So Much Time & So Little To Do!

Wait a minute. Strike that – reverse it! I know, I know, I haven't updated this blog in months. What gives?! If things get any more sporadic around here I'll be on the Miss Mazuma publishing schedule! ūüėČ Maybe I should adopt the slogan of Wait, Buy Why and claim that I'll have “new posts every sometimes”?

But seriously, it's been a very busy (but exciting!) few months for me. Instead of publishing something for the sake of schedule, I'd rather focus on quality over quantity when it comes to these posts. I have a few new ones in the works, but I'd rather take my time and deliver the same standard you've come to expect from me these past two years…

Two years to the day, in fact! On this day two years ago, this crazy blog was born at CampFI in Gainesville, Florida. A lot has happened since I launched this blog: I sold a rental property, exercised my FU money, quit my job, and eventually reached financial independence! I watched this blog grow from an average of five readers per day to over five hundred daily visitors! And I met a ton of amazing new friends, many of whom I saw IRL for the first time at FinCon this past September!

So… what's been keeping this early retired guy so busy these past few months?

Creative Stuff

This Christmas, I collaborated on a really fun project with Scott of I Dream Of Fire and MSF of My Sons Father to create a FI Christmas video featuring Jonathan and Brad of ChooseFI, Scott from Bigger Pockets Money, and even Suze Orman! My brother and I created the music at my home recording studio, Listen Loud Music. And I performed those smooth crooner style vocals myself ūüėČ . Lyrics were written by Scott, and all the great Lego animation was created by ‘My Sons Father'. If you haven't watched the video yet, it's a real treat:

Speaking of music – my brother and I actually just completed an ambitious project we've been working on for a few years: we created the soundtrack for an original musical! Think Frozen meets Aladdin, but with a fresh sound- we essentially took a stab at creating a soundtrack for an imaginary Disney movie. It's called Cannetella, and it's based on an old Italian fairy tale of the same name.

My brother John and I at work in the studio

It was a TON of fun to make, and we finally published it online. The Wife and I had some fun laying down the demo vocals, so if you're into musicals, you can stream it for free right here:

And if you really can't get enough of hearing my voice, I'm happy to announce that I'm now a podcast host! My friend Lauren and I just launched our brand new podcast In Love and Money, which explores topics like combing finances, retiring single, prenuptial agreements, marital money disagreements, and much more! We're on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. We're aiming for new episodes every other week, and you can start listening right here:

And in a bizarre colliding of passions, my music life and blogger/podcaster lives are combining, as I've recently started licensing my original music for podcast use! That sweet theme music you hear in the In Love And Money into is the instrumental version of my song Juliet, and Cody and Justin on The FI Show are now using the instrumental from my song The Real Thing. A few other podcasts will be using my music soon as well, so this is turning into a pretty cool side hustle! If you know anyone who needs original music, send them my way!

Sweat & Hard Work

Alright, that pretty much sums up my “sitting in front of a computer” style work; now let's talk about some of the more physically demanding work I've been up to.

Mr. Money Mustache says that hard work is the key to happiness, and he must be on to something because I've been working harder and feeling happier than I have in a long time! One week per month, I've been traveling down to south Florida to spend time shadowing my dad, who owns his own home repair business. A third generation contractor, my dad is the handiest guy I know, but I never learned his trade growing up. My parents always insisted I study hard, go to college, and get a good degree, and so I never really picked up the handy gene.

Here's Dad and I pouring a new concrete slab in his back yard

But that's changing fast – each month I'm working on different jobs with him, trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can. Here's just a sampling of some of the things I've learned lately: Deck construction and replacement, fence repair, AC unit maintenance and troubleshooting, garbage disposal repair, installing outdoor electrical receptacles, roof repair… the list goes on.

All these skills are great, but being able to spend more quality time with my parents every month is one of the best benefits of being financially independent: I finally have time for the important stuff. I'm so thankful for this – I've gone from seeing my parents three or four times a year to seeing them once or twice a month. As an Italian, family is one of the most important things in life, and I'm so lucky I have the opportunity to spend more time with them.

Dad and I working together on a roof in South Florida

All this hard work with my dad increased my ambition for making improvements to my own home, so I recently started the process of re-landscaping (de-landscaping?) my back yard. The previous homeowners decided to put a large berm of plants and trees directly in the center of the back yard. While it did provide privacy, having a giant planter in the middle of the yard was less than ideal. So I've spent the last week clearing brush, transplanting mango and citrus trees, and leveling land. Check out some before and after photos:

Before: A ton of overgrown vegetation taking up the majority of our yard.
After: we have a yard again! I still have to fix up the fence and the sod, but it's a start!
Another angle showing how much more space we have now.

This was hard but rewarding work. And I had the physical strength required to do this project, thanks to the custom workout plan my brother made for me when I started early retirement. For the past year, I've been following his plan:

  • Mondays (Chest):  flys, bench press, incline press, and decline press
  • Tuesdays (Legs): extensions, curls, squats, and calves
  • Wednesdays (Back + Shoulders): pull-ups, rows, and shoulder press
  • Thursdays (Arms): close grip bench, skull crushers, dips, curls

This plan is perfect for me, as I get to frontload my workouts at the beginning of the week, leaving three-day ‘weekends' for travel, rest, and leisure. Most workouts take about an hour or so to complete. Since first starting my brother's program over a year ago, I've put on fifteen pounds of muscle mass, and increased my resistance on the bench significantly.

My brother shares a Google doc with me so he can set my goals for each week
My squat numbers have more than doubled. And I went from being able to do only six pull-ups, to doing four sets of fifteen pull-ups! This strength came in handy pulling out roots, moving trees, and lifting heavy bags of yard debris. My brother's taking on new clients, so if you think a custom-tailored workout plan might help you achieve your fitness goals this year, email me and I'll put you in contact with him.

Fun!

It hasn't been all sweat and hard work, however. While working on this daily exercise routine, I started listening to all of the Harry Potter audiobooks. I don't know how it happened, but I'm that guy that must have lived under a rock these past two decades because I missed out on the whole Hogwarts craze. But during my workouts, I ended up listening to the entire 125 hours of magic! According to the sorting hat on Pottermore, I'm a Ravenclaw, and this really resonates with me! Gryffindors are brave to a fault, and Slytherin are often too ambitious for their own good, so its no wonder my favorite character was Luna Lovegood.  I really, really enjoyed these books! ūüôā

In other fun happenings… I got to sit down with Rita Skeeter… er, I mean CNBC reporter Anna Nova, along with Big ERN and the Physician on Fire at FinCon this past fall, resulting in this CNBC feature on early retirement. It was a lot of fun, and I love seeing positive news like this in the media.

Last but certainly not least, I just got back from CampFI Southeast in Gainesville, Florida, where I gave a presentation on how to think about money, titled “So You Want To Be Rich?!”. It was really well received, and you can watch the entire presentation right here:

If you've never been to CampFI or Camp Mustache, you really should go. I've been to four of them, and they are truly amazing experiences. I wrote a review about the first camp I ever attended here.

Summary

So there you have it. A new post that is essentially a well-organized list of excuses for why I haven't made a new post lately. ūüôā But you know what? That's part of the beauty of financial independence – I get to work on what I want, when I want to! Between my new podcast, my various music projects, and preparing for my presentation at CampFI, my post schedule around here has become a bit sporadic.

That's not to say I haven't been working hard on the blog… I have a dozen drafted posts, including an update on our current portfolio and allocation, our future drawdown strategy, and my take on the current sale going on in the stock market (hint – if you don't already front load your investments, now is the time). These posts will all be rolling out over the next few … well, we'll see.

Thank you, dear reader, for an amazing first two years!

Get Rich Slowly

Exciting news: J.D. Roth invited me to write a guest post for his legendary blog Get Rich Slowly! You can read it here:

Money story: Our financial 180

The post is part of the “money stories” feature, where guest readers post their¬†own stories of financial success – and failure. For February, the theme is relationships, and how couples manage their money together. I tell the story of how the wife and I worked together to turn¬†our finances around, and the unique challenges we faced along the way.

I had the pleasure of first meeting J.D. at Camp Mustache last year, and I'm excited he gave me the opportunity to tell my story to a wider audience. While you're visiting, be sure to hit the subscribe button, if you haven't already!

Lessons In Early Retirement

Time flies when you're having fun! This week marks the one year anniversary of Financial 180 – and what a year it's been! Since launching we've been featured on Fiery Millenials, Radical Personal Finance, Rockstar Finance (not once, but twice!), and the Choose FI podcast (here and here), amassing 100 thousand visitors to this infant blog and surpassing my wildest expectations. Jonathan over at ChooseFI even went on to call Financial 180 “The breakout blog of 2017”, which is unbelievably high praise! ūüôā

While it's been a bit quiet around here since quitting my job last November, I've been working hard behind the scenes to make 2018 the best year yet. I've got tons of great posts on the horizon: an interview with ‘The Wife', a breakdown of our portfolio and drawdown strategy, our detailed FI budget, and more.

I've also spent the past two weeks at Camp FI in Gainesville, Florida, hanging out with some of the nicest, smartest, and most inspiring members of the financial independence community I've ever met. These camps are truly amazing experiences – check out my detailed write-up of last year's camp if you haven't already. I always leave these events feeling recharged and ready to take on the world! This year we recorded a live roundtable episode of ChooseFI, where I make a cameo on the mic.

There were plenty of other FI bloggers in attendance, including Miss Mazuma, Andy from Aardvark Advisor, Seonwoo from Fiby40, Jason of Winning Williams, Kristine of Frugally Reckless, Ruby and Peter from A Journey We Love, Juan from Finance Clever, and probably a bunch more that I missed. There was even a brand new blog born at camp, taking our torch and carrying on the annual tradition!

This year, I was one of the featured presenters, along with (get ready for more name dropping!) J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly, Jonathan and Brad from ChooseFI, Scott Trench from Bigger Pockets, Doug from The Military Guide, Carl and Mindy from 1500 Days, Gwen from Fiery Millenials, Noah from Money Metagame, The Physician on Fire, and Kevin from Clack Consulting.

The presentation I gave detailed the lessons I've learned in my first few months of early retirement, and I wanted to share some of those here on the blog as well, so let's dive in.

Burnout Is Real

As I've said time and again here on the blog, my software engineering job was stressful. But only now that I've been away for a few months am I realizing just how burned out I really was, and how long work stress stays with you even after you quit.

Last month, as I was changing the sheets on my bed, I found myself rushing to complete the task. I was frustrated that making the bed was taking so long. My heart rate was elevated and I was stressed out. It took me a few minutes to consciously realize what was happening- that I was rushing to complete the task at hand as if I was running late for something. After a year of rushing constantly at work trying to save a behind schedule program, that stress bled over into my personal life and stuck around months after quitting.

As I paid more and more attention to the world around me, I started noticing this tendency to rush through tasks everywhere: buying groceries, mowing the lawn, even filling up my cup at the refrigerator. The irony isn't lost on me: the retired guy with all the time in the world doesn't have the patience to wait the ten seconds required to fill a glass of water?! I may have retired from work, but I was far from being at peace. I was creating my own stress out of thin air.

The wife has been wonderful in helping me become consciously aware of my stress levels and has helped me slow down and find contentment in the current moment, instead of always rushing to the next item on my never-ending to-do list. I'm still not finished dealing with burnout, but I'm a lot healthier mentally than I was back in November. To all of you dealing with burnout at work: utilize your FU money and take a break! Don't let it get to the point that I did if you can help it.

We're All Stressed

Once you start paying attention to stress, you start to notice it not just in yourself, but in others as well. A few weeks ago I was at the post office, waiting in line to mail a package for Christmas. After about ten minutes of waiting, the guy in front of me had a meltdown. He shouted that he was done waiting for the slow postal staff, used a few colorful words to describe his emotions, slammed his package on the counter, and stormed out. All in front of children who were also in the line.

Years ago I would have written this guy off as yet another crazy person, what can you do, right? But now I realize he was probably just as burned out as I was and desperately needs a break. The problem is, average Joe consumer living paycheck to paycheck doesn't have enough financial runway to even think about taking time off of work for mental health.

When I quit my job, dozens of my friends¬†and coworkers asked me what company I was moving to next. “I'm just going to take a break” I'd answer, not wanting to get into a whole unsolicited discussion on financial independence. Nearly every single person gave me the same response: “I wish I could take a break…”

I'm hopeful that as this financial independence movement continues to grow, more and more people will recover from chronic job-related stress. Until then, the best I can do is continue to spread the word. And now, when I notice someone stressing out in line, I'll let them go in front of me. I have the time to spare.

Getting Outside Is Important!

Who knew getting outside every day could be such a big deal? As it turns out, staying inside and letting the days blur together is NOT a recipe for happiness! It took a few weeks for me to realize that being a cooped up recluse is a problem.

In FI, pants aren't required, but they are encouraged! Image by The Oatmeal.
In FI, pants aren't required, but they are encouraged! Image by The Oatmeal.

The key for me was putting together a solid morning routine to help build the momentum for my day.¬†A brisk half hour morning walk outside does wonders, as does a jog or other cardio out in the sunshine. I can't emphasize the importance of this enough: without momentum, the days just melt away, leaving you with a feeling of ‘blah' that causes lethargy and frustration.

I don't know if it is the sunshine, the fresh air, the sounds of nature, or something else, but getting outside early in the day makes all the difference for me. A very wise friend at Camp FI said it better than I ever could: “Humans are basically houseplants with more complex emotions. Ensure you get lots of water and sunshine every day and you'll be fine!” Wise words indeed.

Don't Turn Fun Into Work

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to set aggressive goals in early retirement from day one: “I'm going to write three blog posts a week! I'm going to produce two new songs every month! I'm going to finish my book before Summer!”

Along with the chronic stress of always feeling behind schedule, this aggressive goal setting technique is another gift from my software engineering career. After a few weeks of self-imposed stress, the wife subtly pointed out the error in my logic:

The Wife: Why are you so stressed out?

Me: I thought I'd have more posts written by now. And have more progress done on my book.

The Wife: You quit your job to get away from the stress of arbitrary deadlines. And now you made more of them? You're dumb.

She's right! I have all the time in the world now, and I need to slow down and find a balance that works for me. I realize now that if I keep making aggressive goals and deadlines, eventually all the fun stuff I enjoy, like writing, producing music, etc, will all start to feel like work. Why rush?

My new goal is simply to write whenever I feel inspired. When I feel passionate, when something gets me fired up, excited, or angry, this is when my best writing flows. It's true for all my creative projects: blogs, books, music, you name it. There's an honesty behind an inspired creator that makes their creations really shine.

Along these same lines, I've also learned that early retirement opens your eyes to many new opportunities that weren't visible during the daily grind of the 9 to 5 (or in my case, the 7 to 7). Doug from the Military Guide referred to this as “The Fog of Work” this weekend at camp, and the phrase really stuck with me.

In my case, all these new opportunities became overwhelming in number. But I remembered something JD Roth presented at last years camp: Say “Hell Yeah!”, or say no. JD credits the idea from Derek Sivers, and it has had a really positive effect on me lately in terms of life balance. The idea is simple: when presented with opportunities, if the answer isn't “HELL YEAH!”, then just say no.

There Are No More Excuses

So yeah, most of the lessons learned so far have been bummers. Stress can follow you into retirement, it's easy to turn into a pants-less recluse, and all the fun things you were looking forward to can turn into work. Where's all the good stuff??

Well, it turns out that being my own boss is pretty freakin' sweet, now that I finally got the hang of it! My schedule is flexible. My due dates are elastic. My plans are spontaneous, and my vacation days are unlimited. These are some of my favorite things about early retirement so far! 

I come from a long line of self-employed family members. My dad owns his own small home repair business, and his father and grandfather were both general contractors with their own businesses as well. While not financially independent, my dad is still able to leverage the power of being his own boss, setting his own schedule and choosing how much or how little he works. There's a Bob Dylan quote that sums it up nicely:¬†“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”

While incredibly empowering, this is also a double-edged sword because there are literally no more excuses. For the first time, all your life goals and passion projects are suddenly staring you in the face. Not in the physical shape you want to be? You can't blame your lack of fitness on a busy work schedule anymore.

This can be quite intimidating because reaching all your goals and following all of your passions requires hard work. But as Mr. Money Mustache says, hard work leads to happiness! Specifically, having time to work hard on the things you are passionate about makes you happier than almost anything else in life.

This is probably why I went overboard setting goals and turning fun stuff into work.  The key is in finding the balance of hard work and leisure that works well for you. After lots of tweaking, here's what seems to be working for me, on an ideal day:

  • Physical fitness: 2 hours/day
  • Creative work (writing, music, etc.): 2 hours/day
  • Errands / housework: 2 hours/day
  • Reading / learning new things: 2 hours/day

The two-hour blocks seem to work well for me. It's enough time to make real progress on goals, but not so much to throw the rest of the day out of balance or stress me out. And because all the above only adds up to eight hours, I still have plenty of slack in my day to go on walks, cook, spend quality time with the wife, and just goof off.

The Important Stuff

So there you have it! The majority of my lessons learned in early retirement revolve around stress management, building effective routines, and finding the right balance between hard work and leisure. It's interesting that I'm finally tackling these issues in early retirement, because I probably should have dealt with them years ago- they seem to be useful lessons regardless where you are on your journey to FI.

Perhaps more than anything else, the biggest lesson I've learned since quitting is that I need to make time for the important stuff in my life. Because I have a surplus of hours for the very first time, I have to figure out the best way to spend them. Unlike dollars, I can't save up these excess hours! They get spent whether I like it or not, so I have to be very intentional in what I spend them on.

So far I've been spending them on quality time with family, weekly dinners with friends, hard work on things I love, and, when I remember – stopping to smell the roses. Slowing down to actually enjoy the present moment. Because time is more important than money. You can always earn more money, but you can't buy more time. So, you need to spend it on the people and experiences that matter most.

This is what FI is all about.

 

Thank you, dear reader, for an amazing first year! The support from this community has been unbelievable, and I could not have accomplished so much in such a short time without you! Your comments, emails, and social media shares keep me inspired and make this a project I truly enjoy working hard on. Here's to another great year! 

Camp Mustache Review

Hello again! While I'm busy finishing part 2 of our In Depth 180 series, I'll leave you with a recap of the wonderful time I had this past weekend at Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, FL. The weekend was absolutely amazing! My wife and I spent our days surrounded by nearly 40 extremely optimistic and energetic FI or nearly FI people. We're still buzzing from the high. Everyone was genuinely interested in our story.

We made tons of new friends, including Pete, a.k.a Mr. Money Mustache, who is just as awesome in real life as he is on his blog. We gave him a ride from Gainesville back to the airport on Monday and chatted about the future of autonomous vehicles, energy production, and other interesting topics. Enough good ideas came up that I'll have blog posts for months!

Camp Mustache SE 2017 – These people are all awesome!

All weekend long, there was this really contagious energy. It's been years since I've made so many friends so fast, and had this good of a time! Some of the people were extremely interesting. We met our twin FI couple, MK and Jason, who are neck and neck with us as we march towards FI. We chatted by the campfire with an extremely nice FI doctor from Chicago for hours. We met a federal prosecutor, a pharmacist, a dentist, real estate experts, and more. And we met our new friend Bill, who might have the most interesting FI story ever. So many fun people- I feel like I know experts in nearly every field now!

One attendee, Zeona, had a very interesting story. She started buying rental properties across different states, renting them out full time on AirBnB. She told us her story as we carpooled from the airport, and I can tell she's quite passionate and talented in this area. She gave a presentation on all of this alongside Emma, another talented real estate investor. Emma helped coordinate Camp Mustache SE with Stephen of The Southern Stache, and they did an excellent job.

Zeona and Emma presenting at Camp Mustache

JD Roth from Get Rich Slowly and MoneyBoss also presented, and his talk on crafting a personal mission statement really hit home with me. He asked everyone to imagine what it would be like to hear that you only have 6 months left to live. What would you change about your life? He then had us use this to help us build our own life mission statements. His post Finding Purpose just went up this week, and delivers the same message in blog form.

Keith Schroeder from The Wealthy Accountant presented on how to organize your life to maximize net worth and minimize taxes. This guy really knows his stuff! He posted about the talk in detail here. While at the camp, Keith held one on one sessions to discuss taxes, FI goals, etc, and all the money raised was donated to the Special Olympics.

Camp Mustache Presentations

Brad Barrett from Richmond Savers and TravelMiles101 gave a great presentation on travel hacking. If you haven't signed up for the free Travel Miles 101 course yet, you need to- you'll never pay full price for airfare and hotels again! Brad is a really great guy- after his presentation, he sat down with the wife and I and helped us find round trip tickets for a trip to Japan using only our rewards points.

Brooks Nelson from Gainesville Cohousing also gave an interesting presentation on a new community being developed in Gainesville. The idea of cohousing was new to me, but apparently this is popular in Europe and just starting to catch on here in the states.  The concept is kind of a halfway point between modern suburbia, where you don't even know your neighbors' names, and a commune, where everyone lives together and shares everything. I hope to see more of these communities popping up in the future- they seem like a very mustachian housing choice to me.

Joshua Sheats of Radical Personal Finance gave the presentation “Why Wait Until You‚Äôre FI to Live Like You‚Äôre FI?” The idea is to design your life the way you want it, regardless of if you are FI or not. He used himself as an example: although not yet FI, he still makes his own schedule, works on podcasts, which he loves, and, most importantly, isn't a slave to his alarm clock.¬†He actually recorded the whole talk as a live podcast episode, and you can listen to it here.

Joshua presents during Camp Mustache

While we were there, the wife and I did an interview with Joshua, and he insisted our story was so interesting that we needed to start a blog. Other attendees agreed and were super encouraging. Our new friend Kevin lent his expertise, and within a few hours Fi180 was born! This blog wouldn't exist without the support and expertise of these awesome new friends.

There were plenty of other bloggers in attendance this weekend as well. Gwen from FieryMillenials, Jonathan & Brad from ChooseFI, TJ and Fiby40, the list goes on. Everyone was extremely nice and so much fun to be around. A lot of friendships were cemented over cards against humanity well after midnight! 

Enjoying a beautiful day on the lake

There was more to Camp Mustache than just socializing and presentation sessions, though. We took a two hour team building course in the woods, practiced our archery skills, and hiked to a beautiful lake where we all went kayaking. We spent hours talking around the campfire, playing board games, and telling stories. We even ran races- Gwen is super fast!

Perhaps the most enjoyable time for me though was just sitting in rocking chairs on the patio, listening to everyone's unique stories, and enjoying the perfect weather. January is a wonderful time of year to spend in Florida.

Team building course!

My wife and I learned a lot this weekend. We learned we could quit our jobs tomorrow and become FI immediately if we were willing to take the equity out of our rental house and leverage it to buy 5 small ones with 5 mortgages (we are not, but thank you Keith for opening our eyes to the possibility!) We learned quite a few tax pimping techniques for rentals and small businesses. And so much other stuff I'm still processing. It was a great experience. I highly recommend it if it comes back around next year. (Update: This camp has become an annual tradition, and I attend every January! Check out https://www.choosefi.com/campfi/ to learn more and sign up!)

Since coming back, I've never felt so motivated to work on creative endeavors. Nothing like a motivational kick in the butt from other extremely successful people! Now,¬†I'd better go get writing. There's so much good stuff in store for Part 2 of the 180 In Depth series… on the next Financial 180.