How Did I Get Here? What I’ve Learned After 4 Years of Early Retirement
I first connected with the
Man Overboard Man Overseas online back in May when I was visiting Costa Rica with my family in May of 2019. It turns out that he and his wife had spent quite a bit of time in the picturesque nation, the site of their 2018 honeymoon, and he and I exchanged a few emails about our travel experiences.
I learned that the couple had actually spent a lot of time in a lot of places, and they’ve been doing the FIRE thing for four years now. As someone who hopes to be overseas for the better part of the next four years, this was exciting to hear!
I had the pleasure of meeting the Man and his lovely wife quite recently at FinCon and I hope our paths cross again in the future. I expect our next rendesvous to be of the virtual kind as he has invited me to join him for a recording of his Man Overseas podcast. We’ll wait until we’re actually overseas and settled in Ecuador to make that happen.
I was interested in learning more about both his pre-FI and post-FI life, and he was generous enough to oblige in the form of a guest post. Take it away, Man!
How Did I Get Here? What I’ve Learned After Four Years of Early Retirement
Today, I am sitting at a cafe in Prague. I woke up a few hours ago without an alarm, grabbed my half-naked wife and kissed her, as I do every morning.
Feeling energized after 8 hours’ sleep, I sat to meditate while coffee brewed.
I usually write in my journal as part of my morning routine. But not today. Not because I was rushed or had more important things to do. In fact, not for any particular reason at all—I just didn’t feel like it. In this way, today’s been like any other—I only do what I feel like doing.
I have gym clothes with me. But if I decide to give my 39-year old body a rest, I’ll take Lady Overseas on a train ride to see a castle, or if it rains, meet her back at our Airbnb for a nap.
This is our fifth consecutive month using Airbnb—it’s a Godsend for slow-travel early-retirees. My wife loves AirBnB because it helps fulfills her dream of living in a different city every month.
So far this year, we’ve “lived” in San Miguel de Allende for its colonial casas, Oaxaca for its mountains & mole, Playa Del Carmen for the white-sand beaches, and Prague because it’s freakin’ Prague. In August, we’ll be in Vienna, before jetting back to the States to meet other FIRE fanatics at FinCon.
By now you might be wondering, How did I get here?
First, if you’re like me, you’re singing Once in a Lifetime by The Talking Heads. The 80s tune could be my life’s background music. I’ve not only found myself living in another part of the world, but I’ve also found myself with a beautiful wife.
What the Hell is Financial Independence?
I can tell you exactly how I got here. In fact, I can pinpoint the day I discovered the concept of financial independence. It was 2003, my first year in the “real world.” I was a real estate salesperson, traveling home from a real estate investing seminar in Dallas with a co-worker.
I admired my colleague because he was only 35, but had ten rental properties in our hometown of Houston. Attending the seminar with him, I thought, would be a great learning opportunity—we’d have many hours to chat driving up I-45.
Not only was he a successful investor, but he’d been to the seminar twice before. Throughout the sessions, I jotted down questions I thought he could answer—I selfishly figured it would give us something to talk about on the drive home.
Despite my fifty questions that day, none proved so valuable as those he asked me—questions which altered the course of my life. As he put the car in park, he turned and said,
“What if you had to be financially independent by the time you were my age ? Are there things you could start doing to make sure it happens?”
Four hours in the car—that’s how our conversation ended.
Now sixteen years later, I still don’t know if his questions were rhetorical. I hope so. Because I was thinking, What the hell is financial independence?
Since it seemed like something I should know, rather than ask (and risk looking like a dummy), I bought a Jim Rohn CD with “financial independence” in the title. A few minutes in, he said, “Financial Independence is the ability to live from the income of your own personal resources.”
I wrote it down on a yellow-sticky note and kept it at my desk until the day I retired at age 34.
How I Achieved FIRE
Admittedly, I didn’t discover the FIRE movement until I was a couple years into early retirement. But I had doggedly pursued the first half of the acronym (FI) since that day in ’03.
Before I tell you how I achieved FIRE, I must acknowledge the role that hard work, luck and being in the right place at the right time plays in anyone’s success, mine included. I don’t know how the percentages play out. No one does. But I’ll share my path and let the tumblers fall.
First, adequately inspired that first year out of college (when my education began), I read a handful of books:
- The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
- The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley
Those books served as kryptonite for lifestyle inflation. Rather than upgrade to a Range Rover, I invested in technology companies with asymmetric upside and paid cash for real estate.
Equally important, I caught a lucky break in 2008-2009. While many salespeople were losing their jobs, I had two: software & real estate sales. At the same time, home prices dropped 50%, and I started snagging them before values skyrocketed.
It was a fast-paced life. Everyone was playing politics and jockeying for status. My goal was to make more and more money every year. In order to achieve that goal, I figured out the price to pay, and I paid it: No vacations, endless meetings and continuous prospecting for new business.
I’d catch early flights to Dallas, New York, Tampa, St. Louis—every half-hour scheduled, week-after-week, quarter-after-quarter—I became addicted to the thrill of the deal.
Pre-FIRE life feels far away now. To illustrate, when I was in Zambia a few years ago, a kid who reminded me of Akeem from Coming to America, asked if he could…come to America.
I said, “Of course.”
He said, “Great, I will go there! Tell me, for how long will I be on a bus?”
I said, “You can’t get there by bus. We’re 14,000 kilometers away.”
That’s how far away pre-FIRE feels now. We no longer set alarm clocks to catch early flights—nor for any other reason. Forthwith, I propose FIRE folks proudly share the date they last used an alarm clock the way recovering addicts share their sobriety date.
Hi, I’m Man Overseas, a former overachiever who’s found a simpler life. It’s been 1,462 days since I last used an alarm clock. On that day, I declared independence from the shackles of “more,” increasing my personal options instead of possessions. With this in mind, I started traveling the world. I did it for the same reason Thoreau went to the woods “…because I wished to live deliberately … and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Every day the status-seeking circuitry in my brain dies a slow death. My prospecting now is for countries to call home for 30 days—my toughest negotiations, with AirBnB hosts.
I still want more—it’s part of being human. Except I want more of what’s important: creativity, building relationships and providing value to others. FIRE done right is finding meaningful things to do, albeit when you feel like doing them.
Misconceptions of FIRE Life
Life in early retirement isn’t all castles & rainbows. The biggest challenge for me, which I didn’t anticipate, was disentangling my identity from the hundreds of thousands of dollars I used to make every year. In truth, I didn’t realize the attachment I had to my once-precious ego.
Other challenges occur with friends & family. Many of them are convinced we’re draining our bank account. They see us asking for discounts and tracking expenses on an app, unaware that we’re counting costs to ensure work stays optional for the next 65 years.
Still others hear us refer to the budget, and assume we’re poor. They associate “living on a budget” with being newly unemployed or living on Social Security. When we visit my mom, she’ll wait til my wife is out of the room. “Are y’all going to be ok,” she whispers, “with money and everything?”
Others are too busy upgrading their lifestyle or can’t grasp the math of FIRE—the latter I can understand. I, too, struggled to trust the numbers my first year in early retirement, despite having mastery-level knowledge of basic math. That is to say, if there exists a fifth-grader smarter than me, I haven’t met her yet.
We live on rental income from real estate that exceeds our expenses. The best part of retiring with real estate is that you’re not withdrawing 4% from your assets every year. Though I still use The 4% Rule as a guiding principle. I find it helps us to stay focused on net worth, with the aim of continuing to grow along with it.
The Finish Line
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished,” – Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
Not even early retirement is a finish line—it’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world. What I’ve learned most about myself is that I expected to do it all in early retirement. Perhaps a relic of my hard-charging past, I would get down on myself for foregoing opportunities.
I thought by way of FIRE I’d freed up countless hours to do what I feel like doing. And I have. But opportunity cost still applies whether you’re pre-FIRE or gallivanting the globe. For example, we loved Oaxaca, Mexico—we made great friends and ate good food. Except we’ve now deemed Prague our favorite city, and realize we may never visit Oaxaca again.
A more micro-example would be the opportunity cost of sight-seeing versus writing a blog post. Since the latter comports with my values above—creativity, relationships, value to others—it takes priority.
Never content to let the days go by, tomorrow I’ll wake up (1,463), grab my wife and sit to meditate while coffee brews. Then I’ll prospect for AirBnB’s in Thailand and find hosts willing to negotiate.
Same as it ever was.
[PoF: Be sure out the Man Overseas blog and podcast, and if you’re interested in getting started in real estate investing to become financially independent, check out my pal Coach Carson’s free online course!]