From Broke to Financially Woke – Semi-Retire Plan

Today, I am excited to share with you the latest interview in the From Broke to Financially Woke series!  The purpose of this series it to give hope to those struggling to escape from the not so secret group Broke Phi Broke.  A group whose chant is, “We ain’t got it. Broke, Broke, Phi Broke! We ain’t got it. Broke, Broke, Phi Broke!”

To help me accomplish this goal, I have invited the best and brightest of the financial independence community here to share their stories.  As you read their interviews, pay close attention to the mistakes they made.  Take mental note of the success principles they used to turn things around.

When trying to apply these principles to your own life, realize that success in life is rarely linear.  You will encounter some struggles.  But stay persistent.  Keep moving forward.

Our special guest today is Mr. SR from Semi-Retire Plan. Although he had an upper middle class lifestyle growing up, he still experienced some downsides.

At his lowest point, he and his wife had $8,000 in car debt.

What were the downsides and how is he doing financially now? I’ll let him tell you…

Introduce yourself.  Where do you blog? What are some of your interests outside of financial independence?


I am Mr. SR and my blog is Semi-Retire Plan

FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is the hot topic in the personal finance world right now, but I look at it differently. For people with a moderate income, the FIRE movement may not be feasible. My wife and I feel that way in our own lives. We couldn’t maintain a lifestyle we’re happy with if we saved 50-70% of our income — savings rates that many in the FIRE movement aim for.

That’s what’s exciting to me about intentional early semi-retirement — it unlocks early retirement for a whole new segment of the population. If you plan strategically, you can leave your desk job decades earlier and do part-time work you actually care about. That’s the focus of Semi-Retire Plan, and it’s what my wife and I are planning for our own lives. I’m hoping to leave the corporate world and teach community college seasonally, starting sometime in my 40s.

Outside of financial independence, I’m a big fan of college football, coffee, reading, playing guitar, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. I’m working on my master’s degree right now (thanks to a tuition reimbursement program through my employer), so I’ve been spending a lot of time on that lately. My wife and I are also involved at a local church.


Tell us about a time where you were a member of Broke Phi Broke.  How did living paycheck to paycheck make you feel as a person? At your lowest point, how much debt did you have?
Broke Phi Broke


I was most broke during college. Financially, what I disliked most about that period is how clueless and uninformed I felt about finances. 

There’s an online joke format that I always enjoy — “Step 1: (activity). Step 2: ???. Step 3: Profit.” I don’t want to over-explain it, but you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it in tweets before.

That 3-step format is how I felt about personal finance during college. I knew where I was (Step 1) and where I wanted to eventually be (Step 3), but I didn’t have a clue how to get there (Step 2: ???) — so it was not a very helpful plan!

I was working towards a business degree, so I felt like I should have been taught about investing at some point — but I hadn’t been. 

During my junior year, I realized that I was about to be launched into the “real world,” whether I was prepared or not.  At that point, I decided to take initiative with my financial education.

My wife and I were privileged that our parents were able to help with college costs. We also both attended a public university and had some scholarships that reduced the costs. 

When we got married, we had about $8,000 in car debt that we have since paid off. That was our financial “low” point. But by the time we got married, we were talking about our financial game plan and future goals. We were on the same page, so it did not feel like a low point!


What are some of your biggest financial mistakes?


My main regret, financially, is not studying something more lucrative in college. I don’t say this because money is my only motivation to work — I just find that my work is more of a grind than I thought it would be, even though I am working in the field that I enjoyed studying in college (marketing). 

In high school, science always felt like the most challenging subject, so I avoided it in college. In hindsight, it would’ve been interesting to try engineering or another field. It’s easy to say that now, though, since I don’t actually have to do all the coursework!

I really am happy with my life and financial progress overall. It’s just tempting occasionally to dream about an alternate reality where I work in a higher compensation field so my wife and I could retire even earlier. But honestly, that desire is stemming from comparing myself to others, which I actively try to avoid!


Describe your upbringing.  Where did you grow up? What did your parents or teachers teach you about money?


I grew up in a coastal suburb in the southeastern US. The town hosts an annual professional golf tournament, and it definitely had a beach/golf/boutique shopping upper middle class cultural focus.

My parents did well financially too. My dad was a high-level manager at a large corporation and my mom worked in sales, then later stayed home. They both worked hard and are very bright, but also just had great opportunities in their careers. 

Growing up in this environment has had its pros and cons for me, long-term. The downside is that it set a (likely) unattainable point of comparison for my own success, at least in terms of climbing the corporate ladder. I don’t expect to ever earn even half of what my dad was earning at the high point of his career. 

The other downside is that, at least when I was a child, it was easy not to realize how atypical my parents’ careers were — and even how atypical the town itself was. It was all I knew, so it felt normal to me.

A conversation I had with my dad one afternoon has always stuck with me. We were driving somewhere. He asked me what my goals for the future were. I pointed to an older, modest neighborhood we were driving by, and I said I just wanted to have a career where I earned enough so my family could live somewhere like that. He told me that I would probably need to go to a good college and work really hard in my career to be able to do that. 

That conversation may not sound like much, but to me it was a significant moment where I started to realize that my reality as a kid was far from normal. And it was not guaranteed or even likely that I would be able to replicate it. Even getting into college, becoming an adult, and getting a job seemed like major hurdles in that moment.

Ironically, my parents and I both live in a much more rural and “country” area now, in another state. It’s funny how life changes. I’ve found that as my understanding of privilege, money, and wealth evolves, I’m able to be happier with my current situation. The more that I study personal finance and learn, the more I realize that the money itself isn’t what matters. It’s just a tool.


How important is becoming financially woke to you?  What steps have you taken to increase your financial knowledge?


Being financially woke is a priority for me, especially in my current stage of life. My wife and I are still in our 20s, so we feel like investing patterns and goals that we begin now will make a significant difference in the future.

As far as steps I have taken to increase my knowledge, I started reading personal finance books and listening to podcasts during college. Some of my favorites are I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey (I loved how practical Dave’s approach is, especially when I was learning the basics), The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, and A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel.

Those books were really helpful on the basics for budgeting and investing. They’re not very early retirement focused, though.

Afford Anything and the Mad Fientist are two blogs and podcasts that really inspired my interest in early retirement and helped me understand that it’s possible.


What are some of the key principles you have used to improve your financial life?
Success Principles


1) Moderation is key. 


I think this can apply in many areas of life. But financially, I feel that having an extreme lifestyle of any kind is not healthy. 

Trying to live a bare bones lifestyle in order to achieve a super high savings rate is just not sustainable — for me, at least. I’d rather have a little bit of leeway and be able to enjoy life along the way. On the other side of the spectrum, being deep in debt and ignoring retirement is a major problem, too. 

In all financial matters, it’s an ongoing fight for balancing preparation for the future with enjoying the present.

2) Budget and spend enthusiastically on the things that matter most to you.

This is an idea I first read about in I Will Teach You to Be Rich. It’s a great application of the moderation approach. 

Is there something that adds a ton of value and happiness to your life? Budget for it, and go big. Allow room for that to be part of your life. But then don’t spend lavishly in other areas that aren’t as meaningful to you.

For my wife and me, we budget intentionally so that we can travel periodically. That’s important to us, especially now before we have kids. When we do travel, we enjoy it and we have no guilt about spending a few thousand dollars on each trip.

On the other hand, we need reliable transportation but having flashy or luxurious vehicles is not important to us. So we don’t spend much of our discretionary budget on our vehicles. 


How often do you consume personal finance information?  Name 3-5 of your favorites sources (books, podcasts, blogs, etc.). 


Now, since I started Semi-Retire Plan, I consume personal finance information daily. 

I used to mainly get information from books and podcasts, when I was mainly in a learning stage. For years, I wanted to just keep learning more and I always had questions to address.

As I’ve continued to learn more about money and I’ve started the blog, I’m deeper into the blogging community. There are still things to learn, but I’m also interested in following people’s stories. The things that I am learning now are more early retirement related.

One thing I’ve realized is that personal finance is connected to many different other topics. Personal finance relates to spending and to investing, which are both related to economics and psychology. Our spending is based on our goals which are based on our ethics and our beliefs. I could go on, but personal finance relates to your whole worldview and life experience, because it is indeed personal.

So there’s always more to learn and understand in those related subjects!


Where are you on the path to financial freedom now?  


My wife and I are debt free except for our home now. But we have a long way to go before we’re ready to semi-retire early, which is our plan.

Unless one or both of our careers (or the blog) take off and we see our income rise drastically, we’re probably about 20 years away from being able to leave full time work. We need to increase our investments and we’re also hoping to pay off our home before we semi-retire. That will significantly reduce our monthly expenses.

20 years feels like a long time. In some ways, it will be a grind, and that’s part of the value of being in the online personal finance community. Seeing others progress and reach their goals keeps us motivated. 

We are still in our 20s, so that timeline will put us ahead of the traditional retirement schedule.


Is there any advice/encouraging words you can give those who are struggling to escape Broke Phi Broke?


You may have faced some serious adversity in your life, and that’s valid. The world can be a very cold, difficult place. But, it’s possible to look at your circumstances and say “that sucks” while also choosing to be the hero of your own story. Even if your hard circumstances aren’t your fault, you have to choose to be the one to change your life and create better circumstances.

To escape Broke Phi Broke, you have to take ownership. That decision will be the biggest change in your financial life.

Then, get equipped with good information and get started! Blogs are a great resource, and they can be encouraging, helpful, and fun. For me personally, though, reading good financial books brought the most clarity early in my journey. The right book can give you a focused, structured approach to getting started.

If you’re broke and not sure how to move forward, I strongly encourage you to read Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin, I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, and/or Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Those are the best “getting started” money books I’ve read.

Jerry can recommend good resources as well!

How can the readers contact you?

Readers can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or at Semi-Retire Plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story, Jerry! I’ve been a fan of the From Broke to Financially Woke interview series for a while, and it’s a privilege to get to participate. 

[Editor’s Note: You’re welcome, Mr. SR. Thanks so much for your wonderful contribution. I had fun contributing to your series as well.]

Read more interviews in the From Broke to Financially Woke Series.

Please share this From Broke to Financially Woke interview on social media with the hashtag #escapebrokephibroke

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Author: Jerry

Jerry is a Business Insider Contributing Writer who is obsessed with personal finance. He believes you can improve your financial situation by applying principles taught by the financial independence community to your financial life.

If you are having trouble saving, he recommends that you join the SaverLife Savings program where you can get a $60 reward after six months (no income requirement). All you have to do is put a minimum of $20 a month into a savings account. Easy, right?

For a fun read, check out his article 10 Signs You’re a Personal Finance Addict to see if you are a personal finance nerd.

Before you go, check out the new From Broke to Financially Woke Interview Series.

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