Posts tagged simpleliving
Should We Sacrifice Time For Money?
There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Ivan here.

If I were so inclined, I could convince someone to get me a job in finance within the next six months, making a conservative salary of $70,000. If I were to take this job - and Jennie continues to work at her current company - in 6-7 years we’d have enough saved to never have to work again.

This isn’t my opinion. This is math based on our current savings/spending rate - assuming that neither of us gets a single raise over the next decade. This also assumes no financial mishaps over the next five years: long term medical bills, family, layoffs, war, nuclear fallout, or having twins/triplets. But when we assume no raises, and the fact that Jennie and I are human beings and not mannequins (and won’t just let events steamroll us), I think we can manage a good portion of these risks.

Knowing all this:

Why are you and Jennie leaving for your RTW (round the world) trip at age 30 (September 2018) when you could leave at age 37 and never have to worry about money again?


The Costs and Benefits of FIRE

(Financial Independence, Retire Early)

I admire the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) mindset. I think it’s a wonderful and empowering way to give people something to work towards that’s drastically different from how society teaches us to live. It’s especially useful to help people get out of debt and live within their means.

But beyond this is where I start to question its usefulness. After a certain point, you’re simply sacrificing time for money - with diminishing returns.

Here are the five limitations of FIRE:

5 Limitations of FIRE


1. Not all time is created equal

Jennie and I view our thirties as the prime of our lives. Not just because good health is never guaranteed to anyone, but because the risks we take today have more upside than downside. We currently have no mortgage to pay, no kids to feed, and no aging family members to take care of. Psychologically, we’ll probably never be more amenable to change than we are in our 30s - less set in our ways, more open to new ideas.

And what’s the worst case scenario if we get tired of travelling and life as a digital nomad? We’d simply pick up where we left off and go back to a 9-5 job. Is that so hard in our thirties?

If someone came to us today and offered five extra years in our early thirties in exchange for 10 years of my 50s, 60s or 70s, we would take that trade in a heartbeat. That’s how we value time. You may not have the same values, but the point is that time isn’t created equal, and we shouldn’t be sacrificing it for a “number” and forget to actually live.  

Side note: I wouldn’t do the same trade for five years of my early twenties. I was an idiot back then.

2. Everything compounds over time

Not just money. Bad habits, unproductive hours, stress, meaningless relationships also compounds over time. We all know the opportunity cost of not investing: historically it’s 8-10% a year. But what’s the opportunity cost of lost time, time you could’ve used to figure out what gives you meaning and purpose?

How do we put a value on that?

It’s easier to fixate on money because it’s the most convenient thing to measure, but I think it’s a poor substitute for what we really want to do and the person we want to be.

At the end of the day, no matter how much you accumulate, money is just options on the future. By setting a goal to achieve FIRE 7-10 years down the line, all you’re doing is delaying a decision you needed to make anyway. Seven years later, you’re “done,” holding a bunch of options you could’ve used 7 years ago to do what was important to you. Now you still gotta figure out what that is. In other words, you’re back to square one - only with a few extra bytes of memory in your bank account.

3. Beyond the bare essentials, money has no utility

Daggett: I've paid you a small fortune.
Bane: And this gives you power over me?
- The Dark Knight Rises

I attended a private high school in Taipei, where pretty much everyone (else) came from wealthy families. I’ll never forget something that a friend of mine told me. It’s a statement that I’ve thought about for a long time, because I think it’s both funny and insightful.

He said to me, “there’s nothing to buy.”

It’s true. Our basic needs have stayed the same since the age of the caveman: food, clothing, and shelter. With more money, we simply invent more complicated ways to satisfy those needs. But fundamentally, they’re the same. In my opinion, the luxury mark-up for anything is just a 20% markup for quality and an 80% antidote to boredom and existential dread.  

What’s more, people allow themselves to become compromised by money. Money makes them keep their heads down, accepting the dirt that needs to be shoveled, to prop up a system they don’t believe in. So nothing changes. I understand that impulse very well: there’s a more expensive mortgage to pay for, higher end restaurants to dine at - a lifestyle to maintain.

Outside of covering my basic needs and the basic needs of my old and decrepit future self, I just don’t see a point. When you don’t need the one thing that somebody can offer, you take away their power over you. You allow yourself to become completely unpredictable.

4. We have no interest in [early] retirement

None at all. Jennie and I are repulsed by the whole concept. What would we do in retirement? Read all the books we’ve been meaning to read? Travel to all the places we’ve been meaning to travel to? We could just as easily do those things now. In fact, we do.

And if we’re actually working on something that we enjoy, something that’s tied to our passion, and embedded into our very lifestyle, to retire from our work would be the same as retiring from life. The things we work on now should be the things we can build upon for the rest of our lives.

5. We’re skeptical of external measures of success

It's us against the world.

Remember that scene in The Dark Knight where Heath Ledger’s Joker sets fire to the mafia’s mountain of cash? The looks of confusion on their faces is priceless. They literally don’t know what to do next. It’s not that I want to be the Joker per se, I just don’t want to have to measure myself by other people’s metrics.

Whether you make $1,000,000 a year or have $1,000,000 sitting in your savings or brokerage account - that’s what society tells you you’re worth. You could choose to feel good or feel bad about it, but the end result is the same: your inability to decouple your internal sense of satisfaction and meaning with some external measure of value.

By making your own rules, you gain the leverage to say or do anything that you feel is right. From there, a vista of new options open up that you never thought was possible.

Our Goal: To Lead a

Well-Ordered and Time-Rich Life

Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.
— Gustave Flaubert

This entire post was just my roundabout way of saying that an obsession with anything, FIRE or otherwise, isn’t healthy. Delaying gratification to the point where you miss out on the prime of your youth simply doesn’t make sense. Or as Warren Buffett puts it, “it’s like saving up sex for your old age.”

Are the basic needs of Jennie, me and the members of my family taken care of for the foreseeable future? Yes? Then money becomes instantly irrelevant until that answer trends toward a no. If achieving FIRE happens naturally within the flow of our life and the direction Jennie and I want it to go, then that’s all well and good. But if not? We really couldn’t care less.

The narrative that people often adopt is: “If I can just get to X, then I can give myself permission to do Y.” FIRE is no different. But here’s the truth:

You never needed permission to do anything.

The Story of My First Paycheck
Price is what you pay, value is what you get
— Warren Buffett

Ivan here. Let me tell you the story of my first paycheck. 

I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 2012 on a midsummer’s afternoon in downtown Toronto. Friday. Despite the muggy weather, I was in a full suit enroute to a networking event in the financial district. 

I was 23, a newly minted management consultant fresh from training week (in Baltimore of all places), where I learned important consulting concepts like thought leadership (Googling things and making Powerpoints) and client relationship management (stepping over the lowest bar).  

But I digress. Enroute to this senior executive’s meet and greet, I happened to glance at my bank account on my phone and was shocked by the non-zero balance of $1,800. A decent two week's pay when you factored in Canadian taxes and maxed out retirement contributions. 

A wave of relief washed over me. Coming out of school with no debt and some savings, I chose to delay my start date by eight months to travel and spend time with Jennie. This also meant that towards the end of those eight months, I was reduced to a diet of omelettes for breakfast and lunch and Shin Ramen with American processed cheese for dinner (don’t knock it until you try it).

My relief was soon replaced by a sense of uneasiness. It was a feeling that would stay with me for the next three years. 

Is This It? 

From 2012 to 2015, through a combination of performance bonuses, raises, and promotions, my paycheck went up 5%, 10%, then finally 50%. While I was grateful for the influx of cash into my life, I noticed that the higher my price tag rose, the more uneasy I became. 

I couldn’t put my finger on why. Being a cautious person, I responded by downsizing my apartment and living like an ascetic monk. As a result, my savings account swelled to levels I’d never seen before. 

Yet the extra savings didn’t provide me with any additional feeling of security. The uneasiness only intensified. 

Late one night on the subway, as a colleague and I were heading home from a long day of work, I found myself wondering out loud,  

“Haven’t you ever thought there was more than this? The paychecks, the promotions, the mortgages, the kids. Retirement. I mean, these are all good things, and I’m not complaining - but can this be it?” 

There was a long pause as he looked at me.

“I know what you mean,” he said finally. As the train pulled out of another station, we both lapsed into silence. 

That first $80 paycheck made me feel richer than all the money in my savings account ever did.

That same evening I went home and wrote a short story in one sitting. I titled it Hunger. It’s about an ordinary guy rising through the ranks of a corporation. He was always hungry no matter how much food he consumed.  

Writing that story made me feel better. Better than I’d felt in years. The uneasiness went away. So I wrote another. And another. Then at the end of 2015, I wrote an investment article and published it on Seeking Alpha. People read it and commented on it. Unexpectedly, the site paid me $80 for it. 

Let me tell you, that first $80 made me feel richer than all the money in my savings account. 

You’ll Never Make It If You Fake It

I’m a writer and a capitalist. A strange combination. It means a part of me wants to tell the truth and write about real things magically, but the other part is just a sociopath looking for human weakness. 

The capitalist in me understands that people are always going to get paid less than they’re worth. Because if any of us were paid more than we’re worth, we’d eventually be fired and replaced. That’s the free market. Supply and demand. It also explains why everyone from investment bankers to billionaire hedge fund managers feel like they never get the compensation they deserve. To quote the novelist Haruki Murakami, "we're only compensated for what we have to put up with."

Our salaries are our price tags. With few exceptions, jobs are always scarcer than people. Therefore, most of us will always be sold at a discount.

But there’s something beyond the price tag. What we get out of our work: value. The things in life we would do for free if money wasn’t an issue. 

I knew where I derived my value. Being able to sit in a room, alone, reading and writing everyday was all I ever wanted since I was a kid - but the capitalist in me wanted to keep pretending, to keep chasing an elusive sense of security. Had I stayed, I never would have been able to quiet that nagging feeling, that I was sleepwalking through a series of milestones, waiting for my life to begin. 

Two Steps toward Happiness

Happiness is straightforward and can be achieved in two steps. 

  1. The first part is hard: You try to find something that energizes you and makes you feel good to wake up every morning, one where you don’t stray too far from your true self. 
  2. The second part’s easier: All you have to do is try to keep doing that thing for as long as you can afford to keep the lights on. 

At the end of the day, that’s financial freedom. I’ve learned that’s all money is good for. 

If you’re willing to consume less and focus on building value, for yourself and others, it takes less than you think to get everything you could ever ask for. 

And after that? They can't ever buy you again.