I started pursuing FIRE — an acronym for "financial independence, retire early" — when I was 22 years old.
It was 2016, and I was making $15 an hour as a marketing associate. I knew it would be many more years until I'd achieve my goal of having a $1 million net worth in my 30s, but I was ready to hunker down.
I embraced frugality and shopped at thrift stores. I waitressed on weekends. I boosted my income by switching jobs. I invested my money wisely.
All that has paid off immensely. I'm on track to meet my goal by 2029, when I turn 35. In August this year, I reached a net worth of $282,000 (via my investment accounts, including my 401(k), Roth IRA and HSA, along with cash in my checking and savings accounts).
But one of the biggest unexpected benefits of my FIRE plan happened this summer: I was able to afford a month-long trip to Europe.
I visited seven countries — Iceland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Denmark, Norway and Sweden — and spent less than $2,800 on the entire trip. Here's how I did it:
1. I developed the confidence to negotiate.
Like so many companies, my employer made a big push to bring people back into the office.
So naturally, I was nervous about negotiating with my bosses for this trip. I worried that they would question my loyalty, or that I might miss out on work opportunities by taking time off.
But ultimately, I knew that if I lost my job, I'd still have a financial cushion. Thanks to my money-saving efforts, I had enough in my savings to cover living expenses for at least eight years.
I drafted a comprehensive request for two weeks of paid time off, and 12 days of working abroad. I came prepared with details and points about why my bosses wouldn't have to worry, and how much value I brought to the company.
2. I prioritized what really mattered to me.
Knowing what you want to experience the most — and spending your money on it — is a key component of financial independence.
During my Europe trip, I realized that it was important for me to fill my emotional tank with things I love, like art and architecture.
So I budgeted accordingly and bought tickets in advance for castle and museum visits, and taking a chairlift ride over scenic mountains.
My trip was made all the sweeter because I had a clear and specific itinerary that I had planned ahead of time. I didn't have to fight crowds of other tourists or wait in lines or get sidetracked at luxury stores and spending money on things that didn't matter to me.
3. I learned how to find great deals from the FIRE community.
The most valuable thing I learned from people in the FIRE community (via blogs, online forums and YouTube videos) was how to maximize my credit card points.
I booked over $1,400 worth of flights and hotels with the points I earned from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I booked low-cost Airbnbs in advance and only brought carry-ons, which saved me hundreds of dollars in luggage fees.
Getting flights via credit card points meant I had leftover money to visit more places, such as Aarhus, Denmark and Bergen, Norway.
4. I adapted quickly to last-minute changes.
Throughout my trip, I found myself having to deal with several unexpected changes, like a tour cancellation in Iceland. I also had only a few days to find a new place to stay in Oslo when my Airbnb fell through.
In the past, my default would have been to panic. But instead, I took a breath and looked at my options.
My first thought was no longer "How will I be able to afford something else so last-minute?" Now, I simply ask myself: "What is the best alternative I can do at the last minute?"
In Norway, I booked several different stays, and even though it meant a lot of luggage-moving, I ended up seeing more of what I had planned to. In Iceland, I sprung to explore even more of Reykjavik, including seeing the city from their waterfall church, checking out the opera house, and trying some fermented shark.
Darcy is the founder of personal finance website We Want Guac. She won a Plutus Award for Best Generational Financial Literacy Content and has been featured across multiple publications and podcasts, including MarketWatch and ChooseFI. Follow her Twitter and Instagram.
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