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When it comes to inspirational stories, there are many in the personal finance world. But few come close to the level of grit and determination exemplified by today’s Band of Bloggers’ participants.
Dragon Girl (DGal) and Dragon Guy (DGuy), the anonymous husband and wife duo behind The Dragons On Fire blog, have a lifetime’s worth of life experience they’ve accumulated in 40 or so years. In their mid-thirties, they were living a pretty typical life. DGal was a teacher and DGuy was working in finance. Life was normal and humming along.
And then DGuy was diagnosed with Leukemia.
This temporarily threw their lives into a tailspin, but as they came to terms with his diagnosis, they got down to the business of getting DGuy well, with DGal being his caregiver.
It was this life-altering experience that led them to explore early retirement, and when DGal stumbled on Mr. Money Mustache’s blog, they were hooked.
A few years down the road now and DGal is fully retired. DGuy is still working, though not so much for the paycheck as for the health insurance.
Between the two of them, they bring an incredibly unique viewpoint and voice to the personal finance world. With all the obstacles they’ve had to overcome, they are the definition of perseverance, determination, and grit.
It’s a huge pleasure to welcome them to Band of Bloggers this week.
What is the one book (or books) that you have given to your friends? Or what are one to three books that have greatly impacted your life (money related or not)?
DGal: Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber. The author had brain cancer and beat the odds for a very long time by making changes to his diet and lifestyle.
This book gave us so much hope in DGuy’s personal ability to impact his own healing.
Me (in red) I love that the Dragons didn’t treat the cancer diagnosis as a life sentence. Rather than look at all the things they couldn’t control, they focused on the many things they could, namely, DGuy’s diet and lifestyle.
There are so many things in life that we can’t control and yet we often spend a lot of time worrying about them. I find it ironic that the things we actually CAN control, we often don’t.
Good on the Dragons for altering what was in their control and reaping the benefits in terms of both hope and physical health.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last year (or in recent memory)? The more specific details the better!
DGuy: $100 per person for a Global Entry membership. This membership, which is valid for 5 years, provides expedited entry into the United States when arriving on an international flight. We get to use our own dedicated kiosks where we complete the arrival formalities and documentation. The lines are usually very quick and we don’t have to fill out any paperwork.
Additionally, with the Global Entry membership, we get access to TSA PreCheck which means that we go through a special security line in the U.S where we don’t have to take off our shoes or remove our liquids and electronics.
Given how much we travel, Global Entry and PreCheck save us both a ton of time at the airport.
It’s interesting that the Dragons mention Global Entry. I did a roundup piece a while back about 50 of the best products frugal people love and it was one of the items mentioned by a frugally-minded blogger.
If you travel a lot, take their advice and check it out!
How has a failure or apparent failure, set you up for success later? Do you have a favorite success?
DGal: At first, I felt like a total failure at being a caregiver. I resented having to deal with DGuy having cancer, and I felt so angry, guilty, overwhelmed and ashamed as a result.
Seven years after his diagnosis, I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded as a caregiver. I’ve realized coming to terms with cancer is an ongoing process, and I accept that sometimes I’ll still have conflicting emotions regarding caregiving and DGuy’s cancer.
Wow, it is so refreshing to hear someone speak with such honesty and candor. And with such wisdom. I can only imagine how hard it’s been having your entire life turned upside down by a disease that wreaks havoc on millions of people every year.
There is such wisdom in DGal remarking that the process of coming to terms with cancer is ongoing and giving herself permission to feel such a wide range of emotions.
I’m no psychologist (but I’m married to someone working on her masters to become one), but I think it’s such a healthy way to face adversity.
What is a quote(s) that you live your life by or that you find yourself repeating to yourself?
DGal: “I face this day with gratitude because we are together.”
I try to say this out loud every morning after the alarm rings to remind myself to cherish the day and also DGuy.
DGuy: “The grass is a different shade of green” – The common quote is “The Grass is Greener,” meaning that if you make a change or move, things will be better. However, the reality is that no matter where you are, there are still challenges and things you won’t like about the situation you’re in.
I think about this quote a lot when it comes to my career. Everyone thinks that things are going to be better if they quit their job, or get a promotion, or move to a new place. But the reality is that you may not enjoy different aspects of your new job.
So I use that quote to remind myself that things can and will be better with a change, but that there will still be aspects that I might not like. Specifically with a career, every organization has their warts.
I’ve been out of college for almost 19 years and I have only worked at 3 companies. There have been several times where I have wanted to quit, but I stayed and think I have been better for it. By staying I was more comfortable with the role and organization and I was able to do my job more effectively. I believe that I received several promotions by staying around.
Our Problems Follow Us
Hmmm, this is interesting. I’ve always heard the quote, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” and taken it to mean that everyone always thinks things will be better in a different situation. The problem is, we never stop thinking this no matter the situation we’re in.
I know in my role as an assistant principal, I’ve had students and parents who want to leave a school or change classes or teachers in the hopes that being in a new situation will solve a problem they’ve been having.
More often than not, though, the problem follows them.
It reminds me of the words holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl spoke in his iconic book Man’s Search For Meaning.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
What’s one of the best or more worthwhile investments you’ve made (money, time, energy, etc.)
DGuy: Paying off our mortgage. Last year, we paid off our 30-year mortgage 16 years early. It’s amazing how much more we’re able to save once we didn’t have the monthly mortgage payment.
Congrats to the Dragons on slaying their mortgage!! This is an amazing accomplishment and one that puts them in the upper echelons of the financially savvy. In fact, having a large mortgage is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching financial independence.
It’s interesting that DGuy noted how much more they were able to save once the mortgage was dead. I wrote a piece a little while ago about how avoiding car payments essentially frees up money to save for your future and to do some fun things now as well.
I still have a mortgage, but I’m guessing paying it off would give a similar feeling to the one I had when I no longer had a car payment…except turfing the mortgage would be exponentially more exciting!!
In the last 5 years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?
DGal: Meditation has helped me sleep better and have more patience, empathy, and gratitude. DGuy says I’m a lot calmer and don’t get mad anymore. So it’s a big plus for him too!
DGuy: Eating healthier. After a few battles with DGal, I came to realize that I couldn’t just take my pills to fight my leukemia. I needed to make sure I was living as healthy a life as possible.
I grew up as a picky eater; the only vegetables I ate were iceberg lettuce and carrots. Over the last five years, I’ve slowly started including more and more vegetables in my life.
I don’t like everything I eat, but I learned that’s ok. Now I eat dozens of different vegetables and foods that I never dreamed about eating a decade ago. And I’ve also cut back on processed sugars, and no longer drink fruit juices or soda.
I believe all of these diet changes have enabled my leukemia to be undetectable in my recent lab tests. Just as you have to invest your money, you have to invest in your body, and eating healthy is how we do that.
Taking The Hint
Ok, ok, ok. I feel like the last few Band of Bloggers participants have all answered this question in a similar fashion. And I feel like I need to take the hint.
Over the last year, I haven’t been nearly as disciplined about exercising or eating well as I have in the past. Some of that I chalk up to the busyness of life and running the blog. But I know those are just excuses.
A while back I committed to doing another triathlon in the spring and I’m sticking to that. I’m looking forward to getting back into better shape and feeling better about myself.
I am nervous though about not having as much time take care of other important parts of my life or to devote to growing the blog.
But I know these things aren’t mutually exclusive.
In the book High Performance Habits, author Brendan Burchard details how high performers prioritize taking care of their physical health. Doing so energizes and refreshes them so that they’re even more productive throughout the day.
When we tell ourselves that it’s just a season of life where we’re working hard and neglecting our health and that it’ll pass, two things happen:
One, we lie to ourselves and take years off of our lives.
And two, the time often extends beyond just a “season” and becomes a pattern cemented in our lives.
The next we know we wake up at 50 years old, in poor health with a failing body and wonder how we got there.
DGuy didn’t let that happen to him and I’m not going to let it happen to me either.
What advice would you give to a smart, industrious, newbie blogger as they start out?
DGal: Have fun with writing! Everyone dreams of becoming a blogging sensation overnight (including us), but it’s just not everyone’s reality.
So I keep reminding myself to write for the pure pleasure of it all and that helps me during those times when we’ve only had two visitors the entire day.
DGuy: Be patient and don’t try to compare yourself to others. It’s so easy to look at established bloggers and see the thousands of subscribers they have and the scores of comments they get on every post. But those established bloggers started off in just the same place as you. Blogging is a long-term journey.
Establish a community. Leave comments on other blogs and follower bloggers through Twitter and social media. Over time, these same bloggers will return the favor and visit your site and leave their own comments.
DGal hits the nail on the head for me! You have to love writing and what you’re writing about otherwise you’re gonna flame out and not be successful. You can only write for so long about something you think will be profitable but that doesn’t interest you.
If you write about topics you’re passionate about, it’s much easier to be patient with the process. Although I must say, patience is really hard!!
I’ve been writing for almost a year and haven’t cracked 5,000 pageviews in a month. Sometimes I’m tempted to feel like I’ve gotten nowhere and that I never will.
It’s in these moments that it’s a REALLY good thing I love what I write about and the whole blogging experience. If I didn’t, I probably would’ve quit by now.
Which is better – A goal that is smaller and you achieve it or one that is too big and you don’t? Why?
DGuy: Success breeds more success. I believe that every large goal is made up of smaller goals. One thing I like to do is break tasks into bite-size nuggets. So for me, achieving a goal that is smaller is just the way I approach life.
I totally agree. When you look at a big goal and ONLY at the big goal, it can be overwhelming. That’s why I think the best way to approach a large goal is exactly like DGuy suggests, by breaking it into more manageable chunks.
You complete enough of those chunks, and next thing you know you look up and you’ll be on your way to reaching your MASSIVE goal!
As the saying goes, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
What is one thing you have an abundance of and one thing you’re working on building an abundance of?
DGal: Right now I have an abundance of is time.
The ability to quit my full-time job has been such an amazing gift. Since I retired in the summer of 2017, I’m more relaxed because I don’t have to rush to do anything anymore.
Also, I’m always working on building an abundance of health. I don’t believe anyone can ever be too healthy. Living a healthy life takes a lot of effort, and it’s one of the reasons I retired, so I could focus on our health. There’s always an aspect of health that I could work on: mental, physical, and/or emotional health.
Wow, I have to say I’m SOOOO jealous of DGirl. Having an abundance of time is something I can only imagine.
Right now, I feel like time is the one thing I don’t have enough of. My whole life seems like it’s on overdrive, from the time I get up to the moment my head hits the pillow.
One day I’ll get there, and when I do, I’ll be able to really enjoy it as I look back on this crazy season of my life.
Tell us about a time when you were REALLY scared to do something. How did you handle it?
DGuy: Being diagnosed with leukemia seven years ago at the age of 34 was the scariest thing I had experienced in my life.
I managed to overcome the initial fear by doing as much research as possible on the disease and the treatment plans. I read medical journals, participated in message boards, and asked a bunch of questions. By understanding what was normal and what wasn’t, I was able to more smoothly transition into living with this chronic illness.
This is really amazing. The courage with which DGuy faced his illness is remarkable.
I’m 37 right now and it would be devastating getting a diagnosis like he received. I think I’d probably handle it in a similar fashion. Get all the knowledge I could, make a game plan with my family and doctors, and go after it.
Of course, that would be after I’d cried, prayed, cried, and prayed some more.
That said, it really is so inspiring seeing such courage and grit in action!
How has generosity been a part of your life (someone generous to you or vice versa)? What impact did it make?
DGal: My mother and Aunt W have been so generous with us—they cooked so many healthy meals for us during the initial stages of DGuy’s diagnosis, and many years after. This helped me tremendously—it took pressure off me as a caregiver, and it ensured DGuy had nutritious meals, which was important to his healing process.
I am so grateful, especially to my mother, for the way she has continued to give so selflessly in cooking for us.
When trouble strikes, it’s often then that the true value of family becomes clear. It’s so beautiful to see how the Dragons’ family came around them to support them and allow them to heal.
And there’s just something about food that brings comfort and allows people to show generosity.
Speaking of which, I’m very lucky because my wife is CRAZY generous to me and our family using food. She cooks delicious and healthy meals, and treats too! Just this last weekend she made amazing Captain America and Spiderman cakes for our son’s birthday party. It was AWESOME. Our kids are really lucky to have such a great mom and I’m lucky to have such a wonderful wife!
Bringing It All Together In Band of Bloggers
Is it just me or are these Band of Bloggers features JAM PACKED with inspiration??
Seriously, all of the guests have been amazing and the Dragons are no exception!! And I’m not tooting my own horn. This has nothing to do with me. Nope, it has everything to do with the high-quality people who have agreed to join our Band of Bloggers.
And you know what? I don’t think it’s an accident that these posts have been inspirational.
It’s not very often that we slow down enough to ask the kinds of questions that give people a chance to share who they REALLY are and what makes them tick deep inside the core of their being.
I think if we took the time to slow down more often, we’d all see more inspiration similar to what the Dragons demonstrated, hiding in plain sight.
The Dragons, DGuy and DGal, are a 40-something married couple living in the United States. DGal retired in the summer of 2017, but DGuy continues to work for the healthcare coverage due to his chronic leukemia. The three themes of their blog are Money, Health, and Travel and they explore how to be FI while living a healthy life and still enjoying their life’s passion: travel! Check them out at The Dragons On Fire.
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