Matt Becker was laid off in late 2013, and decided to open his own business. Read how his savings strategy and plan for financial independence made his self employment dream a reality.
It was November 16, 2013, my first official day of unemployment. The startup software company I’d been helping to build for the last six and a half years hadn’t completely failed, but it was time to move on. Our founder needed time more than anything else to try and salvage what value remained, and time meant cutting costs. So everyone, myself included, was let go.
Unemployment brings with it a lot of tough emotions:
- Insecurity about your worth as a person
- Doubt about whether you’ll be able to provide for your family
- Fear of the unknown
I felt all of those things. But I also felt something else that I think is a lot more rare: Excitement.
My unemployment was an opportunity to chase a dream I’d been talking about for years, but never had the courage to pursue.
Chasing the Dream
Today, I’m proud to be the founder of a business that not only allows me to do work I love, but also lets me live life on my own terms.
I spend my working hours helping new parents build a better financial future for their families. It’s a mission I love and a challenge that excites me every single day. I get to write articles, create guides, run webinars, and work one-on-one with real people who just want to make the best financial decisions for their families.
I can honestly say that there’s nothing else I would rather be doing.
But even more than that, running this business gives me the flexibility to make some life choices that would be much more difficult in a more conventional setting:
- I get to take Wednesdays off to be with my kids while my wife runs her counseling practice.
- I get to spend two weeks up in Boston twice per year to visit my parents and brothers while I work remotely. (My home is in Florida.)
- I even got to make an impromptu, last-minute trip up to Boston to surprise my Mom for her birthday, a special moment that I’ll never forget.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that everything is all rainbows and sunshine. It’s been a hard road and it’s still far from finished. I still have many moments of doubt, and I still have plenty of work to do to get where I want to be.
But I’m much closer to my ideal life than I was just a couple of years ago, and the truth is that it was all made possible by the financial choices we made in the years leading up to that day in November 2013.
Planning for the Future
I was able to do all of this for one simple reason: My wife and I spent years making tough choices that allowed us to save for the future.
By the time I lost my job, we had enough money in our emergency fund to support our family’s needs for about 10 months without even a dollar of income. If we included some of our other (non-retirement) savings, we could extend that to 14 months. And if we were willing to make a few lifestyle changes, we could have lived off our savings for up to two years.
That money in the bank gave me two things that many people in a situation like mine wouldn’t have had:
I didn’t have to worry about how the bills were going to be paid, at least for a while, which meant that I didn’t have to rush to find a paycheck as quickly as possible. I had the time to find the right opportunity instead of being forced into taking the first opportunity.
Not only that, but I had the freedom to choose not to take a job at all. Starting this business is something I had been talking about for years, but had never actually tried to make a reality. Now, I not only had the time on my hands to give it a shot, but I also had the money available to both provide for my family and fund my business while it ramped up to the point of actually producing an income.
That opportunity was exciting, but I was still scared. After all, I had a wife and a one-year-old who were dependent on me, with our second son due in just about a month. I had never started a business before and didn’t know if I could make it work.
Those doubts did their best to push me down the more conventional path of finding a salaried job. That was the more stable route, the one that would provide immediate and regular income to support my family, and the one that most people I know both expected me to take and would have taken themselves if they were in my position.
But one day, as my wife and I were talking about this for about the bajillionth time, she said something that I’ll never forget:
“We have all this savings. If it isn’t for this, then what is it for?”
Understanding why we saved
Saving money isn’t just about protecting yourself from bad stuff or hoping that one day in the future you’ll have enough to stop working.
Saving money is about giving you more opportunities to live a happier, more fulfilling life today.
When I work with clients, I no longer use the word retirement. Instead I talk about financial independence, which to me is simply the point at which you have the financial resources to make decisions based on what makes you happy instead of what makes you money.
And one of the reasons I love this idea of financial independence so much is because you can think of it in terms of degrees instead of a single endpoint years down the line.
The eventual goal is still similar to the idea of retirement: You want to have enough money so you can choose whether you ever work again (though unlike retirement, not working is not a requirement of financial independence).
But you can also be partially independent, where you have enough money that you could choose to forgo income, or accept less income, for an extended period of time in pursuit of a higher goal.
And that’s exactly where we fit in. We were not completely financially independent in November 2013. But we were independent enough that I didn’t have to scramble to find the next paycheck. I could intentionally choose to go without an income for a while in pursuit of this business I wanted to build.
Our savings gave us the opportunity to say yes when the opportunity to create the life we wanted presented itself.
That’s the kind of freedom that money can buy.
Matt is the founder of Mom and Dad Money, a fee-only financial planning practice dedicated to helping new parents build happy families by making money simple. His free time is spent jumping on beds and building block towers with his two awesome boys.
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