The story I want to share with you today encompasses many of the themes I write about on this blog: Alternative paths to Financial Independence, working part-time, and prioritising lifestyle, time freedom and family over career ambitions and chasing more money.
But this story also debunks some of the common beliefs in regard to financial independence:
- “Financial Independence is only for the privileged.”
- “You can’t reach FI living in a HCOL city like Sydney or Melbourne.”
- “Working less sounds nice, but it’s impossible to find a part-time role that pays well.”
Meet Lady CoastFIRE, a successful professional and doting mum who has nailed what we could call the “high-income part-time” path to FI. She is truly self-made and used a combination of extreme career ambition, intentionality and financial independence principles to achieve the perfect work-life balance after having her first baby.
In this little guest essay, Lady CoastFIRE discusses
- what it was like to grow up poor in a single-parent household
- how she learned to deal with adversity
- how she climbed the corporate ladder – from $6 an hour to over $200k (part-time!)
- becoming a parent and how it changed her mindset
- how she discovered financial independence and decided to take a slower path after reaching Coast FI
- finding a high-paying part-time job
- whether she has any regrets about working so hard to get to where she is today
- her best career tips
As most readers would know, your friend Mrs. Flamingo is many things, but an ambitious career woman is not one of them, so I think you will enjoy this one! 🙂
Over to you, Lady CoastFIRE!
I’m Lady CoastFIRE. I live in a major city on the East Coast of Australia. I was 35 when I reached Coast FI and started downshifting. I earn over $200k working three days per week in a senior corporate role. I plan to continue working three days a week indefinitely or until I choose to retire permanently.
I was raised by a single mother who didn’t speak English. I grew up in government housing in a socio-economically disadvantaged area of Australia. We lived frugally, and my mother often went without so my sibling and I could eat. I was very motivated to break the cycle of poverty. I started working at 14 while still in high school. My grades were good, but they weren’t stellar. I had to help pay the bills at home, but I always ensured that whatever money I was making, I was saving a vast majority.
The job market has never been easy for me to navigate, and I faced a lot of rejection from potential employers over the years. This rejection forced me to be resilient. I had to learn how I could differentiate myself from others to succeed in my career. There were a lot of tears and setbacks in my journey. I also felt like I had to put in a lot of hard work and long hours to play the “corporate game”. However, all these experiences to date have enabled me to get to the position I am in now.
Career and Salary Progression
Age 14-19: Casual Retail Job (From $6 per hour to $18 per hour)
While in high school, I applied to over 50 shops and got 49 rejections. It only takes one bite to start the journey, though. My time working in retail built up my communication skills with customers and people in general.
Age 19-21: Casual Office Job (From $18 to $25 per hour)
While I was studying at university, I applied for over 50 roles relevant to my degree. In the end, I got 49 rejections and one offer. I worked 20-30 hours a week and up to 40 hours during university holidays and towards the end of my degree. I wanted industry-relevant experience to differentiate myself from other job candidates. I commuted three hours (round trip) to this job.
Age 21-24: Graduate Position ($55k, later increased to 65k)
I wanted a graduate role because, typically, you get to rotate across a number of areas within a business. Applying for 50 graduate roles was very time-consuming. Some top employers would receive up to 10,000 applications for a handful of roles. I went through so many phone screens, assessment centres and online tests. In the end, I finally got an offer from a public sector employer. It wasn’t a desirable employer, but it was still a good opportunity.
By the end of the graduate program, I was on $65k. I went on my first holiday in my life in my early 20s.
Age 24: Internal Promotion – Associate ($85k)
What I lacked in experience, I made up in effort, eagerness and a positive attitude. I had a good reputation within the company. This landed me an internal promotion after my graduate role finished. I did apply for external opportunities with desirable employers but had no luck. I decided I would accept an internal role and continue to pursue external private-sector opportunities.
Age 24-25: Internal Promotion – Senior Associate – ($100k)
By chance, a maternity relief opportunity came up internally, and I was successful in getting my second promotion within six months. I went for this role because it paid more. All the other graduates that I worked alongside were incredibly smart and financially savvy. They all bought their first property by their mid-20s. I was also able to save up a deposit for a tiny apartment that I then moved into. This decreased my commute time to 1.5 hours.
Age 25-29: Associate – ($80k, later increased to $125k + $10k bonus)
I tried to get into the private sector with a desirable employer for eight months and failed miserably. I took on feedback from recruitment agencies, and I lowered my salary expectations. I just needed to get my foot in the door in the private sector.
I took a 20k pay cut and accepted a junior role in a blue-collar private sector company. After three months, I asked for a pay increase and highlighted that I had taken a pay cut. My employer gave me a 10k increase to 90k + super. I received minor bonuses of under 5k.
Over the next year or two, I also had other incremental increases to about 100k. I continued to take every opportunity to gain more experience. I would say yes to new projects and tasks. In my time with this employer, I spoke with a friend at another company who said they were on 140k. I instantly felt underpaid and undervalued. I started crying and told my boss how I felt, and they increased my salary to 125k and gave me a 10k bonus that year. While working in this blue-collar environment, I became very comfortable working with difficult stakeholders.
After almost four years working for this company, I decided to try again to get get a job with one of the top employers in my industry. It took a long time (and a lot more rejection), but I managed to secure my first role with a desirable employer. They had interviewed over 20 candidates, and none of them was “gritty” enough until they interviewed me.
By this age, I had paid off all my student loans. I made a serious dent in my mortgage, and I started buying shares. I had no idea what I was doing, but I thought I would dabble with small amounts. I lived a frugal life and spent intentionally.
Age 29-31: Manager ($130k + $20k bonus, increased to $137k plus $20k bonus)
My next role was with a top employer. It had taken me about ten years to get here. I did not get a significant increase when I started the role, but I valued the opportunity because of the employer’s reputation. I led large-scale projects and got to work with other smart people and consultants.
I continued to be ambitious, working long hours, leading major projects and learning as much as I could. During my time in this role, I started getting headhunted on LinkedIn for other roles for more money. While my employer was prepared to give me a $7k increase, it wasn’t enough for me to stay. My employer was unwilling to negotiate.
I was 30 at the time and wanted to eventually have a family and buy a house with my partner, so I needed a higher salary. I started considering my options. For the first time in my life, I knew finding my next job would be easier. I had a few interviews and easily landed my next role.
Age 31-34: Senior Manager ($168k, increased to $200k + $55k bonus)
I accepted a new Senior Manager role with another desirable employer. The workload was insane, and I quickly felt like I was drowning. My colleagues were challenging. Within months of starting, I also found out I was making less than a male colleague. I immediately raised this with my boss, who agreed to increase my salary to match that of my colleague. So within six months, I had gone from $137k to $168k and then to $180k.
Over time, I had other increases, and eventually, I was on a $200k+ base salary. Because of my high performance, I also received bonuses ranging from $26k to $55k.
I worked crazy hours across multiple time zones, having to do calls with Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. I stayed with this employer for three years. The “golden handcuffs” were on.
My high salary meant that my partner and I were able to buy a $1.7 Million house. I rented out my tiny apartment. We also eloped and got married. We made good progress on our mortgage and continued to invest in shares and ETFs.
Discovering Financial Independence and Coast FI
So what changed, and how did I find the FIRE community?
Up to this point, I had been highly ambitious, and my career was my priority. I was living a traditional life and expected to retire in my 60s.
Then I fell pregnant, and everything changed. I had my precious bundle of joy during one of the lockdowns. Having a baby was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I originally applied for nine months of maternity leave. However, when I returned to work, the thought of leaving my little bub and working long hours didn’t sit right with me. Having a baby completely changed my life.
I returned to work full-time (as my employer wouldn’t entertain a part-time arrangement) and was given an even bigger workload. I was working 12-14 hour days working across different time zones, and then I would be up all night as my bub wanted comfort and multiple breastfeeds. Then the lockdowns were lifted, and my employer wanted all employees to return to the office three days a week.
I was stressed.
I was burnt out.
I wanted more time with my family.
I hated life.
My physical and mental health was deteriorating.
I had been living frugally my entire life. I had made good financial decisions with my properties and investments, but I hadn’t heard much about the FIRE movement. My financial goals to date had been around breaking the cycle of poverty. I also enjoyed having a certain status and power. All of this changed when I had my baby.
A friend sent me links to videos and websites about financial independence and all the various options that exist. I crunched the numbers and found out that I had already reached Coast FI because of my good saving and investing habits. I decided that my new life priority was my family and a healthy work-life balance instead of my career. I set out to find a part-time position that paid well.
Finding a part-time, family-friendly, high-paying position didn’t seem realistic. I rarely saw part-time roles being advertised. It felt impossible. But given I had faced so many challenges in my life, and just kept trying. Then, one day, I saw two roles being advertised as part-time with no identifiable salary. I immediately applied for both and was invited to interviews.
This leads us to my latest career progression entry:
Age 35: Senior Manager – 3 days a week ($200k (pro-rated) + bonus)
After three interviews, I was offered a role with one of the two employers. I negotiated a $200k salary (pro-rated). The bonus potential for this role ranges from 40-80%. My first bonus from this employer was $60k. I have also since received a 3.8% increase in salary. I expect my ongoing annual total package, inclusive of salary, super and bonus, to be around $200-220k (for working three days).
Reflections on my current lifestyle and FI plans
I am living the dream. I get to spend time with my family, and I can continue to reach my financial goals. My bub will enjoy a much higher quality of life than I ever had. My sleep and health have also improved significantly.
If I stopped investing now, I would have enough money for traditional retirement. However, I’d like to continue investing to keep my options open. Our FIRE goal is $2 Million plus a paid-off house, and our current FI net worth sits at $1.23 Million [May 2023]. Ideally, we want to reach Fat FI ($2.5 Million).
My current purpose is my family. However, once bub is in school, I will need to redefine where my time is spent. Maybe I will study again and pursue a different career. Maybe I will do something on my own.
My husband could work part-time now if he wanted, but he chooses to work full-time. He had a career change and loves his new profession.
[A little explainer for international readers: PPoR = Primary Place of Residence. This is Lady CoastFIRE’s home that she lives in. She does not include the equity in this house in her FI calculations. IP = Investment Property (part of the FI portfolio)]
Do I have any regrets because I focused so much on my career in my 20s?
I’m my own worst critic, and I sometimes have trouble relaxing and taking it easy. I wish I could have done this more in my 20s, but I was so desperate to stop being poor. I wish I’d focused on my mental health more. I did feel quite stressed and under pressure in the pursuit of my goals. I accepted the game of capitalism and played by its rules.
Overall, I spent my 20s with intention. I did all the things that I wanted to from a social / travel perspective. Yes, I did spend money on after-work drinks with the grads/friends. I had romantic getaways with then-boyfriends. I have travelled to about 25 countries in my life and really enjoyed it. I ate out at restaurants and got takeaway, but I think I just did it all in moderation and consciously ensured I saved more than I spent. I also don’t want that many things in life. If you have good people in your life, then you don’t really need much else.
My career advice to others
- Persist and keep trying – a growth mindset really does pay off.
- Public sector employees don’t have a great reputation in the corporate job market.
- While studying, choose a career with high pay potential aligned with your interests.
- Do your research on market salaries.
- Finetune your CV and interviewing skills, and always ask for feedback. Always incorporate this feedback when you move forward.
- Always raise pay concerns to your employer if you believe you are under-market or due a pay increase.
- Loyalty doesn’t pay. I got my pay increases by jumping ship.
- In my experience, the private sector pays much better.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and tips with us, Lady CoastFIRE! 🙂
Let’s talk about the career piece first. Impressive, right? As someone who has never been very focused on climbing the ladder and who has always optimised for lifestyle rather than career progression, I am always very intrigued when I come across someone with so much drive. I think the outcome Lady CoastFIRE has achieved speaks for itself. She has broken the cycle of poverty and is in a better situation (financially and lifestyle-wise) than most people with a young family could dream of.
What I find even more impressive (and what makes this a true FI success story, in my opinion) is that she was able to acknowledge her changing priorities and act on them. This is something that many clients I work with find challenging, especially when working hard to get ahead is all they’ve ever known.
I hope this story serves as a reminder that just because you’ve been on the career highway for a while, that doesn’t mean you are now allowed to change gears.
I have to admit that my mind went straight to the “I wonder if she regrets having worked so hard in her 20s” question when I read Lady CoastFIRE’s career progression timeline. Everyone is different and has a different level of sacrifice they are willing to make to get ahead. So it’s good to hear that, overall, she still managed to enjoy life along the way and doesn’t have regrets.
I also really like that this story proves that it is possible to find part-time roles that pay (very) well. Sure, it’s not easy and depends on one’s qualifications and industry, but these types of roles do exist.
As far as her FI goals are concerned, Lady CoastFIRE is on track to achieve all of them long before the traditional retirement age. While her alias might suggest that she is coasting to FI, she has actually simply switched to a slower path after she realised she had already reached Coast FI. Her high income allows her to continue investing. She really is able to enjoy the best of both worlds (career/high income and balance/time freedom).
Congratulations, Lady CoastFIRE, you are in an amazing, well-deserved position!
I hope you enjoyed this guest essay, which hopefully brought an interesting and different perspective to the blog. If you’d like to follow Lady CoastFIRE’s story, you can find her on Instagram, where she posts regular updates.
What do you think about LadyCoast FIRE’s story and approach? If you are still new in your career, would you consider a “high-income part-time” path to FI?