Valentine’s Day Special: A Rom-Com Story

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Valentine's Day Special: A Rom-Com Story

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, but what the heck! I’ll take a break from finance and share some personal stories instead. Life isn’t all about money, right? Anyway, I hope you aren’t suckered into spending hundreds of dollars on Valentine’s Day. Save it for next weekend, everything will be much cheaper then.

As usual, Valentine’s Day was a non-event for us. Let’s face it, that’s the case every year since our son was born. I don’t think we’ll get back to having romantic dinners until RB40Jr is in high school. Instead, we’ll sneak out to have romantic lunches when he’s at school. That’s one benefit of working from home. Anyway, read on if you need some romance in your life.

*I’ll add to the story every Valentine’s Day.

What happened to rom-com?

Have you watched a fun romantic comedy lately? I don’t think I’ve seen a great one since the 90s. Recently, we had Crazy Rich Asians, but I didn’t enjoy it that much. The production was excellent, but the chemistry wasn’t really there. It was also missing the “meet-cute.” Booo!

Dear boy, the beginning of a movie is childishly simple. The boy and girl meet. The only important thing to remember is that—in a movie—the boy and the girl must meet in some cute way. They cannot…meet like normal people at, perhaps, a cocktail party or some other social function. No. It is terribly important that they meet cute.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955)

I know it’s a cliché, but a fun meet-cute scene is a must. Our first meeting didn’t bode well, but somehow it worked out. We’ll celebrate our 24th anniversary this summer! That’s not too bad, right? Here is our meet-cute.

Act 1 – Meet Cute

I met Ms. RB40 when I was a junior at UCSB in 1994. Back then, I didn’t have any money and I came up with a scheme to retrieve a few bucks back from the university. I figured I’d start a club for Thai students and anyone who wants to learn more about Thai culture. If the university approved it, then they’ll give the club a small budget to work with. I think it was around $100 or something like that. I thought we could have pizza parties, hang out, and maybe I could meet some girls.

However, there was a minor problem. I didn’t know any Thai students. I had to recruit my roommates and friends to be officers of the club. Heh heh heh. I’m still good friends with those guys and (one) gal. Anyway, the school approved and we were off. I set up our first meeting at Girvetz Hall and posted a few flyers around the campus. It was a good start, but there was trouble on the horizon.

Power outage

Whoa, the power went out about an hour before that first meeting. I figured nobody would come so I canceled the meeting* and went home. However, I got a call about 15 minutes later. A girl said, “Where the heck are you?!” Okay, jeez. I rushed to the meeting room and there she was, hopping mad. Oh boy, she must have thought I was an undependable jerk. She was right, of course. Isn’t every guy an undependable jerk when they’re 20 years old?

*Meeting cancellation – I told the “officers” that the meeting was canceled. We didn’t have cell phones back then. Ms. RB40 must have gotten my number from one of my friends that showed up and called me at home. She’s a take-charge kind of gal.

My plan worked

Anyway, the club didn’t do so well that first year. I was a horrible president and there were very few Thai students at UCSB back then. Ms. RB40 became the vice president and basically ran the club. We even sold some Thai iced tea to raise money for our pizza parties. Of course, Ms. RB40 didn’t know you have to put a ton of sugar in Thai iced tea to make it delicious. I had to rescue her from that one by quickly adding some homemade syrup to her tea.

The following year, she became the president of the club and improved it by including Lao students. They even put on a cultural show. Ms. RB40 was a much better president than I ever was. I wasn’t organized enough to lead. I remained a member for the free pizza, though.

So it seems my plan worked out. I met a girl and we eventually became a couple. The club was a great idea because it gave me an excuse to spend more time with her. We made posters to advertise events and meetings, went to movies, and had a fun time in Santa Barbara. As an engineering student, I didn’t have many opportunities to interact with the ladies. I was always studying or spending time in the lab. There were very few female engineering students back then. Hopefully, the ratio is a bit better now.

Act 2 Diverged paths

Things were good for us for the rest of our time at the university. Ms. RB40 and her roommates even lived above me and my roommates for a year. It’s amazing how loud those 100 lbs. girls can stomp. We had our issues like any young couple, but the true test of our relationship came after college.

Ms. RB40 wanted to join the Peace Corps, but I wanted to start working right away. At that time, my next younger brother was in college and the other one would start soon. My parents didn’t have a lot of money so I needed to help them out. Also, I was sick and tired of being dirt poor. On the other hand, Ms. RB40 was a single child and her dad was a Peace Corps volunteer when he was young. It was her dream to join the Peace Corps and help improve the world. We had different objectives.

Time apart

After graduation, I started my engineering career with Intel in Oregon. Ms. RB40 joined the Peace Corps and went off to Uzbekistan. For most young couples, that would be the end of the relationship. Luckily, she came up to visit me for a week before she left. We had fun around Portland while we tried to figure out what to do.

We had a pretty good relationship. I wasn’t ready to end it so I got her a “promise ring.” This ring meant we’ll get married when she gets back from the Peace Corps. She accepted and we made a commitment to be faithful to each other. Oh, you dumb young kids. An assignment in the Peace Corps lasts 2 years and she needed to do 3 months of training to get ready. Also, many volunteers go to travel for a while after they completed their assignments. All in all, we were apart for about 3 years. That’s an eternity when you’re 22.

After Ms. RB40 left, I had a really tough first year in Portland. I was used to having nice weather all the time in Santa Barbara. The long dark winter was extremely depressing. It rained almost every day and the sky was dark by the time I got out of work. As a new engineer, I worked a ton. Working long hours was fine at the time because I didn’t know anyone and I was learning a lot. I enjoyed being a computer engineer in my early 20s.

Life improved

Things began to improve for me after a while. I made friends at work and met many young people. The weather improved and life got way better. And I finally had money to spend! That was nice. After a while, my relationship with Ms. RB40 was put on the back burner. It was tough to keep going because the only way to communicate was through letters.

When was this again, the Stone Age? No, but Uzbekistan was a very poor country back then. Ms. RB40 was sent to the countryside to stay with a host family. A phone was a luxury. Her family had one, but it was only for local calls. She had to go to the local post office to make overseas calls, which were expensive. Volunteers get a small stipend to pay for basic living expenses and overseas call was a luxury. So we didn’t talk at all while she was overseas. Anyway, the time difference meant there was never a good time to talk on the phone. The email was not common until the end of her service. Even then, she could only access that in Tashkent, the capital city. To get there, she had to take an overnight train.

Ms. RB0 was having a tough time there. The winter was very cold and she slept on the kitchen floor to keep warm. She had a bad case of bronchitis once and was flown out to a hospital. Fun times…but overall, she enjoyed working and learning the local culture.

Things That Made You Go Hmmm

Stateside, I made friends and met some nice young ladies… Our group tried to do something fun every weekend. We went snowboarding, white water rafting, kayaking, crabbing, hiking, partying, traveling, and more. We were all young and had some money for the first time. Luckily, I prioritized saving and investing before spending on entertainment. So I had fun, but still saved a good portion of my income when I was young.

I was having the time of my life. You know where this is going, right? I ended up dating several young ladies. I told them I already have a long-term relationship overseas. However, it wasn’t a big problem. We were young and we just wanted to have fun. I had several casual relationships and life was good.

I never asked Ms. RB40 what she did over these lost years. I wasn’t a good fiancé and she wasn’t perfect either. The details, I don’t need to know. At some point, we put our relationship on hold. I’m not sure when that was, maybe about halfway through her assignment.


After 3 years, Ms. RB40 returned to California and stayed with her mom. By then, I realized she was the best fit for me. I missed her a lot and I wanted to see if we can make it work again. I asked her to come to Portland for a visit and she said okay. Turns out she missed me, too. Then, I began to plan a grand gesture (a mini one).

When her flight arrived, I was waiting at the gate with a dozen long-stem roses. It was the first time I splurged on really nice flowers. She came down and gave me a hug. Back in the good old days, you could go to the gate to wait for the passengers. However, you still had to go through the metal detector. It beeped when I went through with the roses. The security lady grinned while she wanded me. I looked pretty silly standing spread out and holding a bouquet of roses. Everyone was looking and smiling. Oh, young loves are so cute. Anyway, I told her the story and we had a good laugh.

Act 3 – Eloped

She moved in with me soon after. At the time, I lived with a roommate in a neat 2 bedroom apartment in a hip part of Portland. (Our current home is in this area now. We love the neighborhood.) We got a one-bedroom apartment near the university and started to plan our wedding. All my friends were surprised we were getting married so quickly. They all wondered if there was a baby in the equation. Alas, it was just us. We finally knew we were better together and we wanted to seal the deal ASAP.

Wedding plan scuttled

I don’t remember exactly what happened to the wedding plan. Ms. RB40 wasn’t an enthusiastic planner and I didn’t help much. We came up with a big guest list and that was about as far as we got. We decided to just elope and get married at the courthouse instead. That was perfectly fine with me. Ms. RB40 became Mrs. RB40 and life was great for a few months as newlyweds. We went to Maui for our honeymoon. That was fun.

A big problem surfaced

Around this time, my parent decided to quit their Thai restaurant business. My dad also ran a small liquor store. It was just too much work for them. They decided to sell their house and lived in the van to save money. They were way ahead on the whole #vanlife thing. Eventually, they wrapped up their business and didn’t have much to do.

I asked them to come to stay with us for a while because I didn’t like them being homeless. They came, but 1 bedroom was way too small for 4 people. Mrs. RB40 didn’t like having my parent there and we had some conflicts. It’s hard to live with your in-laws.

Fortunately, my parent decided to drive around the US to see the sights. For 4 months, they visited Wall Street, Washington DC, Miami, New Orleans, and many other places. It was a nice long trip for them. That gave us some breathing room and we purchased a big 2,000 sq ft house so everyone would have more space.

Unfortunately, the big house didn’t really fix the in-laws issue. Mrs. RB40 still didn’t get along with my parent. It was uncomfortable for everyone. Eventually, my parent decided to move back to Thailand. They didn’t really have a purpose to stay in the US any longer. My brothers and I got our Bachelor’s degrees and we didn’t need financial help anymore. That gave Mrs. RB40 a lot of breathing room. She could run the household the way she wants. The house was a bit too big so we occasionally took on a tenant. We lived there for 8 years and enjoyed it. However, I got bored of the suburb and decided to move into a condo in downtown Portland. Mrs. RB40 didn’t want to move, but I convinced her. It’s a lot more convenient for her because her office was much closer to our condo. Those 8 years at our old suburbia home were good. I enjoyed my engineering career and Mrs. RB40 made progress with her career. We even got a convertible BMW Z3. 🙂 It was a regular American dream – working, making money, spending, and living a cushy lifestyle.

Act 4 – The long boring middle

Downtown living

We moved to downtown Portland in 2008. I think that was near the peak of its popularity. Portland was on many lists of best places to live, eat, and travel to. Although, I really loved Portland more in 1997. That was the real golden age. Portland was affordable, laidback, and relatively undiscovered. By 2008, Portland was cooler and a ton of people were moving there.

Our condo was awesome. Moving to a smaller home was the right choice for us at that time. We had a million dollar view of the river and Mt. Hood. The theater was just a couple blocks away and there are plenty of good restaurants around. It was perfect for a young couple. We really enjoyed living there. Homelessness was an issue, but it wasn’t that bad back then.

Mrs. RB40 went back to get her Master’s degree around this time and took a couple of years off from work. The condo was right next to the university so that was convenient. However, I had to commute to work. It took about an hour on public transportation, but it wasn’t that bad. I read on the train and the commute didn’t bother me. The real problem was the work itself. I became more senior at work and the company wanted me to take on more responsibilities. It was stressful and I didn’t like it.

Around this time, I finally convinced Mrs. RB40 we should have a kid. This almost ended our marriage. She didn’t really want a kid. Somehow, I overcame that obstacle and changed her mind. She got pregnant in 2010 and our lives changed forever…

Oh, I also told her that I’m starting a blog call Retire by 40 when she was pregnant. Hahaha. She didn’t like that one bit.

Stay tuned…

Fortunately, our lifestyle didn’t inflate too much. We lived comfortably and saved a good percentage of our income. We saved less than 50%, but it was enough to build a good foundation. Our saving rate was probably around 25% back then. FIRE will start to creep into our lives in the next chapter, but you’ll have to wait until next Valentine’s Day. We all need a break from personal finance occasionally, right?

What about you? Do you have a meet-cute story or dramatic moments in your relationship? Let’s hear it. Have a great Valentine’s Day!

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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