Christopher Guest Post: Financially Alert

We’ve got another exciting interview lined up for you today. Our guest is none other than Michael, an early retiree with nearly six years of experience since he “retired” in 2012 from his corporate job.

I put “retired” in quotes, because he does on his About Me page, and like many early retirees, he has found new and interesting ways to spend his time, some of which include earning money. His site, Financially Alert, is one of those things.

Michael left his job at age 36, which means we’re right around the same age. With a net worth that qualifies him as a multimillionaire, most would consider him to be FI now, but as a San Dieagan, he figures he’d be happier with $10 Million, which is his stretch goal. I used to have that goal, and Dom the Gen Y Finance Guy still does, but I’m perfectly content with a fraction of it now.

Let’s get to know Michael a bit better, shall we?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Financially Alert

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 actually come from a large extended family of physicians.  I admired them as I grew up because it was a noble profession, well respected, and they were “rich”!  My dream was to become an orthopedic surgeon and I held onto that idea for a couple decades of my life.  Alas, becoming a doctor was not my fate.  After getting killed in a general chem class at U.C. San Diego, I quickly saw my pre-med dreams evaporate.  This threw me into a tailspin of meandering and I finally graduated with an economics degree because it had the fewest requirements… yes, I’m inherently lazy (which means I love efficiency!).

My secondary dream was to become an entrepreneur.  I wanted to start a business right out of college but didn’t have many skills.  So, I went to work in the tech industry because I knew how to take apart and assemble computers (from my gaming days!).   After working in tech for a year, 9-11 happened and my company imploded.  Rather than stick around and cross my fingers, I took a leap of faith and started my own IT support company with a couple of friends.  It was a lot of fun growing the business for 10 years and we eventually sold it to a private equity firm.  Along the way, I invested consistently in the stock market and also picked up a few rental properties.

 

[PoF: Some people are destined for success, and by that I mean they will persist and reinvent themselves or their careers until something works. You seem to be one of those poeple who made your own destiny despite your self-described “laziness.” 

I like how you define laziness as efficiency-loving. I’m not exactly lazy, but I don’t like wasting time, money, or energy. One could argue those three things are rather tightly interrelated.]

 

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

 

Financially Alert is a FIRE (Financial Independence, Retirement Early) site that focuses on getting your “head” aligned with your “finances”.  Getting your head in the right place means knowing your Why.  This is more of an art because your Why is different than mine.

Getting to financial independence is more of a science because it’s systematic and predictable.  Financially Alert helps to expose you to some of these systems and vehicles for building lasting wealth.  I openly share our personal finances on a monthly basis because I think it’s important to see real numbers.  It also keeps me accountable for my long-term goals.

I know firsthand from family and past clients, that physicians exert a ton of energy into becoming the best in their profession.  But a lot of you don’t spend a lot of time learning about personal finance or investing.  Sadly, if you fail to invest some time into this area, there’s a good chance you may not reach FI as quickly as you could.  That’s a travesty because you work so hard serving others, it’d be a shame not to be rewarded commensurately.

Money aside, I’m also trying to share the message that wealth isn’t just a monetary figure.  It’s feeling of abundance that you have more than enough in all facets of your life.

 

[PoF: I agree. Money isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. 😉 (apologies to Red Sanders)

Many people, particularly the high-income earners, seem uninterested in achieving financial independence. Why? They love their jobs. That’s awesome, but what are the changes you’ll still be singing that tune in ten or twenty years.

The nature of the work changes. We change, and so do our priorities. I think it’s wise to start saving for FI from day one as an insurance policy against the changing times. And the times, they are a-changin’]

 

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?

 

Once I stopped working full time, I needed a project to keep my mind active.  So, I decided to create Financially Alert as a way to track my own progress in early retirement and also help others who were looking to travel a similar path.  Over time it’s been a wonderful vehicle to connect with like-minded individuals (like PoF) who are driven, intelligent, and friendly.  I really didn’t expect that type of camaraderie in a money-related blogosphere.

At the time I started writing Financially Alert, I didn’t really realize I was writing about FIRE.  But, this seems to be the niche I’m best suited for and happy to write in this space with my own personal spin on things.

I’m a big personal development fan, so I’m always looking for new ways to grow and share with others.  My next big plan is to finish up writing a book on FIRE!

 

[PoF: Fire away! I’ve got more ideas for projects than I have time for, and I’m sure you feel the same. Would love to see a FIRE book from you.

I vastly underestimated the connection you develop with other bloggers and readers when you have a blog of your own. That alone is a good enough reason to put the effort in. I know you attended your first FinCon in 2016, and mine was in Dallas for FinCon 2017. Hopefully, our paths will cross in 2018 at the Orlando get-together.]

 

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

 

  1. 10 Provocative Early Retirement & FIRE Blogs You Must Read
  2. Luck or Foresight? Getting to FIRE Gets a Whole Lot Easier When You Can 10x Your Capital. 
  3. How My Darkest Fear Led to Financial Freedom 
  4. 7 Priceless Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Money 
  5. Under the Hood of RealtyShares 
  6. The True Secret to Wealth 
  7. Are There Really Shortcuts to Wealth? 
  8. What Does a Good Real Estate Deal Actually Look Like? 
  9. Raise Your Standards, Increase Your Wealth 
  10. 8 Terms You Need to Know When Reading Personal Finance Blogs 
  11. My First Rental Property was a FAT Failure

 

[PoF: I’d love me a ten-bagger. That does make FIRE a whole lot easier, doesn’t it? 

My father was also instrumental in teaching me some money lessons early on. I actually left a comment on that article some 15 months ago. It’s nice to take that stroll down memory lane.

And thank you for including me among the most provocative FIRE blogs. I’m happy to provoke the masses at the slightest provocation.]

 


You're still not using Personal Capital? That's how I track the PoF portfolio.

 

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?

 

After selling my IT company, I worked for the merged company for a year and a half.  As I suspected, being a full-time employee for someone else wasn’t for me (not to mention I didn’t care for their business ethics).  So, I negotiated a severance package and officially exited traditional work in 2013.  I was 36 at the time.

Post-retirement, I have transitioned to a stay at home dad during the day.  At night, I wear my die-hard entrepreneur hat and typically work a few projects… blogging, financial coaching, online business, real estate investing, etc…

Although I’m early retired, I haven’t reached FIRE to the level I’m completely satisfied with yet.  I have a longer-term goal of reaching $10M by the time I’m 50, which gives me just under 10 years to figure this out.

 

[PoF: Another $8 Million in under 10 years? You’d better have some slick tricks up your sleeve. I’ve got about eight years to go and a decent head start in the money department, but I doubt I’d hit $10 Million by 50 even if I continued to work full-time.-

I used to have the $10 Million Dream, but I’ve accepted the fact that we would probably not live much differently with $10 Million than we do with a third of that.

Maybe once your kids are in school full-time, you can get some more hustling during the daytime. I will admit to being jealous of someone like J. Money who has taken back his nights and weekends by leaving the laptop alone at those times. But there’s no way I could do that and continue to grow the blog at this point.] 

 

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’m thankful that I have the opportunity to explore this every day.

When I first stopped working, I took some time to myself to really relax and play.

I went fishing a lot, attended personal development conferences, and even took a special effects course (a childhood fantasy of mine) where we actually got to blow up a car!

When the dust settled, I had to figure out what I wanted to do longer-term.  I decided that I really want to enjoy and savor the time with my kids.  My daughter was a one-year-old back then and my son arrived shortly thereafter.

I love being a stay at home Dad, but that’s only a temporary gig.  I should get back a decent amount of free time once they are both in school full time.

After that, I’d love to focus more on the blog and help others find the personal path to FIRE.  In addition to the upcoming book, I’d love to create an online course as well.

Once the kids are off to college, I’d love to move around throughout the year.  I’d love to travel somewhere with my wife and spend a month or two just exploring.  Still on the travel list is: China, Thailand, Japan, Galapagos Islands, Australia, Africa, Jerusalem, Maldives, Iceland, etc, etc…

 

[PoF: Man, we’ve got a lot in common. Well, I’ve never blown up a car, at least not intentionally, but our hopes, dreams, and travel plans are pretty darned similar.

I’ve already checked off Japan, the Galapagos, and Iceland (three times). I don’t think we’ll ever run out of boxes to check when it comes to traveling.

I look forward to your online course: Determining the Proper Amount of C-4 to Blow Up Pretty Much Anything!]

 

 

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.

 

As a young physician, you’ve already made a ton of sacrifices.  Use this habit to your advantage and begin saving/investing diligently once your salary begins to snowball.  You’ll still be able to enjoy a new lifestyle, and simultaneously create a comfortable nest egg from which you can ultimately live off of… case in point – PoF himself!

Also, don’t forget to live in balance.  It may be exciting to throw yourself completely into work when you’re just starting out, but don’t neglect your family (or the possibility of growing one during this time).

Have fun!  You deserve it.  Being a physician can be taxing, so remember to take care of yourself physically and mentally also.  The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to take care of others… like me one day.

 

[PoF: Well said. After 7 to 12 years of medical school, residency, and possibly fellowship, the concept of balance is difficult to grasp. I’ve finally reclaimed it, but fewer than five years ago, I spent more than half my weeks off several states over working as a locum. 

It’s funny… in his Christopher Guest Post, JL Collins took the “I want doctors to care for me, so don’t retire early!” route in his guest post a while back. Similarly, I don’t want all doctors to follow my lead, either. Of course, I’m not concerned. For every one of us pursuing FI, there are dozens who are unaware of the concept. For now, at least.]

 

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’ve traveled a lot through Europe already, so I’d take my $11,000 budget and explore China.

I’d really like to see where my paternal grandfather grew up and visit the village he came from in Canton.  It’s really fascinating how the decisions of a single individual ultimately affect the lives of so many further down the generation line.

After seeing the village, I’d love to explore Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu, etc.

Traveling is awesome because it really gives you a different life perspective.  It’s also fun to walk inside history, explore local cultures and food, and meet new people.  I certainly appreciate nice hotels these days, so I think I can use up that $11k budget, no problem.  😉

 

[PoF: Canton, eh? Be sure to check out the NFL Hall of Fame while you’re there. 😉

I think an ancestral trip would be a great adventure to take with your family. That’s a great way to use up the $11,000.

If we were to take our boys on a journey to trace their roots, we’d be visiting Sweden, Norway, and Poland. I’d love to try to track down some actual relatives. It would be tough as we are about five generations removed from the old country, but with the internet and DNA testing available, I wouldn’t rule it out.]

 

Family Tree DNA map

my Family Tree DNA results

 

Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.

 

You said enjoy, so here they are:

  • Coke
  • Java Chip Mocha Frappuccino
  • Milk Shakes/Malts
  • Egg Cream
  • Apple Cider
  • Ginger Ale
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Boba Milk Tea

Here’s what I actually drink these days (I decided to be much healthier):

  • Water
  • Almond Milk
  • Smoothies

*Random fact: I don’t drink alcohol because I can’t quite metabolize it!  I quickly learned that ingesting it leads to a lot of discomfort (headaches, vomiting, etc.).  The good news is I don’t know what I’m missing and I’m sure it’s saved me a lot of money over time.  If I did drink though, it would likely be wine.  I think the nuances and depth of flavors are fascinating.

 

[PoF: Acetaldehyde will do that to you! If you’re prone to the “Asian Flush,” it’s best to avoid alcohol, anyway. Apparently, your risk of esophageal cancer would be elevated, and that’s a particularly nasty cancer to get.

It’s pretty easy to fake it by drinking ginger ale (looks enough like beer) and acting like a fool. Cheers!]

 

 

Now, eleven foods.

  • Mint chocolate chip ice cream at Baskin Robbins
  • Filet Mignon at Ruth Chris
  • Fatty Blue Fin Tuna Sashimi (OToro)
  • Fish Taco from TJ Oyster Bar
  • In-n-out Cheeseburger with grilled onions
  • Pad thai
  • Singaporean Chicken Rice
  • Chili/Scallion Lobster
  • Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)
  • Strawberry Tarts in Paris
  • Dim Sum

*Oh yeah, I’m also a food blogger – https://www.sandiegofood.net

 

[PoF: I love me some Mint chocolate chip a.k.a. peppermint bon bon ice cream. One of the best among the 31 flavors.

Actually, I’m down with pretty much everything on that list, and I find it funny you started with dessert. Is that how you approach your evening meal?]

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

 

Well, there was this one day when I noticed a comment from Puff PoF awaiting moderation in my comments.  You actually wrote some very flattering meaningful few sentences, so I approved it of course.  Then suddenly you were commenting on every post (well, for a month at least).

What’s interesting was that I saw you commenting on a ton of other personal finance blogs also.  You were EVERYWHERE!  I was like, WOW, this guy is an anesthesiologist and a blogging machine.  I’ve got no excuses!

I love that you give relevant advice to your fellow physicians, and across to anyone looking for FIRE.  I forwarded your site to my cousin who also happens to be an anesthesiologist.  He’s had the FIRE bug ever since.

As far as advice, just take a breather from being so awesome once and awhile.  The rest of us are getting pretty self-conscious watching you smash it online in a fraction of the time it takes the rest of us…. HAH!

Seriously though, I can tell you’re someone that really cares about other people and wants to extract the most out of life.  I wish we could have met up in person this year at FinCon, but there’s always next year and I’ve got my ticket already.  🙂

Thanks for allowing me to share with your readers!

 

[PoF: I will see you at FinCon in September! 

As far as commenting on all the posts, once I got some momentum going, I started spending a lot more time responding to comments on my own posts, so I’ve slowed down a bit, but I’m glad to hear that strategy worked to get some recognition. It’s among my top blogging tips.

I hope things are going well for your cousin. If he’s ever interested in doing a similar Q&A with me, I’m entertaining the idea of an interview series for our non-blogging friends who aspire to FIRE.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your history and wisdom with us, today.]

 

Readers: What additional questions do you have for Michael? As an early retiree, he’s got time to answer them, right Michael?

 

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

 

20 comments

  • Really interesting perspective! Retiring four years from now (I am 32) as a doc fresh out of training sounds crazy. I would love to do it by the time I am 42-45, though. Maybe sooner depending on how things go!

    Definitely appreciate the advice for physicians to not forget about themselves and to live a little on the way. We put so much on hold, and it turns into burnout in a lot of us. You cannot take care of other people adequately if you aren’t first taking care of yourself.

    (P.S. I took a note from POF’s book and comment on a lot of blogs every morning to add to the conversation….and because I started my own in November. Those blog tips really are gold!)

    • 42-45 is still relatively young. Most of the physicians in my family still work because they love their profession so much, although a lot have cut back times significantly in the 40s and beyond. FIRE should fuel fulfillment, so it’s no surprise many physicians don’t retire once they reach FI. 🙂

  • Great Q and A….A food blogger, now I can appreciate that. I often wonder what other sites some of our fellow PF bloggers may have!

  • WOW! A special effects course where you get to blow up a car!??!

    Now that’s a different kind of “FIRE” course I wouldn’t mind attending!

    Great interview! 🙂

    • Oh man, that was a lot of fun. I took the course out in Orlando with a special effects company that works with amusement parks and movie productions. It was a blast! (literally) Getting to make fake blood and create smoke effects were fun too. Thanks for reading!

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  • Thanks for allowing me to share, PoF. 🙂

    I’ve already got my 2018 FinCon ticket and hotel, so we’ll definitely meet up and hang this time.

  • I hope you reach the 10 mill your looking for – thanks for sharing and answering the questions, very cool interview!

  • Great post and discussion! Is it sad that the thing that stood out the most to me was a financial/food blogger ranking a Ruth’s Chris filet as #2? haha! By the way, I totally agree with Mint Choc Chip #1, but I’d be interested on your financial philosophy on paying for a RC filet vs. a private steak house or one done at home w/ a sous-vide (this is my new hobby). I love telling people that I boil my steak.

    Thanks again for the light-hearted discussion and topics. Great read!

    • Ironically, I don’t eat much meat any longer.

      However, if I did…

      I personally feel like the better value is RC because they also clean up the mess!

      Having said that, if your spouse or kids will do the cleaning for you, then you can certainly get a better cut of meat (maybe some dry aged, or wagyu?), sous-vide, and finish it off in a cast iron skillet to perfection…mmmm.

      Thanks a lot for reminding me how good meat used to taste. 😉

  • How many small villages are there in Canton, I wonder. My grandfather was originally from also a small village in Canton! We had some family land that unfortunately had to be let go when my parents fell on hard times. I always thought I’d go back and visit one day but my Cantonese is nearly non existent!

    I found you at your site a while ago and pop in periodically but it’s fun seeing you over here as well. Unfortunately I can’t make Orlando but maybe next year 😉

  • Gasem

    Great post. I was lucky enough to adopt 2 abandoned girls from China and spent a month in country touring with each adoption. China is an amazing place with amazing people so make sure you have plenty of time to spend. Great depth of history. Also don t miss Hong Kong.

    • That sounds like two incredible girls and two incredible trips! China’s history is so fascinating to me. It’s a bit daunting to figure out where to see first. Guess I’ll have to make it over there a few times.

      I was able to visit Macau and Hong Kong back in ’04… both amazing places and phenomenal food.

  • GYM

    My bucket list item is to visit my family’s ancestral village in Canton too! I am fearful that it will be gone forever if my mom is too old to go with me and I will never know my heritage.

    I would also like to go to the Galapagos Island and the Maldives! Galapagos would be a great biology trip for your family! Iceland is great, the northern lights were so beautiful. The Blue Lagoon is a bit overrated in my opinion.

    This was a great intro/interview, thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, how amazing would it be to sleep right on the water in the Maldives!?

      That’s great you’ve seen the northern lights. They look so cool in pictures, so it must be that much better in person.

      I hope you’re able to see your family’s ancestral village too!

  • Very cool that you would use 11K to visit, Michael! I’ve visited “Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu” before and they were all great! My family actually lives in Chengdu, so I go back to visit every now and then. Chengdu hot pot is my favourite thing in the whole world!

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