Early FI: Be a Fan of Opportunity

by FI Fighter on August 13, 2015

in Thoughts

LH Terminal (33 of 39)

There are no secrets on how to get to early financial independence. It can be achieved by ANYONE who is willing to work hard, sacrifice, commit, stay consistent and persistent, and possess a never say die attitude.

In short — Cut expenses, don’t live above your means, and invest.

Over and over and over and over again and again.

And that’s basically all that there is to it.

Yet so many on the journey to early FI still won’t get to where they want to go. Why is that? You can do everything right and yet still come up short…

Perhaps there’s more to it than just that?

The Foundation

The aforementioned traits that one needs to possess on the journey to early FI are all good and true. But I believe what separates those who succeed brilliantly from those who struggle to get out of neutral gear is something entirely else.

Cutting expenses, living below your means and being frugal aren’t exactly the easiest things to do. But once you get used to it, it becomes like just about everything else in this world…

Too lazy to exercise? Well, once you start, you probably won’t want to stop. Motivated to eat right and cut out junk food? Start eating healthy, all-natural whole foods and your body won’t want to go back to processed junk.

Acclimation and assimilation come readily after enough repetition. Perhaps those who have an innate frugal gene have a slight advantage, but I believe just about anybody can acquire the skill of playing strong defense.

Here’s the easiest way how:

  • Cut down on expenses (even just a SINGLE one) any way possible.
  • Take the now excess funds saved and invest it (e.g. dividend growth stocks).
  • Collect passive income and/or watch your net worth (assets) grow.
  • Record progress.
  • Repeat over time.
  • Analyze results.

Most people, after seeing first-hand results (the proof in the pudding!) will be far too thrilled to want to stop. This is how the snowball starts to build up, or so they say, and progress starts to accelerate.

Presto! You have now mastered the Art of Saving.

For anyone who has attempted early FI for awhile now, none of what I’ve just described will come as any surprise to you. I’ve never done a research study so I have no clue what the percentage is of folks who succeed in getting passed this “initiation” phase. But if you want some solid evidence that many people do indeed master the Art of Saving, look no further than to Rockstar Finance’s Net Worth report which gets updated monthly.

After all, you can’t keep building up a positive net worth if you’re spending more than you bring in each and every month (inheritances don’t count!). There’s no other way around it — you’ve got to learn how to save to not only get to FI but to sustain it.

Lots of qualified experts, indeed…

A Sound Gameplan

Throughout the history of this blog, I’ve spent very little time addressing the topic of savings because I feel like defense is a skill that anyone can master. And once you do, there’s not much else more that you can do to improve your results. In other words, once you’ve cut down expenses and spending to an “extreme” steady-state level, what more can you really do to maximize results? I don’t know about you, but even though I want to get to early FI, I also want to enjoy life as well and not live in absolute poverty. Like most things in life, there’s a happy medium somewhere and you’ve just got to find yours.

With that said, once your defense is in place, the only other thing you can do is to work on your offensive game. Generating strong offense is not trivial… and it’s something that I’m working on all the time. Over the years, I’ve made many mistakes, but I’ve also acquired a ton of knowledge as well.

The offensive side of the equation can take many years, or decades, or even a lifetime to master.

And it’s because of that… that’s why many people ultimately fail — Reducing investing to nothing more than a rudimentary skill, when it’s in fact probably as difficult to perfect as learning a foreign language will doom you to mediocre results.

You’re gonna need to study a lot and practice, practice, practice.

It should be obvious, but it’s not — There’s MUCH more to investing than just acquiring a single skill! Any investor who ONLY invests in stocks, or ONLY invests in real estate, or ONLY invests in precious metals and commodities is not seeing the complete picture!

There are many worthy investment classes out there and I am convinced that you cannot maximize your results and progress if you so easily dismiss the many viable options that are made available to you each and every day.

The Secret Sauce

The secret sauce is simply this — You’ve got to learn to become a HUGE fan of opportunity. And you cannot always do that if you live in a vacuum where ONLY a SINGLE investment class exists.

As I’ve been reiterating over and over on this blog lately, I am a fan of Market Cycles. I am learning to study history, trends, bubbles, valuations (one asset class relative to another), etc.

All of this studying is making me a much better investor… When I first started off on my journey to early FI, I was solely a Dividend Growth Investor (DGI). Although I still feel like DGI is an excellent investment platform (especially for those who are just starting out!), over time, I’ve learned to expand my repertoire to include other asset classes, primarily Real Estate Investing (REI) and Precious Metals (stacker!).

To me, an investor is no different than a MLB pitcher who is working on honing his craft every offseason to get better — A big league pitcher will typically start off his career with a single “go to” pitch. As the player gains more experience, he learns to cultivate other pitches… 2-seamer, 4-seamer, curveball, slider, breaking ball, etc.

As he progresses, he gets better and better… The individual battle between a pitcher and batter (or you vs. Mr. Market) is a lot like a chess match; the more moves and options you’ve got, the better your chances of winning are.

Investing is no different…

My Experiences

When I first started DGI in 2012, I didn’t know jack about stocks. But I was open to learning, studying, and growing my knowledge. I won’t say that I ever became a DGI expert, but I was making decent progress and definitely moving forward in the right direction towards early FI!

By mid-2012 and early 2013, I noticed that real estate prices were very cheap and the asset class as a whole was grossly undervalued. So, I decided to get educated up on real estate. Up to date, the best investment decision that I ever made was electing to buy Rental Property #1 (and then later Rental Property #2)…

Luck had a lot to do with it. And timing. But we can all get lucky if we are prepared!

No one told me, or forced me to get involved with real estate… I was doing just fine as a stock investor and I could have kept on marching in that very same direction…

But as I’ve learned, a whole new world of infinite possibilities can open up to you if you learn to free your mind and expand your reach. The investor who stays narrow-minded and rejects all other ideas outside their depth of competence will eliminate all chances of getting “lucky”. You can’t get “lucky” if you won’t even consider playing the game!

So Many Options!

More than just that, we’ve all got to give up the notion that we think we know everything. Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to amass $1MM+ in Net Worth over the past 4 years, I’m still grounded enough to know that I still don’t know jack about investing… I’m learning all the freekin’ time!

Further, if you want to get to early FI, you’ve got to learn to become an agnostic investor. Or, as I like to call it — a financial independence investor.

Having a strong affinity and attachment for ANY particular investment method/technique/philosophy, etc. is EXACTLY what keeps an investor from seeing the big picture (and capitalizing on wonderful investment opportunities).

Growth stocks vs. dividend stocks? I like them both!

Real estate vs. stocks? I like them both!

Fix-and-flip vs. buy-and-hold? I like them both!

Precious metals vs. fiat currency? I like them both!

Why pick and choose just ONE answer?

I can appreciate a company like Kinder Morgan (KMI) who pays a nice, big FAT 6% dividend. In fact, there are many retirees who are living large off of these same big FAT dividend checks every year! At the same token, I also live in Silicon Valley and I’m surrounded by multi-millionaires who got FAT off of investments made in: Facebook (FB), Google (GOOG), and Tesla Motors (TSLA). Although very different approaches, both methods do indeed work!

And although I switched from DGI to REI, it doesn’t mean that I think real estate will ALWAYS be a superior investment… Back in 2012 and 2013, in the Bay Area, it was. In 2015? Far from it… In fact, I don’t even want to touch a Bay Area investment property with a 20 ft. pole right now!

If you are offended by that, don’t be! I’m not insulting DGI, REI, or any other form of investment out there. There is a time and place for each type of investment, as each asset class doesn’t just go up in value for perpetuity or stay down in price indefinitely. Assets trade in a valuation channel relative to one another.

Always have. Always will.

Undervaluation. Overvaluation.

Again and again.

When an asset is undervalued, that’s when you need to tune in.

Some people say gold is a “barbarous relic”. If you are willing to accept that statement at face value, you don’t know history. Or as billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio liked to put it:

“If you don’t own gold, you know neither history nor economics.”

Central banks accumulate it. China, India, and Russia are buying the yellow metal hand over fist… Let’s open up our minds a bit before drawing any ignorant conclusions. Sure, gold doesn’t pay a dividend… it isn’t designed to. But if you are an agnostic investor and a HUGE fan of opportunity, you will appreciate how depressed gold prices are RIGHT NOW!

Who cares what everyone else is doing? If you keep chasing the herd, you’ll only get the same results as the herd… And right now, the herd doesn’t want to touch what is probably the most undervalued and hated asset there is out there! If it wasn’t obvious enough — I sure do!

Think different.

I’m not suggesting anyone jump in immediately and buy into ANYTHING… I’m merely pointing out that investment opportunities are always plentiful if you are willing to look around!

A Buffet!

As an investor, if you have a free invitation to a world-class buffet where you can eat whatever you want… would you really settle on just eating the same entree over and over and over again?

Well, here’s some good news for all of us — the buffet is open to all! You have no restrictions or limitations. You can create and accomplish whatever your heart and mind desire. You are limited not by opportunity, but only by your imagination!

But I do realize that it’s a constant process… As a pitcher, you don’t learn to master 6 different pitches proficiently in a single bullpen throwing session… And the same is true with investing.

It takes time… a lot of time. Many hours of studying, learning, and asking questions. But the least anyone can do is keep an open mind. Right now, I have experience investing in stocks and real estate, but I don’t know a lick about many things…

Even within real estate itself, I’ve never:

  • Invested out of the country.
  • Fix-and-flipped a home.
  • Wholesaled.
  • Owner financing.
  • Invested in notes.
  • Etc., etc.

I don’t think anyone should ever try and do too much all at once and overwhelm themselves, but as always, you’ve just got to be willing to accept different options and possibilities. Don’t limit yourself and your progress. In fact, I think it would be really cool to do many of those things listed above!

Pick one thing and get really good at it… Try another one and see if it meshes or not. Not everything will work out. But learning is always.

Conclusion

I really believe that there are over a trillion ways to make money out there. On the quest to early FI, we all want to make the most progress and get there as swiftly as possible. I commend anyone who even dares attempt early FI because it’s not an easy mountain to climb!

With that said, I’ve found in my own experience (and from hearing the stories of others), the most successful investors are the ones who are the most open minded and willing to think outside the box; they see opportunity everywhere! When you learn to question and inquire about anything and everything, a world of possibilities opens up for you.

Recently, a good buddy of mine just sent me an e-mail packet about a fix-and-flip opportunity in the Bay Area. And you all know how toxic I think Bay Area real estate is right now, right?!? 😉

But I’m still going to open up the document and have a look around… Who knows what I might find?

And one of these days, I’ve seriously got to figure out how this whole Bitcoin thing works… and finally I’ll need to get educated on entrepreneurship and how to start my own business.

 

The joys of learning! 🙂

 

Thanks for stopping by!

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mark August 13, 2015 at 1:40 pm

The natural progression from residential real estate is commercial. Why not start there?

I heard a thought provoking quote before and it went something like this:

“Of all of the wealthy people who invested in real estate and have a networth of $100+ million. How many of them do you think got there through residential renting? It is safe to say none or very close to it. However, on that same line of thinking how many got there through commercial? I know many!”

My personal goal is not to hit $100million. If I stumble upon it by happenstance great if not, no biggie. I am cool in the mid 5-10 mill marker. Residential is suitable for me today. For your readers who want to aim big than expansion is necessary. Also it is a natural law that organisms need to adapt or die. So to be comfortable in one niche topic may work but having your eggs in one basket can be a great disservice.

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2 FI Fighter August 13, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Mark,

Absolutely. Residential real estate can be tremendously profitable but commercial real estate is really how you expand and grow. When it comes down to it, real estate is mostly about, “how many doors do you control?”

I may never have blogged about it, but I’ve submitted offers for apartment complexes before. We got blown out of the water. There are a lot of sharks operating in that space… For now, I don’t have sufficient capital (or knowledge) to succeed in that space. But I do follow it and would love a crack at it someday.

For me, the end goal isn’t “how much money can I accumulate?” More is not always better. I’m along for the ride for the journey as much as the final destination…

$5-10MM is an ambitious goal! I hope you get there! Most people won’t ever come anywhere close to that so you’ve obviously done a lot of great work.

I don’t believe in “all eggs in one basket” either because it is unlikely for one asset class to always keep outshining every other asset class out there. I can understand “buy and hold your winners” but not keep buying the same thing every day and hope it never comes crashing down!

Cheers!

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3 Mark August 13, 2015 at 8:52 pm

You are absolutely right that most people won’t get there. I am not most people. The sole reason people don’t aim big is because they are afraid to fail. Everyone fails. The only difference is the winners get back up and keep pushing forward. The losers stay down or blame external factors (however valid or invalid those factors may be).

If I shoot for the moon the very least will be I will land on the stars. If I stay in my comfort zone I will never leave the atmosphere.

I am both pleased and grateful where I am financially at this current juncture of my life. By no means is my work complete but I will make every day a victory until it is.

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4 FI Fighter August 14, 2015 at 8:43 am

Mark,

Great point. To aim big involves getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things. It may be risky and you fail fail which is why I don’t think going outside the confines of normal is appropriate for most people.

With this blog, I try to keep things honest and real… But I believe the truth is you have to do something daring and somewhat unconventional to amass great wealth. You can’t do what everyone else is doing and expect greater results.

Keep shooting for the moon!

Cheers!

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5 Jp August 13, 2015 at 6:34 pm

I have to agree with the 20 foot pole comment. Even in Boston where I thought you could always find a good deal, everything I see is a negative cashflow opportunity.

When it comes to commercial RE and extreme wealth, it makes sense to look at what you really want out of financial independence. I may prefer 4 properties with passive income of 8k vs 8 properties with passive income of 16k(example). Somewhere along the line your happiness tops out and you are adding stress to the table for the potential of being a bigger deal and buying more things.

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6 FI Fighter August 14, 2015 at 8:46 am

JP,

Negative cash flow is the norm now my friend! To invest right now, you’ve got to be certain of future appreciation which might be very risky at this point of the market cycle.

With regards to pricey real estate, I’m good. I made my run and am content with investing elsewhere now.

Totally agree with your point about happiness. I also don’t need to become a real estate mogul to be happy and content. 4 paid off properties may very well be all that I will ever need.

Investing to get to early FI is just the start. There’s definitely more to life than just chasing after the next deal all the time.

Take care!

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7 Leigh August 13, 2015 at 10:12 pm

The journey to FI is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes perseverance and living below your means for many years. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny things along the way, but if you really want it, you’ll get back on track eventually. You’ve questioned contributing to your pre-tax 401(k). I won’t give that up – the tax savings and match money are too good. But I’m wondering lately whether I made the right decision deciding to contribute to the after-tax 401(k) and whether I’d prefer to have the mortgage paid off a bit earlier, especially as my goal is to quit my industry by my 30th birthday and time is getting closer to that date.

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8 FI Fighter August 14, 2015 at 8:53 am

Leigh,

There are many paths to early FI. I realize that the 401k way is the most popular way for most people and that’s wonderful. It works so I would never suggest to anyone else not to do it. And you’re doing amazing yourself! So, keep that up.

With that said, there are also dividend growth investors who get to early FI and do quite well. Real estate investing is another avenue and the one that I used to punch my ticket. Even so, I still invested in my 401k along the way and was able to ride up S&P 500 from 2009 lows to where we are now today. I’m ecstatic with those gains and didn’t mind taking some chips off the table right now. In the future, I will probably get back in…

In addition to real estate and 401k and dividend stocks, I like to take a few speculative gambles along the way. This may not be appropriate for anyone else, but what can I say, I’m a fan of growth. Sometimes you win big (TSLA), and sometimes you swing and miss (BABA). With growth, I take some risks but I wouldn’t do so if I didn’t have conviction that what I am betting on will work out in the end. We’ll see.

All the best!

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9 FFdividend August 14, 2015 at 5:06 am

i don’t know how to invest in gold? any good starting point? how do you invest in gold?

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10 FI Fighter August 14, 2015 at 9:03 am

FFdividend,

There are many ways, but I should first be clear and emphasize that I’m not suggesting anyone buy anything gold-related right now. The technicals are still extremely bearish and negative.

With that said, I feel that the gold market as a whole is greatly depressed right now and worth researching. I believe the mining stocks (in particular) are the most undervalued. There are many options — gold mining ETF to be safer (GDX). Large caps like NEM, GG, ABX to start. Or mid-size companies that are probably riskier with more upside potential. For gold: IAG, AUY. For silver: AG, PAAS, EXK. A hybrid: HL.

Free cash flow and earnings are atrocious right now for almost every company, but not because of incompetence or mismanagement (well, I guess in some cases) but almost solely due to the fact that the price of the commodity itself is so low right now. Junior miners are going out of business and companies are starting to merge (First Majestic just recently acquired Silvercrest), which is usually a telling sign that a bottom is near imminent. The price of the commodity, for instance is cheaper than the price to produce (AISC). You will bleed cash no matter how well-run your operations are (unless you smartly hedged out into the future and saw this onslaught coming). Because of that, almost all miners trade with P/B below 1.0. In many instances, below 0.6 and even 0.3. I don’t know in what other industry you’ll be able to find something like that…

Miners are a leveraged play on the commodity so they go down much faster but also rise much more sharply. As a whole, most speculators feel that silver will outperform gold on the way up b/c the gold to silver ratio is about 1:70 right now. In the past, it’s been closer to 1:50. And the metals come out of the earth at: 1:16.

Further, silver is an industrial metal and being consumed in great quantities: cell phones, solar panels, electronics, etc. In short, there will always be demand.

I’m very bullish on silver into the future. Gold as well, but that’s more a monetary metal and store of value.

Outside of the miners, you can invest in physical bars and coins. However, that method is less liquid and you will need a vault or other type of security service (e.g. Brinks).

As a whole, this sector is extremely volatile and there may very well be more downside ahead. Most pundits are calling for sub $1,000/oz gold and sub $12/oz silver.

Buying anything right now may very well be akin to catching falling knives. Same with oil. But that’s where the value lies so I’m tuning in and watching on the sidelines.

As much as I love growth, I’m probably an even bigger fan of value. But as I should mention again, the commodities sector is extremely volatile and risky. I would only ever use the miners and paper gold and paper silver (GLD and SLV) as a trading platform, not for long-term buy and hold.

Physical gold and silver being the exception since that’s not speculation. That’s a store of value. Real money.

All the best!

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11 FFdividend August 14, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Thanks for the info. I looked up the company and the best one i see is ABX, and even they don’t look good as you mention about earning.

do you have physical gold and silver just to store value?

again thanks for the info. you been very helpful. love your blog.

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12 FI Fighter August 14, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Physical is appropriate as an insurance policy against fiat currency devaluation and central bank money printing.

If you have any doubts about this just look at the price of gold relative to the Brazilian real or Japanese yen or South African rand over the past 5 years. Although gold is in a bear market in terms of U.S. dollars, it is near or at all-time highs in other currencies:

http://goldprice.org/gold-price-brazil.html

Just ask any Venezuelan what they think about gold right now!

The U.S. dollar is a wonderful place to be, no doubt, as it is especially strong right now. But gold is gold and gold is money. It can’t be printed or devaluated away…

And many investors take solace with that fact. Physical gold and silver aren’t intended to make you “filthy rich”. If you want to speculate or make money then trading miners is probably more appropriate for that, and right now they are cheaper and more undervalued than perhaps at any other time in history.

So, think like a contrarian… Any investor buying oil right now is universally regarded as a shrewd investor who knows a good deal when they see one. Another investor who is loading up on miners, instead, is regarded as a total idiot who is a pure speculator.

Oil is a commodity and needed by the world. But so is silver. Those products get consumed heavily. I don’t see why the latter gets the flak, but as always, I’ve never cared about what other people think 🙂

All the best!

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13 joe August 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm

why search for the needle if you can buy the haystack? i.e. – index funds.. you are missing the boat with all of your speculation… I am sure you will regret it one day.

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14 FI Fighter August 14, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Joe,

Missing the boat… in what way? I was invested in index funds in my 401k and Roth IRA and am now up over 100-150%. So, I cashed out FOR NOW… That doesn’t mean I won’t invest back in them later…

What can I say? I don’t like investing in all-time highs. I’m looking for bargains elsewhere.

Cheers!

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15 Jp August 14, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Joe, can you forward along your networth statement? If you are making a bold statement like that, you must know something we don’t.

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16 No Nonsense Landlord August 15, 2015 at 5:12 am

Index funds will accrue more net worth for an average investor than individual stocks will for even a professional money manager. Most investors cannot even beat inflation, let alone the indexes.

Indexes are low cost, and no capital gains. You can be in the market and not worry about missing the upside. Heading in and out of the market leads to lower overall returns.

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17 No Nonsense Landlord August 14, 2015 at 11:01 pm

You have done good, but you have a very risky approach. Compare some of your stocks, even the winners, to the S&P index. Odds are, you could have purchased the index, and set it and forget it.

With an index, you always have the hot sectors. And also the slow sectors. It keeps the steep highs and lows away from your portfolio.

There are still investors that are making money in real estate. Even buy and hold ones. They wait, they analyze, and when an opportunity presents itself, they pounce. Too many investors are negatively cash flowing because they are shooting too high. It will work out for some, others it will not.

Keep up the great work, but start to lessen your risk if you want to give up a full time job.

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18 FI Fighter August 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Eric,

Index funds are great, no debate there. I don’t ignore them and had ~$190k invested into Vanguard funds starting in 2006. I just don’t like buying into them at all-time highs…

Same with rental properties. Which is why I’m not buying any more homes at this time.

As an investor trying to short-cut my way to early FI, I’m looking for either growth or value (preferably both).

I LOVE growth… I LOVE value even more. If I can get both (rarely happens), even better! 🙂

Cheers!

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19 Cheryll Abanto August 15, 2015 at 1:13 am

FI is a path that one must tread. It begins with a single step. Might sound cliche, but to achieve FI, we have to concentrate on a single item first. Later, when we feel we are more comfortable in wandering around, we can choose to diversify interests. Of course, we cannot hope to learn it all in our lifetime, that is why there are experts that may be a well of help, along the way, i.e. if we have already taken the first step towards our goal.

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20 John August 15, 2015 at 8:48 pm

FI, how are you getting the capital to deploy for the next downturn? I thought you were on medical leave and quit your job. Did you join another company and I missed your posts?

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21 FI Fighter August 16, 2015 at 9:17 am

John,

I completed two cash out refis earlier this year and pulled out ~$200,000. The mortgage payments went up but my cash flow covers the spread where my properties are still cash flow positive.

I moved some of the capital to pay off Rental Property #4. The rest, I’m holding right now and have parked aside for better buying opportunities.

All the best!

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22 John August 16, 2015 at 1:17 pm

FI,
Thanks for the reply. I also work in tech and live in the Bay Area. Wondering what is the optimal $$ I should accumulate before I can pull the trigger for FI. Can you do a blog post explaining the numbers and how you arrive at that decision.
Since tech is rapidly changing I’m afraid if I pull the trigger too soon; it might be difficult to enter the workforce again 🙁

Thank you

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23 Tawcan August 17, 2015 at 8:32 am

Great post, you need to be open and willing for opportunities or they’ll never show up for you. If you’re always looking for limitations, you’ll only see limitations.

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