Ryan A – A Portrait of Freedom and No Regrets

Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP®

There are many ways to achieve financial independence, but then what? Ryan and his wife are living the FILE life and have no regrets.  This story is one of 26 portraits in my book “Portraits of Childfree Wealth”.   Ryan shares about how retirement did not really fit, how he adjusted his life, and what happens when your spouse changes their mind about having children.  

Ryan A
47, Male, Married, Utah
Bachelor’s in Marketing
Fractional Chief Marketing Officer

Ryan has been married to his wife, Anna, for 17 years. He works as a fractional chief marketing officer and runs his own consulting business. He and his wife work from home with their dog, a cockapoo named Bailey, when they aren’t traveling and working from some far-off spot. Ryan works no more than 25 hours a week (and never on Fridays) and has reached financial independence. He has the freedom to do what he wants, when he wants, and lives a life of no regrets.

Ryan never wanted children:

“I never wanted children. I grew up in a conservative Christian environment where everyone had children, and it always just seemed terrible to me, to be completely honest. Everyone would say children are a blessing, but then their lives were kind of hell and miserable and terrible. You could see that they were constantly stressed and anxious and all these costs and all these problems and the kids had problems. So I just have no passion for this.”

Being Childfree cost Ryan some girlfriends and changed his dating life:

“I’ve certainly lost several girlfriends over it [being Childfree] in college. They wanted to get married. I said, yeah, I just don’t want to have kids. That was a deal killer for them, which is great. I couldn’t care less. And so, when I met my wife, I had said, I have a strong desire to remain Childfree, and she did as well.”

Ryan and Anna were married for five or six years before she changed her mind and decided she wanted kids:

“We got married. We were married probably about five or six years, and she reversed her decision on that [being Childfree]. She decided she wanted kids. As luck would have it, either positive or negative, we had major fertility issues. In the end, we were unable to have natural children. I was kind of [relieved], and she was kind of depressed about it for a while. But she has come to terms with it now, and for us, adoption and all that was just not an option. So, we just decided to live our best life, Childfree.”

Ryan’s situation is not unusual. It is a common concern among Childfree individuals that their spouse might change their minds later in life. However, Ryan was very clear and that he was Childfree, but he was willing to have a child for Anna:

“It took me a little bit of time just to come around to the idea [of having a kid]. Eventually, my thinking was, either she can be miserable, or I can be miserable. And if she’s miserable, we’re both going to be miserable. I thought I could always just get an office outside the house. I love working from home, but I thought, there’s an office building a mile away, so I can do that and still have a largely childfree existence. I had told her if we’re doing this, we’re having a kid, no plural, just one. She had agreed to that. I think ultimately that if we had had a kid, it would have been okay, but we didn’t, and it’s all good.”

I asked Ryan if there was ever a moment during his debate with Anna over kids where he thought about splitting up:

“Absolutely not. My wife and I are soulmates. We are supposed to be together. I don’t believe that there’s just one person for everyone or even one person for anyone, but my wife and I are a good match. And ultimately, it came down to her happiness. And if I can do something that supports her happiness without making my life too terrible, I’m going to do it. And the reality is I can afford a nanny. I can afford childcare. We are in a financial situation where she could have stayed home if she wanted to. So we had some flexibility there.”

While Ryan is still adamantly Childfree, he shared:

“I’ll tell you at this stage in my life, there’s a part of me that wishes the kid had worked out, the singular kid. I think that at this point in my life, it would be potentially more fulfilling, but there, there was no way to do it.”

I asked him why he thinks it might be more fulfilling:

“I have no clue. It’s kind of like all the years I lived in a condo with no yard and worked 80 hours a week. I always thought to myself, you know, it’d be nice and fulfilling to have a dog. I’ve always liked dogs. I grew up with a dog, and then when I finally got a house, I got a dog, and it was great. So I just have that same general feeling based on nothing.”

Ryan has no interest in adopting and isn’t rethinking being Childfree, but he sees his values shifting as he gets older:

“I feel my value system changing as I get older and shifting as I get older. As I get older, I would say I become more socially liberal. As I get older, I become more focused on friends and family and much less focused on making money and accumulating things. In fact, I’m trying to get rid of things. So, I think that it’s part of that, that spiritual shift, maybe it is wisdom, maybe it is experience, maybe it is something else, I don’t know.”

Even with all that in mind, Ryan does not have any regrets. He does not see a value in having regrets in life:

“I’m not a regret type of person. I think that hindsight is much better than foresight, but I don’t tend to live with much regret in general. I’ve always tried to make the best decision I could with the information I had at the time. In doing that, you know that you’re not going to get it right every time. So I think that in, in doing anything, you know, the fact that I became a marketer, not a doctor or I became a marketer, not a lawyer, I became a marketer instead of something else, you know, that you always take something off the table and you leave everything else. I realized that’s just how it is. So in making this choice, I don’t have a lot of regret because I’m just not a regret personality. People say, oh, don’t you wish you would’ve bought Netflix stock when it IPO’d? And I’m like, of course, I do. But I’m a Vanguard investor. So I didn’t, and I’m fine with my choices there. No regrets.”

Instead of regrets, Ryan sees the benefits of being Childfree as freedom and flexibility. He and his wife have the freedom to do whatever they want, including traveling and working from anywhere:

“A few months ago, I’m thinking, eh, it’s getting cold. Let me book a month in Palm Springs. So I just popped on my app on my phone, found a place, booked it. I said to the wife, let’s go, and we left. I can put my entire office in a backpack, and we’re out of here. We go and sit in Palm Springs for a month and do whatever. I can do anything like that.”

Ryan is living a life I call FILE rather than FIRE. FILE is Financial Independence, Live Early, versus Retire Early. If FIRE is an on/off switch for work, FILE is a dimmer switch. He did “retire” before but needed the stimulation of work on his terms. He enjoys being a marketer:

“I could bang off and not work anymore, and I’d be fine. You know, we may not have as many, our trips might be a little more scaled back and some of our other things, but I’d be fine if I didn’t work anymore. But it’s nice to be able to choose what I want to do and whom I want to do it for. And to be able to do it for 20 or 25 hours a week. I have a few collaborators in my business, and I’ve taught them that 25 hours is my outside maximum. If there’s an emergency, if a client needs something, if something is burning down, if I’ve worked my 25 hours, I’m done. I don’t work Fridays, And I don’t work before 10:00 AM ever for any reason. Those are my boundaries. It’s a pretty nice thing to be able to do in your forties and to have that flexibility.”

I pushed Ryan on his boundaries a bit, and he did not budge. He has a well-defined set of values, and sticks by his limits, even if it costs him business:

“I’ve done this for 15 years now. In my first couple of years in business, I had some client management challenges and quickly learned that you have to have hard and fast rules that are inflexible. As soon as we put those into place, honestly, I’ve never really had much of a problem ever since. A few years ago, I had one client on the East Coast that wanted to meet early in the morning. Eventually, we had to part ways.”

Ryan can do this because he is financially independent. Part of that may be due to not having kids, but a more significant part is that he followed a simple financial plan all of his life. He stayed out of debt and invested in the stock market (Vanguard funds primarily), real estate, and businesses:

“I’m still following the same plan that I created in college. I created my financial plan literally when I was 21 or 22 after somebody gave me a copy of [the book] The Millionaire Next Door. I read that, and I was like, wow, this is kind of cool. And then learned about John Bogel, Vanguard, and all of that. I thought, well, this is, this is pretty cool too. I bought into a real estate project with my mom when I was 19. I had a job, and you know, just kind of have continued along that same path. I know what works for me. It’s multi‑family property, Vanguard funds, business ownership, DONE.”

Ryan was also debt-free from his mid-twenties and never had a mortgage. He started in a “small, cheap condo” and now lives in a $1.2 million house that he and his wife gutted and then remodeled with a completely custom interior. He shared that after posting in some FIRE groups online, he got quite the reaction for not believing in debt:

“They’re angry that I don’t believe in debt. And I don’t believe in business debt either. I’ve had people that are very, very angry. They’re like, well, how can you not have debt? It’s like not having skin or something [to them]. Debt has been so culturally ingrained. My first job out of college, the worst job of my life, was working in the pharmaceutical industry, peddling drugs for Johnson and Johnson. When I was in that job, I wound up thinking to myself, you know what? These drug companies were trying to own everything. They want to own the medical schools. They want to own the doctors. They want to get to the point where all the doctors know how to do is prescribe pills. They don’t know anything about holistic wellness. They don’t know anything about functional medicine. It should be pills, pills, pills. And I feel like our debt system and our financial system has done the same thing to our people. It’s so ingrained that, you know, you should be able to have it now, right now, there’s no waiting. There’s no saving. You’re entitled to having it now and paying all these minimum payments, debts, and interest. There is this belief that there is good debt. A student loan is good debt, an auto loan is good debt, and a mortgage is good debt. I’m like, nah, I don’t buy any of that.”

Ryan has been faithful to his word and has never paid a penny of mortgage interest in his life. He still drives the Lexus ES that he and his wife bought 20 years ago for $17,000 in cash. It isn’t that he does not have the money. He just doesn’t see the value in a new car:

“I’ve got a $1.2 million house that is paid for. I have a million-dollar rental property that is paid for. I’ve got seven figures of business equity. I’ve got another seven figures in my stock portfolio. My net worth is probably in the $5 million range, but I don’t see the value in spending money on a car. A car that I don’t need, and we hardly ever drive.”

Ryan still enjoys himself. He and his wife travel extensively, he loves collecting watches, and they do what they want. Living that FILE life works for him. Ryan is living a life of freedom, with no regrets.