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Ether to FI: Moving Targets & a Net Worth Update

Moving targets.

Anyone who has set long-term goals is familiar with moving targets. The timeline can change. The actual goal may be altered. Ether to FI, our anesthesiologist who has been documenting his FI journey for more than two years now, has seen his targets ebb and flow.

I can identify. For example, when I discovered we were financially independent, I wasn’t ready to retire just yet. I decided to shoot for a net worth goal of 40x to 50x our annual spending.

Later, I realized that would be overkill and figured I’d be in great shape with 33x and a 3% withdrawal rate. With great returns in 2019, we ended up at that original target anyway. Moving targets.

I want to thank Ether to FI for his regular updates and contributions to the blog. This is the 12th post in the series, which means I missed a golden opportunity to mention that this series goes to 11 the last time around.

E.T.F, may 2020 treat you kindly; I’ll be rooting for you and your family to achieve your first million!


Ether to FI: Moving Targets & a Net Worth Update


Happy Holidays everyone!  Welcome back for another peek into the life of the E.T.F. family.  As we progress into the new year, I want to look back at the last 2.25 years.

I have written eleven articles detailing our plans and goals.  I went back and read every last word.  It is funny how we had a definitive step by step plan, then life happened, and things changed.

PoF stated in a previous post that he never plans for more than five years at a time.  It is sage advice.  I am going to use this opportunity to summarize previous ideas and share our new visions.

The original post focused on my need to find work that I love so that I never have to retire.  Since then, we changed our minds and stated we will “retire” in 2034.  I am going to move the goalpost again and erase our 2034 retirement plan.  Who truly knows what the future will hold?

Since the inception of this series, I have discovered work that brings me joy.  It is financial education.  It is the one thing that I do where hours can fly by, and I have no perception of time.

Sitting down with a friend or someone at work to discuss “basic” financial topics is the most rewarding part of my day.  I have had the opportunity to give lectures to both small and large groups, and I enjoy the whole process.  Weaving clinical medicine and financial education is a way for me never to “retire” and to do work that I love, which truly matters.


Our Current Net Worth Goal


Our original financial freedom number was $3.3 million when the blog started.  It is now almost $4.95 million.  This equates to $150k a year at a 3% withdrawal rate.  I was initially self-conscious about this number because most people are planning their retirement on much less.

Each person has different goals and different plans when they stop making an income.  I have family responsibilities that will extend to my parents and in-laws.  I also want to spend money on my future grandchildren.

If I retire with “too much” money, I will not shed any tears.  The opposite will not hold true if I retire with too little.  There is a high likelihood we will need less than $4.95 million in assets to generate $150k per year in passive income.  We plan to create a rental income portfolio.


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Changing Attitudes Towards Debt


Our use of debt has gone full circle.  I started the FI journey through the lens of Dave Ramsey.  I was an advocate of zero liabilities.  I did not hold credit cards, and I was debt-free.  Now I have a personal mortgage, I credit card hack, and I am planning to take on debt for real estate investments.  How did we get here?

Travel was the catalyst that changed my status on the use of debt.  I arrived at an airport a couple of years ago to rent a car with my debit card.  I had paid off my last bit of student loan about a year before this incident.

Because I had no “credit” use, my score had been dropping.  Since I did not believe in debt, I never checked. The rental car agency refused to loan me a car due to my “low” credit score.

I sat there bewildered, I had no debt in the world, plenty of money in the bank, yet somehow, I was deemed unfit to rent a car.  I was both annoyed and frustrated.  I thought I was doing all the right things.  A simple event like renting a car became a turning point in my assessment of using debt responsibly.

As Mrs. E.T.F. and I began to spend more on travel, I started exploring the merits of credit card hacking.  It did not take long to realize that I was spending more money than was necessary and getting no benefit.  After switching to credit cards, we have gone to more destinations without paying a cent.


We have changed entirely from paying for things in cash to using our credit cards.  I pay off my credit cards in full every week or sometimes more frequently, so I am receiving perks without paying any interest.


[PoF: Ramseye-esque behaviors must be tough to shake! Setting up autopay to pay the statement balance by the due date is all that needs to be done with credit cards. Going above and beyond that takes additional time and effort with no added benefit.]


The foundation of Dave Ramsey has been beneficial.  Although I do not adhere to his credit card stance anymore, I still believe in paying off debt as soon as possible.

We planned on paying for our house in cash when I wrote the initial post and renting for five more years.  We did not have the patience and decided to purchase a home within the last year.

Nine months after the purchase, we were able to refinance the initial loan, which was a 30-year fixed rate at 4.75%, to a 15-year fixed rate at 2.875%.  Even with this low-interest rate, we still want to pay off the house in 5-7 years.

Mathematically, it makes no sense, but emotionally it is the right plan for us.  It might be Dave Ramsey still circling in the back of my head, but I do not like owing anyone money.  I have heard all the arguments for credit arbitrage through other venues, but I would rather be debt-free.

My insistence on paying off my personal residence also stems from the fact that we are planning to take on debt to launch our rental portfolio.  Our idea is to purchase a multifamily property, preferably a fourplex, renovate it, and rent the apartments to begin generating passive income.

We plan to buy a new investment every 12-24 months until our passive income from the rentals and stock market investments creates our $150k/year target.  Neither Mrs. E.T.F. or I have any real estate background.  This has caused hesitancy in the past due to the “active” nature of real estate investing.  I thought about investing passively through syndications, but I want to get a better grasp of real estate through ownership.  This avenue will also provide diversity in our investments.

We plan to make our first rental property purchase in 2020.  Our first step is to become educated about the process.  Mrs. E.T.F. and I are currently taking Paula Pant’s Your First Rental Property course.  It has opened my eyes to the amount of information we still have to learn.




Goal Progress


How are we doing with achieving our original set of goals?


1. Fully fund Backdoor Roth IRAs at $11,000/year:

We have dutifully made Backdoor Roth IRA contributions every year. We can now save an extra $1000 due to the changes in the law and are investing the full $12,000/year.


2. Max out retirement options at work for a total of $72k for E.T.F. and $36k for Mrs. E.T.F.:

This was started on day one, and we have not wavered. E.T.F. reduced her work hours this year, but we have continued to invest $38k in her account (another $2k due to the change in the law). I have continued to max out every opportunity presented with the new contribution limits.


3. Buy a 4-year-old minivan in cash for $25k:

No van for us. We decided that our family of four does not need a large vehicle.  We purchased a hybrid hatchback instead.  I love hatchbacks and, in my humble opinion, they are the best-designed cars on the market.

We do rent minivans or SUVs when our families come to town.  I prescribe to the ideology of buying a product for its most common use.  We do not need a minivan to drag four people around daily, just for the occasional need to drive guests.


4. Increase emergency fund to 6x monthly budget:

I think four months of an emergency fund is sufficient. I would prefer the rest of my money work for a higher return.  $40k is an adequate sum to deal with most emergencies.


5. Finish 529s for each child by the age of 4 ($40k per child):

We missed little E.T.F. 1 by a year, but it is fully funded now. We have a full year to complete the goal for little E.T.F. 2.


6. Taxable Investments (freedom fund and college savings):

This is a goal that we have decided to put on hold. Each year, we are investing around $140k in the stock market.  We are going to divert additional funds into buying real estate.


7. Save for a house:

We put 21% down for the initial purchase of our home. In the first year of homeownership, we paid an additional 12% down on the house.  We own 33% of our house currently, the foundation and half of the first floor.  We hope to own the whole first floor by this time next year.


We are achieving our initial goals, and hope to create more challenges for ourselves to accomplish.

There are still a lot of old points I would like to review, but I will save those for future posts.  I just realized this post was getting very long.  Below I will share with you our current net-worth numbers.  When reading other people’s posts, their net worth is the thing I look forward to.  It provides a combination of motivation and a benchmark to aim to achieve.



Net Worth Update


Tracking your net worth is an undervalued motivation tool.  The first time we consistently tracked our net worth was when this article series began 2.25 years ago. It is interesting to look back and see where we started and to see our current asset level.

It’s an excellent snapshot of your financial life and has definitely provided motivation to move forward aggressively.  Coasting past $700k is a huge milestone.  It is difficult to wrap my head around the fact that 2.25 years ago, we had $80k in assets.



Being a financial nerd like the rest of you reading this post, I decided to put our numbers in an investment calculator.  If we were to entirely fall off the savings wagon and put all of our assets into the stock market.

We would have over $8 million at the age of 65 without contributing an additional cent to our nest egg.  Compound interest would account for over 90% of our growth.  If we continue to add to our investments at the current rate, the numbers are staggering.  Let’s see if we can reach our first million in 2020. That is our big goal for the new year.

I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season. See you in 2020!


Follow Ether to FI’s progress to FI in his previous posts:



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43 thoughts on “Ether to FI: Moving Targets & a Net Worth Update”

  1. How are you planning to pay for the real estate investment property. With your history of being so debt averse, will you finance the property or pay cash? I’m a believer in financing real estate in areas that have proven strong growth/appreciation. To me, it’s wasteful to hold large amounts of equity in property when interest rates remain at all-time lows. I own 5 properties with 20% equity in each and borrow 80% at 4.5% interest rate (that’s fully deductible), as opposed to owning 1 property with 100% equity. The appreciation, cash flow, and significant tax benefits of having 5 properties instead of 1 outweigh the “I have no debt” mantra.

    • My views on using debt for real estate are changing the more I read. I think there is a place for the responsible use of debt. The caveat is I am willing to own less property and have them paid off than to own many properties that are leveraged. In a recession, its people who are leveraged who suffer the most. Thanks for reading and commenting. Let me know if you have expanded your holdings.

  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. “If I retire with “too much” money, I will not shed any tears. ”

    You will if you get an unexpected illness and die in middle age. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but it happened to my family when I was a child. Those last few precious years are now gone permanently.

    • Let’s hope I don’t die early. I feel my family is also living very much in the present. Prior to the current travel restrictions, we did a lot of travel. We spend on important things without hesitation. I expect I will die with “too much” money. Thanks for the comments.

  4. The great thing about goals is that they can change overtime and it is not that hard to review numbers. But I feel that most people are afraid of changes because they like to stay in their comfort zone. Are they any tips you can give to help people that need to make financial changes in their life?
    Thanks for sharing! I like the way you explain your net worth and the level of depth you provided. It’s also super motivating to see real life financial cases.

    • This might seem simple, but people should set smaller initial goals. Accomplish something small, helps build the goal muscle. Ex. running a marathon is great, but if you are not a runner, how about setting a goal of running 1 mile without stopping. Thanks for reading, and commenting.

  5. eTF: curious about your logic here, why pay off a loan at 2.8% so you can take out a real estate loan to buy a 4plex at 6-10%? Why not just save payments you would make to your mtg into a side fund and buy your real estate outright. You can then BRRR invest from there at one property per year.

    • Sorry for the delay in response. It makes little financial sense, but we want to own our house free and clear. Hopefully, when we buy the rental property the interest rates will still be at historic lows. Thanks for the comment.

  6. I meant my comment to be mock outrage, so no deep breath needed!

    I’m a pragmatist when it comes to politics.

    It is fascinating to me though that primary care leans left and highly compensated specialists lean right(you can google the studies).

    It’s not wealth per say, since most really wealthy people support Dems( look at Wall Street money 2016).

    Anyway, Happy Holidays to all, Republicans and Democrats, but not libertarians because they are too weird.

  7. JLO:

    Political commercial? Here?

    The reason the unemployment rate is at a decades low and the stock market is flourishing is exactly because of who is running the country. Or it’s business cycles and it doesn’t matter whom the President is. But you can’t have it both ways, depending on whom is in office.

    If you get your wish in November you stand to lose millions.

    I’m planning on being very long and Trump winning.

  8. Etf… how much of the net worth is ur saving (principal) so to speak and how much is market gain? Great job btw …I am incredibly jealous of you…

    • Sadly, most of our net-worth is brute force savings. The compound growth wind has not yet caught our sails. I hope it will start driving us forward in the next couple of years. Thanks for the question. Don’t be jealous, you can easily do the same thing, we have no special tricks just consistency, and this group to keep us honest.

      • yes and the growth is exponential , the growth of my net worth is now 10x+ and then some per year what we save due to investment appreciation , and reinvested dividends , interest , and capital gains. My dividends , capital gains, and interest alone is more than I make as a urologist last few years .

  9. Great job ETF…
    I few words of wisdom and advice from a 53 year old cardiologist who by most measures is well into FI..
    If I include my 2.5 million dollar home and 450k in 529 in my net worth calc I am sitting at 9+million. I have a daughter who is a sophomore in college on the east coast and planning to go to grad school and a high school junior also planning to go to private retail east coast college and med school. I still work full time.

    1. Everyone is a financial expert in times of a strong economy/stock market/real estate market. I recall during the tech bubble the conversations in the doctors lounge around early retirement and which IPO hit it big….I bring this up because we are in a bubble right now…Stock market at all time highs, low interest rates making the value of real estate inflated, low unemployment and no inflation. I see these blog sites as the modern version of the doctors lounge in which advice is easy when times are good. I appreciate that the focus of POF and WCI are really solid concepts that have stood the test of time which is to live within your means and save as much as you can. It seems like there is some drift away from the fundamentals on these sites as they branch out into side gigs and monetized blog sites.

    2. Diversification means owning assets that are currently doing poorly.. I see you have no bonds but you do have a little cash on hand. Rebalancing is really important and that requires the discipline to take money out of strong performing assets and putting it into poorly performing assets. That is the point of diversification!! The hardest thing I do every 6 months is take money out of the stock market and put it in my bond portfolio. HOWEVER, What got me through 2008 was I had cash and bonds. While everyone was panicking during the correction I was buying into the market and those of us who were disciplined to have money to rebalance when the market tanked did very well.

    3. Real estate: My older sister, a very successful attorney in silicon valley went all in on rental properties in 2006. she leveraged the purchases of some duplexes in SF. The market tanked in 2008 and guess what happened: She lost her tenants who lost their jobs and she could no longer charge the same rent to cover her loan payments. At the same time her equities portfolio went down 40% and her income dropped. In order to cover her loans she had to sell assets that were already tanked. Her fixed costs such as property taxes, insurance, repairs etc didn’t go away. There was no market for her properties at a price where she could even break even. She would have lost the properties but I was able to help her out by covering her loan payments. (These properties are now worth a fortune and I should have made her give me equity instead of paying me back.) The point I am making is be certain if you start buying rentals with leverage that you have enough income to comfortably cover the costs for extended periods without any rent coming in and at a time where your net worth may have dropped by 20-40%. Again, real estate valuations are at all time highs with such low interest rates and low yields on other investments. There is a reason in my mind that Warren Buffet is sitting on a mountain of cash. He does not buy overvalued assets.

    4. College savings: My kids were born in 2000 and 20003. I planned as you did to just fund accounts early and it should grow. My older daughter’s current tuition/room and board is 75k a year. What saved us was we lived in Washington state and they had a pre-purchase tuition program. I converted both girls 529 into full 4 years tuition each at 44k in 2006. That was pure luck. Had it been in all stocks like yours it would have been crushed in 2008. I converted it back to 529 in 2013 and was able to see the benefits of a robust market but still have had to supplement up until this year. There is nothing that makes me prouder as a parent than to see my kids work hard and be able to tell them apply to any school you want and we can pay for it….I have lots of friends physicians and otherwise whose kids got into great schools but they did not have the money to pay for it…..

    5. Knowing your net worth is critical but be prepared Do you really know your risk tolerance?….You have not lived through a real bear market or recession. You will. It is repeated over and over by us old farts but you have to live through one to really understand. You have been working so hard for your money. Imagine half of it gone in a blink of an eye. If you think it won’t happen again look at who is running our country and the economic policies which may be worse than 2008. It can be an opportunity if you are disciplined and diversified to take advantage of downturns.
    My wife and I every six months take our net worth and model it as down 40%. This is why I have a 60/40 portfolio and stick to the fundamentals taught by Bernstein, Bogle etc.

    6. Finally, keep up the good work. As many of us old salty MDs will tell you we wish we we could known then what you know now!

    • Thank you for the kind words and advice, I am taking your comments to heart. I am interested to see how my risk tolerance stands up to the falling market. I don’t watch the news, I rebalance once a year, I don’t look at the market except when I need to do my net-worth calculations for these posts. I am planning on staying 100% stocks till I hit 40, and then start incorporating bonds after that time.

      My real estate plan is to have a huge emergency fund for each property, and aggressively pay down each property. We don’t want to be leveraged any longer than we have to. We will not buy property two till we have 50-75% of property one paid off. We also want to get rid of our personal mortgage, so in a downturn, we can pay the rental mortgage out of cash flow if everything goes awry. Our rental portfolio will be built slowly over 15-20 years. I want to adhere to Buffet rule #1, Never lose money.

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed comment.

      • One of the most important things to learn from real estate is to learn from those who failed (or almost failed) during the last recession or at any time.
        You can see from above that his/her Sister bought in an expensive market and was over leveraged and apparently didn’t have enough reserves. Very very risky and very speculative. I wouldn’t consider that investing IMO.

        Look at properties that can sustain themselves even if rents drop 30-40%. Also, invest in areas where in the last downturn the rents didn’t drop. Invest where there are many industries/jobs. Invest in B to C+ areas initially. And certainly don’t be overleveraged.

    • Thanks for this comment. Love hearing sober perspectives from folks who have been through this stuff and can offer the long view. Easy to make plans, harder to deal with the curves life throws at you.

    • I really enjoyed hearing about your experience. As a young physician with two kids, it has provided some great experience and perspective for the times ahead. Congrats to you on all your success. Cheers

  10. Am I interpreting correctly that the goal is to have 40k in the 529s by age 4 then stop funding them? Is the idea that this will compound sufficiently to provide a reasonable amount for college expenses? First time I’ve heard of this “benchmark.”

    • 40K is just my personal benchmark to have that much money by that age to allow it to compound for 14 years. I plan on continuing to fund 529s periodically but will tackle other goals and add future contributions in lump sums. Thanks for the question.

      • Thanks for the reply. I like it! Have been struggling with how to fund ours, currently with a 2 year old and another on the way. At some point, the tax deduction is maxed and it’s just up to us to decide. Good luck in 2020!

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  12. Thanks for the Update ETF! I always laugh to myself a little when I read “passive income” followed by currently taking Paula Pant’s Your First Rental Property course to purchase a multifamily property, preferably a fourplex, renovate it, and rent the apartments

    Lets just call it what it is, your actively acquiring a new business skill set in real estate. Nothing wrong with that, but certainly far from passive, at least at first. I hope you update us and let us know how it goes.

    • There is nothing passive about rental real estate. This is the reason I have been hesitant to go down the route for a little while now. However, being up at 2 a.m. multiple nights in a row makes you reconsider how much easier other “active” ways to make money might be. I expect it to be a second job, and I have found peace with that. It will be something that I own, instead of working for someone else. Thanks for commenting.

      • Do not be afraid of Real Estate. You just need a good intro like Paula Pant or Coach Carson or SemiRetiredMD and you can read the Bigger Pockets books. Also remember that the Paula’s approach may not be the best for you. She will get a deal in distress and put work into it which makes it even more active. Consider Turnkey properties in the beginning. I told one of my MD friends and they went out and bought 5 properties in one day. I asked how is it going and they said they haven’t done anything in 6 months and they will have them paid off in 12-14 years each earning around $1k/mo. They have it with a prop management so it’s very passive for them.

        If you want to be active, real estate is something that is learned best while doing it. You’ll be pretty safe starting small. The first deal is for the education. I’ve bought 5 properties in the last 6 months and do it very part time, like 2-3 hours per month. My wife manages the properties and she never goes to the property. She works maybe 3-4 hours/mo.
        You can use a prop management if you want which I’ll do once I get to a certain point of properties (maybe around 20-25).

        While real estate is certainly not passive income the income is very disproportionate to the time that you put it. And the more you do it the more you can do while working less, letting technology or other persons/companies do the work.

        Good luck.

        • Thank you for the encouragement, we will take the plunge in 2020. We plan on using a property manager. You will get to follow along because I will provide detailed updates.

      • agree . I saved 250$ / kid / month and ended up with 100+ k/ kid . when they went to college , it was as simple as clicking a mouse to pay for college so I never had to did into savings for them

    • I do.

      It’s not counted as part of my retirement savings, but it’s definitely part of our net worth. It’s money we have set aside to cover a future expense (which can be said of any dollar we count as part of our net worth).

      There are a number of circumstances in which some or all of it may not be used for the intended purpose, and one option would be to take it out of the 529 (with penalty).


    • There is a hopeful part of me that is praying they get a scholarship and I can go and be a language student in different countries around the world. I count it because it will offset future expenses like POF states. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  13. Too bad you have missed the Bob Brinker years on Radio. He was on my almost my entire career. Started listening to him as an intern and bought my first 2000$ IRA ( limit that year) on a 19,000$ intern salary . I owe a lot to him ( although he would decline taking any credit on the air ) . I planned my weekends around his show, recorded them , and later listened on demand.
    His basic philosophy was you can do this yourself . The bulk in total stock market index funds / ETFs . couple no load funds . low cost brokerage like Vanguard , Low fees , avoid annuities . Other than an inexpensive newsletter , he had nothing to sell or push. I’m in my 26th year of practice , as Bob says I entered the land of critical mass about 5 years ago ( I make much more from my portfolio than I make from setting an alarm clock ) . It’s sad when you speak to colleagues who have made good money yet have nothing to show for it I wish you well.

    • When you started practicing, I was in the 3rd grade. He was way before my time, but I subscribe to his philosophy. Thank you for listening and taking the time to comment.


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