Little feet

The 4-Year Potential

Two weeks ago, we did some recalculations and came up with three potential plans. The two plans that would allow us both money AND freedom would take significantly longer than four years. The really lofty goal date on our blog is 2022, which is 6 years away. So what’s the big deal with 4 years? As the school year wraps up, the temporary state of Penny’s childhood is weighing heavy on my mind. In 4 years, Penny will be done with elementary school. Based strictly on our calculations, by the end of May 2020, we expect to find ourselves with a paid-off house and $321,000 in investments. Those numbers won’t get us close to financial independence. And freedom in that plan would mean continuing on our current path for the next four years and then just quitting to be irresponsible for a bit! But looking back on our historical 4-year accomplishments, in all likelihood, stagnation isn’t an option.


  • Ages 0-4 – The Baby Years – That’s right. We’re starting at the beginning. The growth during this period of time is probably the largest of all the 4-year periods, so we can’t skip over it. You start this period literally incapable of eating, breathing, sleeping, and pooping. These are things you have to learn. Some come almost immediately (breathing and pooping, obviously). Others take training. And that’s just the first year! Then you have to learn how to walk, talk, etc. By 4, you have enough skills to be nearly ready for school. Penny got a passport at 6 months old that was valid for 5 years. She never used it at age 5, but how much do you think she looked like that bald, smiley baby at age 5? Not much. Money is kept away from you for most all of this period–primarily to keep you from eating it. 
  • Ages 5-8 – Kid Years – Maybe you can read at age 4, but if so, it’s probably not very well. And you certainly can’t write much more than your name in legible English. You can count at 4, but can’t translate that into basic addition. By 8, you’ve mastered nearly three years of school (and multiplication!). You can read what you want. You can write things that make sense. You’ve learned physical tasks like the monkey bars and bike riding. Socialization has become important. For the very first time, it’s clear that some things are “cool” and some things are not. Along with this, it starts becoming clear that some people always seem to have all of those cool things and some people don’t have any of them. Some kids live in big houses and wear fancy clothes to school while others live in apartments or condos and may not have quite the same assortment of clothes. It’s clear that money buys cool things and getting money has the potential to get you there.
  • Ages 9-12 – Tween Years –  Or the age where you think you have actually learned enough to compete with parents. I would argue this is among the least productive 4-year period in our lives because most of it is spent attempting to navigate weird social rules. Socioeconomic classes become integral to these weird social rules. If you don’t have the very specific pair of shoes that are cool, you are NOT COOL. Financially, you get your first taste of making money with babysitting and mowing lawns. You may not get paid well, but you realize that you have potential to make money and buy more stuff. You even have the ability to buy those cool shoes!
  • Ages 13-16 – Teenage Years – During these years, you move from being obsessed with boy bands (just guessing – *ahem*) to having real boyfriends. From 13 through 16, you enter high school, learn to drive, taste a glimpse of independence, and start to figure out what YOU want to do after high school. You move from babysitting to minimum wage jobs with real expectations, schedules, and paychecks. These are the years where you are practicing adulthood with the safety net of still living with your parents and going to school. You don’t think it’s a practice because you obviously think you’re an adult already. Real money means real responsibility and the potential for real mistakes. This is the period of time where the financial habits of your parents start to impact you the most. If your parents are financially responsible, you will learn how to balance an account, save money, and only buy what you can pay for with cash. If you aren’t taught these things, the money will go out as fast or faster than it comes in.
  • Ages 17-20 – Adulting – Congrats! You’re an adult! In these four years, you graduate high school and venture into your own life. Now you can go do stupid things without the safety net. The average age to get a first credit card in the United States is 20.8, so this period may be the beginning of consumer debt for you. This is also the first time in your life you decide what you want to do and who you want to be and you take the steps to do that. You can go to college. You can either work hard to pay for college, get help from family members, and/or you can take out large student loans. These will drop into your bank account in amounts larger than you’ve ever seen and don’t have to be repaid until you’re done with school! You also make decisions that will impact your future finances: what will you study? What career options are available in that field? What is the average salary?
  • Ages 21-24 – Real Life – For us, these four years were very productive. We married, graduated college (and graduate school for me), had our first child, survived our year of unemployment, moved to Alaska, and got our first real jobs. During this stage, you decide what your first leap will be. More schooling? A job? For probably the first time, you experience having a “Salary” and “benefits” and figuring out what those things mean.
  • Ages 25-28 – Settling? – The median amount of time a 25-34 year-old college graduate stays at an employer in the U.S. is only 2.9 years, so chances are you’re on at least your second job by the end of this period. And the median marriage age in the U.S. is 27 for women and 29 for men, so maybe you’ve gotten married. The average age of a first time mom in the U.S. is 26.3, so maybe you’ve got a kid. Big things are still happening, so you’re not quite settled, but you’re definitely heading more in that direction.
  • Ages 29-32 – Settled Yet? – AND… here we are. I’m currently 30 and Mr. T is 33. The average home buyer in the U.S. is 33, so maybe you’ve bought a house by now or will in the next year or so. We have. With a home and a family, changing jobs gets less rare and moving locations even more so. But look back on our lives; this is the very first time there’s ever been an expectation to settle down. Our lives up until this point involve major life decisions in every phase! No wonder there’s a restlessness that hits in your 30s! It doesn’t make sense to go from such a great amount of growth in every 4-year phase to working the same job (or few jobs) for the next 35!

Now let’s look back to 4 years ago and see how far we’ve really come:

  • Movies released in 2012 include: The first Avengers, The first Hunger Games, the first Hobbit, the first Pitch Perfect, and The Dark Knight Rises
  • Whitney Houston, Neil Armstrong, Dick Clark, and Andy Griffith all died in 2012 and Steve Jobs died at the end of 2011 (4.5 years ago).

I know, you’re thinking those seem like yesterday, but you guys, 2012 was also the year that:

  • Barack Obama won the re-election
  • The 2012 London Olympics were held (with the Spice Girls reuniting for the closing ceremonies!)
  • Chart toppers in 2012: One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” fun’s “We Are Young”, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”
  • In Business News: Facebook held it’s IPO in May 2012 and acquired Instagram, AirBNB had only 200,000 listings (now there over 2,000,000!), and Uber only operated in 8 cities (now it has cities all over all 6 inhabited continents!).

A lot can happen in four years! Mr. T and I could have 4 more children (no thanks) or start (and maybe fail at) 4 startups! Our income could increase dramatically and markets could shoot through the roof (or tank) for a solid 4 years! And in 2020, it’s actually possible that we might have successfully set up a situation where we are doing what we enjoy and can do it from anywhere. There’s so much hope in the potential of 4 years! That’s why our recalculations haven’t gotten us down (and why we haven’t changed our sidebar graphs or goal dates). Everything can change in 4 years! Here’s a toast to 2020! Anything is Possible. Where do you hope to be?


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  1. I love this, Maggie! There is so much possibility everywhere. Four years seems like such a long time…but that’s the crazy thing about time. It’s gone in a blink.

    • MaggieBanks

      So true! It goes so fast. And we’re capable of doing so much! I know some people look forward to those stagnant eras… but I’m restless. I’m a planner. I’m a schemer. So much can be done!

  2. This is a really fun post – where to start? Little Trey would love to eat some money. And Goofball was adorable when he used to sing Call Me Maybe, back when he was a lot smaller. I completely agree that so much can change in just four years. If I look back that far, I was still carelessly spending money with no real plan for the future, other than trying to stay engaged in my job for decades to come.

    You definitely shouldn’t give up on your goals – a paid off house and over $300k in investments would be enough for you to semi-retire. If you don’t touch the investments for a few decades and just brought in enough income to cover minimal living expenses, it would give you a decent amount of freedom, in the very-near future. I don’t understand why so much of the PF community is focused on an all or nothing approach when it comes to retirement. Yes, a huge nest egg will give you more security, but everyone agrees that they will probably do some work after they retire anyways.

    As for us, I haven’t done overly detailed financial forecasts. Our goal right now is to pay off our debt as quick as we can, so we can have more options. I view our future as a kaleidoscope, because priorities can shift over time (like every four years or so) and effect the interplay between the many different components of your life. We just need to work hard to improve our finances, so we will have more options to pursue different things over time.

    • MaggieBanks

      The first week of may, I will detail my kaleidoscope. 🙂 But really, it’s about time together and geographic freedom. We love Alaska, and Mr. T has a ridiculously flexible work schedule with 6 weeks of vacation time, but our ideal would be to do something together – in our time – and wherever we want.

  3. You are definitely right that things can and will happen over the next four years… hopefully for the better! Stay focused on the end game and you’ll be there before you know it!

    Similar to you, we’re trying to reach FI with a good balance between being somewhat frugal but still enjoying life with our 5-year old daughter. Although we could downsize or cut costs in other ways to push our FI date up, we’re not ready to do that.

    The good news for us is that we’ve become more acquainted with increasing cash flow and we’re beginning our journey with that (particularly with rental property). For us, that will help a little bit in bringing our FI date closer, but more importantly will bring in more money once we do quit our jobs. Plus it gives us something solid to pass on to our daughter down the line.

    Good luck and may the next 4 years be very prolific for you!!

    — Jim

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks so much for your perspective, Jim. I hope the next 4 years are prolific for all of us! I don’t hope to be entirely FI in four years, but I look forward to seeing what possibilities are in store! It’s always exciting to think about all the things we could do in 4 years!

  4. You are right, there are so many things that can happen in four years! Our life is nothing like it was four years ago, and most of it we could never have guessed back then.

    In four years we will have our consumer credit paid off, and I hope to have made a large dent in our mortgage as well. I’d like to have a good hustle going on to provide us with more income and flexibility, and I hope we’ve made some nice travels.

    Good luck with all off your goals, here’s to smashing them!

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s AWESOME! See? 4-years is amazing. And I have very similar goals. A hustle that is time and location-independent would be freedom enough for us!

  5. Thanks for getting One Direction stuck in my head. 🙂 It’s interesting to think of life in four-year chunks. But it does seem like a fitting amount of time (high school is four years, college is four years, presidential terms are four years, etc.). Gosh, four years from now we should be total pros at being retired early — how exciting is that?! And I sure hope you guys are close to your goal of financial freedom — I still believe things will accelerate for you. Because four years may pass quickly, but a lot can change in that time, too! Here’s to lots of good changes. 🙂

    • Haha, I ended up with Adele on the brain!

    • MaggieBanks

      I look forward to seeing what happens. I really like the fact that life is an adventure. I actually love change. I love seeing what’s next and plotting around a new factor. So I’m excited to see what can happen in the next 4 years!

  6. This is a healthy reminder of why flexibility is so important in our FIRE plans. In 4 years, we might be rolling in dough, or the market might be down 50% from today. The good news is that things generally trend up, so I’ll remain optimistic! My net worth is up about 500% since 2012… though that one probably won’t continue, especially without a job!

    • MaggieBanks

      500% in 4 years? That would be awesome. And maybe totally possible for us because we’re still working! And who knows what the market will do after all this rising!

  7. It’s definitely amazing how much you can accomplish in 4 years and how many thing s have happened in the world. It pains me to think that soany people don’t bother making a small change in their life now so there would be a major difference in their life 4 years in the future. It’s like driving… If you are off by a degree, over a long distance that can be a difference of getting to New York or getting to Atlanta.

    • MaggieBanks

      I love the one degree analogy. It’s hard looking back and thinking the same thing myself. “If only we had started maxing out our retirement funds 4 years ago!” But I like to focus on the hopeful “Think of the momentum we just threw behind our progress for the next 4 years!”

  8. kalieb

    A lot can change in four years. Great illustration of that point. In four years my youngest will be entering school and I’ll be re-entering the workforce, probably for only 2-4 years according to our calculations. We’ll see what happens, though!

    • MaggieBanks

      That sounds awesome, to only have to work for 2-4 more years after the kids are in school. 4 Years is a long time… everything could change! How exciting!

  9. I love this analogy. I think I had a few dummy spits and door slamming during the teenage years when I didn’t get payrises I was hoping for. Yes 4 years is a long time. 4 years ago we were just about to buy our house and kids weren’t at school. Next 4 years for us, I’m guessing, will be similar to this year, now kids are settled at school, we are aggressively paying off the mortgage, not planning on moving, just enjoying life together with a few holidays thrown in.

    • MaggieBanks

      That sounds awesome. In 4 years, all of my kids will be in school. And Mr. T and I will obviously be living the dream! We just have to figure out what that is… 🙂

  10. Thanks for the flashbacks! I’m trying to figure out how it is possible that Steve Jobs died *before* Barack Obama was reelected. I feel like that election was six years ago and Steve Jobs died like last year. Anyway…

    It’s true, a lot can happen in four years. You put a very positive spin on this, which I like because I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between time and financial goals lately, and sometimes it seriously gets me down.

    I feel like I didn’t move through these stages of life in a normal way. I think that from around age 18 through age 33 or so, it was just one extended period of super-confused semi-adulthood. Ah well, I suppose we all develop at the rate we’re going to develop!

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s funny how some events seem so close while others seem so far away! Development is fleeting. As I point out, there really isn’t a push to “develop” past 30. At that point, we’re supposed to stagnate. Realizing that’s not for you means you’re developing fasting that the majority no matter that your past dictates. 🙂

  11. Man, yeah a lot changes in 4 years. $ years ago, we were still in LA and still working at the same company. We only had the one kid (so much easier than 2) and we had just been getting serious about cutting down our credit card bills and spending and what not for a year or so at that point. No real FIRE thoughts, but even then Mrs. SSC’s spreadsheet that projected our retirement said we’d be done working by 45. Thank goodness that dates moved up quite a bit. 🙂

    Even though I really love working at my current company, I don’t think I could handle it if I knew I’d be here 15-20 more years. I think part of the joy with working here (besides the people) is knowing that it isn’t for 15-20 years, so no need to stress about a lot of things. If I did have to do this for that long though, I’d probably look for another company in another 5 years or so, just to shake things up a bit, and keep it fresh!

    • MaggieBanks

      Yeah, I can’t imagine doing the exact same thing for 15-20 years! I get so restless! The past 4 years have been among the most stagnant for us. We’ve been in the same house with the same jobs. We did add a third kid, start a blog, and start saving aggressively for freedom… so, there’s that. But other than that, mostly stagnant. 🙂

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