January 2017 Atypical Life Income Report

Welcome to the first monthly financial review from the Atypical Life family. We are pleased to share this with all of you, so that you may have the inspiration to achieve financial independence and freedom from the man sooner. As an atypical family, this financial review will look very different to most family budgets, however, it is 100% real and is achievable under the right circumstances. So let’s begin.

I share my finances to inspire others to reach for freedom earlier. I hope to show from my income and expense reports:

  • Income can be generated in multiple ways. The regular 9-5 job is not the only way to make money and is also the best way to be a slave to the man.
  • Lowering expenses is really the path towards financial freedom. The lower your expenses, the more you can save. Also, with lower expenses, it takes fewer savings to live on.
  • It is possible to have low expenses.
  • Becoming an expat is a great way to financial freedom
  • To keep me accountable.

Tracking Your Money

Keeping track of your money is the number one way to reach financial independence. We track all of our income and expenses and then analyze it all at the end of the month for you.

Using Personal Capital is the best way to aggregate all of your accounts into one nice easy view. With your accounts spread across so many different platforms, it is hard to get a whole picture of your finances. Personal Capital gives you a view of where you are, if you spent too much, saved too little, or went into debt. Keeping track of your Net Worth on Personal Capital is super easy.

The best part of Personal Capital’s service is that it is free! It fits in perfectly with our frugal sense and allows us to track and reach financial independence faster. Check out their retirement planner to estimate how far away you are from retirement. It is one of the best I have seen for those of us pursuing FIRE.

If you haven’t started tracking your finances, it is not too late to start. Give Personal Capital a try and you will soon be on your way to being a personal finance guru.


January was a good month for us in the Atypical household. We had our regular salary and our wonderful, but regular expat income. This expat income is a 20% location premium or hazard pay in expat vernacular. It is additional income for us that is grossed up by the company, so we do not have to pay taxes on it.

Company Match$569.70
Expat Income$1,266.00
Gifts Received$100.00
Interest Income$4.93
Misc. Income$170.94
Total Income$13,637.57

Bonus Windfall!!

We finally had our windfall of a bonus that we have been expecting since July last year. This bonus was paid by the local government here in China as a talent award to individuals working in the area that applied for it. We had to put a lot of effort into the acquisition of this award, but $5,196 is worth the effort when it can bring us closer to freedom. The money was all deposited into a Chinese bank account, so we cannot pull it out for investing. The question now is how to treat this bonus? I think we will use it to double down on our pursuit of freedom with investment into blogging and self-employment.

My company has a fairly generous 401k match at 9%, as long as we contribute 6% to the 401k. This goal is very easy for us to achieve since we contribute 50% of our income to the 401k. There is one caveat to my 401k contributions, though. They are only calculated on salary, expat income is not included. 50% of $6,330 goes to the 401k each month to ready us for a truly atypical life of freedom. 401k matching contributions is free money and we make nearly $6,000 per year from this income source.

The company I work for also has a health promotion program to help them bring down healthcare costs. This program works on points from pedometers and other health monitoring inputs to give us a maximum earning potential of $1,000 per year for the 2 of us. We both wear Garmin watches to track our steps, sleep, and exercise. I use it also to track some of my bike rides that then get uploaded to the company tracking website for bonus points towards our award. All of this is to say, I withdrew $140 from the program in January.


Our January expenses were on track and on budget!


I managed to keep the shopping budget down to below $300 this month, which was a huge success. January is my birthday, so we usually blow by that amount on birthday presents which we need to cut back on. This January I got birthday presents of long lusted after tools for bike repair. For those of you that are into bikes, I got a Taiwanese equivalent of the Park Tool TS-1.1 truing stand for wheel building and I also got a nice torque wrench and bits for bike repair. I also got several other cycling tools to fill out my bike shop worth of tools.

Clothes shopping this month were for Mrs. Atypical. Our vacation that started in January and went on into February was a bike touring trip to Indonesia and she needed some new cycling clothes for comfort on the long days in the saddle. There will be a separate post about our wonderful and relaxing trip to Indonesia. Needless to say, we spent a total of $780 there during January and the rest of the trip cost rolled over into February.

I do accrual accounting for our personal finances. Basically, this means, that if I paid for flights to Indonesia in December, they show up as expenses when they are actually used. So half of the expense of flights to Indonesia are in January and the other half are in February. This type of accounting is typically done in large businesses where it is required by law and not by individuals, however, I feel it makes the most amount of sense. We should account for things when they happen, not when they are charged to the credit card.

Our insurance for the month is also on an accrual basis because we paid for the year entirely in December. We dropped our company sponsored health insurance that cost us $250 per month and the company $750 per month in favor of a local insurance company that was ~5300 RMB or $890 for all of 2017. This covers us for all medical expenses in China and also qualifies us to use the supercharged investment vehicle, the HSA.

Our home cost remained at $325 and will remain at exactly that level until we finish the contract up in China. I was able to negotiate a housing cost into our contract of $325 because that is what my rent had been since I started working for my company out of college. The expat contract tries to keep your expenses the same as when you were living in the USA, so if I had owned a house in the US, I would not have to pay the company rent on my apartment in China. I cannot complain about rent of $325 to live in an over-priced ritzy-glitzy $1,000,000 high-rise apartment. It also includes all utilities besides phone and internet.

Our HSA, which has finally been successfully moved from MyBenefitWallet to HSA Bank, incurs a fee of $2.50 per month for a balance under $5,000. We will incur this fee and an additional $3 per month investment fee on that account, so we can move it to TD Ameritrade and buy VTI, the best possible investment vehicle.

Our grocery and dining budget was pretty low for the month at only $118. This has to be taken with a grain of salt, though, because we were traveling for 12 days out of that month. So an extrapolated spending would be $183, which is still amazing. We received lots of Christmas gifts in January, since our mail forwarding service is very slow to arrive to China, and in them we received all of the candy we could dream of! Sweets are definitely one of the top missed items living abroad in China.


Everybody hates taxes. They eat away at our income and we never even get a chance to see it. Taxes were 40% of our expenses for January.

Social Security$438.02

After doing a review of my tax situation, I approached my tax preparation company about reducing my estimated taxes for 2017 and the future. I showed that I would save into pre-tax investment vehicles:

There are 2 certainties in life, death and taxes. ~Benjamin Franklin

  • $18,000 to the 401k
  • $5,500 Mr. Atypical Traditional IRA
  • $5,500 Mrs. Atypical Traditional IRA
  • $6,750 to the family HSA
  • Total Value of $35,750

This is able to reduce my taxable income significantly, and when combined with personal and standard deductions on the 1040, it brings our taxable income to around $20,000. The purpose of reducing our tax withholding is because we know best how to take care of our money. The government obviously does not know what is best for me. We can put our money to work as soon as possible by investing in VTSAX and VTI, without waiting for a tax refund at the end of the year. This can gain us upwards of 12 months of growth (or decline…). It also allows us to raise our contributions throughout the year to achieve a healthy total portfolio to pursue financial and personal freedom sooner.

I would never use a tax preparation company right now if it was not provided by the company. Taxes are not nearly as complicated as they are made out to be. Due to the tax equalization policy that my company implements for us, we have to have a professional tax preparation firm handle our taxes.


In total, we made $10,953 in January and were able to save the majority of that into investment funds. It was a very successful month financially, but that doesn’t matter if we did not enjoy ourselves. We should not kill ourselves to reach freedom. You should enjoy life all the time, knowing in the future it can be even better.

“Love the life you have, while you create the life of your dreams.” ~Hal Elrod

We enjoyed Indonesia and hanging out with friends in China. Indonesia was an amazing break from work and recharged my batteries both mentally and physically.

How was your January? Are you heading towards financial independence as well? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Best Investment Allocation

The best investment allocation is the one that gives you the most amount of freedom to live the life of your dreams. Throughout 2016 I worked through my investment portfolio spread out across Roth IRAs, 401ks, and Brokerage accounts to come to my personal consensus for the optimal investment portfolio for the needs of pursuing the atypical lifestyle of early retirement.

Initial Portfolio

When I first started investing, I had no idea what I was doing. That pretty much sounds like every other investor that starts out when they first get a paycheck. We just put money in and everybody says it will grow, grow, grow! I started with an allocation of only US Growth all in one high expense mutual fund. With my first $3,000 investment, I was not really able to tell what fluctuations really did to the balance because it did not rise and fall much at all.

For the first 4 years of investing, I pretty much had a flat-line investment growth. Where was my growth? Was I doing something wrong?

At the beginning of 2016, I decided to make a change in asset allocation to try and gain more growth. It had taken nearly 4 years to build up to where I had enough money saved in investments to actually have multiple mutual funds, all of which would be Admiral Shares at Vanguard. More in the future on Vanguard, expense fees, and mutual funds in general. Needless to say, Admiral Shares at Vanguard have a minimum investment of $10,000 each, so I needed at least $100,000 to have a 10% allocation in a certain area.

Arriving into 2016, I owned a smattering of different investments, some US Growth, some dividend, some all-in-one Lifestyle funds. With investments scattered all across the board and no real plan, I decided I needed to make a plan and start to follow it to achieve success in the confusing arena of investing.

Advice From Around the Web

I decided that the best way to go about this was to aggregate the recommendations from multiple sites together and look at them. I had no real idea of what a good allocation would look like. I had heard:

US stocks, but you need international exposure.

Don’t forget the bonds. Bonds are safe.

Bonds alone are not enough, don’t forget international exposure here.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, you need alternatives.

So what are all of these recommendations? Let’s first take a look at the recommendations I received from the Wall Street Journal, Wealthfront, Future Advisor, and Personal Capital.

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Wall Street Journal from Paul Merriman

The Wall Street Journal was by far the most aggressive allocation that I found, with no allocation to bonds. Bonds are the “safe” bet in the investment arena because they are not tied to company value, therefore are much less volatile. While living in the US, I figured that more weight to the US was reasonable, however, the Wall Street Journal from Paul Merriman advocated for equal weight of foreign market mutual funds and US market mutual funds. With 10% weighting for emerging market, it brings it to 40/50 US to foreign market mutual funds. The 10% remaining was to be invested in REITs, or Real Estate Investment Trusts.

“REITs gives you exposure to the real estate market which has strong growth potential.”

That sounds very clique, but after enough people have said it, we really start to believe it. Here at Atypical Life, we try to take what people say and put it into perspective to what really matters for achieving freedom.

Wealthfront Recommendation for Mr. Atypical Life

WealthfrontWealthfront is an investment advisor and one-stop investment management company. I made an account there, so they could give me their recommendation for best allocation. With this, there is no commitment to give them your money. The advice is free and they hope you will join them and let them do all of the “hard work” of investing and balancing.

Wealthfront gave an even more aggressive asset allocation, in my view, than the Wall Street Journal did. They said 35% in the US market, is good and that 50% should be held in companies outside the US. The remaining 15% were to be split 5/5/5 in dividends, bonds, and natural resources. The consolation on this split is that it is only 6 funds as opposed to the 9 funds recommended by Paul Merriman.

Future Advisor Recommendation for Mr. Atypical Life

Future AdvisorFuture Advisor is the same type of service as Wealthfront and many of the other investment management services that will manage your money that you give to them. They also give free advice when you open an account and connect your investment accounts to them. They analyze your portfolio and give recommendations based on your point in life and retirement goals.

Future Advisor had a shotgun approach to investing. More is better, right? I have simplified the recommendation for the table above, but they recommended 12 different mutual funds or ETFs with a maximum of 16% balance in any one investment. This seemed like a very complicated approach to me, especially when the goal is to gain freedom, not to weigh myself down with another responsibility of maintaining complicated investment accounts. For a do-it-yourself investor like me, the more funds the more complicated and difficult to manage. If you let an investment management firm manage your investments then there is no worries about more funds.

Of all the recommendations, Future Advisor gave me the highest allocation to bonds which is surprising, with the amount of funds they suggested. They suggested TIPS, which are US Treasury bonds, foreign and US bonds. The 3 bond funds together weighted to 20% of the allocation.

Future Advisor’s investment services and advice go far beyond asset allocation. They give helpful advice in fund location, taxable vs tax-advantaged, and fee minimization.

Personal Capital Recommendation for Mr. Atypical Life

Personal Capital logoPersonal Capital is my personal favorite financial tool for account agglomeration and overall financial health monitoring. They allow you to see all of your investment accounts and bank accounts in one place and have the best interface for visualizing investment asset allocation. They also offer advice for free. If you want to give them the freedom to manage your accounts that is an option as well, though it is a paid option. The rest is free of charge and a wonderful service.

Personal Capital had a conservative approach to foreign investment with a 60/25 split for US / foreign market allocation. Since we are US citizens, albeit we don’t currently live there, I think it makes since to have a higher proportion of our money in the US economy. I believe in it and Personal Capital obviously also believes that foreign markets may be over rated.

When we analyze fees, for 2 equivalent funds, one in the US and one foreign market, the US fund is always cheaper in the US. My 2 favorite funds for this comparison are the Vanguard Total US Market Admiral Shares and the Vanguard Total International Market Admiral Shares. The US is 0.05% expense ratio while the International fund is more than double at 0.12%. It just goes to show that for a believed better return, investment companies charge a higher premium.

Although, Personal Capital advised 85% in the 2 above assets, the remaining 15% are in 3 additional. Bonds are split in 2 with foreign and US bonds along with 10.5% allocated to alternative investments. These could be REITs, gold, natural resources, etc.

Mr. Atypical’s Asset Allocation Decision 2016

Come March, I had done my research and decided on an asset allocation. Looking at the above recommendations, I did not understand the complexity of many. Why would they need 9+ funds to cover only 5 areas? I wanted to use the KISS method (keep it simple stupid). With an allocation allotted between 5 different areas, I can choose 1 fund that encompasses that area and then set and forget. Once I am invested in these funds I can just add money to them each month and then at the end of the year, I can rebalance to try and keep the asset allocation where I decided was the best target.

For me, I decided 50% US total market, 20% foreign market, 10% emerging market, 10% REIT, and 10% bonds was the best allocation. To arrive here, I looked at all of the recommendations and then averaged them together. I knew that the less funds the better for trying to balance my money, so I went with my favorite investment carrier Vanguard, and chose their Admiral funds for my allocation.

I bought into the marketing and put 10% in emerging markets, even though the total international fund includes those same businesses that are included in the emerging markets fund. This double weighted them and probably brought the allocation closer to 50/50. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back now, owning both a International Total Market and Emerging Market Fund is useless. I also bought into the REIT craze and put my money here for a while. “REITs have higher dividends.”

Mrs. Atypical and I live abroad in an apartment that is supplied for us, so we wanted a safe investment in bonds to save for our house purchase when it comes to settling down back in the US. Who knows when this will be, but 10% of our money in bonds is more than enough to ensure a good buffer for volatility in the stock market when our time horizon for saving is long.

Thoughts on my Allocation Decision

After deciding on this asset allocation, it took a little time for adjustment to the new allocation. Since I track all of my investments manually with Gnucash as well as use Personal Capital, the more investments and accounts the more complex the picture.

Is complexity a good thing?

I began moving money around between funds trying to rebalance too often. When I added money to the Vanguard accounts, I was not sure which fund to put my money into. I already put a forecast together of end of year account balance with estimated contributions, so I knew where to put my money. However, when it came time to put money in different accounts and maintain the desired asset allocation, I was sorely inept. This ineptness caused multiple taxable moves from gains throughout the year, that brought my tax liability higher than needed since I should just be holding these funds until the time I need the money.

Then stepped in Mr. Jim Collins.

I read his blog, specifically the Stock Series, and after approximately 6 months of investing in my new asset allocation, I took a step back and looked at the learnings and explanations from the Stock Series.

Mr. Collins recommends the KISS method.

Keep It Simple Stupid. ~anonymous

His Stock Series is 30+ posts now, but condensed down to 4 bullet points, here are my takeaways from the Stock Series:

  1. According to Mr. Collins Vanguard is the best place for your funds. Check. Even my 401k got migrated there this year thanks to my company.
  2. People are emotional, and inherently stupid with money. Totally Agree.
  3. KISS. Invest in VTSAX. That is all you need to know. Will do.
  4. If you question this recommendation because everybody says “investing is complex”, refer to rule #3.

The Best Investment Allocation

VTSAX is the Vanguard Total US Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares and has an expense ratio of 0.05%. So for every $10,000 you have invested in this fund, the cost is $5 per year. It encompasses all of the asset sectors that are generally recommended to be invested in. This is the easiest way to get everything you need, minimize your risk, and minimize your time commitment all in one super low cost mutual fund.


But companies on the US Stock Market aren’t international?

Just look in the news to see Apple, Google, Exxon, and many others internationally. Just because a company is based in the US doesn’t mean you do not have international exposure. We have the US market covered, the international market covered, the emerging market covered, REITs covered, and alternatives covered. The only lack from VTSAX is in bonds. If you feel you need bonds in your portfolio for piece of mind, then do it.

The Trinity Study and many others show growth rate is barely effected with a bond allocation from 0-20% of total portfolio. I settled on an allocation of 90% VTSAX (or equivalent in 401k) and 10% bonds in the form of VBTLX, which is the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Admiral Shares. The 10% in bonds is to save for my home purchase in the future. Throughout the year, I will only contribute to VTSAX and then once per year I will rebalance to keep the bond percentage around 10%.

If you have made it this far congratulations. The optimal investment allocation is:

80-100% Total US Stock Market
0-20% Total US Bond Market


optimal investment allocation

Keep it simple. You will thank me later. We have more important things to worry about, like our freedom. Let’s lead the atypical life and invest with the optimal investment allocation.

For much more detail and my inspiration for this allocation and recommendation:

Jim Collins’ Stock Series

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best investment allocation, investing

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

2016 Atypical Life Financial Review

As a year comes to a close, it is time to review your financial situation for the year and look for opportunities for improvement going forward. As I discussed in the Power of Tracking, simply the act of tracking income and expenses will make us more aware of our habits. Without consciously trying to reduce expenses, they will go down, due to the increase of awareness. I know when I track finances, the fact that I have to input large numbers in for expenses gives me pause, and makes me look back at the purchase and really evaluate, was this worth it? Did I really need this or that whatchamacallit?

The real power of tracking comes when you analyze all of the data collected. This is when the conscious mind starts to make decisions to improve your situation and achieve the atypical life of freedom earlier. So let’s take a look at our financial situation for the year.

2016 Income

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2016 was another good year for us on the income front. I received a 2% inflation raise on my salary for the year. The biggest benefit that we still have in 2016 and continuing for 2 more years is the fact that I am an expatriate living in China working for a multi-national company. As such, I have a wonderful expat package that includes incentives to get us to move abroad and live in conditions that are different from the norm.

Expat Income

As we can see above, I received nearly $16,000 in expat income. This is the expat location premium, or hazard pay in expat vernacular. This income is un-taxed from my perspective because the company does a gross up on this amount, so that we can keep it all. I will write more in the coming weeks about how I have done my accounting during my time abroad because the company pays for a lot of expenses for us, but they show up as income on the W-2.

Investment Income

After paying off our $50,000 of student loans in 2015, I was finally able to start amassing money in investment accounts. I already maxed out the Roth IRA for both my wife and I, and was contributing about 10% to the 401k. When the student loans were paid off and I felt the relief of not having a liability always looking over my shoulder, I started to pour all extra income into investments. This brought me from near $0 in dividends to $3,150 in the course of 1 year. The 401k program changed again this year, with the company offering up a pretty generous 9% match. I maxed out my contributions with $18,000 plus ~$4,000 after tax added to the balance. This year, saw me buy and sell many different mutual funds at Vanguard, where I keep all of our investments. In the end we settled on the KISS method, “keep it simple stupid.” We now have 90% VTSAX or equivalent in 401k and 10% VBTLX. More on this in the future.

Gift Income

This year was a one off on large gifts. We received a gift of $50,000 to help with purchase of a house in the future. We plan to purchase a residence when we come back to the US permanently and can settle down to a single location. This was a wonderful jet fuel boost to our brokerage account this year and can helps to account for the major increase in dividends received.

Racing Income

Racing around China this year, even with only 7 races total, I was able to net $320. Of course, this money was turned around and more than spent on cycling things throughout the year, but it is nice to have an income from the sport that I love.

Mrs. Atypical’s Income

For the first time since we moved to China, Mrs. Atypical got a salary. She has learned Mandarin to a conversational level and is now able to teach other foreigners Mandarin. She has also picked up photography and got a couple of paid gigs throughout the year. Her income was rounded out with pet-sitting for friends and coworkers throughout the year. This all goes to show, that income can come from many different places, and is available even from the things you love. For 2017, we see this income increasing significantly, though not to the level of Mr. Atypical’s “real job”.

2016 Expenses

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The total expenses for the year of 2016 seem really high for the Atypical household, however, when we subtract the tax expense which can be mostly slashed in early retirement, the total expenditure was $31,000. This yields a need for $775,000 in retirement savings to live forever on with the 4% rule of early indefinite retirement. Whether we follow down this path of retiring once we reach the total savings goal, or generate a large enough income from side-streams is yet to be seen. But let’s analyze where all of these costs came from and look for ways to save further.


A common theme as an expat in another country is your budget and expenditures looking anything but normal. When viewed from the viewpoint of an American living at home in the states, this all looks impossible. The Atypical household spent $123 on auto expenses for the year. This includes only gas and toll road fees on our 2 and 3 week vacation back to the US to visit family. We own no cars, therefore, we have no auto insurance cost. We sold both of our cars before moving to the China, since it makes no sense to pay upkeep on a car that will sit for 4 years. Luckily, one of these cars, I sold to my dad for a steal, so we were able to borrow it for free on our vacation back to visit them. While in China, all of our auto expenses are covered by the company as part of the expat package by allotting us with a personal driver.


Business expenses for the year are associated with shipping and selling items as well as establishment of our blogs. Bluehost is a wonderful host for our blogs, and was a great deal with the basic package for 3 years. Bluehost will be able to scale with our needs as the blogs grow and we look forward to many more years with them.


Fees for the year were all unavoidable. It is quite unfortunate when your company locks you into a 401k or HSA that then charges you innumerable fees. We got out relatively easily with the 401k being hosted at Vanguard now. I was very happy with this change in our benefits because the rest of our investments are hosted there. However, the Vanguard 401k sponsored by our company charges $75 per year, and then there are further fees associated with using their Vanguard Brokerage Option if you actually want to buy Vanguard mutual funds. I was happy with one option from the standard selection of 15 funds, so elected to save my money. Our HSA changed this year from MyBenefitWallet to HSA Bank which will save us $15 per year and allow us more investment options within TDAmeritrade. We will be purchasing VTI once all is processed.


Our food budget is typically $400 per month for the 2 of us, so $3,800 on the year is a great number. We spend about 2/3 of this on groceries and 1/3 on dining out. We could reduce this further by not buying western ingredients in China. These ingredients, butter, cheese, sugar, and chocolate chips, are the main reason we are not around $3,000 total for the year. When you are living abroad and only eating the local food, life is very cheap, especially in China, however, we would go crazy without indulging ourselves on some of the comforts of home. Can you imagine going 4 years without cookies?


The Atypical family is currently in a super ritzy apartment complex in China, however, the home/housing cost does not show this. We pay a $325 housing normalization to the company each month for the privilege of living in a $1,000,000 apartment. This was also part of the expat package that will be detailed more in future blog posts about the benefits of expat life. We paid $325 per month for the 1500 sq ft house we lived in prior to moving to China, so the company allowed us to continue living at the same cost. Our basic utilities are also covered in the expat package, leaving us only to cover cell phones and internet costs. Our 2 smart phone plans cost 100 RMB per month, or ~$15 at today’s exchange rates. The internet, which is purchased once per year, works out to $20 per month for another good deal, though the quality is sub-par and is influenced by the “Great Firewall”.


Our insurance for the year was $3000 and was only health insurance. This seems way too high for me, since the cost of health care in China is extremely low. Mrs. Atypical spent one week in the hospital in 2016 with a minor surgery and many IVs of fluids all for a total cost of $400. This only reached half of our deductible, and the other minor visits throughout the year did not reach reach it. Moving towards 2017 we have founds new ways to reduce this cost significantly.


Mrs. Atypical is an animal lover, and her horse was the expense for Pets. We had a bad year here with her horse passing away in June after fighting through health issues for several years. It was a sad time for us, and was made harder when the boarding barn owner would not refund us for the board paid in advance for the entire year. We paid in March for 12 months, and Mrs. Atypical’s horse lasted only 3.5 months, so we were looking for a refund of $1,600, however, she would not refund us, calling into account the contract that we had signed while we lived locally. The large lesson learned here, is even if you are friends, dealing with money needs to be written down clearly and all expectations set up front before money is exchanged. This incident cost a friendship along with the monetary cost, but we have learned that trust with money involved is best left with only family. Anybody else can leave in the blink of an eye.

Shopping Expenses

Our shopping expense, which is the expense to cover all discretionary items bought, was way over budget this year and excessive even with the budget we allotted. Check out my goals for 2017 to see a discussion on my excess spending habits. $600 per month plus a few big ticket items accounted for these expenses. Below you can see a break out of where these expenses went. We ended up buying 2 kindles this year due to losing one and another breaking. Our big expenses on the year were in cycling gear and horse gear. Mr and Mrs Atypical reviewed all items in all of these categories for excesses and not needed things bought on the year, but did not find many at all that were not used or a total waste of money. Mr. Atypical is still building a solid toolbox full of tools to fix anything when it breaks and build things when the whim takes him there. We continue to expand our tandem touring gear to prepare for a long-term tour in the future. When we reach the atypical life of freedom, we plan to do a long term tour to visit the world while bypassing the bad and expensive part of travel, transportation.

Mrs. Atypical came across a deal on a new to us saddle for horses that is worth upwards of $4000 and we got it for $2000 after negotiations. This was bought way ahead of a time when we need it, but some deals have to be taken when available. We thought long and hard on this purchase since it was a long ways out, but decided if we could get it for $2000 then we should go ahead and buy it now.

The income received from Selling Stuff was put towards the upgrade of those items. We changed cameras from a Nikon D7000 (large DSLR camera) to a Olympus E-M10 (small micro 4/3 camera) for better travel photography. Also, my company has a health incentive program with step counting, so to have the optimal watch for that Mr and Mrs Atypical got Garmin smartwatches, a Fenix 3 and Vivoactive. We sold nice watches already owned to purchase these, so the total shopping expenditure should be ~$8500 with the selling stuff offset.

This year we plan to cut way back on spending here, since we are incrementally getting closer to having everything we want. Once that point is reached, where we have all the gear and tools that are required for our activities, then the shopping budget will mostly be maintenance cost on the gear we have.

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We save $6,000 per year for travel expenses and we did a good job of staying within this budget allowance. Part of the way we did this was with our flights home to the US being covered by a home leave allowance in the expat package. Therefore, our expensive Chinese New Year’s trip to the Philippines, a 2 week trip to Sichuan for a bike tour and a Christmas trip to Zhangjiajie (Avatar Mountains) fit within our travel budget. Along with those trips were several more weekend and long weekend trips around our home in China.

2016 Profit and Loss

Overall, 2016 was another good year to us. On expat assignment in China we made a profit of over $100,000 which brings us one step closer to personal and financial freedom. Looking towards the future, we have the ability for greater savings in expenses in the shopping, pets, and medical expenses categories, as well as increasing income. We look to increase business income from $0 to a profit in 2017 along with Mrs. Atypical’s various side job income increasing. Our expat assignment continues to be a boon to savings, and we look to maximize the savings over the next 2 years on assignment.

Let me know in the comments what you think of our profit and loss for 2016. We are always looking for ways to achieve the atypical life of freedom sooner.

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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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2017 New Year’s Resolutions

With 2016 behind us, it is time to look forward to a bright and sunny 2017. It may sound cliche to write about and discuss new year’s resolutions because that instills more of a sense of short term change. My wife put it best when she said, “don’t call them new year’s resolutions, but new year’s goals.” A goal is a more tangible, achievable idea than a resolution. Many people resolve to do something, lose weight is the most common for us in the US, however, that resolve falters as soon as they see what it takes to accomplish that. Having a goal in mind and pursuing that goal gives you a more tangible way to measure progress.

So on with my goals for 2017:

1. Start a financial independence retirement early blog.

Well, as you see, I have accomplished this goal, right? This first one is more of a resolution. In order to put it into a tangible goal form that can be achieved, I would restate it as a goal statement. By the end of 2017, I will have written at least 52 blog posts, or one post per week. I plan to write monthly expense summaries, informational posts on personal finance, taxes, and savings/investing, and analysis of quotes I hear with a new perspective from atypical life.

2. Lower my shopping budget from $600 / month to $400 / month with a goal amount of $300 / month or less.

Ever since I graduated from college 4.5 years ago I spend approximately $600 every month on acquisition of things. Many of these things seem like necessities, but I know they truly are not. They are surely nice to have and I have amassed quite a collection of bikes, parts, tools, cameras, camping gear, touring gear and many other things. However, I am ready to put more effort into the pursuit of financial independence and I hope my readers can help me along the way as I will post monthly expense reports and break it all down. I planned on cutting the budget in half this year, down to $300 / month, but my wife convinced me to keep it a little higher to give a more realistic waning off of spending.

3. Ride at least 10,000 miles, and average 200 miles per week on my bikes.

I have ridden road bikes since I started high school and it is very much a part of who I am. In the past, I have ridden up to 18,000 miles in one year, but that was in college while I was single. Now that I am in the “real world”, the working world, and am married this ideal is no longer feasible. My long commute to work of 27 miles makes it easy to rack up the miles by riding to and from work, even though the ride is uninteresting. This year I plan to continue to ride to work on a regular basis and enjoy long rides on the weekend with my wife on our titanium tandem. This bike was certainly not a budget conscious decision, however, it is a dream ride and was a very good deal, as well as being a “forever” bike. I will discuss in future posts about thrift and good deal hunting.

4. Build and ride a bamboo bike

I love to ride bikes. I have had quite a few different bikes over the years, optimized for different purposes. This year I plan to join together my passion for bikes with my enjoyment of building things, to bring to fruition the bamboo bike frame. I built a bike jig last year to hold the frame together in alignment before gluing and wrapping, but did not get around to completion of the project. The goal this year is to completely build and ride at least the prototype fixed gear bamboo bike. The stretch goal would be to complete the prototype, analyze the needs for improvement, and then build a second one of higher quality. After building these 2, I have dreams of building bikes for family and a tandem for my wife and I out of bamboo, but I will be happy this year with completion of one bike.

5. Race on the road bike at least 10 times in 2017.

I have raced road bikes now for 10 years. I improved greatly while I was in college, to the point that I raced for a elite level team for 3 seasons. However, after college was over and I started working, my race load dwindled as workload increased. It continued to dwindle to a minimum 2 years ago in 2015 when I raced only 3 times in the entire year. Granted moving around the world to live in China, has its limitation when it comes to racing. Now, after 2 years living abroad, I have established a community of cyclists that I race with, and can now pursue racing around China more often. My goal for the year is to race at least 10 times. These can be individual races, or a large week long stage race where each stage counts as a race. At my peak in college, I raced more than 50 times per year, and the past 2 years have been averaging about 10% of that. Hopefully, I can continue to build my strength back up and be competitive racing racing around China.

6. Continue to travel to more interesting places around the globe.

As you may have found out above, I currently live in the wonderfully different world of China. I have lived here for 2 years and the contract I am currently working under lasts 2 more years, so an atypical life of freedom cannot start until this contract is up. However, the original purpose of moving to China was to be free from the bounds of the US. The US, in general, is prohibitively far away from the rest of the world making international travel more expensive. Living in China gives us the chance to travel around SE Asia and most of the world while being based closer to it, therefore making the travel cheaper and more efficient. I do not have the luxury yet of slow travel. Only a life of freedom can really allow that, however, I hope to travel to multiple destinations in China this year for racing and vacation, as well as some international travel within SE Asia and Europe. This one can only be stated as a resolution, since we have not planned all destinations for the year, but have hopes to go globetrotting while work allows.

My goals for the year are all attainable and reasonable. I hope to follow through on all of them, and I will let everyone know here on Atypical Life, the progress I am making as the year proceeds.

I wish everyone a happy new year and look forward to hearing about your new year resolutions.

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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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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.


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.


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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