My last day of work as a physical therapist was Friday, December 1, 2017. The following Monday I sat down to begin work on a book that I’ve felt the need to write for years.
For the past 17 months, I’ve been collaborating with Brad Barrett, Jonathan Mendonsa and their team behind the ChooseFI podcast to create a book, Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. Our goal is to make financial independence (FI) accessible to anyone who wants to pursue it.
We don’t pretend to be experts or gurus with all the answers. Instead, we’re shining the light on others who have achieved FI quickly to share and learn from their stories.
Brad and Jonathan have collected these stories on the ChooseFI podcast. I’ve taken their interviews and extracted common principles and tactics that make FI achievable.
Stories from the FI community provide inspiration to create your own FI story. We dive into common mistakes and challenges to help you navigate your journey. Analyzing the tactics that worked for others allows us to organize them into universal principles that apply to everyone who chooses FI.
Choose FI will help you create your unique blueprint to use your money to build the life you want.
Making FI Accessible
Over the past year, the FIRE movement has gone mainstream. It’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and many other media outlets. Marketwatch added a FIRE sub-tab to their retirement webpage, alongside topics including estate planning, taxes, and social security.
As FIRE gains attention, it becomes polarizing. Articles tend to focus on extreme, and often irrelevant, aspects of the stories of those featured. They often feature those who write about the topic.
As a result, there is a frequent misconception that FIRE requires extreme frugality and/or a massive income. And “no one really retires” anyway. The perception is that we all just quit our original careers to make tons of money writing and talking about FIRE.
Completely lost is a simple fact. Changing the narrative that guides your life, then using this new framework to guide your future financial decisions makes FI achievable to virtually anyone who chooses to pursue it.
The same principles that enable someone to retire in their 30’s or 40’s can be applied to a 22 year-old with six-figure student loan debt or a 50 year-old with no retirement savings. You don’t have to deprive yourself, or earn six-figures, or be an investment guru to transform your financial life.
Unlearning Old “Rules”
The financial principles that enable FI are simple once people understand a different way of life is possible and believe it is achievable. Unfortunately, many people struggle to create an alternative narrative because they know the “rules” so well.
Many young people “know” they need to get into a good college to get a high paying job. You can borrow the money to pay for it. This is good debt!
Once you have a good job, standard advice is that you should save 10-15% of your salary to retire securely at the standard age of 65, with many experts now advising you to wait until you’re 70 to retire more securely.
Conventional wisdom is that the remainder of your income is spent on current lifestyle. The more you make, the more you can “afford” to spend.
There is a rule saying 28% of your gross income (not 25% or 30%) is how much house you can afford. You can find calculators to determine how much car you can afford as well.
Guys, if you really love that girl, you show your love with a diamond. There’s even a rule (created by an advertising agency for a luxury jewelry company) telling you how much you should spend on the ring.
Everyone profiled in the Choose FI book questioned these “rules” and created an alternative narrative that guides their lives. So I started the book exploring how to develop the mindset that allows you to approach your financial world differently.
We reframe FI from an all or nothing dichotomy to a continuum where you progressively gain power and freedom. Choose FI also explores the importance of developing the attitude, habits, and behaviors that enable FI.
Learning the Actual Rules
Developing the right mindset is vital, but you can’t just think your way to FI. If you desire something different from the standard lifestyle, you need to do things differently than other people. Most of us don’t know where to get started.
There are rules you must learn to avoid making costly mistakes and wasting your time on things that don’t move the needle. Financial illiteracy is common in our society and bad financial advice is abundant. My story provides a cautionary tale demonstrating what can happen when you have good intentions and work hard, but don’t take time to learn the rules.
The most important rule for those who want to achieve FI is that you must create margin between what you earn and what you spend. You then must learn to invest the difference wisely to produce income that will support you. We devote an entire section of the book to each of these principles; exploring how to spend less, earn more, and invest better.
Within this framework, you have to understand that the rules of math are inviolable. Many guests profiled in the book cited Mr. Money Mustache’s blog post The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement as being life changing.
Math is a powerful ally when it is working for you. It is relentless and unforgiving when it works against you. The math of compounding means making seemingly small changes like starting to invest a few years earlier or eliminating investment fees of “only” one or two percent produces drastically different outcomes over your lifetime.
Tax laws are rules you must follow. However, most people don’t take the time to gain a basic understanding of them. This lack of knowledge results in paying tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary taxation over a lifetime.
Many people ignore legally binding contracts and disclosures when using financial products ranging from credit cards to mutual funds to insurance. Learning the rules will allow you to simplify your financial life and simultaneously achieve superior financial outcomes.
Creating Your Own Blueprint
Once you grasp the importance of creating your own narrative and understand which actions move the needle, you can create your own blueprint to build the FI lifestyle you desire. And you can get there faster than you might have previously thought possible.
Rather than providing one-size-fits-all advice, Choose FI is meant to be used to create your own adventure. You can focus on the actions that make the most sense wherever you are in your financial journey.
We want to make the concept of FI accessible and achievable to the masses. This is best done by sharing a wide variety of stories demonstrating how people have overcome different and often seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Challenges of Writing This Book
The advantage of consuming this information in a book over a podcast format is that we are able to take concepts that emerged randomly from week to week and compile them in a linear fashion. You can refer back to the book as often as you like, whenever you find the need.
The downside is that a book is finite, while the podcast can continue on. In order to compile the podcast interviews into a manageable manuscript, we had draw an arbitrary cut off line for the interviews included in the book.
Because of this, some of the best stories told on the ChooseFI podcast didn’t make the book. A few examples:
The story of Vincent Pugliese in Episode 59 had personal appeal to me. Vincent started as a newspaper photographer and became an entrepreneur, just as my father had done. Vincent shares my love for the Pittsburgh Steelers so much that he ignored his frugal nature and bought scalped tickets to see them play in Super Bowl XLIII, just as I did.
Jillian Johnsrud told her inspiring story in Episode 84. She is raising a large family that includes biological and adopted children. She and her husband started their journey to FI living on his military salary and her small income from a variety of low paying jobs. While this sounds like a path to a life of financial struggles for most, they achieved FI in their mid-thirties!
Deanna Broaddus was interviewed in Episode 106, sharing her journey from financial and spiritual bankruptcy as an addict. Billy shared his story of pursuing FI after spending a decade in prison in Episode 111. Each made dramatic turnarounds in their personal and financial lives and both are on the path to FI.
Naseema McElroy was featured in Episode 112. She’s an African-American woman who started her journey to FI as a new mom, living in a high cost of living area, with a million dollars of debt. Within a few years, she was well on her way to FI.
Validating Universal Principles
These stories and many others are each relatable and inspiring to a specific audience and would have complemented the already interesting stories of those in the book. Including more stories like these would have made the book even more compelling and motivating.
However, listening to each of these stories and many others led me to a powerful conclusion. As remarkable as these stories are, they all apply the principles and tactics already outlined in the book. Individual stories look very different, but the principles that ultimately lead to FI are truly universal.
Choosing FI isn’t easy. This is evidenced by the average savings rate in the United States hovering around 5%. It’s hard to choose to do something different from those who surround you. Even two income households struggle to save money and break the narrative that keeps most people trapped in traditional jobs until their 60s or later.
It is vital to create an alternative narrative to guide our lives. This is true for high earners, two income households, and those without children who start with an easier path to FI.
This principle is even more vital for low earners, one income households, large families, single parents, minorities who face unique challenges, recovering addicts, others with past struggles, or those in high cost of living areas that make it seemingly impossible to pursue FI.
Choosing FI means rejecting the idea that our past defines our future. When you create a different narrative and genuinely believe it, it drives you to start taking the necessary actions and persist through inevitable challenges required to make that story reality.
The financial principles we outline are universal. Once you align your values with your money, actions that to many look like challenges or sacrifices become logical steps on your way to a better life.
In the words of Jean Chatzky, The Today Show’s Financial Editor, “it (the FI movement) has grown to be a movement in large part because of a podcast called ChooseFI.” I’m honored and excited for the opportunity to join forces with Brad and Jonathan on this project to produce another outlet to spread the life changing message of FI.
We created this book to help you to Choose FI and create your personalized blueprint to build the life of your dreams. Order your copy today.
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* * *[Contributing Editor Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]