What I do Differently to Achieve Financial Independence
I love reading personal finance articles, especially those that relate to financial independence. I read and listen to many of the same people that each and every one of us salivate to read for advice or an update on how they are doing financially. I have been recently enjoying Reddit as it relates to financial independence, at this time only reading what catches my eye. I find it fascinating to read through the numbers, savings rates, problems, and advice of the regular Joe and Jane out there on their journey to FI. This brought me to thinking about financial independence and what Even Steven Money (3rd person, who the hell do I think I am) does the same or different than the regular Joe and Jane in the world and maybe even the irregular Joe and Jane who have chosen to purse financial independence, because as you read or talk with those in the community, I’m sure you realize, we are far from regular. Right Mr. 1500 Days!
I HATE DEBT, IF MY CHOICE IS HAVE A MILLION DOLLARS AND NO DEBT OR 2 MILLION DOLLARS AND 1 MILLION IN DEBT, I CHOOSE I HATE DEBT
As a kid I remember a test that asked what is heavier a 100 lbs. in bricks or 100 lbs. in feathers. The correct answer is they are the same. I would always get this wrong; it just didn’t make sense to me. This is the same way I feel about debt. I understand mathematically that 1 million dollars is the same as 2 million in cash and 1 million in debt, but personally I would rather have zero debt.
SMALL WINS ARE IMPORTANT, LIKE NOT BUYING $5 LATTES
Sometime after college I believe, during my initial glimpse into personal finance, I read the Automatic Millionaire* and what I took from the book was look for small wins and take those small wins and make sure to invest automatically (I noticed a new version came out, might have to read it again). What the world took as a headline was to stop buying $5 Lattes every day,
invest this money, and you will become a millionaire. The difference in a headline and reality is earning those small victories is important. I have earned small wins over and over in the past 6 years and the small wins have helped put me in a better position financially.
For example I reduced my spending on cell phones, cable, gym memberships, eating out, and yes coffee. I coined the term Rock Bottom Budget (bought the domain name and did nothing with it) as a way to think about these small wins and turn them into a lifestyle change. Yes, I believe buying $5 Lattes every day is bad in the same way I think buying $5 doughnuts every day is bad, it’s not really needed. It is only part of the picture, $5 Lattes every day doesn’t mean $%*& if you bring your lunch to work every day or are sharing your apartment with a roommate to reduce rent. Which leads me to my next point.
BIG WINS ARE MORE IMPORTANT, LIKE SELLING YOUR NEW JEEP CHEROKEE WITH A $463.95 PAYMENT AND DRIVING A PAID OFF 1995 TOYOTA TACOMA INSTEAD
The Big 3 of expenses: Home, Transportation, and Food. If you want financial independence reducing or eliminating these expenses is the key. The big wins are the most important. Personally we have a paid off vehicle, essentially have eliminated our mortgage payment with other paying our mortgage aka tenants, and third of the Big 3 Food we splurge. 2 out of 3 isn’t bad right.
Let’s use an example, let’s call him Mike. Mike has a brand new Jeep Cherokee with a $463.95 payment, a very low rent payment of $600 for his apartment, and food is partially covered as he often travels for work. 2 out of 3 isn’t bad right? Here’s the FI answer. WRONG! While Mike is paying the same to drive his vehicle as live in his apartment he is coughing up $400 in student loan payments. Ask the average Joe and Jane, you might get a different answer, FI Joe and Jane think having a large vehicle payment is crazy talk, they sell the vehicle and walk to work or buy a 1995 Toyota Tacoma.
100% Honest, I want my next vehicle to be a 1995 Toyota Tacoma, paid for in cash. I can’t even fathom buying a new car. Different wants and needs.
BEING FRUGAL OR EVEN BEING A FRUGAL WEIRDO IS THE WAY TO GO
Early on in life I thought I was going to earn extravagant amounts of money and proceeded to chalk up all of my purchases to a “don’t worry, I’ll make tons of money”. As you can probably guess this got me nowhere, unless nowhere is an overflowing garbage can of debt.
Then slowly I started being frugal. Frugal defined: Purchase only quality items that are meant to last for long periods of time, inexpensive over the long term, possibly expensive with the initial purchase.
I BUY NEW CLOTHES ALMOST NEVER
Here is a list of all the clothing I bought in 2016. I actually didn’t purchase anything for myself until September 20th, 2016 “The Winter is Coming”. I spent a total of $380.03 of my own money on clothing related items.
I bought a new back pack, Columbia snow boots, Patagonia winter jacket, Patagonia vest (used), and a Patagonia winter headband from REI for my winter bike rides. I also bought a bike helmet for my wife included in that $54.47 purchase from REI, but I’ll chalk that up to me purchasing some random clothing item that I did not include here, like Berkshire Hathaway boxers for example. It should be noted I did spend money on dry cleaning once this year for $40 and rented a tux for $250 to stand up in a wedding, Vera Wang I loathe your expensive taste.
What about dress shirts, dress pants, t-shirts, shoes, etc.? First, I do my best to not buy these items; I purchased these items over the years and do my best to make them last including repairing the nice stuff I need for work or going out and wearing tattered clothes. Second, I have an eBay store in which I purchased new/gently used items to sell and in the mean time I wear the items that are for sale, assuming they are the gently used items and actually fit me. Third, I make the most of gifts from my family items that are needed. If I need boxers or white t-shirts I ask Santa at Christmas or my birthday and plead for everyone not to buy me anything else that I do not need. My wife bought me dress shoes for Christmas in 2015; my goal is for them to last till 2025, only 8 more years to go!!!
For me clothes take a backseat, when I do purchase or receive a gift I expect that clothing item to last 5-10 years (excluding boxers, white t-shirts, and I’m still deciding on socks). The shoes I have on today, my New Balance 471 Trail Running shoe which I bought in 2003-2004, I expect to make it 20 years as I use them mostly for walking the dog, biking during the windy/cold months, and trail hikes or in Illinois trail walks.
Summary and More Reasons I’m Most Likely a Frugal Weirdo
- Don’t buy clothes
- If you do buy quality clothes that will last
- Wear clothes forever, even repairing clothes
- Do something different to cut the costs of clothes you buy
I CHOOSE REDUCING COSTS BEFORE INCREASING INCOME
There are usually 2 schools of thought on this topic, but I really think there are 3:
- Cut costs and keep income the same
- Keep same costs and increase income
I personally have had so much waste in my life that I prefer to reduce costs, getting down to a rock bottom budget. I made this my focus; I knew that if I attempted to increase my income first, I would still be spending large amounts of money while my income was rising, something known as lifestyle inflation creep. During this time our incomes have gone up, you know the story, show up for work every day and do your job. Our side hustle has gone up (hobby hustle) and our rental real estate income has gone up as well.
So if you look closely, the 3rd school of thought is to decrease your expenses, preferably like a wild maniac, while increasing your income, but more importantly the goal is to create a gap that increases over time. Like water hitting against the rocks eroding away over time, hopefully a little faster than that. I chose to focus on reducing my expenses both in variable costs like a cell phone and fixed costs like a home mortgage. As a very wise man once said if it were easy, then everyone would do it.
I RESEARCH MY PURCHASES LIKE I’M GOING TO PREPARE A 10,000 WORD ESSAY ON WHY I’M MAKING THE PURCHASE-MY RESEARCH SOMETIMES CAUSES PARALYSIS WHICH DELAYS THE PURCHASE OR CANCELS IT ALL TOGETHER-I PREFER BRAND NAME, QUALITY ITEMS, REGARDLESS OF PRICE
I’m lumping all of these together because they all fall together like dominoes from one to another. I do a great deal of research when I’m purchasing an item that I intend to use or wear. As I mentioned above I now make purchases with the intent that it will last between 5-10 years. It makes the research easier as this will narrow my search. It’s easy to buy a bike lock from your big box retailer for $15, but is the lock going to last 5-10 years or is it just the cheapest? What if the best and most reliable brand per your research costs $50, but based on your research it is the strongest, most versatile, and best reviewed bike lock you can find? In this case I defer to my last statement of brand name, quality items, regardless of price.
As I have mentioned all this research can sometimes cause paralysis and that can be tough for something you have every intention of buying. It is also a built in waiting process for anything you purchase, which can actually be a good thing. I am by nature and I think most of us are, impulse spenders. I bought Final Four tickets about a year ago because I thought it was a good idea and could make a profit or get to see the Final Four live and in person. Should I have bought those tickets? Time will tell, but I certainly didn’t go through my normal 10,000 word essay on why I should buy them. If I would have maybe I’d still have $800 in my bank account. The analysis slows you down and makes you think about the purchase.
I prefer quality brand names regardless of price. Personally I have made a steady switch to Patagonia. There are a slew of reasons why I recently purchased my winter jacket and winter vest from the company, but the main reason is the quality of each item. I am sure it didn’t hurt to read the books “let my people go surfing” and “closer to the ground” show in the Amazon links below*, watched the documentary “180 degrees south”* also available on Netflix, applaud the Black Friday fundraiser for the earth, fascinated with the company culture, or general action towards protecting nature.
ANYONE CAN SUCCEED IN REAL ESTATE AND CREATE WEALTH, I THINK IT IS INCREDIBLY MORE DIFFICULT TO DO THIS WITH A STOCK PORTFOLIO
Some of this statement is mindset. I always looked at real estate as the key to building wealth. I do look at having a stock portfolio as a “rich man’s game” and real estate as a “blue collar” type of investment. It’s fairly simple to buy a house; it’s also fairly simple to buy another house. The amount of money needed upfront for either of these transactions is fairly low. A down payment usually runs anywhere from 3.5% to 20% of your purchase price. It’s not really seen as a gamble to do this and in some worlds you are considered smarter just by lowering your down payment, known as leverage. In a simple example I can buy a house for $100,000 with $3,500. Now if instead I decided to purchase a stock currently worth $100,000, I would need exactly that $100,000. This is one of the main reasons I think anyone can succeed with real estate, it doesn’t cost much money.
It’s very easy to make this into a real estate vs stocks argument, not going to happen. I think both methods of investing will create wealth done correctly.
DOING IT ALL OVER, I WOULD PAY OFF MY CREDIT CARD BEFORE I INVESTED IN MY 401K
I researched an article awhile back that I chose not to publish, still sitting in the draft folder I believe, on this very topic. I came to the conclusion that paying off your high interest rate credit card is more important that investing in your 401K to get the company match. I will preface this conclusion with “it depends on how long you are going to take to pay off your credit card”. Let’s use an example of my thought process behind this.
Let’s say you make $50,000 and get a 4% match from your company. You would invest $2,000 and the company would match $2,000. Let’s say you never invested again and waited 30 years getting a 7% return along the way, your grand total is a little over $30,000. So 2K today became 30K in 30 years, throw the parade and invite the band am I right, compound interest is fantastic. In this example I say F*** the 30K in 30 years.
Let’s say you have a $2,000 credit card bill that is at 16%. This year you make the decision to pay off the credit card, your payment each month is $181.46, and you end up paying $177.52 above your original $2,000 balance. I choose this over my 401K match.
Now let’s be clear, YES I am choosing today’s credit card of $2,000 being completely paid off in 1 year over $30,000 in 30 years. I also believe if you cannot pay off that credit card in less than a ~year, let’s take out “F*** the 30K in 30 years” and instead sprinkle magic ferry dust and warm cuddley bear hugs on the 30K because compound interest and the stock market is unicorn magic.
Back to why I choose paying off the credit card, bullet point form:
- Paying off debt and seeing a zero balance after all your hard work is a better feeling than a company match of $2,000
- If you can pay off your credit card debt in a year, you will build your confidence to do bigger and better things, forget 4% for the company match, and let’s do 40%!!!
- You save hundreds of dollars today to wait for thousands later, so this is the premise of investing, this is what we all look to do. However, I’m more likely to believe this person paid off their credit card and then got their s*** together financially than to believe that they contributed 4% to their company match and will retire with a condo overlooking the beach and traveling the world
- My last point is I hate debt, H-A-T-E debt, like you know when as a kid and your parents gave you that sweater to put on and it was so itchy that you were freaking out. That’s how debt feels and seriously Mom and Dad, could you have suggested a t-shirt underneath that thing, I mean I was dying.
I DON’T CALCULATE OR KEEP TRACK OF SAVINGS RATE
So “Honest Abe” since I am in Illinois, I threw in my numbers one time into an Excel spreadsheet and said that looks pretty good, but at that time I was in the process of paying off my student loans, do I really give a s*** about this savings rate number? The answer for me was a big hell NO and I have not since looked at or kept track of my savings rate number.
If you calculate that you have a 73.4% savings rate, good for you. If you have goals to push it to 75.8%, also good for you. I don’t have a personal motivation for this percentage, much like net worth, or market value of a home they are certainly good measuring sticks but I just prefer not to measure very often or at all.
Here’s my thought process, once again in bullet point form:
- I paid off over $100,000 in debt, savings rate % was not used
- We paid off a rental home recently, savings rate was not a factor
- Savings rate is important, the actual percentage you achieve means very little. Do we all subscribe to saving 73.2% of our income and then in 7.9 years we will hit FI? I just don’t think that matters as much as everyone believes it does.
- I think increasing your savings rate is important, but I think it should fit your lifestyle. I know it’s not the 7 years it takes to reach FI, it’s the journey along the way, figuring things out. If you decide to live in your parent’s basement to achieve an 83.2% savings rate, but find out you hate living with your parents and also this certainly can’t last forever, then savings rate doesn’t mean a thing.
- I do my best to decrease my expenses and I also do my best to increase my income. I know by doing this it will lead me in the direction of FI, that’s all I need.
$0 IN GYM EXPENSES FOR EXERCISE. I WALK MY DOG, DO SOME PUSH-UPS, PLAY VOLLEYBALL, AND RIDE MY BIKE
I should start out by saying I am not the pillar of fitness, if you look at me you might say hey maybe this guy should go to the gym. I’m 6’3″ and weigh 225 pounds, I’m sure if you look at my BMI index I’m probably failing, not that I actually care.
A couple years back, we rescued a Siberian husky named Angel. I was going to the gym in the morning between 4:30 and 5:30 before I went to work. I was paying close to $50 a month and while I like to throw weights around from time to time, I don’t think I really love everything that’s behind it. I soon found out I needed to take my dog out in the morning and at night when I got home. After 2 or 3 months of not going to the gym because of the dog walks, winter, and not loving the gym I decided to cancel my membership. Just before this I stepped on the scale and realized I had lost 10 pounds. My primary focus at the gym was to lose weight; I no longer needed the gym.
I found that when exercise is involved in my everyday activities that I will participate. Walking my dog was one of those activities. I found that signing up for a volleyball league (this cost money) and biking to work (free after you buy the bike) also fit the bill. I wanted to do these things; I did not want to wake up at 4:30 and go the gym.
It’s not that I don’t believe in gyms and exercise, it’s I believe in doing what fits your schedule and is natural for you to participate every day. I am sure over time I will get in better shape, participate in more activities, eat healthier and maybe even drink less beer. Until then I pay $0 for my gym membership.
I USED TO THINK I WAS SMART ABOUT MONEY AND HAD A NEGATIVE NET WORTH, NOW I THINK I’M DUMB ABOUT MONEY BUT HAVE MORE OF IT
True story I was deeply in debt, you know thousands in credit cards and credit cards. My solution to this problem, invest money in what was Sharebuilder at $25 a week or month to make so much damn money that I could just pay off the debt with my investments. Here’s another one of my smart about money plans when I was younger. I’m going to make so much money at my 9-5 job that buying $400 at a Nike store today on my credit card is not a big deal at all, because you know entry level 50K out of college, 6 figures a few years later, nice new Lexus, private country club golf membership, and I’m all set. I was smart, I would read or at least skim financial statements on different companies so I could take the money that I did not have and invest it. I used to think I was smart about money.
Today I hardly think about that stuff at all. My philosophy is pretty simple, pay off all of my debt both personal and mortgage (rental real estate in our case). Then put all of our money towards investments in index funds. That’s literally how we plan to reach Financial Independence. I’m not calculating ROI on my investments, capex on real estate, or wondering what my next stock purchase is, nope I stick to being a little dumber now a days.
I AM A FINANCIAL UNICORN
Finally the moment I have been waiting for on this post, my opportunity to talk about Unicorns!!!!! The excitement level is at an all-time high right now. In the recent past my wife purchased a pair of unicorn socks for me, one of my favorite beers is Ninja vs Unicorn, and of course the self-proclamation that I am a financial unicorn. If you read about FI on the internet, about 8 out of 10 times the person pursuing or reaching for FI is an engineer or works in IT (coding, software development, etc.). I am not in either of these professions, the best way to describe my initial thought of engineering was something I read, summarizing here but “Why the f*** would I want to work on trains for my career”, that’s not entirely far off my thoughts in college. I also thought they built bridges and my fascination of bridges made me think they were the smartest people on the planet, I mean seriously how do those things stay up for so many years and hold all of that weight?!?!
I declare myself a financial unicorn (you can be one to, don’t worry everyone is pretty unique or FI would be a bunch of boring people) because I work at a bank. Everyone thinks the people that work at banks are these financial savants, while I’m sure there are some very sharp minded individuals, the very premise of banking is to make money by offering loans and services.
Bankers are expected to sell, so you know what that means, make sure to offer a checking, savings, credit card, consolidation loan to pay off your outstanding loans, mortgage, and home equity line of credit. Over and over bank employees see debt and if you surround yourself with debt it’s common place to have your own debt. I am not in the traditional branch style banking role so I don’t see the products and services over and over, which is certainly a good thing for me.
I don’t believe debt is here to help, I believe it’s here to hinder. I am less a man of risk and more a man of safety. I believe in taking your time to reach a big goal. I think unwinding your debts is difficult but very rewarding. I think it’s more important to destroy debt than to build an investment.
The FI movement is usually geared towards engineers and IT, those who came out of college debt free, started making very good salaries and just happened to notice they were natural savers and accumulated a ton of money, then insert FI.
I am far from all of this. I came out of college thinking I would be a financial advisor and shortly realized this meant a salesmen of financial products. My job out of college was low paying and I was just happy to get full-time employment. I had so much debt I just assumed everyone did, you know lots of student loans, new car loan, nice apartment. I didn’t make s*** coming out of college, some of this was self inflicted and some of this was just reality. I didn’t have money to save, I was looking to just make the minimum payments on my student loans. I didn’t insert FI, I clawed and scratched at FI like it was the only way out. I’m a financial unicorn.
I am sure there are other things that I do differently in my journey through Financial Independence and I am sure you have spotted statements that I have made that made you declare “I do exactly the same thing” or “I totally disagree with this nutjob”. Personally, I am just shocked you read this whole thing, congratulations.
Please share in the comments whatever the hell you would like, I’d love to hear it!
*This is an Amazon affiliate, but I 100% think you should borrow this item from your local library. If you disagree, use the link and I will make millions (sarcastic) from your purchase.