The United States Is Expensive. So This Couple Left

An image to accompany a story about digital nomads.
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(This article was originally published in NextIdea, our weekly newsletter on side hustles and pursuing financial independence. Sign up for it using the box below.)

After covering financial independence at NextAdvisor for six months now, I’ve started to notice themes in the stories behind the numbers.

Both the people we interview and our readers crave freedom. They’re taking money matters into their own hands, and they reject the idea that retirement can only be a one-time, later-in-life milestone.

We call our coverage “financial independence” (FI), rather than FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), because not everyone wants to retire early — or even at all. Many Americans stumble across FI culture because they want to maintain their remote work lifestyle, find the perfect side hustle, or take action on a business idea they’ve been contemplating during the pandemic. Two stories this past week reminded me of the power of going for it, even when things feel scary at the start.

Life in America Is Expensive

First, there’s Ryan Gleason, who worked long hours throughout his 20s to rake in those manager paychecks. He was checking every box as far as personal finance hygiene was concerned. Then his body gave out.

Blood work revealed that Gleason, then 28, had symptoms of severe burnout, including the testosterone levels of a 60-year-old, despite being active and fit. The long hours had created an unsustainable lifestyle for him and his then-girlfriend Alex Davis, so the couple took a gap year to travel and regroup. They bought a one-way ticket to South America, and ended up finding a lifestyle far cheaper than the United States. Now married with a family, they live as digital nomads year-round. Writer Kimanzi Constable captured how they made it happen:

America Is Expensive, So This Couple Moved Abroad and Thrives on $1,350 a Month. How You Can, Too

Recession-Proof Your Career

For others, financial independence culture is more about having a safeguard, a creative outlet, or a way to raise your income, even if there’s no urgency to leave your day job. That’s how Daniella Flores stumbled into it; their day job as a software engineer was stressful, and they often splurged in the evenings to deal with the stress. After being laid off twice in six months, they viewed financial insecurity as a wake-up call.

Securing another day job, Flores began setting up alternative income streams to create stability, and the work has paid off; they left their corporate position in June to go full-time with their brand, I Like To Dabble. In a recent article for NextAdvisor, Flores outlined the 11 sources of income they had while still at their 9-to-5 job. Some of them require maintenance every week, and others are “set it and forget it.” One of them might be perfect for you.

I Endured a Tech Layoff — Twice. Here’s How I Created 11 Income Streams and Bulletproofed My Finances

It’s never too late to get inspired about financial independence. Remember that you can jump-start your FI journey at any time with these three steps: calculate your FIRE numberbrainstorm how to make more money, and invest for independence along the way.