When it comes to planning for early FI, a most important decision that we will have to address is what to do with the ol’ housing situation: Big house or big city?
Sure, the above question is attempting to paint things with a broad brush. Most likely, though, at one end of the spectrum you’ll have the choice to settle down with something like the following:
You know (especially if you’re from America), suburban life.
Big House (Suburbs)
In other words:
- Lots of space.
- Huge house.
- No annoying neighbors surrounding you in all directions.
- Enough room to furnish your own private parcel with probably everything your heart desires.
Some MASSIVE appliances?
If you want it.
Dual sinks in the master bathroom?
Perhaps, if that’s your bag and you can afford it!
Speaking for myself personally, as someone who grew up and immersed their entire childhood and early adulthood in suburban America, it just feels like a natural path to pursue in life.
Frankly, not until I reached my 30s did I even know what life outside the suburbs even felt like.
My first exposure to city life happened when I visited Tokyo in 2014.
I was absolutely blown away by the hustle, bustle, sights, sounds, etc.
It was surely sensory overload from all directions and angles!
Also noteworthy to me was just how darn efficient public transportation was in a big city.
You could effortlessly get from Point A to Point Wherever.
Helping you indulge in whatever it is you were chasing after that particular day.
Say, some delicious Ichiran ramen in Shibuya.
Followed up with some arcade action in Akihabara?
That describes my first full day in Tokyo!
Really, it shouldn’t take you more than 30-45 minutes to make the above itinerary happen.
After spending about 2 weeks in Tokyo, I was thinking to myself: “Wow, this city is freekin awesome! There’s so much to see and do, and the best part is I don’t even need a car at all to get around town.”
Subconsciously, or not, it was in Japan that I realized there’s more than one way to live life.
So, when I finally got around to calling it quits in the workplace, and decided it was time to explore the world, you could say that I had already sampled a small portion of the two distinctly different worlds.
My early FI housing decision, in regards to wanting to continue spending time living in a suburb or branching out to city life, was a critically important one.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now pretty clear to me that my Tokyo experience steered me in the direction of really wanting to try out living in Hong Kong, back in 2016.
More Big City Experiences
And in the crowded cities of Asia (which Hong Kong most definitely is one), it’s really similar to what life is like in Tokyo.
I mean, there’s even hoards of folks hanging around a silver shop.
Similar to my Tokyo experience, there was just so much stuff (culture) to take in living in a big city.
Real, legit HK bbq!
Further, the lights and skylines were just breathtakingly beautiful to marvel at during the nighttime.
And despite the indisputable fact that I was living in a dilapidated, worn down “small shack”, I felt like a million bucks.
Even though I was electing to sleep on the floor utilizing a cheap ass mattress, I felt grateful and truly blessed to be alive.
Then, I started hanging out with more local Hongkongers, and realized that “city life” was the norm around here.
I mean, none of my friends expected to live in a ginormous 2,000 square ft mansion.
It was more along the lines of, “Wow, you’re living in a 700 square ft apartment?!? That’s ENORMOUS!!!”
Big City Valuations
And then you quickly realize that even something as “tiny” as a 400 square ft apartment can set you back in the range of $500,000 USD (or more)!
For something that was built an eternity ago (e.g., 100+ years)…
And is rapidly falling apart.
Like, literally, a decent-sized house (that is in total shit condition) in a big city can still easily be worth a million bucks!
Even the aforementioned house I was staying at in Hong Kong, it was a very in-demand and HOT piece of property. One that would be subject to a FIERCE bidding war (if it were to ever hit the open market).
And again, it looked like this (thanks to many years of having to combat various typhoon seasons)!
You Get What You Pay For
Fast-forward to the here and now, and I’ll say these days, I’m a very strong proponent of much preferring to live in a big city as opposed to owning a big house in the suburbs (especially ones located in the middle of nowhere).
Despite not getting much “house” for your $$$ in a big city, I really feel like you get what you pay for.
In a big city, you’re primarily paying for your surroundings.
That’s what it’s all about.
Don’t lose sight of that.
I would argue, it’s well worth it.
The Big City and Early FI Harmony
Don’t forget, a house is primarily needed for sleeping in (i.e., 8 hours a day), but in early FI, you’re going to have A LOT more free time to wander around.
And when we’re talking about early FI, the key word is “early” which should imply one is still relatively spry enough to NOT just wanna lay in bed all day long.
It’s subjective, of course, but let’s say for the average 30, 40, 50 year old in early FI… even if you’re totally fucked up and dealing with severe adrenal fatigue/chronic fatigue (like yours truly), you’re still gonna wanna do stuff.
From my own experience, early FI and a big city are a perfect match for one another.
This is all coming from someone who has spent a good amount of time living in big cities, such as:
- Hong Kong.
- Ho Chi Minh City.
- Bonifacio Global City (BGC).
Nothing is better than being able to roll out of bed one morning and observing the following.
Because you just know something exciting is *brewing* behind the scenes (or literally right smack in front of your face). In the case of the image above, that shot was taken 2 days before New Year’s.
A premonition of some good times ahead!
And on New Year’s Eve, you can just walk down the street.
To the life of the party, in literally 5 minutes or less.
Spectacular scenes are the norm in a big city.
And once the dust is settled and everyone is frantically trying to fight the crowds to get back home, for someone living in a big city, it should take you a lot less time.
Maybe, you can (like in my case) simply walk back home in no time at all.
All About Experiences
Most everyone who is an advocate for early FI seems to rationalize that life is all about the experiences because our time on this world is finite.
Logically speaking, then, it seems to make sense to me to want to immerse one’s self in an environment that is most conducive to providing you lots of things to:
- Experiment with.
Some suburbs might be loads of fun, but I doubt they can compete on the size/scale of a premier big city.
Big City Drawbacks
Certainly, a big city isn’t for everyone, and lots of sacrifices will have to be made to gain the privilege to call a place like this home. As mentioned earlier, the biggest and “best” cities out there aren’t cheap, and you’ll likely have to pay through the nose in terms of $/square ft (or $/square meter) to even obtain a small parcel of
land air space to call your home.
And you won’t get a MASSIVE backyard for the kids and/or dogs to play in.
You’ll be lucky just to get a small balcony.
Further, in a big city, you’re most likely going to have to share tight quarters with many neighbors (to the side, above, below, pretty much in all directions). If you’re someone who can’t stand noise and/or really needs their privacy away from too many people, this will be a tough one to pull off.
To get around, walking will be the primary means. If you’re willing and able, I’d call is a plus because it forces you to be active (i.e., exercise all the time). But if mobility is an issue for you, getting around town could be an issue living in a big city.
Ownership and Title
Lastly, when you go the route of trying to buy some air space in a big city, you’ll never own the land where your apartment resides. For some folks, a title stating that you have “only the right to live in a defined air space” belonging to a much larger tower/complex/developer is NOT sufficient.
Personally, I try and not make too big a deal out of “land ownership + title” since we all ultimately end up as dust anyway.
For example, try not paying your property taxes when they’re due on your HUGE plot of land. You’ll quickly realize you don’t actually own jack shit.
Really, when all is said and done, what do we ever TRULY ever own in this world, anyway?!?
Sometimes you’ve got to work backwards to help you figure out how to reconcile the present.
In terms of speculating, I personally would feel much more comfortable owning the ugliest home in a nice big city as opposed to owning the prettiest home in a sleepy suburb.
With a big city, you should be able to easily rent out an apartment to either:
Perhaps there are some sleepy suburbs out there that can attract a lot of tourists and interest from Airbnb, but by and large, I would prefer to take my chances with a piece of property located in say: Hong Kong, Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, BGC, etc.
If things go well down the road, you can always elect to sell (hopefully at a HUGE profit), or rent out for semi-passive income. Meanwhile, you can move to some place cheaper (with a backyard for the kids!) to live.
Utilizing say geographic arbitrage, to your advantage.
Perhaps what I’m saying won’t resonate with everyone out there…
But I’ve got a few datapoints of friends/family who made the decision long ago to speculate/invest in places like Hong Kong.
Even though none of them ever lived in said acquired units, they had absolutely zero regrets with their decisions to lock down some valuable real estate.
In fact, they are all multi-millionaires today; speculating/investing in a big city was one of the smartest financial decisions they ever made in their lives.
By no means am I suggesting that the Art of Speculation is easy at all, though.
It’s definitely not.
I hope this post was useful to you. As someone who is now in early FI and who had to make a very important early FI housing decision a few years back, these are the thoughts that I have formulated and come away with.
All from personal experience.
Keep up the fight!