Location-independent income and long-term travel are definitely on the top 10 list of answers I get when I ask people what their plans are for their transition to a FI lifestyle and/or semi-retirement.
In today’s interview we hear from Emma, a fellow mum and blogger who recently semi-retired. She is currently travelling Southeast Asia and Europe with her family and works part-time in her location-independent online business.
The interview covers:
- Emma’s debt-free journey and path to financial independence and semi-retirement
- Why Emma decided to create location-independent income for her family
- Emma’s website business and how she manages it while travelling
- Longer-term travel with kids
- Managing kids’ schooling away from home
- Emma’s top tips and resources for pursuing FIRE and starting a location-independent online business
Let’s dive right in!
Q1: Please tell us a little about yourself and your family!
My name is Emma Healey, and I’m a mum of two from New Zealand. I’ve just turned 40, my husband is 41 and my kids are 10 and 6.
We are currently travelling with our kids after saving and investing for years to reach financial independence. We just left Malaysia and are now spending time with family in Ireland.
My husband quit his job in January 2022, and I have an online business that sustains our living and travelling costs.
Q2: What motivated you to pursue Financial Independence?
I’ve been interested in money for as long as I can remember. I was the first of my friends to get an after-school job at 12 years old, and worked all through high school babysitting or in retail.
I’ve been earning and budgeting my own money since then and really enjoy working – even now, I am always scouring the job ads for part-time gigs I might want to do in the future. I simply have no interest in retiring early and doing nothing at all. But the financial independence side of things really appealed.
My big lightbulb moment was when my accountant advised me how much tax I needed to pay. I thought I was so clever, working as a sole trader to earn more money. But I hadn’t set aside a cent for tax. I’d spent it all. In fairness to me, I was only 22 at the time and had just moved to Australia on my own the year before. Living the party life in Sydney was expensive (but so fun and worth every cent), and even though I knew how to budget, I hadn’t put anything aside. I had no savings and a maxed-out credit card to my name.
I had to get a personal loan to pay the tax bill, which was a kick in the butt. I had to fill out all my financial information to qualify for the loan and realised then that I was actually doing pretty well for income, but my spending was through the roof.
I wanted to travel and needed to get my finances in order to do so. In total, I was around $30k in debt at that time.
I knew I could work hard, so I got a weekend job at JB Hifi and did my RSA [Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate] to work casually at gigs behind the bar. After about 18 months, I was free from consumer debt.
It was a long, hard road to realising that I could be a slave to my debt forever or I could change the narrative and become a master of my money. But I wouldn’t change it. I am now completely averse to consumer debt and never carry a credit card balance.
Once the debts were paid back, I redirected everything into savings and life started looking up. At this time, I had no idea about investing in anything other than property which soon became my obsession.
Q3: What did your investment journey look like after you became debt-free in your mid 20s?
All the work it took to become debt free changed my outlook completely. I began to question everything I had known to be true about money – that it was normal to be in debt for the things you wanted – cars, holidays, clothes, home appliances etc.
I realised exactly how much things cost because I’d been working seven days a week to pay them off. The realisation that my time was worth actual money was a bit of a lightbulb moment.
During the debt-free period, I started to read about money. Back then, there were no blogs, so I sat in the aisles of my local library and read everything I could on personal finance. My favourites were the property books by Jan Somers and Steve McKnight.
Property had been an interest of mine since my uncle explained to me how he’d made his money buying property in Western Australia in the 80s and 90s. At the time, lots of Aussies were flying over to New Zealand to buy cashflow-positive property, which was harder to achieve in Australia.
I thought I’d use my local knowledge to try to buy an investment property in New Zealand, as we were renting in Sydney’s eastern suburbs with no desire (or budget) to become homeowners in Australia. We were what would now be called rentvesters.
At the time, you could buy property with a 10% deposit, so saving around $15k was our goal, with a property purchase of $150k. It took about six months to save the deposit, and then I was on a plane back home.
I secured a property in a small town for $128,000NZD with a rental income of $230/week. That was the first purchase of what ended up being five investment properties.
Since discovering the FIRE movement in 2014, we have diversified into index funds. We now have a rule that we put our own money into the index funds, and the properties will pay themselves off. The properties all generate a profit, so we make extra repayments frequently using the debt snowball method, where we use the excess funds from the total portfolio to pay down one property at a time.
Our LVR across the portfolio is 39%, so we’re not too worried about recession and rising interest rates.
Q4: You run an online business that generates location-independent income and allowed you to semi-retire. Tell us more!
In 2015, we took a world trip with our eldest son and ended up living in Spain for a six-month period.
It was then that I had the idea of pursuing semi-retirement as I wanted to return to live in Spain. Working in Spain wasn’t really an option, so we needed to create a location-independent income.
FIRE appealed, but I didn’t have the patience to work full-time for ten years before calling myself FIRE’d, and I knew I’d always work on something part-time.
I threw everything I had into starting an online business. I took courses and read and studied everything I could get my hands on. My obsessive nature has really served me well in this regard. In the same way, I obsessed over property, the online business became my sole focus.
The business needed to cover our living costs and allow us to invest for the future. I could see the appeal of content websites as I’d always loved writing and would talk the ear off anyone who asked me about money.
I started a personal finance blog in 2014, a home improvement site in 2017 and a travel blog in 2018. I now run 10 websites that make approximately $15,000 per month in revenue with profit at around 80%. Plus, the websites are assets that can be sold so eventually I will sell some of the smaller sites and use the proceeds to either pay down debt or buy index funds.
This is more than enough to support our family. I could be making a lot more, but I am trying very hard not to become a workaholic.
The awesome Money Flamingo calculator made me realise that we will eventually get to full financial independence even if we stop being so aggressive with our contributions. It helped me to see that the business income combined with our rental properties and our small but growing index fund portfolio was enough. This gave us the security to declare semi-retirement.
Q5: What is involved in running these content websites? How do they generate income for you?
I won’t sugarcoat it – it’s bloody hard work, in the beginning, writing enough content to get monetised.
When you don’t have the budget to pay writers, you have to do it all yourself including research, writing, updating the website, adding images, publishing the posts and doing all the promotion (email, social sharing etc) and the admin on top. But that’s the same in any new small business.
Now that they are up and running, my day-to-day work involves researching new topics, assigning articles to writers, checking in with my assistant, responding to pitches from potential advertisers or affiliate partners and invoicing.
I’ve been able to manage to do about 15 hours per week while we’ve been travelling with the occasional all-day burst. When I’m home I try to only work between school hours.
My income is split 60/40 between affiliate income and advertising income. Affiliate marketing is when you refer a customer to a product or service and receive a commission for doing so. Advertising income is generated simply from traffic to your webpage. Readers don’t need to buy anything but will see ads in the content which is how the website owner gets paid.
The opportunities to earn with blogs or niche websites are endless but I am trying to put my family first by finding a balance between income earned and time spent working.
Q6: Which resources would you recommend for others who are interested in starting an online business to create location-independent income?
I write a lot about blogging and earning money online on the blog. I have a list of my top blogging courses here and a dedicated email list for people who just want blogging/niche website tips. It’s not just an American thing. There are loads of Aussies and Kiwis making money in this way.
I’ve heard good things about the E-Business Institute which is Australian (although I’ve not personally taken any of their courses). My personal favourite is The Fat Stacks Bundle by Jon Dykstra.
Q7: You are currently travelling with your husband and kids. What have your travels as a family been like so far? What are your plans for the future?
We’ve always travelled with the kids, but this time has been both easier and harder.
Easier because we are past the nap stage that would always occur right in the middle of our day and harder because our youngest is autistic and the constant transitions have been really hard on him.
There have been lots of tears – most of them from me! I wasn’t sure if I should share that, but the truth is that life is hard for everyone, and there will always be struggles. Eliminating our worries about money removes a big stressor from our lives so we can focus on our kids.
We slowed down our travels by renting an apartment in Penang for a month, which helped immensely, and we are now staying with family in Ireland, so things are slowly getting better.
We have two months left on our trip, so we plan to visit our beloved Spain again and spend Christmas in Europe before heading back to New Zealand in January.
After that, who knows? I imagine finding a home base in Europe will be our next step so we can have affordable travel opportunities and a home routine. It’s incredible to have the freedom to make such choices.
Q8: How are you managing your children’s schooling while you are travelling?
Our school’s principal was supportive of our decision to travel with the kids and has always been so enthusiastic about our adventures.
In terms of school work, we set out with the best of intentions and brought a load of workbooks and art supplies that have barely been touched.
Both kids have scrapbooks to document our adventures but most of our learning has been around emotions, mental health and neurodivergence due to the recent diagnosis of our youngest son.
I’m not overly concerned with the academics as they are both bright, curious boys but we read every day, play with Lego, watch YouTube, play Minecraft and spend as much time in nature as we can.
We do math games and they help me with the travel budget. Using multiple currencies and working out how far (or not) our money goes in different places has been an eye-opener for the 10-year-old.
We also learn while out and about in the world. In Ireland, there is a castle on nearly every corner so we drive around castle hunting and learn about the history of Ireland. In Phuket, we visited an elephant sanctuary where we saw the effects of elephant-riding first hand.
We tried Durian (yuck!) in Penang and went to Mars at the Scienceworks Planetarium in Melbourne. There are opportunities to learn everywhere.
The only struggle has been access to books. We are big library users at home, so not having access to a library in Southeast Asia was tough (we use Libby and Overdrive but it’s just not the same for kids’ books). Now that we’re in Ireland, I am loving having ready access to the library again.
In a few weeks, we are going to visit Pompeii so right now we are reading “I Survived: The Destruction of Pompeii”. We love the I Survived series of books.
Our eldest is interested in Ancient Egypt so we might plan a trip to Egypt soon.
There are tons of families and groups organising meetups and events for world schoolers all over the world. It’s so exciting for families who have the freedom to educate their kids this way.
Q9: What is one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started your journey towards FI and semi-retirement?
I think too much focus is put on the 4% rule.
I despaired over the idea that I had to save a million dollars in order to draw $40k a year. It felt so huge and basically futile.
Finding a way to earn that same amount while also doing all the stuff we want to do seems like a great middle ground. These days, earning $40k online is totally doable. Or you could earn $20k and save $500k. Or just do Flamingo FI and have the best of both worlds.
We won’t come close to having enough liquid investments to retire using the 4% rule until the traditional retirement age, and that’s ok. We’re still out here living our best life.
What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing your journey, Emma!
Emma’s story really shows that is totally possible to make big lifestyle changes and design a life on your own terms – even with kids and even if you make mistakes along the way. There is more than one way to skin the financial independence cat.
I completely agree with Emma’s comment that people focus too much on the 4% rule. There are many less extreme and more lifestyle-focused alternatives to the standard path to FI. This is especially true if you already know you will be working in some capacity for the foreseeable future and factor it into your plans.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know that I am a massive proponent of semi-retirement, especially with kids. Emma combined the semi-retirement lifestyle with location independence to be able to go travelling with her family, which is pretty cool.
Emma started an online business to generate location-independent income, which sounds like a really interesting option. There are now more remote working options available than ever before. Many employers offer completely remote or semi-remote positions these days. So longer-term travel could even be possible with a “normal” job, which might be a great alternative if you don’t want to take (or can’t afford) a mini-retirement.
I applaud Emma for taking the leap and going on this adventure with her family. The internet is full of stories of digital nomad and #vanlife stories. Not that there is anything wrong with that (quite the opposite!), but travelling longer-term with a family is a completely different ballgame than doing it on your own or with a partner.
I really appreciate Emma’s honesty when it comes to the challenges of travelling with kids. This is something I can really relate to. Life is not an Instagram highlight feed. Things get tough at times, but I’m sure it’s all worth it in the end and Emma’s kids will have life-long memories from their travels.
You can find out more about Emma on her blog, Mum’s Money. She shared her family’s actual numbers and some more details about their decision to semi-retire in this post. Emma is also an active member of the Semi-Retirement FB Community.