Today I want to introduce you to Mr. Refined, who blogs at RefinedByFIRE. His story is one of the most incredible stories I've heard in my interview series. He hit rock bottom (beyond what most of us would be able to endure) to being a few short years away from financial independence.
If you're a regular reader of my interview series, you've read some pretty crazy life stories. I'm telling you, folks, Mr. Refined's story is truly remarkable.
I don't want to spoil it for you or bore you with a long-winded introduction. So, I'm going to turn it over to Mr. Refined and let him tell you about the journey that nearly cost him his life.
If you have overcome significant adversity (who hasn't?) of any kind and want to talk about it, I'd love to hear from you. Complete the contact form or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please tell us a little about yourself
My name is Mr. Refined (I blog anonymously). I'm a 35-year-old, single, Christian millennial father and foster father, currently of two. I have a couple of degrees in Physics, Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineer and have carried a day job in various engineering disciplines since graduating. I am passionate about investing and growing wealth.
Although I have never earned a six-figure income for a regular day job, I tripled my investable net wealth in less than a year by applying the Pillars of FIRE and investing wisely. Others started asking a lot of questions about how I did it. That’s when I stumbled on a passion for blogging about personal finance with an emphasis on the FIRE movement at RefinedByFIRE.co. For those that are not familiar, FIRE stands for Financially Independent Retire Early. It is a system of cutting expenses and increasing savings rate so you can retire in an incredibly short working career, in many cases less than 15 years.
My plan is to retire in 10 years. I now own my second small business and am currently looking for my first real estate investment property. I love volunteering in my church and community and lead a few local mastermind groups. Whenever I can get away, I love getting out in nature to backpack or hunt. I hope to do a lot more of those things in my next mini-retirement (sabbatical) as well as my official early retirement when I graciously dismount the hamster wheel and exit corporate America.
Of course, life for me was not always this blessed.
After college, you got a great job and had a horrible thing happen to you. Talk about that as much as you care to share
I graduated in 2008 during a difficult job market with just under 100k of student debt thanks to a far less than financially optimal path. Three universities and 6 years of hard work and all I had to show for what were a couple degrees and a mountain of debt. Luckily one of the companies I interned for offered me a good position at a fortune 500 company that I quickly accepted.
I was surprised by the news that my college sweetheart was pregnant. Exciting news but unfortunately it happened before marriage. When my college sweetheart was 9 months pregnant my vehicle died an unexpected death, a cracked engine block. I didn’t want to be without a car weeks before my son was due to arrive. I bought the first suitable used Honda Civic that I found for the cash I had, $4,500.
Two weeks into my new job my life took an unexpected turn. I was almost fatally assaulted. My injuries included: abrasions down to the bone, bruising across my face, significant blunt force trauma, chest kicked in, broken ribs, a punctured and a collapsed lung, and many others. Approximately 20 guys thought I would be a good exercise as a punching bag. They took turns switching out when one of them got tired working me over. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
(Fred here. This is rock bottom, right? Read on)
While in the hospital you had several other things happen and left you with a huge bill. Tell us what happened and how you dealt with all of that.
During my month-long stay in the most expensive hotel in the world… the US hospital system. I found out I have a rare bio-chemical immunity to most pain medication. They had to start surgery without pain meds. – possibly the worst day of my life… Ha-ha, oh wait not even close, keep reading.
The nurse accidentally turned off my breathing machine one night that kept my lungs inflated via 5 tubes wedged between my ribs into my chest cavity. That certainly set back my recovery time.
My new company called me in the hospital to “check on me” aka assess when I would be returning to work. They put the “pressure” speech on me saying they never expected such a long absence. I had to cope with the additional pressure that they may be looking for a replacement for me while I was recovering.
When I asked about the healthcare benefits they were quick to remind me that I had not completed the vesting period to activate benefits and that insurance would not be effective for another two weeks and it did not cover prior “conditions.”
While in the hospital my car was hit. At this point, I didn’t really care I was just glad it was not my body that was getting hit.
Joy in the midst of misery
In the fourth week of my hospital stay, my college sweetheart was in another hospital going into labor. The next day I got to watch my son’s birth …via skype on a laptop the nurses brought in. I have never felt so powerless laying there in the hospital bed miles away watching my girl endure as much pain as I was in and there was nothing I could do for her, not even hold her hand.
A few days later I met my son for the first time. My college sweetheart brought him to visit me in my hospital before they went home. She set him in my arm and everything changed for me. I felt how warm he was. He was so light and fragile he was. His little lip quivered. I knew this little guy counted on me to toughen up and get out of this hospital. He depended on me to provide for him, to teach him how to throw a spiral football and cast a fishing rod. This little blessing needed a father around.
I knew I had to grin and bear the pain; that my new family counted on me to be there for them and support them. While weak men are defined by their circumstances, strong men are defined by their commitments. I was committed to surviving and supporting my family.
I stopped focusing on the pain and started focusing on the goal of recovery. The doctor said that I could go home that day but that I would have to remain on a portable breathing machine. The three of us, my college sweetheart in one wheelchair, myself in another wheelchair and my son in my lap were wheeled out of the hospital together, holding hands.
Bad news turns…
While I was recovering one of my student loan lenders claimed bankruptcy and the bankruptcy settlement attorney came to collect the remaining amount owed in full to settle the bankruptcy case. I remember laughing aloud before the despair of that letter set in.
I had to get an attorney to represent the fact that there was no reasonable way I could pay in full at this point. My attorney was able to entirely absolve me of all remaining amounts owed. I couldn’t believe it! I had agreed to pay back the balance at a slow and steady rate but because the bankruptcy settlement attorney couldn’t collect in full due to my financial circumstances she wrote off the remaining balance as uncollectable.
The hospital bills came in at just under a $100k. One of the nurses mentioned that I could apply for financial aid and get some assistance with my medical debt. I did just that and learned that I could negotiate the bills given my financial position.
Through financial aid and significant negotiation, I got the total medical debt down to around ~$12k that I had to pay out of pocket. A chunk of my student debt had been absolved in the lender’s bankruptcy settlement as well. Now the total amount I owed felt achievable. It felt like something I could tackle.
I buckled down and paid off my debt in 5 committed years living a low expense lifestyle. During those years, I watched my friends buy houses and new cars.
After going through all of that, paying down your debt, you were planning to marry your college sweetheart. You bought a house and more bad news came, right?
One year later I finally had enough cash stashed for a down payment on a house and a wedding ring. And it was time to get my house in order, literally!
I landed a great paying job at a very low cost of living state with a fortune 30 mega-cap company. My life finally felt back on track! I was able to get a foster license and quickly had a foster placement in my home. A beautiful little blond girl that everyone mistook for my very own daughter. Things are finally looking up. I am designing a beautiful custom engagement ring. I find the dream house (thanks to a stellar credit score from paying down massive debt) in the perfect family neighborhood in a great school district. My offer gets accepted. I close on the house and I wish this is where I got to say I lived happily ever after.
Unfortunately, this is where my story gets difficult.
I carry my college sweetheart across the threshold of the dream house, crack a waiting bottle of wine, fill two wine glasses, propose a toast to our future lives together …only to find out she has been having an affair for the last year with a coworker.
She leaves me, the house, the white picket fence, the kids, she even leaves the dog. A week later I find out she has an apartment, a new life with a new man, and even a new dog. I have known this girl for a third of my life and I learn everything we had was rather expendable to her. DSS threatens to take away my foster daughter after learning my relationship fell apart even though I am the only dad that my foster daughter has known and she has been with me for over two years at this point.
I am an emotional wreck! My heart has been hand torn from my chest, spiked like a football onto a bed of nails, ninja chopped into a thousand pieces and left for the crows to fight over. It felt like everything I was working towards came unwound. I am having trouble focusing at work. My mega-cap company's stock price gets cut in half and goes through massive layoffs and I lose my job.
Dejected, alone, abandoned, emotionally crushed, unemployed, a single income house and up to my eyeballs in expenses. I'm now solely responsible for two young kids, a dog and a new house which is too big with too much yard.
Lucky for me my story does not end there.
(Fred again: This has to be rock bottom. what else can there be?)
A lot of people would have crumbled under all of this tragedy. How did you survive? What turned it around for you?
To be completely honest, I almost did crumble under all the pain and pressure. I have never admitted this, not even to my family but I might as well confess it here…. I will never forget the pain I felt in the hospital. One day the pain was so unbearable that I decided I would pull the plug on my nurse alarm machine, then on my breathing machines and slip quietly into the eternal night.
I prayed for forgiveness. During that prayer, for some reason, God compelled me to hold on just a bit longer. I gave God an ultimatum, ha, as if I could. I agreed to hold on for three more days but if this pain did not relent by then it was lights out. Why? I'd reached my breaking point, the threshold of pain in life where life is not worth living longer so you can feel more pain. My hope is that no reader ever gets to this point. Luckily three days later is when I met my son.
An Easter turnaround
The day after I found out about the affair was Easter and I went to church. I spent the entire sermon in tears, a complete wreck. There was an invitation to pray with someone near the end of service and I responded. I did my best to tell the poor guy that had to listen to me in that state. It was there I ended up surrendering to Christ that morning; committed to living for something greater than my own success. At the time, it was like no matter what I tried I would never be successful by my own efforts. How good of a job I held or how hard I worked didn't matter. I found things worth living for that are greater than myself or money.
I took the rest of the summer off to enjoy a mini-retirement. We filed an appeal to reverse the removal of my foster daughter. My kids and I spent quality time together every day. We played ball, went fishing, and became regulars at the community swimming pool. There was a lot of introspective mornings on my porch thinking about the future direction of my life. Where would I go in the next chapter?
During that time, I found the FIRE movement, tripled my investable net worth in less than a year, found lower stress job, and adopted my foster daughter. Now I blog about personal finance, FIRE, investing, entrepreneurship, motivation, and building scalable side income into businesses.
What would you tell others in the midst of a crisis? What encouragement would you give them?
Life’s disasters don’t have to devastate your life. You choose exactly how much power life hold over you. Your life is not defined by the things that go wrong but rather by your reaction to them. You get to choose your attitude about everything you endeavor to endure or concur in life.
Your past does not define your future it refines the person responsible for creating your future. We learn far more from our failures than our successes. You will be exactly as successful in life as you make up your mind to be. My hope is that you will dream much, bigger than you currently are. Your imagination is the only limit to your success.
You never know how few the days are between the storm clouds of today and the well-watered green pastures of tomorrow. The spoils go to the one who endures. A trial that you give up on is called a failure. A trial that you endure is a testimony of growth and success. You only have to get up one more time that you are knocked down in life to be successful. When you want to give up, get up.
I was prepared to give up on life three days before I meet my son but when I met him for the first time laying on my back in the hospital I chose to get up. I chose to make a future for others not just myself. All that success you read in the intro. may not be possible if I went one more day without meeting my son. Sometimes all success requires is that you go one more day than you think you possibly can.
Thank you, Mr. Refined for sharing your remarkable story. The fact that you survived a senseless, horrible beating is amazing in itself. Tack on the other tragedies along the way and it's even more amazing.
I know anyone reading this will find hope and encouragement in whatever they may be dealing with in their own lives. Your courage and transparency in telling your story are inspiring.
Now it's your turn. Let Mr. Refined know what you think. How did hearing his story inspire you? How can you use it to inspire others?