It’s Not About The Money

It has been said so many times that no one really listens to it anymore. But it’s true that “It’s not about the money.”

I used to make those excel spreadsheets which would predict how much my money would grow at a certain rate of return. I used to pat myself on the back when I would see the millions that would accumulate. I started doing these calculations when I was 15 years old and used to do them by hand calculator. I look back and have to chuckle. Nothing really worked out that way for me and I doubt it does for many people.

I also used to read about all the intricacies of taxes. But tax laws change and political climates change. My best advice is to make sure that you hire a good accountant.

Most importantly do not put all your hopes and dreams on reaching a certain number. Think more about what kind of life you really want to live. Then the number is secondary. The government could change a tax law and you could see many years of savings collapse. That is why I am a fervent believer that you must at least enjoy the journey or else you may be very disappointed.

It is healthy to see more physicians are talking about finances. We do not tend to speak about our finances amongst ourselves as a profession since it could be seen as poor taste. I believe when physicians take care of their finances, they are able to work with less distraction and less stress.

It is wise to ensure that one has multiple layers of redundancy with respect to their finances. I am cautious to not fully expose my financial future on a paper portfolio anchored mainly in a public equities market. That is why I constantly review the tactics that are completely within my control such as minimizing unnecessary expenses. And I try to build a wonderful life with minimal financialization.

I am seeing especially amongst physicians or anyone who is able to reach FI, some of their fears do not vanish. Once the baseline FI is reached, more and more money will not help to assuage your fear of enough. Money does not tend to quell fear-based thinking. That is why the bar continually gets moved higher and further away. The numbers begin to be Franken numbers. The healthiest players are those who set a modest number. They have a simple plan to reach it and then spend more effort building a resilient life rather than reworking their excel spreadsheets. The lure of the one last year syndrome is real and can add decades more to your original plan if you are not careful. Furthermore, it is not healthy to give money all that power over your life.

For myself, it is about control. It is about laser focus of your values and your goals. I am beginning to see bloggers sharing their net worth. Although interesting, be careful about comparing too closely. Know that there are some people who can reach FI with a fraction of the ultimate number but are steadfast in their ability to “make it work”. Then there are the others who develop spreadsheet after spreadsheet and even with a massive number have to hold on for another year.

Design your financial plan robustly. Avoid blindly worshipping the public equities market of which you have zero control. I am participating in the buy, hold and pray technique but I assure you that my equity portion is simply used as an inflation hedge. I do not need it to make me wealthy. The public equities market is a place to store some part of your wealth- few should use it to build wealth. Even the infamous Warren Buffett- he built a business and he has influence with the companies he invests in. You and I do not. I hope that that was not a surprise to anyone.

I am generally distrusting of simple models that are also easy such as the 4% SWR (safe withdrawal rule). That might work but I am certainly NOT relying on it. It pays to be a bit paranoid at times especially when it comes to your wealth.

I tend to use multiple and redundant layers when it comes to my financial plan:

  1. Live modestly– As I continue to pontificate, learn to love extricating yourself from consumerism and being thunk upon by corporations.
  2. Be self employed– I plan to keep my license active since I enjoy being a doc and my work enables me to dial it up or down as needed. I appreciate this aspect of my career a lot. It probably will help me age healthier as well. One of the issues with some older retired people is that they seem to talk about their prior work a lot…
  3. Use inflation hedges:
    1. Real estate:
      1. You can continue to increase the rent of your investment properties which should keep pace with inflation
      2. Owning my home will allow me to keep my living expenses stable. It will be the best option to hedge against rental inflation and sequence risk which all these 4% SWR folks need to worry about. Plus I love having my own home. It does not have to be fancy but it has to be mine.
    2. Equities– I have zero control of these companies but hopefully they will produce products or services which are inflation adjusted.
    3. Commodities– buy some precious metals in case all the digital assets become frozen. No, I am NOT a prepper/ end of the world enthusiast.
  4. Have non- correlating assets:
    1. I doubt that my local real estate which I have fully paid off would catch the contagion of an equities bear market. Be careful with REITs since I had lost 100% of my REIT investment during the 2008 financial collapse when lending money was tight. REITs use a lot of leverage and this could be affected by the stock market.
  5. Guaranteed Investment Certificates– I love having insurance on my money. I like knowing that I can get my money back. I often use GIC’s(CDs in US). I simply use 5 year ladders which mitigate the interest rate risk of locking the money up for longer terms.
  6. Community– Rely on family and friends and make sure to that others can rely on you!! You could take care of many things with sharing, bartering, etc.
  7. Hire good professional help– Especially for professionals with complicated corporate structures, use the internet to stimulate some questions but please use knowledgeable accountants and lawyers who understand your specific details. It bears repeating but everyone’s financial situation is different so tread carefully.

Finally remember that money helps you with aspects of life but it is not the end game. At times, it pays to develop multiple layers of redundancy especially for something as crucial as your financial health.

Deal With Your Money

Money is a topic that will need to be attended to for the rest of your life. For those who wish to keep their head in the sand- this would be terrible news. Furthermore, it is liken to schoolwork. Studying it makes one less stressed about it.
 Your financial statement is your adult report card.

I understand the sentiment when people say they do not care about money. They tend to think along the lines of materialism and greedy rich folks. Those are emotional reasons to avoid dealing with money. However the whole arena of personal finance is very simple.

Live Within Your Means


That is the whole concept in four words. Powerful indeed and much of this is relatively within your control. If you do not see this as a gift, wait until we delve into investments. You will be extremely pleased that you get the personal finance under control first. And when I speak about being in control I am referring to building systems for oneself. Do not rely on will power since that can become exhausted and then it is back to bad habits again. I am talking about designing your life so that you can end up saving more money.

Avoid or Minimize Recurring Expenses


Aside from your regular housing expenses which includes rent or mortgage, property taxes, home insurance, utilities, and internet- there are plenty of areas to slow this drain down. Watch out for expensive cellular and internet plans. Schedule time once a year to review these ongoing plans and see if you want to renegotiate them. Think about gym memberships. The fact remains that most people would get most of their benefit from simply going for a daily walk with friends, family or their dog. Add in some simple mobility routine and weight training which can be done at home and you have will a wonderful exercise regime. Most of your weight will be determined by your diet so this is where the maximal benefit lies.


Figure Out Your Base Burn Rate


This is vital. Many folks believe their money mysteriously vanishes. Unfortunately that is exactly what will happen if you do not keep track of your finances. There are plenty of ways to achieve this. You could use an online program, a paper journal or even your own excel spreadsheet. The only thing stopping anyone is the desire to know what the number is. I have never been successful with budgeting. I have found tracking to be extremely useful. No judgement- just track. And review it once a month. Understand that based on your working hourly wage- each expense equates your life energy. You will begin to look at money management completely differently.
It is useful to know the amount of money it truly takes to keep the basics of life for you. Then after tracking for a period of at least three months, you will see how close you are to the base burn rate.


Keep Your Money Simple


A common reason that many people have a hard time dealing with money is because there is so much emotion attached to it. I think awareness is the key to it all and that is why I belabor the habit of tracking. In the early stages of money management- the most important habit is to determine your savings rate. The oft quoted “save 10%” will probably never get anyone to financial freedom early unless you start at 20 years old and have a pension. Save more, like a lot more. You need to save at least 35% just to retire in 25 years and saving 10% will take you 50 years to retire! Unfortunately for those who spend more than they earn, those years will be infinite as you can not compound a negative number except in reverse.
Thus your savings rate is the most important initially.

Focus On A Living Expense Ratio of 25-50%

The media has been able to sidetrack most people into worrying themselves about the stock market when most people have not even been able to control the one thing we can – our savings rate.
In fact most early retirees have been able to do it all mainly with their extremely high savings rates. You can retire in under 7 years if you can save 75% of your income. They do not even have to concern themselves with equity growth since they would not have had enough time in the market for it to make an appreciable difference. The double and likely more important benefit of being able to save that amount yearly is the flip side. You learn to live on 25% of your income. And when you master that, you have a lot of freedom to choose whether you want to continue doing your work after a while.
I agree with the whole concept of an encore or passion career. Many people would benefit from planning out their base burn rate of their living expenses. Work for a number of years to save enough so that this amount could passively replace their living expenses. Then you are free to do what you want at this time.

Figure Out What Financial Independence Means To You

Many people start blogs and podcasts to show others how to achieve it financial independence. This is a wonderful concept since they start to give back to society with their knowledge.
But before this, it is important to know thyself and to thyself be true. There is no point in blindly following anyone else’s plan. That is the benefit of tracking. You will begin to see what you value since your numbers will undoubtedly uncover some truths and patterns of your behavior. Many of which you have been unconsciously doing for years.
Money is a topic that is not one that will go away. It underlies so much of what we do with our lives and there are certain truths about it. For instance, after a certain amount of money, it stops being an important part of your thoughts. You will find that you get to a point where money will simply be a monthly management checklist. You will have solid systems and this will serve as a ballast for your life plans.

There are some people on websites who want to gain 10 million dollars of investable assets before feeling wealthy. If you are unable to figure out the role money plays in your life, that bar can and will be moved regularly and easily. Have I stated already that money is a mental game yet?

How Little Do You Really Need?

The reason I prefer to have money is to afford options in my life. With time I have also come to respect the limits of money however.

I used to believe that it was about attaining a certain “number”.

When I started my financial journey, I would research how much would I need? Like many, I believed that it was some magic number that once attained, all your problems would be solved. There are a myriad of calculators and articles written about this vaunted “number”. But in time, I recognized that this journey has many layers to it for myself as well as others.

Personal finance is straightforward. Spend less than you make. That. Is. It.

But like many things in life, it is simple but NOT easy. That is why I regularly remind myself that money is first and foremost a mental game. You can learn a lot about others with how they approach money.

Unfortunately, there is minimal financial literacy taught in schools. Many people do not have to deal with any of this until they have been out working for years. I am going to introduce another concept of how little one may actually need.

So what is the basic amount that I need?

Pay Off A Home

The big three expenses is often housing, food and transportation. I do not budget but I review my expenses regularly. I highly recommend people budget if they have a spending issue. For over a decade, my expenses were below 30,000/ year. We moved to my previously rented multiplex a few years ago. The carrying costs of our current home is higher. It costs about 1100/ month to take care of the current house. I do not think I could rent a one bedroom in my neighbourhood for this amount. Thus having a paid off home is very effective.

I started off with buying a half duplex in a less affluent neighbourhood with my parents. I did not want to have a mortgage since I was averse to debt that I had to pay for. Since the duplex was more affordable, I was able to buy it with cash. This allowed us to make a downpayment on our current home in the more upscale neighborhood. We rented the multiplex out for about a decade. And that is how an urban multiplex is owned. We lived in the half duplex for years and we never felt that we sacrificed anything. A lot can be accomplished with patience and using time to your advantage.

Reliable Transportation

Cars are very expensive. I think this whether it is a luxury vehicle or not.

We made sure we lived in walkable neighbourhoods. It is extremely convenient to live close to grocery, shopping, healthcare, pharmacies, banks and restaurants. I wanted to live in a community that I could have conveniences when I am 80 years old! I do plan very far in advance.

I need reliable transportation. Many times it could involve walking, biking, or public transit. It also could involve car sharing programs around my city. I use my own car rarely and mainly for larger shopping trips.

Food

This one had been one of our largest expenses. We love to eat. Dining out was probably the only area that I spent more than the average household. And do you know what helped decrease this expense? I changed my eating habits. I began eating more of a whole foods, plant based diet. This made eating out less of an issue as it is much easier to meal plan at home with basic ingredients. This one has become a huge win. It is healthier and easier as the ingredients are simpler and many recipes are also easier to make. I even started a home garden and that has made some meals even more economical. Plus I really dislike shopping so having a home garden meant I could skip the grocery line and head out my backyard and just harvest some greens!

Travel

Some of the best trips we ever took involved visiting good friends around the world. I have taken trips which involved fancy hotels and restaurants. But nothing compared to staying with good friends and seeing the city through their eyes. Plus it is always great to catch up with good friends.

Admittedly, our favorite travel experiences involve nature. We love hiking the national parks and that takes more physical ability than money to fully enjoy it.

I believe sculpting your life to not always require financial transactions make for a better life. Money is useful for those times when there is no other alternative. It is not what I reach for first.

Here are other ways that less money is no problem!

Cleaning your house– You could hire a maid or cleaning service weekly. But you could also simplify your home so that it is a breeze to clean with an organized system. Use dependable appliances such as dishwashers, Roomba, and washing machines. You do not need to screen them, hire them, or work around their schedules since my machines work around MY schedule.

Drying clothes– I could use the clothes dryer and waste a lot of energy or dry it outside or on a rack in the house. This one is simply a no brainer for me.

Clothes– One could shop regularly and buy lots of fast fashion or you can design your wardrobe around durable, stylish pieces from reputable brands. Many outdoor sportswear stores fit the bill. Some will even repair or replace your clothing if there is a defect.

Public school versus private school– There are plenty of medical students whom I met who came up through private schools. My parents paid zero for my elementary and high school. There are many parents who strive to enroll their children into private schools in our city. However, I still see many students from local public high schools who have no issue gaining admittance to great universities and exceling when they get there.

Fitness– I used to have a gym membership. Workouts would be over an hour of driving to the gym, waiting for machines or weights and then heading home. Nowadays I simply go running right from my front door. It is wonderful to enjoy the fresh outdoor air. And the addition of free weights for the home has been wonderful to ensure that I rarely miss workouts now.

Use The Access and Sharing Economy

I use the access economy for many things. Think of the public library, public transit, Netflix and Spotify.

For many things I prefer the concept of sharing (ie you actually know the other people). I include the sharing economy for my multiplex, cars, garden, home gym, internet and other household supplies such as yard care equipment and tools.

Sometimes It Is Definitely Not About Money

I use money mainly because I have not found a more efficient or effective means to get something done.

Paying for an expensive hybrid car versus just driving less. I do not think I could ever recoup the costs of a more expensive hybrid. I would simply drive a lot less.

For some people, no green invention will ever be worthwhile. For someone who already lives a naturally green life they simply do not even need it. It is akin to container stores being useless for those who harbour minimal clutter.

Everyone is so focused on making more and more. How about trying to live on less.

More money does not make the book, movie or music that you are enjoying any better. That is also true for the great run or whatever health goal you might have set for yourself. You need some money but after a while you see that adding more money does not at all increase the enjoyment of life. Take an inventory of your life and see if any of this rings true.

This is my short list. Most folks are more imaginative than I am. I am sure they can come up with a bigger list of ways to live without using a lot of money.

Something I have also noticed lately is that even with money, it is not buying the convenience and security that many crave. The problem with money is that you think you have money but so does everyone else. You do not have any edge. Products and services go to the highest bidder and thus the bar is moved all the time. Whereas self reliance is something no one can take away from you. It really is one of the most reliable, sustainable and healthiest ways to live.

You must have a framework upon how you base your thinking about finances. If you do not, others will be more than happy to impose their ways of thinking upon you. Unfortunately they usually benefit financially from thinking for you.

If you can clearly define how little you need to live an optimal life, it can truly be a game changer.

Reasons To Buy A Multiplex

For my family, this is one of the best options for buying real estate especially in expensive cities. I believe in buying “forever” properties so that I can minimize realtors fees and transaction costs. (A multiplex refers to small residential multi-units of 2-4 units)

There are a few ways to attain financial independence.

  1. Paper route– Save regularly over a period of decades usually into investment accounts with 60% equities and 40% bonds. Eventually live on a 4% safe withdrawal rate. So much has been written on the internet about this tactic. I tend to think of this as the “paper route” as it usually involves the public equities market. Many in the FIRE (financially independent retire early) group seems to fall into this category.
  2. Cashflow route– Generally I see this done with real estate. We are regularly searching for this since we enjoy looking at our local real estate market as a hobby.
  3. Business route– We have our own practice but the folks who knock it out of the park are small/ large business owners. I am not talking about self employed professionals here. These businesses utilize leverage and the owners could leave the country and their business would still generate income. Professionals tend to only earn money when they go to work.

Currently, we participate in the real estate cash flow and paper routes. Real estate tends to be illiquid but that could be a pro or a con. It has become way too easy to be able to pull the trigger and sell when the equities market takes a nosedive. Sometimes I think it is better to build a barrier around your investments so that it is harder to change your mind. The adage of save me from myself comes to mind.

Here are some reasons why I believe buying a multiplex versus a single family home works better for our situation.

What Are The Pros?

  1. It Would Cost You Less– You could leverage your renters to help you pay your mortgage. You would be able to learn how to be a landlord as owning a couple of these multiplexes could fund your retirement. Everyone talks about inflation risk- well you would have no better inflation hedge than local real estate where you could increase rent at market rates.
  2. You Would Own Land– Currently I am seeing so many young people who would rather buy fancy new condominiums rather than living in one unit but own the entire house. People underestimate what can be accomplished over a long enough runway. It might be from watching too many home improvement shows on television. Too many people have been sold that the only home worth owning is one with granite countertops. They really need to see how little of a home’s value is in the house versus the land on property assessments.
  3. Safer With More People on the Lot– Especially if you are someone who is not home very often, it would be beneficial to have more people watching your lot. It could be a mini neighbourhood watch. Thieves probably tend not to target property with many residents coming and going.
  4. Who Could You Help Now & Later?
    1. Your adult children- I am sure they would be grateful for the assistance. Many young adults are having a difficult time getting good paying jobs.
    2. Your aging parents- Who do you owe more than your parents? Plus so much more efficient when you need to care for them with respect to getting them to their appointments and general checking in on them.
    3. Continue renting out for income- You could live in your home for free as the ongoing carrying costs would be covered by renting out the other units.
    4. Out of town guests- Many of us love having visitors stay with us. It is a blast having your close friends use your other unit. We did just that a couple of summers ago and it was awesome!
    5. Short term rentals- AirBNB anyone?
    6. House swap while you travel- This is something we often think of doing. We could swap them into our rental multiplex unit and have more privacy in our own home.
  5. Sharing! There are a plethora of things you could share.
    1. Internet- You know by now how much I dislike ongoing costs.
    2. Cars- Have your own car share program with your adult children.
    3. Gym- We have a room that everyone can use with free weights and racks. Plus you can have plenty of people to work out with.
    4. Yard Care/Snow Removal- need I say more?
    5. Gardening- more help with the garden and more people to help to eat all the extra food grown.
    6. Skills- baking, shopping, networks, etc since everyone has different things they are gifted at.
  6. Healthier- The evidence continues to mount of the importance of being part of a community! Do not underestimate the power of having loved ones check in on you regularly.
  7. Better location– Especially in a lovely urban community which could harness better public transportation options, better work & educational opportunities and better healthcare. Many millennial prefer to live in the city if they could afford it.
  8. More environmentally friendly– Multiplexes are a very efficient way to live with using one piece of land to house multiple families. The land is the most expensive portion of the purchase price so why not be more efficient?
  9. Options for different ways of living– You can build a laneway house as the popularity of tiny homes abound. Busy urban cities are beginning to increase density in some popular neighbourhoods.

As with almost anything in life there exists yin and yang however.

What Are The Cons?

  1. More expensive to buy– This is not always true however, it pays to be patient and wait for the right property that fulfills your criteria.
  2. Live smaller– But seriously who wants that much space since it only tends to invite clutter! Also I recommend you buy these as early as you can at a time in your life when you have better things to do than stay home all day.
  3. Probably live in an older place
  4. More hassle– Being a landlord is not for everyone. But you could gain useful knowledge if this ends up being part of your cash flow retirement plan.
  5. Less privacy– Depending on the age of the home, some walls are paper thin for sound travel. However, I have also been in newer condominiums where I have found this to be true as well.

All in all, I love multiplex homes. Currently my children live in our downstairs unit. This allows them to begin living as independent young adults with their benevolent “dictator” close by- that would be me! It has been wonderful to watch them grow into self sufficient adults.

My biggest investment regret is that I wish I had bought another multiplex when I purchased my first one. I would have lived in the smallest unit and rented out the other units. And once I could make one property positive cash flow, I would have repeated the process again with another multiplex. When I run the numbers you only need 2-3 of these to retire. How simple would that have been?

I have learned that I prefer control and I like tangible investments.These are insights you gain about yourself after investing for 25 years. You learn what you have a preference for and how straightforward it could have been. Investing is about the process for me. I think the goal is to learn from my mistakes and hopefully get smarter the next time I deploy capital.

Everyone needs to decide which asset class or combination they wish to use to pursue financial independence. We all have different values, goals and strengths. What works for someone else might not work for you. But starting small and learning is available to everyone.

How Would Your Life Change With A Billion Dollars?

I use this amount because this is a life altering number. There are so many who continue to remind us that 1 million dollars today is not the same as 1 million dollars in the past. Therefore this larger number is to allow all discussion to surpass those barriers. Thankfully this has been a question that I have used in some form or another to make many big decisions in my life.

It is a wonderful thought experiment. It allows one to compartmentalize for themselves what money will and will not be able to do for you. Here is how I sequence it.

Relationships

I would most certainly have the same relationships. You would not be able to change the most important relationships such as with yourself and your family. Hopefully you already possess meaningful relationships well before you develop wealth since we hear more stories of money destroying relationships rather than the other way around. This part of one’s life needs to be solid as for many people, myself included, not getting this part of your life correct will cloud everything else. I am a firm believer that without meaningful social connections it is difficult to attain true happiness.

Many would agree that the easiest moments to make great friendships were during our younger years. Some of my most enduring friendships were cemented during university. Most of us were broke during that stage in our lives and we could enjoy one another’s company effortlessly. That certainly makes me pause when I remember that.

Health

This one is multifaceted. It is likely in the American medical system that you need money. Probably a lot of it. Thankfully I am in the Canadian medical system. However, to attain general good health probably has more to do with some basic principles- get proper sleep, eat less and maybe even fasting at times, exercise, do not smoke, do not drink alcohol in excess, maintain a healthy weight, wear seatbelts and bike helmets, etc.

I think of these broad strokes when it comes to good general health. I have found myself healthier and happier when I maintain a mainly whole foods, plant based diet. This is a very affordable way to eat. It certainly limits my ability to dine out as often since it is very simple to make sweet potatoes and beans at home!

With respect to working out I would never sign back on for a gym membership. After outfitting my basement with free weights, I simply can not go back. It is so convenient and efficient to workout out at home. And going for a wonderful run outdoors still can not be beat.

Finally, practices that maintain a healthy mental state usually involve meditation which is free! It is the ongoing practice of these basic health habits that will help each of us achieve better health.

Thus when it comes to healthy lifestyle habits, more money does not help all that much in this arena.

Education

This is an area that pays dividends to get right. I truly believe that a good education opens up many opportunities. I used my post secondary studies to train in a profession but my real education started after my formal training.

Being wealthy does not particularly aid with one’s appreciation of a good education. Especially for competitive programs, few gain entrance by simply paying more. And even those who get in by paying, they still need to do the requisite training and hard work to attain a degree or profession. The public education system thankfully still maintains a relative meritocracy. It is not perfect but if you are a hard working student, you still have a good chance to succeed.

So once again having a billion dollars won’t help you here.

Career

My husband and I have talked about this. I am grateful that he would not change what he does for a living. He enjoys his career and has no plans to give it up.

But having a billion dollars could allow one to work significantly less while their family is young. Or even take a sabbatical to pursue further study and opportunities. In this arena having a billion dollars could change this altogether. If you dislike what you do- you would simply quit. That’s what happens to some lottery winners. Unfortunately without adequate preparation to fill their lives with other meaningful activity, some of them become adrift and start to spiral downhill quickly.

This one is a wash- I think a billion dollars would be helpful but you could quit that job you dislike with much less money saved!

Investments

The investing principles should remain the same. There are only a few major asset classes where one could invest. Basically equities, real estate, business and commodities. Most investing is in some variation of all these.

It would be prudent to maintain an investing plan as you would be investing with even larger dollar amounts. This is where risk management would be crucial. And you would likely require excellent accounting and legal help to maneuver through the maze of it all.

Unfortunately, having a billion dollars here is beginning to feel like more work!

Stuff

This is the area that would change for most people. They start to dream about what they really want. But when you read the brochures to many of these lotteries, it is eerily repetitive. Everyone seems to want a dream home, luxury vehicles, exotic vacations, vacation homes, nicer clothes and jewellery, etc. I can not help but laugh that it is always the same slew of stuff. It is a veritable template!

I want a comfortable home, reliable cars and a relaxing vacation at times. I am not sure a billion would really help me here since I already have all those. The other stuff I think I would sell it or give it away since it sounds like too much of a hassle to keep.

Errands

Since I refuse to hire people to do for me what I can do for myself, I would not tend to buy more properties or stuff that I need to maintain. I prefer designing a home that almost cleans itself with good dishwashers, Roomba, built in cabinets that keep dust out, etc. I like hardwood floors that are easier to clean. I prefer minimalist furnishings since it is much easier to clean your home with less clutter.

I definitely subscribe to the trifecta for all errands of eliminate, automate and delegate. But eliminate first!!!!

Whenever I do this thought experiment I realize that I would not change much of anything. I still believe that a good life is filled more with things that require accomplishment such as getting a good education and developing a meaningful career. Furthermore, the most important aspects of life for myself involve relationships and health. Those can both be attained with minimal costs.

That is the value of these thought experiments since it allows one the ability to envision life not being all that different with the additional wealth. The ability to enjoy a simple and minimalist life is truly priceless. Performing these thought experiments might highlight exactly what you feel is lacking in your current life. Try talking this over with your partner. See if you share any of the same goals or are they divergent?

I have developed an appreciation for a minimalist uncluttered life. This runs counter to having wealth purchase things for me.

Most of this life journey begins in our minds. You can build an effective and efficient life by being very clear of exactly what you want. No one has the answers for your life. Therefore take the time to figure out what it is that you might be seeking. Enjoy your thought experiment!

Minimalist Packing List

This is my curated minimalist packing list. I love packing lists since like a shopping list it keeps one in check. But the best part of a packing list is that it seems to get better after each trip.

The goal is to strive for traveling light with one small bag.

The Bag(s)

  1. Any backpack between 16L – 20L- I use the Fjallraven 16L backpack
  2. Baggu- for shopping, I keep one with me everyday
  3. Collapsible backpack- 20L Sea-to-Summit
  4. Drawstring bag- I use this to keep my hands free while I am touring a new city

Essentials

  1. Passport in ziplock bag
  2. Financial- Credit Card, Debit Card, Cash
  3. Tickets- plane, etc
  4. ID- Driver’s License
  5. Medications- Rx

Toiletries

  1. Toothbrush
  2. Toothpaste
  3. Dental floss
  4. Tweezer
  5. Nail clipper
  6. Comb
  7. Go Tube filled with shampoo or Lush shampoo bars- I use these for shampoo, soap, shaving, laundry- that means for almost everything!
  8. Moisturizer
  9. Shaver
  10. Sunscreen
  11. Mosquito repellant
  12. Towel
  13. Medical Kit
    1. Bandaids
    2. Face masks

EDC (Everyday Carry)

  1. Phone with charger
  2. Headphone
  3. Extra battery pack for my phone
  4. Travel adaptor
  5. Buff headwear- this is versatile as a scarf, headband, face mask, towel, etc
  6. Carabiner
  7. Hat
  8. Sunglasses
  9. Pen
  10. Umbrella
  11. Eye mask
  12. Ear plugs
  13. Hand sanitizer

Food Supplies

  1. Water bottle- Klean Kanteen insulated 473mL
  2. Chopsticks- collapsible
  3. Titanium spork
  4. Metal container for packing food

The Clothes

Tops

  1. Yoga tank with built in bra
  2. T-shirt x 2
  3. Long sleeve shirt

Bottoms

  1. Shorts
  2. Pants
  3. Leggings

Sleepwear

  1. Bed clothes

Underwear

  1. Underwear x 3 pairs
  2. Socks x 2 pairs
  3. Extra Bra- must have a sports bra x 1
  4. Swimsuit

Outerwear

  1. Small rain jacket- Patagonia Houdini
  2. Midlayer jacket- Patagonia R3 Hoody

Footwear

  1. Sneakers- NB Minimus
  2. Flip flops

Cold Weather

  1. Fleece tops
  2. Fleece pants
  3. Patagonia Nanopuff Hoodie
  4. Gloves

Fancy

  1. LBD (little black dress)
  2. Black flats
  3. Lipstick

Travel Food

  1. Instant coffee/ tea bags
  2. Dried fruit
  3. Nuts
  4. Oatmeal packets

I love traveling light. There is such a joy with being able to leave all the encumbrances of daily life. It is wonderful to see how little anyone really needs.

Do laundry while traveling. You can definitely pack less if you can wash your clothes and allow them to dry in your hotel. Many people swear by wool clothing. Nowadays I simply bring what I have in my closet. I only bring my iPhone since I am not running an online business. That decreases pack weight a lot.

I am not a seasoned traveller. However I did spend two weeks each in Thailand and Russia with the same packing list during the past year. I was not lacking anything.

In fact, I had to delete certain items since I simply did not use them. I enjoy seeing new places but more than anything it gives me a chance to trial my packing list. I realize it should be the other way around but I am slightly obsessed with minimalist packing. I see this as representative of my overall approach to life. The question of how little do I really need is something I challenge myself with. Over the years I can say with conviction that it really is not as much as one would believe.

Being able to travel lightly is a simple gateway to experimenting with the concept of minimalist living. Many folks could probably be interested in doing this during their weeks on vacation. Few would want to lug heavy baggage during their travels.

We live in a society with too much. There is too much stuff, too much information, too many choices, too many activities. People are bombarded with too many distractions. Being able to carve out a small arena of your life that you can start to simplify ever so slightly would be a welcome reprieve. Minimalism may help one gain some clarity to what is important to you and your family. There is much information gleaned from what you choose to delete from your life.

Sometimes just with the lessening of possessions and obligations allows one to focus more on one’s health and dreams. Many state the process of decluttering more enlightening than therapy! It is a small victory to express free will in a society which prizes the construct that more is better. I firmly believe in the minimal effective dose for many areas in my life. There is often a point of diminishing returns when it comes to work, possessions, exercise, finances, etc. It is more meaningful to be able to come to terms with that level for yourself. Much healthier than having it imposed upon us by someone else.

May you give minimalist travel packing a try. Setting limits for yourself is a healthy approach to living. It just might inspire you to declutter other areas of your life as well.

I would provide links to various purchases but the aim of this site is for you NOT to buy more of things you do not need. There is freedom in NOT buying the best in everything and researching all items before buying. I read reviews simply to narrow my options down to a few choices and then I use my gut sense to make the final decision. I also do not bother to buy things at the cheapest price since I tend to buy so few items that it really is not worth the energy. If something is worth buying I wait for any sale and then I pull the trigger. I am the penultimate satisficer. I am NOT a maximizer when it comes to material goods since they are simply not as valuable to me.

This comes back to “know thyself” since some people must have the “best” in all things. That is fine as long as you are willing to put in the effort in terms of time, energy and money to fulfilling that end. Otherwise, welcome to regular frustration and a prison of your own design.

I believe the entire weight of my travel backpack was less than 10 lbs. It was a cinch to carry around with my all day. During plane rides I was able to board later as I did not need to worry about overhead storage for my backpack since it fit easily in the airplane seat in front of me. Now that was freeing since there was no line up for me before the flight.

I will include photos of my travel pack after my next trip. Until then curate your own minimalist travel list.

Benefits of Routine

The benefits of routines are plentiful. It may appear boring to have routines but in the end I argue that it might just make your life more fulfilling. For starters you will not be wasting brain power worrying if you have left something undone. It is that mental bandwidth that is more draining than taking care of a large project. Similar to stress. It is the ongoing subthreshold onslaughts that take its toll on ones energy level. There is evidence that the ability to cope with larger single stressors are more manageable while these “death by a thousand cuts” are mentally taxing. That is the benefit of routines and systems. To help diminish the death by a thousands cuts dilemma.

Routines aid with the ability to fit everything that matters to you into your life. Your big ticket items. That leaves some room for the other items if you plan your life this way. The ability to develop rhythms is vital. Many of us are very visually and mechanically triggered and having routines would benefit us. For example. I leave items for errands close to my entryway. With that simple act, I tend to forget things a lot less as I rush out the door.

Routines allow us to not succumb to the numerous distractions throughout our days. Mothers in particular would benefit from having routines. They should carve out a period of time for themselves preferably in the mornings where they can do something just for themselves. They would be happier throughout the day since they would have spent time replenishing their energies first. Most women will spend the rest of their day micromanaging everyone else’s schedule and needs. That is why many women simply stop wanting anything. It is too much hassle dealing with what everyone else wants. A lot of women do not want to add to that burgeoning list.

Many of these concepts seem very simple. But the world is full of people who constantly quip “I already know that!”. However when you look at their lives, it is as much in shambles as if they did not know or understand the lessons.

Routines are best served first thing in the morning as well as before bedtime. Both triggers occur everyday so they are much simpler to plan around. My main routines occur in the morning. My evening routine is simply viewed as a way to get an early start to the next day.

Use the morning routine to build habits that benefit you. Prayer, meditation, yoga, drinking tea or coffee while quietly reading your favorite book are all suggestions. Do not spend the time worrying about other people or their issues. You might already spend the rest of your day doing that. This is your time of the day.

Routines help with decreasing mental fatigue as you will not have to remember what to do next. This allows your mental energy to be directed to more important things in your life. That is the main benefit of all this. I view this as mental rest. And keep it simple. That can not be stressed enough. You do not require any further complexity. This is also a good place to trigger your keystone habits such as going for a run or making the bed.

Developing routines help one organize their lives. Having said that, it also pays more to delete extra stuff from your life. That is the most efficient. First rule of thumb is to eliminate, then automate and then delegate. In that order would be practical. Many people have an ever expanding to do list. However, there is a limit to what can actually be done in a day. Admittedly, most things can be eliminated and the rest can be automated. If you look around, you may find that many of your to do list consists of taking care of stuff. House, cars, pets, taking care of finances, insurance, cleaning, organizing. The list goes on and on. That is why decluttering is a great place to start and let this extend to your activities and obligations. Even moving keepsakes from one location to the next makes one realize how fruitless all this is.

Start making everyone around you accountable for their stuff. This helps them realize that keeping a lot of things will only be a hassle they may not even want to maintain. That would be a useful revelation for many teenagers and husbands to recognize.

Allowing a routine will free up your mind. You may be better able to craft other ideas since you would not have to waste time and energy trying to recall simple routine lists. This writing for me has become a routine. This is a perfect example that if you allow it to be done at a “more convenient time”, it takes longer and also it tends to be pushed aside. My convenient time for writing is during my morning routine. If I leave it to be done when I feel like it, it appears to never happen.

That is the reality of the times we live in nowadays. If you do not make a claim for your time the universe will conspire to fill it up for you. Many feel at the end of each day that they have accomplished minimal. They feel tired and they are not even sure why that is. The ability to concentrate on one task at a time has become more difficult as the temptation to distract ourselves have become more convenient. Think Netflix, You Tube and social media to list a few.

So try writing a simple routine for your mornings or evenings. Start with a simple list and expand after you are more comfortable and able to complete the shorter list. My initial list started with listing three things I was grateful for, a simple prayer and short affirmations. Then I would read while enjoying my morning coffee. Thereafter I started meditating for only five minutes. These simple acts make you feel better. And isn’t that the whole point of life?

Invest With A System

With investing it pays to simplify. It also pays to have a system. I forgot that in 2017 while I was waiting for the stock market to correct. I have read enough about investing to realize that there is value in buy, hold and pray especially for younger investors. However, the law of numbers reminds me that a 50% draw down in the stock market translates into needing to achieve 100% return. Good luck with that one.

This year I will start to use systems for deploying my investing capital.

There are only a few major categories for your investments.

  1. Equities
  2. Bonds/ GIC
  3. Real Estate
  4. Cash
  5. Commodities

I am starting to understand that there are certain principles that I need to ascribe to but the rest is what the market does in terms of equities, interest rates, local real estate markets, taxation issues, etc.

Therefore starting this year, I am planning to simply set out a plan. review it monthly and be more objective about it all. I want to spend my time researching quantitative strategies to deep dive and see if any of these strategies will optimize my portfolio.

Furthermore, I recognize the human need to be above average and thus I will also allocate a portion of my investable assets into play/ risk money wherein I can invest in anything. But I will not buy anything on margin and this investment needs to “swing for the fences” or else do not bother.

The whole point of this blog is to see if there is a simpler way through all this investing maze. Is there a basic template that could work for almost anyone? Then if someone becomes passionate in a certain area wherein they could easily create a greater return, then they could deviate from the template. With the recent news of crytocurrencies, and the massive amount of speculation and FOMO, it is not difficult to see why investing is complicated. The biggest risks to our wealth is likely our own nature of greed and envy. It is very difficult to watch as everyone else seems to be getting wealthy while you are sitting on the sidelines.

So that is where you need a system to get you into the market when you do not feel like it. Currently, I have nothing better than a buy, hold and pray strategy. However, I plan on researching more into this sphere and hopefully improve my investing results with time.

So I will go out on a limb and pick a system. I will revise it as I see fit especially if I uncover any large errors in thinking on my behalf. I will be very transparent since I am tired of reading about all these strategies that might not be telling me the whole story. Also this whole realm of money can not be viewed in isolation. I feel that you need to look at the whole strategy. The main problem is when you listen to advisors who are extremely passionate about their specific areas but are unable to tie the whole picture together.

When it comes to finances, there really are two main areas. Financial planning and investing. I plan on covering both areas as that is the reality of my life as well as a lot of other people.

I feel that I need to develop a strategy rather than listening to advice without a template to refer to. I do not want a junk drawer of investments. I want a plan that encapsulates many of the goals that I want to accomplish. It is a balancing act but I feel that it is now or never. At times, I often feel that I have missed the boat many times with investing. But as with much in life, you win some and you lose some. Either way it does not serve me well to dwell on them.

Our journey throughout life with money will be ongoing. You can never really not deal with it. I have come to that realization years ago. Many folks think that with enough money, all their financial worries are over. As stories of individuals experiencing ruin after winning lotteries will attest to, that’s probably not true.

Thus, it is about finding the balance of doing what is right for me at this stage in my life.

Currently I plan on these ratios but as you can see, I am not even close to being fully invested.

Asset Class Percentage- Optimal Percentage- Current (Jan 2018)
Equities 33 6.4
Bonds/ GIC 22 16.5
Real Estate 30 9
Cash 10 67.1
Commodities 4.5 0.9
Play 0.5 0

When it comes to equities, I plan on using ETFs with low MER. That has been proven to contribute substantially to the percentage of gains in a portfolio. Who knew? I also prefer to do this as a DIY investor since I plan on keeping it very simple. I realize that there is no controlling what the market will do. All one can do is to stay invested with some reasonable portion of their assets. The largest risk with the buy, hold and pray approach is the large draw downs which can accompany the equities market. Be honest with how much you can stomach during these downturns as you do not want to lock in the losses by selling your stocks when the market is taking a beating. That is, at what percentage draw down will you cry uncle!

So I need a system. And I need to keep learning of ways to automate so that I will do the right thing when it comes to my investments. This will be an interesting journey for me.

Become Financially Independent aka FI

This is one of the core tenets that this site will focus on. This is achievable when one consistently follows certain guidelines. I will continue to write about certain principles that work for many people. A whole different life opens up when one can achieve FI. I truly feel that the quicker one can achieve this the better. It will open up optionality for many folks when they reach this stage. For those who enjoy their career, they can continue and will likely enjoy it more since they are choosing to stay rather than being forced to. And for those who do not enjoy their current career, they can attain FI and pursue completely different paths to whatever interests them. And no, I do not believe FI means one has to stop working entirely as I stated earlier, it just gives one options. Anyone who can be focused and reach FI will find that they are able to achieve other goals in their lives as well. But dare I say, there is more to life than working at a regular full time job.

I had wanted to attain FI since high school. While others were concerned about which university to apply to, I simply wanted to achieve FI! I never really thought about a dream career as many of my classmates did.

I simply wanted to attend university, train for a career that I could see myself working at for ten years and then be FI! This was before the whole internet concept of FI appeared but it was certainly something that I wanted. This likely had to do with the fact that the most enjoyable times of my childhood were during summer vacations. My parents worked long hours so I was left to myself during the summers. I recall that the perfect summer day consisted of exercising and having the time to read anything I wanted at the local library. I did not read many non academic books during the school year, thus summers were divine.

I had already recognized at a young age that once you had a comfortable home, enough food and a happy family- you could entertain yourself relatively inexpensively. Think exercising outdoors and using the local library. Many of my friends were sent off to summer camp and took vacations to Florida with their families. At the start of every school year, we had to listen to the numerous renditions of the Florida trips and all I thought was how great my family did not do that. I was secretively grateful my parents just allowed me to sit at home with loads of unstructured time. I knew at a very early stage that I valued my free time more than anything material that money could buy. It helped that I had a very active imagination and was disciplined. I loved structuring my own time. Thankfully my parents were too busy to do that for me. I truly see that as a blessing when I meet the many parents who micromanage their children nowadays.

So wanting to reach FI was already in my plans. I never really worried about what I would be doing as a career. I somehow knew that I would not be doing it for very long. I have held that belief throughout my career. I have tried to keep life simple by knowing that FI would be my end game. As much as I enjoyed my career, I wanted more summers in my life.

I recognize that FI may have some downsides. Many people have the need to be recognized or pay attention to status. That is likely why actors who make millions with one movie simply can not stop since the allure of fame is strong. Furthermore people need connection. Many people enjoy being part of a group and to be told what to do. In those cases, attaining FI would probably detract from their lives. Those would be the some of the drawbacks for FI. As well for those with health profession careers, many feel guilty about quitting their professions completely. However, life is not that binary. You can work part time and still be productive with your profession. In fact, you just might love your work more after FI.

That is the larger point. Life is not so binary. It is not a yes or no checklist. The best way to enjoy life is to have certain guidelines but each person and their situation is different. The best is to read about other people’s lives but plan accordingly for your own circumstances. That is free will. You start to make your own rules.

Having said that it does help to have some sort of general guideline. When it comes to money, there are so many pundits who focus on a specific area. But what matters is if we can tie it all into one coherent plan. Our own life plan.

So attain FI. Your life will be simpler because of it. It is a worthwhile goal since it is much easier to see what you want with your life when you are not as distracted by working full time. Everyone could use some breathing room. I do not believe that everyone needs to be busy. Being busy is not the same as living a life that you love. Do not allow others to tell you that your dreams are less worthy simply because they do not want it for themselves.

And do not listen to those who keep saying that you will be bored if you retire. Either way, you owe it to yourself to find out. Many people insist on working for as long as they can. But unless you own the business, your boss might have other plans for you!

I currently have two versions of financial independence.

  1. Savings amount that is 25 times your living expenses. This allows for a 4% safe withdrawal rate from your investments with an equities and fixed income portfolio.
  2. Passive income greater than your current living expenses.

There are issues with both versions. The more common one is the savings which are 25 times your living expenses.

I firmly believe that attaining FI is more a risk management tool than anything else. It gives one optionality. But I have discovered that attaining FI is merely a starting point not the end game as I used to naively believe.

FI Maybe Not FIRE Just Yet

FI= Financial Independence

FIRE= Financial Independence/ Retire Early

I am a huge proponent of FI or Financial Independence. But not a fan of FIRE or Financial Independence Retire Early. I would not say that I am totally against it, but to highlight that there might be another way. The fact remains that many who are able to achieve FIRE are very focused and motivated people. They are likely to achieve much of whatever they plan anyways. I agree with the adage that one should retire TO something rather than retire AWAY from work alone. However I do not believe that anyone needs to work for fulfillment. But it would appear that such determined individuals could harness their energy to work on projects meaningful to themselves. Admittedly, I observe that many of the FIRE community continue with their passion projects well after they attain FIRE status. Then they discover that their side hustles start to make serious money that they did not even need to reach FI. Sweet!

It is a good idea to sculpt a lifestyle that is meaningful for ourselves. There is a recurring theme that some of those who successfully reach FIRE state. They wished they were not as extreme when they were aiming for their FI target number. They wish they were not so frugal! I fundamentally believe that for most areas in life, being extreme may not be healthy. The ultimate reward of reaching FI is to have a life that you enjoy. I would reiterate that just getting away from a job is not enough to satisfy that. Thus I am not surprised to see many of them continue with different types of work and end up becoming wealthier than before. Which makes one realize that the ultimate number was not that significant and that somewhere along the way it was even more important to start designing the end game after FI.

I had wanted to reach FI so that I could be home with my young children. Now that my youngest is heading off to university, I feel that it is time to return back to my career. I am very happy with that. However since I already have FI, I will design work that revolves around my interests and dream lifestyle.

This is where the passion project comes in. Simply browse the internet if you are at a loss for ideas. But really spend some time deeply thinking about what your dream life would entail and visualize it. Do not worry if you are unable to fully visualize it- I am still working on mine.

That is the best part of attaining FI. You could use your energy to build a life that you could only dream about. Personally, I could write about finances all day long as I find it interesting and filled with endless fodder for discussion. But the foundation for all this lifestyle design begins with knowing and controlling your finances.

Money is simply a tool. Albeit an important one. Everyone’s take on it is a little different. Retirement is a word with different connotations for each individual. I do not observe many of these young FIRE individuals retire. And it does not matter. They most certainly have reached FI and that makes all the difference. Being FI does not seem to make any of them less productive. Quite the contrary, many are working on what interests them and their positive energy appears contagious.

It might be semantics but I have yet to hear of anyone who does not want FI. Since that would strike me as nonsensical. I agree that money will not be able to buy someone genuinely loving relationships, fitness or health. But it certainly gives one optionality in many or if not most other areas of ones’ life. As long as people can stay focused on that fact alone, I doubt that anyone would eschew FI. And no, you do not have to love money to agree with that principle.

And the amount needed to reach FI can range from 6000/ year to 250,000/ year. The specific amount is based on each person. But identifying the number for oneself opens up a world of possibilities. Most will notice that this number will color the rest of their decisions. I have seen vast ranges of living expenses on websites and it is extremely individual. I also see many people get caught up with the numbers. I believe the point is to review your own numbers and adjust it accordingly for yourself. Do not waste your time and energy judging other people’s numbers.

But there are some obvious elements. If your living expense total is a lower number, you will simply reach FI much faster. Period. It is the math. Furthermore, it highlights the type of person you must become to be able to enjoy a lifestyle that is more affordable. Some people reach this lower amount by developing will power and stoicism to force themselves to be immune to society’s consumerism. I, on the other hand, simply do not want the majority of the stuff. I view most of it as clutter and hassle. I think it is that part of my personality that allows all this to work for me. You may discover that your base expenses are very high. It is more controllable and efficient to focus on cutting the expense rather than trying to earn more income. But there are limits to frugality as there is only so much lifestyle anyone can decrease.

FI is a worthy goal. It allows one to decide if they still enjoy what they are doing for work or would they prefer to decrease it or eliminate it. If you really do not enjoy your current work, decreasing your expenses could actually be gleeful. There are those who vehemently state that they would be bored and that their lives would have no meaning if they retired. To those individuals, please keep working. Unfortunately, many discover that they do not get the choice. The work they profess to love has made other plans for them. That is when the careerists become disillusioned. Financial independence simply gives one optionality and isn’t that the whole point?

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