Early FI – Forge Your Own Path

by FI Fighter on August 8, 2016

in Financial Independence, Post FI, Thoughts, Thoughts

bed - 1

When I first started blogging in 2012, there weren’t really that many early FI blogs out there… These days, early FI blogs are a dime-a-dozen, which is a good sign that the movement has gained momentum and that there are more and more people out there striving for it. And when it comes to life goals, what could be more liberating than owning one’s time to do whatever you want with your days?

After all, time is finite for everyone, and therefore the single most precious commodity that there is out there.

In my mind, it is ONLY when you possess time unlimited that you are truly liberated and free.

And now that I’ve got time on my side and am closing in on two full months of living in Hong Kong, I can say that my perspective and thoughts have started to cement a bit… What I’m finding is altogether not that surprising…

Let me explain…

Dare to Be Different

Most everyone you know out there is firmly ensnared in the rat race of life… Just look around you — friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. are all working 9-5 until 65 (or later) just to pay the bills and make ends meet… Life ain’t easy, so if the thought of early financial independence and early retirement have crossed your mind (even just once), you are already different…

Drastically different.

And If you’re one that has been pushing hard towards the path to early FI, you obviously have no problem marching to the beat of your own drum and going against the grain… In other words, if you’re making a cognizant effort to do something that nobody else around you is doing, you’ve already taken the time out to reflect on your own goals in life and have realized what it is that you truly value.

I think for most of us, once we have the firm realization that it’s time that ultimately matters most, it becomes very easy to take a step back and question some of the things that we were previously doing. For myself, once I knew that I wanted the authority to be able to control my days without having to answer to anybody, I basically made life changes to re-direct most of everything else that I was doing to align with this now all-encompassing “purpose”.

You know the deal…

  • Experiences over possessions.
  • Living below your means.
  • Saving as much as possible and investing the difference.
  • Working hard to earn pay raises, bonuses, RSUs, stock options, etc.
  • Etc.

 

That’s all fine and dandy, and anyone doing those things is obviously on the right path to achieving early FI… But I think we can even take things one step further.

And Then Some…

In my own situation, I was blessed with being fortunate enough to work as an engineer in Silicon Valley. Your own story will obviously be different… But while I was doing that, I made sure to always focus on the BIG PICTURE, and not let the day-to-day micro events cloud my judgement.

Trust me, that’s way, way, way, way easier said than done…

What do I mean by focusing on the BIG PICTURE, or macro viewpoint?

Well, it means keeping your goals so fixated in the back of your mind, that almost anything life throws at you (noise) will have minimal impact and you won’t be thrown off track.

For instance, in Silicon Valley, housing is super expensive… Most everyone I know who lives there would strongly attest to that statement, but how many are willing to step up to the plate and do something absolutely contrarian to solve their problems?

Not many…

Even the people closest to me who “hate their job”, “hate their bosses even more”, and want nothing more than to blow open their calendars so that they can “travel the world”, will do NOTHING to make their early FI dream a reality!

What do these people do instead?

They fall victim to the same trap that all their rat race peers do… They accept the status quo… Even though early FI is the new mission statement and these folks are already thinking differently, sometimes it’s just not different enough…

Everything is relative, but for instance, if you make $200,000/year in salary, but the median home in your region costs $1,000,000, no matter how frugal you are, are you really going to be coming out ahead and moving in the right direction towards early FI if your monthly mortgage payment chews up the bulk of your salary?

But for some reason, very few people question these “life-altering” decisions that they make along the way… Signing yourself up for a 30 year loan is a HUGE deal! Don’t just commit to it because all your other co-workers are doing it… You’ve got to seriously ask yourself, “Is this really what I want out of life? Is this the path to happiness for me? Will this help me achieve my goals of early FI?

If not, don’t be afraid to look around for other options… Because oftentimes, an even better alternative solution exists…

My Experience

What I did was nothing special, but it was different and not something a lot of people around me were/are willing to do.

I house hacked

Throughout my early FI journey, this means that I lived at home with family to save on rent, and even when I moved out, I made the conscious decision to continue living with many roommates (like a typical college student) so that I could again save MASSIVELY on rent, even though I knew that I could easily afford to pay for a swanky studio apartment for myself…

My rationale was always, short-term pain for long-term gain… I never got complacent.

Again, it’s all about being cognizant of your true goals, ALWAYS, and never losing sight of them… In my own case, I focused so much on the macro that I just knew (accepted) that Silicon Valley was overrated (for me), and that when it came down to it, I would rather own 100% of my time and live somewhere much more affordable, than to put down roots in a region that would force me to work until I was old and gray…

That’s not easy to do… especially when you don’t believe that anyone else out there is making those type of “sacrifices”. In Silicon Valley, you have multi-millionaires who are absolutely miserable, but they keep on staying miserable b/c they can’t fathom the thought of selling their “uberly expensive” house for a 500% profit so that they can settle somewhere else less… hectic.

 

Life is too short and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone…

 

If you aren’t truly happy, why not question everything that comes across your plate?

 

 

And now that I’ve been living in HK for about two months now, I will add this point with emphasis — The world is a BIG ASS place! Until you’ve ventured outside of your own “bubble”, you might incorrectly assume that the world revolves around only what you’ve previously known and experienced…

Don’t make that mistake and jeopardize your true happiness…

You can’t possibly think that you know everything when you haven’t seen everything!

It’s very funny… When I first got here, I got connected to some family friends and was introduced to the most adorable little girl… On our first meeting, I joked with her, telling her that she was like the little sister I never had… I said, “I’m going to take you to America someday, and you can learn English.” She responded back, “No way! I love HK and there’s nowhere else I would rather be!” I challenged her, insisting that America was the most spectacular and amazing country in the world… She would have none of it… In her own mind, HK was the ONLY place worth living on the entire planet…

Do you think she cared one iota for Silicon Valley and all the riches there? About multi-million dollar shacks?

No!

And maybe neither should you?

Her response was not surprising to me in the least bit… Again, you only know what you know…

The BIG Picture

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to hate on Silicon Valley… It really is an amazing place… But HK is another amazing place… And I’ve also been to places like: NYC, Boston, Key West, Miami, Maui, Oahu, Tokyo, Rome, Bangkok, etc., etc., etc.

Point blank — The world is filled with many amazing places…

But if you are early FI focused and chasing after time (first and foremost), you might soon realize (like I did), that, “Hey, if I’m fortunate enough to live in an amazing place that pays me a spectacular amount of money… Maybe I shouldn’t piss it away on paying an obscene mortgage… and chasing after things just b/c everyone around me is doing it… Maybe I should house hack, or find ways to minimize my expenses so that I can aggressively turbo-charge my early FI progress… Because if I’m successful and can save up a storm, then I can just pack up my bags and move to another amazing place that will be even more amazing… because I will own 100% of my time.

So, what’s the most amazing place to me?

The one that lets me live there while controlling 100% of my time… That’s what it comes down to, really…

I mean, I don’t think there is a “perfect place” out there… Like with everything in life, there are pros/cons… You just want to find a way to maximize the pros and minimize the cons…

Like, in HK, I’m really only living here b/c I’m able to live rent-free (sort of) because my auntie owns an apartment here… If that weren’t the case, maybe I’d be blogging from Bangkok right now? Or some other cheap location… probably.

Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter to me where I’m living… Because my day-to-day micro world is now so spectacular… I wake up every morning whenever I want (no alarms!), I get to sleep in if I feel like it, I exercise 2-3 times everyday (what a wonderful feeling!), I eat right (and slow for a change!), I get to meet up with other bloggers/readers, I get to stay up late… and everyday feels like Saturday…

It’s because I focused so much on the macro that I’m able to now enjoy the micro on an immense level… one that I’m experiencing for the very first time in my life…

Would everyday feel like Saturday if I was still chained to the cube? No way! And I don’t care if you’re living in Silicon Valley, HK, NYC, etc… if you’re chained, you are chained… and it will still suck regardless of where you’re living.

Forge Your Own Path

It’s really tough to keep focus on the big picture if you’re caught up in the “here and now”… I grinded for close to a decade, so trust me when I say I’m all too familiar with that type of lifestyle…

When you look around you, and all your co-workers and peers are purchasing houses and new cars, I mean it’s human nature to not want to be “left behind”… So, even if we know we instinctively want early FI, it’s still really damn easy to fall into the trap of chasing after goals and things that aren’t aligned with what we ultimately want our own realities to become…

But you always gotta give yourself a reality check…

Now that I’ve left that old world behind, let me tell you, I really don’t miss anything about Silicon Valley… well, almost, I do miss my friends and family.

Still, those old days are long forgotten now… Here’s what I don’t miss.

  • Owning a car.
  • Car insurance and registration.
  • Car tune up and maintenance.
  • Cellphone plan.
  • Having to drive everywhere.
  • Paying tip and tax for everything.
  • Wearing expensive and uncomfortable clothes.
  • Sitting in staff meetings and pretending that I actually care about what’s being discussed…
  • All my material possessions…

 

Just look at that list above… If I never ventured out of Silicon Valley, I probably wouldn’t be able to imagine the life that I’m living today… No, I’d probably be saying something like, “Well, I guess I need to work another few years so that I can save up for a new electric vehicle since everyone else at work is plugging in these days…”

Or something along those lines…

So, do keep in mind that human beings are extremely adaptable to change! We usually don’t give ourselves enough credit, but I really do believe that once you get used to something new and “different”, you sort of even call into question everything that you were doing previously before…

Like, now that I’m in HK, I think the whole concept of sales tax and tip is ludicrous! Man, I sure don’t miss that! Ditto for everything associated with car ownership and cellphone plans… Now, I just take public transportation and I “pay as I go” for my phone/data. All the material possessions I left behind in storage? I now question why I ever even purchased all that junk in the first place…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying HK is perfect… The weather here is pretty unbearable in the summer and I don’t think they quite understand the concept of “organic” foods? Anyway, I’m going to stay adaptable b/c there probably will come a time when I want to leave HK behind and try something new again…

Change… It sure does keep life fresh and exciting, wouldn’t you agree?

But there’s no script that I’m adhering to… I’m simply forging my own path and doing whatever it is that I want to do…

 

Most importantly, I’ve got time, the one thing that I was fighting for this entire time!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric BowlinNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 7:13 am

I think there is a pack mentality to humans that has been a way for survival for thousands of years. It’s better to fit in and be normal than to be different and an outcast.

People work their jobs and go through life like everyone else simply because that’s what everyone is doing and always has done. It’s hard to be different.

But being different is how you reach FI and being normal won’t ever get you there.

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2 SharonNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 8:31 am

Dang I really like the idea of focusing on the macro and remembering the micro = noise. Totally needed to read this – thanks!

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3 MikeNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 9:17 am

I wanted to take a moment to comment on this post and the blog in general. Especially to those who are new.

This blog has inspired me, motivated me, encouraged me to dig deep within and pull myself up regarding my own personal finances in the pursuit of a greater calling. I think there is noble merit in wanting to “unchain” yourself and live life on your own terms.

As equally seductive as it is to go all in FI hunting, you need to always look both ways before crossing the street. FI Fighter has done a remarkable thing that not many have been able to accomplish. FI Fighter is also unique in that he has taken the time to diligently research all the fundamentals of his work. To the novice, you need to be careful that you are not plowing your hard earned savings into areas that may look attractive because the idea of FI is more important than the underlying risk in the vehicles with which you use to obtain it. My point is simple: FI Fighter could not have achieved his great wealth if he bought everything at the height of the market. He is where is his because his timing and execution was impeccable (knowingly or unknowingly). I am not trying to take anything away from FI Fighter. I think it is extremely impressive, I just want to warn those just starting that your millage may vary and be careful.
Warren Buffet said “Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful”. If your being greedy when other people are being greedy (possibly now in the market cycle), you might not find yourself on the path of early FI, but early bankruptcy. I am not a market oracle and I DO personally believe there might be more gas in the tank for the market (stock/housing) but I would not be betting the farm in areas of the market I do not understand and I would have a very tight leash (stop losses) accordingly.

FI Fighter mentioned “you don’t want to be a wage slave”. That is very true and resonates with me whole heartedly because I was in a position where I did not enjoy what I did, but needed to put food on the plate of my family. Did you know that you don’t need to obtain early FI to live happy? Let this quote sink in:
“If you find a job you love, you will never work another day in your life ever again”. WOW! 30 years doesn’t sound so bad if you’re a video game tester and you love video games. OR you love to work with your hands and you’re a home builder. Maybe you have a knack for beer and you want to start a micro brewery. There is merit to that. Maybe the answer is starting a venture that begins out as a hobby and it transitions into a career. When you do what you love the hours don’t matter, you stop counting them. THAT is freedom, doing what you love.
Traveling is great. Learning new cultures is great. Do it if you can, when you can. That is simply a means not an ends. Finding merit and value in what you do every day, helping society; those are virtues to pursue. If you are blessed to have early FI don’t squander it on yourself living an epicurist lifestyle. That dies out and leaves you feeling dehydrated after a while.

Again, this is just an incomplete post. Life is far more complex than words could ever describe. Your journey is a unique one and live it on your terms.
To FI Fighter! Thank you for all that you do, your posts inspire and uplift and show that it can be done 🙂

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4 MikeNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 9:18 am

“you have multi-millionaires who are absolutely miserable, but they keep on staying miserable b/c they can’t fathom the thought of selling their “uberly expensive” house for a 500% profit”

Amen to that!

So many folks (with no major ties to the Bay) could cash out and live like royalty in other parts of the country…mind boggling.

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5 Evan @ Building Income InvestmentsNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Wow, Inspiring. My son is about to start kindergarten next year so I can’t fully imagine the FI world where I am traveling, but the lack of stress would be amazing!

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6 TawcanNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Love it! It’s funny how people see the world differently when they venture outside of their city.

Having sales taxes included already is totally awesome, makes calculation so much easier.

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7 Midwestern LandlordNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 5:37 pm

It’s awesome having control over your day. I have been in that situation for coming up on 3 years now and I definitely do not miss the rat race. I agree that living in a very expensive area or situation (owning a large personal residence) really holds back the conditions necessary for early financial independence. It’s pretty simple really, the lower the expenses the easier it is to retire. So one has to decide if luxury items are important or personal freedom.

Granted there is a balance. I am far from frugal. However, I do live in a relatively low cost of living area. Housing is reasonable. At the end of the day what does a person really need? A safe place to live, food, utility money, etc. Buying a luxury home or a second home at the expense of continuing the rat race for several more years is just not worth it to me. But it is also not my goal to save every dime and never splurge on things. Money in and of itself (after you have enough to be secure) is somewhat meaningless. Our life spans are finite. Enjoy the ride. Sometimes it takes a little bit of money. Just keep those monthly recurring bills in check.

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8 JamesNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Time is the most precious commodity for everyone indeed. Do you know anyone who actually enjoys their work in SV? You seem too young to dislike the rat race so early. I hope you’ll find something you enjoy doing more after taking some time off.

Also, for most non Chinese people, as long as you can afford to, I would think NYC is much better than HK. I’ve spoken with many Japanese colleagues and they didn’t like HK very much, but raved about NYC.

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9 The Money CommandoNo Gravatar August 8, 2016 at 10:34 pm

FI Fighter – from the sound of your article it sounds like you sold everything when you moved to HK. I’m curious to hear exactly what you decided to bring with you on the next stage of your journey. A computer, a bag or two of clothes…anything else?

I’m always fascinated at how some people need so much stuff to be happy and some people need so little. I’m very curious to see where this new peripatetic life leads you next.

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10 MrRIPNo Gravatar August 10, 2016 at 5:17 am

Amazing post FIFighter! I enjoyed every bit of it!

I like the concept that if you want to achieve something so big like FI, you must “dare to be different”, which is the good old “don’t keep up with the Joneses”, stated in a more badassery way 🙂

That’s why I’m focusing very hard on my path, I want all of my time back as soon as possible, I’ve got a lot of things to do with it!

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11 SundeepNo Gravatar August 13, 2016 at 12:08 pm

Classic post!

Love the focus on macro to eventually enjoy the micro analogy!

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