The Great Resignation of 2021

An article in the Economist came out recently that claimed up to 40% of the American workforce is planning to resign from their current job in the next 12 months. This should not be news to anyone that is actually paying attention to American work culture and the fallout from decades of working ourselves to death.

On the Mr Money Mustache forums there is a thread called “feeling burned out – anyone else?” That thread has exploded in the last 3 months with the same story repeated over and over. We are all burned the fuck out and hustle culture is killing us. Everyone has their own story of how they got burned out and most of us just looked up one day, opened our eyes, and realized this is not the way to live a life.

One thing we are learning is that even “good jobs” are causing burn out and are even more dangerous than the overly toxic jobs contributing to it. At least when your job is truly toxic you know you have to leave, but when the job is mostly good then it is very hard to see the problems. That is the exact situation I find myself in. The golden handcuffs are locked tight and it’s time to bring out the saw before I chew off my own arm.

A random forum post really resonated with me – “My situation is a bit different, but I am burned out by the constant anxiety hanging over my head of having to perform well. I’ve been in jobs where mistakes could be life and death. I am tired too, so fucking tired. It’s been a rough year.”

Yes! This is my sentiment exactly. It’s not that my job is bad, it’s really not and I’m lucky to have it, but the reality is that the American pressure to perform supersedes working in a good environment. The pressure to perform at higher levels is the reality of the world we have created and it is becoming clear: we have set ourselves up to be miserable through our own expecations and ambitions.

All of this stress, anxiety, peformance metrics, and pressure to perform has finally reached a breaking point and that has manifested itself with 40% of the American workforce desperate to call it quits. Not only do I empathize; I am one of them.

Until we address the American work culture this will never change. At my primary role we have hired a new CEO, who by all intents and purposes, is the exact kind of CEO organizations spend years searching for. She is young, energetic and full of great ideas. With this change brings new expecations, work load and metrics to meet that will make the organization better as a whole. It also brings much higher levels of stress to the entire team. I’ve spent a lot of time in start ups and this is nothing new; except this time I am finding that I have no energy or excitement to do it all over again.

It’s nice to know that 40% of my fellow Americans are feeling the exact same way. Hopefully this leads to a new revolution and we can finally change the way Americans view work.


Vacation Home to Speed up FI/RE?

Before the days of the Fat FI/RE movement that headline would have seemed like blasphemy. I say the notion of a second home in the context of the Financial Independence movement is a rare fringe, but I am here to make the case that, for a % of us in this movement, purchasing a vacation home is the best use of our resources and could even accelerate your FI/RE date. It’s going to take some work, research, energy and effort but it can be done and it can be done A LOT cheaper than you think.

Our FI/RE journey was built on investing capital aggressively in businesses and opportunities regardless of geography with very few limitations. This has led us to our current position of owning 3 businesses that operate in 17 states and internationally, 4 rental properties in 3 states and family far away from our primary residence. We have kids, dogs, equipment to work remotely, etc. We travel heavy and FI/RE dad has enough committments that I need to be able to connect on a regular basis. Those are the logical reasons to consider a second home somewhere near some of the items listed. It so happens that the most time consuming business and lots of family are all within a 150 mile radius.

The icing on the 2nd home cake is that I built an Event’s Consulting business on the back of travel. Lots and lots of travel that took me to multiple countries and 30+ states every calendar year. It will take decades before I willingly want to spend a vacation in a hotel. Air Travel and hotels are not things I associate with fun and that is just a product of being a million mile traveler before the pandemic of 2020. It’s been 15 months since I’ve been on a plane and if I never had to fly again I’d be happy.

Everything seems logical, but from the lens of FI/RE it seems illogical to buy a second home just so you can keep working. Looking at current real estate prices the most modest home in the cheapest places in the US are at least $100,000. The time it takes to earn that extra capital plus maintenance should outweigh any potential savings so much that there is no way it could actually speed up FI/RE?
This is fundamentally a math equation where the purchase needs to directly contribute to an increase in earnings or reduce future expenses enough to offset the initial outlay of capital. Turns out, that math isn’t as difficult as it sounds if you’re willing to spend the time and energy. Let’s look at our costs:

$55,000 – Cost of 2br/1b cabin on 1 acre
$5,500 – Initial repairs
$1,250 – furnishings

$61,750 – One time investment

Annual costs

$1,200 – Utilities
$2,100 – Tax and federal land lease
$1,500 – repairs fund

$4,800 – Annual expenses

The vacation home we purchased is a cabin with central air, heat, plumbing on a national wildlife preserve. it is 25 miles away from my retail business and 30 miles away from 3 of our rental properties with a ton of family in easy driving distance.

Given the opportunity we would spend 6-8 weeks each year in this general area either working on our investments, visiting family and now, vacationing. The cost of lodging for us on the vacation home market would be enormous (we were estimating $7-8,000/yr) and would easily exceed the annual expenses of the cabin each year which helps pay off the principal investment from year 1.

Did you know that the federal government owns tons and tons of land? Did you also know that this land has been leased out to citizens for over 100 years? These programs are extremely cost effective ways to enjoy some of the most beautiful parts of America, having access to a second home and helping to protect and preserve public land.

Going through the 10 month process of applying for a lease I learned that these applications are dropping by my generation and younger. The programs are hard to learn about, there is little information online and most of the process is paper and phone calls.

The goal of this post is not to try to convince everyone they need to lease public land. Rather to give another concrete example of what my blog is all about. The tagline of this blog is “A Frugal Life of Luxury” and I can’t think of a better example than buying and maintaining a vacation home for less money than hotel stays.

Here are some photos from the first 36 hours we had the cabin.

NW Update – May 2021

Another month and another Net Worth update! May 2021 was the month of real estate. We had 3 closings this month. After spending months trying to find any deals in real estate and falling flat I finally found the key to success in our current market. Purchase properties from investors that come with leases. Retail buyers don’t even consider these properties that they wouldn’t be able to take possession of for up to 2 years based on a lease.

Our net worth got a large injection by becoming vested in my public employee pension and then 50% of the bump came from investment returns. Who knows when this insane bull market will end, but with 4 rental properties I feel sufficiently more prepared for any downturn than I ever have before.

I’m still toying with the idea of including our vacation cabin in our net worth calculations. It’s a small enough % of our total NW that I really don’t think it matters either way.

Real EstateValueMonthly Income
IA Rental 3818$130,000$1,050
CO Duplex 1060$580,000$1,000
IA Rental 55th$125,000$1,200
IA Rental 15th$155,000$1,200
Real Estate Total$990,000$4,450
Tax Advantaged AccountsValue
ROTH IRA$58,200
Spousal IRA$37,000
Pension$55,700$20k change from becoming vested!
Tax Advantage Total$386,700$500,000 goal
Brokerage Vanguard$74,000
Brokerage WeBull$12,100
Retail Business$415,000
Total Investments$547,100
Real Estate Checking$7,000
Sold business note$17,000
Total Cash/Savings$36,000Spent over $100,000 on real estate this month!
Total Assets$2,014,800
Mortgage CO DuplexMortgage$399,000
Business buyout loanBusiness$93,000
Mortgage IA 55thMortgage$95,000
Mortgage IA 15thMortgage$95,000
Total Liabilities$682,000
Total NW May 2021$1,332,800

Increase/Decrease single month

May 2021 Goals and reflections

  • Set ourselves up to max the 529 each year for the next three years. (already done for 2021)
  • $2,000,000 NW by April 2024 – May21 update- Consider moving goal posts to quit F/T job. Other avenues to get health insurance to cut 1-2 years off. Rental property income is strong and won’t make the NW goal as important.
  • Closed on 2 rental properties in May 2021. I am not actively shopping for investment properties. The market is not great for remote buyers.
  • Invest $50,000 additional into CO Duplex in improvements to create a better income property by April 2023.
  • Invest $25,000 in cabin by April 2023.
  • Continue to max 457 and 401k until April 2023 – get pre tax to $500,000

Things to note for the coming months of 2021.

  • I’ve already achieved a June 2022 goal related to rental properties. I’m going to slow down and think through next steps. With the current real estate market and us having $1mil in real estate; building up cash to purchase aggressively in the event of a turn down might be a better play. If the market continues to rise then we are still doing well with a large real estate portfolio and if the market takes a dump then we have the cash to buy up entire city blocks.
  • Look into a Solo 401k or SEP IRA for my business income. I’m finding the rules extremely complicated with our situation – Single earner, many sources of income. The IRS has lots of avenues to tax shelter massive amounts of money and now is the time to put energy into that.

Exactly 3 years left!

The FireFamily has a lofty goal of being fully financially independent by April 2024. Since it is the middle of April 2021 as I write this that means we have 36 months remaining to get our shit together and meet the goals. This seems like a reasonable time to reassess the situation, see if anything has changed, if we are still on track and go from there.

GoalCurrent StatusTo do in next 36 months
Own 5 income producing units2 current, 1 under contract – Ahead of goalPurchase at least 2 more rental properties
$2,000,000 NW by April 2024$1,268,800Increase NW by $19,500 per month – a LOFTY goal
Max 457/401kOn trackContinue – Consider changing this goal to open up after tax cash for real estate?
Max 529 each year ($15,000/yr)2021 – DONE3 years to go
Pay off business loanautomatic payments/currenton track

When I look at my goals above I feel like perhaps the goals are too conservative and we could achieve quite a bit more in the next 36 months.

I expect we will have the rental property goal met much sooner than 2024 so I have adjusted that goal to be completed by June 2022. Once that goal is met then it will be logical to increase this goal to have more cash flow in retirement/travel.

$2mil NW is the only goal on here that feels like I will really have to work to achieve it. Since the timeline is so short at 36 months remaining I am at the mercy of the market to achieve this goal. I think shifting even harder into real estate will help us meet this goal independent of the stock market.

Maxing the pre-tax accounts is pretty easy as long as I keep my full time job. Everything happens automatically so that goal is not nearly as rewarding to achieve.

Maxing the 529 does take intentional action, but is absolutely not a problem. If the contributions were not maxed I might have considered dropping $50k or more into the 529 this year and never worrying about college savings again, but that’s not how the IRS works.

Paying off the business loan is another one of those goals that each month doesn’t feel super rewarding. Since the check is cut automatically from the business account I just have to count down the months until that burden is gone.

1,095 days remaining until I can quit my full time job. FireDad will be 39 and FireMom will be 34 with 100% freedom to take back our days. The FIRE community is one of the most important things I’ve ever studied in my life and I’m grateful every day for the skills I have learned and honed from this community.

NW Update – April 2021

Another month and another Net Worth update. Despite some expensive hobby purchases, bordering on excessive to drop at once, we still increased our Net Worth by $56,200 in the previous 30 days. That is well ahead of track to be at $2 million by April 2024, but this massive bull market can only last so long. I continue with my goals to move as much after tax savings from equities to real estate as possible.

We have a $122,000 real estate purchase with a tenant already in place that will close mid May. This is on track with the goal of purchasing 3 rental properties by June 2022. This property is the first rental property I’ve purchased that I’ll be using traditional commerical financing. I’ll write a detailed report of how that goes in a future post. For now, onto the updates.

Real EstateValueMonthly Income
IA Rental 3818$130,000$1,050
CO Duplex 1060$580,000$1,000
Real Estate Total$710,000$2,050
Tax Advantaged AccountsValue
ROTH IRA$58,000
Spousal IRA$37,000
Tax Advantage Total$362,700
Brokerage Vanguard$68,500Moved all single stocks to Real Estate checking
Brokerage WeBull$12,100
Retail Business$415,000
Total Investments$545,600
Checking$61,000BIG spend on Astrophotography this month…..
Real Estate Checking$67,000 (multiple closings soon)
Sold business note$17,000
Total Cash/Savings$145,000
Total Assets$1,763,300
Mortgage CO DuplexMortgage$399,000
Business buyout loanBusiness$95,500
Total Liabilities$494,500
Total NW April 2021$1,268,800

Increase/Decrease single month

April 2021 Goals

  • Set ourselves up to max the 529 each year for the next five years. (already done for 2021)
  • $2,000,000 NW by April 2024 – Current FI goal date.
  • Continue moving after tax investments from apps and into real estate; purchase 3 rentals by June 2022. – Under Contract with 1 property to close in May 2021
  • Invest $50,000 additional into CO Duplex in improvements to create a better income property by April 2023.
  • Continue to max 457 and 401k until April 2024 – get pre tax to $500,000

Things to note for the coming months of 2021.

  • $54,000 going to cabin purchase in May 2021. This will be a hobby/luxury expense and will not count towards the $2mil NW goal as it will be a liability property with additional expenses and will not be monitized.
  • Closing on rental property 2625 Mid-May with a mortgage. 20% down at 4.125% for 30 years is just crazy.
  • End of May/Early June FireDad’s pension should double as I become vested.

Setting yourself up for post FI/RE success – Setting Goals

If you are a consumer of Financial Independence content on a regular basis then you can’t ignore that there has been a MASSIVE uptick in the people who have really struggled 2-5 years into their retirement. 

It makes sense though, depending on how you measure the growth of this movement, there is no denying that it has grown to a scale no one imagined. It’s also been around long enough that there is a sizable population that has been early retired for some large chunks of their lives. Nearly all of the earliest FI bloggers have been retired for years and many of them decades. Some of them are starting to admit online that they got slapped in the face that “money doesn’t buy happiness” still applies if you live frugally. People need a purpose.

I follow plenty of the bloggers who have been varying levels of happy and content with their choices, but the takeaway that I heard “was that burning your life energy away to reach that FIRE finish line at all costs is a miserable decision and might even be worse than the “normal” folk who work until 63”. I also took away that nearly everyone who seemed happiest among the FIRE Giants out there is that they all had some form of meaningful pastime that they pursued very purposefully. 

The fear of the post FI regret was all too real for me and in searching for guidance on that issue I found the Die With Zero book I wrote about. Elements of that book are exactly what I needed to guide my decisions with less than 5 years to go until our FIRE date. 

Invest in hobbies and interests I’ve always been interested in. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what would produce the most happiness in our family compared to actual dollar costs. Here is the current list to achieve:

  1. Spend as many clear nights as possible looking at the stars, when covid ends, reach out to astronomy groups, clubs and observatory in walking distance, consider volunteering there. I’ve spent too many years wanting to study astronomy and it’s so silly I never have. That stops; it’s time to live more intentionally.
  2. Invest in my health to ensure I never am the slow leg when taking our family on adventures.
  3. Show our children as much of the US as possible, every national park at the very least, and hopefully for months or years at a time. Anything is on the table to achieve this. 
  4. Increase our knowledge of homesteading, including doubling our growing capacity in the next two seasons.

Some of these are personal and others are shared goals of our entire family. I expect that when we reach FI/RE and are truly comfortable while being able to achieve these goals that we will be giving our children a better childhood than anyone I’ve ever met experienced. 

In the end, all of these goals point back to the only goal that really matters. To make sure we give our children the best life we possibly can.

When Will Enough be Enough?

It’s never been a secret to me that I am a workaholic. I always approached it from my unique FI/RE perspective with this in the distance dream of never having to work again. As I have reached higher and higher income levels with more and more investments and companies I’ve worked on becoming successful I am once again faced with a question of “Is this enough?”

Since I was 20 years old working as a supervisor at UPS and doing a part-time job during the day I have always, and I mean always had at least 2 sources of income and one of them (except for a brief unemployment) has always been a full-time salary position. That 15 years of continuous income has led to a very comfortable life that has multiple sources of reliable income at any given time. This has allowed our family to have just me working and FIREMom can stay home full-time. 

Even going down to one income it is getting harder and harder to justify working the full-time job. This is despite the fact that I would rate this job a 9.5/10 in terms of how awesome a job can be. The pay is good, benefits are amazing, it has a pension, my coworkers are great, my direct reports do a reliable job, etc etc. Despite knowing that once May 2021 hits I will be vested in my pension and have it on my calendar as a sort of freedom date I am hesitant to even consider doing something else. 

Since in 5 months our family will be a version of LeanFire in May 2021 every day our family makes the decision for me to keep working is a conscientious decision to give up family moments in exchange for greater comfort, luxuries and experiences. 

With this post I am setting some goals that I can hold myself accountable to. I know myself well enough to think I’ll never reach a NW number that makes me feel 100% comfortable so instead I’ll set these goals to allow my future self the ability to leave full-time employment.

Goal  1  

Tax sheltered retirement > $500,000

Goal 2 

All business debt paid off

Goal 3

Paid off mortgage or after tax investments of equal amount

Goal 4

$250,000 in after tax investments

Goal 5

Reliable $50,000 in S-corp ownership income

Using current account values and savings rates I should hit these goals between 3 and 7 years from now depending on how the market does. That is still longer that I would like some days and honestly I know that even if I end up going 7 years that it is likely I’ll have moved the goal posts again. Although I hope to look back on this post and be reminded that this is enough money to lead a happy, safe and prosperous life. If this is more than enough to meet those needs then why keep going?

Terrible Jobs; Good Lessons

I think everyone has had a terrible job before. The worst jobs or clients I’ve had have been the most interesting to look back on and see how they have shaped my approach to FIRE, business and life in general. I’ve had terrible people I’ve worked with and terrible jobs but these 2 are the ones that stand out in what shaped me and my approaches to business and management.

UPS Management – What a total shit show of a place to work. If you work in management at UPS up until YESTERDAY (11/10/2020) you are not allowed to have a beard. It’s this strange management structure that hasn’t fundamentally changed from the 1950s. These strange structures makes the general work environment insanely toxic. Supervisors (that is what I was) are the lowest levels of management and there is a never ending chain of management above them that only care about numbers. The higher up the person is that decided to get angry about a number that day and yell at the guy below them the worse that shit was gonna be. God help you if a VP started the chain; you might lose your job if you don’t make it better quickly. Notice how I’m just saying number? That number could be production, overtime, hours per shift, skilled hours, delayed pieces, it’s all just some number that a nerd (like me) made up. Shit rolls downhill and I’m certain that phrase originated with someone who worked at UPS. Impossible standards and working insane hours to meet those standards created a terrible place to spend time. Despite all this wasted time, energy, expense, hours and human enjoyment this company makes billions every year.

Crazy publisher man – While UPS has its flaws I have heard it has gotten better since I’ve been gone which is going on 13 years now. All my best terrible job stories come from just one place. My first job as an accountant in the private sector was for a company that published OSHA books and sold them over the internet. Really he copy and pasted text from OSHA websites, did some formatting, made them into giant books at his own printer and sold them to companies to put on a shelf and gather dust. I thought he was a genius. He was making over $5 million in PROFIT every year with less than 20 employees. I was so excited to be this guys ONLY accountant. Fuck yeah, let’s do this, I thought. Unfortunately, that guy turned out to be the most bat shit and evil human I’ve ever encountered. Inches from an employee’s face screaming and spitting at max volume…weekly at least. I think I lasted like 3 or months before I got my first one and told myself I would not stay. I did as little as possible each day and job hunted hoping to get fired. He fired someone about every 10 days of his 18 person staff so it couldn’t be that hard. When he finally did fire me for not coming in for 2 days I said cool and got my stuff. When I filed for unemployment he had his staff attorney create some crazy story and deny my unemployment. It was something with a signature on a check he said was my signing his name? It’s been a lot of years and the story they made up was never fully told to me by them or the unemployment office. I was denied and from talking to other coworkers learned that he did that every single time. He would fire someone and then intentionally lie to ruin their lives just a little harder. Big time asshole and yet each week there was a new hire unknowingly walking into hell. Even crazier is that he still was making north of $5 million a year.

As I’ve gotten older and done decently well in business I think back to that job as the worst and best job I’ve ever had. It’s certainly the one I learned the most at. I learned that business is easy and some ideas are so good that you make money in spite of yourself. Ever since I worked for this crazy bastard I’ve asked myself and my friends the question “What would this guy’s empire have been like if he were just a decent human being.” He was doing everything with entry level people that he trained himself and then scream opposite instructions at two weeks later. He hired a full-time attorney as part of his staff mostly to fight his crazy legal battles and deny unemployment to people he fired. There is more, a lot more to tell on this guy but at the end of the day he was making millions.

Ever since then I’ve approached my business life with the goal of not becoming these people. Once I got more into FIRE I felt sad for that crazy man. At the income that business made when he wasn’t there would pay for the most luxurious life a person could imagine. Instead he toils in there wrecking up the place and holding himself back way past the point of him even needing the money.

I learned that you work as hard as you can, treat people decent, spend some but invest more and when you have enough you get the fuck out.

Wildfires and Climate Change

Well FIREDad has just returned from our first mandatory evacuation from our home and let me tell you it sucks. I know you’ve seen people interviewed that say it’s so much worse than you can imagine and let me tell you they are right. There really is nothing quite like having less than an hour to pack all your things, animals and family members into your car then driving away with a hellfire inferno on all sides of you.

Wildfires have been a threat to homes since humans started building homes. When I was a kid I remember hearing about the wildfires and how they would burn some homes that were remote and especially cabins. Today these fires are burning bigger every single year with the fire that displaced our family being the biggest in CO history. This shit is not normal and feels like a crisis we are ignoring.

During our evacuation we stayed with our neighbors and got some interesting insight into the way others think. During the two weeks we were forced from our home we had a lot of time to think about what we would do next if our entire town and community burned to the ground. After a disaster there are the people that will rebuild every single time. Where I grew up these were the river people and every time they were flooded they would march back in and rebuild. The mountain people are no different; our neighbors would rebuild every time if the fire took it all. The FIRE family is not that way and we would walk away. It’s a very surreal thing to have to plan for and think about, but it’s an important exercise. It’s best to know what you would do in advance and have a plan rather than react emotionally.

Of course, Estes Park did not burn and life has returned to normal until the next hellfire comes in to threaten us again which I’m sure will be next year. Come on humanity, let’s just take climate change seriously. It’s about time and might even be too late.

America Divided in 3

The world is changing and America is no different and it feels like we are turning a corner that cannot be reversed.

The income disparity in the US has always been extreme, but what is happening now is a spread that might not be able to be overcome. I’m not talking about the billionaire class or the 1% or politics as those have been discussed by far more educated people that I am.

I’m referring to the cost of living across the US. There really are 3 Americas right now and it feels next to impossible to move up from one to the other. Let me explain.

3 levels of America – 

3rd world America – Deep south and rural north. Examples include: Rural Mississippi, North Dakota (not cities), native reservations.

2nd world America – Rural areas of 1st world states, populated areas in less desirable climates. Examples include: midwest metros, Raleigh NC, Des Moines IA, Albq NM.

1st world America – Big cities and states in great climates. Examples include: Colorado, all the west coast, most of the east coast, Chicago.

These have existed in three different levels for my entire life, but the disparity has gotten huge. Six years ago the FIRE Family moved from a 2nd world America to the 1st. We moved from Davenport, IA to Estes Park, CO. At the time we sold our home in Iowa for $150,000 – exactly what we paid for it 3 years earlier and purchased a major fixer upper in EP, CO for $300,000. 

At first glance those numbers don’t seem too bad since it’s double the price for a much more desirable location. I’ll concede that six years ago that was a doable trade and transition. The problems come in what has happened in those six years. The house we sold in Iowa is still worth basically what we sold it for. Our first house in Estes we sold one year ago for $475,000. We could have done some more work to it and gotten the value well over $500k.

The price we sold our first Estes home for was higher than we could have even afforded. That means in the six years since we first came to Estes we are lucky we came when we did, because as of today it would have been near impossible for us to afford that move. This is happening all over the country across all the different levels of America listed. Values of homes and cost of living in 1st world America continue to rise while the lower tiers are staying relatively flat and in the case of the 3rd world are actually decreasing. 

As with all things it is important to identify the problems and do your best to maximize the situation. In this case the move is to find some beautiful land and homes right on the edge of the 2nd and 3rd world and purchase a manor when the same money in the 1st world America buys you a 1 bedroom condo. 

If you find yourself trapped in 3rd world America or even the lower tiers of the 2nd world it is getting more and more difficult to transition to the top tier and if you are planning on it then move fast. Every year you let go by is going to become more expensive and restrictive. I was a full blown adult during the 2008 housing crisis and while it is obvious we are living in a real estate bubble right now I do not believe that bubble will burst especially hard in the 1st world America. There is just too much money at the top and these areas are extremely desirable. Demand drives up prices and good weather and recreation is not going out of style.

I expect in my lifetime we will see America divided in a more formal manner. If you’ve spent any time traveling this country as I have you’ll know that there really are multiple Americas and the disconnect has never been greater. The best we can do is take these observations and do the best we can for our future. For the FIRE Family this means we are planning to become self sufficient and use our income/savings from the 1st world to buy a massive property in the 3rd world with the intention of homesteading. While that goal is pretty unique the lesson is still there for others to learn. Wealth inequality is not just a 1% vs the rest equation. There are quite a few different problems that are arising from this issue and it’s important that we all stay educated and informed.