Ahhh, the Australian dream of owning a home. And not any home – a free-standing house on a decent-sized block is what it’s all about.
I have to say that it took me a while to get used to the Australian obsession with buying houses, upgrading and upsizing.
In Europe, it is it’s the norm for people to buy a home once they are ready to settle down and then stay there for the next 40+ years. Also, apartment living is not something that people only do if they can’t afford a house, it’s often a lifestyle choice made to be closer to amenities and fewer chores to worry about.
And while Mr. Flamingo and I have decided to bite the bullet and buy a house for our family, a part of me still isn’t sure it’s the right choice for us. I just love the low-maintenance, lock-up-and-go lifestyle we currently enjoy.
That’s why I was very intrigued when I heard that Alison, one of the members of our Alternative FI Strategies FB community recently decided to sell her family home and move her blended family of six into an apartment on the Central Coast just outside of Sydney. What is more, the family also own a second home (a townhouse) in Byron Bay and now dual-live between the two properties.
Alison has a fulfilling portfolio career and recently took a 6-month sabbatical. She is a seasoned property investor and plans to semi-retire over the next few years.
I love stories of people in the FI community who custom-design their lives around their priorities and what works best for them, not what is “normal”, so I wanted to find out more.
In this interview, we chat about
- Why Alison’s family decided to sell their big house
- Alison’s journey to financial independence
- What she got up to during her recent sabbatical
- Plans for semi-retirement
- Alison’s portfolio career and pro-bono work
- Tips for families who are considering downsizing
Let’s get started!
Q1: Hi Alison, please tell us a little about yourself and your family!
We are a blended family of six, and my partner and I are in our mid-40s.
Our main residence is in a regional beach town outside of Sydney. However, because we both work remotely, we’re in the fortunate position of dividing our time between there and Byron Bay. We own properties in both towns.
Our kids range from 12 to 16, and we share care with our exes, so we have the kids every second week.
I work part-time in a digital agency I founded 12 years ago. We have always been a remote company and have about 25 staff working from home around the clock. My partner and I also run a small consultancy on the side.
We both like to get outside, and my partner surfs. I also really enjoy reading and learning and am constantly taking some sort of short course or program. I do a bit of pro bono work, and we’ve just started volunteering when we can find the time too.
Q2: When did you first find out about Financial Independence? What has your FIRE journey been like so far?
My journey with money started when I was very young. I read a book on building wealth through property by Jan Somers and pretty much went straight out and bought my first unit in Sydney when I was 21. The latest property I sold is property #8.
I didn’t find out about the FI/RE concept until a few years ago, but I’d been working towards wealth building and forms of financial independence for over twenty years at that stage, so I was quite far along on the journey.
It didn’t take me long in my research to find Money Flamingo and see it as a great fit because I do enjoy business and working. Just not all the time.
Like many, I worked incredibly hard to “get ahead”. I realised that if I didn’t step off the treadmill, all I’d have achieved was working harder than everyone else. I’m not one for details, so I don’t pore over the spreadsheets. I’m more of a big-picture type of person. I run some numbers, it all looks good, and I just keep going.
Q3: You recently took a sabbatical. Why did you decide to take some time off? What did you get up to during your break?
In 2021 I decided to take a 6-months sabbatical because I finally had an incredible senior team in place in my business which made it possible. They co-share leadership of the company, so I knew between the three of them, the company would continue to thrive.
I did this during the time I was blending families with my partner, so it allowed me time to manage to move and set up a side business with my partner.
During my sabbatical, I continued pro-bono work. The break also allowed me to pursue a lot of interests, one of which is learning about impact investing, as I’m particularly passionate about using capital to solve the world’s most pressing issues. I also did an online permaculture course. I’m not great at sitting still!
After the sabbatical from my business, I decided to go back part-time as a result of its success.
Q4: You also decided to change your living situation radically. Tell us more about this decision and your current living arrangements.
The big leap we’ve taken is selling our family home on the Central Coast – that we only bought 18 months ago – and downsizing to a flat that used to be an investment property. So we now live between the flat and our townhouse in Byron Bay.
We had accidentally trialled small living during the COVID lockdown, and we really enjoyed having a small space and the change it made to our family dynamics.
So we took the leap, renovated the flat and sold the house for 43% more than we’d paid for it.
We love that now we have two low-maintenance properties that are easy “lock and leaves”. Don’t get me wrong, we both love gardening, fixing and making things we just don’t want to be overwhelmed by an exhausting list of must-dos instead of want-to-dos. That sort of sums up semi-retirement, doesn’t it? It’s about choice, not necessity.
Another thing we love about our living situation is that our properties are very ‘walkable’. They are close by to shops and amenities as the ease of being on foot or riding makes for a much more carefree existence. It also means one car is more than adequate.
Q5: How will downsizing to an apartment impact your plans for Financial Independence?
We’re on the home stretch and will transition to semi-retirement over the next 3-5 years. We love dual-living between the two properties. So instead of taking an income from one of them, which we could do now, we’re continuing to work whilst raising our ever-hungry teens.
Q6: What advice would you give other families that are considering downsizing their living space?
I would trial living in a small space to see how you like it. An extended holiday is a good time because you’re with each other 24/7. We trialled it during lockdown with everyone homeschooling.
If you can downsize but live close to amenities – you can treat public spaces like your backyard and extend the space you have access to!
Remember that Australians live in some of the largest houses in the world and ask yourself what “space” is giving you. Is it alone time you could seek through walks or yoga? Is it space to buy more things as a proxy for happiness?
Q7: What is your plan – for life, retirement, etc. – for the next 10-20 years?
I’d love for my partner and I to semi (or fully) retire by 2026 when my partner is 50. His parents passed away when he was very young, so we are both acutely aware that every day is not to be taken for granted.
Our plan is to relocate to Byron when the kids have grown up.
Unless I learn to sit still, I anticipate being busy. We try to volunteer now, so we look forward to having more time to do that. I’m keen to regenerate our backyard and make a nice garden, travel Australia and overseas more – although I’m really mindful of the climate impact.
I can see myself still consulting with businesses on their sustainability, reading and learning, leaning into my impact investing and being able to enjoy our (nearly all) adult children. Being in this position is unquestionably a privilege, so I’m always looking to how I can use that position to benefit others and the earth.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Alison!
Alison has clearly nailed the lifestyle design part of the Financial Independence puzzle. I find her story inspiring. It is obvious that she is living in the green zone and enjoys how she works and lives.
I think this is a fantastic example of someone making choices and custom-building their ideal life long before they hit their magic number. Amazing things can happen when people decide to “step off the treadmill” as Alison calls it.
Her portfolio career will give Alison lots of options once she semi-retires. She could wind everything back equally orgive up one of her businesses and do more volunteering or pro bono work. Or, given that she is passionate about learning new things, she could start a new venture in a different field.
I love the family’s dual living setup. Back in Europe, I used to dual-live in two different cities for a year really enjoyed having two home bases. I lived in one city and worked in the other and decided I didn’t want a long commute, so I rented a second apartment near my work. I wouldn’t do this now that I have young kids but it was great lifestyle-wise at the time.
Downsizing from a big house in order to live in two beautiful lifestyle locations sounds fantastic. Alison’s renovated apartment looks beautiful. Sure, the family got pretty lucky to make such a big capital gain in such a short amount of time. However, their awareness of what makes them happy is what allowed them to take action at the right time and capitalise on this opportunity.
It’s good to see that Alison prioritises enjoying her life and doing all the things she wants to do (including living in two beautiful locations) instead of racing to semi-retirement and FIRE. She has many passions and interests, so once the time to downshift comes for her, not much will change in her life – she’ll just have more time for the things she wants to pursue. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about!
What do you think about Alison’s story? Are downsizing and dual-living things you would consider?