Brad and Cynthia Bowman are living the good life in Spain. Here's what it took.
As a financial planner, I encourage people to discover what truly makes them happy. We then create a plan so they can pursue it—not just do only what they think they can afford or have time for. Brad and Cynthia Bowman, parents of two, did just that. One day, they realized that the traditional path of marriage, children, career, and retirement was not working for them. So they took drastic steps to create a whole new life they love.
The “R” Word
During their early days together, the Bowmans thought of retirement as “that distant thing that you do in your seventies,”says Cynthia. It felt to them like a way of ending their life. “We have got to come up with a better word for retirement; there is such a stigma to it,” she says.
Your aim in life should be a state of financial independence that you reach sooner rather than later. I myself have made a few bold changes in my life, and people often comment that I managed it because I’m unencumbered. But as a married couple who started a successful furniture store while raising two young girls, the Bowmans are living proof that anyone can veer off the traditional path and make courageous life changes to achieve this independence.
Read next: The New Rules of Early Retirement
When Doing Everything Right Feels Wrong
The couple had been running their Los Angeles furniture business for fifteen years, working every day and putting in 60 or 70 hours each week, struggling to find quality time with their daughters. Brad, in his 50s, and Cynthia, in her 40s, were burnt out. Cynthia asked herself, “If the business closed tomorrow, what would I have to show for all this effort?”
Brad, who had been a professional skateboarder and renowned hair and makeup artist, was scared at the thought of leaving the furniture business and taking another job. The Bowmans wanted a solution that did not involve going from one high-pressured career to another.
The book How to Retire Early and Live Well With Less Than a Million Dollars opened Cynthia’s eyes to an alternative way of living. “I used to think, ‘I might not even live to 70. What happens at that point? Am I going to have enough in retirement to live comfortably?'” she says.
The family had always enjoyed traveling, but they had mostly stolen a few days here and there added on to business trip. Cynthia’s dream was to retire and travel properly. Over the course of a year, the Bowmans developed this idea and finally pulled the trigger. They sold their business, rented out their house, pulled the kids out of school, and moved with the family dog to Spain!
As you can imagine, moving to another continent was no easy task. They had to focus on the positive to convince their young children that the move away from friends, schools, and the only world they ever knew was good. “We told them we were finally going to stop working and be Mom and Dad for them full-time,” says Cynthia. “And we were going to do it in a really cool place.”
The Big Problem with Advice
When the Bowmans shared their early retirement plans with their friends and family, they faced opposition from all sides. “No one understood what the heck we were talking about,” says Cynthia. “They meant well, but they would bring up so many concerns: What if you go broke? What if you have a terrible tenant and your house gets destroyed? Are the kids going to get bullied in school?”
Even their financial adviser was anxious about how long the Bowmans could afford to chase this dream. “He is very conservative, but we appreciate that most of the time,” says Cynthia. They didn’t follow his advice to stay the traditional course, but they still have him manage some of their finances.
The Dream Life in Reality
Now living in northern Spain, in San Sebastian, the Bowmans are taking life slow and easy. “Lots of walking, bike riding, cooking, and afternoon coffee or wine dates together,” is how Cynthia describes it. “We’re busy, but with things we love to do. Lots of social time with friends—meals here turn into six- to eight-hour affairs involving debate and lots of courses of food and wine.”
Abour half of their roughly $3,500-a-month living expenses are funded by rental income from their U.S. properties. They’re spending down what they cleared from selling their business, and Cynthia is bringing in money as a freelance writer. They have also been lucky: as the Euro has weakened, their dollars have more purchasing power.
Cynthia feels responsible for teaching her daughters, now 8 and 14, to take money seriously, so one day they themselves can do whatever they want. “They are picking up so much independence,” she says. “They take public transportation and buses to school and sometimes they run out of bus fare because they forgot to tell me. They then have to walk half an hour home. I would have never done that to them in the U.S. but here it is fine. They are going to be resilient and learn what money is about.”
Cynthia’s Advice for Achieving Your Dream Life
Save your money and invest it in income-producing assets that appreciate in value (like real estate or a business), rather than saving x% to reach some magic number decades from now. The Bowmans had built up a nest egg mostly comprising the property they purchased over the years. They now rent out their house, which was half paid off, a condominium, and a commercial warehouse they had used for stock. “Property is a big reason we are able to do this,” says Cynthia.
Make sure your expenses remain less than your income. Independence is not about how much you make or how much you have. Someone with passive income of $3,000 per month and monthly expenses of $2,500 has achieved financial independence that is not reliant upon a paycheck. Compare this with someone earning $9,000 each month, but taking on credit to spend $10,000 or more.
Focus on what you need. People are often happy with less, just as the Bowmans are today. They arrived in Spain with one suitcase apiece to start their new life. “I regret that it took a move for us to simplify our life,” Cynthia says. “The stress of managing a cluttered house was not worth it.”
Write down a script of the life you would like to lead and do not worry about what the answer is. Play with your imagination and explore the details of what it would look like—what you would do, where you would go and what your worldview would be.
Avoid debt at all costs and pay it down quickly. Doing what you wish when you wish requires that you don’t carry debt.
- Take calculated risks. Ask many questions and seek advice.
“I want people to understand that I don’t believe you can get rich working your whole life,” Cynthia says. Follow your own path to find the personal wealth that will truly make you happy, just as the Bowmans are doing.
Kate Holmes, CFP, is founder and CEO of Belmore Financial. She is a contributor to the free eBook The Definitive Guide to Becoming the Retiree Next Door (published by MoneyTips.com), which features Cynthia and Brad along with other retirees and semi-retirees on a journey to financial freedom. While most Americans worry that they won’t have enough money to retire, these successful retirees show that many fulfilling paths are possible.