Origin of “Zero”

Cafe

I began my “adult” life by moving to New York City at 25, straight out of graduate school without a job or career. Thankfully, I had no student debt (thanks, mom and dad!), and armed with a non-stem master’s degree.

Having gotten disillusioned with the reality of public education system, special education in particular, I decided I wanted to work in a disability advocacy related non-profit so I can still serve my passion, but not be directly teaching.

I quickly found out the real world is a harsh, harsh place where you are somehow simultaneously over qualified (because you have college degrees) and under qualified (because you have no actual experience). And even at the off chance someone in the industry was hiring, they were not going to be paying much.

Like many other New York City transplants, I was lured by the perceived promises of jobs (my local suburb offered mostly government or teaching jobs), riches (everyone’s rich in NYC right???), and grandeur (I don’t know).

The reality was that I was making $300 a week babysitting in 10 hours a day, with few tutoring sessions sprinkled in to live on a bootstrap budget in Upper East Side, Manhattan. I put in hundreds of applications, and only managed to get one on-site interview. I was clearly doing something wrong.

Half a year in, my sublet was about to expire, and I still didn’t have a full-time job. I decided that either I find a full-time job (and a new apartment) by end of November, or I was going to – literally – go home to mommy.

After my brain surgery when I was a senior in college, my mother became my full-time caregiver as I had to relearn how to sit up, use a spoon, walk, and exist in the world of the living. She spent months caring for me as I slowly emerged from a toddler state into something resembling a young adult.

She was very concerned about my idea of moving to New York City with my brain injury and disabilities, but I had decided that if I didn’t try to live independently now, I was going to regret it for the rest of my life. Especially because all the adults around me were saying that I am going to be relying on my parents for the rest of my life, will never be independent or be able to hold down a full-time job. If you know me at all, I really don’t react well to being told I can’t do something… Even if I can’t.

With a few weeks left till the end of my sublet lease, I managed to land a job doing help desk work for an IT consulting company. I was a full-time outsourced IT professional, responsible for fixing everyone’s computers and printers. Well, this was going to be interesting, because I had 0 tech background! It was basically the realm of, “Oh, you want me to fix your Outlook problem? What’s Outlook?”

I figured I’ll give it a try, and if it didn’t work out, I’ll just quit and go home. I was at the end of my rope, so I was willing to try anything at this point. Turns out, this was one of the best “Oh shucks. Just do it!” decisions I’d ever made!

I began the job at $14/hour, which roughly translates to a salary of $25,000/year. After 3 months of probation period, they promised to up my salary to $37,000/year. Coming from $300/week, that sounded like a heap of riches.

Reality quickly set in once I began receiving the direct deposits. After taxes, there really wasn’t much left over. I began tutoring in the evenings, and throughout the next 2 years, was tutoring up to 3 times a week, bringing in $1,000/month at my peak.

Honestly, I find it a bit despicable that the first company I worked for would offer such a low salary knowing full well the cost of living in New York City, taking advantage of a newly-transplanted/newly-working young adult who had no concept of what a livable wage is. But despite the extremely low salary, they took a chance on me to start my career, so I can’t be too upset. And I think the reason why I began to be so money conscious was because of my low salary, which kick started this whole FI journey.

In the upcoming 2 years, I switched jobs twice, receiving substantial pay raises each time. The first time, I went from $37,000/year to $50,000/year. The second time, I got $60,000/year. After almost 2 years working at my current company, I received a promotion and a pay raise, bringing my current pay to $75,000/year.

Salary Changes 2014-2018

  • December 2014: $25,000
  • March 2015: $37,000
  • October 2015: $50,000 (Job Change)
  • June 2016: $52,500
  • December 2016: $60,000 (Job Change)
  • December 2018: $75,000 (Promotion)

Sick Again

In August, 2017, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an auto-immune disorder. I began oral chemotherapy treatment immediately after, and began spending exuberant amount of money going to and front specialist appointments which dropped in at around $350 per 15 minute appointment, and getting blood tests done every few weeks that were $200-300 each.

The full-disability rate with Rheumatoid Arthritis is pretty high, because you are in constant chronic pain and you lose mobility. I was very rapidly losing my mobility as my range of motion shrank almost daily. It was a struggle to even get out of bed, open my bedroom door, or brush my hair, as my joints were locked up and I was in constant excruciating pain.

It was one of those kinds of pain where you begin to wonder if you couldn’t just chop off that limb to be free of it, but then realize almost every limb and joint is affected, so you’d be left with none at the end.

Losing your ability to use your hands and feet, joint by joint, is horrifying. You are slowly robbed of any independence you had, and begin to realize how inaccessible the world and your daily life is. You can’t just open any can or bag of food you want. You can’t go up the stairs. You can’t open the door. You can’t brush your teeth. You can’t lift the pot to boil water. You can barely open the fridge. But you do. Because you live independently, and there’s no one to do it for you.

I went to work every day, drugging myself with copious number of pain killers. I needed insurance to get treatment so I can live a functional life (though at that point, we didn’t know if my body would react well to the chemo drugs). To have insurance, I needed a full-time job. To keep a full-time job, I had to keep on going to work, 8 hours work, 2 hours commute, every day.

And I took it in with glee. Through the pain, I was thankful I was still able to work. Still able to have semblance of normalcy through it all. Because I was acutely aware of the fact that I might not even be able to do that soon.

I realized then that I needed a back-up plan. I couldn’t expect that I will just work for 40 years and retire. I didn’t have the luxury of complaining about having to “work forever.” I might not be able to work at all soon.

I needed to make myself into the kind of person who can work from anywhere, in any capacity, and even if I couldn’t leave my bed. I needed to mold myself with skillsets that would allow me to work remotely, and in many capacities in order to support myself.

And moreover, I needed to put myself into a financial situation where I can take breaks to recover or rest from whatever medical crisis I was facing at the time, and not have to worry about my financial security.

I didn’t take any time off to deal with my medical issues when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I couldn’t afford to, and I needed my insurance. I knew then that I needed to create a safety net for myself.

Finding the FIRE Community

In the beginning of 2018, I decided that enough was enough, and that I was going to try to figure out how to setup my financial security so that the next time some crisis hit, I was prepared, I could allow myself to rest, and I won’t have to be worrying about how to pay my medical bills or rent.

I set an arbitrary goal of having Net Worth of $100,000 by my 30th birthday, which was coming up in a year and a half. I honestly didn’t think it would happen, but I figured, “Dream big!”

I quickly found the FIRE Community, and was shocked to find that there were people out there, like me, who wanted to… TALK ABOUT MONEY!

No one around me wanted to talk about money. It was a taboo. Everyone didn’t have it, and everyone had it. And no one wanted to talk about it. I’d always wanted to talk about money. How I’m saving, what I’m doing to save money… But no one wanted to talk about it.

But here I was, with a click of a button, surrounded by hundreds – if not thousands – of people who were interested in talking about money. I dived right in, and in February, 2018, began learning about the FIRE movement.

Early Retirement? Me? That didn’t sound like something that was possible for me, living on $60,000/year in New York City.

But people from all income and walks of life seemed to be doing it. And a large portion of people who have succeeded seemed to be doing something quite different…

They were rejecting the “norm” and living “their” life, shaped by their values. This was a novel ideal for me. You mean to say, I don’t have to continue working for 40+ years in corporate America because it’s what I’m “supposed” to do?

I was intrigued. And I began to join in on the conversations, make amazing friends, and learn so much.

6 Figure Club

In August, I had reached my $100k Net Worth milestone, 10 months ahead of schedule. And in 2018, I managed to save $33,000 (take home and 401K combined) with a $60,000 salary.

2019 is starting out with just as many exciting goals and plans, and I decided to start this blog to be able to better keep track of my thoughts, dreams, and financial milestones.

You might be a new visitor, or a long-time friend from Twitter. Regardless, welcome, and I hope you’ll join me in my journey to finding Financial and Life Freedom!

With Love,
Zero

Comments

  1. Abigail @ipickuppennies.net

    I dunno about a long-time friend from Twitter, but hopefully newer ones count too because that’s me!

    I hope at some point you’ll go more in-depth about the brain surgery since you had to kind of gloss over it here, given everything else you had to catch us up on.

    Way to go with your savings — looking forward to seeing more in the future!

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      zero

      Hehehe I think you’re a new-ish but cool friend!!! I don’t know why I wasn’t following you earlier! (I’m a bad follower haha.)
      Yeah I just have so much shennanigans going on, and I’ve talked a lot about my brain surgery elsewhere, but I think it’ll definitely be a topic to write about… Because it profoundly changed my life and impacted the way I think and act… And really drove the mortality thing to a 22 year old. Hehe.
      THANKS FOR BEING THE FIRST COMMENTER!!!! YOU GET GOLD STAR!!

  2. Moriah Joy

    Oh my gosh, I am so excited about your blog! And thanks for being so honest about WHY you wanted fire. I love that you acknowledge that working until your dead is a luxury. That thought hadn’t even occurred to me… But you’re so, SO right. And I think being sensitive and understanding about that is a huge part of life. So thanks! And again, YAY FOR THE BLOG LAUNCH!!

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      Zero

      Thank you for coming by!! I’m so excited to finally have somewhere to put down my thoughts and progress! 😀 And yes- it’s something most people don’t consider because we don’t WANT to work for that long… But the flip side is that if we can’t, then we are screwed! I need to get my ducks in order before that happens! Whenever that may be!

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      Zero

      You get a silver start! JK You can also have a gold star 😉 And yeah… When I look back at the hard numbers, it’s pretty remarkable! And yet I still feel so “low income” compared to my peers. It’s a never ending cycle! LOL.

  3. Fretful Finance

    Really interesting to hear your story. My sister was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition a few years ago that meant she lost her job and had to start a new, more flexible career from scratch.

    It has really brought home the need to get to FI (or at least diversify my income) as soon as possible. It’s a genetic condition that I have too to a milder degree but it could get worse.

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      Zero

      Yeah. Chronic pain and chronic illnesses, especially with its ups and downs that we can predict, makes it really difficult to hold down a regular job :/ I want to be prepared for it when the time comes… Hope you’ll also find FI before your condition worsens!!

  4. Ms Mod

    Oh my gosh I am so excited to read about your journey! Been following on twitter for the past few months and am so happy you started this blog. Looking forward to learning more about how you kept increasing that income and how you reached that 6 digit goal 10 months earlier than planed.
    Cheers Zero!

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      Zero

      Thank you so much!! I’m so excited to have a blog now. I’ve been trying to convince myself for a year that I don’t need one… But I couldn’t lie to myself any longer! Hah! 😉

  5. PhiaFreedom101

    Wonderful post 🙂 congratulations on taking the plunge and starting the blog! It sounds like you have come a long way in a short period of time – just imagine what you can accomplish in the coming years!!! Very excited for you 🙂

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  6. Pingback: How I Live on $1,500/mo in NYC – Walking to FIRE

  7. TreasureTrooper

    Looking forward to following your “accelerated” journey to meeting even more of your personal and life goals. Sometimes the journey is the true treasure of life, right? You chronicling this will help inspire many and also help others already on the path stay personally motivated. Fight on!

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      Zero

      As they say, destination is just half the journey! Or something. I’ve definitely learned a lot more valuable lessons in life from the process of getting somewhere rather than attaining the specific goal. I hope this blog will serve to be a record of my next few years trying to find out the “why” and “what” to my life!

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