The Cheat Codes of FI

For those of you following along, you know I've been a bit busy lately. In addition to my own music, podcast, and software projects, I've also been popping up on other people's podcasts. A few weeks back I sang a few bars of Michael Bublé on The FI Show with Justin and Cody, and I just appeared on the What's Up Next podcast with Paul and Doc G as well. But being away from the blog has given me some time to reflect on FI, and the length of the journey itself.

It took The Wife and I roughly 5 years to reach financial independence. For others, it can easily take 10, 15, and even 20+ years. We know that the only variable that actually matters in terms of the math is your savings rate, but there are a ton of factors that influence this figure. How much debt are you starting off with? What career do you have? What's your income? How big is your family? Where do you live? How hard are you willing to work?

We all have individual preferences and constraints that guide our decisions. Some people want to go slower, easing their way into the financial independence journey. Others want to go faster. Some have the resources to go VERY fast but choose to go slowly out of comfort or family priorities. Others really DON'T have the resources to go as fast, but work like crazy and make it happen anyway!

But what, dear reader, if you want to get to FI as quickly as possible, throwing all caution to the wind? What if you could somehow apply a few ‘cheat codes' to your life and really jump ahead in the game? The truth is, such codes actually exist! There are five heavy-hitting areas of your life you can optimize to radically increase your income and decrease your spending, giving you the most bang for the proverbial buck.

The Cheat Codes of FI

Allow me to introduce the “cheat codes” of financial independence. I didn't coin the phrase; other bloggers in the FI space have written about cheat codes before. The problem is most of these posts are too short, vague, click-baity, or philosophical to be helpful.

I wanted something concrete and actionable, just as when I wrote my Milestones of FI post. When you Google video game codes, you don't want someone describing something obvious like “avoid taking damage.” You want to learn that you need to press A-B-A-C-A-B-B during the opening credits, or hold down on a white block for five seconds to find the next whistle.  This is what this post attempts to achieve.

But first, a word of caution: just as in video games, cheat codes aren't for everyone. Some folks are completionists and want to explore and collect every item along the way. Others want to take it slow and enjoy the journey, and I'd argue that this is the healthier option. But for those of you who want to reach the end credits of your traditional working career as fast as possible, this is the post for you!

Get ready, because we're about to skip straight to world 8!

There is a catch, however. When people ask me if there's a sure-fire (FIRE?) way to ‘get rich quick', I usually hesitate and respond with “yes, but… you're not going to like what you have to do!” No, I don't mean robbing a bank or anything like that. It's just that the cheat codes we're going to discuss here are hard to execute, and absolutely not right for everyone.

But boy, can they skip you ahead in the game! If any of these seem too extreme, simply ignore and move on to the next cheat code, until you find one that works for you and your family. Are you ready to level up?

House Hacking

DIFFICULTY: Moderate to Advanced

SAVINGS POWER: 5/5

DATE JOEL UNLOCKED: March 2014

ABILITIES ACHIEVED: Transformed housing from the most expensive budget line item into a source of income

TOTAL VALUE SINCE CODE UNLOCKED: > $100,000.00

Housing is usually the largest line item in most people's budget. For many, it can make up 30% to even 50% or more of their total expenses. House hacking attempts to flip this convention on its head, and take those expenses down towards zero. Or, better yet, earn you money instead of costing you each month!

My favorite part of walking through IKEA is getting ideas on how to live effectively in smaller spaces!

The Cheat Codes

  • The Family Man: move in with parents, siblings, or extended family to reduce or eliminate housing costs.
  • The Roomie: Move in with multiple roommates to reduce housing costs.
  • The ‘Be Our Guest': Rent out a room (or two) of your house and make enough money to cover your housing expenses. (Airbnb and VRBO are perfect for this)
  • The Multi-Family Man: Purchasing a duplex, triplex, or quadplex, living in one of the units, and renting out the others for a profit. (Your tenants pay the mortgage for you!)
  • The Live-n-Flip: Move into a home that needs some TLC, stay a year or two fixing it up, and move out, selling for a sizable profit.
  • The Landlord: Manage one or more traditional rental properties to increase your passive income. (Just be sure not to rely too much on leverage, as it can come back to bite you!)
  • The Small & Mighty: Downsize into a small apartment or tiny home to reduce housing expenses.
  • The Road Warrior: Ditch the traditional house concept completely and live in an RV like my friends recently did!
It's less traditional, but RV living could shave years off of your working career.

What Cheat Code(s) Did WE Activate?

The Wife and I lived with family for free for a few years while we rented out our own home (The Family Man). Some friends thought we were crazy, and it did test our sanity a bit, but it was well worth it in the end. This hack shaved YEARS off of our time to FI, allowing us to live rent-free AND pay off our (then underwater) mortgage at the same time.

Our property made for a pretty terrible rental, missing the 1% rule by a mile, but this hack was still effective (The Landlord). On most properties, this strategy should bring your cost down to zero, or even earn you a monthly profit. Figuring out how to live for free, even for just a few years, can really speed up your savings! Anything to reduce living expenses goes a long way.

Years later, we sold our rental and used the profits to pay off our primary residence. We now pay an ‘equivalent rent' of only $300 per month, covering taxes, maintenance, and insurance. Our latest cheat code? Serendipitously, a friend we met at CampFI years ago recently moved to town for work and needed a place to live. We happily rented out our guest room for a few months, making a small profit to live in our own house (The ‘Be Our Guest')!

Housing costs before cheat codes: $1600 per month.

Housing costs after cheat codes: $300 per month (we actually profit $200 per month when renting out our guest room).

Interested in-house hacking? Here are some links to get you started:

A word of caution, however. Getting into real estate can be a very effective way to house hack, but it's not always a cake-walk. I've posted here on the blog about our adventures in real estate and our house purchase fails, so I'm not here to sugar coat anything. Was it an effective cheat code? Yes. Was it a pain in the ass? Also, yes.

Transportation Hacking

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

SAVINGS POWER: 4/5

DATE JOEL UNLOCKED: December 2014

ABILITIES ACHIEVED: Reduced automobile, fuel, and related costs by over 50% while simultaneously reducing commute time

TOTAL VALUE SINCE CODE UNLOCKED: ~ $30,000.00

Most people severely underestimate what they spend on transportation. As I lamented in my post The Car Problem, the average car costs $10k per year just to own, not even counting the cost of the car itself. It's not just cars, either: if you live many miles from where you work, other public and private transportation options can be just as expensive. Most Americans pay between 20 and 35% of their take-home pay on transportation, making it second only to housing in terms of opportunity for hacking. It’s no wonder finding money to save for investing is hard!

Traffic jams cost you a lot more than time…

The Cheat Codes

  • The 5K: Move as close to where you work and play as possible. Aim for a morning commute of 3 miles or less!
  • The ‘Every Day is Leg Day': Walk or bike to work instead of driving. MMM is a big proponent of the magic life-changing habit of bicycling.
  • The Carpool: Consider carpooling with friends and family, and reducing the number of cars in your household down to one, or even zero!
  • The Uber Cool: Consider up and coming private options, such as Uber and Lyft's new monthly subscription plans that could save you money over traditional car ownership.
  • The Man With The Plan: Plan and consolidate your trips into weekly or monthly outings when possible.
  • The Home Body: Negotiate with your employer to work some (or all!) days from home, or a closer location to home. Depending on your job, this could save significant money!
  • The Smart Car: If you must buy a car, be smart and research car buying on Fiology before you buy.

What Cheat Code(s) Did WE Activate?

After the car accident, The Wife and I decided not to buy a replacement vehicle and instead became a one car household (The Carpool). Reducing down to one car eliminated the insurance, registration, and maintenance costs associated with the second car. Carpooling also helped reduce our fuel consumption as well, as at least 5 miles of our commute was in the exact same direction every day.

A few years later, we moved much closer to work, reducing our commute to less than 15 minutes and shaving even more off of our fuel and maintenance costs (The 5K). We also found significantly cheaper auto insurance, dropped collision and comprehensive coverage, and raised our deductibles to the maximum allowed. Here's how we did:

Transportation costs before cheat codes: $600 per month

Transportation costs after cheat codes: $160 per month

We discuss these cost savings in more detail in our Savings Snowball post. Transportation and fuel costs are significantly larger than most people realize. I'm convinced the assumption that middle-class households ‘deserve' two new cars in the driveway is the very thing preventing the average American from accumulating significant wealth.

If you drive a car to commute to work, take a look at the sprinkling of fuel and car-related costs on your monthly statements. Is there any other expense category with so many transactions, each so expensive? The only one that even comes close is perhaps… food.

Food Hacking

DIFFICULTY: Advanced

SAVINGS POWER: 3/5

DATE JOEL UNLOCKED: October 2015

ABILITIES ACHIEVED: Learned to cook restaurant quality meals; cut grocery budget in half, and total monthly food costs by a factor of five

TOTAL VALUE SINCE CODE UNLOCKED: ~ $35,000.00

Food is usually the third most expensive category, after housing and transportation (in our case it happened to be even more expensive than transportation, but we'll get to that in a minute).

The Cheat Codes

  • The Special: Limit eating out at restaurants and fast food to once per week, or even once per month, primarily on special occasions.
  • The Chef: Learn to cook food you actually enjoy. This took us quite a while to learn…
  • The Day of Cooking: Make Sunday a “cooking” day, and prepare lunches and dinners for the entire week. The 8-quart InstaPot has helped us with this significantly!
  • The Potluck Master: Don't use eating out as a way to curb boredom! Opt for potlucks at home with friends instead of nights out at bars and restaurants.
  • The Part-Time Vegan: Consider reducing your meat consumption. Meatless Mondays are a great way to start!
  • The Smart Foodie: Switch grocery stores to cut your food bill in half! Check out this Fiology lesson on food for even more hacks.

What Cheat Code(s) Did WE Activate?

Before our turnaround, we spent a ton of money on food- well over $1000 a month! Coffee shops, bars with friends, eating at restaurants twice a day, convenience foods from luxury supermarkets… if the game was spending money, we were winning. But, this just meant we had a TON of low hanging fruit to work with.

When we turned things around, we switched from Publix to Aldi for our grocery shopping and cut our bill literally in half (The Smart Foodie). We stopped eating out at restaurants every day, and learned to meal plan for lunches and dinners throughout the week (The Day of Cooking). We started keeping emergency pizzas in the freezer for days with low motivation, and carefully tracked our food waste to try and become more efficient.

The grocery store you choose matters!

We also started hosting weekly potlucks, brunches, and game nights with friends at our house, with our own food (The Chef), which was significantly cheaper than frequent nights out on the town (The Potluck Master). In addition, we reduced our meat consumption (The Part-Time Vegan), which was a significant win for our wallets as well as our waistlines. So, how'd we do?

Food costs before cheat codes: $1000 per month

Food costs after cheat codes: $400 per month

We discuss these cost savings in more detail in our Food Savings post.

Let me clarify something here. This process was NOT easy. Of all the habits we’ve changed over the years to become more financially fit, this was the hardest. As a couple who didn't know how to cook well, it took a significant amount of practice, patience, and teamwork. The rewards, however, speak for themselves.

Travel Hacking

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

SAVINGS POWER: 3/5

DATE JOEL UNLOCKED: March 2016

ABILITIES ACHIEVED: Reduced travel costs by more than 50%, BOGO flights, more free hotel stays than we can use

TOTAL VALUE SINCE CODE UNLOCKED: ~ $50,000.00

Of all the cheat codes on the way to FI, travel hacking gets the most coverage in the blogosphere. This is likely because many bloggers receive payment for recommending certain credit cards, but travel hacking is a legitimate way for you to save tons of cash on travel every year.

The Cheat Codes

The Giant Wallet Dude(tte): Take advantage of sign-on bonuses. Many credit card companies offer generous bonuses to get you to sign up, sometimes offering between $500 and $1000 in incentive when you meet certain sign on conditions. Most commonly, you need to spend a few thousand dollars on the card within a few months of opening the account. Depending on the type of account, rewards can be applied to airfare, transportation, hotels, parking, and more.

The BOGO Flyer: The Southwest “Companion Pass” – lets you bring a designated companion along on every flight, for free! For couples, this effectively cuts your airfare costs IN HALF, and if done correctly, you can alternate earning the pass with your spouse every two years so the pass can last essentially forever!

The Slow Ride: The concept of ‘slow travel' – where you wander the world slowly, living like a local in exciting new locales. Depending on the country, your cost of living during slow travel can be considerably cheaper than where you currently call home. Even better – often times you can rent out your home while away, potentially paying for the entire trip!

What Cheat Code(s) Did WE Activate?

Before we knew about travel hacking, our plane tickets were often purchased at full price, on a whim a few days before traveling. This is not an affordable way to travel! These past few years, The Wife and I have gradually reduced our frequency of travel, and started credit card hacking to travel smarter (The Giant Wallet Dude). We also plan trips at least a few weeks in advance to help avoid the premium that often accompanies short notice travel.

I was initially pretty skeptical about signing up for a bunch of credit cards, but I decided to get into the game slowly by adding one card every few months. The Mad FIentist actually has a travel hacking email course that does exactly this, and I get an email every few months telling me which card to get, and when. It's pretty fantastic, and reduces decision fatigue on my part. You can sign up for this email list in the 'email series' section of this post.

I've also started opening new cards a few weeks before large expenses occur, when I can predict them. A perfect example: property taxes are due every November here in Florida, and are usually a few thousand dollars. This is the ideal time to search for those outstanding sign-on bonuses! And I recently found that American Express now gives a ‘temporary line of credit' for the 1 to 2 week period where your card is in the mail, so you could theoretically use this tactic even for unexpected large expenses.

The Southwest companion pass. It's kind of a big deal…

One of the best cheat codes in this space is the Southwest Companion Pass, which gives us buy-one-get-one-free airfare for almost two entire years. And if we time it right, when my two years are up, The Wife can earn another companion pass and we can keep the process going indefinitely (The BOGO Flyer)! With just a little expense planning, you can cut your airfare expenses IN HALF. How's that for a cheat code?

Just make sure you are responsible and PAY THESE CREDIT CARD BILLS IN FULL at the end of every month. If you can't, or worry you won't be able to, skip this cheat code completely. The second you pay interest on this stuff, you lose the big boss battle to the credit card companies. GAME OVER. (You remember my rant on debt, don't you?)

So how effective were these cheat codes for us? Let's look at the savings:

Travel costs before cheat codes: $1000 per month (average)

Travel costs after cheat codes: $150 per month (average)

Because these savings are dependent on specific deals available at the time, as well as the frequency that you travel, your mileage (pun intended) may vary. We discuss these cost savings in even more detail in our Savings Snowball post, so check that out if you want to dive deeper.

Ready to give travel hacking a try? Here's everything you need to get started:

Income Hacking

DIFFICULTY: Moderate to Advanced

SAVINGS POWER: 4/5

DATE JOEL UNLOCKED: September 2014

ABILITIES ACHIEVED: An 18% raise, two free graduate degrees, a (brief) stint in the six-figure club

TOTAL VALUE SINCE CODE UNLOCKED: > $100,000.00

On this blog, I tend to focus more on lowering expenses than increasing income, and that's what this post has focused on as well. I usually tell people: if you have an annual household income above $50k, lowering your expenses is usually more effective than hustling for more income. The four big cheat codes we've discussed so far (housing, transportation, food, and travel) can theoretically cut your expenses in half in only a month or two… it would be hard to find a side hustle that can double your income in a similar amount of time.

If you have a household income on the lower end of the spectrum, however, it could certainly be worth the energy to hack the income side of the equation.

The Cheat Codes

  • The Horizontal Tango: What do you do for work? Can you shift into a parallel field that has higher earning potential? Is there a related industry you could shift into? Have you browsed the jobs section of your local newspaper, Craigslist, career fair, etc? MMM has some great tips on how to stand out compared to others when interviewing for something new.
  • The Side Hustler: Can you add a side hustle to increase your income? Preferably something you're good at and enjoy doing.
  • The Social Butterfly: Can you network with others who have careers with higher growth potential? Can you become a more essential member of your team?
  • The Hopper: Can you switch to a competing company in the same field? It's been shown that switching companies every two to four years can have a dramatic impact on salary growth (and your résumé).
  • The Smarty Pants: Could you go back to school (perhaps night school) or get a certification that could make you more valuable? If you already have a low income, continued education might be completely free thanks to need-based grants, such as the Pell grant. With the right degree or certification, you could potentially double or triple your income. Is there any way to get your current employer to pay for your continued education?
  • The Tax Ninja: One straightforward way to give yourself an effective raise is to max out all available pre-tax investment accounts, lowering your taxable income and therefore letting you keep more of your gross income
  • The Ramblin' Man: Could you move somewhere new? Geographic arbitrage, both domestic and international, can significantly improve your income. Are there lower cost of living areas you'd be willing to work? Moving to a LCOL area is a quick way to give yourself an “effective raise”, even if your salary doesn't actually increase.
  • The Money Chaser: Another variation of ‘The Rambling Man', but this time with the strategy of following the highest salary instead of the lowest cost of living. Are you willing to move somewhere new to grow your paycheck? I have a family member who was a bank teller and decided to move wherever there was a need, as long as there was a pay premium. He lived in interesting places: New Orleans, Miami, North Carolina… After a decade of this strategy, he was making six figures.

A Note on Cost of Living

I have friends and family who live in very high cost of living areas like the DC Metro Area, LA, the Bay Area of CA, and Manhattan. I understand the appeal, but the cost to live in these areas is really high! If I wanted to live in California, I'd have to work many additional years, because I just wouldn't be FI there.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing if you love your job and working a few extra years doesn't bother you. But if you're trying to reduce the number of years to FI, moving to a lower cost of living area is a GAME CHANGER. As a point of reference: I live in central Florida. My ~2000 square foot house cost ~$200k, and it's paid off. Gas here costs ~$2.40 per gallon. Eggs are about 60 cents. And there's no state income tax.

What Cheat Code(s) Did WE Activate?

Income hacking is an area The Wife and I excelled at even before our Financial 180. We both worked really hard in high school to earn scholarships for our undergraduate degrees. We also chose to attend state schools, so our scholarship money went much further. (This, combined with the fact that we are extremely lucky to have parents who pre-paid our college meant we had no student loans after graduation).

We decided to pursue degrees in software, as it is currently in extremely high demand, and the pay is competitive. After graduation, we moved to a low cost of living city within a few hours drive of family (The Ramblin' Man), and got software jobs with great benefits, including company paid graduate education. I ended up completing two graduate degrees (Industrial and Systems Engineering, and an M.B.A.), all on the company's dime (The Smarty Pants).

“The Hopper” in action. Notice the effect of my last two job hops, in gold, on my salary.

I've also hopped between companies a few times in my career, on average once every five years (The Hopper). Not only is this beneficial from an income hacking perspective (each hop netted me a ~18% raise), but it also helps build a stronger résumé and gives you fresh new experiences along the way. You can see the effect two job hops had on my salary in the figure above. And remember: if you find yourself with an offer from a competing company, negotiate!

Additionally, I've kept my eyes open for opportunities to grow my salary whenever possible. During my working career, I'd work hard and do a good job, rating myself highly at review time. I'd network, and then solve problems for people to make their lives easier, making myself a more valuable, and subsequently well paid, employee (The Social Butterfly). And I took the opportunity to max out my 401k, IRA, and HSA in order to reduce my taxable income and give myself more of my own gross income (The Tax Ninja), effectively letting Uncle Sam give me a raise.

End Credits

TOTAL YEARS WITH CHEAT CODES ENABLED: 5

AREAS UNLOCKED: HOUSING, TRANSPORTATION, FOOD, TRAVEL, INCOME

CHEATS ENABLED: The Family Man, The 'Be Our Guest', The Landlord, The 5K, The Carpool, The Man With The Plan, The Special, The Chef, The Day of Cooking, The Potluck Master, The Part-Time Vegan, The Smart Foodie, The Giant Wallet Dude, The BOGO Flyer, The Side Hustler, The Social Butterfly, The Hopper, The Smarty Pants, The Tax Ninja, The Ramblin' Man

TOTAL VALUE OF CODES SO FAR: > $500,000.00 (WITH COMPOUNDING)

Housing, Transportation, Food, Travel, and Income. These are the five heavy hitters, and with the proper cheat codes applied, they can potentially double or even triple your savings rate in one fell swoop, getting you to that magic 50% savings rate, or higher. The thought process behind every one of these cheat codes is essentially the same: How can I take something expensive that I need or want and flip it around so that I somehow MAKE money instead?

Remember that none of these are easy. They are simple, but hard. Most of these strategies will require you to sacrifice something you don't want to sacrifice. But they will help you get rid of your debt and start saving money quickly. These strategies, while hard, are very effective. These cheat codes have saved The Wife and I over half a million dollars on our journey!

Note that you don't need to leave these cheat codes enabled forever if you don't want to. Some of them can be turned on temporarily to help you get out of debt quick, or skip ahead a few levels early on in the game. For example, after five years with all the codes enabled, we started eating out at restaurants once a weekend instead of once a month, and The Wife got a second car. Don't worry – we know the codes well and can turn them back on if we ever need to.

As I said at the beginning, this is all optional! If you like your job and your work life balance, you don't have to change a thing. I recently sat down with a couple at Camp FI who felt stuck at a 40% savings rate and wanted to ‘breakthrough' to something higher. After reviewing all of these cheat codes with them, they looked at each other and realized they weren't willing to try any of them. They had a pretty sweet work-life balance already, and didn't need to raise their savings rate any higher! They left understanding that a 40% savings rate was right for them, and that they didn't need to raise it just for the sake of racing others to the finish line.

I hope these codes are helpful for those of you on your journey who do want to speed things up, however. It's taken me years to curate all the info packed into this post. If you know other major cheat codes that I've missed, let me know in the comments and I'll add them in. That way, this post becomes the go-to resource for people who say they want to “get rich quick”.

Good luck playing the game. Let me know which boss battles you get stuck at, and which of these codes have worked for you in the comments.

FI Without RE

Back in November of 2017, a tired, burned out version of myself was pushed past his breaking point. After months of mandatory unpaid overtime, morning self pep-talks, stress-eating, and yelling at coworkers, the old Joel finally had enough. He walked up to his boss, and with a surprising, zen-like calm, gave his two weeks notice.

A huge weight was immediately lifted from his shoulders. Life felt, for the first time in a long time, wonderful. Hopeful, even. He wasn't fully FI yet, but that guy knew right then and there he would never work again. He was done. Forever.

…Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I accepted an offer for a new job.

Wait. Seriously?!

Why on earth would the guy who talked so much smack about work, and gave so much praise for being his own boss, slide back into the golden handcuffs? Is it for the money? Did sequence of return risk finally catch up to me? Were my FI estimates way off? Was it greed? Boredom? A desperate attempt to win a bet??

This is for real.

Nope. The simple truth is, I had enough time (sixteen months, to be precise) to really think about life, and learn more about myself. I had time to de-stress and recover from burnout. I had time to focus on things I actually enjoy, instead of simply avoiding the things I don't. And in that time, I learned something important.

It wasn't ‘work‘ I hated with a passion. It was lack of a work-life balance. It was mandatory unpaid overtime. It was the lack of control I had over my time and stress levels. I didn't hate work in general; I hated my specific job. It's easy to confuse the two when you're down in the trenches. I should have quit that old job months earlier. Or taken a sabbatical or leave of absence. There was no good reason for me to stay in that position as long as I did – it was unhealthy and unnecessary. I should have quit sooner. 

This is all interesting, sure, but it doesn't explain why I decided to go back to work. It seems to contradict what I said in the past about having enough. Didn't we already reach financial independence? Haven't we reached the proverbial ‘enough' point described in Your Money or Your Life?

FI Isn't Just About Me

The truth is, while I indeed have enough, I'm just a small piece of the whole picture. The Wife wants to reach more than enough – and that's one of the reasons she kept working even though she could afford to quit, financially speaking. She wants a surplus, so she can enjoy the benefits that come with having ‘more than enough'.

Like the ability to give generously to charity, and the community. The ability to treat friends and family when they come to town, without having to worry about the budget. And the ability to help when tragedy strikes, as we did recently when an (uninsured) friend suffered a stroke during surgery, waking up with no motor control of her extremities, and six figures of unexpected debt.

Our aging parents haven't reached their enough level yet, either. Most recently, my (uninsured) dad found out he needs five figures of dental work, and I want to be able to help him financially without being paranoid about its effect on my portfolio. In my hierarchy of life priorities, family is always higher up than money.

I'll make the hay. My cat will supervise.

And finally, though I may be FI, I still happen to be young and able-bodied. Unlike my friend I mentioned above, all four of my limbs still function. I'm lucky. And I realize now there's no better time to “make hay” then while the sun is shining, as the saying goes. The good luck streak my wife and I have enjoyed this past decade won't last forever. Our situation (and our parents' situations) can, and likely will change over the next couple of years, so I'm going to get while the getting's good.

Now, I should clarify, I didn't just have this eureka moment one afternoon and apply for a job the very next day. These are realizations that came gradually, over time, as my burnout faded. In fact, I had some sense of this even before I quit my job, when I said that my worst case scenario was everyone else's everyday scenario. But since I'm deciding to go back to work under my own free will, I get to learn from my past mistakes and do things differently this time around!

Instead of focusing solely on maximizing salary, as I would have done in the past, I found a job that respects work-life balance. A job where part-time and remote work is possible. Where “low stress” and “no overtime” are actual conditions of my employment. It's so important for me to have time for things besides work: like physical fitness, visiting family, and my numerous creative projects (like this blog, my podcast, and my music). This new job promises to give me this balance, as well as a few other perks…

Work Can Actually Be Fun!

Since so many of my past posts focus on the negative aspects of work, it's time I admit there are actually a few nice things about it as well (besides the paycheck, of course). For starters – I actually like this job! (I know, these words seem strange for me to say out loud.) But it's true – the technology, the people, the program goals, it all seems perfect for me.

In particular, I'm enjoying the social aspect of the office: running into friendly faces each day, conversations around the water cooler, and of course, afternoon coffee time. As an adult, making friends is harder for me than it was back in school, but work helps. I admit I always took this aspect of the office completely for granted. And I know there are plenty of ways to be more social without having a job, but since starting up this new gig, it's is a feature I'm truly enjoying.

Another thing I realized about myself during my sixteen months of early retirement? I'm not quite as self-motivated as I originally thought. Sure, I still accomplished a lot in my time off of work, but my day-to-day motivation was lacking. Why get up and get dressed early in the morning when you can lounge around in your pajamas until noon? I appreciate this on the weekend. But seven days a week? I don't know if that's for me.

What I do know is that it feels good to be dressed and out of the house early each morning. It feels good to plan my day over coffee and feel like I'm firing on all cylinders. And it feels good to learn new things during my day. Could I have done all this myself every morning without a formal job? In theory, yes, of course. Did I? No. No I did not. Go figure.

Yep. This looks about right.

Another benefit of working? I like to call it the “momentum of work”. Productivity in one area tends to rub off into other areas of your life. I've noticed that on my busiest days, when I have many things on my plate, I build up a momentum that makes it easier to tackle otherwise overwhelming tasks on my to-do list. For example, I updated this blog almost twice as frequently, on average, back when I was working full-time. So perhaps I'll have the momentum to finish off the dozens of posts that have been accumulating in the FI180 draft folder! 🙂

Here's the thing: everyone is different. Everyone has different motivations and behaves differently when left to their own devices. If you've never taken more than a few weeks off from work, and don't know how you'd act in similar circumstances, I strongly suggest you try it out! I learned more about myself during my year away from work than any other year of my life. Everyone should have a chance to try this.

Summary

Why'd I go back to work? Because a pretty awesome opportunity presented itself and I liked everything about it. The extra income to help me better support family and friends in need. The flexible schedule, remote work capability, and focus on work-life balance to help keep me productive in my many creative endeavors. And the position itself – this is one that genuinely interests me!

With perfect hindsight, I would have quit my old toxic jobs sooner. And more often! I needed a break from the grind every few years. Maybe you do too. Not only would my stress levels have stayed at bay, but there's financial incentive to switch companies every few years as well. Each time I've taken a new job, I've seen a salary increase in the 10% to 20% range. If you aren't close to FI yet, and feel like you need a break, I strongly suggest you save up your FU money and take a few months off while you look for that next opportunity.

How long will I stay with this new job? A few months? A few years? Who knows.  Whenever The Wife is ready to quit, or our parents have a nice safety margin, or I stop enjoying this job, I can easily transition back into early retirement. But this question sure seems a lot less important now that I know I'm in control! I chose this job specifically with work-life balance in mind. And I can (and will) leave if that balance ever fails again.

Now let's be clear. I'm not endorsing that you work any longer, or go back to work if you've already started early retirement. Nor do I think I need to go back to work with any financial urgency. Taking this job is simply something I wanted to do. It's an amazing opportunity, and it checked all the right boxes for work-life balance. It's what's right for me, and my family, right now.

This is the first job I've taken since reaching financial independence. The first job I picked willingly, without feeling obligated to work. I chose this job, as work is optional for me. This small fact makes working feel… surprisingly different than it's ever felt before. One friend described it as “putting the handcuffs back on while holding the key.” That's a fun analogy, but to be honest, it doesn't even feel like handcuffs anymore.

Because FI isn't about retirement. It never was. It's about freedom. The freedom to work, or not work. The freedom to spend your time doing whatever you damn well please. And the freedom to change your mind.

As many times as you like.

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! 😉 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 😉 . 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! 🙂

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. 🙂 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!

Reaching for the Moon(shot)!

This week, I'm thrilled to be featured on Coryn Quester's “Discover What's Possible” Podcast! In the interview, we talk about everything from the ‘Why' of FI,  to the most challenging aspects of financial independence for those just starting out. But one of the more interesting questions she posed really got me thinking. ‘What's your Moonshot?'

Google's research labs refer to their ambitious projects as ‘Moonshots'. Moonshot thinking, so it goes, is the process of setting really large, ambitious goals that are usually orders of magnitude more aggressive than those set by SMART principles. Also known as ‘10x Thinking‘ in the business world, the logic here is that you shoot for the moon so that, even in a worst case, you can ‘land among the stars‘.

Thinking Big

This sounds nice and all, if a tad trite, but does it actually work? Shouldn't we all stick to the tried and true, safe and effective strategy of incremental progress instead? When I was in business school pursuing my M.B.A., this was indeed what was parrotted. Giant leaps, while possible, add more risk than shareholders would like to take on. Just focus on incrementally increasing profits and shareholders will be happy.

This is where I passionately disagree with mainstream business teachings. Just as we in the FIRE community scoff at the standard “save ten percent of your income” advice, so too I scoff at the idea of small incremental gains with small, easy to achieve goals. Instead, what I've seen is that ‘giant leaps' not only provide companies with key strategic advantages, but they also create entirely new markets with essentially unlimited growth potential. And having the audacity to reach for giant goals can pay off just as well to individuals as it can to companies.

When Walt Disney bet every dollar he had on the idea of a feature-length animated film, the world scoffed. Snow White was dubbed ‘Disney's Folly' in the years leading up to its premiere. Who would ever want to view a two-hour animated feature?

When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone on stage in 2006, other phone manufacturers scoffed. Who in their right mind would ever pay over $500 for a phone? At that, a phone with no physical keyboard?!

When Elon Musk set the goal of creating self-landing reusable rockets just a few years ago, people in both the scientific and business communities cast strong doubts. Surely if economical, self-landing rockets were possible, NASA would have solved it by now!

(Above: The reaction video for the first successful SpaceX vertical rocket landing. I dare you to watch without grinning from ear to ear… it's impossible!)

Long-term Thinking

Starting to see a pattern here? Setting big goals has huge potential payoffs. Each of the examples above created new markets and capabilities that previously didn't exist, cementing each of these as companies as major players in the global economy. Disney went on to create a previously non-existent theme park and entertainment empire. Apple became the worlds first trillion dollar company. And Elon? Well, he's just getting started.

The mission of Tesla isn't to create the best electric cars. It's to “accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy”. The mission statement of SpaceX isn't to create the best reusable rockets. It's to “enable the space capabilities necessary to enable a self-sustaining human civilization on Mars and make life multi-planetary.” Now THAT's a moonshot!

Sure, you could argue I cherry-picked the success stories and ignored the dozens of other failed moonshots of history. Fair enough. Moonshots are hard, by design. Only a small percentage of them succeed. But what about all the people who played it safe and never attempted their moonshots? Well, exactly NONE of them succeeded! This is why setting big goals is so important. The more who do, the more who succeed, and the more we all collectively benefit.

Certain CEOs are catching on. Virgin CEO Richard Branson was recently quoted saying the following:

“When positive, heartfelt values are instilled in your team, they will be empowered, they will feel appreciated and know they are part of a bigger mission than just making money. This will come across in the way they treat your customers, who in turn will prove to be more loyal to your brand and service. And, in the end, this will reflect positively on your profits too.”

Richard gets it. When you optimize solely for quarterly profit, you always put short-term thinking first, and you very well may lose out in the long run. Steve Jobs always reiterated that by making the best possible product, profits would never be a problem. And he's right!

Profits are a wonderful side effect to doing things right, but not the goal. In the same light, in the personal finance world, financial independence isn't the goal: it's simply a side effect of doing things right. So the goal shouldn't be to make money or reach FI. It should be something.. big, and full of purpose. This is where moonshot thinking comes in.

Having a Moonshot isn't just for companies and CEOs. It has the power to enact positive change at the individual level, too, and is a powerful technique we can all benefit from.

My Moonshot

In my interview with Coryn Quester, the moonshot I gave is relatively simple: I want to help millions of people reach financial independence! That's a lofty goal, but… why? So I can create a demand for lucrative financial independence courses I could sell? So I can make more money off of affiliate links?*

Nope! It's because I firmly believe that financial independence can bring about real positive change in the world. Skeptical? Consider this: When money is not a concern in someone's life, they're more likely to be happy. No more fights with your spouse about bills and debt. No more dreading the work week. No more participating in “the grind” because you need to make money. Instead, financial independence can help bring real meaning and purpose to your life, allowing you to focus on your passions, regardless of the paycheck.

Financial independence also has the ability to reduce crime and corruption. It helps people think clearly, without fear. If you never need to worry about money, you don't need to steal, and you become less susceptible to bribery and potentially malicious management. More and more people will be able to live according to their values and morals, without ever having to sacrifice these for money.

I really like the water analogy. If I have enough water, I really don't want too much more. I have running water in my house. I have the proverbial ‘enough‘ discussed in ‘Your Money or Your Life'. If an employer was offering me a two-ton pallet of water in exchange for my software engineering services, I'd laugh, and then decline their offer. But what if I were literally dying of thirst? I'd probably be willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get more water.**

Sure, there will always be greedy people who, no matter how much money they have, will still want more. But this is a small fraction of people; for the majority, if their financial troubles are resolved, they'd have the opportunity to live a life full of meaning in accordance with their values. This can lead to true happiness. And happy people are less stressed, less likely to have road rage, and maybe, just maybe, less likely to shoot people in a movie theater or nightclub***?

Wishful thinking? OK, let's bring it back down to earth with something concrete: The wealthy tend to donate orders of magnitude larger sums to charitable causes than the working middle class. Recently, MMM donated his first one hundred thousand dollars. That's HUGE compared to my measly United Way paycheck deductions I gave when I was employed.

I realized pretty quickly that many people pursuing FI end up having way more than they need thanks to the magic of compound interest, and their capacity to give becomes enormous. If more and more of us follow this path, we could have the power to make significant impacts on global problems like poverty and hunger. This makes our cities and towns, and in turn, the entire world, a much better place to live!

There's another positive in all this FIRE spreading business as well: a natural side effect of financial independence, saving money and reducing lifestyle inflation, is a significant reduction in resource consumption, which is good for the environment! It's for this reason that Mr. Money Mustache has said his not-so-secret moonshot is to in fact help save the world with his ironic cult.

Summary

So that's my moonshot: delivering the idea of financial independence to millions of readers. De-mystifying concepts like wealth accumulation, growth, and drawdown to help empower the next generation of free people. Free from the shackles of jobs they despise. Free from financial stress and pressures to act against their values. Free to pursue lives of happiness, purpose, passion, and creativity. And maybe, just maybe, with a side effect of helping reduce consumption, saving the environment in the process.

Is it ambitious? Hell yeah! But if I don’t aim big, what’s the point? Why get passionate about anything? Why do anything significant? When JFK addressed the nation in his famous 1962 speech, he summed things up moonshot thinking pretty succinctly, and, well, literally:

“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

So, what's your moonshot? What do you want to do to change the world? If you didn't need to work for money, what would you spend your time on?

Thanks again to Coryn for having me on her ‘Discover What's Possible‘ podcast, and introducing me to moonshot goals. If you haven't already, head over to her podcast and subscribe. You'll be glad you did! 


*Full disclosure: I did earn around $50 last month on blog monetization via affiliate links. This pretty much pays for the cost to keep things running, and I have no intention of turning this into a huge, profitable website. That would create wayyyy to much work for this lazy retired guy. 😉 Also I hate ads, and can't stomach the idea of peppering the site with them.

**I've actually seen insanity like this break out here in Florida in the hours before a hurricane hits. Trust me when I say it isn't pretty.

***The Pulse nightclub incident was close to home for us here in Florida. I'm not saying FI can solve all of the world's problems. But if it can reduce the occurrence of these type of events, say even by 1%, then I'll do everything I can to spread the word.

Misconceptions of FI

This past weekend The Wife and I went to see Crazy Rich Asians, and really enjoyed it! (Featured image credit: Entertainment Weekly) Having been on the FIRE journey for a few years now, it was fun taking in all the over-the-top luxury on the screen. Of course, this wasn't the focus of the movie, but seeing how people think about money on different ends of the wealth spectrum was quite entertaining. It got me thinking about all the different ways people think about, and talk about, money.

Luckily, the Financial Independence community has grown significantly since I discovered it back in 2014, bringing balance to the extreme spenders trying to keep up with their ‘crazy rich' neighbors. There are dozens of new blogs, podcasts, and online resources that didn't exist when I first started my journey. As Brad and Jonathan of ChooseFI like to tease, “The FIRE is spreading”!

The problem is, as the message spreads, so do the misconceptions. I find myself constantly addressing the same misunderstandings and myths with many of my readers, friends, and family just discovering FI, so I wanted to create a resource to debunk many of these myths once and for all. Let's dive in!

Why Live Like I'm… Poor?!

The most popular misconception by far, I usually hear this one worded as follows: “I don't want to live like I'm poor for a decade so I can go on living like I'm poor for the rest of my life!” When faced with change, people often become dismissive. This is usually the first line of defense someone puts up when actually considering what it would take to adjust their lifestyle to create a high savings rate.

Here's the truth, though: You don't have to “live like you're poor” on your journey to FI… it's OK to spend money, it's just that timing is important. When I wrote my ‘Letter to My 22-Year-Old Self‘, I gave an example with designer sunglasses:

“Let’s say you want to buy a $400 pair of designer sunglasses. If you have $100 to your name, that purchase is 400% of your net worth. (Not good, but with a positive net worth, you’re already doing better than half of the U.S. It’s a low bar.) Now, let’s say you wait a few years, work hard and save a large portion of your income, and get your net worth up to $400,000.00. (I know it looks like a large number, but it doesn’t take as long as you’d think to save it.) Now, you buy that same pair of sunglasses. But this time, that $400 purchase is a mere 0.1% of your net worth. A tenth of a percent doesn’t even move the needle. You can comfortably afford it now.”

The key concept here is that timing matters – you can have anything you want, just not initially, and not all at once! It's important to do things in the right order, at the right time during your journey. When you're at the beginning of your FIRE journey, particularly the first five years, you want to do everything you can to get your savings snowball rolling. Large purchases can do significantly more damage in your early years of savings than they can later on. Looking at potential expenses as a percentage of your net worth can help cement this concept and make it clearer.

But… I Like Nice Things!

Who doesn't? Even the great Mr. Money Mustache lusts over iPads and Teslas. The thing to realize is that FI is NOT about deprivation! In fact, when friends challenge me on this point, I explain to them that FI is, in fact, the ultimate luxury purchase! I'm buying a perpetual money making machine that gives me the luxury of complete freedom from the need to work for money. What could be fancier?

As with most luxury purchases, though, you have to be choosy. As Paula Pant from Afford Anything says, you can have anything you want, just not everything. I want my ultimate luxury purchase so much that I'm willing to give up many luxuries that others enjoy on a regular basis, like eating out at fancy restaurants and having multiple cars in their driveway. This isn't deprivation, it's a calculated choice.

And it doesn't need to be permanent, either: last month, The Wife purchased a fancy pants car! It's true: for the first time in five years, we have more than one car in our fleet. What happened?! Won't this throw off our FI plans? Won't this undo all the hard work we've done in the past?

Actually, no. You see, as I described above, the car purchase, which was made in cash, was a small percentage of our net worth. It didn't move the needle. The Wife wanted something she valued, did some math, and after some research, made the purchase. Mr. Money Mustache even admits there comes a time where such purchases are trivial:

“When can you truly afford a fancy car? Well, once you have the cash for it in the bank, your house and all other debts are fully paid off, and you are either retired or very comfortable with delaying your eventual retirement for a year or more to pay for this depreciating piece of luxury property, THEN you can roll into the dealership.”

Check, check, and check. The Wife's purchase is MMM approved! She's not alone: as another example, Mr. 1500 recently purchased a fancy car he'd been eyeing for a few years as well. And like us, he waited until the purchase was such a small percentage of his net worth that it didn't even register as a blip on the radar! See? You can like nice things and still pursue FI just fine.

What if we made this very same purchase a mere three years ago? Shockingly, the purchase would have cost us over 14% of our net worth! Think about this for a second – three years ago, this car would have cost us a small fortune! In fact, based on some back of the napkin math, buying the car three years ago would have set our early retirement date back past the year 2020.  That's crazy, right? Simply pushing large purchases a few years down the road on your journey can literally shave years off your mandatory working career. I knew there was a good use for procrastination!

FI is For The Rich

Another popular misconception is that only those who make six-figure salaries can successfully reach FI. Actually, it's quite the contrary. Everyone can pursue FI, regardless of income or pre-existing wealth. Sure, income is a variable and can add or subtract five years from your journey, but so can training your frugality muscle. What's interesting, and in line with our car conversation above, is that one of the best predictors of your current economic status is actually the way you spend your money!

The poorest Americans in the lower class spend the majority of their money on consumables: think food, clothing, gasoline, electronics, etc. Those in the Middle class spend the majority of their dollars on liabilities, such as cars, boats, and vacation homes. Finally, the wealthiest Americans spend the majority of their dollars on investments and other cash producing assets.

I hear you screaming. “Of course the wealthy spend the majority of their money on investments: they have tons of cash to spare! The poor have no extra dollars to buy investments!” There is some truth here, especially in cases of extreme poverty, but for many of us in the middle class, this thinking reverses the cause and effect relationship: The wealthy don't spend the majority of their dollars on investments because they have lots of free dollars to spare. Instead, the wealthy have lots of dollars to spare BECAUSE they spend the majority of their dollars on investments!

I want you to track where your money went last year. Every dollar. Make a pie chart and take a look. For those of you pursuing FI, and saving more than half your money, I'd predict you are quite wealthy, or if not, you will be soon enough! Take a look at where our dollars went last year:

Can you tell where the majority of our money went last year?
Can you tell where the majority of our money went last year?

For those who have more than half your money going toward liabilities such as cars, personal residences, and their related expenses, I'd predict you are firmly in the middle working class, and will be stuck there for the foreseeable future unless you change your spending. It's the spending (or lack thereof!) that influences your financial trajectory, not the wealth itself. Remember that this works in both directions, too: fortunes have been squandered by people who don't realize this relationship.

So You Have… Infinite Money?

For people who don't understand the psychology of money, they see no irony in the following statement: “If I were rich, I'd buy all my friends and family fancy houses and cars and would be very generous with my money and definitely wouldn't be a cheap-skate!“.

Those with money know-how understand that this kind of spending prevents you from ever becoming wealthy in the first place, and if you happen to inherit a fortune, well, you won't keep it very long. A friend recently pointed me to this outstanding article titled “The Psychology of Money” that really opened my eyes to the right, and very wrong ways people think about money.

When I first quit my job, I wrote about why I tend to keep money matters private around friends and family:

The way I see it: “I have carefully constructed my perpetual money making machine, and can now start enjoying up to 4% annual withdrawals whenever I'm ready. I'll never take out more than that…

The way most people see it: “Wow you've saved so much money that you never have to work again?! That's like infinite money! Why don't you use it to help everyone do everything? What do you mean you won't fly out to visit on a moments notice and bring lavish gifts!?”

When I look at my portfolio, I see a $25k per year annual spend, which, to most people, doesn't seem like a lot of money. But others see $625k sitting there, a literal fortune just waiting to be spent. It's the same amount of money in both cases, just different perspectives leading to very different spending assumptions.

Remember: you don't chop down the tree when you've picked off all the apples – you plant more trees! I will, to the best of my ability, NEVER spend more than 4% of my portfolio and break my perpetual money-making machine. This comes down to short-term thinking vs. long-term thinking and is a significant money misconception.

Summary

OK, four down… a hundred more to go? There are SO many misconceptions about Financial Independence. It's impossible to cover them all in a single post, but I think we covered the most popular, based on emails I've received from readers.

Some key takeaways?

  • Timing matters when it comes to large expenses. Delayed gratification is challenging for everyone, but is an essential skill if you want to become wealthy!
  • FI is not about deprivation: It's OK to want nice things, as long as you realize the true cost given your progress on the journey. For example, I realize now, better than ever, how much of a true luxury a second car is, having gone without for five years.
  • If you want to be wealthy, your spending (saving) habits matter more than anything else. As we saw, different perspectives on money lead to some very different assumptions.

Looking back, I've actually already addressed numerous other misconceptions in previous posts right here on the blog, but I'm realizing that (gasp!) new subscribers don't always go back and dig into the older content. So here's a rapid-FIRE list of misconceptions and posts I've written that clear the air! Point friends and family here when they bring up any of the following popular money misconceptions:

There's nothing else I can trim from my budget!

Are you sure? We found over $1,000 per month hidden in ours. Read our post 180 In Depth – Part 2 to see how we turned cutting back our expenses into a game.

I enjoy shopping and won't give that up!

You don't have to stop shopping… you just have to shop smarter! Tricks like the 72-hour rule and cart-free shopping help immensely. Read our post Monthly Savings: Shopping for ideas.

Food is expensive; there's just no way around it.

We thought so too… and then we cut our grocery bill in half. Knowing where to shop and what to buy is key. Read our post Monthly Savings: Food for the tricks we learned, like our $3 rule, and a breakdown of item costs across different stores.

You can make money quicker and easier with real estate!

Quicker? Maybe… easier? Well, before you dive into the real estate world, read about our six-figure losses and our ‘renter from hell' in our posts How Not To Buy A House and Adventures in Real Estate.

I Don't make as much money as you, so I have to work longer.

Surprisingly, the length of your required working career isn't determined by how much you make, but rather, how much you save. The more you flex your frugality muscles, the more you save, and your required number of working years reduces. Want to figure out how many years you have left? Read our posts How Long Will You Work? and Why You Can't Retire.

Investing is too complex for me to do on my own.

That's a popular belief that makes a lot of money for the investment advising industry. Investing doesn't have to be any more complex than opening a bank account and choosing a fund. We walk through this in detail in Investing Can Be Simple.

I have the discipline to take on debt responsibly.

Debt is the Ying to compound interest Yang, a force that accelerates your money into the red. It's surprisingly easy to accumulate and surprisingly hard to get rid of once you're knee-deep. Read The Dark Side of Interest and You're a Hazard To Your Money for more on this.

What if I go too far and become a miserable cheapskate?

Being frugal is different than being cheap. It can actually be a good exercise to push your frugality to the extreme for a few months to test your limits, but there are natural boundaries you'll encounter that should stop you from going too far. For me, it was living with my in-laws, and the experience left me ready to jump out of my skin. Read about it here: Frugality vs. Sanity.

There's no way I can reduce my driving expenses.

This is a hot topic, but in the style of Mustachianism, I don't believe driving is a necessity. As I alluded above, I believe driving is a LUXURY and we can all do more to trim this expense down. Read The Car Problem and FI is Hard for more ideas, including how we spent five years as a one car household.

But… I like my job!

Financial Independence doesn't require early retirement, and isn't an all or nothing concept; It's actually a smooth continuum of increased benefits along the savings journey. Some of our most popular posts, The Power of FU Money, The Milestones of FI, and Are We FI Yet, discuss this in detail!

Why would I put my money in a 401(k) I can't touch until I'm 60?

Contrary to popular belief, the money you put into tax-advantaged accounts is yours to access at any time, and there are numerous ways of doing so fee-free! Read Don't Fear the “Penalty”! to figure out how.

I'm too afraid of <healthcare, recessions, asteroids> to pursue FI.

The best way to face your fears is to better understand them. In Replacing Fear With Flexibility, we discuss these hot topics in great detail.

I'll never get my <significant other> onboard with FI; so why try?

You'd be surprised what people would be willing to try when they wrap their heads around the concept of never having to work for money again. Why not do a ‘trial run' to test the FI saving waters? Check out my Interview With ‘The Wife'! for how my wife and I deal with differing opinions on money.

If FI is so simple, why isn't everyone doing it?

FI may be simple, but it certainly isn't easy. It requires significant financial muscle and is guaranteed to push you out of your comfort zone. Read about how we tackled the ‘big three' expenses in FI is Hard.


That's everything for now! I've also pasted a copy of this helpful index on our Start Here page, so if you enjoyed, feel free to share. Any FI misconceptions I missed? Let me know in the comments and I'll add them to the post!