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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Interview with Jillian Johnsrud

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Billy and I were intrigued by this FIRE story for two reasons. One, Jillian and her husband, Adam decided early on to focus on the goal of financial independence together, and two, they are doing this while raising their five children.

In the early years before FIRE became well-known, people discounted this lifestyle saying it was only achievable if one didn’t have children. Meanwhile, we were seeing families traveling the world, doing home schooling, sailing in a boat and living geography, history and science. We saw the advantages of that chosen lifestyle for their children, but of course it wasn't our story.

So this was exciting for us to be able to ask Jillian some questions because her answers could open up doors for our readers who have families. We want them to know this lifestyle is possible for them too.

If you have a family or would like to start one, and still want to FIRE, you will find this interview useful and inspiring.

The Jillian Johnsrud Family at Glacier National Park

Johnsrud Family at Glacier National Park

RetireEarlyLifestyle: Can you tell us a little about yourselves, and how old you are you?

Jillian Johnsrud: My husband and I (41/36 years old) live in Montana with our 5 kids (ages 3-11) and dog, Cheesy Taco. We left the 9-5 almost 4 years ago when we became FI. Now we travel, have fun with our kids, volunteer, garden and pursue passion projects. 

REL: What got you started investing and when?

Jillian Johnsrud: I married Adam when I was 19 and really focused on paying off our $55k in debt. That took about 2 years. Then we worked on an emergency fund. I was really nervous to invest so we just kept saving cash. I was probably 22 or 23 when we opened our first Roth IRA’s. 

REL: You decided early on in your marriage that you both wanted to work towards Financial Independence. Even though together as a couple you never earned 6 figures annually, you decided to save half of your income. How long did it take you to get where you are today? Do you consider yourselves to be FIRE’d?

Jillian Johnsrud: It took us from ages 19 to 32, so 13 years. We are FIRE’d depending on the day! We haven’t done a 9-5 job in almost 4 years, but boy, we do a LOT of stuff. We spend a lot of time camping and traveling (10-20 weeks a year) but when we are home, there are a lot of spinning plates. Most of that is just the nature of raising 5 young kids, but we also are part of a lot of projects. 

The Jillian Johnsrud Family skipping rocks at Flathead Lake, Montana

Family skipping rocks at Flathead Lake, Montana after picking cherries

 

 

 

REL: Besides having no debt, currently you have three sources of income on which to live: Your husband’s military pension, rental income from properties you own, and investments. Can you tell us more about this and how your portfolio is structured?

Jillian Johnsrud: Our finances are rather simple. 

Military pension: $1450 a month plus healthcare

Rentals: $1300 a month

Airbnb: $6,000 a year or $500 a month

4% from index funds: $830 a month (unused so far)

Plus occasional other long term rentals of our home when we travel. So monthly, we bring in just over $4,000 a month or $49,000 a year. 

REL: What do you budget annually for your FIRE lifestyle?

Jillian Johnsrud: Our basic expenses are about $2000 a month ($24,000 annually). We spend about $3,000-$5,000 a year traveling. We tracked every penny for two years and it came in at $27,000 a year average (not including our giving, which averages 10-20% of our income)

REL: You are one of the new generation of Early Retirees who are well versed in a digital lifestyle. How have you used this technology to enhance your Financial Independence?

Jillian Johnsrud: I think the biggest benefit is the access to information and community. There are so many people doing interesting and unique things out there and tools to enable all of it. 

REL: You say because you “lived on less” that forced you to become creative in your lifestyle and in your consumption choices. We like it that you emphasize fun for your children. Share with us more about your creativity-infused lifestyle.

Jillian Johnsrud: I think frugality is best paired with fun and easy. So we try to fill our lives with things that are affordable (or free), fun and easy. There is just less time for the most expensive things but our life is so full of things that we love. We traveled to over 20 European countries while we lived abroad. By driving and tent camping, we could stretch our budget, slow travel and get off the beaten path. 

Jillian Johnsrud at Flathead Lake, Montana

Jillian Johnsrud at Flathead Lake, Montana

REL: How did you involve your children in your FIRE dream?

Jillian Johnsrud: We are trying to really lean into each season with our kids. Now right we are focused on doing a lot of camping - National Parks and US travel - because I can already feel that season closing on us. Our FIRE dream is always changing as our kids get older. 

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REL: How are you teaching your children about Financial Independence, the power of compounding, how money works, and self-sufficiency?

Jillian Johnsrud: I feel like we constantly have to make the point that our lives and how we live aren’t normal. Not every family gets to travel for months at a time or head to Disney last minute because they are tired from the cold. We try to make the connection that because we saved early and often, we have these choices now. 

REL: How will you handle your children’s education costs or perhaps a choice to go to college? 

Jillian Johnsrud: We start matching their Roth IRA funds when they start helping with our rental properties, around 10. I want them to have access to whatever option they want. No matter if that’s entrepreneurship, real estate, a 4-year degree or all of the above.  We have a great community college that’s affordable. I know college will be a good fit for a few of them, but I want to support them all equally, even if college isn’t the best choice. It will be a mix of 529 savings plan, Roth IRA and cash flow. 

REL: We love it that you use a lot of creativity in your purchasing choices. Tell us more about your “Dollar-per-pound” food costs, and how you give your family eating variety while utilizing this method. 

Jillian Johnsrud: It was an easy way for us to lower our food cost without much planning or stress. (frugality is best when it’s fun and easy!) We came up with about 20 meals that are mostly $1 a pound or less foods. They are easy to make, healthy, and everyone likes them. I always encourage people to start by finding just one of those meals, then add a new one each week. Then if you add in a few splurges, it won’t blow the budget. 

The Jillian Johnsrud Family at Glacier National Park

Johnsrud Family at Glacier National Park

REL: We’d like to know about your style of “keeping the kid-cost down.” For instance, I noticed that you buy big lots of clothing for a fun, at-home shopping experience. Tell us about this, and also do you have other tips to share?

Jillian Johnsrud: We focus on family experiences instead of individual ones. Not only does it keep the cost down, but is way less stressful! We also don’t buy toys. I just can’t handle the constant overflow of stuff. So we buy one or two gifts for birthdays or Christmas. Outside of that, they have to use the money they have earned. We almost never eat out because with 5 little kids it’s NOT easy or fun. But we go out for ice cream or donuts. 

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REL: Jillian, you mentioned that when you travel as a family, one of the ways you “pay for your trip” is to rent out your home while you are gone. Please give us some insight into this, and also, tell us how you prepare your home for strangers to live there. Where do you advertise or how do you find reputable people to stay in your home? 

Jillian Johnsrud: We have listed our home on Craigslist for long-term renters and had really good success. I do a Skype interview with them beforehand. We have also used Airbnb. Airbnb is a lot more prep but also brings in more income. 

REL: What has been your greatest challenge on your road to Early Retirement? Your biggest lesson?

Jillian Johnsrud: It was lonely not having other people who understood the journey or could encourage us. Instead, most people didn’t really get why we were being frugal. 13 years is a long time before anyone saw the benefit. It’s one of the reasons I do so many FI community building projects. It’s the thing I missed most.  

The Jillian Johnsrud Family trip to Disneyland

Johnsrud family trip to Disneyland

 

 

 

REL: What do you do about healthcare for your family?

Jillian Johnsrud: We get healthcare through my husband’s military retirement. It’s still our 2nd or 3rd biggest expense. 

REL: We know when we left the working world in 1991, our idea of Financial Independence was very out-of-the-box. Family, friends, and peers projected their fears onto us and let us know of their disapproval. I understand that you went through some of that as well, even having an investment advisor challenge your statement of net worth, thinking you were lying.

How do you personally deal with the criticism from others that you receive? And very importantly, how do you explain peer pressure in a positive fashion for your children to develop a strong sense of self?

Jillian Johnsrud: It took me a long time to come to terms with that. It boiled down to the fact that it was OK if not everyone understood and it was OK if they didn’t like it. It wasn’t my job to fix either of those if the person wasn’t interested in understanding or being happy for my happiness. 

As for our kids, we give them a lot of space to express their own personality and pursue their own interests. Not overcrowding their schedule with group activities really helps give them the space to do that without the constant pressure to conform. Plus with 5 kids, I really don't have the energy to be overbearing.

If they want to wear a funky, odd outfit, I can't police all those choices. We let them explore whatever topic catches their interest, either by finding library books (coding for kids and raising rats were the last two), tutorials on Youtube (ballet, karate, funny science experiments, and magic tricks these last few weeks) or buying some basic supplies on Amazon (tutus, wood carving knife, playing cards for magic tricks).

Doing so much travel and family activities also gives them a safe place to be curious about the world and who they are in it. Our family is a team first. Any person or activity we bring into that has to support and add value to the whole team. That goes for parents and kids.

REL: After almost 30 years of FIRE, we have often found that “less is more.” We understand that your family has “leaned into minimalism” as well. Does anyone ever feel “deprived”? How do you explain this concept to your children so that it is happily embraced by them? 

Jillian Johnsrud: I started doing a 3x3 toy minimalism with my kids where they could each keep 3 toys out for 3 days at a time. They couldn’t manage more than that. Making them responsible for cleaning up their toys was a huge help. 

Jillian Johnsrud at Flathead Lake, Montana

Jillian Johnsrud at Flathead Lake, Montana

REL: What advice would you give to someone considering Early Retirement?

Jillian Johnsrud: Don’t get overwhelmed by your FI number or full retirement. Start by getting out of debt, saving an emergency fund, and that first 100k. Slowly use the financial freedom you're building to make your life better. Grow into your ideal FI lifestyle. 

REL: How do you contribute to the world?

Jillian Johnsrud: I was always passionate about adoption. I felt that if a child was in a bad situation, giving them two loving, supportive, healthy parents was the greatest gift one person could give another. We have adopted 4 kids from foster care and have two bio kids. They are my greatest life work. 

REL: What are your greatest passions in life?

Jillian Johnsrud: I’m passionate about seeing people find their agency to change their lives! I grew up in a tough situation but every day after school I watched Oprah. She gave me the courage to hope life could be different. I want to do that for others. 

REL: Tell us about your greatest personal success, not necessarily finance related.

Jillian Johnsrud: Being in a happy, healthy marriage after 17 years. 

REL: How can our readers learn more about FIRE-ing with children? 

Jillian Johnsrud: I have 150+ posts on my site and a 10-day free video course about intentional living. 

We at RetireEarlyLifestyle would like to thank Jillian for taking her time to answer all of our questions, and for sharing her practical advice on reaching FIRE with a family.

It can be done, and it can be done with FUN!

For more great interviews and retirement advice, click on these pages: Successful Retirees and Captivating Characters and Retirement Issues

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About the Authors

 
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

contact Billy and Akaisha at theguide@retireearlylifestyle.com

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