like 6 figures more!) and be FI in 5 years! I think that qualifies as different, better and interesting to readers of this blog.

Read on to hear a bit about Jared’s techniques, strategies and motivation. Take it away Jared…

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I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. EE for allowing me to write a post for their blog.  When I first discovered the EE blog, I was thrilled to find someone else who had so many similarities and common interests with me.

Bar Harbor, MaineI, like Mr. EE, am a Doctor of Physical Therapy who is working toward financial independence and retiring earlly (FIRE). Some of the passions we share include personal finance, investing, hiking, and staying physically active. Mr. EE is the first physical therapist that I have known of to begin aggressively seeking FI, and certainly the first I have found to begin to write about it and share the journey.

It seems that many healthcare professionals finish school with so much debt that FI is the last thing on their minds, which is unfortunate and something that I wish to help change.

In addition, many healthcare professionals choose to continue living at or above their means once they get a full time job. With their increased salary comes lifestyle inflation, from nicer cars, to mortgages, to expensive vacations and other costly possessions. I’d like to join Mr. and Mrs. EE in letting others know that there is an alternative to the average American lifestyle.

An Aggressive Path to FI

Although I have many similarities with the Elephant Eaters, there are also some key differences. I graduated from DPT school only two years ago and am 28 years old. I am not married (but have been in a relationship with my girlfriend and fellow PT, Whitney, for 4 years), and I do not have children.

I have been much more aggressive with my savings rate and started seeking FI earlier in my career than Mr. and Mrs. EE. I actually decided about a year prior to finishing graduate school that I wanted to be financially independent as soon as possible (stay tuned for my reasons why). I have made many choices since then with that goal in mind.

Instead of taking a full time job in my hometown and close to family like many of my peers, I decided to take higher paying travel contracts around the country, working as a Travel PT along with my girlfriend. In addition to being very lucrative (starting at double what some of our classmates were making), travel physical therapy has been an awesome adventure.

We decided early on that, both financially and logistically, it would make much more sense for us to travel from assignment to assignment in a fifth wheel travel trailer (aka “RV” or “camper”) instead of finding expensive short term housing. This has proven to be a smart choice and has allowed me to save 85-90% or more of my pay since graduation. At my current savings rate, I plan to reach FI at 31 years old with less than a five year full time working career.

Small “Sacrifice”, Massive Long-Term Lifestyle Gain

In order to reach this goal, in addition to nailing the basics, it has required some relatively minor sacrifices. The choice to buy and live in a camper instead of living in furnished apartments, while financially advantageous, has presented some additional hassle and challenges.

We chose to buy a used camper to save on upfront cost, which left us with a less than aesthetically pleasing exterior paint job (hello neon racing stripes) and some dysfunctional interior and exterior Snowy camper picparts. Owning our own camper comes with the responsibilities and maintenance similar to being a home owner, rather than the ease of renting which many travelers choose.

In a way we have to ‘sacrifice’ some of the luxuries of living in a house/apartment because we are living the campground life, which can be particularly challenging in the winter.

We have also ‘sacrificed’ by taking several less than ideal job assignments. This is at times necessary to seek higher pay, and due to limited job availability when searching for two jobs in the same area. In addition, as traveling physical therapists, we don’t get the luxury of sick days, paid vacation, or paid holidays, so we end up just working straight through the year to save as much as possible.

You have to really be on the grind to make this happen and ensure you’re working continuously, because if not, you’re not earning money. You could be without insurance depending on your circumstances.

Because there’s no paid time off or vacation time, Whitney and I have taken only two weeks off from work in the almost two years since we began working full time. We chose to take a week off in order to go on a vacation to Jamaica (which was paid for completely using credit card rewards) and ended up having to take an additional week off just because of timing with contracts.

In order to save even more money, I have worked overtime when given the option, taken part time jobs when available, and also made extra money in the evenings by completing credit card, bank account, and brokerage account sign up bonuses.

Putting “Sacrifice” In Perspective

Of course, as I stated, all of the above ‘sacrifices’ are relatively minor in the scheme of things. Travel physical therapy comes with a lot of perks in and of itself, which in our opinion greatly outweighs the sacrifices. In addition to a much higher pay rate, we have also been able to take countless weekend trips to see parts of the country that we would otherwise never see, all without missing any work days.

Times Square, NYWe have met and learned from many interesting people both inside and outside of the work environment while in new locations. We have stories about our adventures to and from the travel assignments which will last for the rest of our lives, and we haven’t even made it out west yet!

Finding Your Why?

So why am I doing all of this? Why early retirement/early financial independence? Is it because I hate the career I chose? Is physical therapy so bad? Of course not.

I love physical therapy. However I have a lot of other interests as well. I don’t want to be tied down to working mandatory 40 hour work weeks in order to support myself and my family. I would like to have the option to work part time, PRN, or not at all as a physical therapist if I want to, while also making time for other things in my life.

One big reason I decided to pursue FI so aggressively is so that I can wait until after I am financially independent to have children. Of course, not everyone can plan to have this luxury, but, if possible, I think it’s a very good option.

With child care costs reaching insane levels (over $1,400/month for a baby at some places in Southwest VA, and even higher in other areas) it makes sense to try to avoid this cost if at all possible. Waiting until after FI to have kids allows this expense to be eliminated, or at least be made optional. In addition, I believe that spending extra time with kids while they are babies and toddlers could be an invaluable opportunity to instill morals and teach them life lessons that they may not otherwise get.

When speaking with parents, especially those with babies, I always hear that not having enough time in the day is the main complaint. From what I can imagine and many of you may well know, it’s very challenging and stressful to be a full time working professional (much less to have both parents working full time) and also be a parent.

This leads to inadequate or disturbed sleep that can cause strain on the family, especially when getting up at a certain time is required for work. It also makes squeezing in personal time, hobbies, and health and fitness nearly impossible on top of your regular work and family duties.

Choosing FI Creates Infinite Future Options

Whitney and I are choosing to make small sacrifices today to set ourselves up for a future with abundant options. Once I reach FI, I’m not exactly sure what will occupy my time, but I’m confident that I will be happier with having choices rather than being required to slave away at a 9-5 until age 60 to support my family and my lifestyle.

I know that I enjoy writing and educating others on a variety of topics, which I hope to continue to achieve with my blog and possibly future endeavors with teaching or public speaking. Also, later in life, I have been strongly considering home schooling my future children both to satiate my love of learning and teaching while striving to ingrain similar values in them.

In addition, although once at FI we will have likely explored much of the United States while on travel assignments, I would like to slow travel around the world Go Curry Cracker style. I also hope to make more time for personal health and wellness including diet, exercise, meditation, and recreation.

Life is all about choices. Whether consciously or not, we are all making choices each day that affect both our present and our future.

Buying a big, expensive house isn’t so appealing when considering that it could mean additional years of working a job that may become (or may already be depending on your situation) unfulfilling and draining. Spending $10/day on eating lunches out seems ridiculous if you consider that that money could instead be invested and lead to earlier financial freedom to spend time with loved ones.

The great thing is that there are multiple paths to get to the same destination. Everyone’s situation and priorities are different, so whether you choose to live with very low expenses and make sacrifices in order to save 50-90% of your income, like me or Mr. & Mrs. EE, or you simply start making small changes to save whatever you can, the important thing to realize is that every choice you make today impacts your tomorrow. Be cognizant of this and make sure that your choices align with your priorities.

Thanks for sharing your story Jared. Learn more about Jared and Whitney, their traveling lifestyle, debt strategies, and extreme savings rate by following their journey at the “5th Wheel Physical Therapist“. Leave any questions or comments for Jared below.

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17 comments on From 6-Figure Debt To Financial Independence In Less Than 5 Years

  1. You have a great “why” for reaching FI. And I completely agree with FI providing so many options for your future. That is the main reason why I am shooting for FI. I really enjoy my job now, but I still have to work out of necessity. I want to someday be able to work just for the enjoyment of it if I choose to someday. Like you said, it’s all about the option of being able to do whatever you want with your time.

    1. I really enjoy having as many options as possible with everything in life, I’m glad you agree. My interests change so often that it’s difficult for me to know what I’ll want to do next month, much less in 3 years. I’m looking forward to doing what I want and changing my mind about what that is often 🙂

    1. It’s interesting you mention that. I’m in the process of buying a duplex in my hometown that I plan to pay off in three years to coincide with my FI date. I like the idea of not having a mortgage payment and also having some rental income coming in each month to cover additional costs while early on in “retirement.” I think it’s a good idea to have fixed expenses as low as possible before taking the plunge.

    1. Agree FV that I have a hard time not being a bit envious when I see people like Jared being so smart and proactive at such a young age. I love his story which is why I wanted to share it.

  2. Nice story and I like your “why”. We hit our stride with working towards FI once our first kid came around. We knew we wanted to spend more time with him when he was younger and FI was a great way to achieve that goal. When it really hit home that we needed to get there sooner than later was when we relocated for work and our second kid came around.

    Then our schedule was — drop the kid(s) off at daycare at 6:30am, get to work by ~7:30 leave at 4:45 pick the kids up ~5:40pm and then hang out with them for an hr or so before bedtime — we knew it wasn’t going to be sustainable.

    Since then, Mrs. SSC took a huge paycut for a way better schedule and happier job, teaching, and it has been great for the family. The kids get to sleep in and go to school/daycare when it starts, so around 7:45am instead of 6:30 and we have more time to spend as a family because my schedule got to change so I’m home by 4:45 everyday now.

    We’re about 2 years away from FI, and with Mrs. SSC maybe continuing to teach we could probably do a lifestyle change before we hit 100% FI. It’s exciting for sure!

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Those long work days while having kids is what I’m trying to avoid at all costs. Not only the financial downside of child care but also having limited quality time and a hectic lifestyle seem terrible to me. It’s awesome that you guys have been able to modify things to improve your lifestyle and will be complete out of the “rat race” before too long!

  3. Love your reasoning and drive to retire early! It definitely helps if or when kids come into the picture. We are of a similar attitude about retiring early in order to have choices and schedule freedom, not necessarily because we hate our jobs. Good luck and I like the stylin’ RV!

    1. You definitely can’t go wrong with having more time, especially when kids are involved. The interesting thing about the RV is that it looks like it was recently repainted before we bought it which means that someone actually thought that was a good idea… recently, not in the 80s. Oh well, the interior is all we really cared about anyway!

  4. I think its great you have a plan at a young age. You will learn a lot of skills about keeping your costs low and managing your money wisely. The main benefit of this overall is having choices much sooner than most that want an over priced lifestyle. I’d caution about being in a hurry to retire too soon. If you are making good money, working till 40 or so might not be a bad idea. You could really build up some cash, buy the house you want, etc.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate the advice. I really doubt that I will ever truly retire. I will most likely just start working 2-3 days a week once I reach my FI target number which would still be 3-4x more than I actually need to cover my expenses and allow me much more time and less stress. I’ve also been considering opening my own gym-based clinic and working part time which would be awesome but probably some hassle getting it started. I can’t imagine ever having a time when the income I bring in doesn’t meet or exceed my expenses but I still like the option to not do anything at all if I don’t want to 🙂

      1. From our conversations, I agree with Jared that he is not the type of person that will ever retire. This begs the question from people living an average lifestyle: Why be so extreme in lifestyle just to save so much money if you are planning to keep working anyway?
        However, as is almost always the case in life, perception is reality. Jared and Whitney are making trade-offs, NOT SACRIFICING. They are choosing to use this time of being young, energetic, passionate about exploring career and travel options, and seeking adventure and they have figured out how to live an interesting and exciting life now, while also setting themselves up financially for life. The better question for many people to ask is why don’t more people follow a similar path? I think the reason is that most people just follow the crowd, and don’t push themselves to think differently. Cheers to Jared and Whitney!

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