Christopher Guest Post: From Cents to Retirement

Today’s guest joins us from across the pond. Benjamin Davis of From Cents to Retirement grew up in Portugal and Italy, and has lived in Canada and Germany.

The 28-year Ph.D. old has spent a great deal of time on his education, yet has the lofty goal of being able to retire at 33. He plans to take advantage of geographic arbitrage, and figures he’ll be good to go in Portugal with about €670,000 generating €2,500 a month.

He built his reputation answering questions on Quora, where he has nearly 10,000 followers, and launched a website in 2016. He has released a Kindle book detailing his strategy to retire early and plans for another book are in the works.

Read on to find out how he plans to use real estate to achieve his goals, how health struggles have affected him, what early retirement might look like to him, and much more!

 

 

What’s a Christopher Guest post?

 

Inspired by Nigel Tufnel, the character portrayed by Christopher Guest in Spinal Tap, I took Mr. 1500’s ten questions, and amped them up to eleven.

 

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 work as a scientific researcher. Up until recently, I worked in Germany, where I basically did scientific research and gave classes. At the same time, I got my Ph.D. I always loved to do research. You feel empowered when you come up with a solution for a problem no one has ever solved. That is what turns me on about science. Solving hard problems firsthand.

I always loved to work out and so I went to numerous orthopedists over the years. I am pretty sure I would be one, if I were a physician. I should say that I believe that conventional medicine hasn’t many answers for the current major health issues we have.

There is simply a ridiculous difference in terms of how developed different branches of medicine are. We master painkillers but we have no idea of how to cure cancer or HIV. I told many physicians about my own condition, CFS, and all I got back were faces of surprise, from people who had no idea of what CFS is. And they were supposed to treat me.

[PoF: I admire your moxy, but I’m not sure this is the ideal place to be critical of physicians.

Regarding painkillers, we are far, far away from mastering painkillers. The most effective substances we have available have side effects ranging from uncomfortable (itching, nausea & vomiting) to deadly (respiratory depression leading to apnea). They are also very addictive. Non-opioids that lack some or all of these side effects are less effective with severe pain and / or have other side effects. Tylenol can kill if you take too many.

Also, it’s not like the scientific community is ignoring cancer and HIV.

CFS? I honestly had to google the acronym myself. If you had called it chronic fatigue syndrome, I would have understood, but as an anesthesiologist, CFS is not a condition we can excise or otherwise operate on.

In other words, it’s not a nail my hammer can hit, so it’s something I rarely see. My understanding is that it’s a constellation of symptoms and essentially a diagnosis of exclusion. Any diagnosis that’s made as a result of ruling out other causes is going to be met with some blank stares or even skepticism, unfortunately.

I’m not doubting for a second that you experience dizziness and other symptoms and that would be bothersome to anyone, but it’s not a black and white diagnosis like cancer or HIV.]

 

Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.

The cornerstone of my blog is my own pursuit of financial independence, mainly through Real Estate. I think that what really entices people is the journey or other people, following their steps, failures and successes, which ultimately they can learn from and get inspired by. That is what I have in mind when I blog.

I could write in a very scientific manner, as that is what I do in my day job, but honestly I don’t think my readers would appreciate that. I prefer to talk openly about my decisions and connect them with my own readers, so they can resonate with the information I post. I often promote the idea that there are really no valid excuses not to retire early – given that CFS sufferer is on track to do it – and I really try to inspire as many people as I can, while sharing valuable information.

What would easily strike a chord with physicians is the fact that I am tired of my job because it was a very demanding one. I think that physicians experience that – I would never be a regular physician who does night shifts at the hospital every second night looking at sick people. It doesn’t turn me on. At the same time, it makes me admire physicians – precisely because they do something I would not do.

[PoF: Real estate is an area that I’m less familiar with, but I’ve dabbled in it. My experiences as an accidental landlord weren’t terrible, but I’ve found my mutual funds ask a lot less from me than my tenants and properties did.

I think the fact that you’re doing this internationally really sets your site apart from the dozens (hundreds?) of U.S. based FIRE blogs.]

 

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 wanted to 1) stay motivated, and there is no better way to stay motivated than sharing real numbers with our viewers, and 2) inspire other people to live a better life — financial freedom enables one to live a much better, relaxed and happy life.

I still remember the day I decided I had to start my blog. I had way too much information and I needed to store it on a location I could easily access. At the same time, I got tens of messages on Quora to start it. I guess these two events were crucial for me to start From Cents To Retirement.

As for big plans, I do have some. My goal is to become a reference in the context of Early Retirement, so I am preparing a lot of things to grow my blog and my brand. I have been approached by a few journalists willing to feature me, and I will release a LOT of free content in the next quarter.

[PoF: It’s always fun to see FIRE bloggers featured in mainstream media. Five years ago, it was unheard of. Now, it’s become almost commonplace to see the clickbait titles “This Thirty-Something Saved a Million or Two and Retired Early: Here’s How.” They haven’t found me yet, but then again, I haven’t retired yet.

Be sure to let me know if you’re featured on a big site!]

 

Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.

The 11th post is up for your readers to look around and find!

 

[PoF: We employ a number of similar strategies, including living where others vacation, geographic arbitrage, and some selective frugality. Thanks for sharing!]

 

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?

33. I am currently applying for research funds until I am 30, when I should be pretty close to my goal. If my proposal goes through, I will be all set for the next years and almost guaranteed to retire, unless I screw up. I am excited; after all, I don’t need to do much to retire from now on, other than executing my plan flawlessly. 🙂

There are a number of things that I am doing to attain my goal, and some which I believe that can accelerate my plan.

This is the core of my plan:

Save a big chunk of my salary.
Invest wisely, Real Estate and P2P lending being two awesome investment tools.

Things that may accelerate my plan:

Selling more copies of my book than I expected at first.
Grow my consulting business more than I projected at first (I am VERY happy with the latest growth I have achieved)
Grow my Real Estate business more than I projected.

[PoF: Like many early retirees, I don’t know how easy it will be to identify the exact point you make the transition from pre-retirement to retired, or if you will simply continue to keep busy with endeavors that spark your interest.

It may be better to consider it a retirement from scientific research, just as I plan to say someday that I’m retired from clinical medicine.]

 

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?

I will spend my time as follows:

Blogging. I’ve always loved to write and express myself, but blogging is a lot more than writing. But we know that blogging is not only about writing and there are many other tasks involved. I would like From Cents To Retirement to become a reference for Early Retirement and my main goal with it is inspiring people and keep myself motivated. I recently re-branded the site and I think it came out nicely.

Going into nature more often. I love to hike (especially in not so popular wood trails), find hidden lakes and waterfalls and what not. Happy Ben here:

 

 

Working out more often. Before I started my PhD I used to dead-lift up to 400 lbs. My shape was amazing (I focused more on aesthetics than strength). I would like to come back.

Write more books. I just published my first book but I’ve got a few more in the pipeline. I wish I had time to write more books. This will definitely be a go after I “retire”.

Participate in multiple Real Estate projects across the Portuguese coast. The idea is to set up short-term rentals for tourists (including surfers). I’ve been studying the market and I think that there is a lot of demand for this.

Coaching other people. I would like to coach friends for free, once I don’t need any further monetary compensation, so I will ask for a tree (planted by themselves on land I’ve been buying, outsourcing won’t be permitted) and maybe some other things, like volunteering.

[PoF: I can certainly identify with the first three, and I might even write a book some day. If I partake in Potuguese real estate, it will be as a tenant, not an owner. Maybe I should learn to surf!]

 

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.

  • Start investing and creating passive income streams as soon as you get your first paycheck (if not before).
  • Be kind to others.
  • Respect yourself – do not participate in any unethical, illegal or immoral activity. Have standards.
  • Educate yourself, never stop learning. Read as much as you can.
  • Provide value. Volunteer. Donate. Buy second hand books and donate once you read them.
  • If you feel frustrated with others’ actions, put yourself in their shoes before judging them.
  • Take care of your body. Eat healthy, exercise and mediate. Stay away from stress, even when you think you can handle a lot of it.
  • Call your spouse often.
  • Spend time with your kids.
  • Keep in mind that people will forget a lot of things, but not how you made them feel.
  • Enjoy life. Smell flowers and appreciate the sunlight.

[PoF: You won’t go wrong with any of these. Does texting my wife count? Even if I use emojis??? No? Darn.]

 

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?

The Curaçao island. $11,000 is way more than I would need, even if I took a friend along.
I am crazy dying to visit this island. Although I’ve been to more than 30 countries, I need to get to central America. I just love every single part of it. <3

“Curaçao” actually means “heart” in Portuguese, who most likely gave the name to the island – it must be because it is dying for! Curiously, Portuguese is not spoken in the island. There was a time the Portuguese discovered so many islands and land they had to name them and move on to discover some more, so they never populate them. 🙂
I am not sure I can put some pictures here, but check em out yourselves here. I would enjoy these waters and, to be honest, local women. 🙂

[PoF: A Dutch antilles island 40 miles north of Venezuela. I’m not sure how you found it exactly, but it does look positively lovely. So much color there. I’ll add it to my list!]

 

Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.
This is actually a hard question because I’ve been drinking water for more than 5 years. Either way, I’ll answer based on how I remember they tasted 🙂

1. Water
2. Sparking water
3. Lemonade
4. Sprite
5. Pear soda
6. Black tea
7. Green tea
8. Almond milk
9. Oat milk
10. Ginger tea
11. Cranberry juice

[PoF: Water only? Ouch. I suppose you gotta do what you gotta do. I’ve been drinking a lot more water and very little soda lately, but I add flavor drops to water so it’s more like Kool-Aid. We’ll have to get together for beers sometime, and I’ll have both. 🙂 ]

Now, eleven foods.

This one is easier:

1. rice
2. banana
3.  mango
4. onions
5. sauerkraut
6. avocado
7. steak (rare)
8. pizza
9. mozzarella cheese
10. pasta
11. tomatoes

Yes, I eat healthy all the time.

[PoF: Yes, I’d say you do. I didn’t see Cheetos anywhere on that list. Or Chickin in a Bizkit, but you probably don’t have that over there Pour souls.]

 

How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me

I honestly love your blog, man. I am REALLY swamped these days, and I don’t have much time to check other blogs. Yet, yours, Retire by 40, Fi Fighter and Rockstar Finance are really those I ever get to read often. That being said, I don’t remember how I ever got to learn about you.

I think you’re doing super well and becoming the next rock star of the Early Retirement niche. I have more to learn from you than the other way around. The only thing that I would do is to eliminate some ads and make the layout a little bit cleaner. 😉
Thank you for allowing me time to share my story with your audience!

[PoF: And thank you for taking the time to share your insights. I wish you all the best in these next five years as you work towards your FIRE goals.

The comment on the ads is fair, but without them, the site’s charitable mission would go unfulfilled. So here’s another ad, just for good measure.]

 


You’re still not using Personal Capital? Track all your accounts in one place like I do.


 

Interested in hearing how other top personal finance blogger have answered these questions? Check out the following Christopher Guest Posts:

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15 comments

  • Dear PoF

    It is an honor to participate in your Christopher Guest Post series.

    I’d like to say, to my defense, that I really don’t criticize physicians. I criticized the system. I actually admire physicians more than I can put in words. I would never ever be a physician because of all the stress of the job. Shifts, sick people, hospital environments, etc – that is definitely not my thing, which makes me admire you guys even more.

    I also wish you all the best. As I said, I love the land you bought. No need to learn how to surf and come down to Portugal when you buy such properties. 😉

    All the best
    Ben

    • Thank you, Ben!

      Those are very kind words. I’m starting to wonder myself how much better my life might be if I’m exposed to those stressors less often. The other night, I was up from midnight to 4:30 a.m. after working a 14-hour day. There’s not much fun or glory in that.

      Thanks again for your time and thoughtful answers here.

      Cheers! [extends water glass]
      -PoF

  • Retiring at 33? How inspiring! I don’t know what’s holding us from also taking advantage of geographic arbitrage. We could retire right now at 36 years old!

    Yes, water is the most delicious drink in the world 😀. We drink only water on most days, and we also make our own wine that we drink occasionally. We also get some free beer from a connection to a brewery 🍻🍺 . For some reason, free beer tastes extremely really good 😄😄😄.

    POF, if you don’t mind, we would like you to interview us for this series. We started off very poor, put ourselves through school, worked 2-3 jobs at the same time, lived in not so safe neighborhoods, barely had food to eat, but we now make $400K+/year at 36 years old . We think your readers will enjoy our story.

  • Hi Ben! My wife and I love Portugal (particularly Lisbon) and have cajoled at least three of our friends to visit there on vacation. We could definitely see ourselves living there at some point in our lives for an extended period, however, I have read that AirBNB has made Lisbon quite difficult for long-term renters. Any insight on this?

    No vinho verde? Portugal has some of the most underrated wines around. Do consider breaking your water habit for a taste 🙂

    • You’re right! Lisbon became very trendy, and so the locals started to rent out their second homes through AirBnb, which increased the prices dramatically.

      Any good sparkling water beats vinho verde by a mile 😉

  • One of the biggest considerations for me as far as retirement goes is location. I could retire at a much earlier age if I were willing to move to another part of the US or to a less expensive country outside the US.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome is a very tough one to diagnose and treat, so sorry that you are dealing with it. Making the life changes to be healthy and fit are great though and hopefully will improve the symptoms.

    I have my own chronic fatigue but it’s more due to the call I take as a doc.

    33 for retirement is admirable. Being able to move to another country (or part of the country) would make it much easier to do. Cali is expensive but like you said, I live where people vacation.

    Best of luck going forward!

  • I was hoping to hear how you will use geoarbitrage to live abroad and retire early. What strategies will you employ? Do you already own property in Portugal?

  • Interesting story Ben, thanks for sharing. I think geographic arbitrage is awesome, if you can get your spouse to buy in : ) I live in North Dakota. Since you don’t live in the US I’ll explain. Watch Game of Thrones, I live North of the Wall. Lots of Germans here though, you could get your sauerkraut fix.

    I would get diabetes living in Portugal, all the surgery brandy from the fortified port wine (delicious), but I do plan to visit.

    Thanks for the real estate links, like PoF I was an accidental landlord which wasn’t that bad, but I want to do it on my own terms provided i can do it with minimal hassle. Learning real estate is like learning a new language, all these definitions and numbers to make sure it’s a good buy. Appealing to the researcher in you and me too.

    Also, as a researching oncologist, we cure patients with cancer everyday, but you are right, we have a long way to go. I agree with PoF (my wife works in pain management) we are far from mastering narcotics. Most are really old drugs that are used more now than ever. Perhaps PoF can work on that problem with his newfound time when he returns from his Spanish sabbatical.

  • Doublemds

    Not to be a Debbie downer as this is nowhere near the main point of the post but anyone who reportedly states they have chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia would stand almost no chance of surviving any type of surgical residency. By definition residency induces chronic fatigue, regardless of a predetermined clinical diagnosis or not. Lay people rarely have any concept of the extent of this.

    Nonetheless, nice post and congrats on the early retirement!!

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