Finding FI Interview #39: International FIRE student

Michael QuanBeliefs, Education, FI / FIRE, How to, Interviews, MiscLeave a Comment

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Welcome to the Finding FI interview series where we highlight and learn from individuals focused on achieving financial independence and the strategies they are using.  Everyone is at different stages of their FI / FIRE (financial independence, retire early) journey, so let’s learn from their personal stories and be inspired.

Finding FI Interview #39

Today I have a special guest, Vi, who is an immigrant to the United States. When reading his story you’ll find an underlying theme of persistence and will. This is critical for success in many areas, especially FIRE. Take it away, Vi!

Finding FI Question #1

What’s your story?

Finding FI

I came to the US as an international student to pursue my master’s several years ago. My family didn’t have much, but I was lucky that my eldest uncle lent me some money to study in the US. Thankfully, I was able to pay it off quickly,  mainly because I ended up receiving a full scholarship in the second and last semesters. 

After graduating, I started working full-time as a software engineer. In the first six months, I was happy because of the supporting team and great manager. But it starts to get progressively worse because of the frequent changing team, manager, and heavy workload. Because of my work visa and pending permanent residency application, I had to suck this up for almost four years. But at least I got my green card at the very end.

Soon after getting the pass to switch to a different company, I quit and did a lot of self-study on my own. Several months later, I found myself in a data analytic role which is thankfully more enjoyable to me. I’ve been in this role for the past three years, but frankly, I have started contemplating a different career. Even though I enjoy my current job, I still wish that I have achieved my FI/RE number

In my free time, I play piano, learn to make music and write on my blog. Consistently writing music is something that I want to achieve as my lifetime wish.

Michael here – It’s obvious to me that Vi was willing to do whatever it took to position himself for success. I like this self-reflection along his journey as it illustrates his growth and forward-thinking nature.

Finding FI Question #2

What 3 things that you are you most proud of?

The first thing is probably achieving my dream to work and live in the US. I put a huge amount of effort into this from learning English to pass the exams  (I got a C in English class :-D) to having to live in fear for almost four years. I suffered from pretty bad acne on my face due to the stress. But I am glad that I went through that, and I’m so thankful because I didn’t give up and the result has worked in my favor. 

The second thing is helping my family to achieve their life goals. I helped my mom to get her driver’s license and also brought my older brother here. He just got here in October! I was proud of myself because as soon as I arrived in the US, I didn’t wait and started working on his green card application.

The third thing is probably the music that I created. There are a few that I am proud of, but honestly, there are many that I don’t like. But I’m still very grateful for the feeling and the joy it brought to me.

Michael here – I find immigrants who are able to make their way to work and live in the U.S. usually don’t squander their opportunities.   

Finding FI Question #3

Describe your past relationship with money. How has it evolved into your present views today? How do you want it to change in the future?

Thankfully, savings always came naturally to me. So, when I discovered FIRE, I was already frugal. I never really wanted a big house, nice car, expensive bags – but I’d like to be able to afford anything I want such as kindle books, hiring music teachers, international snacks, and taking out my family/friends to a nice dinner. Sometimes I feel guilty when being a little generous on my spending, especially for my own. I should probably learn to be okay with spending a little bit more.

Michael here – I think being frugal has served Vi well. And, it sounds like his attitude towards spending more is continuing to evolve which is great.  

Finding FI Question #4

Who taught or influenced you about money when you were growing up? What was the impact?

I probably have become quite a thrifty person because of my father. But my father has done it in an extreme way though. There are plenty of times when he compromised his health for the sake of saving money. So, I learned from him that I should prioritize my health more than saving and making money. 

On the other hand, my mom likes to donate and give. So I have these two sides of myself that are sometimes conflicting. But eventually, I want to be like my mom. 

Michael here – Awesome distinctions here. Money is never worth sacrificing your health for. AND, there’s always a way to give and build wealth simultaneously.


Finding FI Question #5

How far along are you with your FI or FIRE (financial independence, retire early) journey?

As of today, I am 74% of the way there. I switched to a better-paying job every two-three years, negotiated my salary, cut unnecessary expenses, and invested in VTSAX aggressively. My husband has essentially achieved his lean-FI number after working and saving for many years but wants to keep working in the next few years unless we decide to have a kid. 

I’d like to have my own number because it is something that I always want to accomplish for myself. As I get closer to my number, I start to notice that I’m getting more impatient. I look at my number almost every day :), and I probably need to start reducing this habit.

Michael here – switching jobs every 2-3 years and negotiating your salary is a game-changer. A lot of people live in fear trying to move beyond what’s comfortable. Those willing to seek growth are the ones typically rewarded.   

Finding FI Question #6

When did you first hear about FI/RE?
I heard about FI/RE about two-three years ago. But I didn’t take it seriously until last year. I thought Financial Independence seemed so far away. But after calculating my net worth, re-reading MadFientist and JL Collins posts, and seeing my investment returns, I started to believe that it is possible.

Michael here – Awesome pillars in the FIRE community for sure.   

Finding FI Question #7

Why does FI or FIRE appeal to you?
It’s very appealing to me because it gives me the option to work on anything I want and not have to depend on anyone. I was on the fence about this because I like having a full-time job. I like the accessibility of social groups, consistent schedule and paycheck, health-care insurance, and perhaps the most important thing – a sense of identity and accomplishment. But, having a bad manager has made me so unhappy in the past and I started to wonder if I may as well leave the corporate life and achieve what I want to accomplish in life.

Michael here – sometimes the biggest area of discomfort (like a bad boss) can be the catalyst that moves us forward to our best life.

Finding FI Question #8

What does RE (retirement early) look like to you?
I want to do the things that I never get to do when having a full-time job such as volunteering in an animal shelter, playing piano in the church/hospice care, and hopefully composing my music. I’d also love to spend more time with my family and help my nephews prepare for their careers. Life doesn’t come with a manual, and I hope to share my experience with these three kiddos so they will be a little bit prepared.

Michael here – love this!  

Finding FI Question #9

What type of FIRE are you pursuing (i.e. leanFIRE, FIRE, fatFIRE)?
We will most likely aim for a standard FIRE with an extra cushion to travel once or twice a year. I feel that fatFIRE is too far away and I am not sure if I can wait that long 🙂

Michael here – sounds like a great target here.   

Finding FI Question #10

Do you believe sacrifice is necessary in order to achieve FI? Why, or Why not?
Yes, I believe so. Every choice that we make requires us to give up on something for the sake of something else. For instance, waking up early in the morning to exercise means we lose sleep a little. Similarly, with FI, we also give up on present happiness for the future. But the question is by how much? Honestly, I am still trying to find the balance. But, luckily, savings have always come easy for me, and I believe what’s on the other side is very worth pursuing.

Michael here – opportunity costs are real. Most of us can do anything, but not everything.   

Finding FI Question #11

What are your favorite FI or FIRE websites, podcasts, blogs, etc.?
I really admire MadFientistJL Collins, aPurpleLife, and EatSleepBreathFi. JLCollins helps me understand how simple it is to accumulate wealth through index funds while I learn how to optimize my FI journey through a tax-efficient strategy from MadFientist. I also learned from aPurpleLife that retirement doesn’t have to be boring and Chrissy taught me that humbleness will take me a long way. These people taught me that even a small post can really change other people’s lives and this is what encourages me to document my journey and start writing on my blog.  

Finding FI Question #12

Do you actively speak with others about FI / FIRE?
Yes, I tell my friends and family about FI / FIRE. Some are open but some aren’t. I want to let people that I care about know that there is another option. If they ask follow-up questions, I’ll be more than happy to share the knowledge. But if they suddenly switch to another topic, I wouldn’t take it personally because maybe they are just not interested.

Michael here – so great that you are willing to share your own knowledge! 

Finding FI Question #13

Is a side hustle a key component of your FI / FIRE journey? (i.e. second job, side biz, real estate investing, etc.)?
I don’t have a side hustle. For some reason, I never want a second job :D. The field that I’m in now is in high demand and pays pretty well. So I prefer to devote my time to studying for interviews and obtaining a higher-paying job. For the rest of my time, I want to spend it with my family and prepare for my next career.

Michael here –  There are so many paths to FIRE and it sounds like yours is working well, Vi! Thank you for sharing your story with us. I wish you all the best.

Readers, what is your favorite takeaway from Vi’s story?

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