Month: October 2019

Should I stay or should I go? Wrestling with the decision to quit a career

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J.D.’s note: In the olden days at Get Rich Slowly, I shared reader stories every Sunday. I haven’t done that since I re-purchased the site because nobody sends them to me anymore. But earlier this year, Mike did. I love it. I hope you will too.

Earlier this year, I sent my wife a text message: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how freaked out would you be if I quit my job this afternoon?”

My wife and I had only been married a short while, but she’d known since our second date that I didn’t plan to work in my traditional job until normal retirement age. She also knew that I hadn’t been very happy at work in recent months.

We’re very compatible financially — both savers raised in working-class families that didn’t always have a lot. We make a point of having what we like to call “Fun Family Finance Day” from time to time. On Fun Family Finance Day, we do everything from competitively checking our credit scores to discussing questions that get at the root of our money mindsets to help us create our goals.

But this question wasn’t part of the plan. Not then.

And it was never on any of the lists of questions that we’d discussed with each other. It was like a pop quiz, a pothole in the smoothest relationship road I’d ever traveled…and I was the one putting it there.

Dreams Remain Dreams Without Doing

My wife and I rarely argue, but when we do it’s usually about food. It’s the kitchen and the grocery store that are our battleground. Our finances are fine. Thankfully, when you’re confident in the life you’ve created and the person you chose to build it with, it’s a lot easier to be honest about what’s on your mind.

That still doesn’t always mean you get the answer you want. Or the answer you were expecting. She responded: “Wait what. Kinda. What would you do?”

A completely reasonable and fair question. Not to mention one that I’d probably have to get comfortable answering from a lot more people.

I think my immediate reaction was: We talk about this stuff all the time, where is my, “No worries baby, YOLO!”? (I must have watched too many romcoms back before we cut cable from our lives.)

Being a grownup, it turns out, is actually really hard sometimes. I was about to learn that talking about something, and actually doing it, are a world apart.

Life is full of dreamers and doers. Sometimes those two personalities cross over. But there are plenty of people who go through life talking about so many things they’ll never have the courage to try — or the discipline and determination to follow through with.

Which person was I? The dreamer? The doer? Or that fortunate combination of both?

Standing on the Ledge

There’s a quote perched atop my bucket list of long-term goals:

“At some point, you will need to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself not just if this is something you wanted to do at one point, but if this is something you will want to have done.”

Words are meaningless without action. It was time for me to take that long look in the mirror. I thought back to one of the questions that my wife and I had previously discussed: What does money mean to you? To me, once I grew out of the “stuff accumulation” phase of my early- to mid-20s, my answer had always been freedom. Money meant freedom. To my wife, the answer was security. Money meant security.

You can probably see how freedom can conflict with security. That was the case here. Not only that, but I was asking to change the perfect plan, one that she was comfortable with and excited about.

That’s not one, but two shots against financial security. If I’d thought more about our financial blueprints and how they differ, I might have seen this coming from a mile away!

As I was standing on that ledge, about to quit my job, thoughts started to race through my mind. What did I actually have to lose if made the leap? Lots.

  • A happy relationship and marriage.
  • A secure job with solid income, not to mention a sixteen year investment in my career.
  • Great benefits, including lots of time off, health insurance, 401(k) — even a pension.
  • The ability to afford anything at any time without any real worry. (Our finances were already on autopilot.)
  • My work friends and work prestige.
  • The general day-to-day purpose of a job.
  • The opportunity to create generational wealth. If we worked until 65, the power of compounding would likely make us ridiculously wealthy.

Today at Get Rich Slowly, let’s perform a little exercise. Come stand in my shoes for a minute, won’t you? Join me on the ledge. Do you see the beautiful view? The endless opportunity? The excitement that’s felt only at the beginning of a grand adventure, an adventure where anything is possible?

Or do you get a queasy feeling in your stomach? Do you feel like you’ve lost your balance, like you’re on the edge of some great catastrophe? Do you see a frightening fall from grace? Does it make you want to back away immediately?

Let’s go back to what it felt like to make this decision…

Sitting on the ledge

My Situation

I’m 38 years old. I’ve worked for the same company since I was 22. Corporate insurance is all I know. I’m well paid. I work from home for a solid company with good benefits, plenty of time off, and I really enjoy most of the people I work for and with.

It’s the definition of stability — a solid guardrail protecting me from what lies over the ledge. So what’s the problem?

A year ago, I took a new position that seemed like a great opportunity. Only it wasn’t. The first misstep of my career. A year in, that spot has killed my enthusiasm and engagement. For the first time at work, I’m struggling to get things done.

As an extrovert that derives meaning from helping others, this feels like a prison. My job isn’t hard because it’s stressful. It’s hard because it’s boring me to death! And what are any of us doing thinking about personal finance and early retirement if we aren’t trying to make better use of our limited time on this planet?

There’s a project looming that would require some weekend work once in a while for the foreseeable future, I’ve avoided it in the past, but my luck is running out. My team — and, more importantly, my position — need to take it on. I understand completely. I just don’t want to do it.

At this point in life, my time is way more important to me than money. The weekends and vacations are what I live for. Adventures in the mountains with my friends, quality time with my wife, our dog, and our families – that’s what makes me feel alive.

Insurance? Meh.

No little kid ever said they wanted to work for an insurance company and play with spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations when they grow up. I wanted to be a baseball player, a sports writer, even a professional forklift driver. (Because what’s more badass than a forklift when you’re a little kid and your dad works at a marina?)

A Glimpse of the Other Side

My wife and I just got back from a delayed honeymoon to Alaska. To say it was incredible would be an understatement. Denali. Kenai. Majestic train rides. Fjords. Glaciers. Bears. Bald eagles. Whales. Hikes.

Life slowed down.

I somehow managed to read five books while doing so many other amazing things. During our more than two weeks off, I got to see what my mind was capable of when it wasn’t drowning in useless information and mundane tasks that consume my braindwidth.

We talked to people who had ended up in this wild place through a history of taking risks. Parents that had hitchhiked cross-country and ended up there back in the 70s. Can you imagine? Where we live, a fair number of people never leave their town or state!

Before the trip, I had tried to apply for a few positions. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out. I came home from an amazing glimpse into what life could be to a job that seemed like the polar opposite. (Isn’t that every vacation though?) I’ve felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole for a while now. Maybe normal life just isn’t for me anymore. Maybe I need something just a little less ordinary.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’ve been practicing the classic tenets of personal finance since I was in my mid- to late-20s. I found an awesome woman in my mid-30s who just happens to be down with this lifestyle as well. We’re probably two to three years short of where we want to be based on our master plan of a fully-paid house and a really comfortable number in invested assets.

We’d likely fall somewhere between Agency and Security on the stages of financial freedom.

I know good jobs don’t grow on trees, especially where we live. The seasons of the economy are always shifting and there’s a chill in the air. Economic winter can’t be too far off. My wife still has a solid job, and we live a pretty simple life — albeit in an expensive part of the country. Our main splurge is travel, but otherwise we live well below our means.

All of this knowledge and preparation comes with a cost. Having options can be a burden too, because then you’re responsible for making hard decisions. And you’re responsible for the outcomes of those choices.

What other options are there?

  • Be a crappy employee/teammate, and still get paid? Plenty of people have played that game. Get a surgery or two, go out on leave, let performance management run its course for however long that takes, and keep cashing checks the whole time. I don’t think I have it in me to put people I respect through that. It’s just not who I am.
  • I work from home, and I still can’t bring myself to abandon my laptop. What if someone needs me?
  • Am I giving up too soon? The finish line seems just around the corner — somehow so close yet so far away.
  • Should I just suck it up and sell a little more of my soul? Slump my shoulders a little bit more as I trade another piece of myself for money I don’t need to buy things I don’t want?

As I go back and forth, sometimes I briefly wish I’d never found the personal-finance community. Like Neo in The Matrix, why’d I have to take the damn red pill? Being a mindless consumer wasn’t so bad. I would have invested 6-10% in my 401(k) with a traditional pension on top of it.

Forty years on autopilot would have produced a comfortable life of work, nice things — and maybe some time in old age to relax and travel.

Facing Freedom

The whole point of everything I’ve done since I started this journey was to be in control of my own life. To not be owned by things or circumstances. To have options. Freedom of choice. F-U money.

I have the corporate battle scars and survivor’s guilt to understand why that’s important.

I’ve sat on the phone while I heard that my old department was closing down. The sadness and tears in the room. Everyone that had taken me in, given me my chance, taught me the job…basically gone, casualties of a business decision.

I’ve seen people get laid off who are petrified because they don’t know how they’ll pay their bills in a couple of weeks. People will be okay eventually though, right?

What about my friend who was struggling last year and left the company? He committed suicide a few months later. Maybe everyone won’t be okay eventually. Depression runs in my family. Am I really built for this? That thought is haunting.

It’s been said that one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make in life is whether to walk away or try harder. Every bone in my body tells me it’s time to walk away, to bet on myself.

The End?

About six months after the text exchange that blindsided my wife, with her support, I hit send on the scariest, most exciting and important one-line email of my professional career. It would also signify the unofficial end of it: “I will be resigning from my position effective Wednesday, June 26th.”

To combine a few lines from my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, some birds just weren’t meant to be caged. It’s time to get busy living, or get busy dying.

The post Should I stay or should I go? Wrestling with the decision to quit a career appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

Early Retirement Extreme: The ten-year update

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Today, I’m pleased to present a guest article from one of my favorite money bloggers of all time: Jacob Lund Fisker. Fisker founded Early Retirement Extreme in 2007. It quickly became an influential voice for the nascent FIRE movement. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that FIRE wouldn’t be what it is today with his work.

Fisker retired from blogging in 2011. Since then, he and I have exchanged long emails on sometimes arcane subjects. Occasionally I ask him for advice. Recently, I asked him if he’d be willing to update people on where he’s been and what he’s been doing for the past decade. He agreed.

Here, then, is Fisker’s story of life after Early Retirement Extreme (and extreme early retirement). Be warned: His story is not short.

Early Retirement ExtremeStarting in 2007 (and largely finishing by 2011), I formalized a philosophical alternative to consumerism in the form of a 1000+ post blog and 100,000+ word book [J.D.’s review], which I mistakenly called “Early Retirement Extreme” (or ERE in acronym form). These days, I stick to the acronym form. 😛

Central to my philosophy was the renaissance ideal of spending your life mastering a productive level of competence in a broad range of subjects. This arsenal of “renaissance skills” would then be combined into a mutually reinforcing web-of-goals, which made living more interesting and balanced — but also more cost- and resource-efficient and resilient in the face of the growing complexities and uncertainties of the 21st century.

Being a theoretical physicist by training (and remaining one in spirit) compelled me to present all of this as a theory of everything, rather than the more typical format of a light non-fiction autobiography or overview. As I didn’t really figure on a general audience — it was fairly non-existent back in 2008 — that also meant using graphs and equations when applicable.

The benefit of that format was that others could use the ERE design principles to construct their own particular plan according to their own individual circumstances and goals instead of retracing the footsteps of one particular individual.

Retiring from blogging

Eventually, I considered the problem of “How to escape the earn-buy cycle in order to live a more interesting life” solved and sufficiently “communicated”. In 2011, I stopped blogging. I continued to follow the ERE principles in the spirit of the renaissance ideal with the goal of solving other big problems. Being financially independent (FI), I no longer require any compensation even if I still appreciate it — if nothing else than just to keep score or divert the lucre towards more useful purposes (e.g. supporting people on Kiva or Patreon).

Career workers who don’t know me typically ask me what I do for a living, expecting an answer in the form of a job title. (That tends to get awkward and I still don’t have a clever response.)

Similarly, people in the FIRE community (and the media that now covers it since they discovered it a couple of years ago) expect a curriculum vitae in the form of instagram-friendly bucket-list of accomplishments. However, following the systems-based web-of-goals approach, it’s really hard to answer that in a way that satisfies linear formats.

I follow many different leads and do many different things — often concurrently — and sometimes in ways where they combine and result in new, unexpected opportunities (the serendipity effect). It’s therefore difficult to summarize the last ten years of my life in chronological order, so let me instead attempt it as a “skill” or activity-based resume in no particular order.

This format makes more sense since the ERE strategy is to learn something and add value to the process and its environment, a side-effect of which is that I usually don’t have to pay to solve problems and that I sometimes get paid. As a consequence, my spending also remains ridiculously low. (I’ll get to that near the end of this article.)

I apologize that this is long and boring, but ten years is a long time and one can get a lot done in ten years — not all of which might be as interesting to the reader as it is or was to me. So, for the sake of completeness and in no particular order, and perhaps with the hope that I don’t have to write another autobiography for the next ten years, here’s a first-hand answer to the question: “Whatever happened to Jacob Lund Fisker?”

My Sporting Years

The first years of any retirement are often filled with activities that one never had time to pursue when working. For most, this means travel. But I had travelled a lot as a part of my career already, so the missing ingredient for me was sports. So, initially I played a lot of sports.

I spent three or four days each week practicing Japanese swordfighting for three years. So, I know a little bit about swords now. Swordfighting is a complex skill that is hard to put into words. It also resists incremental learning because it doesn’t make sense or flow until all of the ingredients are known and snap together. (Much like the ERE philosophy!)

Note: After moving to Chicago, I wanted to continue swordfighting, but the nearest dojo is too far away. The take-away here is that if one wants to move around, it’s better to pick an activity that exists everywhere and is easily accessible.

Jacob as a team playerI also played a lot of inline hockey in the local city league. My talents were mostly in passing, winning faceoffs, and scoring garbage goals, so I played the role of center forward. Our team won four seasons in a row. Growing up, I was a competitive swimmer, so this was the first time I played a team sport and I thoroughly enjoyed competing with others instead of against myself.

These days, I’ve sacrificed hockey and risky sports in general because I want to avoid acquiring any long-term injuries. Now, I mainly do BeachBody-type workouts: Insanity, Max30, Asylum, Tapout. It’s free, easy, and it keeps me active. I achieved six-pack abs for the first time in my life in my early forties! Another fun exercise is jump roping. I can do double unders, running crosses, heel taps, boxer step, and seamless forward backward reverses. (J.D. loves jump roping too, although he says he’s too fat right now to do it without injury.)

Meanwhile, I taught myself bicycle repair. I eventually served as the unofficial mechanic for a women’s shelter thanks to someone I met via Freecycle. I mostly used Park’s Blue Book, Zinn’s guides, and youtube videos to teach myself. Bicycle repair is fantastic for those of us who come from a white-collar background with zero practical skills, because bicycle repair is mostly solving closed-end problems.

Speaking of cycling, I did a lot of riding in the bay area and was planning a ride across the United States. That is indefinitely postponed, but I did ride a few centuries (100-milers) and trained enough to reach a [20 minute] functional threshold power of 3.7W/kg for those who know what that means.

Jacob's dog!My connection at the shelter owned a boat and one of my hockey mates also knew a guy with a boat. They connected me with the sailing community in the San Francisco bay.

I think almost everybody who first gets into sailing dreams about sailing around the world, but I found that I didn’t enjoy cruising as much as I liked racing. So, I joined a couple of racing yachts out of the Berkeley marina serving as the mainsail trimmer on my primary boat. We won two regattas while I was on that boat.

I sailed about 50 times per year and have sailed around Alcatraz or under the Golden Gate Bridge more times than I can remember. Lots of stories here including force 6 winds facing 12ft+ rolling waves in the Pacific, losing the rudder (snapped right off), losing the engine, shrimping the spinnaker, shredding the mainsail, taking on water and bailing with a bucket, pulling other boats off of cliff shores. Exciting stuff!

The RV years

From 2008 (before I retired) until 2011 (when we left for Chicago), we lived in a 34-foot motorhome (class A a.k.a. “autocamper” — looks like a bus) that we permanently parked in a nice mobile-home park (we also looked at some not so nice parks before finding a good one) within biking distance from my work and eventually former colleagues.

This allowed us to live in the East Bay Area spending less than $14,000/year for the two of us (including health care, a car, a dog (he’s 15 now!), and of course the RV).

Originally, I wanted to live in a boat or a tiny house, but my wife vetoed it in favor of an RV, which she was more familiar with. I must admit that I wasn’t too keen on our home and worldly possessions possibly sinking either. Also, I didn’t know the first thing about carpentry and building, but that doesn’t seem to hold other people back. If we had to do it again, we’d get a 21-25′ travel trailer. (See the frequently asked questions section on my blog for the reasons.)

Moving to Chicago

In December 2011, we sold the RV and moved into a one-bed/one-bath apartment in Chicago. This was the easiest move ever. It only took 17 days to get the RV sold, drive 2000 miles across the US, find an apartment, and move in. Thanks #minimalism for making it easy to accept opportunities when presented!

For a while, it was strange living in a place where furniture, switches, and doorways were all much farther apart…and how the floor didn’t sway during wind gusts. [J.D.’s note: This is how Kim and I felt after returning from our fifteen-month RV trip around the U.S. Such culture shock going from a tiny space to a huge one, especially one so removed from the outside environment.]

Why did we move? I had received an offer (actually via one of my blog readers) to work in a financial firm in Chicago as a quant on the buy-side. (This had been something I wanted to try for a long time. I first tried in 2008 after reading up on all the details, but then the credit crisis happened and hiring froze!)

I worked there full time until I quit in 2015. It was interesting to see how the markets’ plumbing really works. And how the people working in high finance were some of the most widely-read and intellectually curious people I’ve ever met. I do think maybe academics might be inherently more curious, it’s just that “publish or perish” doesn’t leave enough time to exercise it anymore. I’ve seen so many stacks of unopened books and magazines on the desks of professors bogged down by administrative and grantseeking duties, it makes me sad.

Here’s another big lesson I learned, one that might surprise you.

You know how the standard refrain amongst personal finance gurus is how nobody can predict or beat the market? Well, I met and now know a lot of nobodies who regularly beat the market.

These folks have no desire to start a blog, get a paper published, explain the details, or debate the possibility with the internet. Rather, the attitude is one of “live and let live”. I think some of that attitude rubbed off on me. Why bother explaining if the audience always sees it as a starting point for a win-lose debate rather than an opportunity to learn?

It’s also possible that I’ve just grown tired of arguing. I’ve thought a lot about how we all take roles in that particular dynamic on social media thereby affecting what it’s possible to learn from each other. I feel less inclined to share insights than I used to.

Home and Homesteading

In 2014, we bought a house. We paid cash, of course. (Fun fact: Before I learned about investing as a means of using money to make more money and the whole financial independence thing, I was just saving so I could entirely avoid the interest payments on a mortgage.)

Our house is a roughly 1000-square-foot brick fixer-upper that we live in and that we’re still “fixing” up. Rationally, flipping fixer-uppers you live in is an ideal combination of investing and working that checks many FIRE boxes. However, I’ve found that it’s not really something that I enjoy. To me, a house remains a big container that’s mostly used to shelter myself and my stuff while I do other things. I wish I could enjoy the maintenance aspect of homeownership, but I don’t. Maybe someday I will.

I taught myself woodworking using hand tools, which is mentally different from the machine-thinking I was used to. This process developed slowly and took years, but it came in handy being a homeowner. I can design and build properly-sized furniture and I can make replacement parts and fix free furniture.

Jacob can build his own furniture

For example, I furnished our bathroom with a new DIY vanity and built-in cabinet spending only $50 on materials total. Lately, I’ve been interested in toolmaking. I think being able to build one’s own tools is the real measure of mastery of one’s field. Most recently, I have built a lathe from scratch. It cost me less than $10 in materials. [J.D.’s note:: Holy cats! And I thought my father was handy…]

We plowed up (actually laboriously double-dug with a spade) much of our backyard lawn to install a vegetable garden. The ultimate goal is to develop some level of self-reliance beyond just having access to free organic vegetables every summer/fall. This has been a good reminder that we (or at least I) definitely don’t want to be homesteaders. It’s funny how buying a homestead is so popular in the FIRE community that it almost seems like a rite of passage. Maybe homesteading attracts exuberant personalities in search of projects? We almost bought one in rural Oregon in 2011. I’m glad we didn’t because maintenance is just not for me.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Taking apart a watchFor a while, I messed around with mechanical watches. I can now take one completely apart and reassemble it back into a working unit.

Similar to bicycle repair, this skill allows one to fix things for oneself, neighbors, and friends, but it is hard to make real money on it due to the competition. And if you do, it will mostly come from buying and selling at the right price or simple fixes like changing batteries and fixing flat tires. There’s little profit in doing difficult technical work!

Also how many people do you know who still wear watches? They’re both great hobbies though. Recently, I’ve started building a mechanical clock out of plywood. For real!

My general prescription for a successful job-free life is to find activities that cover the combination of meaning+fun and theoretical+practical — albeit not necessarily at the same time. But it’s important to touch all of those dimensions from time to time even it it involves a job.

For example, building a working clock out of plywood is practical and fun and perhaps a bit theoretical as well…but definitely not meaningful in the grand scheme of things. However, it checks some of the checkbox combinatorics. In the long run, meaning is more important than fun though!

Many (but not all) who work a job ultimately come to think working their job is meaningless beyond receiving their paycheck. Filling out TPS reports, designing or selling apps and widgets and thneeds that nobody wants because nobody needs. Or just increasing one’s net worth highscore or falling victim to the syndrome of one more year.

The search for meaning (over comfort) was a big reason I quit my physics career. I wanted to focus on writing the ERE blog. With physics, I was researching arcane details about neutron stars that were only interesting to maybe five other people in the world. I wasn’t exactly curing cancer, but see below…

When blogging, I was breaking new ground (many aspects of commonly accepted FIRE philosophy today were still pretty original ten years ago) and changing peoples’ lives on a daily basis. (At least, that’s what the comments and emails told me!) Quitting astrophysics to write about early retirement thus checked the box of meaningfulness that my academic research lacked.

The Search for Meaning

One of my buddies from high school — who is now a professor at my alma mater — asked for my help doing some numerical research on enzyme reactions that are actually relevant to cancer research. After bridging the interdisciplinary communications gap, it was fun to see what could be done.

The numerical tools used in computational astrophysics are maybe 40 years ahead of what is apparently state-of-the-art in molecular biology. It’s always fun to blow someone’s mind with a little bit of applied math. It doesn’t just happen with the shockingly simple math of extreme early retirement! 😉

The very first thing I engaged in after retiring from physics was signing onto a non-profit startup with the aim to facilitate interdisciplinary solutions for a brave new green economy. As is tradition in Silicon Valley-area startups, we gave each other fancy titles. I was the “associate director” (basically “number one” in Star Trek terms) and served on the board of directors as a founding member.

However, I eventually found that I didn’t agree with the speed and indirect impact of this format. I would much rather focus on solutions that could be immediately implemented at the field level, like ERE, than advise, debate, research, educate, or engage in activism. Ultimately, “big change” needs people filling all roles, but now I have a better idea of the role I optimally fill.

Most of my ERE readers/forumites don’t know it, but before ERE back in the early 2000s, when I was still a grad student in physics, I ran a highly-ranked website on the limits of energy resources that drew more traffic than the rest of the entire physics department combined. A very astute person recently tweeted that ERE is a peak oil blog in disguise. This is correct.

Thinking back, I faded from the energy resource scene for similar reasons that I left the non-profit. Sticking to thinking up actionable solutions at the individual level just works better for me. I’m writing this down as a reminder to myself to stay focused on my current project. Tempting as it is to focus on different ways of solving problems — raising awareness, etc. — I am fundamentally interested in individually actionable solutions.

J.D.’s note: This reminds me of our recent discussion about politics and personal finance. Ultimately, I concluded we need people to fill all roles. Some folks — like Tanja from Our Next Life — are generals. They want to formulate political strategy. I don’t. I want to train the troops in day-to-day financial combat skills.

The Downsides of the Renaissance Ideal

In a given year, I read more than 100 books. Most of these are technical/non-fiction in order to gain useful insights or learn more stuff.

After reading a few thousand, the ROI of reading or “book learning” is near the top end of the S-curve for me. This is also the case for striving towards being a master of many trades in general.

The downsides of the renaissance ideal as measured at the 10-year milestone in my experience? It becomes harder to enjoy being a spectator. It’s also harder to appreciate bought experiences along with and in the company of others. This is not necessarily a virtue or a good thing by the way!

I find myself unable to enjoy watching sports, for example. J.D. can do it; I can’t. Courtesy of my high-finance stint, I got to experience watching the Blackhawks play from the box suites at the United Center eating catered food. I bet that was all very expensive and I appreciate the gesture — I understand that it was meant as a reward — but watching professionals play is a far cry from the full experience of playing hockey yourself even as a competent amateur.

I think this holds true for all kinds of experiences.

Learning new skills. Making things yourself. Earning money in new and different ways like hourly, salaried, royalties, investing, trading. Interacting with other people whether it be by helping, getting helped, giving, getting, selling, buying. I could go on, but you know what I mean, right?

I have the same problem with going out to eat. Those $150/person restaurant meals — again, I appreciate the gesture — become hard to enjoy once you’re able to create a superior meal (as measured by your personal preferences) for far less.

What My Wife Did

I’ve now been married for more than thirteen years. Both my wife and I suffer from itchy feet on a three to five year basis. She gets it from growing up military. I get it from an early career as a metic academic ever since I left Denmark two decades ago when I was 24. Temperamentally, the idea of “doing time” in a job or being a “career lifer” is just unappealing to both of us.

When I received the job offer in Chicago back in 2011, I of course asked my wife if she was okay with leaving the east bay and wanted to go too? (Veto rights are always implied in our relationship.) She said yes.

In Chicago, she interviewed with a couple of companies in her old field of environmental remediation but she could no longer find any spark of joy. Essentially being on a sabbatical, I insisted on her doing our taxes (something that had previously been under my purview) to get a hands-on feeling for how they worked should I ever get hit by a bus. Strangely, she liked doing the numbers very much and thus decided to go back to school for an associates degree in accounting which she quickly finished (piece of cake when you come in with a STEM PhD).

This led to her being hired by a certain tax preparation company that everybody probably knows. (Free semi-retirement tip: There are a lot of overly-educated, semi-retired people working in tax-prep because it’s seasonal, reasonably well paid, and the co-workers tend to be interesting!) She spent a few years working her way up the ladder until she was responsible for the day-to-day problems of ~100 offices. Then she decided it wasn’t worth it anymore and quit. Now she works for a non-profit in the legal field.

Spending Money as a Failure of Imagination

My spending has remained around the $7000 per year mark for almost twenty years now. Since we got married thirteen years ago, my wife’s spending has also hovered around the $7000 per year mark. In other words, our combined expenses total about $14,000 per year.

The continual addition of new skills and skill-synergies has allowed us to stretch each dollar further and further in terms of what we get from spending it. We still tend to specialize individually, but as a unit comparative advantage works for us.

I can do many things competently. Ditto my wife for many other things. Together, we’re rather self-reliant (to put it mildly). Spending money mainly serves to resolve friction from inefficient lifestyle design. And for us, there’s just not a whole lot of friction left anymore except real-estate, taxes, and insurance premiums, which account for nearly 60% of our budget. We consider spending money a failure to solve our problems by smarter means.

Jacob's graph of skill vs imagination

But our failure rate is getting quite low at this point.

J.D.’s Note
Whoa. This is my biggest take-away from the 5000 words that Jacob wrote here: “Spending money is a failure to solve problems by smarter means.” This hits home hard.

Last week, my dog broke her retractable leash again. She lunged hard at a squirrel and destroyed the internal mechanism. I threw the leash away and bought a new one. This is a failure to solve the problem by smarter means. I’m willing to bet that I could have opened the leash and repaired the sprung spring. But I was too lazy. Or, more precisely, it didn’t even occur to me.

Spending money is a failure to solve problems by smarter means. Wow.

Our present situation could easily be confused for a mundane suburban middle-class existence…except most of what we own has not been acquired by spending. Some get disappointed by that optic expecting the (typically expensive) Instagram-worthy minimalist designs often portrayed in the media as they try to sell eyeballs to those who want to buy the newest fad.

114 Years of Savings (and Counting)

For historical reasons, my wife and I have kept our savings separate while splitting our income. There are lots of different ways to arrange financial matters, and attitudes vary a lot depending on whatever antediluvian norms anyone grew up under. This is just what we decided back then — mainly because it made tax accounting easy — and we’re still happy with it.

For the record, my cumulative income contribution still remains the larger one by a skodge. So we could have chosen differently, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway at this point since we’re both way beyond the standard FI numbers (and have been for several years).

Currently, I have saved 114 years worth of spending. That’s way beyond the 25 years required for the so-called 4% rule for safe withdrawals in retirement. My wife has 62 years worth of savings. At this point, earning more money doesn’t matter anymore.

Both of us have contributed much more to society producing things than we’ve taken out by consuming them. Neither of us need to work anymore. Nor do we feel any reason to spend more. It’s not money but skills and imagination that comprise the limiting factor when operating at this level.

However, whereas it has ultimately become clear to me that I function best as a self-employed intellectual gunslinger for short-term hire to solve complex problems, as mentioned above, my wife still enjoys the structure of a traditional job as long as she’s free to change it from time to time. As a couple, both of us being FI makes it a lot easier to solve the “two-body” problem that academics are annoyingly familiar with: In choosing where to go, we take turns with who gets to do a “location-specific project” next.

What Is FIRE For?

Starting in 2017ish, FIRE began to go mainstream.

Hundreds of new FIRE blogs have been started in the past few years. The handful of us who have been around since the beginning have spent more time than we probably like getting interviewed by journalists.

While social media reactions and the general understanding has improved (especially when talking to journalists who are also pursuing FIRE on their own), the media narrative of the FIRE model often remains a story with two separate parts:

  1. A working phase of money earning accumulation followed by…
  2. A spending phase of consumerist entertainment.

Basically, this is an old-fashioned retirement with younger people, where travelling, eating out, and going to concerts substitute for playing bingo. Given this, it’s not uncommon that young FIRE people eventually get bored and go back to their old jobs.

With little or no widespread experience outside of consumerism, it seems there’s a certain lack of imagination in terms of what to do with all of this unlocked financial freedom (time).

While FIRE solves the freedom-from problem, ERE’s renaissance concept also solves the freedom-to issue, because the limiting factor in enjoying post-work life is seldom money but skill, connections, and the amazing opportunities they generate.

ERE was designed as a continually-evolving system that aims at efficiency and resilience for the 21st century. Within this system, FI just happens as a side-effect of being compensated for adding value to the system while reducing the need and desire to spend. Basically, a two-fer.

Focusing on adding value creates plenty of experiences and things to try and do, which I hope to have illustrated above. Effectively, it looks very different from traditional forms of retirement — whether they be early or late. Indeed, it’s been our experience, both personally but also from the other early adopters from 10+ years ago, that the ERE concept works as intended.

The post Early Retirement Extreme: The ten-year update appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

Inspiration from Seneca, Rhiannon Giddens, Babish, and More!

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Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life. Please enjoy the archives of earlier collections of inspirational things.

1. Seneca on happiness

“Happy the man who improves other people not only when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts.” – Seneca

I can tell you from personal experience that one of the best feelings you can have is a realization that someone you’ve helped and influenced in a positive way has gone on to do good things without your involvement whatsoever.

You don’t have to be a teacher or a social worker to have this kind of experience, either. Just be an example of the kind of person you want society to be filled with. Have a set of core values, share them when asked, and most importantly, live by those values every second of the day. Listen to the other person when in conversation with them and don’t just use the time when they’re speaking to formulate your response.

Those kinds of things are easier said than done, of course, but those who do them have an outsized positive impact on those around them, and that positive impact often has ripple effects of positivity. The moment when you realize those ripples exist and you had nothing directly to do with them is a moment where you feel really, really good.

2. Jocko Podcast Episode #174 – Set Standards. Aspire to Achieve Them. Become an Eminently Qualified Human

This is a powerful episode of a very good podcast that’s managed to stay in the 20 or so podcasts I listen to for a few years now. The subject of this episode is the value of setting standards for yourself so that you know exactly whether or not you’re living up for what you expect from yourself. The hosts get to this point by going through the personnel review standards that the Navy and Marines use for evaluating service members and discussing the value of standards-based review and how to apply it to yourself.

In short, the episode suggests that you strive to become a better person in every area of life and take steps to do so every single day. In doing this, they propose coming up with clear standards with which to evaluate yourself in terms of today’s performance, meaning you do it every day.

This is actually very much in line with the ideas discussed in the books Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and Atomic Habits by James Clear, both of which I have lauded in the past couple of years on this site. I’ve spent time over the last few weeks combining all of these ideas into a system of my own of sorts that takes elements from all three.

What I’m trying to do is define what a truly great person is in each of the different spheres of my life and how that great person lives out a day in their life, in detail and in terms of things that are applicable to me. What does a physically healthy person do each day? What does a fit person do each day? What does a taekwondo master do each day? I’m just writing out what kinds of things those roles embodies. Then, I’m using that to figure out what a “10/10” day is for me as I try to fulfill that role or at least move in that direction to the best of my ability, with my primary interest being effort and gradual refinement. In the end, I aim to reach a point where I’m scoring myself each day on a healthy handful of categories, then revising the standards every few months so that I continue to get better in all areas.

I’ve found that trying to develop this kind of personal standard for myself has filled up a ton of journal entries as I work out the details of everything. It’s been enlightening, and it’s also made me realize that I’m not always choosing the best goals and targets for what I want out of life.

To me, this kind of stuff is pure inspiration. Anything that makes you think about the life you want to live and the person you want to be in great detail is hugely inspirational.

3. Eric Thomas on the next 24 hours

“Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.” – Eric Thomas

Focus on today. Today is literally all that matters. Make today great. Worry about tomorrow when it comes, but make it great, too.

What does it mean to make a day “great”? That’s up to you to decide, of course. Most of us have a good sense as to what makes a day pretty worthless, but what makes a great day? You really have to define that for yourself.

Then, aim to get as close to that great day as you can every single day. If you do that, your life is going to be really good in the short run and the long run.

4. Google Chrome Library Extension

If you’re an avid reader like me, this extension for the Google Chrome web browser is an amazing thing. Whenever you visit a page for a specific book at several different websites, including Amazon, it pops up and lets you know automatically if that book is available at a library near you. It picks a few nearby libraries by default and you can change those libraries in the settings.

In the last few weeks alone, this popup has kept me from three different unnecessary book purchases that I was considering (not sure I would have actually bought any of them, but I was thinking about it). Rather than whipping out the credit card, I whipped out the library card instead.

Of course, right now I have more books on hold at the library than I can probably read in the time that I’ll have them.

5. Joseph P. Kauffman on being judged

“Any time you worry that someone is going to judge you, that is really you judging yourself.” – Joseph P. Kauffman

The idea that someone else will judge you is simply the assumption that other people will think the way you think and that other people will give you the same level of consideration that you give to yourself. Neither one of those things is ever true.

First of all, no one thinks in the way that you do. The things you notice and value in other people is a set of things that’s different from everyone else. Thus, your opinion on things is likely to be somewhat different than everyone else, and that includes your opinion of yourself.

Second, no one is ever going to go over you in the detail in which you go over yourself. They’ll usually pull out two or three traits about you and stop there.

The things you’re judging yourself over are things that likely won’t be noticed, and if they are, the other person likely won’t think negatively about it. Worrying about it is doing nothing other than bringing down your mood, which will definitely impact how you present yourself and is more likely to be noticed than whatever it is you’re worrying about.

You’ve got this. Don’t worry about what other people think. You got this.

6. Lao Tzu on time

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to.’” – Lao Tzu

Whenever you say you don’t have time for something, what you are really saying is that something else is a higher priority in your life for your time use.

Look around your life. Is everything you’re doing a higher priority than this? Are you sure you’re not just committing to things because they’re urgent and not actually important? Are you sure that you can’t actually commit time to this thing or this person?

My philosophy is this: if something is really important to me, like doing something with a friend, and I am really booked up right now, I flat-out tell them that and I try to schedule something in a week or two right then and there so that they know that they’re actually important to me. If I just say that I can’t because I’m busy, it doesn’t matter how important they actually are to me or how important this particular matter is to me, I’m giving off an indication to others that it’s not important to me.

Similarly, when people never seem to want to do things with me, I eventually stop asking.

7. Rhiannon Giddens – Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

There is an intensity to Rhiannon Giddens I could feel from the moment she arrived at the Tiny Desk, and her songs reflect that spirit. “Ten Thousand Voices,” the first song in the set, was inspired by Rhiannon reading about the sub-Saharan slave trade. The follow-up piece was inspired by the American slave trade and a New England newspaper ad in the late 1700s of a young woman “for sale” and her 9-month old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.” Rhiannon Giddens’ thoughts of this young woman and how her life and her child were not under her control prompted the song “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

Despite its weightiness, Rhiannon Giddens’ music is entertaining, and her voice, the melodies, and her accompaniment are engaging. But it is music infused with lessons and deep purpose — something all too rare in popular music in my opinion.

Three of the songs performed at the Tiny Desk are from her recent release, There Is No Other, recorded with her musical partner Francesco Turrisi. Francesco plays banjo, piano and frame drum here and is joined by Jason Sypher on upright bass. Rhiannon picks up a replica of an 1858 banjo for “I’m On My Way,” which she says helps her access her ancestors. “So much beauty and so much horribleness wrapped up together seems to be our story,” she says.

For her closing number, she focuses on the beauty. “You can call it whatever you want, ‘gravity,’ ‘God,’ whatever. There’s a force that I believe in, and that’s what I focus on.” And with that the band takes us out on the beautiful gospel tune, “He Will See You Through.”

SET LIST “Ten Thousand Voices” “At the Purchaser’s Option” “I’m On My Way” “He Will See You Through”

MUSICIANS Rhiannon Giddens: vocals, banjo; Francesco Turrisi: banjo, piano, frame drum; Jason Sypher; upright bass

Rhiannon Giddens is one of my favorite musicians of all time. Her wonderful voice, unquestioned skill on the banjo and other instruments, and the way she uses her music to deeply explore issues makes her more than deserving of the MacArthur Genius Grant she received recently.

Please, have a listen.

8. C.S. Lewis on pain and happiness

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” ― C.S. Lewis

I believe the opposite is true, too. Often, the happiness I feel now is the pain I had before.

Why? There are a lot of reasons. Things change. The things you love don’t stay the same, and you don’t stay the same, either. It takes work to keep that relationship alive, and if you don’t invest, it’ll fade. You’ll wake up one morning thinking that things are as they always were and … it isn’t. That can hurt.

Even when things don’t fade away, they can suddenly be lost. I’ve lost loved ones very abruptly, and it hurts. That thing that was happy just yesterday is painful today.

The reverse is true, too. If you take something that’s important to you and you pour a lot of yourself into it, it builds into something that you can be proud of, something that does bring you happiness.

Even more than that, I don’t think you can feel happiness without pain. If your life never has difficulty or pain or challenge, it’s hard to feel happiness. It’s hard to feel the joy of something if your life is loaded with it. Treats become rote and routine and ordinary if you repeat them constantly.

9. Margaret Heffernan on the human skills we need in an unpredictable world

From the description:

The more we rely on technology to make us efficient, the fewer skills we have to confront the unexpected, says writer and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan. She shares why we need less tech and more messy human skills – imagination, humility, bravery – to solve problems in business, government and life in an unpredictable age. “We are brave enough to invent things we’ve never seen before,” she says. “We can make any future we choose.”

Modernization has been so effective at taking away a lot of the dangers of daily life for most of us that we don’t confront the unexpected all that often, and we often don’t know how to handle it well. Yet it’s that ability to confront unexpected situations that often separates success from failure.

Unexpected events are messy, but so are the tools for handling them. I think this video gives a great look at those skills and why they’re valuable.

10. Susan Ertz on immortality and a rainy afternoon

“Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” – Susan Ertz

A rainy Sunday afternoon is a wonderful thing to me. It’s a time to play a game with my family or some friends. It’s a time to read a book. It’s a time to make a batch of fermented food. It’s a time to pull out a cookbook and find something interesting to make. It’s a time to learn about a topic I’ve always been curious about. It’s a time to call my mom. It’s a time to write a letter to someone. I would love to have more lazy rainy Sunday afternoons.

To me, the sadness in this quote is that people don’t know how to fill those afternoons. Time is the most precious resource we have and the desire to live forever is purely a desire to have more time, yet so often we waste that time.

Don’t waste those rainy Sunday afternoons. If nothing else, spend it curled up next to someone you love, or if they’re not nearby, call someone you love and catch up.

11. Basics with Babish – Poutine

From the description:

Poutine is the stuff of legend to our Northern neighbors…so let’s hope I don’t screw it up too bad! Even if you can’t find yourself real cheese curds, this rich and savory sober-up-snack is worth adding to your cheat day menu.

I’ve shared a few videos from Babish over the past year or so. Not only does he prepare dishes that are enticing and still achievable in a normal home kitchen, he does it with production values and humor that are just absolutely perfect for what I want out of an instructional cooking video on Youtube.

His videos achieve that level of getting everything so right that it looks effortless, half-convincing me I could make good cooking Youtube videos because it looks easy. It’s not. There are so many details in this video that are just perfect.

As I’m admiring that, at the same time, I’m learning how to make really good poutine. That’s excellence all around.

12. Jon Stewart on values

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” ― Jon Stewart

The time when values really matter is when they’re hard to stick to. It’s those moments when you feel really conflicted, where part of you wants to go one way and another part wants to go another way. It’s when you hear that everything is fine but something inside of you is saying it’s not fine and you feel conflicted. That’s when values matter.

If you walk away from your values during those moments of conflict, are they really your values? No, they’re not. If you have to really twist a situation to try to halfway convince yourself that something is in line with your values, are you really living in line with your values? No, you’re not.

We all have a sense of right and wrong inside of us. It’s not necessarily exactly the same from person to person, but many of the broad strokes are the same. The question is, do we live by those values? Or do we abandon them whenever it’s expedient to do so or whenever someone says something appealing to us?

The choice is up to each of us, but let’s not kid ourselves: when we do things and believe things and buy into things that aren’t in line with the values we supposedly hold, those values aren’t really our values.

The post Inspiration from Seneca, Rhiannon Giddens, Babish, and More! appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

How to be the best you can be (20 quick tips for mastery in life)

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Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to know who the “best” was. The best skier. The best chicken curry. Superman, the best guy who flies.

As I grew up, I found other examples of mastery where the very best tend to cluster. For example, some of my favorite examples of Mental Mastery are high-end restaurants, luxury hotels, and sports teams.

Imagine being a professional athlete who lives and breathes your sport. You hear quotes like this:


There will be two buses leaving for tonight’s game. The 2:00pm bus will be for those who need some extra practice. The empty bus will leave at 5:00pm.


How would that affect the way you see yourself?

How would it make you think about performance, about being the best?

There are layers of mastery, and the more you surround yourself with other people who are pushing themselves to be the best, the more you’ll discover how much potential you really have.

I thought it’d be fun to share 20 micro-lessons I’ve learned along the way, including from my business and personal life. Each of these micro-mastery lessons is a “shortcut” if you look beneath the surface.

  1. Wage war against complexity. Think about how much we’re pushed to get more and more complicated solutions: $500 baby strollers, incredibly complex diets, and 300 apps on our phone. Yet if we’re honest, how many of those actually changed our lives or made us happier? It’s not enough to say “I like simplicity.” You have to actively fight for it. Make a list of things you won’t worry about. Restructure your spending and calendar to go to things that matter. In the modern world, complexity is the default. Fight for simplicity.
  2. Timing matters. As famed chef David Chang points out, you have a “perfect window” of about 20 seconds to eat sushi. He doesn’t wait for the chef to explain the food to him — he grabs it and eats it first. Timing matters. When you’re excited about something, do it right then!
  3. Share the spotlight. Notice the difference between beginners and true masters: Beginners say, “I, I, I” — I did this, I think that, I’m stuck. Masters say “we” and lavish praise on their teams. (If you don’t think you have a team, look around you. We all have a team.)
  4. The very best are usually great at many things. I remember a Stanford professor joking about how another professor — a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry — was also amazing at literature. This is hard to believe since the media popularizes the concept that if you’re really good at one thing, you’re bad at others. (“Oh, she’s a successful entrepreneur … she must not spend much time with her kids.”) The reality is, the very best are usually great at many things because they translate mastery from one category to another. You will only believe this when you meet someone who’s great at multiple things. It’s life-changing.
  5. Money and mastery. Mastery doesn’t always mean getting the best grades, or the most money, or the most attention. But those are usually predictable byproducts of mastery.
  6. Flip time on its head. At IWT, sometimes we say “Go slow to go fast.” Other times we take something that might take 2 weeks, and finish it in 2 hours. (This blog post is an example— it could have taken us 3 days. We did it in 45 minutes.)
  7. The very best ask lots of questions. 3 questions I almost never hear: (1) “Just a second. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you get to that?” (2) “I’m not sure I understand the conclusion — can you walk me through that?” (3) “How did you see that answer?” Ask these questions and stop worrying about being embarrassed. How else are you going to learn?
  8. Endings are important. They’re the last taste, sound, impression that people will leave with. I read a great article on being intentional about the last day of your vacation — the day where most people don’t plan anything. Plan something big, memorable, amazing. Flip the last day on its head. Be intentional about endings.
  9. Action overconsumption. I’d rather act on 1 book than read 10. How much do you consume vs. produce? You don’t learn to dance by sitting at the bar analyzing people’s moves — you actually have to get up and give it a try.
  10. For advanced readers, part 1. The more advanced you get, the more you have to fight to maintain a beginner’s mind. I watch trainers telling their new clients to “engage their core,” a term the trainer has been using for 15 years. The first-time client has no idea what those words mean. Fight for the beginner’s mind.
  11. For advanced readers, part 2. At a certain point, you’ll outgrow the people you used to learn from. Finding your next level of teachers will be critical. This uncomfortable step is where lots of people falter.
  12. Choose your inputs wisely. The food you eat directly affects your energy, your focus, and your performance. What about the information you consume? What do you watch and listen to? If you could wave a magic wand and consume the “best” information, what would you choose?
  13. When you feel like procrastinating. Sometimes it’s best to just skip it today … or forever.
  14. It’s OK to be weird. If you’re reading this, you know you’re a little weird. You’re on my blog, reading long articles about mental mastery, personal finance, business, and psychology. Who else does that? You’re in good company.
  15. Say yes more often. Take building a social life by going to parties. Some people will ask, “Who’s going to be there? What are we doing? I don’t want to go unless it’s going to be fun.” I try to say yes to as much as possible, knowing that some will be lame but others will be amazing.
  16. But also say no more often. Consider the opposite approach of “default no + intentionality.” By default, say no — but be extremely intentional about the things you say yes to: Go all in, spend time and money, and truly scrape all the meat off the bone.
  17. Get comfortable with contradiction. A lot of people are irritated that the last 2 principles contradict each other. Get used to it. The most interesting advice is full of contradictions.
  18. Plan for failure. Some days you’ll be distracted. Some team members will leave. Some days you’ll be sick. That’s life. The best figure out how to win when life throws a curveball — because it will happen.
  19. Celebrate, even something small. I should have done this more in my early days. We think of celebrations for big things — birthdays, anniversaries, big launches — but sometimes we can just celebrate all being here together. Or showing up 1 minute early. Or everyone wearing the same color shirt.
  20. Your biggest growth is ahead of you. When you frame your decisions knowing your best success is ahead of you, it keeps you focused on the future — not the past. Invest heavily in your growth.

Real success is not an accident. It’s not luck. The best dedicate themselves to being the best they can be — often in ways that “ordinary” people can’t see and don’t understand.

I find that inspiring.

Let me know what lessons you’ve learned from studying world-class masters in the comments below.

How to be the best you can be (20 quick tips for mastery in life) is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

FinCon 2019 and the future of Get Rich Slowly

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After twenty-four days on the road, I’m back home in Portland. It feels good.

In mid-August, Kim and I flew to Italy. For the first week, we visited Florence and Rome on our own. We rode trains, drank wine, toured museums, ate gelato, and explored ancient Roman ruins. We also got sunburned. And we sweated from dawn to dusk.

J.D. and Kim at the Colosseum

Next, we boarded a small (680 passenger) cruise ship for a ten-day tour of the eastern Mediterranean. We spent a day on Corfu, visited a Turkish resort town, and wandered the walled city core of Dubrovnik (where Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing was filmed). Mostly, though, we saw more of Italy.

After a final two nights in Venice, we flew from Italy to Washington, D.C. for FinCon, the annual conference about money and media.

FinCon 2019

FinCon started in 2011 as a small(-ish) gathering for a couple hundred financial bloggers. It’s now ten times its original size and draws legit financial journalists from all sorts of platforms. It also attracts some of the biggest names in the world of financial products — USAA, Ally Bank, Capital Group, etc. — plus plenty of new companies with cool ideas that may blow up in years to come.

For me, though, FinCon isn’t about meeting brands or looking for new ways to make money. Some of that happens, sure, but I spend most of my time catching up with colleagues. Ten years ago, these folks were mostly strangers. Today, they’re some of my closest friends.

Old friends having fun

It’s fun to renew existing bonds, but I also enjoy forging new ones. Each year, I connect with new folks that I come to respect and admire.

In 2016, for instance, I met Marcus Garrett. We were paired as mentor and mentee for the week. I did my best to offer advice, but he and his partner have built their site — Paychecks & Balances — far beyond any tips I provided. They’re killing it. This year, Paychecks & Balances won the award for best millennial blog (and was nominated for podcast of the year).

In 2018, I met Piggy and Kitty from Bitches Get Riches. It’s no secret that this is my favorite money blog. It’s smart, irreverent, and hilarious. I’m pleased to report that I spent more time with the bitches this year (and Kim hung out with them too). They’re even smarter, funnier, and more irreverent in person.

Piggy and Kitty are on-brand

At this year’s FinCon, I also spent some time with Julien and Kiersten from rich & REGULAR, Rocky from Richer Soul, Joshua from Radical Personal Finance, and Bianca from Miss Mazuma. These are all quality folks doing quality work.

While FinCon is mostly social for me, it’s not all about the friendships. I did meet with plenty of folks who want to advertise on this site, for instance. (Mostly, I said no.) Plus, I joined my business partner Tom Drake and a couple of other friends to present a panel discussion on collaboration.

And this year? This year, I actually had a huge take-away from FinCon, one that will shape the future of this site.

The Core Message of Get Rich Slowly

This year at FinCon, the opening keynote was presented by Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Ramit started as a money blogger, but has transitioned into a successful entrepreneur with a burgeoning business that helps people solve all sorts of personal problems.

Ramit giving his keynote

The core idea of Ramit’s talk struck me hard. “Have a point of view,” he said. By this he means that we as content creators should stand for something. We should have a clear message. People should know what our sites or channels are about.

You know what? Not even I know what Get Rich Slowly has been about for the past two years.

When I started GRS in 2006, GRS was about my journey as I dug out of debt and built wealth. After I sold the site, the message became less clear. Eventually, I moved on, and I think GRS lost any point of view that it might have had.

When I founded Money Boss in 2015, that site had a very clear point of view. In fact, I named the site for its point of view. I wanted readers to act as the CFO of their household finances. I wanted them to accept personal responsibility for mastering their money — and their lives.

Because Money Boss had a strong point of view, it was easy to write. I always knew the angle for each article I started.

When I reacquired Get Rich Slowly in 2017, my first few months were very productive. I had lots of things I wanted to say. I had plenty of updates I wanted to share.

Gradually, though, I lost my way. I wrote less often. I didn’t have direction. Why not? Because this site didn’t have a point of view. It didn’t have a central message. That’s part of why things have been such a struggle for me this year.

Listening to Ramit’s talk made me realize that in order for me to enjoy writing here, and in order for this site to be useful to readers, I need a point of view. I need to be clear on what my message is. Fortunately, I already know my message. My message is: You need to be the money boss.

I’m not going to rebrand Get Rich Slowly to Money Boss. That ship has sailed. Plus, I prefer the name Get Rich Slowly. However, I am going to deliberately steer this site’s message toward my Money Boss philosophy. I subscribe to its ideals (you are ultimately responsible for your own financial success) more today than ever before.

Final Thoughts

So, that’s the big news: After two years of drifting, I know what message I want to convey to you, the readers. I want to help you all become money bosses. Or to become better money bosses.

Meanwhile, the immediate future at GRS looks like this:

  • I had hoped to finish the site redesign before leaving for Italy. That didn’t happen. Now I hope to finish it by October 15th at the latest. Earlier is better.
  • Today — if all goes well — I will sign a contract to produce a five-hour audio course about financial independence for the biggest audiobook distributor in the world. That’s sort of vague (but not really). I’ll offer actual details once the deal is done.
  • In just over two weeks, I fly out for another trip. This time I’m headed to Portugal for a financial independence “chautauqua”. (A couple of you have already told me you’ll be there. Awesome!) From Porto, I fly to Joshua Tree, California for a Camp FI event.
  • Meanwhile, the pace of production around here will slow markedly as I put into practice my plan to dive deeper into subjects and not feel pressured to publish all of the time.

The bottom line for this blog: Quantity will decrease but quality should improve. Plus, I now have a clear editorial lens that should help me stay focused. Sound good? Sounds great to me!


Paula Pant hamming it up with me while taping an episode of Afford Anything

The post FinCon 2019 and the future of Get Rich Slowly appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

Figuring Out Next Steps with Our Home Printer

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Let’s talk about our home printer, not just because we need a replacement (and you might, too), but also because it’s a good example of the thinking behind making a sensible purchase.

For the last several years, we’ve had a home printer that we have to constantly “baby” to get it to print. It has had several minor but fixable problems along the way, but it seems to have a slightly defective printer head that noticeably reduces print quality but not irreversibly so. We’ve tried about everything under the sun to fix it, but now we largely just use it for emergency printing purposes and find other places to print when the document has to look good.

Normally, our home printer is used mostly for things like occasional documents for my wife’s workplace, papers and other things for my children’s schoolwork, a few odds and ends like checklists and calendar pages and printed tickets, and so on. We have used it to print photos in the past, but as print quality has declined, we have largely abandoned that.

Beyond that, there are lots of items I’d love to print for my own use at home without having to go to a print shop. In the past, I have enjoyed making paper craft items with my children, “print and play” board games and player aids, checklists, and many other things, and I often just don’t print them at all or wait until I have a bunch of small items and have them printed at a print shop.

Recently, however, our problems with the home printer kind of boiled over. One of our children needed to print something for school and it just looked terrible. We spent a bunch of time trying to get it right and eventually I just went to a 24 hour printing place and had it printed there. Since then, I’ve tried to get the printer up to snuff, but I’m now convinced it needs mechanical fixes that are beyond my know-how and probably far beyond the value of the printer.

At this point, we’re looking at options for what to do for a replacement printer at home. Should we have one at all? If so, what should we buy? What’s our budget?

Let’s start with the basics.

Our Use Case

As I mentioned above, the actual important things we do with the printer center around schoolwork for our children and occasional professional work for our wife. We also use it for occasional things like ticket printing or checklist printing. These are largely, but not exclusively, black and white items.

We have a number of secondary uses for the printer. We would use it for occasional photo printing if it did a reasonable job at this. I definitely have some hobby-related uses for a printer as well, but they’re mostly leisure-oriented.

My estimate of monthly printing is somewhere around 50 pages per month of actual important documents and probably another 50 pages per month of less important documents. The second number would probably inflate somewhat if we had a quality fast printer at home, as I could see us printing some documents for my wife’s classroom use, for example.

What About No Home Printer?

If we switched entirely away from home printing, we would be printing about 100 pages per month at a local print shop. The nearest print shop is about 10 miles from our home. We could easily “batch” most of our jobs so that we could print them all at once when visiting there, but there would likely be one or two last minute runs to the print shop in situations where our children needed a school paper printed or something like that.

Printing services in our area tend to range from about $0.13 per page for straight black and white printing to about $0.24 per page for color printing. If I go by our typical printing level of 100 pages per month and assume that 10 of them are color, that gives us a cost of $14.10 per month to just use a printing service for our documents.

This does not include the cost of having to drive there. If I assume that twice per month, we have to go there at the last minute to have something printed in a semi-emergency, this adds on about 40 miles of driving, which at a rough cost of $0.30 per mile for all costs related to that (fuel, maintenance, depreciation, parking, etc.), tacks on an additional $12 per month.

So, my estimate is that the annual cost for us using a print shop for our printing needs is about $320.

That seems expensive, but let’s actually look at the other options before making a decision.

Getting a Low-End Home Printer

One option is to simply buy a low-end home printer, like an ink jet of some kind. The breadth of options in sub-$100 printers is enormous. A model that has stood out a number of times in our research is the $50 Canon TS5120.

I’m assuming here that this printer would last for 5 years at our estimated printing rate of 200 pages per month. This would net us 12,000 pages printed, giving us a cost per printed page of about 0.5 cents per page.

Low-End Ink Costs

This is the painful part for a low-end inkjet printer. This uses the PG 240XL and 241XL black and white and color cartridges, which clocks in at $54 and prints about 400 pages each. This gives a default ink cost of about 7 cents per page.

If you try off-brand ink cartridges and refillable ink kits, you can get this down to about 4 cents per page but with a little less reliability. In my past experience, I’ve had about an 80-90% success rate with off-brand cartridges and refill kits, but the savings is enough to overcome the failures if you don’t need to print with extreme urgency and can wait for another cartridge if needed. So, with off-brand cartridges and kits, you can get this down to the 4.5 cents per page range.

Getting a Higher-End Home Printer

Another option is to get a higher-end home printer, like a color laser jet. Again, as with the low end printers, the breadth of options is enormous, but one model that has stood out in our recent surveying is the HP LaserJet M454dw, which rings in at $289.

Let’s assume that this printer would last us about 10 years at our estimated printing rate of about 200 pages per month. This would net us 24,000 pages printed, or about 1.2 cents per page.

Again, there are a lot of various models we could be looking at, but this is a model that has come up several times in our printer research and is one that we’d be looking at for our use.

Higher-End Ink Costs

The printer above comes with both a black and white and a color print cartridge, which is supposedly enough to print roughly 1,000 black and white pages and 1,000 color pages. My estimate of our printing needs is that we’d print about 200 pages per month, half black and white and half color. So, the default cartridges would carry us through the first ten months.

After that, we’d need new cartridges. The 414X cartridge that provides black and white printing for the printer clocks in at $170 (!) but is good for about 6,000 black and white pages, as I discovered in my secondary research. Similarly, a 414X color cartridge comes in at about $220 (!) and is good for about 5,000 color pages. In other words, $390 would net us about 11,000 printed pages, or about 3.5 cents per page for the cost of ink.

I’ve looked into off-brand options for laser cartridges and am not convinced by any of them. I’ve asked friends who work in office settings with extensive printing needs and they have largely shied away from laser alternative cartridges, stating that they tend not to work often enough to not be worth it.

Which Route?

I ran similar numbers with a few different printers and what I generally found is that if you’re printing a small number of pages per month – 100 or less – an ink jet printer will have a lower cost of printing per page, but as soon as you get up in the 200 pages per month range, the pendulum swings the other way and you’re better off getting a higher-end printer.

My tendency toward reliability and having to replace cartridges less frequently would lean me toward the higher-end printer at this point, even though the cost per page over years of printing (the estimated lifespans of the printers) is fairly equal. Another factor is that I’m almost positive that I would use the laser printer more for hobby projects than I would use the ink jet printer, though that’s very secondary.

Essentially, your choice is this: do you want to spend more up front for a printer and then have a lower cost per printed page for as long as you have it, or do you want to pay less for a printer up front and then have a higher cost per printed page after that? Over a small number of pages, the cheaper printer is the better deal; over a lot of pages, the better printer is the better deal.

Paper Costs

Another aspect of this puzzle is the cost of printer paper. If we decide to use the print shop, the cost of the paper is folded into those expenses. However, if we print at home, we’re buying our own paper.

There’s actually a surprising amount of difference in printer paper that many people may not notice when they’re buying a ream of paper for their home printer. A ream of paper at most stores will vary from about $3 to about $10 per 500 pages, or about half a cent to two cents per page. Most of the cheapest stuff is somewhat off-white with a hint of a dull gray to it and the texture is rough. The more expensive stuff, like HP Ultra White, for example, is very bright white with a smoother texture.

Does that matter? It depends on the purpose of the printing. If you’re printing things like checklists for home use or a child’s two page paper for school or a coloring sheet for a Sunday school class, it doesn’t really matter too much. If you’re printing a resume or something where color differences really matter, it can make a difference.

My estimate is that the paper cost for home printing is about one cent per page, varying as low as half a cent or up to two cents depending on your purpose.

What About Photo Printing?

Here’s the honest truth: if you’re printing a lot of photos and you really care about photo quality, you’re going to want to go to a photo lab. The type of equipment you’d want for really high quality home photo printing is outside the scale of this article.

However, if you just want some 4″ by 6″ prints for a photo album or a collage or for a simple school photo for an aunt to frame and put in her hallway, both an ink jet printer and a decent color laser printer will be up to the task, in my experience. You can definitely get prints that are roughly comparable in quality to what you might get from a pharmacy or department store photo printer. If you want a higher quality print than that, visit your local photo printing business that really focuses on high quality prints.

What you’re really looking at here is the cost of decent photo paper plus the cost of printing an additional page. With an ink jet printer, you’re going to want the cost of photo paper to be roughly five cents lower than the cost of a print at the photo lab, or with a laser printer, you’re going to want the cost to be about four cents lower. In my area, that means you’re aiming at 4″ by 6″ blanks at around the 12 to 13 cents apiece range, which can easily be found if you buy in a quantity of 100 sheets or more, but is much rarer in small quantities of 25 sheets.

My recommendation? Buy a small packet and see if the print quality is good enough for you. If it is, invest in a big packet that you’ll use for quite a while and print at home as needed. If not, just use a photo lab. I don’t believe a home printer is a good purchase just for printing photos, but if you already have a printer for other purposes and the quality is up to your needs, use it!

Our Final Judgment

In the end, what we’re really comparing is the cost of printing our 100 necessary pages a month at a local printer versus the 100 pages per month plus 100 less-necessary-but-still-useful pages per month on our home printer.

So, let’s do the math.

As I noted earlier, the cost for a year of printing at the local print shop is about $320.

If I buy a low end printer, I expect it to last 5 years, and the one above costs $50. Prorating that over five years gives an annual cost of $10 for the low end printer.

The ink cost for a low end printer is about 4.5 cents per page. Over 2,400 pages over the course of a year, that adds up to $108 in ink costs.

Also, 2,400 pages printed on good paper over the course of a year, at 2 cents per page for the paper, is $48.

Thus, my estimate of the annual cost of the low-end printer is $166. We’re better off, in my estimation, getting a low-end printer than using the print shop. Now, it’s worth noting that this could easily change in your situation. If we lived very close to a print shop, the cost of getting there would basically be eliminated, which would make them very close, and I’d lean toward the print shop.

Now, let’s compare the high end printer.

If I buy a higher end printer, I expect it to last 10 years, and the one above costs $300 (roughly). Thus, prorating that over 10 years gives an annual cost of $30.

The ink cost for a higher end printer is about 3.5 cents per page. Over 2,400 pages over the course of a year, that adds up to $84 in ink costs.

The paper cost would still be $48, as noted above.

Thus, my estimate of the annual cost of the high end printer is $162. That’s just a bit less than the annual cost of the cheap printer.

Here’s where I stand, in the end.

If I assume that our monthly printing will really be 200 pages or more for all the things we do, the higher end printer is going to likely be a more cost effective purchase, and it would become even more so if our printing is higher than that. If our printing is lower, then the cheap printer becomes the better deal. The more expensive printer is better constructed and much more likely to last longer, and the cartridges would go for much longer between replacements, which basically means I spend less time dealing with the printer, assuming that both printers are going to work with a reasonable degree of reliability.

Thus, we’ve decided on the higher end printer. If our home printing numbers were significantly lower, we’d get the lower end printer. However, with three kids at home printing school items, Sarah’s printing related to work, and other print jobs like tickets and checklists and so on, and with my own hobby uses on top of that, I think our printing volume is enough that we will get value out of the higher end printer.

So now what?

Since this isn’t an urgent need, we wait. We’ll spend time evaluating lower end laser printers for home use and seeing what models are frequently recommended to join the one we’re already looking at. Then, we patiently wait for a sale on the specific models we’re looking at and when we find a good sale on one of those printers (ideally, 50% off or with a free printer cartridge or something like that), we buy it then. Until then, we get by with our current printer for minor tasks and use the print shop for ones where any degree of print quality is needed. Based on previous electronic buying experience, we’ll wind up with a printer by the end of the year.

Final Thoughts

As I noted at the start, this article is more of a walkthrough of how we look at significant purchases. We try to find recommended reliable models to look at. We look at how much the add-ons (in this case, ink and paper) will cost us per year. We ask whether or not we’ll even use it or if there are other services or options that will work. Then, we come to a conclusion.

We’ll often do this with conversation and some research over the course of a few evenings, probably devoting half an hour together each time to coming to a conclusion. At that point, I’m usually left with the task of finding sales on a few specific models, and so I’ll start watching Amazon and a few other places for sales and then waiting patiently.

This process has led us to lots of great “bang for the buck” purchases over the years, and it’s also led us away from making some other purchases when we realized we didn’t really need the item or that there were services that could replace it for us.

Use this kind of thinking for all of your significant purchases, both ones with big up-front costs and ones with lots of upkeep costs (like printer ink and paper).

Good luck!

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Experimenting with ultra-light packing: How I packed light for 20 days on the road

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Hello from Portugal!

Last Thursday, I returned to Europe for the fourth time in the past ten months. This time, I’m here for work. I’m speaking at yet-another chautauqua about financial independence and early retirement. As always, it’s fascinating — and the people attending the event are amazing.

For this trip, I decided to experiment with ultra-light packing. I am not a minimalist, but I like minimalist travel. I wanted to see if I could carry everything I needed for 20 days of travel in a single small backpack.

After traveling to thirty countries in the past twelve years, I’ve learned that “more is less” when it comes to packing. It’s senseless to carry things you’re not going to use. And most of the time, you don’t need to pack items you’ll find (or can buy) at your destination.

It costs less — physically, mentally, and financially — to travel light.

Here’s a quick look at my current ultra-light packing experiment (and how my packing habits have changed over the past decade).

Packing for Africa

Since my first overseas trip to England and Ireland in 2007, my packing has…evolved. Twelve years ago, I carried far too much. I brought along anything I thought I could possibly want or need. It was crazy. Then, to make matters worse, I bought a ton of stuff as the trip went along.

By the time I flew home, I was overloaded.

Trip by trip, I’ve learned to pack lighter. By February 2011, this is what I packed for three weeks of travel to southern Africa.

Holy cats! years earlier, I was still carrying all sorts of stuff I didn’t need. My mind is boggled. A radio? Binoculars? $500 cash? Tons of books? What was I thinking?

By the Africa trip, though, I was starting to pack for function rather than form. I still carried some items (including my bags) that I thought looked cool, but in the back of my mind, I’d begun to grasp the concept that fun, efficient travel has little to do with what you pack and everything to do with your experience in the moment. And when you’re burdened by baggage, it’s tough to be in the moment.

Packing Light for Ecuador

Fast-forward three years. Here’s what I packed for fifteen days in Ecuador during late summer 2014. Although I still carried items that went unused, my choices were mostly functional by this point and had little to do with form.

The system I show in this video is still my standard system. In fact, for our trip to Italy and Washington D.C. last month, I used these exact bags. And the items I packed inside the bags were similar to what I was carrying five years ago. (The major difference? I rarely use zip-off pants anymore. I’m not nearly as paranoid as I used to be.)

For my current trip to Portugal, I decided I wanted to experiment with ultra-light packing. Could I compress everything for 20 days of travel into a single “personal item” that fits under an airplane seat? Would I regret taking so little?

Ultra-Light Packing for Portugal

Here’s what my ultra-light packing attempt looks like for my current trip to Portugal and California.

My bag for this trip is a Synapse 19 from Tom Bihn. It’s roughly 11-1/2 x 8 x 16 inches tall. As the name implies, it holds 19 liters of stuff. What kind of stuff?

For this trip, I’m carrying:

  • My laptop (a 13″ MacBook Pro) with associated cables and adapters.
  • My phone (an iPhone X) with associated cables and adapters.
  • A small notebook with pens and pencils.
  • An envelope containing various travel documents.
  • Two ziploc bags with travel-sized toiletries. (One bag contains liquid items for TSA.)
  • A packing cube containing one wool t-shirt, one button-down travel shirt, three pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, and a pair of shorts. (I’m also wearing similar socks, underwear, a pair of pants, a wool t-shirt, and another button-down shirt.)
  • A pair of sweats that I rolled up and secured with a rubber band. This was a last-minute addition, but I’m glad I brought them.
  • Three “pouches”: one with electronic stuff, one with sleep stuff, and one with outdoor stuff (like mosquito repellant and sunscreen).
  • A few miscellaneous items, such as gum, my European power adapter, my retainer, my Kindle, and my reading glasses.
  • A ziploc bag for my cash and change, plus a ziploc bag with my passport and other travel info.

I’ve been on the road for five days day now. It’s been very easy. My biggest complaint is that I don’t have a second pair of footwear. I like to have flip-flops or Birkenstocks with me, and I don’t have those for this trip. (Plus, I had to wash my underwear last night because I’m only traveling with four pairs. Only a minor inconvenience, though.)

My bag is full, but there’s still a little room for me to pick up stuff along the way. That’s good, because I’ve already been given two t-shirts!

Whereas there are often items that go unused in my luggage, this time I’ve used almost everything. I haven’t used my collapsible chopsticks yet (I rarely do, but they don’t take much room) and, surprisingly, I haven’t used my reading glasses. I haven’t used my Kindle yet either, but I suspect I will during the latter half of the trip.

Final Thoughts

So, that’s my experiment with ultra-light packing. Will I do this again in the future? Yes, I think I will. But only selectively. Ultra-light packing is a terrific option for trips where my environment is relatively constant (I’m mostly in hotels, for instance) and I have no companions.

But on last month’s vacation to Italy, Kim and I had to pack for hot and humid weather, for air-conditioned hotels, for hiking, for business meetings, etcetera. There’s no way I could have fit everything in one small bag. Besides, when I’m traveling with other people, the advantages of packing light are reduced somewhat.

Ultra-light packing is a terrific tool to have at my disposal. It’s easier than you might think. After five days, I’m certain this system will work for the entire twenty-day trip. And I’ll bet nearly anyone could make this work for a weekend.

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