FIRE Detour? (Part 1): How relocating for a job impacted our money

This blog began as a place to share our journey towards financial independence and early retirement (FIRE). We still consider ourselves to be on that path. But much has changed since we began the pursuit of FIRE in 2018

Amid widespread shutdowns of everything and mandatory work from home in early 2020, I changed jobs. The new job required me to relocate to another city within driving distance (but not within a reasonable commute) from our current home. We have lots of friends and family in the new area, and I planned to couch surf for a few months while Mr. Vine looked for work there. This virus changed all of those plans. With me working remotely, I no longer needed to move. Mr. Vine ultimately found work in the new area several months before my job required me to return to the office. I still haven’t, and now may never, return to the in-office work that was anticipated. 

Mr. Vine and I had done long distance on a few previous occasions and expected that this would work for up to a year. We started looking for apartments to rent shortly after Mr. Vine found his job. But rents were expensive and nothing was quite perfect. So we thought about buying a small house. If you’ve followed our monthly Progress Updates, you know how this ended. We found a great deal on a house in a cute neighborhood that needed a big renovation.  

Buying and renovating a house carried a much longer time horizon than renting an apartment. First there was the closing process and we agreed to several weeks of post-closing possession for our seller. That was all before the renovation could begin. Our scope was ambitious even though the house is small. It wasn’t a complete gut renovation, but very nearly so. The pandemic made everything more difficult. All of our projects took longer than expected. 

Finally in February 2021, six months after we closed on the purchase of the house and four months after we got keys, the renovation had progressed to the point where we decided to move into temporary, pet friendly, housing near the new house. We packed our condo and moved out on the same day our new tenant was moving in. Moving day was so hectic! We then settled into a monthly apartment rental we booked through Airbnb. The initial plan was a 28-day stay, which we ultimately extended for a second month. In retrospect, the timing for the longer stay at a short-term rental worked out well. We had no trouble finding a place with availability, no problems extending the stay for a second month, and paid a very reasonable price. 

I got special permission to go into the office so I could escape construction activity from the time we moved to the temporary space. Restaurants had not reopened for indoor dining before our kitchen was up and running. Some days, all I wanted was to enjoy a meal on real plates, eaten at a table in a completed building. With each project that was completed, life felt a little more normal. We were also lucky to have local friends host us from time to time. These relationships made the process bearable and solidified our rationale for making the move. 

Knowing what we know now about the virus and knowing that remote work would be indefinite for me, we might have done things differently. I’m glad, though, that we couldn’t see the future. We lucked into this great little house that we have settled into nicely. 

Purchasing the house affected our plan to retire early and certainly affected our finances. In the short term, we focused our cash flow on the renovation. That was a big one time expense (or, rather, a series of one time expenses). Our monthly fixed costs are also higher, now. Although the mortgage on our new house is less than a car payment for most people, there are plenty of hidden costs with home ownership. In addition to property taxes, there are often projects to do. We have a running list of improvements we’d like to make. Those projects are mostly voluntary. Many of the hidden costs of home ownership are not, like the sidewalk replacement organized by the city and added to our property tax assessment, or the furnace repair in January. Owning two properties compounds these expenses (even rentals have water heater failures and garage door motor replacements). 

So, from that perspective, our increased fixed costs negatively affected our ability to build assets while also increasing the nest egg amount we would need to retire early. Theoretically, this is a temporary problem because we could always sell one (or both, for that matter) of the properties. The real kink in the FIRE hose, however,  is our careers, specifically, my career. We will talk about why in a future post.

What do you think about detours from your plan? Have you ever changed your mind about a big goal? Why or why not?

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