What is Freedom?

According to Webster’s dictionary, freedom is:

Freedom: noun free·dom \ˈfrē-dəm\ the quality or state of being free: such as

a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous freedom from care: ease, facility spoke the language with freedom: the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken answered with freedom: improper familiarity : boldness of conception or execution : unrestricted use gave him the freedom of their home

As we can see, freedom has many meanings. Independence is probably the most accurate definition of freedom from my point of view. To be free from all cares and from everything is to be independent.

Thesaurus.com ranked the following as the highest rated synonyms to freedom:

  • independence
  • ability
  • exemption
  • flexibility
  • immunity
  • opportunity
  • power
  • privilege
  • right

So what is freedom really?

Here at Atypical Life, we strive for freedom. We strive for personal freedom, to decide where we want to be and do what we want to do when we want to do it. We are pursuing financial freedom, where we will be able to live out our days without having to worry about working anymore.

Merriam-Webster got it right saying, liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. As a society, we have become slaves to our money. Because of this, we are also slaves to jobs we do not like and do not want. Thesaurus.com concurs with its highest ranking synonym, independence. That is what we are truly seeking.

Freedom Defined by the US Constitution

In society today, we are told that we are free. The US education system does a good job of educating us about the freedoms that we have in the United States. We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, right to own guns, right to be represented in court, right to own property, among others. All of these freedoms make it seem like the US is the pinnacle of freedom and that we all should feel free our whole lives.

The US has many rights and freedoms. However, these rights and freedoms seem only to free the fringe of society. Why are the rest of us left to be slaves to work?

Why do we not feel free? Society strangles freedom.

The freedoms afforded by the US Constitution and its amendments are a good start, but corporate and societal culture need to transform to produce a culture more centered around personal freedom.

Too many people spend their lives with their head to the grindstone to earn a living just to get by. They buy things day in and day out that society says you mush have to be happy. They get married to a spouse that they love, but after months and years of continuing to push through work, their marriage falls apart. Oh well, that is what happens in such a cutthroat society. One day they wake up and they are 70 years old and wonder where their life went. What happened to all those years I was going to have to enjoy retirement and the American dream?

I watched a good Youtube video last night about a couple that was chiropractors in the US and they were miserable. They both worked 12 hour days non-stop and when they returned home from work, they were too tired to enjoy each other anymore. They had become slaves to work and to money. They sold everything they had in the US and moved to Costa Rica where they reignited their love for each other and began to love life again. She wrote a book Happier than a Billionaire detailing their journey to a happier life. The best quote from the video was this:

We are all miserable. It’s okay to be fat and hate your wife. Join the club. In society today, it’s what it takes to get by.

They decided that was not true and pursued an alternative.

Today, the typical middle-class American is brought up in society knowing their path in life consists of:

  • 1-2 years of preschool
  • K-12 = 13 years of primary schooling
  • 4+ years of college (5 or more is okay because you are figuring out your life, right?)
  • Now at age 22-23 start work for 40-50 years
  • Buy a house
  • Get married ($$$$$)
  • Have children (done right costs >$250,000 per child)
  • At 62 if you’re lucky probably closer to 70 RETIRE!
  • Live out the rest of your days tired because you worked your life away during your most vibrant years

For the first 15 years of schooling, we are probably going to school for free. Our parent’s taxes pay for public schooling. School teaches us the fundamentals of all kinds of academic pursuits and gives us a good basis to figure out what we enjoy. During these years, the government has decided for us what we need to know and what we do not need to know. Is that freedom? During our formative years, we probably do not have enough knowledge base to decide what we do and do not need to know. Still, it is not freedom for others to choose for us.

During our years in middle and high school, we are told that college is the way of the future. If you do not have a degree, then you will just be an unemployed bozo on the side of the street begging for money. They neglect to show us the other ways to make money to achieve freedom, so the majority of us from the middle class and above head on into college to pursue higher learning.

I was lucky enough to have chosen a highly employable bachelor’s degree in engineering, so I was able to get out of college after “only” 5 years. 1 year consisted of co-oping work, so I only really attended school for 4 years.

After graduation, we are now expected to get a job. But wait. Most people got a degree in an unemployable field, so what is the answer to that? Let’s go to grad school and get further in debt. We should not worry about student loan debt since it is in pursuit of education which will gain us a salary for life. Many people pursue grad school because the employment opportunities were not there when they graduated, or they didn’t play the employment game correctly to land the big job. So now they are stuck in school gaining more debt and lengthening their time to freedom.

When we finally do graduate, we are expected to get that big time “real world” job. Our wonderful government in the US decides for us what retirement age is. This age is not actually the age that you are allowed to retire, but it is the age that we can start collecting on social security. Since many people are still a slave to their money at 60 they cannot retire until they can collect on full social security which now comes around 67 or higher for my generation. Myself, I do not factor social security into retirement savings projections because of the uncertainty in it. We will provide for ourselves. If social security is around for us, all the better.

By the time we have reached retirement age, we are finally free. We are no longer beholden to the man and can pursue what we want when we want. However, since we spent 40-50 years grinding our most vibrant years away we are too tired to really enjoy what the world has to offer.

Yes, we can now enjoy the company of our family and our loved ones more often. We can even enjoy the freedom to travel around and see the world. But just ponder the days, when you were 25-40. The fittest and strongest days of your life. This is the time that Atypical Life aims to be free for.

This is why we feel strangled by society. We feel that the expectations set by society have to be followed. To go against the flow of society is to be a social outcast and to not be accepted. We are taught that acceptance in society is important, so we need to follow the flow and fit it with everyone. Because too many people just accept the status quo, our personal freedom is strangled.

Personal Freedom

We have the freedom to live the life that we want to. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise!

In order to live the life you want, you have to cast away society’s feelings and decide for yourself what you want most in life. We still have to live within the laws of the world, however, it is not difficult to design a life for yourself that fulfills and surpasses your wildest dreams. If your dream is to live where you are now and do what you are doing, congrats you are already free. But if you are tired and worn out from work, do not hesitate to change. We have to make personal freedom a priority because no one else will do it on our behalf.

Here at Atypical Life, personal freedom is being location independent. We want to be able to pick up and move around whenever we want. This does not mean we will not have a house/apartment wherever it is we are located at the moment. We want to be free from the obligation to be located in a certain place because of work. We want to travel and see the world. To do that, we need the freedom of location.

Financial Freedom

In the US we often hear:

Freedom comes at a price.

I cannot agree more with this statement. It usually means a human sacrifice in war, but for financial freedom, it has a more direct meaning. The price for financial freedom is your expenses for the rest of your life. There are too many investment decisions to talk about here, but the point when your investments are able to grow and become self-sustaining is when we have financial freedom.

Financial freedom seems like a dream to most of the societal drones that go along with their heads to the grindstone. However, if we save our money and invest it wisely, we can free ourselves. The more we pursue financial freedom and actually put real effort towards it, the quicker it comes.

In the pursuit of freedom, less is more.

Financial freedom does not mean buying everything you can possibly dream of and never running out of money. It refers to being able to cover your reasonable living costs forever. At this point, we have the freedom to tell people, we don’t need your money, you don’t own me. This is the truly liberating feeling that comes with financial freedom.

Freedom

Whether we know it or not, freedom is what we all want. Innately, we all want the ability to choose for ourselves what we want, when we want, where we want. Society has thrust itself upon us trying to tell us this is not possible. We need to take it upon ourselves to make freedom a priority because no one else will. Freedom means different things to different people, but we should all strive to achieve our own version of freedom.

Here at Atypical Life, freedom is paramount.

I would love to hear your thoughts on freedom.

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freedom, what is freedom,

freedom, what is freedom,

Capitalism is Killing Us

He who dies with the most toys, wins. ~Pops

I couldn’t help but love this quote and write about it when I heard my wonderful dad utter the words. To die with the most toys seems to be the pinnacle of capitalism. We should acquire more and more toys all through life until we have so many we do not know what to do with all of them.

As we grow up, our parents by us toys. They see us enjoying ourselves with these toys, but many times they see us enjoying the box more than the toy itself. Oh well. The answer to that is to buy us better toys!

After we have grown to an age where we no longer need kids toys, the products evolve to adult “toys”. I am not talking about sexual risque toys, but the gadgets and gizmos that we all seem so obsessed over these days. In the millennial age, we have grown to expect information to always be available and for us to always be connected to the world. In order for this to be possible we need a huge list of toys:

  • smart phone for me
  • smart phone for wife
  • tablet
  • 2nd tablet
  • laptop computer
  • 2nd laptop computer
  • Desktop computer for hard computer processing tasks
  • camera 1
  • camera 2
  • etc…

electronics

At this point, the best thing to do is to buy a storage unit to keep our older toys in and continue down the path of buying more toys.

Where else are we supposed to keep all of these things?

I suppose we could always buy a larger house to accommodate all of the toys. Now, since we have a larger house, we can buy more toys to fill it up. It is unacceptable to have a space look empty. We definitely need to buy something to fill the space.

As you can see, there is a never ending stream of toys that need buying to be accepted in society today. To be seen as influential and successful, you must have all of these things. These things are what truly define us. It’s how society can know that we are successful. And everyone wants to be successful, right?

Capitalism is Killing Us

Actually, capitalism and the acquisition of toys is slowly killing us. It has a stranglehold on our lives and is slowly taking away any hope of freedom, instead delivering us to the man. In a world of constant connectivity, we are bombarded with more and more capitalism every day. This drives the world to believe we need more possessions.

We cannot let our possessions define who we are. We, ourselves, are the only ones capable of truly defining who we are.

If we succumb to the powers of capitalism and buy more and more goods, then we will be overcome by them and they will own us instead of the other way around.

I am unsure as to whether my dad was serious or not when he spoke these words. “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” However, I know from experience that he a frugal man. He also taught me everything I know about the DIY philosophy and working with your hands. If we are able to fix something or make something ourselves, why should we pay someone else for it?

I grew up in a frugal household where we did not buy too many possessions. The ones we did buy had meaning. My parents also gave me an allowance in which to learn my own spending and saving habits. The freedom of having my own money allowed me to succumb to the powers of capitalism and buy a stereo that I didn’t need and other miscellaneous things. I eventually learned to only spend on the things that matter most.

Certainly, we all have to make the decision of what level of possessions is enough for our tastes and attitudes. To do this without the intervention of advertising is extremely difficult. We have to sit back and reflect on ourselves and what we want most in life to truly answer this.

Just ask yourself this question:

Will this (insert purchase here) bring me closer to my desired life?

Wait and ponder about this purchase for a month or 2 and then, after that time, if you still decide that you truly want it, you might just need it. Having time to ponder the wisdom of a purchase allows us to back away from the marketing and advertising hype and answer for ourselves whether we want something or not.

Freeing Yourself from Capitalism

Too many times we fall to the whims of marketers that tell us what we want and need. We are letting someone else decide what is best for us.

Is this freedom?

I think not. Freedom is deciding things for yourself. If you want to have someone else decide for you, then that is also your decision and you are free to do that. However, when marketing is forced upon you, it is hard to avoid and freedom of thought is lost.

Capitalism has been shoved down our throats and is plastered in our faces all of the time now. Anytime we consume TV or the internet, we are thrust face first into the capitalistic tendency to always want more. We have to do ourselves a favor and take a step back to free ourselves. It is okay to view the advertisements, but we cannot let them decide for us what is best for ourselves.

Freeing Yourself from Possessions

The second part of freeing yourself from capitalism is freeing yourself from possessions. Very few of us were born into a family that truly embraces less. Most of us grow up having expectations surrounding ourselves of what we are supposed to do and accomplish in life. We are expected to be successful and to be a contributing member of society. In doing so, we are expected to have a house full of things and have all of our own belongings so that we can be “free.”

Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying things and, as you can see from my 2017 Goals, you know that I have a problem with buying way too many things.

In order to free ourselves from our possessions we must start to let go of sentimental value they hold. Look at them as just things and decide whether you need them or not.

Growing up, I was taught to be frugal and to not buy what we can make. However, the lesson that was missed was about getting rid of things. In our household, growing up we only bought the things we needed for the activities that we were pursuing, however, we never got rid of the things we no longer used. This created quite a collection of things, my favorite of the bunch, a 30 year old 8 foot wing to a RC model airplane. It has sat in storage in my parent’s house my entire life never to be used again, but it certainly was cool…

We have started getting rid of many things in our house trying to pare down on the amount of stuff we have.

In the pursuit of freedom, less is more.

 

The less you have, the more freedom you have to move around and decide for yourself what in life truly matters. We have decided here at Atypical Life that we would like to be location independent, and having less is key to accomplishing this goal. One only has to look to the Buddhist monks for guidance. In their classical rules, they are only allowed these 8 possessions:

  1. an inner robe
  2. an outer robe
  3. an additional robe to protect from the elements when necessary
  4. a bowl
  5. a water-strainer
  6. a razor to shave his head
  7. a needle and thread
  8. any necessary approved medicine

buddhist monk

The Buddhist monks are models of minimalism. I don’t expect myself or many others to follow such strict rules on minimalism, however, we can take as an example all that is required to live on. There are no excesses in the Buddhist approved list.

In Conclusion

Capitalism is slowly killing us. It restricts our freedom of choice, while convincing us that we still have a choice. In order to combat this, we have to make freedom a priority for ourselves. We need to relinquish the stranglehold that our possessions have on us. We cannot let others decide for us what we want. We have to decide for ourselves what is important. By deciding what is important to us, we have taken the first step towards freedom.

We cannot let our freedom come second!

How is your pursuit of freedom coming? Let us know in the comments.

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capitalism is killing us

Why I Decided to Share Our Finances

Sharing your finances, your income, your expenses, and your lifestyle with the world is seen as taboo. We all grow up hearing that it is unacceptable to ask how much money someone makes. But if we all started to share our income and expenses with each other, I believe we can liberate ourselves and help each other grow towards the atypical life of freedom.

When I shared Atypical Life with my parents, the first comment was:

Do you really want to share all of this information online? What about your family? Who is your target audience? ~Pops

I appreciate my dad’s input and understand where he is coming from. In his generation, it was seemingly unacceptable to share one’s income, even with their own family. I never learned how much money my own dad made until he was retired. I will not share it here, since sharing income is a very personal decision.

I hope to answer his concerns below.

Do you really want to share all of this information online?

scary man
What the media wants us to think all people are like.

Of course I want to share my finances online. The world is full of people that are scared by the media. The media does their best to make the world seem like a scary and unsafe place to live. The internet is only full of trolls and those trying to steal your personal information, right?

I am an optimist and do not believe all of the scare mongering that the media likes to put out. People are good at heart. I have no qualms about sharing my finances online. I have an engineering degree from a renowned university and make a reasonable salary for that degree. I have taken the chances that have been afforded to me and have been rewarded for taking those chances. Why is this something to hide?

If we all were to share our finances online, then we would be able to better compare how we are doing against the rest of society. Is the job we are doing underpaid in comparison or are we living the good life with a good company paying above average wages? This question and many more could be answered if we had access to the information that I want to provide to all of you.

The human resources department of every large company does market research to determine wage levels and set pay grades. This allows them to make sure they do not “pay you too much”. It goes to show, the information is out there and shared anonymously between companies, but is not available for the public, to do their own fact checking.

glassdoorGlassdoor is a company that allows you to share your income and job titles anonymously. This website is a great way to post your income levels for all to see, if you don’t want people to know your identity. You can contribute to the benefit of all by sharing your income and job, so we all can do comparisons across industry and the economy. It is also a good way to research prospective companies since you can leave reviews on the company culture and other information that is not easily available online.

Why I Share my Atypical Finances

I want to share my financial information to help people. Living the atypical life is great, but being able to help others achieve the atypical life is truly exciting! Through this blog, detailing my finances and tips on how to live the atypical life of freedom, I hope to inspire more to pursue freedom on their own terms. I will share my income while I am employed by my company along with the other benefits of employment.

The second part to sharing my finances is sharing my expenses. There are 2 reasons I want to share my expenses:

  1. to help my readers see that low expenses really are possible.
  2. to help keep me accountable and lower my expenses further.

mr money mustacheMr. Money Mustache was the first financial independence retire early (FIRE) blog I came across and he inspired me to pursue the atypical life of freedom. One of the main takeaways is that the lower your expenses, the less money needs to be saved for early retirement, and the more money you can save each month. These 2 effects compound together to bring freedom super quickly. By sharing my expenses with my readers and the world, I hope to inspire you to reduce your expenses as I reduce mine in the pursuit of freedom.

As seen from my 2017 goals, I hope to lower my monthly expenses by $300 per month on miscellaneous expenditures. By blogging about my monthly income and expenses I hope to control my own habits, so that we can live the atypical life of freedom from the man sooner.

By sharing my investment strategy and investment contributions, I hope to educate you about investing. Investing is always shrouded with mystery and portrayed as something best left to the experts. I hope to share my own journey through investing and show the endpoint that is super simple. I will be sharing all of the information that I wish I knew, when I started out on this journey 7 years ago. By sharing this information, I hope to shorten the length of time to investment enlightenment for all to follow.

Identity Theft Concerns

I am not concerned about identity theft. Atypical Life is anonymous (obviously my name is not Atypical), and will certainly stay that way until at least I leave the workforce. Sharing my income, expenses, and investments is just sharing values. In order for identity theft to happen, a thief would also need account numbers and lots of my personal information that is not available. Because of this, I am not concerned.

Atypical Life Target Audience

I will answer my dad’s final 2 concerns here. My target audience is all of my readers and the public that wants to know about freedom.

I hope to help people through my openness about finances and share with others our story about how we achieve freedom.

I would love to share Atypical Life with my family, however, there is the concern that they may be jealous because of the income level I am at after only working for a few years out of college. I understand the concern here, and will likely share this only with my family that I think would enjoy the read and learn something along the way. There really is no reason to be jealous of my income because it was all earned and deserved. Because of my engineering degree, my starting salary out of college is significantly above the average college graduate, but actually low to median for engineering salaries. This coupled with my acceptance of an expat assignment in China has allowed us to pursue an atypical life.

In Conclusion

Yes, I will share my finances here on Atypical Life. Sharing of our finances both income and expenses, I hope to inspire my readers to reduce their expenses, increase their income, and achieve the atypical life of freedom sooner. Sharing your finances online and in general is a deeply personal decision, and I believe the benefits to ourselves and society greatly outweigh the risks.

Thanks Pops for sharing your concerns and helping me to realize that freedom is paramount. blog post text

Do you have a blog? Do you share your finances online as well? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

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Minimalism: Living with Less

Minimalism is the act of living with less and the pursuit of living with the least amount reasonable in each situation. While away on vacation in Indonesia, I got a chance to relax and reflect on where I am in life and where I want to be. I read a wonderful book by Ben Night titled “Adopting the Minimalist Mindset”. Here at Atypical Life, we follow almost all of the suggestions in the book when it comes to managing money and frugality, however, we have also been overcome by possessions.

If you have read my 2017 goals for the year, then you will remember that I used to spend $600 per month on things or shopping. This budget over the past 4.5 years has ballooned our possessions to the point that we have lots of things and many that are just sitting around.

Minimalism is all about spending your time with the most valuable people and objects in your life. ~Ben Night

Ben pointed out what we already know. Pursuing the atypical life of freedom, we know that the time for experiences and the time for family and friends far outweighs the benefits of many possessions.

Because of our many possessions, I get to spend much of my time each week on maintenance and upkeep of all of these possessions. The main takeaway from Ben’s book for us was the below point:

Find something in your house each day and trash it, donate it, or give it away.

His book detailed lots of ways to declutter your house and had sections on each area of the house and how to declutter your life. I was struck by the above quote because, in general, instead of throwing things out or getting rid of things when we no longer use them, we stick them in the drawer or in the back of the closet in the distant chance that we may one day use them… You never know, right?

This hoarding habit has created a stockpile of stuff in our apartment here in China. Luckily, we had the chance when we moved here to donate a huge load of possessions to Goodwill. Not everyone gets this chance. Moving is a great opportunity to remove unneeded things. We were able to remove old kitchen appliances, sofas, beds, tables, kitchen cookware, clothes and many other things in the move.

Somehow we still ended up with junk boxed up by the movers and delivered halfway around the world to China!

If you have possessions that have been in the box for 3 months and you haven’t needed or used them, do you really need to keep them or should you just trash them?

I say make the atypical choice and get rid of them. The choice is up to you which method to use to liberate yourself from possessions.

  • Donate it
  • Trash it
  • Give it away

I have started going through our belongings each weekend and enjoying the process of getting rid of things. My first foray this year into freedom of possessions was to go through my clothing. I was able to donate nearly 30 lbs of clothing and free up space in my dresser and closet. I had been holding on to clothes that I didn’t like, weren’t comfortable, or didn’t fit, just because I paid for them. Maybe I thought I could wear them later and they would magically be better?

I have been cycling for nearly 15 years and acquiring clothing for nearly that long as well. I still have some clothing from my early days of riding, but it rarely if ever gets used anymore. It feels liberating to remove this old stuff and get rid of it. The goal for me now is to remove items and not to replace them.

This past weekend I spent some time going through our junk drawers. We all have these. It’s where we throw all of our small trinkets and whatchamacallits. We have 2 gigantic 4 drawer office filing cabinets full of files and junk. I went through most of these and was able to get rid of more old things that will never be used again. It truly is amazing how much stuff you accumulate over time.

Why do we keep all of this junk?

Its hard to understand the psychology behind hoarding, even in small doses. All of us have some small emotional attachment to our possessions. This small attachment makes us feel that we cannot possibly throw whatever it is out.

Maybe the attachment is rooted in the fact that we paid for it.

“Aunt Rosie” bought it for us, and even though we don’t like it, we can’t possibly get rid of it. She might notice!

I don’t use it now, but maybe, just maybe, in the future, I can find some use for it.

I was raised going to Boy Scouts. I love all of the experiences that Boy Scouts gave to me and the morals it instilled. The Boy Scout motto is:

Be Prepared.

The Boy Scout motto definitely influenced me. I try to always be prepared for anything that can happen, or any activity I want to participate in. I do my research and acquire the gear needed, even if it could be rented. The outrageous prices that vendors charge for renting gear, steers me to buying and bringing my own. Personal gear can be just the right size and suited just for you. Because of the my desire to be prepared, I have certainly accumulated quite the collection of outdoors gear. It also stops me from getting rid of it because I feel I may one day need it again even if I have already upgraded to better.

In Conclusion

I have started to free myself from my belongings. The atypical life of freedom not only applies to freedom of the man at work and financial freedom, but freedom from belongings. It is okay to maintain belongings and be prepared for whatever may come your way, but there is a time when it is time to let go.

I have just started this process. Ben Night suggested to get rid of one thing each day, and after a year or 2, you will be down to a reasonable amount of things. This journey is just beginning for me, but I already feel better knowing that I am releasing the stranglehold my belongings have over me.

Join me on our pursuit of freedom. Can you get rid of something everyday? Once per week? Let me know in the comments.

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minimalism, living life with less, less is more

Pain is Temporary, Quitting Lasts Forever

I have raced road bikes for about 10 years now. One of the quotes that was tossed around a lot within the cycling world is as follows:

Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever ~Lance Armstrong

In cycling and racing in particular this quote is used to say never give up, never give in. You always have a little bit more to give. To look back after a hard race and see that you lost because of not making the move at the correct time is demoralizing. As everyone says, hindsight is 20/20. You look at the opportunity lost and feel that you had more to give at the time, even though the pain seemed unbearable.

From Cycling to Work Perspective

Let’s look at this from an atypical perspective. We will apply my personal favorite cycling quote to work life. From cycling, we see the pain component of the quote as a neutral or positive, while the “quitting lasts forever” component as definitely negative. I am proud to never quit races. However, when looked at from a point of view of the atypical life of freedom, then “pain is temporary” is the negative working life, while “quitting lasts forever” is early retirement bliss.

The main takeaway from Lance’s quote is never quit. Does resigning from your day job to pursue a life of freedom constitute quitting?

I would argue no. Resigning from work is the start of a new beginning. We are not quitting, we are moving on to a new part of life where we can make the choices that make us happiest without our employer looking over our shoulder and questioning every move we make.

However, Lance says “quitting lasts forever”. The FIRE community longs for the forever of early retirement. Our retirement will be 2-5x longer than the typical American, and will be filled with many more wonderful memories. From exploring the world to actually getting to raise our children, the freedom that “quitting lasts forever” allows us to experience it all. While we are a slave to working life, we are not able to experience the prime time hours, those wonderful sunny hours in the middle of the day, because we are stuck in the office grinding away on some project. For those of us on the journey to financial freedom, we get to know that the “pain is temporary” and can view freedom on the horizon.

Opportunities Lost?

If we apply the same logic as cycling to the work life application of this quote, will we look back at working once retired and wonder about opportunities lost? Every decision we make can be second-guessed. Did we make the “right” decision? If I stay another year and I can save another $100,000 and we could be better set for financial freedom, do I stay or do I go?

Looking back on every decision there are always opportunities lost, but we need to believe that the opportunities pursued are the right ones. When we leave working life, we trade money for time. We trade the income of a steady working job for the 40+ hours per week we were spending at the office, not to mention innumerable hours commuting. When we choose one path, there are always others that go un-chosen, but we cannot dwell on them.

When we quit the working life, which is only one opportunity, work, we open ourselves to the freedom of choice to so many more opportunities. Yes, there is the work opportunity lost, but it is still there if we choose to go back. Work will always be there and we can return if the will or the need so desires. However, when we gain 40+ hours per week of free choice, we can choose from a near infinite set of possibilities. Whatever we dream of can be made true.

Today in My Journey

This quote rings true for me nowadays. Today working is pain and quitting, which is the end goal, shall last forever. It is yet to be decided when the quitting date will be, but I can already see it on the horizon as our net worth increases and side income increases. One day, in the not too distant future, I will be able to join the rest of the FIRE community where:

The pain was temporary and freedom lasts forever! ~Mr. Atypical

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pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever, quote, Lance Armstrong

The Power of Tracking – Track and Improve with Ease

How do we know we have reached financial independence?
How much money do we have?
How much money did we spend widgets this month?
Where did all of our money go?
Why do we live paycheck to paycheck?
Why can’t I lose weight?
How much do I actually go to the gym?
etc. etc. etc.
All of these questions and many, many more can be answered by tracking. Just the act of tracking  will make you more aware of your habits, and you habits will invariably improve without any effort beyond tracking.

Disclamer: I am an engineer by training

As an engineer, I enjoy tracking many different parameters which I later analyze. Just to list what I track:

  • Cycling: miles, speed, cadence, heart rate, power output, etc.
  • Health: pedometer (for work), sleep, illnesses, immunizations, doctor’s visits
  • Finances: All expenses and income, investment growth, estimated time to financial independence
  • Work: hours spent at work, excess days at work
  • Values of bikes and cameras, and when they were purchased
  • Lists of items wanted (wish list)
  • Destinations traveled to and ones remaining unseen
  • etc.

This above list does not include the numerous metrics I am required to track for work, since that list is not one anyone reading here (possibly while at work) cares much about.

What gets measured gets improved.  ~Peter Drucker

Peter hit the nail  squarely on the head with the above quote. What gets measured, gets improved with no effort, just from the exercise of measurement. From measuring, you become explicitly aware of effort applied and become more active in passive activities.

Tracking finances is a fine pursuit and one that can bring about financial independence much more quickly than without tracking. It truly is amazing to see how much money can be spent in a given time period and what all of this money is spent on.
This does not mean it is not possible to reach financial independence without tracking. My parents are a good example of this. Because they never connected their bank accounts to the internet, it is more difficult to passively track your finances. They never needed to track their finances, since they were by nature frugal people. Tracking brings frugality to the masses.

My financial tracking experience 

I started tracking my finances after finishing up college before starting my first real job. By tracking I was able to see where all my expenses were going to, though I could not control many of them, as I had to buy appliances and essentials for the house I was moving into after college. Even though these expenses were required, I was able to minimize them because I was tracking and spread them out over time instead of racking them all up at once on a credit card that would then charge outrageous interest rates. My eyes were opened from the beginning to the expenses of the “real world”.
I have been proud of saying that I managed my finances down to the razors edge. I was out of cash and had $13 in my bank accounts when I started work and my first pay check came. Looking back, I am no longer proud of that achievement, but see it as money wasted on frivolous consumerism leading up to working life. At this point, I start to save more money and dig out from the debt accumulated by going to college out-of-state. By tracking finances closely, I was able to pay off $30,000 of student loans in 2 years and another $20,000 of student loans from my wife, in an additional year. Tracking my finances enabled me to make the decisions to move money to the right places at the right times and pursue a life of freedom.

Tracking for the masses

For the vast majority of us, before we started tracking finances, we were following the typical life, just keeping up with the Jones’s. Tracking and measurement can make an atypical life achievable for more of the population. It allows the rest of us, who are not pre-wired for frugal living and non-commercial tendencies, to view the game that is playing out. To be able to see where money comes from and goes, all in one place gives us the power to change.
Once we start to track and the changes start as a result, then we can see the benefit of tracking. This then compounds, when we start to make conscious changes in our habits to reduce spending further.  This snowball effect can put us on the quick path to financial freedom and independence.
I think all would agree that to not have to worry about money is extremely liberating. Those with the highest net worth’s never have to worry since their money will not run out in their lifetimes, but for the rest of us, worrying about money seems, unfortunately so, natural. Tracking our money can liberate us from the uncertainty, since we do not have to wonder how much is spent when and if our balances are enough to support spending. Through tracking, we now know definitively, either yes we have enough, or no we do not.

Where to track

 There are many places to track your finances, and in future posts, I will highlight these. I have used many platforms over the years and they all have their pros and cons, with no one platform being right for everyone. Check out these platforms:
  • Personal Capital (personal favorite online and mobile platform)
  • Mint by Intuit (another very good online platform)
  • Credit Karma (continues to add functionality to be an all in one financial tracker)
  • Gnucash (open-source software for true double-entry accounting)

Final Thoughts

No amount of tracking, can force us to make the right decisions financially if we are too caught up in the consumerist mindset. However, tracking can put us on the path towards financial independence if we are willing. Let the power of tracking free you from the bindings of financial dependence.

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Company Loyalty and Financial Independence

Quote of the Week:

You can never, ever forget — people may be loyal to companies but companies are loyal only to the bottom line.

This quote is from a response on Quora to a question posed about the cutthroat company culture of Cisco Systems. The response is by Jay and is linked here.

Loyalty means a strong feeling of support or allegiance to an organization, cause, government, etc. Loyalty is a mutual matter and should be reciprocated. When a person is loyal to another entity, be it another person or organization, it is generally accepted that the recipient of the loyalty will show loyalty back. This is how most bonds of trust are born and why society in the world works. Most people will show loyalty to their respective governments and show nationalistic pride because they feel that the loyalty will be reciprocated. The government has their best interests in mind and works to provide value to the loyal citizens for their taxes. This may not always be true, as can be seen from the news with the uproar that happens after any new decision for or against change. There will always be an unhappy party, but by and large, the majority will be content with the knowledge that the government is working in their best interests and is being loyal to the citizens its governs.

Now, a public company on the other hand, is beholden to the shareholders. I have worked only for publicly traded companies, so can only speak to them. Every move a company makes is towards the benefit of the shareholders. We, the employees, work for them tirelessly, or tiredly, and put in lots of prime time hours for the benefit of the company. The company, in return, pays us a salary and some number of benefits. However, as time progresses, this benefit package seems to get chipped away at, so the company can make larger and larger profits. The “bottom line” is the end goal of the company. Make the largest profit possible without losing too many of their valuable employees. When a company becomes publicly traded, their loyalty moves from inside to outside. Their loyalty now lies primarily to the shareholders and the shareholders show their loyalty back to the company in the form of buying and owning stock in the company. In a private company, the company can be more loyal to their employees, as their employees are the ones that generate the revenue and drive the profits for the company to be successful, but once a company becomes publicly traded, loyalties change.

So why do we have employees that are loyal to publicly traded companies? The company is not in return loyal to us. I believe the answer lies in bygone times. In the past, many companies showed loyalty to their employees even as a publicly traded company. Companies offered and supplied a very good pension and a secure retirement future to retain valuable employees. My company had one, however, as the division I worked for was spun off and became publicly traded themselves, that was the first thing to get cut. When a company showed loyalty to the employees through their actions, offering secure retirement pensions, affordable health care, competitive salaries, the employees in return showed their loyalty to the company. Companies no longer care for the longevity of the employees, only to maximize the employees value to the company for as long as possible before they lose them to burnout or to the competition.

Since we are on the path to financial independence, we have no loyalty to the company. Our loyalty lies to ourselves and our pursuit of freedom from the working life. We strive for the atypical life that allows us to live free of worries from money and be able to decide for ourselves where our loyalties lie. Many employees are loyal to the company because they are not confident in their ability to support themselves without the “guaranteed” pay of a steady salary. Leading the atypical life gives you the ability to not worry so much if the job were to end, as your savings rate is so high, you know everything will be okay while you look for a new job until reaching the pinnacle of atypical life, financial independence.

Striving for financial independence is all about your savings rate. The higher your savings rate the sooner freedom arrives. This is the same idea that drives companies to look only at the bottom line. They are also trying to maximize their savings rate (profit/bottom line), which seemingly makes the FIRE community and companies similar. Our striving towards higher savings rate does not affect the company, besides fringe benefits like allowing lower medical costs, since we are also a healthy community. However, the company striving for the bottom line affects us, because easy savings come from cutting benefits.

Think back to your working career if you are already free, or on your current working career if you are still a slave to the man, and see if you can think of when the company announced: we are now lowering your health insurance premium, we are raising your retirement benefits, we are giving everybody an extra week of vacation, etc. I can’t think of a single time in my short career this has happened. I still hold out hope that one day, all of the companies promises to be about the employees comes true, but I am prepared to pursue my freedom as is. Freedom is paramount and that is what we all should seek!

Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.

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company loyalty vs financial independence

The Real World Manifesto

Growing up we are all told that school is preparing us for “the real world”. Starting from elementary school, we are told that we need to study cursive hand writing to prepare us for the real world of middle school and high school where we will be required to write in this particular style. From that perspective they were preparing us for “the real world” of middle school. Upon arriving to middle school, one can only imagine our surprise when we were told that the teachers did not care if we wrote in print or cursive. I, of course, was one of the weird kids that continued on in life writing in cursive. Maybe it was just to see if others could read it or not, or maybe, it was because they taught me what “the real world” was going to be like and I listened to it, even when the real world caught up and it didn’t matter. In high school, my teachers seemed to take great pleasure in assigning as much homework as possible to prepare us for the real world of college.

College

I was all too pleasantly surprised, when I entered college to learn that this is not necessarily true. Yes the homework load in college is higher, but it is only assigned once or twice per week for someone in chemical engineering. I was able to manage my homework with my much lower load of classes (18 credit hours) compared to 7 hrs per day 5 days per week in high school, to allow for much greater free time to learn how to live. Maybe the real world started in college, but according to most people I have talked with, it does not. College is where you learn to live on your own (kind of, since the parents usually help out with money), you learn that laundry needs to be done, cooking or dining is not a given anymore, cars need maintenance, insurance needs paying, and any myriad of other needs that have to be taken care of that your parents did in exceptional fashion while you were growing up at home. College is your first taste of the real world, but it is only a taste before you get to grow up and feast upon the real world that is work life.

I was able to taste the real world several times in college when I got to do a co-op job with a large multinational chemical company. The first co-op was for the fall semester, so I was only out in the real world for ~4 months before I got my 5 week winter break and then went back to school. The whole time, I knew that this was only a temporary job, so I had winter break and going back to school to look forward to. This helped me through the time in the real world and made it better. When I was tired of the real world, it was time to go back to school, and when I was tired of school it was time to go back to the real world.

After I finished my co-op jobs and my junior year in college I traveled to Europe for the summer and got a taste of the real world outside of the United States. I spent 2 months is Europe, hanging out with friends and riding bikes in Switzerland, racing bikes in Belgium, and going to school in Denmark. This time gave me a view into what the real world is in Europe. The real world seems different in Europe than in the US where life is less focused on work and more focused on family, friends and fun. They have much more vacation time and their time at the office for the day doesn’t seem quite so rigid and inflexible. My Italian friend once told me, “the work day starts at 9am. You work for 3 hours and then have a 2 hour lunch break before you come back for about 3 hours and go home by 5pm.” This amounts to 6 hours per day of work. The European real world seems like a friendlier version of the real world when compared with the US.

Work Life

I returned to the US and to college for my senior year before entrance to the real world. Upon graduation of college, you “know for certain” that you are now entering the real world of work life. This is what you have been told for years and years now and it is a deeply held belief. Now the real world gets to have a stranglehold on your educated mind for the next 40 years as you work and work and work. Nevertheless, when I entered the real world, and started working 40 hours per week at a medium-sized multinational chemical company, I was told by my parents I still was not in the real world. I lived by myself in a 1500 sq. ft. house that I rented for $325 / month, I furnished this house with my own things, including buying almost all the appliances from a local “American Pickers” style shop. I learned about the real world of insurance (health, renters/home, auto, etc.), I learned about setting up utilities by yourself, and I learned the real world never sleeps. The real world is going 100% of the time, it always wants to be able to contact you, it expects you to always be available and it demands an inordinate amount of your time. During my first job, I managed to work a schedule so I could work just 8 hours per day and leave work at 2:30-3:00pm every day and head out on a nice bike ride in the daylight. This alone, is why I was told I was not in the real world. My life was not sucked totally away by the real world leaving me time to enjoy myself.

While working my first job out of college, I reconnected with a classmate from college, fell in love and got married. Is this the real world? Certainly not! The euphoria you feel on your wedding day is second to none knowing you get to spend the rest of your life with your best friend, your soulmate. We went on a spectacular, atypical honeymoon to Peru where we hiked 5 days to Macchu Picchu among other adventurous excursions from Cuzco. This was the beginning of our life together, and it made me a bit more like the typical American family. The real world would try to get in the way of our relationship, but we would make it through.

Then I took a job in China with the same company. We were starting up a new chemical plant and it required non-stop 12 hour days 7 days per week for a while, before we got a break and it decreased to 8 hour days every day of the week. This strained all points of my life, from self-imposed stress, physical exhaustion, and a general bad mood, to straining my relationship with my new wife. At this point, I would like to think I had reached the real world. The long never-ending days must be the pinnacle of the real world. When the plant finally got to a steady state and I was working only 40 hours per week again, I realized that this is not actually the real world either. As an expat our housing is covered, utilities are covered, language training is covered, and we have a personal driver. It is almost like we are living at home again with our parents taking care of us. Is this the real world? No, it is the real expat life, but it is not the real world. It is my current world.

Conclusion

The real world starts when we reach personal and financial freedom, freedom from “the man”. This is when I believe the real world really starts. It is when I get to make the decisions on when to work, when to stay at home, when to play, when to eat, etc. Currently, most of this is dictated by the schedule I am told I have to follow due to being a working stiff. The real world has decided for me the schedule that I should hold and the time I should be allowed to myself to pursue what really matters to me. It seems interesting that the United States was founded on freedom, but we don’t seem overly free to make our own choices. Money drives us to not truly be free because we need a certain amount of it to live the life we choose. My wife found a wonderful quote during some down time when I was working 70-80 hours per week that we try to aspire to while on our pursuit of the real world:

“Love the life you have while you create the life of your dreams, don’t think you have to choose one over the other.” – Hal Elrod

The real world is certainly the life of our dreams. The life of freedom from having to work for money, the freedom to choose our own schedule, the freedom to live where we want, the freedom to pursue our interests in the way we desire, all are part of our dream life. Join us on our pursuit of the real world. It may seem a ways away as I sit here typing on my lunch break at work, working for the man. However, it is not nearly as far as it seems.

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the real world, freedom, financial independence