What a year

Today is the 14th of November 2020, and what a year this has been! With only 6 weeks to go and all the bad news going on, all I want at this point is for it to end.

Whatever your idea or opinion about the Coronavirus might be, we have to acknowledge plain facts that it had an immense impact on literally the world as a whole. This is beyond anything my generation experienced so far.

Jobs were and are being destroyed, incomes diminished, entire industries shut down, and thousands of people are still dying across the globe. And just to be clear: Whether it’s a direct or indirect count, if the virus triggers the death, then it’s on Covid to me.

Since I am working in the hotel industry, I am directly affected by it. In order for my business to survive, I need to cut expenses, reduce jobs, reduce salaries. It hurts. It’s many tears and many broken hearts. Many tough decisions every single day. And despite having the promise of a vaccine now visible on the horizon, we still have a few more months of pain and suffering ahead.

Also let me share with you this: As a business insider in an executive role, I can tell you here and now that this won’t get better any soon. Even post-covid. For most, the jobs that were cut aren’t coming back. The recovery of the service industry, the largest industry in the world, will take years. In order to survive cost cuts will remain in place until further notice.

Financial independence has never been more important

What I am sharing and trying to explain above is that the world is not going to get really significantly better any soon. And even if, how do we know that there won’t be another outbreak in one, two, or five years from now?

We have learned that there is no such thing as invulnerability. There is no such thing as total job security. And when times get really tough, even the best employers might be forced to make some tough choices to the detriment of employees.

Business owners face even greater risks, especially when they operate on thin margins and have not sufficient funds to survive prolongued periods of time without a regular income.

So what are our choices? How can we financially prepare for such an event?

There aren’t many choices, frankly, and there is no single solution. What we have to do is to create layers of protection. To create multiple income streams. And being invested in the stock market is one such strong layer. Also during the current crisis, it has again shown to be a reliable protection for tough times.

I am not talking about the value of my shares. I am down 25% in my portfolio so far. What I am talking about are dividends, my passive income stream.

Let me compare it with my salary, which is currently being cut by 25%. Next month it will be probably around 30%. At its peak, the cut was at 40%. But my dividends have decreased by only 11% year on year. And while I am not certain about my salary, I am quite confident for my dividends to fully recover next year.

Some of the most reliable dividend companies have not changed their policies and kept paying the same or even increased amounts throughout the crisis. This has again reconfirmed with me that for those who seek financial independence, being invested in the market is essential.

This crisis has been a huge reminder that we need to take responsibility for our financial well-being into our own hands. We can’t always rely on others, not to mention governments.

And it’s not just about the money. It’s about having that pressure off your chest, knowing that you have one more layer of safety, one that will contribute to protecting you and your loved ones when times are tough. This feeling alone is beyond any monetary value.

About multiple income streams

People all around the globe face unprecedented challenges. Well, at least it’s unprecedented for my generation (Gen X), and certainly for Millenials and anyone younger than them. Millions are losing jobs, are forced into quarantine. Many are in dire need of some kind of assistance, whether it’s cash, food, or both.

Here in Thailand, we just passed through the first month of the lockdown. When I drive through the streets of Bangkok or Pattaya where I am currently working, I see people lining up (with social distancing) for food support from the government and from some private institutions.

The Thai government is issuing cash support of THB 5.000 per month to those who need it most. It’s not much, but it’s enough to survive on a very low bar. Together with the support from private institutions, NGOs, and hundreds of those who are more fortunate and who are volunteering to support, I have no doubt that the country will get through the event.

I am also always astonished by the amount of support among Thais in times of crisis. My wife is getting postal packages from friends and family with food, face masks, and snacks. We pass on the favor by sending things to others who need it more than us. I am fortunate enough to still have my job and my monthly salary intact, albeit slightly reduced.

About income and unexpected situations

But not everyone is lucky. Similar to other places around the globe, unemployment in Thailand is on the rise on a massive scale. This is dire in a country with very limited governmental social protection in place, and where most people live paycheck to paycheck.

Which brings me to the main point: Unemployment means for many people to lose their only source of income. And we can see right now more clear than ever, how many people’s lives really depend on their job. Being without work and without an opportunity to find new employment within a short time has now turned into an existential threat for millions of people.

Also, only very few of them could have even imagined such a situation two or three months ago. Yes, some might have an emergency fund and savings to ride out bad times. But would they have expected that they can lose their job, their income, and their benefits within such a short period of time? Hardly.

Building up multiple income streams

This is where the lessons of FIRE become such a powerful reminder, because having multiple, passive income streams is what FIRE is all about! The whole point of becoming financially independent means not being dependent on your job.

Building up passive income streams is best done by investments. Sure, the stock market is crashing and we are sliding into a recession. But out of the 33 companies in my income portfolio, so far only one of them has canceled the dividend, and only two announced to reduce it for this year.

Thanks to this, I am never worried about losing my job. Sure, my monthly dividends can’t compare with my salary, but that’s not the point. The important part for me is that I won’t need to rely on government support and on charities. I will be able to fulfill my main responsibility of providing shelter, medical protection, and food to me and my family on my own.

Personally, this is a very important factor to me, as this defines my perception of freedom and independence.

Who gets the money

And just to add another layer of understanding of why investing is a safer bet than your job, let me explain here one thing. While our savings and jobs are being destroyed, a crisis like this also generates unimaginable amounts of money. While stock valuations may be nosediving right now, governments all across the globe are printing cash like there is no tomorrow.

And where does this cash go to?

In the US, every US national is receiving a one time check of USD 1.200. There are 328,8 Million people in the US, so this sums up to roughly 395 Billion USD. Yes, it’s a lot of money.

But you know who gets more? Companies. Especially the big ones. They get bailed out when they get in trouble, they receive grants, and the FED is reducing interest rates so they can borrow money almost for free. This may sound very negative, but I don’t mean it that way. That’s just how it works for plenty and a variety of reasons.

The important thing is that you have a choice to make. Do you stick to your job and when you lose it, wait for your one-time check of USD 1.200? Or do you invest, and build up multiple and passive sources of income?

Having the knowledge that governments across the globe will put significantly more effort into protecting your investments and your sources of passive income (in comparison with taking care of you directly), this shouldn’t be a complicated choice to make.

5 Tips how to manage your time (and budget) now

These are tough times. The world is on lock-down. People are losing jobs or are getting pay-cuts. And the probably worst thing of all is that we don’t know when this is going to end. Therefore, now more than ever, it is important to manage the money we have in the most cautious and structured way possible. Frugal living and strict budgeting can’t be a hobby now. It’s a must. So here we go, 5 things that you should consider doing today to navigate your finances and your well-being through these difficult times.

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. Review your essential spendings

If you never had a personal budget, now is a great time to start. A personal budget plan sounds complicated, but it’s really a simple calculation of income and expenses. The more details you put into it, the more aware you will be about your essential and non-essential spendings. In a situation like now, this information is vital to make smart money decisions.

What do I mean by “essential” spendings? We are talking about survival here. So it’s the 3 basics: Shelter, food and health. Your rent, including electricity, water, and internet. Your spendings on food and drinking water. And your expenses to maintain your health.

Every non-essential spendings need to be put under review and you should consider cutting or minimizing them.

2. Plan ahead with weekly limits on your expenses

After having reviewed your budget, you will know the amount of cash that you have (or that will be available for spending), and how much you need to spend for your essentials. Now plan ahead and split your cash and/or income in a way to keep your essentials going for as long as possible. I guess it’s safe to say that the goal should be to try to sustain your expenses for up to 6 months.

Any remaining cash should be split into equal weekly amounts for the same total period of 6 months. Putting a strong limitation on your weekly spendings is a good way to ensure that you don’t overspend and keep track of your budget.

When I was a student and had hardly any money to live on, I had a very simple system which I still recommend: Withdraw cash for a month ahead for your spendings, divide it in 4, and put each amount in a separate envelope. Each one envelope is for each week of the month, and no matter what happens, be strict with yourself not to open any of the envelopes ahead of time. This method will greatly keep you aware of the money you have and what you can or cannot afford.

3. Get your family on-board

This point doesn’t apply for singles, but for anyone living with a family, this is a crucial one. The whole family needs to be on-board with this. It won’t help if you set up the most delicate and strict plan for yourself while your partner is clueless and keeps on living as if nothing would have changed.

If you have kids, this is a great time to teach them about the value of money. They might cry if they don’t get a toy or some ice-cream, but they will remember this as a “tough” time when the family had to stay strong together. Chances are that you will emerge from this stronger as a family. And it’s never too early to teach kids about the value of money. Trust me, the school won’t do it for you.

4. Consider a side-gig

Financial advisors are preaching to their customers the necessity of having an emergency fund, which should cover at least 6 months’ worth of expenses. The reason that this topic is coming up so often is that there are so few people who actually do it. And to be fair, even most companies don’t follow suit. Just take a look at the world right now: As our economies come to a halt, after only one or two months of missed revenues, millions of restaurants, hotels and even airlines are declaring bankruptcies or are in need of bailout money. They clearly didn’t have any emergency funds whatsoever.

So in case, if you are late on this and can’t see a way to make your finances work over the next 3-6 months, you might have no choice but to consider a side gig. The good news is that if you are reading this, it means that you have a working internet connection, and luckily, there are millions of jobs available online.

Check-out online freelance jobs through platforms like “UpWork” or “Fiverr” which may have jobs matching your skillset. But even if your skills are from completely different fields, consider teaching/tutoring English (or what else you speak), doing transcriptions or translations. There are lots of opportunities out there.

These jobs will hardly make you rich, but they can be of great support to prop up your finances and to get you through this difficult time. Another positive aspect of having a job will be that you won’t go mad while sitting at home doing nothing.

Last but not least, there is a good chance that you might end up keeping your side gig even when this crisis will be over and we get back to our regular lives.

5. Don’t slack off

And finally, no matter how long this may go, I recommend that you don’t slack off. You might relax a little for a week or two, but after that, get a routine in place. You don’t need to wake up at 6 AM, but you shouldn’t sleep until noon either.

Set a proper routine when you wake up, take a shower, shave, have breakfast, dress properly. Then work on your side gig, perhaps study a little bit. Coursera, EdX, and Udemy offer plenty of opportunities to learn some new things for free these days.

Having set times for breakfast, lunch and dinner is good for your inner clock. Set some time aside to exercise at home. Body-weight workouts are a great alternative to the gym. Any other hobbies you may have will keep your body and mind sharp and ready to get back on track immediately when all of this is over.

What to do with your Christmas bonus?

I am sitting at Starbucks (SBUX) and listening to some old Christmas jingles. Yes, even the Starbucks in Thailand is playing American jingles as Christmas is drawing near.

For many hard-working employees out there, this time of the year is not only an opportunity to spend some days with friends, family and to eat more than we usually do. It’s also the time when many employers pay a Christmas bonus. And the big questions is: What to do with it?

I know Apple (AAPL) got the new iPhone out and the Camera is really great. Plenty of people seem to think so because it’s constantly sold out in all the shops around here. I pre-ordered my iPhone 11Pro and just got it a week ago. It is awesome. It is also very expensive. So the question is, should you really spend so much money, or is there a better way?

Buying without spending

Me buying the iPhone was not a spontaneous decision. I was using my iPhone 6s for almost 5 years now and it was simply time. However, I also didn’t pay for it in a lump sum.

I got it with a 1-year contract which reduced my purchasing price by around 6.000 THB, almost 180 Euros. Then I put it on my credit card to collect cash-back-points and turned the total amount into an installment plan for 6 months. It will now cost me roughly 150 Euros a month, 6 months long, at a 0,79% interest rate – and it will be covered entirely by the dividends from my investments which I receive monthly.

So in the end, I didn’t even touch any of my cash to get it, and I will enjoy the benefits of the phone hopefully for another 5 years.

As for the Christmas money, well, I don’t get any. There is no such thing in Thailand. However, IF I would work in a place where a Christmas bonus is a thing, I would have done exactly the same. And the Christmas money would go straight in my investment account.

Conscious spending

There are many ways how we can get great things without actually spending money on them. A little preparation, creativity, and thinking. That’s all it takes.

And if you don’t receive monthly dividends just yet, then, even more, you should start investing now. The sooner you can start receiving and/or increase your passive income, the more money you will have left to keep increasing your assets and preparing for a worry-free future.

Disclosure: I have shares of Apple.

Get independent and stop dealing with CRAP

There are many reasons to strive for financial independence. For me, some of them are company politics and the never-ending dealing with CRAP. It’s one of my favourite acronyms:

  • Criticism
  • Rejection
  • Assholes
  • Pressure

You can’t become a leader in any organization without it. It’s part of the deal. No matter what you do, once you are in charge of others, CRAP will be part of your daily experience. It’s to a large part the reason why people in higher positions get higher salaries. It’s not really about their skillset, but more so about their ability to deal with CRAP.

And some might even enjoy it for a while. The constant competition, attention and the feeling of winning whenever you come out on the top. But in the long-run it is tiring. Exhausting. And you are not always winning, you will be losing frequently. In fact, the amount of times that you got to pull yourself together, to get up after you have been beaten down and to push through things that might not match your moral or ethic standards, your expectations and believes, it is so much higher compared to the few wins that you collect along the way.

Some just accept it for what it is. But for others, this might lead to depression, frustrations, the occasional loss of faith in humanity, and burn-out. On top of all that, it is really time-consuming and you might start asking yourself, why you are doing all the effort. What is the actual purpose of your journey?

Serving others is the true purpose of any company out there

Tim Cook said it once and he is absolutely right. Every company, every product and every service is meant to be for someone, to solve some problem, challenge or requirement. Solving problems creates value and pricing follows. So whatever we do when we work, we do it to serve.

When you recognize this to be the case, you have the best chances to really understand the purpose of what you are doing. Knowing your purpose gives you passion, and aligning with it leads to dedication. Dedication leads to success. Success doesn’t necessarily mean a monetary reward, but it often comes along with it.

But serving others is a never-ending task. There will always be a problem. A challenge. An obstacle. A restraint, limitation or a sudden turn of events. And there are always other people. Foes and friends. Competitors. Supervisors. Investors. Shareholders. Politicians.

The more success you have, the more lives you will affect. Whether you want it or not, your actions will have an influence on the lives of other people. On the dreams, which you might elevate or destroy for those who work under you, to the pressure and constant rejection by the supervisors who you work for. Shareholders and investors will always keep you under pressure to deliver the best possible financial results. Sometimes forcing you to action things that might go against your conscience or against what you might consider being the right thing to do.

Cut the CRAP

And I think it’s all actually OK. It’s important. Going this path for a while can help you to understand how human minds work, about group dynamics, all the different agendas out there that people follow. Personal and business-wise. It will give you a deeper understanding of different perspectives, sometimes unexpected connections, incentives and occasional shocks on what may seem like irrational behaviour or unforeseen turn of events. Pushing towards success helps us to develop, to learn and to understand the world around us a little more.

But I don’t think you need to do this your entire life. There is a point when the whole thing becomes overwhelming. A burden. Your mind will be dragged down, your physical condition will start to suffer, your personal relations will get affected and step by step you might start seeing only the problems around you. Depression may follow and with it a steep fall from your high ground at work, and possible medical repercussions.

We call this a burn-out. It doesn’t happen overnight, but when you climb the career ladder, it will slowly creep into your work-life. Usually, when you notice it it’s already too late. So knowing all this, how can you avoid it from happening? The answers are, firstly by becoming financially independent and secondly, by choosing when to stop.

Financial independence comes first, because it’s the tool that allows you to go for the second step. When you become financially independent, you can cut the CRAP at any given time without the need to worry about any repercussions on your life. Your shelter, food and healthcare can remain protected. If you really think about it, you will realize that this is quite a lot, more than most people on the planet have today.

Find your inspiration

For me, CRAP is one of the most important reasons for working even harder to reach FIRE. This doesn’t need to be the case for everyone. Some people might enjoy regular work. Having their 7 to 5, the daily soap operas at the office, the feeling of belonging somewhere. Those may find their inspiration for FIRE somewhere else. But for me, after independence and freedom, CRAP is the next immediate reason on my list of motivations to get out of the rat race.

Depending on work is not a smart long-term plan

I don’t remember whether my parents were asking me about my aspirations when I was young. I also don’t remember hearing them talking to neighbours, friends or family about what I am going to do when I grow up. They never really tried to push any particular profession on me. Maybe because they wanted me to discover the world on my own. Or maybe because as a kid I was not easy to talk to.

We went to school, learned all the basics that were considered important to find our passions, to figure out our talents, sharpen some skills, and to give us a hint of a direction towards some of the opportunities that were out there for us.

What nobody talked about were the things that would stand in our way. The things that would hinder us to develop, hinder us to grow, hinder us to follow our passions and hinder us to truly try to discover our full potential.

To some part, I understand. I wouldn’t believe anyone who would tell me that there was a very high probability to end up doing a job that I might not really care about, for people I might never get to know, to receive some money that will be just enough to cover my living expenses. Mundane tasks day in and out, without passion and without any true commitment, just to get through the day.

This is what we call the rat race and a reality for so many people in the world.

Everything has a price-tag

The grown-ups give us a lot of hope when we are young. They tell us that we can be anything we want. Do whatever we want. And achieve whatever is possible. In reality, it’s all not that simple.

Once we move out from home and leave the protective roof of our parents home and their care, reality quickly kicks in. We need money. Money to pay the rent, groceries, utilities, to go out, to travel. Everything in this world has a price tag on.

So whether you want it or not, you have to start to work. And the moment you get your first job, you enter the rat race. We all got to make a living and yes, living has a price to it. Shelter, food and health. These are the basics and to secure them one needs money.

The bad news is that as long as our financial system exists in its current form, these price-tags will never go away. They just grow larger. With inflation always present, you will experience that over your lifetime prices for everything around you double and triple.

It always starts with trading time for money

I started when I was 14 years old. My parents couldn’t pay me too much pocket money and sometimes cash would be short even for the simplest basics like new shoes or a jacket. So I just found a job to be able to afford what I wanted and needed. I started filling up shelves in a grocery store.

From there on, I would sacrifice every Saturday for it. 6-8 hours every Saturday morning, putting milk cartons into the shelves, sorting frozen pizzas, yoghurts, re-fill soda bottles and occasionally guiding some customers through the store. My salary was something around 6 EUR per hour if I remember correctly. I would earn 36-48 Euros for each Saturday, being paid-out in cash by the end of each week. A huge improvement to the 5-10 EUR that I would get from my parents per week.

This is how I learned to trade time for money. When I needed money, I went to work. When Saturdays earnings were not enough, I would free up an afternoon during the week and work one more day after school. Suddenly I could afford to buy new shoes, to get rid of my glasses and buy contact lenses. I had money to spend when hanging out with my friends. It seemed to be a great concept.

What I obviously didn’t think about at that time was that at some point in my life I would have to pay the rent on my own. Utilities, food, to have my own medical insurance. I didn’t think about how many hours I would need to spend in that grocery store to be able to afford all of it.

Depending on money is killing your opportunities to grow

When you grow up, before you even know it, you start trading most of your time for money. Regular work contracts in Europe have something around 35 working hours per week on them. In Asia, it’s around 48. And more than often, this one job is just enough to secure the previously mentioned basics: Shelter, food and health.

Those who want to be able to get a little more out of life start taking part-time jobs, freelance online and adding up hours of work. This is what they know, what they learned. To trade time for money. But as more and more of their time is being traded out for cash, their opportunities in other areas shrink with every traded minute. Learning new skills, discovering new passions, spending time with their loved ones. The time to do those things disappears with every traded hour. Minute by minute.

How long can you work

And the big question is, how long can you actually do this? What will happen when you get old? Will your social security be enough to live on? What if you get sick? Handicapped? When your mental ability goes down?

And how about all those things you always wanted to do in life? Going for a trip around the world, feel some wanderlust in the Swiss Alps, climbing in the Himalayas, snorkelling in Thailand, drinking Mojitos in Cuba or visiting the Empire State Building? Do you think that you will be able to pursue your dreams once you left the workforce?

We are not smart enough to consider all those things when we are young. I wasn’t smart enough then to think about the next logical step when I started to work in the grocery store. But as we get older and develop a deeper sense of logic, we certainly should be smart enough to put it into consideration, shouldn’t we?

Working is not bad – depending on work is

There is of course another way. A way to develop passive income and to stop being dependent on any job. This does not mean to stop working. Absolutely not. I can’t imagine a life without work. I want to do something. I want to work.

But I don’t want to worry about money.
I don’t want to have to work for money.
I don’t want to depend on work for money.

Those whose minds are trapped in the system won’t understand this idea. How could they? They never learned anything else. But, what if we could work for our passions, our beliefs, our aspirations and our dreams? Wouldn’t it just be something else entirely?

FIRE is all about that. About freeing up your time, your mind and your passions. Because once you reached financial independence, you can focus on things that will truly matter to you. Isn’t this a goal worth striving for?

If you had your own business…

…how would you run it?

Many people dream of being their own boss. Making their own decisions. Dedicating their available time solely to their purpose, their passion and to their own, full benefit. But is this indeed the reality for an entrepreneur?

Well, as it is with everything, it depends. It depends on the type of business you want to run, on the size, reach, and scale, on your product or service, on your dependency of suppliers or contracted partners, on your team (or the lack of it), and on a thousand other points that may play a role once you decide to do your own thing. Most and of all, it will depend on your perspective and your definition of freedom.

Rule of a thumb is that the more people get involved, the more things get complicated. Whether it’s business partners, suppliers, contractors, your own team or your customers. With every person, every character who comes into play, you are losing some part of your independence.

Running a successful business means to serve others

I think it was Tim Cook who said it last year in a speech or an interview. “A truly successful product or service can only be realized by serving others.” However, serving others means, to a certain extent, to put yourself in the backseat, to figure out what those other people need and want, and to try to deliver it to them.

The thing is though that once you have a business, everyone becomes your customer.  The people who work for you. The people who work with you. And the people who buy from you. Those who work for and with you are called “internal” customers. Those who purchase your product and/or service are “external” customers. And your job as an entrepreneur is to serve them all.

Does this sound like freedom? It certainly is a step forward. By freeing yourself from a boss or a corporate structure, you will have definitely more freedom to make decisions. But at the same time, you will probably discover, that it is not what you might have originally imagined as freedom.

You will have more power when it comes to your decisions and it might feel like freedom in the beginning, when your company is small and easy to overview. But as your business grows and expands, your responsibilities grow with it. And with every percentage of growth, the percentage of your freedom starts to diminish.

The best of both worlds

Reaching financial independence means to me to stop trading time for money. Of course, I still need to have income, but I just don’t want to have to work for it. Not because I am lazy. I am a workaholic. But, as a great quote from Warren Buffett says: “If you don’t learn how to earn money while you sleep, you will have to work until you die.” And I definitely don’t want to end up that way.

There are several ways how this quote can be interpreted, but a realistic perspective is probably to assume that over your lifetime, your focus should shift from working yourself, to let others work for you. When you purchase stocks of companies and become therefore to a tiny part an owner of the respective company, you are doing just that.

As an investor and company owner, you start earning money by reaping the rewards of having other people working for you. And while you have to share these earnings with all the other shareholders, you are free from almost any responsibility towards both, internal and external customers. It is a pretty smooth way of becoming your own boss.

There are risks – but regular jobs bear risks as well

This is not to say that you wouldn’t have any risk. As a company owner, even to a small part, you carry the risk of realizing a loss if the company fails. Also, since your shares represent most probably only a tiny part of the company, you have hardly any vote in steering the companies politics or to contribute in any other way to its success – or failure.

But the degree of your freedom gets truly maximized. And the more different companies you invest in, the more your freedom is being manifested. As you diversify your portfolio, you automatically increase your risk protection and risk tolerance. Even if one company fails, if you have 20 others to support you, then your worries will be still limited.

This will become even more obvious if you draw a direct comparison with having a full-time job. When you invest, you can spread your investments over several companies and thus create multiple sources of income. If you have one full-time job, you are completely dependent on this single source of income. What happens if you lose it?

Food for thought

This is some serious food for thought. People who don’t invest will find a thousand reasons to tell you why investing is not something that regular people do. And they are right about that last part of that sentence. Especially in Europe, the amount of investors is surprisingly little compared to common folks who rely on their day-to-day jobs.

But those are the folks who get sleepless nights whenever companies start to talk about efficiencies, streamlining of processes, outsourcing, and globalization. Technological disruptions don’t excite them, because every disruption may put their livelihood in jeopardy. These are the people who constantly worry, and even more so as they get older.

And you can’t blame them, because these are the people who can’t come up with 500 Euros in cash even if any serious emergency appears in their life. I am not saying this to look down on anyone. I am saying this because people who never learned about how to handle money tend to end up in serious hardships. Despite having worked for 30 or 40 years, many fear that their retirement money won’t be enough to cover their rent and fill their fridge once they (have to) retire. We are not talking small numbers here. Surveys in Europe and the US show that the majority of our populations fall into this category.

This is in stark contrast to those who learned and understood that either having your own company or being a shareholder of another company, can significantly increase your chances for a worry-free retirement. There are no guarantees, but your chances are simply higher.

When it comes to human lives, things can easily and quickly get emotional. Investors, however, take the emotion out of the equation and simply calculate chances. Winning the lottery is not a valid form of retirement planning. Investing is. so when you get your next paycheck, put some part of it aside and start investing. Every single investment that you will do will put you a step closer to be a worry-free individual in the future.

When is the best time to retire?

If you are just about to enter (or new to) the workforce, thinking about retirement seems very far off. Not that it’s not somewhere in your head, it just seems very, very far away. But even if you already worked for a few years, you might still not be spending much time thinking about your future as a retiree.

When we are young, in school or university, nobody is really teaching us about retirement, about financial security. About the limited time that we have to prepare. And for sure, while your HR department might tell you about your options for provident fund support, they for sure won’t teach you how to prepare yourself financially in the best possible manner. It is even more sure that they won’t plant any ideas of early retirement in your head.

There are many reasons why this is a huge, missed opportunity. I would even argue that this hinders humanity on moving a giant step forward. It is a waste of resources, creativity and human potential on a scale that is impossible to estimate. Let me explain.

Asking the right question

So to start off, thinking about retirement, in general, is something that everyone should do. However, I would argue that instead of asking yourself the question about when and how to retire, it makes a lot of more sense to be asking another question: “When do you want to be financially independent?”

The idea of retirement is a very frustrating, de-motivational and overall just a negative thought structure, which clearly explains why we just don’t want to think about it unless we are forced to. Retirement is by most being perceived as one of the last check-points in your life. When, after working for 30 or 40 years, you reach that point in your life when either your body, your mind, or your countries legal structure forces you out of the workforce. Some, who thrived in their profession, might consider it a point when they draw a line to say “we had a good run, but it’s enough”. Some want to retire. Some don’t. But no matter where and in what state of mind you will find yourself, the core of every retirement is financial independence.

So if it all comes down to being financially independent, wouldn’t it make sense to reach this goal as soon as possible?

The benefits of aiming for financial independence instead of retirement

Thinking about financial independence instead of retirement changes the whole perspective, and takes out the negativity out of the equation.

For one, it doesn’t mark any specific point in your life in terms of not referring to you as being old, sick, or in any way considered to be useless by society. Because let’s face it, that is what happens at a certain age. Taking out all these negative thoughts that creep into our heads as soon as we think about the “golden age”, is turning the whole thought process around.

Secondly, financial independence can be a very motivating and encouraging tool that helps us not only to think about the last stage of our life, but that can greatly support us from a much earlier point on.

This is due to the fact that for many of us, challenges in relation to age start to show their ugly face very early on. Ask anyone who got laid off or who would like to pursue a career change and happens to be 45-50 years old. Finding a new job, a new venture at this age can be a very frustrating experience. You might suddenly realize that there are millions of younger, faster and smarter people out there who compete for the same positions. And like it or not, while you might have vast experience, your age will more than often be considered a hindrance rather than a benefit.

Being financially independent as early as possible will give you peace of mind. Knowing that you don’t need to worry about shelter, about food for you and your family and about medical support if needed, will give you the security and the opportunity to navigate through any hardship.

It will also give you opportunities to persevere in your quest for changes in your life. And, it will give you the self-confidence and advantage that you will need to outplay your younger competition.

Doing something else entirely

I hope to reach financial independence in a few years. In fact, I hope my current job to be my last, full-time-corporate assignment. I am 39 years old, the target is to be fully independent by 45, although I might stop working full-time earlier, let’s say at 42 or 43. The financial independence that I can reach by then will enable me to turn to some completely new ventures – and adventures.

I would like to pursue some opportunities that seem hard to reach for the moment. Like working for an NGO or a foundation and help to solve some problems in an area or field that require attention.

I would love to do some voluntary work in Africa or South America. I would definitely be interested in developing some startup companies that can help to shift some peoples lives in a better direction. I would also love to add a few more skills to my repertoire. A better understanding of electricity and potential products or solutions in that field. I want to learn more about renewable technologies, acquire basic coding skills and use that knowledge to find some new ideas and goals to strive for. I also like to learn to play the guitar and piano.

And I know that I am not the only one who would like to do something more with his life than just working for some company, following assignments that I might or might not agree with. Following orders just to meet the expectations of someone with an entirely different agenda… it just doesn’t feel fulfilling to me.

Just imagine, what humanity could reach if a majority of people could at some point in their life use their experience and knowledge, not for the good of some corporation, but to work on projects and ideas that are meant to solve problems and help others.

Our lives are so short and there are so many things to do, to learn and to experience. Staying all our lives in one job and waiting for that magic golden years to start just feels like a lot of missed opportunities. And I think, deep down, that is how most people feel. It may be one of the many reasons for us being reluctant on spending time to think about retirement.

Therefore, I would urge anyone to forget the idea of retirement and to replace that void with financial independence. Retirement is something to wait for, financial independence is something to strive for. After reading this article, which one would you consider making more sense?

The fastest way to get your first million

I like to keep my blog neat and simple. I like to write articles with text only, I seldom use pictures or videos. But every now and then I might encounter an interesting infographic that is worth sharing.

When it comes to the topic of money, the best place to find interesting graphics is in my humble opinion a website called Visual Capitalist. This is also the place where I encountered the following graphic:

infographic-time-to-first-million-dollarsNow the data for this graphic comes from a website that compares casinos. To be clear: I don’t endorse, recommend or promote anything that might be concerned with gambling in any way.

Having clarified that part, the data in this graphic is highly interesting. And kind of amazing. The vast majority of people who made it to the financial top gained their very first million in less than a decade from the moment of (really) trying. How did they do that? Mostly by setting up a business.

Having your own business

So evidently, the most effective way to gain financial independence is not real estate, stocks or gambling – but your own business.

This is actually not surprising. As we know, it takes money to make more money. When you start from zero, the fastest and only way to get some cash-flow started is to work for it. You might start with a regular job, but we all know that when you work for a company, even though you might get good benefits and salaries, the majority of the profits that result from your and from your teams’ actual work goes to your employer. Obviously, this is not the case when you got your own business. As you take on all related business responsibilities, you also reap the full benefits and cash-in the entire generated profits from your operation.

Shouldn’t we all strive for our own business then?

IF having your own business is granting the fastest way to riches, then this would be the right question to ask. And for many having their own business, being their own boss, it is something worth striving for.

Not to me. I invest in stocks for a simple reason. I don’t want to have to work at all. I want to reach FIRE. For me, escaping the rat race is all about reducing the amount of responsibility on my shoulders and to free up my time. When you have a business, you always take on additional responsibility and you always have to keep exchanging your time for money. I want to have the freedom to decide whether I work or not. As a business owner, you don’t really have that choice without accepting sacrifices on your income.

Furthermore, having your own business may be the fastest way to riches, but it’s probably also the hardest one. Of course, there are different types of business and you need to consider whether you just want to earn enough to get through the day, or whether you want to build wealth. Your workload might be mild if you have a small, self-sufficient thing going on. But if you strive for that million on your account, then you will have to work really, and I mean really hard, on a scale that will surpass the amount of stress and responsibility of most regular employees out there.

So it comes down to what you really want. There are many ways and opportunities to escape the rat race. But there are only a few ways that will truly align with your own expectations. For most people who become successful with their own business, the target is not FIRE. They want to work, just on their own terms. If that is your target, great. If not, then you got to find another way.

Getting some perspective

I have been on vacations for the last four weeks. While the first week was still pretty stressful due to a few family and work matters, the second week was already very relaxing. I spent some time at our inherited house in the north-east of Thailand. A peaceful and quiet place.

Extremely low living costs, usually filling a table full of food for less than 10 Euros at today’s exchange rate (1 Euro = 37 THB). A small Thai herbal sauna just in front of my house. A visit there costs only 50 THB which is not even 2 Euros. This includes the sauna visit and free of charge herbal tea – all day long. There is a nice public park for about 5 min. by car from my house, where I can go exercise every day, with a nice lake to run around, pull-up bars, a basketball field, soccer field and some machines that can be used. There is also a nice playground which is great for kids. After exercise, I can take a 2 min. ride to the local market where I can get a freshly pressed carrot-apple-lime juice for 20 THB. Roughly 0,60 Euro. A portion of steamed chicken breast with some rice and a chicken-broth-soup costs 40 THB. A little more than 1 Euro.

Why do I list all this? Very simple: I could have a very simple and actually good life in this place for probably less than 15 Euros a day – for my whole family. That’s 450 Euros a month. We inherited the house so there is no rent to pay, but even if I would rent a place it would cost not more than 200 Euros. For a 2-3 bedroom house or apartment, with a bathroom, garage, garden and garbage pick-up.

Keeping living costs low

The secret to success for most people is not about how much they earn, but about how much they spend. Having a high paycheck won’t help you if you are not able to manage your expenses. Living frugally is an essential part not only to become financially independent but also learn to enjoy a simpler life.

Basic living expenses play a key role in the entire structure. As we know, many people around the world use the majority of their earnings to spend on basic living costs. Rent, water, electric, food, transportation, education, and medical costs tend to eat up very large chunks of distributed salaries. Therefore the logical conclusion for most should be, that in order to be able to save more, one should try to reduce those costs as much as possible. Living above your means is a sure way to end up broke. Living below your means, however, will unlock the potential to save and to invest. Thus, building wealth.

There are plenty of blogs that teach people how to live frugally and I follow a few of them. I can always find some idea and some tips on how I can squeeze out more opportunities to save, without having any significant impact on my lifestyle. So while I don’t intend to make my blog about this, here my top 5 tips that I think can make a huge difference:

  1. Move to a low-cost area – This is probably the most important one. Living in an area where costs of living are low can have a tremendous impact on your ability to save up money. This does not only refer to the rent for your house, but also to such basic costs like groceries, coffee-shops, etc. If your profession offers the flexibility to move around, you certainly should consider moving to a place where you just get more value for your money.
  2. Ditch things that you don’t need – or declutter your life. Memberships, online subscriptions, insurance policies… you really got to review it all and consider which service brings real value to your life and what you consider necessary. For most cases, less can be more.
  3. Embrace minimalism – or declutter your life even more. I am sure I quoted this at some point on my blog already, but many people live their lives by buying things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, just to impress people who they don’t even know. It’s not necessary. You don’t need to have an expensive car. You don’t need to follow every new trend and to always be up to date – especially if you need a credit card to make it possible. Having less will free up your mind, your time and let you focus on the things that really matter. Like your family, or going for a run (instead of the gym). And when was actually the last time that you just laid down on your back in a field or on a lawn and watched the clouds passing by in the sky?
  4. Learn about taxes and benefits – A few things in life are certain. One is, that we all have to die. The second is, that we all have to pay taxes. However, while we still can’t control the first point, paying taxes is not only a burden but it also opens up some benefits. While some, such as a schooling system for your kids or basic medical care, are more obvious, other benefits are hidden and not in plain sight. So no matter where you live and what you do, it makes sense to spend a few days a year to learn about things that you are entitled to, and how to benefit from them. Ask around your friends, google it or maybe invest a few Euros to seek the support of a professional. It may be worth it.
  5. Re-evaluate your priorities – We all have our routines. Things we do, because we always did it. Things we do, because that’s how we grew up. Things we like to do because that’s what we identify ourselves with. Chances are, that those things do cost you money, and chances are even higher, that there are tons of things you might not know about yourself. Try to do new things. Explore your own abilities, interests and challenge yourself with things you never thought about or considered in the past. It’s not just about saving money, but also about developing yourself, expanding your horizons and finding new opportunities along the way.

Early retirement is possible with some sacrifices along the way

I am planning for early retirement. However, as I stated a few times, this won’t work without a few sacrifices. FIRE is not for everyone, because it requires a lot of sacrifices that many are not willing to take. However, living frugally is not one of them.

Living frugally, embracing minimalism and learning to be happy with less, will most probably contribute to a better and healthier life. It will reduce stress, pressure, costs and help you to turn into one of those people who are endless optimists. Because of the fewer things you own, the fewer things you have to worry about. And in today’s world, this is a huge burden taken off your chest. You should give it a try.