Christopher Guest Post: Can I Retire Yet?
I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming Chris Mamula back to the site. The prolific writer who started Eat the Financial Elephant, took over the reins at Can I Retire Yet, and co-authored a book with the Choose FI guys somehow found the time to answer my silly set of 11 questions.
Regular readers will recognize the name, and you may recall his previous guest post, Retiring Early in Healthcare Without a Physician’s Income.
Chris will be the first to admit that he falls into the Retired Not Retired camp, but he is clearly living his dream. He’s an adventurous man, as you will soon learn, and a family man who is raising a young daughter with his equally adventurous wife.
I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Chris at each of the last two FinCon meetings, and if he’s not chasing mountain peaks, I imagine we’ll get to say hello again and say “Cheers” in D.C. this fall.
I hope you enjoy his Christopher
Mamula Guest Post as much as I did.
Christopher Guest Post: Can I Retire Yet?
What in the world is a Christopher Guest Post?
If you’re not familiar with the scene, take 50 seconds to watch this video and enjoy the dialog between Nigel and Rob Reiner.
I decided I’d start a Q&A of my own. Not satisfied with just ten questions, “this one goes to eleven”. Just like Nigel’s amplifiers.
What do you do (or did you do) for a living? What do you like best about your job? If you were a physician, what type of a physician do you think you would be? Why?
I retired as a physical therapist in 2017. Now I’m a stay at home dad/ski-bum (winter months)/dirtbag (spring-fall months)/blogger/writer.
As a physical therapist, I most liked working with motivated patients, solving problems, and helping them reach their optimal levels of function. However, I was consistently frustrated by our medical system, in particular the emphasis on treating pain over restoring function and the ever-increasing administrative demands.
Now that I’m financially independent, I enjoy the freedom to pursue the activities that provide maximal ROI in terms of enjoyment and fulfillment rather than trading time for maximal financial return. That said, I have been surprised by the number and magnitude of new challenges that come with this lifestyle.
I have always loved orthopedics, so I guess if I were a physician I’d be an orthopedic surgeon. However, I considered that before deciding on going to PT school and don’t think I could stomach that much more school/training or having to be on call. I envy surgeons’ paychecks, but not the lifestyle required to earn them!
[PoF: I’ve had the pleasure of working with a physical therapist after dislocating my shoulder a few times during a Tough Mudder race. It really helped, and I’ve been able to avoid surgery… because who would want to be put under anesthesia???
Most orthopedic surgeons are pretty athletic or were at one time, at least. Are you handy with saws and hammers? Cordless drills? Can you listen to classic rock at an excessive volume while using them (like, say… 11)? If so, you’ll fit right in.]
Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.
1. My blog is a partnership between Darrow Kirkpatrick and me.
2. We each have achieved financial independence, have taken the leap to leave our careers early and share honest and realistic views from the other side.
3. Neither of us have extreme lifestyles or viewpoints.
4. We go in depth on financial issues and are not dogmatic about any particular approach.
5. We both value financial simplicity and emphasize that over extreme frugality or optimizing every aspect of your financial life.
6. While we have similar viewpoints and philosophies, our stories are pretty different.
7. Darrow shares the perspective of a “more traditional” early retiree (if that’s a thing), leaving his career as an engineer at age 50, after his son graduated college with his wife soon retiring also.
8. I place more emphasis on lifestyle design, leaving my PT career at the age of 41, timing my retirement to have a year with my daughter prior to beginning kindergarten, and my wife plans to continue working part-time indefinitely.
9. Much of my motivation to retire early was driven by career burnout and frustration with our medical system, which many doctors relate to.
10. Like many medical professionals who never receive any training on financial issues, I was completely ignorant about investing and tax planning early in my career leading to costly mistakes.
11. Having learned from those mistakes allows me to write effectively to an audience with similar mindsets and struggles.
[PoF: Your path sounds quite familiar.
I’m also moving on to blogging in my early forties; I’ll be a couple years older than you were when you left, but as a PT, you got a bit of a head start on me.]
What inspired you to start a blog of your own? Was there a particular event you remember that made you feel your blog had arrived? Any big plans for your blog in the future?
I was inspired to start my original blog, Eat the Financial Elephant, after realizing I was paying over $20,000 per year in excessive fees and unnecessary taxes (income and capital gains) by following conflicted financial advice. I started writing to document the changes I was making, hold myself accountable, and help others with similar struggles to pay forward all the help I received from other bloggers.
I never feel that my original blog “arrived” by any objective measure such as traffic or number of subscribers. I also never earned a penny from it.
Similarly, I felt validated when Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa agreed to partner with me to create a book to outline the key principles to achieve FI quickly. The book is based on observing common patterns and organizing them into universal principles used by people who have taken a variety of paths to achieve financial independence.
In both cases, I felt that I was punching way above my weight class to work with these guys whose work I admire.
[PoF: Those are two landmark moments, no doubt!
It’s impressive how much you learn and how much stronger your finances can become when you are accountable to your readers and research topics for writing posts or to answer their questions. I knew enough not to be dangerous before I started blogging, but I’ve learned a ton since then.
I’m looking forward to getting my hands on that book! Word on the street is that my story was included.]
Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.
Here are 3 of my favorite guest posts I wrote specifically for physicians and other health care providers.
[PoF: I like your focus on the psychology of money and FIRE, as well as the focus on health.
The I’m not MMM post is great, too. You guys spend double, whereas we spend about triple. And most of my peers think I’m some kind of frugal weirdo. It’s all about perspective.]
At what age are you most likely to retire (or at what age did you retire) from full-time work? What are you doing to help realize your retirement target?
I retired from my PT career at age 41 in December 2017. There were two big keys that made this possible for us.
- We basically saved 50% of our household income by living on my wife’s salary and banking mine for the vast majority of our careers. Nothing new here. We spent way less than our peers on housing and cars.
- We educated ourselves on investing and tax planning after making paying far too many investment fees and taxes while receiving horrible and conflicted advice early in our careers.
Controlling these big expenses allowed us to live a pretty luxurious lifestyle that included extensive domestic and international travel and doing whatever we wanted from skiing to scuba diving to high altitude mountaineering and even attending Super Bowls along our path to FI.
[PoF: Did you hear that, people? Super BowlS… as in plural. You are definitely no MMM. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been to every Super Bowl the Vikings have played in since I was old enough to recognize a football. That would be zero Super Bowls (and five NFC championship losses in the last 32 years).
When you save on the big-ticket items, you can afford lattes and good beers and even Super Bowl tickets.]
What does an ideal retirement look like for you? What will you do with your time when full-time work is in your rearview mirror?
Great question to which I don’t have a great answer. I’m not all that interested in a traditional retirement defined as never working and never earning more money.
Full-time work is in the rearview mirror for my wife and I. Now we’re focusing on designing a lifestyle with some work that provides meaning and allows us to live with financial security and abundance.
I think this will look different at different stages of life. Right now, we get up early every morning and work, me writing and my wife at her job. After getting our daughter off to school we try to get outside most days of the week.
For example, we both skied 50+ days this past winter while completely avoiding crowded Saturdays. I tend to do most of the housework while my wife puts in more hours than me doing paid work. We try to have all of our work done by the time I get my daughter from school so we can spend time as a family every night and weekend.
Some would argue this is “not really retired,” to which I would happily plead guilty. At the end of the day, it is much more about redefining retirement to fit our needs and wants than meeting anyone else’s definition of the word.
[PoF: That is a ton of skiing! You’d have to go every weekday for 10+ weeks to hit that number. The annual pass people are losing money on a couple like you!
People get hung up on the definition of “retired,” and I don’t think it’s worth having the argument. Call it what you want and enjoy the position you’re in. I think most people who insist you can’t say you’re retired are people who are nowhere near being able to retire themselves (and perhaps just a touch jealous).
I prefer the Spanish word for it: jubilado. Sounds like a celebration. Jubilation!]
I’ll give you eleven sentences to dish out advice to a young physician. Any and all advice is welcome. We talk about personal finance, so money is fair game, but if you have advice on being a better doctor, a better parent / spouse / friend / human, we’re all ears.
1. I generally hate one size fits all advice, but since you asked. . .Give yourself options.
2. After all the years of training, I’m sure it is tempting to want to jump into the “doctor lifestyle” and start spending the large salary many of you will be able to command.
3. Just remember that the decisions you make now, good or bad, will compound many times over the decades.
4. It is easy to ramp up your lifestyle later, but it is very hard to reel things back in once you experience lifestyle inflation.
5. Early retirement may be nowhere on your radar right now.
6. That is a good thing.
7. It means you are passionate about what you’re doing.
8. We need more passionate and idealistic doctors.
9. Unfortunately, many of the doctors I know are not passionate and idealistic.
10. I have many physician friends who are burnt out, and despite making a lot of money they feel trapped going to work to pay for lifestyle decisions they made years ago when they were where you are today.
11. Making good financial decisions and living intentionally on a physician’s salary gives the ability to live a great life today with options and freedom in the future.
[PoF: I echo those sentiments. Loving your job is a terrible excuse for not saving. I can guarantee that five or ten years from now, you will have changed, the job will have changed, or both.
You may still love your job after those transformations, but I wouldn’t count on it, and it’s wise to be working towards financial independence regardless. You can still live well and be happy without spending the majority of a multiple six-figure income.]
You’ve got eleven days to visit anyplace in the world with an $11,000 budget. Where do you go and what do you do?
I doubt we could pull it off for $11,000, especially by the time we’re ready. I also doubt we could pull it off in eleven days. But here is my long-term goal.
My wife and I got into high altitude mountaineering prior to our daughter being born. Our next big goal was to climb Denali in Alaska.
Denali requires allowing considerable time (about 3 weeks) to wait out (in a tent) potential prolonged bad weather windows. (I know, sounds like fun!) It also is expensive, because it requires getting to Talkeetna, AK, then chartering a plane from Talkeetna to a glacier which serves as the start of the actual climb. It also requires expensive gear to deal with extreme weather conditions.
Since having our daughter, priorities changed. Denali got put on the back burner. We have started a fun (for us, probably dumb for 99% of the population) adventure of trying to get to the highest point of all 50 states. To date we’ve been to 16 state high points as a family, hitting most of the states along the east coast.
We think this will be an interesting way to see the country over the next decade. By the time she’s about 18-20 years old, we’ll be in our late 50’s or early 60’s and maybe Denali could be #50 if we all have the interest and health to pull it off at that time. Stay tuned!
[PoF: Dude, you really are hardcore! Have you tackled Hawkeye Point yet? It’s the highest “peak” in Iowa and it’s over a quarter of a mile high!
My wife and I visited Talkeetna on our honeymoon. We got great pictures of Denali, but I have no intentions of climbing up there. The only ice axe I care to get my hands on is the Ice Axe Ale at the West Rib Pub. It’s a strong one!
Speaking of beverages…]
Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.
- Green tea with lemon and honey
- Seltzer water
- Black coffee (may add a little coconut oil or cinnamon if feeling adventurous)
- Pinot Noir
- Red Blends (Apothic Red or Black, Dreaming Tree Crush are favorites)
- Hard Ciders
- Monster or Red Bull with Vodka
1-4 = about 99% of my fluid intake.
5-7: Just started drinking wine in last couple years. My selection criteria is what’s on sale in the $10-15/bottle range with the coolest looking label. Open to any suggestions of good wines!
8-10: Used to be a beer drinker. Utah has crazy beer laws that are turning me more into a wine drinker.
11: I know there are a lot of doctors that read this and I get it this is pretty terrible for you, but this is the only way I can have more than 1-2 drinks without falling asleep.
[PoF: Yeah, what’s up with the weak draft beer in Utah? Apparently, that’s slated to change later in 2019, but the blue laws there are more than a little outdated.
I can’t help you with wine, and I haven’t had a Red Bull with anything in ages, but Jäger bombs were all the rage back in the day. There was this place in Oshkosh that served them in these little sombrero-looking plastic cups with the liquor in the middle and the Red Bull all around. Good times.]
Now, eleven foods.
- Big Salads
- Pizza (My carby splurge)
- Broccoli (My favorite veggie, but never should be put on pizza!)
- Sweet Potatoes (Eat them almost every day)
- Chili/Soup (Make a pot every weekend and eat it for lunch all week)
- Honeycrisp apples with peanut butter (go to snack)
- Ice Cream (My sweet splurge)
[PoF: Honeycrisp apples?!? That’s like the Super Bowl ticket of apples. I’m not sure which would cost more — the game ticket or a bushel of them apples. It’s all good, though. We buy them, too. Like me, they’re a product of The University of Minnesota.
I’m down with just about everything else on the list but #9 — and make my salad a small one, please.]
How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for
I’m not sure. I’ve been reading White Coat Investor for years, so I assume I found PoF through that site.
Thinking in elevens is pretty random and challenging, so it makes for a lot of work for those doing these Christopher guest posts. So my advice: you may want to reward us with an eleven minus five pack, or maybe an eleven plus one pack from the brewery I read that you invest in. 😉
[PoF: That was fun! Thanks again for allowing my audience to get to know you better. I’d be happy to share some of that Cheboygan Brewing Company liquid goodness with you. They sell the four packs of 16 oz. cans, so I guess we’ll need three of those to get to Eleven (+1).
I should have asked one final question, not that I need your permission. But… Can I Retire Yet?]
Interested in hearing how other top personal finance bloggers have answered these questions? Check out a few of these Christopher Guest Posts:
- The Physician Philosopher
- Wealth Well Done
- Mad Fientist
- Financial Panther
- Route to Retire
- Mr. Crazy Kicks
- Miss Bonnie MD
- She Picks Up Pennies
- Go Curry Cracker
- Abandoned Cubicle
- Apathy Ends
- Root of Good
- Retire by 40
- Chief Mom Officer
- Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks
- Our Next Life
- Crispy Doc
- Distilled Dollar
- Coach Carson
- Think Save Retire
- Financially Alert
- Life of a Med Student
- The Wall Street Physician
- Dads Dollars Debts
- Full Time Finance
- From Cents to Retirement
- Gen Y Finance Guy
- Get Money Got Money
- Mr. Tako Escapes
- My Money Wizard
- Senior Resident
- Big Law Investor
- Ten Factorial Rocks
- Family Money Plan
- My Money Wizard
- ESI Money
- The Green Swan
- Smart Money MD
- The Retirement Manifesto
- J.L. Collins
- Johnny K. Johnson
- Early Retirement Now!
- Son of a Doctor
- The Happy Philosopher
- Future Proof MD
- Dr. Wise Money
- The White Coat Investor
- Mr. 1500 of 1500 Days
Have you got a 12th question to ask Christopher as a followup to his Christopher Guest post? Be my Guest and ask it in the comment box below.