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…
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.
I, 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 parts. 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.
We 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.