Claudia and I met a little over five years ago. I moved away from Michigan back in 2009 for a fresh start and some new opportunities. The economy at the time was absolutely terrible, and it was particularly scary doing what I was doing where I was doing it. I was working in the auto industry just outside Metro Detroit. I couldn’t have written it better had I tried.
So I was fired from the car dealership I was working at at the time. I found out later that the service manager that let me go was ousted himself not long thereafter. It was just a tough industry in a tough place at a tough time.
But I was already looking south anyway. Florida beckoned to me. It offered a better economy and a healthier auto industry.
More importantly, my brain was giving birth to new ideas. A new life seemed to be out there waiting for me to find it. I felt there was simply more to life than the rat race. I was still trapped inside Plato’s cave, but the chains of bondage were starting to become noticeably heavy. It was time to lighten the load.
A Fresh Start
Florida offered a new beginning. No state income taxes meant I could keep more of what I made. The beaches offered free entertainment. And the warm weather meant it would be easier to limit indoor climate control (we keep our apartment at 77 degrees in the summer and rarely run heat during the winter). I also had an idea that it might be possible to live without a car down here, and it’s a lot easier to stand at a bus stop when it’s 80 degrees outside rather than 20.
I found a room in Clearwater for rent advertised on Craigslist. I called the number listed while still living in Michigan. Luckily, the homeowner was originally from Michigan as well. So we clicked right away and he was okay with me driving straight from Michigan to Florida with all my stuff (what little I owned) in tow and then moving in on the spot. Well, as long as I had a check for rent and deposit with that stuff.
I lived in this small room for two months before moving on to Sarasota, which is really where I wanted to be anyway. I found an apartment complex that was in all honesty still too expensive for my transitioning lifestyle, but I’m glad I made the mistake of moving there. On my very second day of living there I spent some time down at the pool where I met a woman that was substantially older than me, but was also incredibly sweet.
Just What I Needed
I hadn’t dated seriously in more than three years at this time. The last two relationships directly before Claudia were utter disasters full of way too much drama. So I decided to take a break from dating so as to improve my character judgement skills while also avoiding the headaches.
But I suppose just like Florida was a fresh start economically and psychologically, Claudia was a fresh start emotionally and physically. She was seventeen years older than me, and hence much more mature than the other women I had previously dated. There was no pretension, just a woman who was genuine, honest, and sweet.
We started dating not long after our meeting down at the pool, and how cheap and convenient it was that we lived in the same apartment complex. I could just walk right over to her apartment and see her. We were off to a rather frugal start!
It’s interesting how Claudia has been with me since the beginning, so she’s witnessed the full transition. She knew me before I really figured everything out. I had all these ideas in my head, but I wasn’t sure how to execute everything. We would visit Sarasota’s main library branch downtown together where I would check out books like “Your Money or Your Life”. Things were changing slowly but surely.
But Claudia knew me and loved me when I was still broke. In fact, I was less than broke when we first met. I was worth a negative amount of money, but she didn’t care. She only wanted my time, not my money. But it was then that I realized that if we wanted to spend more time together I’d have to figure out a way to work less.
So I had plenty of motivation pushing me toward this journey. My job was incredibly stressful and sucked up most of my waking hours, which provided this huge catalyst for me to try and get away from it. And now I had this sweet person in my life who wanted to spend time I didn’t have. My ideas were becoming more powerful, and I was gaining confidence not only in the validity of these ideas, but also in my ability to correctly execute them. So in early 2010 I put my first real capital to work. I haven’t looked back since.
A Supportive And Like-Minded Partner
I’m lucky. I’ve taken Claudia for granted in the past, most notably when I tried to strong-arm her into following me back up to Michigan. But through it all she’s been incredibly supportive of what I’ve been doing and what I’ve slowly become. Claudia doesn’t necessarily share my convictions in regards to investing for financial independence, but she does share my frugal tendencies.
She takes the bus to work. She packs sandwiches for lunch. She’s a loyal and aggressive user of coupons and sales. She paints artwork for the apartment so we can decorate our walls for nearly free. And like me, she doesn’t need to spend money to have fun. She loves cooking, so staying home and eating a good meal she cooked provides more value to her than eating out at a restaurant (although, she does enjoy the occasional night off). And neither of us are the type to hit the town on the weekends. I’m naturally a bit introverted and I don’t drink, while she enjoys a simple glass of wine on the couch. Perhaps most importantly, neither of us sees our home as a status symbol. We both agree that a roof over our heads is utilitarian by nature, and thus frees us from the desire to keep up with the Joneses by occupying a space far bigger or more expensive than we really need. Our $925 two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot apartment that is about non-fancy as it gets (no granite, old appliances, stained carpeting) suits the two of us and her son just fine.
The Greatest Investment
I’ve made a lot of great investments in my time, and each and every one of these investments has paid substantial dividends. Investments in companies like General Dynamics Corporation (GD), Harris Corporation (HRS), Phillips 66 (PSX), and Southside Bancshares Inc. (SBSI) have all just about doubled my cost basis or better, while paying out substantial dividends in the interim.
But I have made what I feel is the greatest investment thus far.
Yesterday, Claudia and I commemorated the fifth anniversary of our very first date back on October 25, 2009. There have been some ups and downs over the course of five years, but certainly by far more ups than downs. I surprised her by scheduling a trip to the local Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which is somewhere Claudia has always wanted to go but I always avoided due to my opinion that $19 per person was way too much money to look at plants. And it’s not because I’m cheap or dislike plants, but because I know I can compound that same $38 many times over, thus creating a nice source of dividend income all by itself.
However, it was a special occasion. And Claudia is a huge nature lover – we have many plants that occupy most of our apartment’s balcony space.
So I took the opportunity next to a beautiful Koi pond that was fed by a rather large waterfall to ask Claudia to marry me.
And she said yes!
We’re both very, very excited about this new beginning. And I know this investment will pay far more dividends than the entirety of my portfolio. While I’m fairly confident that The Coca-Cola Company (KO) will pay out cash dividends for the next 20 years and beyond, I’m even more confident that this marriage will pay substantial figurative dividends for the rest of our lives.
This proposal comes even though I’m not a big fan of the idea of marriage. I’ve always thought it was an outdated business model. I can see the usefulness and relevancy of marriage in the context of religion, or a few hundred years ago when there was a need to combine assets and survive.
But I looked at marriage from a pragmatic point of view, for better or worse. And to me it seemed like a way to simply involve the legal system in my relationship, which is something I didn’t desire. And the thought of marriage indicating any type of permanency seemed to be way out of line if the divorce rates of ~50% or so here in the US were any indication.
So when Claudia and I first met I was open about two things: I didn’t have a desire to have children and I didn’t want to get married. We were on the same page. And we’ve been blissfully on that same page for the most part of our five years together.
But my recent sojourn in Michigan, however, caused Claudia to question that original thesis. And I can’t say I blame her. Would marriage have caused me to alter that plan? Probably so.
I realized that marriage isn’t about me at all. It’s about her. And although she was willing to subdue her desire to be more than “boyfriend and girlfriend” (I’ve always called her my partner), I also knew that deep down inside she always wanted to be husband and wife. And if I loved her as much as I tell her I do, could I not give her that gift? Could I not make the sacrifice?
I guess I decided that she was worth far more than that sacrifice. She was worth me going back on a promise I made to myself way back in high school that “I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever get married.”
I’ve given her security, peace of mind, and, to me, the ultimate sacrifice. But she’s worth all of it.
So our plan is to get married in April, just before her 50th birthday. And we’ll do it in our usual frugal way: We’re going to schedule a trip down to the local courthouse and for less than $100 we’ll be declared husband and wife. No expensive ceremony here, which is something we both agree on wholeheartedly.
And we are planning on something truly wonderful and unique. Nothing concrete yet, but we intend on traveling to Omaha, Nebraska for our “honeymoon” next May to attend the annual Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.B) shareholders’ meeting! I’m super excited. And before anyone starts rolling their eyes at me, this was actually Claudia’s idea for the most part. I’ve been dropping hints that I might want to go to the meeting in 2015 to fulfill a dream, and it just so happens the date works out to be just after our ceremony. We kind of mutually thought it might be great to combine everything all at once. We’re going to celebrate Claudia’s birthday, our honeymoon, my birthday, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day and (insert holiday here) all at once! Besides, we both agree that it’s not where we go, but who we’re with. Being together is what matters most. So Claudia is being extremely sweet and generous here with this suggestion.
And since I list all expenses here on the blog, it would be remiss of me to not discuss the ring itself. I purchased it specifically since it’s designed to look very similar to Duchess Catherine’s engagement ring – Claudia is an admirer of the royal family, and the ring. It’s an oval blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. Claudia had no part in picking it out, and it was a complete surprise for her. But she absolutely loves it, if her texts to everyone she knows with a picture of the ring attached is any evidence. Anyway, the ring cost me $1,487. I’m going to amortize the cost of the ring out at $200 per month until it’s completely accounted for. This new temporary expense almost assuredly means I won’t meet my 50% savings goal for the year, but if anything could possibly be worth missing that goal it’s this.
We are now forging ahead as more than just domestic partners, and it’s very exciting. She has made a lot of what I’ve done possible and she’s been there to encourage me the entire time. She’s watched me blossom into the man I am today. I hope to share a bit more about Claudia at some point in the near future relating to her story, what it’s like to deal with someone like me, and what her financial plans are and how those plans relate to me and what I’m doing.
A new beginning, indeed.
Full Disclosure: Long GD, HRS, PSX, SBSI, KO, and Love.
What are your thoughts on marriage? A combination of bliss and hard work?
Thanks for reading.
Photo Credit: Moi