June 5, 2023

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A Colorado couple retired early and built a net worth of $1.5 million

A Colorado couple retired early and built a net worth of $1.5 million

Debbie Emek remembers the moment that changed her view of money forever.

In 2014, shortly after she and husband Chris welcomed their second daughter into the world, Debbie received bad news: Symptoms of the chronic illness discovered in 2012 were getting worse. However, she is determined to continue her career as an elementary school teacher and continue to earn an income to help support her young family.

This was until one day when a colleague asked if Debbie would be attending the professional development opportunity over the weekend. Debbie hesitated.

If it was about money, Debbie’s colleague assured her, don’t worry – there will be a paycheck.

“I remember clicking that little thing,” Debbie says. “And I think I told her out loud I don’t need more money. I need more time.”

Debbie and Chris Emick.

Courtesy Debbie and Chris Emick

Debbie quit her job later in 2014, and the Emex family, who were planning to retire in their mid-60s, began to refocus their financial priorities. “I was just beginning to realize that I was working towards a retirement that I might never enjoy,” Debbie says.

The couple, who live in Rocky Ford, Colorado, cut back on their spending, increased their savings, and began investing aggressively in real estate. By 2019, they were earning enough from their property that Chris was able to quit his job as a network engineer as well.

In the four years from 2016 to 2019, the couple acquired 19 rental units. When they retired in 2019, each of them was 40, the total annual rental income from their property was $45,000. These days, among a mix of investments, savings, and real estate holdings, Debbie and Chris, 43, have a net worth of around $1.5 million.

Early focus on saving: “I just wanted to have enough money to pay the bills”

Saving and budgeting came naturally to the Emicks, who owe their early family life to inculcating sound financial values.

Debbie grew up around farms and farms in the “middle of nowhere,” before her parents divorced and she was forced to move around a lot. “There was some financial insecurity that shaped my behaviors and values ​​around money,” she says.

I just wanted to have enough money to pay my bills.

This generally meant focusing on the here and now rather than saving for distant financial goals. “I just wanted to have enough money to pay my bills,” she says.

When Debbie graduated from college and was making a $24,000 salary, her focus was on paying off student loans and making car payments. She was hoping she would have enough to cover the repairs if the Chevy Malibu broke down.

Debbie and Chris Emick.

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Meanwhile, Chris was always determined to be a millionaire. Chris was also a farm kid, and he grew up with his grandparents, who he says instilled some Depression-era saving habits. “I was always preparing for an emergency or worst-case situation,” he says.

When he was 21, he read The Millionaire Next Door and realized that a life of diligent thrift could set him on the path to financial prosperity. “I just had an idea in my head that there was no way anyone with a million dollars could have any problems.”

Increased savings: ‘We’ve worked hard about having a real budget’

By the time Debbie decided to quit her job, the couple had paid off all of their debts, except for the mortgage. After 18 years in the IT industry, Chris was making a salary just over six figures.

However, with the family preparing to lose Debbie’s $32,000 salary, as well as the pension she would have received after 20 years of teaching, Chris and Debbie had to re-examine their finances. “That’s when we got really serious about having a real budget,” Debbie says.

Emek family.

Courtesy Debbie and Chris Emick

Chris expected to make some big lifestyle changes, but he discovered that saving more money just means being more deliberate about their spending. He remembers a few cutbacks besides giving up the breakfast and lunch he usually had at work.

The couple discovered that their values ​​revolved around travel, family, and good healthy food, Chris says, which allowed them to cut out many potential expenses like new clothes, jewelry, and makeup that “won’t change our happiness metric.”

On a monthly basis, Emics was making 50% to 60% of Chris’ salary, they said.

Buying rental property: ‘Very fast and furious’

Despite cutting expenses, Emicks was not comfortable with having only one source of income. Chris was worried that losing his job might put the family in dire straits, he says.

They decided to test out owning real estate, and bought two properties for rent in 2016 with a combined down payment of $60,000. They took money from the $90,000 they had in savings.

At first, it was hard work being an owner. Debbie says the properties they bought were “a bit ugly”. The couple spent nights and weekends renovating it to get ready for the tenants.

Debbie and Chris Emick sitting outside their home in Colorado.

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The work pays off. The rent collected from the tenants of the first two properties far exceeded the mortgage payments on the house, and allowed Chris and Debbie to imagine things on a larger scale: They realized that renting out properties could be the primary way for the family to make money, instead. From supplement Chris’ salary.

“We both had this kind of thinking, ‘What if you want to quit your job one day?'” Debbie says. What if this isn’t the way we want to look forever? This thought easily turned into, ‘How can we use our money to buy us more time?’

Emicks invested any monthly savings, along with the profits he made from his tenants, in buying more real estate. Between 2016 and 2019, the couple purchased 19 units spread across 17 properties in Colorado and Memphis, Tennessee.

“That was really the track,” Chris says. “So it’s been four years so fast and furious doing that.”

Enjoy the flexibility of early retirement

Despite quitting their day jobs, Emics is still very busy. Together they manage their investment properties, which today provide income – net of taxes, insurance and other expenses – from $4,000 to $6,000 per month.

Debbie spends one month a year selling a specialized type of drought insurance to ranchers, which brings in approximately $23,000 in commissions annually.

For Emics, retirement isn’t so much about not working as it is about turning the traditional work-life balance on its head.

Instead of having a job where I will work 48 weeks a year and have four weeks off, I can now say I probably work four weeks a year and have 48 weeks off.

“Instead of having a job where I will work 48 weeks a year and have four weeks off, I can now say I work probably four weeks a year and have 48 weeks off,” Chris says.

The couple continues to save and invest. They spend anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 per month, and they’ve recently invested the rest in a mix of retirement, investment, health savings, and various cash accounts. Finally, they have about $740,000 stashed.

They were also able to follow the sentiment. Debbie wrote a book and took up surfing. Together, Debbie and Chris started “Go Bucket Yourself,” an online community for early retirees, which hosts the events and retreats the couple planned.

When it comes to what’s next, “we really enjoy the freedom to make connections, travel, and explore,” says Chris.

As for the genesis of all this, Debbie says her health has improved dramatically since the decision to leave her from nine to five.

“I don’t know what the percentage is, but significantly since I left my job,” she says. “Both because I don’t have this daily stress, but also because it has freed up time and energy to work on myself [not only] Physically, but also mentally and emotionally.”

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