Liz Smith has swapped a career firefighting in big cities for life on Great Barrier Island planting a food forest and spending time with her children.
The move to Great Barrier Island, an ecological paradise in the Hauraki Gulf 4½ hours on a ferry from Auckland, was funded by the result of a concerted plan by Smith and her husband Jeremy Smith to achieve financial freedom through investment.
“You can never get time back, and it’s such an important thing in getting time with the kids,” says Smith.
For less than $100, Kiwis can fly to an island that’s mix of Fiji and Niue.
She and her electrical engineer husband haven’t quite managed financial freedom yet, but Liz and their two boys Noah, 9, and Tyler, 7, are now living on the island, and the family will soon see construction begin on their 46-square-metre “tiny home”.
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“We’re living in a caravan and a tent with a puppy dog that’s eight months old,” Smith says.
She’s started planting a “food forest” on the land, which is home to many native birds, including kaka, a native forest parrot.
“I keep hearing them laughing in the trees behind me, and they’re like, ’You just wait, Liz. We’re going to eat all that’,” she says.
The journey to Great Barrier Island, and financial freedom, began with the couple, who lived initially in Wellington, deciding to build their wealth through buying houses and doing them up, while working at their full-time jobs.
“We’ve always done property as an investment and renovated places, complete overhaul of places, and then bought the next place, and renovated that. That got us down to Queenstown,” she said.
The couple moved on from home renovation to renovating campervans to rent out, though they have retained two investment properties. They discovered Great Barrier Island three years ago, fell in love with it, and bought a parcel of land there.
A chance stumbling on personal finance classic The Richest Man in Babylon around the same time set them on the next leg of their financial journey.
In order to take the next step to financial freedom, they decided to follow the book’s advice to live frugally, invest a large portion of their income, to gather enough wealth, and passive income, to have choices about the way they lived.
“For me, when I read that book, everything just clicked into place,” she says.
“I tested the water with investing, and now it’s a huge passion of mine.
“We’ve grown our account massively in just over a year,” she says, focusing on investing in the technologies that she sees changing the world.
“For me, it’s really about disruptive innovation. I feel like we are in a turning point in the world,” she says. “It’s investing in the way the world is shifting. Tesla has been a big player in that.”
Their goal is to create a long-term source of passive income.
“We own a mix of growth companies like Amazon and Square, but we also invest in low-cost, high yield dividend-paying exchange traded funds and real estate investment trusts that cover the US, global, developed and emerging markets,” she says.
Kristen Lunman, chief executive of shares platform Hatch, says disruptive technologies like blockchain, autonomous driving, and electric vehicles are the biggest focus of self-taught, self-driven investors who use Hatch.
Electric car companies Tesla and Nio are the two most invested in companies on Hatch, she says.
“Liz is probably unique in having gone off the grid, but many people are taking back control of their own investment decisions, and backing the things they really believe in to fund the life they want to be living,” Lunman says.
Many of Hatch’s 100,000 investors express the medium to long-term goal of achieving financial freedom.
But to many people, Lunman says, wealth no longer means huge fortunes, but enough to live free to make work and lifestyle choices to live their best lives.
Everyone had a unique, personal definition of what wealth and freedom mean, she says.
Off-the-grid is not exactly the right description for Smith, as internet on Great Barrier Island is fast, and mindset changes are altering the way people work.
“When I was a firefighter. I loved that job, so fulfilling, but these days you have the opportunity to create a job, or work in a remote way,” Smith says.
“If you can get out of that rat race, it’s another world. I love it.”
Her husband continues to work in Queenstown, but spends time with his wife and the boys on the island, and will eventually move there.
Her boys have started school on the island, and there are only 40 children.
“They’re absolutely thriving because it’s a small school, so they get the attention, whereas their school in Queenstown had 700 to 800 kids,” she says.
“We’re building up our financial position to be able to live here to have more passive income, so we have the freedom to be here.
“Hopefully we can be fully-funded by our investments, but if we have to work part-time, then that’s OK. It’s more about having the freedom of choice, rather than working a nine to five job.”
Her biggest piece of advice to others who would like to set goals to get out of the rat-race is: “The biggest thing is taking action, making a start.”
“We started from scratch. We didn’t get an inheritance, or any money.”
Though the family still had their home in Queenstown, Smith does not miss living in a large house, and is excited about building a tiny home.
“We don’t need anything more, and we don’t want anything more,” she says.
“Building smaller forces us to live outside more, which is what we enjoy. If you have a big house you just look out the window and go, ‘That’s a nice sunset’, but when you have a small house you go out, and you go out and enjoy it.
“We’re happier when we are barefoot at the beach living out of a caravan,” she says.
And the couple plan to go back to renovating and renting out campers, this time on Great Barrier Island, which has 10 campgrounds.