View from the Drunken Duck

Baking the Family PIE: Our Story and What Got us FIRE’d UP.

Spurred on by the good folks over at The Money Mine and  Slowly Sipping Coffee, we have taken up the challenge to document what got us FIRE’d up.

Big thanks to Mr. SSC who allowed me to steal a theme from his post. I have mapped some key milestones in the family PIE evolution onto new drug approvals from the FDA. Like the oil industry, the pharmaceutical industry is tough. The ups and downs of drug approvals over the years is something I could speak about for longer than you would care for…..

picture of drug approvals

Please allow us to also to share the back-story of the journey of the family PIE (Plan Invest Escape) – a story from half-baked, through a rising oven temperature to nearly over-cooked. The icing on the cake is yet to come.

Working in the UK – The Wonder Years (1992-1998)

I was first employed in 1992, having completed a B.Sc. and Ph.D. in chemistry. I moved from the great city of Glasgow to another fun city in central England where I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry. In 1995, a “year-out” student joined my lab and became part of my team. This young lady was the future Mrs. PIE. That whole story is another post in itself for another day! The young lady went back to university, completed her degree and was offered a job in the south of England with another large pharmaceutical company. The “long distance” (in the UK, long distance is all relative!) romance ensued with each making frequent trips to see each other at weekends. I decided to buy a house in early 1998.

Closing officially occurred in April 1998 when we were actually in the US on vacation – with a side of business. During that trip, I was offered a job with the US Biotech arm of my company and I accepted. As I have mentioned before, this wasn’t a difficult decision for us. More “how?” and “when?” than “should we?” The house was put back on the market within a month and was sold 6 months later for  around $3,000 profit. Luck is better than a strategy sometimes. All closing costs and incidentals were covered by my company under my international relocation package. Cars were sold to family members, most house appliances sold also, either with the house sale or through other avenues.

An integral part of that plan involved connecting Mrs. PIE with a head-hunter in the US and the job hunt for Mrs. PIE commenced. A trip was organized to the US in July 1998 where Mrs. PIE interviewed with five companies (in four days!) was offered a position with each of them. She made the good decision to join a company that she is still employed by today.

Lifestyle philosophy: living life to the fullest in vibrant UK cities, especially on weekends. Regular trips to London, European vacation destinations (the Greek Isles, Scottish Highlands, English Lake District, Paris, wine country of Burgundy to name but a few). Our approach to spending money on great experiences started in earnest. The ingredients for the PIE life were being slowly but surely mixed.

Savings approach: Each paying off small amount of debt (car loans), saving into a pension plan through each company. Cash reserves adequate to assist with the new stuff (furnishings, appliances, electronics etc.) we would be buying upon relocation to the US.



A couple of photos taken near Ullswater in the Lake District,United Kingdom

Makryalos scene

Makrigialos, Coastal Crete in the Greek Isles. Summer bliss!

The Big Move and Start of our New Life (November, 1998)

Once all the difficult conversations and sad goodbyes with family and friends had taken place, we hopped aboard a flight out of London to the US on November 9th, 1998.  From Old England to New England. Our new life had just begun and we were as excited as you could imagine. The international relocation package made for a smooth transition and for that we are eternally grateful:

  • All closing costs on sale of UK home covered
  • First class tickets on British Airways for two (there was champagne, lots of champagne!)
  • 1-month paid temporary accommodation
  • Realtor costs covered to secure a home rental and new home purchase
  • All closing costs for purchase of a new home covered if we purchase within 12 months
  • $15K stipend for appliance, electronics purchases
  • Greencard applications all handled through my company attorneys

The move was a lot easier than we expected. We rented for 11 months in a small suburb with easy access on the “T” to the city. We enjoyed the city life to the max: new restaurants, sporting events, the theater, trips to NYC, while at the same time saving for a down payment on our dream home. We accomplished this by having Mrs. PIE’s salary funneled right to our savings account.

In the mid 90’s, a lot of money was being thrown at biotech by investors. If you had gene, genetics, or genome even associated with your company name, money came flooding in. Our salaries increased and Mrs. PIE got an increasing number of lucrative stock options.

As you can see from the figure, it would take some time for the industry to get anywhere back to a level of productivity that was necessary to sustain it.

Lifestyle philosophy: new jobs, new city, new life, wonderful new experiences. Living the dream to be honest.

Saving approach: each of us started paying into our 401K close to the max. Saved for down–payment on our dream home.

A New Home and all that Stuff (1999-2002)

We decided to buy in the ‘burbs. A 4-bedroom colonial (yes, for just us two) with workable commutes (we thought at least…..) to each job. We had a sizeable mortgage (8% interest rate initially!) until PMI removal and our first refinance put a big dent in the over-sized monthly payment. We slowly and methodically furnished each and every room. Best Buy, Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel became great destinations that our salary enjoyed visiting. Interestingly, we never sought out the additional “stuff” like high end fancy cars, expensive jewelry, boats – the stuff that could have become a real killer for our finances.

In 2001, we got married at Boston City Hall. Lots of family, friends from the UK were in attendance. It was a small wedding by standards here in the US. Suddenly it came upon us – we had moved country, bought a home together, got married. Life was good. Salaries were good. A foundation was being laid….to spend money.

Lifestyle philosophy: new home and marriage. Still living the dream.

Saving approach: maxing out 401K’s, IRA’s launched for each. Increasing cash reserve slowly and steadily.

The Spendy Years (2002-2008)

With a new home fully established and settling into married life, we continued to live the dream. Again, experiences were top of the list. Exploring the hip and trendy new restaurants, helping parents to travel and visit us, summer jaunts to the Caribbean, exploring North America winter destinations like Whistler, Steamboat, Telluride, Quebec City and our favorite Jackson Hole.  Sometimes more than once in a calendar year. Life was easy and so was spending. In 2007 small PIE #1 was born and a new reality dawned in more ways than we ever imagined.

IMG_1421Happy Times in Jackson Hole. Stoked!

Saona view 5

Saona Island, Dominican Republic

Lifestyle philosophy: yep, you probably guessed – experiences, experiences…..

Saving approach: maxing out 401K’s, IRA contributions continued. 529 plan started upon the birth of small PIE#1. The reality of childcare costs and college planning became apparent in our savings rate….

Getting our Stuff Together (2008-2014)

You may be reading this and conjuring up a picture of over-spending and not saving. Not really. Since the very first day we were both employed, we each contributed healthy amounts to pension plans in the UK and 401K’s in the US. In terms of 401K investment, our contributions of  around $10K (1999) rising to $18K (today) per person along with IRA contributions (not over the whole period) have built a tax-deferred account that will ensure a very comfortable lifestyle when they can be accessed.

We have stated before that we won’t disclose our net worth. Stick those numbers into any calculator with a growth rate of 5-7% and the numbers may surprise you. Yes, compound interest is a wonderful thing. That’s despite the Dot-Com bubble burst of 2000 and the Great Recession of 2008 – two significant financial events in the period we have lived in the US. Remember, the 2008 crisis wiped out about 40-50% of the value of any equity based portfolio.

With small PIE #1 being born, we made the decision that both of us would continue to work. Mrs. PIE moved to reduced-time at 4 days per week, with a corresponding 20% reduction in salary. With close family in the UK, that required looking into childcare options, obviously fully cognizant of the associated costs. No sooner than we were getting used to the monthly cost for small PIE #1 we excitedly welcomed small PIE #2 into the world.  The combined cost of placing the two small PIES in childcare over 7 years amounted to close to $130,000. Let that number sink in for a moment. Think of how that six figure number could have compounded. We love our children dearly, they do things that amaze us each day, they have changed our lives for the better. And that comes with the associated costs that have to be factored in for every family who makes the choice to have children while pursuing careers in parallel.

All that being said, another great thing happened for us during this period. We became citizens of the USA on May 21st, 2009. In a ceremony at Faneuil Hall in Boston, a city where much American history has been shaped, we were declared US citizens.

With kids, we never cut back on seeking out new experiences. For example, they have traveled with us to the UK multiple times for family vacations, we put them on skis at the age of 3, and we hike the mountains of the North East together. New experiences, family experiences. No change really.

Lastly, we have always loved Northern New England for hiking, skiing and many different vacation spots. In 2013, we purchased a second home in the mountains. Cash savings and the use of some stock options that Mr. PIE had built up in previous few years allowed this to happen. This home has become our weekend getaway from the madness of the working week. Honestly, when we purchased it, we did not realize it would become a big part of our FIRE plan.

Lifestyle philosophy: double income (with Mrs. PIE salary reduction), two kids, family experiences

Saving approach: maxing out 401K’s. 529 plans for both kids.  Invested in alternate vehicles such as non-traded REITs. Bonuses, stock options and some cash savings put towards purchase of a second home.

The Financial Advisor and the FIRE’d up moment (2014 – today)

We have documented our experiences with a financial advisor already. We won’t go into more detail here. Suffice to say, this was the turning point that really got us FIRE’d up. Our experiences with him when we tried to discuss a retirement plan were painful. It simply told us that our plan was so much better than any plan his team could ever put together.

I had also been getting progressively disillusioned with the workplace since 2013 and over time got acquainted with various blogs describing an alternative lifestyle – Jim Collins and Can I Retire Yet blogs are two examples of great sites where the essence of our plan was validated and further enhanced. Revealing our plans to family and a few close friends recently somehow has made it all very real.

Lifestyle philosophy: intentional and careful spending; experiences remain a high priority

Saving approach: maxing out 401K’s. 529 plans for both kids.  All bonuses, stock option exercises and large monthly deposit all to Vanguard. Anticipated large profit based on equity we have built in our primary home.

On writing this post, a number of things became clear to us and the path we are taking. Although the FIRE’d up moment was a pivot point, the embers had been slowly burning for a long time. Our inherent awareness to be saving from the moment we started work was always going to work in our favor. Yes, the laser-focused savings mission from 2014 to 2018 is important. But it is building upon 20 years of slow and steady – compound interest is hard to beat.

Looking back, would we have done things any differently?

We doubt it. The experiences with our UK lifestyle and the new life we created in the US are priceless. Those experiences can never be replaced. We made a few mistakes along the way but who hasn’t?

A reader also asked us a great question in the comments section of a recent post:

Would you have been on this same path if you had remained in the UK?

That’s a tough one. Oh to create that parallel universe to answer the question. The things that were different for us through living in the US were as follows:

  1. Our salaries and benefits increased dramatically, supporting a different lifestyle and allowing us to save more over the long haul. Basic math tells you that you can save more even with periods of inflated spending. It’s what you earn and what you can save. Both are ideal.
  2. The cost of living overall in the US is less than the UK. Property prices, car insurance, clothes and eating out are a few areas where the difference is noticeable. The combination of 1+2 is powerful.
  3. An expectation that more initiative is required here in the US allows you to create your own destiny, on your terms. It is different in the UK, at least it was back in ‘98. It is a different mindset that we have slowly learned which has put us on this path.

I mentioned earlier about living the dream. We still are. The icing on the PIE cake is just around the corner.


  1. Thanks for sharing that, Mr. PIE. Actually Dr. PIE!
    It seems like even in your early years you never did anything outright irresponsible, financially at least :). That helps a lot!
    Similar story to mine: Contribute the max to the 401k, no credit card debt, etc., and keep lifestyle inflation in bounds. The increases in salary and bonuses then accelerate the savings without ever having the need for a life-changing, financial WTF-moment where I had to slash expenses. Net worth just grew as a result of many years of compounding. This approach to FIRE may take a little bit longer but so far has been a pleasant journey without having to deprive myself of anything.
    Another thing to consider: I just checked what was the S&P500 return July 1998-July 2016. Only 5.7% p.a. with dividends reinvested (3.6% after inflation). So even with pretty mediocre returns it’s possible to achieve FIRE. In some way, the volatility in between probably helped you, being able to pick up new stock investments at bargain basement prices in 2002 and 2009.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Yep, those numbers sound about right for our approach. The lifestyle over inflation never really happened but it could have so easily.

      Going through 2008 was sobering for sure. Could do without that stuff for a while!

  2. I love the graph of historical industry events as well as your story. (I loved SSC’s too!) And it’s really hard to say woulda coulda shoulda. We’re all here now and we’re all headed in the right direction. I Love this!

    1. Thanks Maggie. Living for the now is so, so important. Although I take my hat off to those who go hardcore with saving, I can’t help thinking they are missing out on so much of life’s rich ( or not so rich) experiences.

  3. A great tale from start to the almost-finish of the PIE story. I wish I could tell mine as well as you have Mr PIE. I look forward to the conclusion over the coming months.

    What’s interesting is that at no time do you appear to have been excessively frugal. I’m guessing that having two decent salaries over the years has helped but at the end of the day you’ve lived within your own personal budget, contributed heavily your savings plans and are soon to reap the rewards.

    What I mean is, that even though you had a good income you didn’t join the herd and want to have more with the corresponding borrowing that usually accompanies this.

    A great story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Thanks Martin! Appreciate the kind words.

      No doubt we were/are grateful to enjoy two good salaries. That is always going to be in your favor.

      And you are spot on – we never let it get out of hand. And it could have , oh so easily.

      It took me some time to write this but it was kinda fun doing it. I think…

  4. That’s a great story, and I love the graph! It’s interesting plotting life events over something relative to your industry and seeing how it all shakes out. 🙂

    We also didn’t add the acoutrements of fancy cars and/or jewelry to go along with our day to day dribbling away our spending. My “fancy car” was a new 2010 V6 Camaro, yep didn’t even go the V8 route because as I said then, Umm, 311 HP is more than enough to drive to work in, lol. Sigh, I loved that car… We did do a lot of “experience spending” over things as well. It’s nice having those memories and trips to look back on.

    I love reading about evryone’s backstory, and especially getting more of an insight as to how you came around to getting FIRE’d up. That was a great idea from Nick!

    1. Thanks to Nick and you for spurring us on.!! Always good to get kicked now and again into action!!

      I googled that car. Quite a beast. Was it a wild yellow or wicked red in color? Good you cut back on the opulent V8 route and went for the very pedestrian 311 HP that every aging retiree should consider for wheels to get back and fro the local bridge club.

      Mrs. PIE once owned a 1.1L Nissan Micra. It would have given your Camaro a run for its money in cuteness…. She swears she had it over 100 mph on the M11 motorway once back in the day.

      1. I went with the classy metallic gray color and then tinted windows. 🙂 I had it hit the 115 mph limiter more than once and it would almost give you whiplash when you hit that speed because it was still accelerating so quickly. Sigh….

        I briefly looked online for compuer mods to readjust the limiter or turn it off, then I realized it would probably extend my life if I just left it on and accept that there’s never any reason to be doing 115mph…

      2. You guys are great, I love that story Mr PIE, thanks for sharing it!

        It’s funny how you are now talking about saving and investing with all this spending that came before that haha. I did the same and in a way, it’s probably better to do that young, when we don’t have that much money to spend.

        This is very good that you got FIRE’d up after discussing with a financial adviser, because he wasn’t able to define a better plan than yours! Knowing that you had a plan that was better than was professionals can put together must have been very satisfying. And a proof that finance isn’t so complex that you need other people to tell you what to do.

        I really like what you said “Luck is better than a strategy sometimes”, it reminds me of a quote Saint Exupery that goes like “The future, you don’t have to predict it, you have to allow it.”. That may has well be part of the strategy.

        1. Yeah, pre kids was when we had a lot of our spendy days. It’s funny what we did with all our time without kids. Spend money in part!

          Spending time getting to understand investing is worth every penny ( forgive the pun) and that advisor is a distant memory.

          Thanks for the inspiration to put this post together. I had fun doing it.

  5. What a great story, thanks so much for sharing!

    I’m curious, you mentioned that you knew it was just a matter of time before you moved to the U.S. Is that because of the field you were in and that was common? Did you know others who made the move? And did you know right away that it would be a permanent move? So interesting. Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Great questions. I toyed with the idea of coming to the US to do a post doc after my PhD. Mrs PIE has always done things the non traditional way in her family. The combination of the two of those made for an easy decision when the opportunity arose.

      We made a commitment to ourselves to stay for five years at least when we arrived. Didn’t take long to realize this would be permanent. Although there were / are some moments that are still challenging e.g when friends or family are ill. Not so easy to drop everything and go see them in a hurry. And it would be great to have grandparents closer for the kids to see more of them and vice versa.

  6. Thanks for sharing your story, you two packed a ton of major life events in a pretty small window all on top of an international move

    Even in your spending year you were doing more than most

    1. Thanks AE!
      When you are younger and full of energy, finding and doing new things is always fun.
      I do wonder if an international move with kids would have been harder. I suspect yes but still would have been a heck of an experience doing it together.

      Compound interest is very powerful over the long haul.

  7. This is a wonderful look-in the oven to see how the PIE is getting made. You have all the ingredients combined in the right order and are just waiting to remove the pie protectors for the last 15 minutes so that the edges will be perfectly golden-brown without burning.

    1. Love it. Thank you for the kind words.

      Mrs. PIE is an avid baker, in fact a really talented baker. She loved your comment also. 😀

  8. That’s a wonderful story, PIEs. You were quite the adventurers deciding to just up sticks and move like that. It’s definitely worked out for though. Do you have plans to move back to the UK or are you going to live in the USA for the rest of your lives?

    Also, good job for getting rid of that advisor. Sounds like you know more about finances than he does 🙂


    1. Hi Tristan.

      Great questions. This is very much home. We love it here. No plans to move back to the UK. We will continue to use our air miles and travel hacking for visits to see family and explore Europe with the kids.

      We need to get down under also at some point to explore your beautiful country. On our list when we have more time on our hands…..not long now though…..

      Oh yeah, punting the advisor was the right decision. Have not looked back!!

  9. This was an amazing post! It is so interesting to see your journey and how it has unfolded over the years! I took note of your comment that “our plan was so much better than any plan his team could ever put together”. We had a similar experience early in our path to taking charge of our finances (from the high fee advisors). We did a lot of head nodding and listened to their stories of woe that we would face if we managed our own retirement accounts. And as you did – we punted our advisors too. I can’t even think of the money we lost – but those are mistakes I hope to explain to my kids. Love all your travel stories and looking forward to you continuing to share more!

    1. As long as we don’t make the same mistakes twice, we should be good. Our advisor was actually a decent guy at heart. Just very different ideas to us when it came down to it and not so good on the retirement planning side.

      Glad you navigated the path to uncoupling from your advisor. They do like to be the chickens of doom.

      We too look forward to travel and lots of it!! One of our passions. 😀

  10. Thx for sharing the story… The graph is just great. How to tell a story of life…!

    Great to read that a home made plan can put you on the rod to FIRE…! Although I think I will go and see a planner once. Some banks offer it for free to then convert you as a client. Let’s see. A new one is opening up closely soon.

    I like the philosophy you have for life: intentional spending and building experiences. That is our plan as well. Even when it comes at price. Ski last year was great, we will do it again this season…

    1. I am sure you are going to the planner armed with information. So the knowledge will be on your side. And since it is free, no harm in taking advantage of it.

      Great that you are exposing kids to the ski slopes. They will be out-skiing you in no time!

  11. Ah, you remind me of NOT buying London property in the early 2000s……… that woulda been nice.

    Thanks for sharing your journey. My journey to FIRE started the first month of work in 1999 after I realized I wouldn’t be able to last coming in at 5:30am and working past 7;30pm every day. If I had a cozy job, I probably would still be working!


    1. Ah, coulda, woulda, shoulda…..the (not) buying remorse.
      Looking back, can’t believe I bought AND sold within a few months. Madness.

      Yeah those hours would put anybody off the 9-5 or should I say 5-9?!

      Thanks for swinging by and reading our story, Sam.

    1. Jon, thanks for checking us out. We think we have found a good balance of “life living” and now saving harder for the next great adventure. Fun times!!

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