In 2003, Mr. and Mrs. Groovy, the creators of Freedom is Groovy, experienced an “aha” moment. “Our property taxes on our 600-square foot condo went from $3,800 to $5,400 a year,” remembers Mr. Groovy. “That’s the moment we dedicated ourselves to mastering personal finance and getting the hell out of New York.”
They started their personal finance journey by reading books such as David Bach’s Automatic Millionaire and the Thomas Stanley and William Danko book Millionaire Next Door. But what really kick-started their journey is something Mr. Groovy calls “geoarbitrage” — moving from an expensive geographic location to a cheaper one.
“We moved in 2006 at the height of the real estate boom,” Mr. Groovy told me. “Because of the huge profit we made on our New York condo sale, we purchased a home outright and wiped out any remaining debt we had.”
They moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. They found everything they needed: cheap housing, reasonable taxes, warm weather, friendly people and plenty of amenities.
They originally bought the one-bedroom condo in New York in 1998 for $70,000. They sold it in 2006 for $340,000 and walked away with $250,000 after they finished the deal. Mr. Groovy says one reason they chose North Carolina was “the New York Times came out with an article about Charlotte and fried pickles. After one visit to Charlotte we were hooked.”
They also started maxing out their investments: From 2006 to 2016 they maxed out both of their Roth IRAs every year. And from 2006 to 2013 they put $2,000 a month into their joint brokerage account. They also contributed 15 percent of their salaries to their 401(k) at work.
They planned on working $10 an hour jobs once they settled in North Carolina, but Mr. Groovy says they lucked out. He worked as a highway inspector for the government for 20 years. He also managed their database systems — “I am totally self-taught in SQL, ACCESS, and SQL Server,” says Mr. Groovy.
Once he left, the employer allowed him to use all his accumulated comp time. He also trained another employee once a month in New York. Between the comp time and the training, Mr. Groovy received a paycheck for a whole year. Mrs. Groovy only worked at her job for a year but her employer let her work remotely from North Carolina. She was a program coordinator for a nonprofit society.
Retirement and living under the radar
On October 14, 2016, they both retired. They live comfortably and without much fanfare — but he says they aren’t spendthrifts. “We take great pride in living under the radar,” says Mr. Groovy. “We have the crappiest car on our block. Big Saturday nights for us are Blizzards at the Dairy Queen. We buy clothes at Walmart and Kohl’s. We’d rather spend our money on experiences.”
The Groovy family believes personal finance is less a math problem than an ego problem. People spend money on fancy cars, homes, clothes and entertainment to feed their ego. But the experiences they gain from those unnecessary expenses are minimal — and if a person can’t afford those things, the experience becomes stressful.
They prefer traveling. They’ve visited Italy and over 20 states in the U.S. “We spend money on what is important to us for having a secure and healthy retirement,” says Mr. Groovy. “That includes travel and spending time with family. It may not excite anyone else but that’s okay.”
Mr. Groovy also spends time picking up garbage around his community. When he worked as foreman of a road maintenance crew on Long Island, he and his crew picked up garbage once a week. This task embarrassed his crew but Mr. Groovy found value in it — especially now during his retirement.
He says, “It provides three distinct benefits: It shows motorists and passersby that at least one person in the neighborhood cares; it provides terrific exercise; and it gives me an opportunity to think up great blog posts.” (It also inspired him to start his vlog “Talking Trash With Mr. Groovy.”)
I asked Mr. Groovy what he wanted from his blog. He told me it gives him something to do during retirement but more importantly, “I thought our financial journey would help other people,” says Mr. Groovy. “Mrs. Groovy and I got married in our early 40s. We had no real savings and no retirement to speak of. Yet within ten years we managed to save 25 times our annual expenses and retire.”
So, when you need some cool financial advice or just need a pick-me-up, check out Mr. Groovy. As he says: “Read this blog, heed my teachings, and take a hit of freedom. I guarantee it will be a groovy trip.”