The MapleMoney Show » Retirement

Shifting Gears on the FIRE Journey, with Mel Dorion

Presented by Willful

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

One of the great things about financial independence is having the ability to shift priorities when your plans change. My guest this week was on the journey to early retirement, but something changed.

Mel Dorion is the blogger and creator of Modest Millionaires. She discovered FIRE early in her career & crafted a 10-year plan for her family to reach financial independence by 2025. In 2021, she made the decision to slow things down, by leaving her career as a public servant.

Mel’s story is very common amongst the FIRE crowd, people who choose extreme frugality and a high savings rate with a goal to at a very early age. This was once Mel’s goal, but things changed along the way.

A few years ago, Mel discovered that she loves to help other couples and families become financially independent, and reach their goals. So she started a financial coaching side hustle. As her investments and her coaching business grew she realized that she wanted to slow things down.

In the future, Mel plans to continue her financial coaching business on a part-time basis, while spending more time with her family. Whether you’re on a FIRE Journey yourself, or you’re just interested in becoming financially independent, you’ll be inspired by Mel’s story.

This episode of The MapleMoney Show is brought to you by Willful: Online Wills Made Easy. Did you know that 57% of Canadian adults don’t have a will? Willful has made it more affordable, convenient, and easy for Canadians to create legal Will and Power of Attorney documents online from the comfort of home.

In less than 20 minutes and for a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you’ve put a plan in place to protect your children, pets, and loved ones in the event of an emergency.

Get started for free at Willful and use promo code MAPLEMONEY to save 15%.

Episode Summary

  • How Mel discovered the FIRE movement
  • Things to consider before leaving traditional employment
  • The problem with high-fee mutual funds
  • How financial security can make the 9-5 more enjoyable
  • Coast FI explained
  • Mel shares some of her future plans

Read transcript

One of the great things about financial independence is having the ability to shift priorities when your plans change. My guest this week was on the journey to early retirement, but something changed. Mel Dorion is the blogger and creator of, Modest Millionaires. She discovered FIRE early in her career and crafted a 10-year plan for her family to reach financial independence by 2025. In 2021, she made the decision to slow things down by leaving her career as a public servant and spending more time with her family. 


Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. This episode of the Maple Money Show is brought to you by Willful. Did you know that 57 percent of Canadian adults don’t have a will? Willful has made it more affordable, convenient, and easy for Canadians to create a legal will and power of attorney documents online from the comfort of home. In less than 20 minutes and for a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you put a plan in place to protect your children, pets and loved ones in the event of an emergency. Get started for free at and use promo code Maple Money to save 15 percent. Now, let’s chat with Mel… 


Tom: Hi, Mel. Welcome to the Maple Money Show. 


Mel: Hi, thanks for inviting me on, Tom. I’m so excited to be here. 


Tom: I wanted to go through your whole story because I found it interesting. We’ve had people on that have talked FIRE, the financial independence, retire early movement. One of the issues I have with FIRE is this whole retire early part, especially. It’s this really hardcore push towards doing it as young as possible and almost gamified. I do appreciate you can try to max this out getting as much saved as early as possible and cutting expenses. That’s all great. It just seems to me you might lose sight of the present a little bit just to achieve something you set out to do. Your story is interesting because I believe you did start out this way and then had a bit of a mindset change in how that was going to happen. Just to start us out, can you go back to when this began? How long ago was it and what was the decision you originally made to reach a FI number? 


Mel: Well, I graduated in 2010. Think recession where the economy was still recovering. It wasn’t that easy to find a job. And the first jobs I had weren’t quite the career I had in mind. I wasn’t quite happy with my job. Like a lot of people finding FIRE (especially the RE [retire early] part), I discovered Mr. Money Mustache People in 2012. That was two years into my career. I had paid off about $25,000 in debt and had already been pretty frugal for that objective. And then discovering this idea I could actually fund my cost of living with my investments sounded like a great plan. But then I approached my spouse and he was five years into a career that he really liked and didn’t quite get the idea of why we would want to rush it right and just keep being frugal. And that led to a lot of discussions around why we would want to do that. That was two years later. In 2014, I was expecting our son and he became more on board. But it’s all those discussions around the reasons why. Was it just to leave something that’s not making me happy? Or is it you have more flexibility to spend time with your family? That was one thing. But for me, I had the passion. I always wanted to do something that’s helping others, and I wasn’t really doing that at my job at the time. Those talks with my partner—I have to credit those for bringing me back down to understanding we still need to enjoy the present. We can’t just rush into this 10-year thing. So there was a bit of that. Still, the 10-year plan itself was maybe more like RE (retire early), aimed for the first six years. But the last four years we knew our kids were going to be in school and we’d like to spend the summers off so we started planning for some flexibility into it. It was kind of there in the beginning but not quite as it evolved. 


Tom: That’s interesting. To be fair, one of the things I often forget is that a lot of people don’t like their jobs. So, when I say I don’t get the whole retire early thing, I never hated the corporate job and I’ve been doing my own other things as well, so maybe that’s part of it for me—I never felt like I had to get away from something. Money aside, I never felt like I had to leave a job. You were kind of in that situation. Is that a big part of it too because I’ve only looked at this whole idea of retiring and doing nothing, but if it’s something you really want to get away from maybe that’s a different motivator. 


Mel: It was a bit of the two because at first when I was in that job I didn’t quite enjoy it. I was a business analyst for the federal government but in a new department that was moving so slow. It was all weird. But a little before I changed jobs, it became more interesting. It was linked to the radio industry at the time and then Telecom. So I still had something that I quite enjoyed, but it didn’t allow the same type of flexibility. That was a great motivator. I want more flexibility to not be doing the job. But as I started the blog and coached people on their own financial objectives, I really fell in love with that work. That’s where it shifted a lot and I started to think, “Well, you know what, I might actually still be generating income.” Like you, I know you can say you never want to retire. You probably never even use that word. That’s where I really shifted and that was about five years into the plan. That’s when I started to think, “You know what? Maybe I don’t need that full objective in my mid-30s. Maybe it doesn’t make sense.” That really helps recalibrate things to enjoy more of the journey itself. 


Tom: One thing you mentioned there, I just wanted to ask about is, as you said, you had a government job. Did you ever consider that “great” pension? Because I sometimes wonder if I should have done something like that where you get the great, government-backed pension. That seems like a great retirement plan, too. 


Mel: Yeah. My mom retired from the government at 55. She has her full pension. For her, it was something big, too. I’ve had a lot of discussions with the family and everything, but from the get-go, when I went into my government job, it was, “I’ll do this for a while and I probably want to go to work in non-profits or other stuff,” because there is that whole aspect where I really wanted immediate impact on other people. I had already come to terms with the golden handcuffs which never really were a thing. This past year I’ve been on sabbatical, which is a benefit from the government job. I can take a year off without pay, but my job is still there afterward. It’s allowed a lot of flexibility and all that. And then thinking, will I or will I not pull out the pension. With my mom, when I have discussions with her she’d say, “Why would you do that? At least keep it in. You keep the benefits and everything.” But for me, I’m in my early 30s. I have a lot of time. I’ve learned about do-it-yourself investing, so I want to take it out and invest in myself. Maybe I’m a control freak at this point but I want to see what’s going on with it. Of course, it’s letting go of that cushy retirement. But for other reasons that “why” that passion work and that flexibility with a family—which is the big motivator behind the whole plan. 


Tom: I have that same thought about the pension. I’d like to invest it myself because in the corporation I’m at, it was an option of which portfolio do you want? But especially when I was even younger, with these different options, the most aggressive one was still only 75 percent equities. And I wanted to go 100 percent. It just wasn’t an option. And for good reason. For people that don’t understand it, they probably wanted to keep it within certain safety limits that people wouldn’t see some huge drop one year as they did in 2009 or so. The same as you, I can see the “want” where you can probably handle this better yourself. A lot of people love the government pensions, these public pensions, especially. It’s helpful in that everybody’s sort of forced to save. But if you have a good corporate job, maybe you’re even changing jobs often enough that you’re constantly getting raises, as long as someone’s disciplined, you can kind of forget the pension and do your own investing. It just takes that discipline. If you’re working the regular corporate job and not saving at all where there’s no one forcing you to save, then maybe that’s a bit riskier for other people. 


Mel: That’s so true. I’ve been doing this for at least 11 years where I’m learning about investing and everything. I don’t think the first couple of years into my government job, I would have been like, “All right, give me that money. I’m going to invest it, and I’m sure I could do a good job. I’m confident,” because it took a lot of time, a lot of reading, a lot of learning and getting immersed in the financial world, just figuring out what might work for me. It takes time and that educational aspect of it. 


Tom: When I started out and had my pension, I was a financial analyst. I had no lack of confidence, but I wasn’t really that smart was some of my choices. I was going to go all-in on a stock. I was buying mutual funds that were rather diversified. There were high fees, and they weren’t really what they were supposed to be. Sometimes the title of the mutual fund wasn’t necessarily what was inside of it. For example, a dividend mutual fund that wasn’t really dividend stocks, completely. 


Mel: Same here. Same here. 


Tom: Yeah, I felt really, really confident. I just didn’t have actual knowledge or experience in this. I thought I could look at a chart and say, “Oh, this one’s done really well for five years so obviously it’s going to continue doing well.” Especially when you’re young, no matter what your background is, it just takes some time to get used to. 


Mel: The funny thing is, most people I’ve seen as clients have been more holding back instead of jumping in because they get so overwhelmed because investing and the whole industry makes it very, very complex to understand. A lot of my financial coaching is around education. If you’re going to start at $200 every two weeks or whatever, it’s okay to make mistakes because you can always change while you learn. It’s not like you’re going to lose your entire life savings because you’re getting started gradually and dipping your feet. I started the same way in mutual funds with $15 every paycheck. That’s when I thought, “Okay, maybe I can do this myself by investing in myself and maybe do $100 every two weeks.” You learn and adjust. 


Tom: That’s a good point I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned. When I’ve talked about these mutual funds that have high MERS and everything, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually said that. Yeah, it was a small portfolio. I don’t remember the amount. It might have been $30,000 to $50,000 tops before I got out of them and went into the TD series. When you’re younger, you can make mistakes and you can obviously make a bigger mistake than a high fee mutual fund. I didn’t have it that bad, but you can make mistakes. It’s not a big thing and it doesn’t matter until your network grows. Then you’ve got to get a little smarter with the money. 


Mel: Even today, thinking about my pension, I’m thinking about handing in my resignation, pulling out the pension and investing it myself. I’m still going to be learning a lot before I get it because it’s different. It’s a big amount coming in that I need to diversify in a certain way. We’re always learning. 


Tom: I think you said it was six years into this FI journey that you decided to change things up. How were you doing at that point? Was it a certain percentage toward your goal? Where were you at, at that point? 


Mel: I have kind of a progress sheet on my blog if anyone wants to check it out. It’s a percentage of our financial number. That’s how I’m sharing it. We don’t have the actual number. We had our projections, which were kind of conservative because we were using five percent on investments and estimating what the pension might look like. And we would think we’d be at our full FI number in 10 years, from 2015 to 2025. We actually hit 80 percent last fall of our FI numbers. That was three years prior to our objectives. Everything really fast-tracked. That really helps with deciding to slow things down even more once the pandemic hit to see the numbers surpass everything where, maybe I might as well use that freedom I’ve been working towards to make a change in my life right now. 


Tom: Exactly. It’s something I’ve basically have been doing for a long time. You don’t just have to make the leap. If you’re in a decent enough situation where you’ve got enough money saved and maybe you have multiple streams of income—if you’ve got something in place… I personally found that I actually started to like my career more because some of the pressure was off. You didn’t have to feel like you were a “yes” man. Personally, at least, I found I was sharing my opinion more when the job wasn’t everything. Once you have some savings, if you have an extra income or both, it takes some of that pressure off. And I actually found I enjoyed the job more when I was able to be a little looser with it. 


Mel: I would see that a lot being immersed in the FI community. Seeing other people doing it. People that I reached financial independence or people close to it. And one particular resource was the Mr. Money Mustache forums. They have threads of the cohort that’s about to retire. In 2016, a couple of years into our objective, that time when you’re accumulating, bored and looking at your numbers and your charts every day, I would look in there and see so many people would do what we often call the “one more year” syndrome because they say to their boss, “I’m thinking of leaving,” and they get offered work from home or to take three months off for a year. And I started to think that maybe that confidence can be used to make the journey more enjoyable. In 2018, I negotiated “work from home” two years before the pandemic. Now, everybody does it. I was the pioneer in helping people once everyone was transitioning. Just thinking about what is it that I actually want, ends up making the job more fun. Just like you. You’re opinionated in your work. You actually have more impact in how your day-to-day feels. It ends up being a win-win for your employer as well because he has somebody that’s engaged, happy and not necessarily wanting to leave as soon as they can. 


Tom: I like that you were willing to negotiate that “work from home.” That’s a perfect example where, if someone sort of feels insecure with their job, they’re not even going to bring something like that up. They’re going to do whatever looks most impressive. Maybe they come in early, stay late and all that. I gave all that up a long time ago too. It was a salary job, so I would work the hours I was supposed to work. I would do a great job during it, but no extra time because there was no overtime paid. So it’s not even a benefit to it. It would only be to impress someone to help improve your career in the future. That was nothing I had been looking for, for years now. Something like “cruise control” where you do a great job, always get the great annual reviews and everything like that but in the end, I don’t want to work any extra hours. I’ve not turned down because they weren’t directly offered to me but I didn’t take the opportunities to apply for some promotions, even though the person either leaving or the person above that kind of strongly suggested that I apply. I knew that those promotions, based on other people I’d seen, would come with 50 to 60 hours of work a week. I knew that wasn’t going to match my lifestyle. And whatever raise might have been tied to that, even though it could have been substantial, but it just it wasn’t worth taking up that much of my time. 


Mel: Being clear on your values made it not worth it, right? You know what you actually want out of your life, and that’s why people get a little caught up in those types of, “Let me get the next promotion,” because you don’t really take a step back and think, it’s not just the money, it’s my lifestyle. It’s what I want to be spending my time doing. Do I want to be home for dinner with the kids? Or do I want to be working on that next promotion and then end up missing even more dinners with the kids? I totally get that. 


Tom: And even if someone doesn’t feel totally financially secure, I think that’s probably good career advice to think about that. Because I’ve seen people as well get promoted and promoted and promoted and eventually you hit a point where it’s not going to work. Either just on a skill or level you’ve gone too far out of your zone. But also, like I said with the time, it could just be that affects your whole life. Even if someone’s not into this whole FIRE or FI (financial independence) thing, there’s still something to be said for maybe not just taking every raise or promotion that’s out there. 


Mel: Agreed. 


Tom: When you decided to slow it down a bit, you worked from home. You were working on the blog. How did things start to change for you there? I’m assuming a bit less of a career push, you’re deciding on something different? 


Mel: I made the decision of not wanting the next step up. That was in my mind around 2018. I’m switching to working from home, seeing how that is. And I’m also getting more requests for coaching, more referrals. It’s just growing. And I’m qualifying my time—do I have enough time with nights, weekends, and the whole thing? So in 2019, after I went to FINCON, seeing other people achieving this, we were six years out in our objectives and I decided to get some support. I reached out to Jillian Johnsrud. I think you know Jillian. She offers to mentor people close to FI or going into entrepreneurship. I started working out a plan with her that aimed for a three-year plan towards switching to entrepreneurship. That was really helpful—thinking out the worst-case scenarios. What would that look like? And then the pandemic hit. I at least had this plan and this idea in place. So as things get more stressful at work, I was in an essential position, my partner too. We have both kids at home. It’s even worse when school starts where you’re doing COVID testing, keeping both kids at home for isolation for two weeks. So I said, “Okay, we’re implementing this sooner in an experimental basis,” as you mentioned previously, trying it out. It doesn’t have to be do or die. I’m leaving my work so let’s jump into entrepreneurship. I had a plan in place. I had contingencies. I could go back to work. I could do this and that. I had a bunch of different ideas. That’s where I kind of moved into doing my side hustle, now. I’m trying to stick to 20 hours a week. My plan was to work 10 hours a week in the summer. That kind of changed once I got there. It’s all about experimenting, testing, and adjusting. 


Tom: Not working out in the summer makes me think of a couple of things, personally. First of all, this past summer and COVID before that, I had the kids in online school. Then they went to real school. But then they got sent back because of close contacts. It was very chaotic. In summer, as well, where the kids can be bit of a distraction when you’re trying to actually get something done. Sometimes I find it’s those 30-second interrupts that can almost wreck an hour—where you just lose that focus. Was that what was happening with you? Was it constant random distractions? 


Mel: There was partly that, for sure. But even then, my spouse ended up deciding to take a five-week leave. He was tired of the whole thing, not really into entrepreneurship or anything. So I said, “Let’s have lots of family time. It’ll be great. I’ll be watching the kids too at that time so you’ll have one day full of work if you want and some coaching nights through the rest of the week.” Then I started to sit down to write and do that deep work portion of the business… the writing, advertising, preparing stuff. Anything that wasn’t direct work with the clients, which is really energizing to me. It started to be really hard. It was nice out. Here, we don’t get a lot of sunshine and warmth. I decided I actually didn’t want to work. I thought, “Why am I forcing myself? All my plans work.” Even if I’m semi-retired this year, or didn’t do that much, I took a step back and said, “You know what? After a couple of weeks of this, let’s just focus on just the coaching, and I’ll enjoy the summer and recover a bit from the whole pandemic we’ve been living through.” It was probably the best decision. But I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t try it. So that experimenting is huge. 


Tom: Yeah, I agree about, again, just deciding what was important at that time. Yes, spend time with the kids. Did it concern you that if you weren’t spending time on your business though, at least during the sabbatical, you’re without your regular income, were you concerned that if you don’t put the time in, maybe the income isn’t there?


Mel: Certainly. That’s probably why the first couple of weeks I was forcing it so much. But my whole beginning, the first six months of the sabbatical has been a lot about finding that activity that’s been ingrained from all those years of working all the time. And realizing that I’m putting a lot of effort in while the kids are in school—those values are important to me like family, the passion for business, they all have seasons and fluctuations of time where I actually need to be more there for the kids, than less. So I  worked out projections. If I don’t have that many new plants in the summer because I’m not doing that many advertising efforts but get back to work for 10 months out of the year, that reassured me. But keeping in check what my projections looked like to the actual numbers. Always looking back at my investments and seeing how they were comparing to my initial projections. The market has been crazy again this year and I could never time the market. I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s surpassing my numbers and it’s working out. It was theoretical saying, “Okay, I’m going to try close FI by letting my investments continue to compound and just cover my cost of living.” And then I ended up pulling out one percent of my initial investment of the portfolio just to buff up the emergency fund because I was using that on my cost of living, initially. Still, I’m surpassing my numbers and I’m watching it continue to grow. It’s true. I can see it in action—that it works. 


Tom: Yeah, I’m trying to head there, too. Especially after this past COVID in summer. Just take some of that freedom of time and rearrange it a little differently. Try to get it all in while the kids are in school. Basically, work like your teacher. You work the 10 months, Monday to Friday, keep the evenings, weekends, and summer free. I’ve got a bit of an entrepreneur problem where it’s easy to work 100 percent of the time to some degree where you’re always checking your email and stuff. I’m still personally working on that, trying to figure out ways to really shut that all off. We’ll see how it goes. My soft goal is, by next summer, this will all feel a little more normal. I’ve put in some really hard rules there about what I’m doing and when I’m doing it.  


Mel: It’s definitely the mindset shift. That’s the hardest part. 


Tom: Now, just in case anyone listening hasn’t heard the term before, you mentioned close FI. Can you explain what that is? I think everyone listening just from past episodes understands the whole FIRE movement. But what’s different about close FI? 


Mel: It’s when your investments reach a certain level where you can let them continue to compound just by the growth of the market, the dividend, all of that, to reach your full FI number by the time you’re at traditional retirement age. 


Tom: What’s next for you? You’re in this sabbatical. Maybe nothing’s for sure, but are you considering not having the job or is there still the possibility that you would go back to the job? Are you keeping the options open? 


Mel: I have actually made the decision that I’m not returning. My employer doesn’t know yet. January is my return date and I actually ordered the retirement package from the pension and everything. So they’re sending me my numbers. I’m starting to fill out everything. Getting in touch with my manager. I’ve decided that I’m good with this lifestyle, and I’m happy. 


Tom: That’s great. What do you see for yourself beyond that? Maybe it doesn’t really change. Are you going to look at doing more coaching, more with the blog? Is there anything else you’re looking to pursue in the future? 


Mel: Well, for now, I kind of think of this as five years ahead. The next five years I know I want to keep pretty much the same momentum. More coaching while the kids are in school so my onboarding is more right now and through January, maybe even February. That way I can calm down things and just keep my eye on doing things I’ve already planned for the summer and then wrap that back up in the fall after. So the next five years, there are other plans, family wise, that I want to do. We want to travel. Right now that’s all on hold, but we quite enjoy travelling. I always have in mind that one day will do maybe half of the year where we homeschool and then we’ll be living somewhere abroad. I’d love to do that before the kids are teenagers and don’t want to do anything with me. I want to enjoy that time. That’s why next five years, then we’ll see. 


Tom: Well, thanks for being on. Your story is a great one just to show people a more realistic way to do this, where it’s just good personal finance practices, investing, good decisions with your career without necessarily being just all-in in one direction. There is a little more leeway which, to me, is real freedom. Not feeling like you’re stuck on one path. Can you let people know where they can find you online? 


Mel: Of course. My blog is If you want the content in French, just put /fr at the end of that. I’m on Twitter, Instagram as well. Both are Modest Millionaires. My Facebook page is where I keep things in French just because all the rest is in English. That way some of my readers know where to go. I have a newsletter that’s a little bit more personal content, where I advertise, and where I’m having free workshops, free guides or anything that’s going off more timely. Coaching as well. So if anybody wants to join the coaching or thinking about it, just join the newsletter and reach out. 


Tom: Great. Thanks for being on the show. 


Mel: Thanks so much for having me. 


Tom: Thank you, Mel, for sharing your story. Financial independence looks different for everyone. I like how you managed to design a lifestyle that works for you and your family. You can find the show notes for this episode at Thanks as always for listening. I really appreciate the community we’re both on the Facebook group and the messages and reviews I’ve received. I look forward to seeing you back here next week when we have Gregory Rozdeba here to share how insurance can figure in as part of your investment portfolio. See you next week! 

Coast FI is when your investments reach a certain level where you can let them continue to reach your full FI number by the time you’re at traditional retirement age. - Mel Dorion Click to Tweet