Preparing for Camp Mustache SE (South East) 2017, I was pondering about how much effect did personal finance blogs, podcasts and community had on my life ever since I got exposed to this exciting world of personal finance and FI/RE (Financial Independence / Retire Early).
That’s why I decided to list 8 of the actions I took as a result of my mentors (credits at the bottom). It’s amazing how people from around the globe can inspire and have such impact on many people’s lives – and that’s what I intend to do as well in the near future, starting with this post.
1. Started tracking my Net Worth
After spending one year in the US circa 2012, my finances started to get more complicated than I was used to. I was talking to a colleague and told him that I have an idea for an app that will aggregate all financial accounts for people in one place (bank accounts, credit cards, bills). His reaction was: “have you tried Mint.com?” After downloading Mint, I realized they did exactly what I was thinking about, and started tracking my net worth. I like the Dough Roller’s analogy of Net Worth as your “game score” – it shows you progress on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. As the Mad Fientist explains, a strong net worth empowers you even before you reach FI to make bold moves and decisions, because you have a nice, fat safety net in case something happens. Also, being a Mustachian means you stop comparing yourself to others, rather compare your progress and achievements over time.
2. Realized it’s possible to achieve FI much sooner than typical “retirement age”
Growing up in the 90’s no one told me there is an option to retire early, I thought only rich, millionaires have an option to sit in coffee shops or go to the beach on weekdays. The term “financial independence” wasn’t in my vocabulary, and I didn’t think us, “normal people” – have a chance of retiring in our 30’s, 40’s or even 50’s without winning the lottery or sell a startup for millions of $$$. Towards the end of 2014 I bumped into a few personal finance blogs, then podcasts and the concept of FI (Financial Independence) was discovered to me. The more I read and listened, the more I realized it can be made a reality for my family and I, should I just make a few tweaks to my lifestyle and choices.
Now, 3 years after reading the first personal finance blog post, we are heading in the right direction towards FI, with enough F-You money to support our lifestyle as Jim Collins likes to say.
3. Moved from NYC to South Florida (geo-arbitrage)
Living abroad (for me the US was abroad) always fascinated me. My wife even remembers than on our first (unofficial) date I told her I am planning to live a few years in the US. So in 2011 when the opportunity knocked on my door in the shape of relocation from Israel to NYC by the startup I worked for, I grabbed it with both hands. My wife, our 11 months old baby daughter and I packed our things, said goodbye to family and friends, and move to NYC. Fast-forward to 2015: the startup I worked for was acquired by a global, publically traded, 6,000 employees corporation in 2012. We became a family of 4 with the addition of a baby boy (he is the only one of us that can become US president one day). We got green card, and decided to stay in the US at least until we can apply for citizenship (2019). Then, a combination of factors, lead me to look for an alternative location for us to spend the next few years in the US: a post or an interview of Mr. Money Mustache where he said you should live where it makes sense for you, not due to circumstances or because it’s hard to move, a business trip to Pensacola, FL in December, when I found myself walking on the beach with sleeveless shirt in the middle of December, an acquisition of a company which was headquartered in Fort-Lauderdale, FL made my employer open a new office there, warm weather, our desire to stay on the east coast, lower cost of living and high quality school system – made us look for and find a new home in Cooper City, FL. Later on, while listening to one of the Mad Fientist’s podcasts, I realized this move is called “geo-arbitrage”, which means moving from a high cost-of-living area to a low cost-of-living area, while keeping (or increasing) your income level. Ha!
4. Biking from the office to my home (one-way)
Before we moved from NYC to South Florida everyone told me that we will need 2 cars. In my neighborhood I see 2-3 and even more vehicles per house on average. Well, guess what – we didn’t need a second car. The only challenge was to pick-up my son from school on days I need to go to the office. My son’s school ends at 2:45pm, and my office is 25 minutes away. So we decided to be creative and our routine looks like this: twice a week I go to the office. I mount my bike on my car, then my wife, my son and I are leaving the house in the morning, dropping him off at school, then my wife drops me off at the office and drives back home, and I bike home at the end of the day (~13 miles which takes me just under an hour). This turned out to be tripled value routine: no need for a second car, I have a built-in exercise during the week and I listen to my favorite podcasts on the way home!
During Camp Mustache SE 2017, I had the chance of meeting Pete (also known as Mr. Money Mustache) who challenged me to add an electric bike kit and use my bike for the entire trip to the office (and save car pollution in parallel). I might even do that!
5. Bought my primary residence, refinanced my mortgage a year later
Between 2011 and 2015 we spent 4 years in Riverdale, New York – a beautiful high-end neighborhood in the Bronx, renting a 2 bedroom apartment on the 10th floor of an apartment building with a small balcony and gorgeous view to the Hudson River. Everything was managed and maintained, it even took us time to get used to the doorman opening the door for us and helping with the groceries bags. Snow was shoveled, grass was trimmed, flowers were planted, and holiday lights were hanged on the trees near the entrance to our building. It was a good choice at the time – we had to get used to the US in general, to NYC and to our neighborhood, the different culture, procedures and weather. However, year after year the rent kept increasing and all other expenses felt closing in on me. My dad lived in New-Jersey, and in order to drive and visit him, we had to pass 3 toll bridges summing up to $20 in toll charges! Pre-school was expensive, as well summer camps, groceries and nights out in the city. I knew buying a house I can afford would be a much cost-efficient decision, but houses where we lived were way out of our budget. After the decision to move to south Florida was made, it took me one day (!) to find a home we liked and was within our budget. We bought it in 2015, financed it with a mortgage and a year after refinanced the mortgage to an even lower rate (the refinance saved us more than $40,000 over the mortgage lifetime, which we shrunk from 19 years we had left to 15 years). That was my first real-estate purchasing experience in the US, thanks to personal finance blogs and podcasts. Also, once you enter this world of personal finance, you find like-minded friends to talk to them about this topic – one of them sparked the idea to refinance as he was going through the same process. We ended up refinancing in parallel, comparing rates and savings 🙂
6. Started investing in real-estate
The Internet is a wonderful thing for associative personalities – you read one blog post, then click on a link and find yourself in another blog, and another. Soon enough after I started listening to personal finance podcasts, I bumped into the BiggerPockets podcast and dove right into the real-estate investing world. The reason I like BP so much is that they encourage people to use real-estate as a vehicle to reach FI sooner, they interview all kinds of people – some made a career investing in real-estate with dozens and hundreds of units, others just bought 4-5 properties to complement their 9-to-5 income or to have enough F-You Money to take some time off and travel the world if they desire to. Josh & Brandon from the BP podcast encourage people to get out of the “Analysis-Paralysis” phase and take action – which I did after a few months of research. To date I bought 3 rental properties and invested in a few other real-estate related ventures. I truly believe that (if done right) real-estate investing is a great way to build wealth, gain tax benefits and diversify your portfolio. It’s not hassle free for sure, much more headache and responsibility (and risk) is involved with real-estate, and hopefully it will be worth it.
7. Signed up for a CFP program
Learning and getting educated is part of my core DNA. I always enjoy diving into a new world of content, gain more knowledge and eventually turn it into actions. Shortly after I found the personal finance world through blogs and podcasts, I realized this is something I’m passionate about. Combined with my aspiration to help people and bring more justice to the world, I decided I want to pursue this profession in some shape or form (more on that on my Vision post). But in order to do that, I need to get myself educated. It’s true that there is a lot of criticism about college education and the fact that in 3-4 years of acquiring a college degree technologies change the world at a faster pace than the material they teach you in college. But regardless of titles or degrees, I really wanted to get a more structured education about the personal finance realm. The CFP (Certified Financial Planner) certification covers this spectrum of personal finance, and it’s a thorough program that takes you through the pillars of personal finance and financial planning: debt, credit, savings, investments, insurance, taxes and estate planning. My plan is to complete this program in 2017, take the CFP exam and get certified. However, if you are as avid blog readers and podcasts listeners as I am, you probably know that education can be obtained by doing just that – reading blogs, resources and listening to podcasts – so I’m not holding off my pursuit to share my knowledge and experience with others until I get this certification, but rather will do this in parallel – and you all will benefit from this journey.
8. Started my own blog
On my Vision post I’ll describe how I plan to share this personal finance knowledge and experience with others, with the goal to make it as simple as possible so that every person (especially Americans) can benefit from the tools I’ll be creating and sharing. The main challenge I see is that many personal finance blogs and podcasts are targeting people who want to get educated about this topic. This is a growing community, but unfortunately still a minority of the population. Most people just hear the word finance and their brain just blocks out. They don’t want to know their 401K options, how to reduce their tax liabilities or how to invest in VTSAX (the Total Stock Market Vanguard mutual fund) with low management fees. They want to focus on their families, careers, hobbies and enjoy their free time. I get it – personal finance is not a sexy topic. The concept of Money and how to use it properly is not something they teach us at school (yet) or even at home (my parents never taught me that, because they didn’t know). We know how to spend it due to all the smart marketers out there, but not how to leverage it to build wealth and our path to financial freedom. This blog is the beginning of a larger platform I intend to build, with the goals to simplify personal finance to the average Joe or Jane, taking them hand-in-hand to the next level of their personal finance lives. What I’ll need from you, Money Cruisers is your honest feedback and encouragement so I can get motivated to move faster throughout this journey. There is an Israeli song I like called “Kind Word” – the essence of the song is that sometimes all we need is one kind word (or two) to make our day and provide us the motivation to keep up. If you made it here and you like what you read, please share your feedback on the comments section below.
P.S. – here are my favorite blogs and podcasts who made me take the actions above and changed my life for the better:
Mr. Money Mustache – http://www.mrmoneymustache.com
The Dough Roller – http://www.doughroller.com
Mad Fientist – http://www.madfientist.com
BiggerPockets – http://www.biggerpockets.com
Listen Money Matters – http://www.listenmoneymatters.com