Sept. 1, 2020

Retiring at 40 with Laurie Stephens (Part 2) - The Mindful FIRE Podcast - Episode 5

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Welcome to the Mindful FIRE Podcast, where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond. I’m your host Adam Coelho and I’m glad you’re here. 

On today’s episode I’m joined by my friend Laurie Stephens, the Executive Director of Hood River Education Foundation a non profit helping students in Hood River, Oregon. We had a great conversation exploring how they made it happen and how they went about designing their life both before and after retiring early including what career to pursue, where to retire to and what to do with all their free time once they made it happen. 

Today’s episode is Part 2 of  our conversation and in it we explore how Laurie and her husband Doug retired at the age of 40 and what they’ve been up to since.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Laurie reinvented herself over and over, pursing new types of work
  • The great thing about living in a small town
  • How Laurie is at a crossroads in her life and how she is thinking through what's next
  • How having kids impacted Laurie and Doug’s journey to FI
  • How they avoided the trap of lifestyle inflation and still do
  • Why it's so important to reflect on what you want and why you want it
  • How we can be open and ready to receive opportunities in our life
  • Why self awareness is the foundational for both mindfulness and financial independence

Today’s Mindful FIRE Final Four:

  • What Laurie most grateful for
  • Laurie’s top advice for people just getting started on the path to Financial Independence
  • Laurie’s top advice for those approaching financial independence
  • Laurie’s thoughts on how mindfulness factors into financial independence and designing a life that you love

And so much more. I hope you enjoy my wonderful conversation with my friend Laurie Stephens. 


Adam Coelho:[00:00:00] Welcome to the mindful fire podcast, where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond on today's episode, I dive into part two of my conversation with my friend, Laurie Stevens, who retired at the age of 40 and is currently the executive director of a nonprofit in the hood river, Oregon area.

In today's episode, you'll hear how Laurie and her husband, Doug reached financial independence and retired by the age of 40. And you'll hear how Laurie has had several careers after leaving her initial work, including leading bike tours across the United States, Canada, and even in New Zealand and how she also became the executive director of a local nonprofit.

We'll also explore how having kids impacted their journey to financial independence and how Laurie believes it actually accelerated their path to financial independence. We'll also explore why Laurie feels there are so many opportunities that come from living in a small town and Laurie will share her advice for those early on their path to financial independence.

You'll also hear Laurie's advice for those about to reach financial independence. And those thinking about what's next as they approach it. We'll also talk about how Laurie sees mindfulness and its intersection with the path to financial independence. I hope you enjoy this wonderful conversation with my friend, Laurie Stephens.

So it seems like you've had a few. Post career careers. You were at home with the kids, you then did the bike tour. And at some point after that, it sounds like you transitioned into this nonprofit role. I'd love to hear a little bit about your thinking then and how that came about. 

Laurie Stephens:[00:01:46] I had not been working for two years and I.

Was finding that I was feeling restless. I was feeling less satisfied. The winters are long and dark here, and I have a little seasonal impact from just the weather. And I recognize that I needed something more to, to focus on, to feel productive, to feel connected to other people. I was walking with a friend one day and we weren't even talking about this, but she just.

Popped out with, Hey, do you want a job? And I said, what are you talking about? And she said I was going to apply for this job that. I know about, but she, but it's not the right time for me, but I thought of you, I thought it would be a perfect fit. And I learned more about it and I thought about what my skills were and whether this would be a good fit.

And I thought what the heck I'll I'll apply. And I'll see what this is all about. Literally within a week. I think we went for a walk on Monday. I contacted the hiring person on. Tuesday. I had an interview on Wednesday. I had the job on Friday. Wow. So that's Monday. I was going for a walk on Friday and I was unemployed on Friday.

I had a job. Wow town. So the other thing that's great about small towns is that there's a lot of opportunity. It's not like living in the Bay area where you are fighting 250 or a thousand other people for the same job. And I had done a little bit of work when my kids were little, I had done some volunteer work in their school, and I had done some fundraising for their school and had gotten connected in the community that way.

And part of this job, would be doing fundraising for a school. It was a different position. It was an executive director position instead of the volunteer, her mom kind of thing. But it was one of those situations where volunteer activity actually fed into a paid position, which I know that's advice for a lot of people.

Hey, if you're looking at a different. Career, start volunteering and see if you can make connections and segue into a job. I think that was huge. I also joined the planning commission here in town. I was a commissioner on the, in the planning department for, as a volunteer for several years, for five years.

And that was. Also very eyeopening and those positions are quite easy to get, because again, it's a small team and they're usually looking to fill those spots. It's like police, please, be on the planning commission, we need people. And  was just open to those opportunities that seem like they might lead in directions that I'd be interested in.

So there were several of those that came along and. That did end up laying some groundwork. It was not part of my master plan by any means, this job just fell into place. And and I was really glad that it didn't because it does require a lot of the skills that I have.

And I feel like I'm able to do a good job and make a contribution, locally here with our school district. Wow. That's 

Adam Coelho:[00:04:39] awesome. Yeah. So it sounds like you went with the flow, but also we're open to opportunities and to dabbling with the volunteer opportunities along the way. Not necessarily expecting it to lead anywhere, but just out of interest and wanting to give back and then we're open when the opportunity to do that in a more formal role came along.

Laurie Stephens:[00:05:01] Exactly. Yeah. And I would say that the small town, I would just repeat that small town aspect of looking for jobs. Sometimes that's a drawback, small towns. Don't usually have a lot of. Great opportunities maybe for like full-time professional employment, but there are a lot of little niche jobs and part-time positions and things that I think if you and just connections in a small town that's just part of it is that, you get out there, you meet people, people.

And to me, it seems like it can be easier to get a job in a small town. Maybe not a high paying job, but it right. Depends on what 

Adam Coelho:[00:05:39] yeah. Yeah. But if you are. Already in a position where you don't need to make a lot of money either because you've saved a lot of money or your life doesn't cost that much or both, then you can take jobs that other people can't and then you can have those opportunities come along.

And you have the flexibility to just jump on them. 

Laurie Stephens:[00:06:04] Yeah. Yeah, I 

Adam Coelho:[00:06:05] like that. So as you now transitioned to thinking about what's next, as you're coming up on your, the end of your committed time, or that you've set in your mind that you want to be doing this. Executive director role. How are you thinking about what's next?

It seems like things have been quite serendipitous in the past. Right?

Laurie Stephens:[00:06:32] Could sit and wait for something else to fall in my lap, I don't, I think those only come along once every whatever 20 years I'm torn because. My husband's been spending more time traveling. And so he has been in going down to Baja, California in the winter months to to pursue his outdoor activities a little more fully.

And so I have not joined him for the full period of time. I've gone down for three weeks at a time, but he's been going for three months for the last couple of years. And I'm a little torn. Do I want to be. So free that I can travel anywhere in any time or but that has the drawback of when you're not traveling,  there's not a lot of structure there's  lot of on.

Unknowns and just what do I do with myself? The kids are gone, right? It's, there's no one to cook for clean for, take care of any more. Usually when they come home for brief periods of time. But that, that empty. Ness of the days is hard for me. And so while it would provide freedom to travel, I wouldn't want to be on the road continuously.

And so when I'm home,  what would that look like? I don't know what the next phase is, you and I both are on a path towards this, mindfulness, meditation stuff. Knowing that I've always enjoyed teaching maybe with more years under my belt of meditation and some retreats, maybe I would then step into looking at teacher training.

It's too soon for me, I think right now I don't feel like I have my practice sufficiently established to really be able to help others that much. But that's a possibility,  had, I don't know how that would look where, who, when, how Y but it's a thought I could see taking, going full time Retired and for another year or two and see what that feels like.

Again, maybe take those trips, some of those longer trips, Doug and I were going to go to Europe this fall. And that's not going to happen now. So I, it really makes sense to hunker down and work until sort of the travel restrictions become. Lessened and maybe explore some of those places. I really wanted to take him to New Zealand because he's never been and I loved it there.

So there are some, bucket list, travel destinations that I'd like to have the opportunity to explore without having to take huge chunks of time off from a job or but. I don't really see doing that for the next 30 years.  Dunno, maybe something else is out there waiting for me.

Adam Coelho:[00:09:17] Yeah. Yeah. So it sounds like nothing but opportunity. Nothing but opportunity ahead because it's unformed. So yeah, it's interesting. So maybe taking, going. To that working until kind of things open up a little bit and you can start to just have that time where you don't have any responsibility and can travel for longer periods of time.

See how that sits with you now that you are on the other side of another work stint, I'll see what kind of opens up from there is that the thinking. 

Laurie Stephens:[00:09:57] Yeah. Yeah. So it's a good 

Adam Coelho:[00:10:00] place to be. It's interesting. I, as I think about my own journey and as I look towards what my ultimate reaching of five will look like and what I'll want it to after I don't.

Have to work full time, what that will actually be like and what I'll want to do. And I tend to be a little bit more trust in the universe. Let things fall into place. And that works pretty well, but also have a desire to be a little bit more intentional and to design my life a little bit more. And  this podcast in itself is an exploration of this idea.

One both talking to people like yourself who have done it or are on the path to doing it, but also seeing do I like podcasting too. I talking to people who do teach mindfulness full-time because I think that might be something of interest to me in some way, shape or form, because I do teach a class at at work called search inside yourself, which is mindfulness-based emotional intelligence.

Thinking. Okay. What does it look like to actually build a business and make a career out of doing this? Either part-time or full-time. So it's like serving double duty on that kind of learning and experimenting at the same time. Do I actually like. Podcasting and doing all of this associated things.

Yeah. Which has been cool to learn new skills and have great conversations, but really trying to figure out what that next chapter looks like. 

Laurie Stephens:[00:11:34] Yeah that's, that is definitely the challenge because you can't see into the future. All you can do is try and anticipate as best you can. But when we were first talking about financial independence, I didn't know what we'd be doing.

I didn't know when it would happen, if it would happen, what we would do with. If it did happen. So I think that it was, it's good to have a vision, but to can't be really fixed in it and you've gotta be flexible. Like the idea of that, if it doesn't work, we'll go back to work.

It's the sort of, you do have to roll with it and there's so many unexpected things, what the stock market does. If that's part of the plan, you can't control that kids and. All of that stuff. You can control when you have the kids, but you can't always control what happens after you have them.


Adam Coelho:[00:12:26] no, that's very true. That's actually a good segue. I would love to understand in your mind how did having kids impact the journey? Some people think, Oh, kids are so expensive in you. If you have kids, or this is off the table for you, obviously you guys made this happen with having kids.

So I'd love to hear your thoughts on, how did having kids impact the journey? 

Laurie Stephens:[00:12:55] I think for my husband, it made that journey all that much more necessary. Like I said he could work or he could be a parent, but working and parenting at the same time was like a death sentence for him.

It just didn't work. And so I could have seen the impetus or the drive to retire be a little bit, even less. Acute. If he, if we didn't have kids and he was just working because it's easier to achieve a life balance of what you really love to do is not part of your work life. Then you know, you have to have time for it.

He was working and then he was coming home and parenting and that's not to say he didn't love the kids, but that was not his life. Dream of, raising small boys in a rainy climate. And so oddly it, I think drove it fired up that that desire to find an alternative lifestyle where everything could be more balanced including having more time with the kids, but more pleasurable time with the kids, do fun, recreational things, not just, feed clean.

Diaper sleep feed, clean, repeat me. And so that partly, I think there was the fear kids are expensive and all that mental stuff. But when we sit down, sat down and worked out the finances and looked at the budget and, can we do this? And can we not It, they really weren't that expensive when they were little, because we didn't have them in daycare.

All you had to do is feed them and they don't need it that much when they were little. It wasn't that much more. Money at all.  And so we weren't scared off by that. One of the things we did do, because I'm a planner is when we started putting money in to college funds and we agreed that we would encourage the kids to go to a public university, which we both did.

And, we weren't gonna. Try to save money to send them to Harvard or anything.  That helped take the pressure off of feeling like we had to save $250,000 each for them or something to try to put them through a private school. And we told them that, w when they were starting to look at colleges, it's okay, dude, either get scholarships.

Somehow, if you want to go to a private school or just go to the state, one of the state universities and get the public education. Cause yeah, that's what we did. And it worked out pretty good for us. So they both did. They both went to, yeah. To state colleges  and they've been fine.

 There was a little more fear. It's Oh my God, we're responsible for these children. But I think we really looked forward to having a life without the stress of a work situation that was just creating a pressure cooker feeling. It was like we want to have fun with the kids.

Doug ended up coaching the little league team for years, so we introduced them to. A lot of outdoor sports none of which actually stuck, unfortunately, but we spent a lot of time skiing with them on the mountain and trying to get them to, paddle around in the river and ride bikes in the woods and go camping.

And we just spent that kind of quality time with them. And we have absolutely no regrets about that. I think if anything, I wish we had taken them on the road a little bit more and done more of. More traveling with them when they were little. But that didn't happen. We didn't make that a priority.

So that's probably opposite of what a lot of people say. Yeah. I think a lot of people say, Oh, we can't retire early. We've got kids. We're like, we better retire early. We have kids. You're not going to be able to do this, work and the kids thing. This is just too hard. Yeah. 

Adam Coelho:[00:16:31] I feel like people are really feeling that now where they are working and parenting all day long.

Oh my gosh, a parenting game, not even two years, but thinking back to the beginning of the year, when we had a nanny and we would go to work for eight hours or so, and then come home, it's just wow, this is. Easier it's much easier, much more expensive, especially in the Bay area, but it is a blessing as well, having all this time with him and very fortunate to have a work environment that really supports and understands what we're all going through.

So that's huge as well. But definitely no joke. And so maybe more people will realize it would be a lot easier if they didn't have to have the work part, if they can figure out the money situation. So they can just focus on the life and kids part. 

Laurie Stephens:[00:17:25] It does simplify things. Surprisingly. Yeah.

Adam Coelho:[00:17:29] Let me move us into the, what I call the mindful fire. Final four. We'd love to ask you a final four questions. So the first question is what is something or someone that you are incredibly grateful for 

Laurie Stephens:[00:17:44] corny. But I have to give credit to my husband for the vision that he had that has really allowed us to, I think, actively create a life instead of passively reacting to the conditions that we were surrounded in and accepting the norm at the time, because.

In the early nineties, not a lot of people were talking about early retirement and financial independence. So I really do somewhat begrudgingly. I have to credit him only begrudging only because, you always hate to tell your partner he was right. But but yes, in spite of all my concerns, I think that he really helped propel us.

That through this adventure and helped give me the confidence to follow along and really walk beside him in this, on the path. That was pretty cool. So I have to be grateful for him. 

Adam Coelho:[00:18:41] There you go. I figured that might be. Might be the way it went, but it's good vision, it's obviously I'm into the vision, but yeah, having that vision when it wasn't a big movement and people weren't talking about it all the time and people probably thought you were crazy for.

For pursuing it and, or even thinking it was possible. 

Laurie Stephens:[00:19:01] My parents were quite freaked out. You can imagine my dad just kept asking me over and over now, how are you going to do this? Are you sure? You're okay. Are like that, that we, we have a plan. We ran the numbers. Yeah, exactly.

Adam Coelho:[00:19:17] Okay. Question number two. What advice would you give to someone early on their path to financial independence? 

Laurie Stephens:[00:19:24] Early on, I think it's living within your means and sticking to the plan. So there were a lot of opportunities, I think, where we could have spent a lot more money on things. I literally bought my first new car ever.

In my whole life in January, we never bought new cars. Another time was when we moved up to Seattle, we had a real estate agent who was provided by the company that was helping us relocate. And she kept showing us all these like executive mansions. And we were like, we don't want an executive mansion.

She's a, but you can afford it. Why don't you think you deserve it? And we're like, no, I don't think you understand. We don't want to have a mortgage that like, that. We want to be able to have something really affordable, nice but affordable so that we can put money aside. We don't want to spend every, 30% of our income honor on housing.

And we really had to convince her to start showing us cheaper houses. Cause she just. She didn't get it. So things like that, I think just really looking at what you're spending and why. And if that doesn't come naturally to already, I think it's definitely more work. It sounds like it might come more naturally to you.

And it certainly came naturally to my husband. But if that's, if you have that goal, I think it's really important to. To be very mindful of what you want and why you want it, w what is driving your your spending habits and what can you give up in order to help accomplish your goals?

Adam Coelho:[00:20:56] Yeah, I think that is great advice because yeah, it's very easy to just buy more than you need. Don't take on more house than you need. That's kind of something that I am is alive for me right now, as we think about, okay we moved to New Jersey. We're staying with my in-laws. What? Do we do next?

The initial thinking was rent a house somewhere closer to New York city. What for when I need to commute in, but with interest rates so low it's like maybe we buy a house, but how much house do we buy? And then coming from California, it's that one's only, $700,000. That's so cheap compared to the shack.

I would get California for 1.4 million, maybe more than we need, probably more than we need. And certainly, might not contribute as much to the plan as I'd like it to. So it's good to keep in mind. Yeah. Spreadsheets. The third, what advice would you give someone about to reach financial independence and getting ready to think about what's next?

Laurie Stephens:[00:22:09] That is one of the critical things is to know, to, to have a good sense of. Your self, as far as do you need structure in a day? Are there things that you are just dying to do that you haven't been able to do because you've been working? Is it worth just completely unplugging from a job in order to do those things or do you actually need that structure?

For me I, my husband was perfectly happy, entertaining himself. He's been learning Spanish. He learned bluegrass guitar. He started playing in a marimba band. Then he started building marimbas and he's been doing all of his recreational sports. He goes with the flow, as things come along he grabs on and really challenged him.

So challenges himself to learn new things. I need more of a structure than just, Oh, I'm now I'm going to learn Spanish. I need some accountability to others, I need to show up, I need to have that feeling like I'm also contributing. So I think knowing. Who you are and what makes you feel fulfilled and happy is really important.

Not that you have to know it all in advance, but to be aware as you move through your world and your experiences, what it is that you need in a post-work world to keep you engaged and satisfied.  And to explore those things and to be open, have some plans. But also have that flexibility of, if something does fall in your lap, that you don't not see it, that you actually see the opportunity and say, Oh, okay.

I'll try that. 

Adam Coelho:[00:23:43] Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense. And the fourth question is I'd love to hear your thoughts on. How you feel mindfulness, the practice of mindfulness and meditation, or factors into financial independence designing a life that you would love.

It's a big question. 

Laurie Stephens:[00:24:08] Yeah. I think that self-awareness really does kind of farm. Having mindful practice to really be able to tune into what it, what you know, resonates for you, because I'm, I've always been very motivated by external messages of what I should do. What society thinks I should do? What my parents thought I should do?

What even what, my husband thinks I should too. And I it's been helpful to have a mindfulness practice to help me hear that voice of what it is that really does give me truthful film and not just this external achievement. And so that's where I see those things dovetailing both in terms of, early on recognizing craving and recognizing wanting and desiring objects or things or spending money or, fame or fortune and really having an awareness that those things are pulling you so that you can mindfully pull back from them when it's appropriate.

And then moving past those initial phases of planning for financial independence. Once you actually are there to. Like I said, be able to be more aware of really what, what allows you to thrive as a individual? I'm certainly not there yet, but I feel like the mindfulness is helping me avoid a lot of those distractions and I should and listen a little bit more carefully to what I feel is important.

What's more true for me. Yeah, 

Adam Coelho:[00:25:46] no, that's wonderful. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. It a good reminder of the importance to really listen to your own wisdom, to check in with yourself. What do I want and do I want that? Because I should want it. Or do I actually want it and really just inquiring within certainly something that I'm working on, been working on, we'll keep working with them.

It's just one of those lifelong practices 

Laurie Stephens:[00:26:12] it is. And I think it's even harder when you're still in the working world. And you're, you're looking ahead to where you want to be, or you think you need to be, or maybe where you even think you should be because you have a lot of. Mixed messages, you've got, you want to be successful at work, but what does that mean?

Why do you want to be successful? Will work,  what are you striving for and is that aligned with your values and things like that? So I think it's a lot harder. You've got a lot of stuff going on and you have a lot more people needing you, now with the kids out of the house, this whole world really does open up in ways that can be overwhelming, but at the same time, it liberates.

Both of us to explore. Okay. And now what's next. And like I said, that can be a little disorienting when you have so much freedom, but in some ways I think it's a little easier than having to fight all the distractions or struggle with a lot of those poles and distractions that come from career and family life and things like that.

So I think mindfulness can help with both of those areas. That's great. 

Adam Coelho:[00:27:20] To wrap up. How can people find out what you are? You're the organization you're working with are doing online? Yeah, 

Laurie Stephens:[00:27:28] I'm, I don't have much of an online presence, but the organization I work for is called the hood river County education foundation.

So we have a website HRC, E F. Dot org. So if anybody's interested in checking that out, we do take donations for our kids.  That's certainly available to people to explore if they want to. But other than that, I really don't have any books. I don't have podcasts. I don't have a blog. I don't have a website.

Yeah. Yeah. 

Adam Coelho:[00:28:00] Okay. Thank you so much, Laurie. Really appreciate you joining me on the podcast today and I hope you stay safe and healthy. Thank you, 

Laurie Stephens:[00:28:08] Adam. 

Adam Coelho:[00:28:09] Thank you. Thanks so much for joining me today on the mindful fire podcast. If you got value from today's episode, please hit subscribe on the podcast player.

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Laurie StephensProfile Photo

Laurie Stephens

Executive Director at Hood River Education Foundation

Laurie and her husband Doug retired at the age of 40. Listen to her episodes to hear more about her story.