Christopher Guest Post – Root of Good

Today, we have the distinct honor of welcoming Justin from Root of Good to the stage.

While not quite as O.G. as our last guest, the retired engineer with a law degree has been blogging about his early retirement lifestyle for the past five years, ever since leaving the daily grind at the age of 33 with three young children.

Justin and his family reside in North Carolina, but take advantage of their summers to travel far and wide. They recently returned from the Bahamas, and last summer, they went on an epic 9-week trek across Europe, a trip which provided the fodder for at least a dozen great travel posts that he’s published in the interim.

He keeps it real by publishing monthly spending updates — here’s his most recent — and his net worth continues to grow. He can now consider himself a bona fide multimillionaire, sitting on a stash (or is it ‘stache?) of more than $2 Million.

Let’s get to know Justin 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.

 

 

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 worked as a transportation engineer for ten years then quit working for good!  The first seven years I prepared traffic studies for private developers building new neighborhoods and shopping centers, including tons of Walmarts. So in a way, I used to work for Walmart!

For the last three years of my career, I helped design and build the first toll road in North Carolina.  This job really took a toll on me, which really pushed me to retire early. [PoF: I see what you did there.]

If I were a physician, what would I be? Something really easy with a 40 hour per week schedule and in a role where I don’t have to get my hands dirty? Radiologist maybe? I don’t mean that as an insult…

 

[PoF: We all get our hands dirty in one way or another, but there are a number of specialties where you can avoid most of the blood and guts. If you would like a light schedule (40 hours a week is practically part-time in medicine), dermatology could be a good fit.

Have you thought about supplementing your retirement income as a Walmart greeter? “Welcome to Walmart. I’m the reason you’re able to drive easily in and out of this place, you know.”

I suppose the FIRE consulting pays better, though, doesn’t it?]

 

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

 

1. Root of Good – it should be called “Root of Great”! [PoF: Is Root of Awesome taken?]

 

2-3. I don’t focus on physician-specific issues but a lot of the content is highly relevant to folks that have above average incomes and/or the ability to save a high percentage of their incomes.  If that sounds like you, then come on over!

 

4-5. Kids – I have three of them and I made it to early retirement when the youngest was only one year old. It is possible! [PoF: Yes. Yes, it is.]

 

6-9. Location location location. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina and it’s proven to be popular for folks seeking to relocate out of high cost of living areas. It’s a sweet pocket of culture in the south with highly educated residents but without the big city price tags. I blog about my cost of living as an early retiree on a monthly basis.

 

10. Travel – The five of us travel for two or three months every year and I cover all this travel in detail including tips and tricks, how to travel hack, and how to find good deals.

 

11. Does this sentence count as one of the eleven sentences? [PoF: If you have to ask, I think you know the answer.]

 

[PoF: Kids, travel, greatness. Sounds right up my alley. Your site was one of a handful I read before I started my own. It’s an honor to have you grace the pages of physicianonfire.com, a site that didn’t exist for the first 2.5 years of Root of Good Great.]

 

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 think I chose the wrong major in college. I should have studied computer science or something in the IT field.

When working, I was always fascinated with the internet and I wanted to do something “internet-y”. Within two weeks of retiring, I googled “how to start a blog” and it was off to the races for me.  A blog was my internet-y thing.

Though I started it on a whim, it’s turned out to be pretty successful so far. I admit I put a lot of hard work into the blog in the early days which helped get things off the ground.

Big plans in the future? I’d like to cover some tax strategies that have changed with the new 2018 tax law.

 

bankofamerica[PoF: Like you, I’ve always had some interest in computers. I was taking computer classes in the 1980s and I used to have programs saved on 5.25″ floppy disks that were truly floppy. 

Eventually, science won out when it came to my career choice, but it turns out that was just my first career. My second career, if you can call blogging a second career for me, involves plenty of time at the computer keyboard.

You didn’t mention when your blog arrived, so I’ll just call it August 9, 2018. 😉 ]

 

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

 

  1. How we paid only $150 tax on a $150,000 income
  2. Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years
  3. How I retired at 33
  4. Roth IRA Conversion Ladder (how to access 401k waaay before age 59.5)
  5. Living a $100,000 per year lifestyle on $40,000 per year
  6. A step by step guide to developing a retirement budget
  7. Our current $40,000 annual budget (for a family of five!)
  8. My guide to getting subsidies for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (watch the cliff!)
  9. Retire early and STILL get a decent Social Security check
  10. My tentative plans for helping kids through college as an early retiree
  11. Costco Costs More – A cautionary tale of bulk buying gone wrong

 

[PoF: I named #5 as my favorite blog post that’s not my own when I was on the ChooseFI podcast. I feel like we’re doing something similar, but more of a $130,000 lifestyle on a $66,000 budget.

If you keep up the good work on the blog, you may find yourself hanging off the edge of that cliff you mention in #8. 

Your # 1 may have been the inspiration for my Taxman Leaveth post, and I’ve been trying to figure out if I can reach that second bend point after reading your #9. 

There’s a lot of great stuff up there, and I’ve riffed off about half of those posts. Not ripped off, but riffed off. The difference is subtle, but there is a difference. At least I think there is.]

 

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?

 

About five years ago, I retired at 33.  A 50% or greater savings rate was the most important thing that pushed us to early retirement in ten years.  Low cost, tax efficient investing was the second most important thing.

 

[PoF: Another important factor is a partner who is 100% on board. Without our wives’ support and participation, our FIRE plans would fail miserably. You’ve got to be co-conspirators.

I can’t argue with the savings rate or the low-cost investing. I harp on those things, too. Both were crucial in my reaching FI within ten years of starting my anesthesia career.]

 

 

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 living the dream right now! Nine months per year, we’re homebodies here in Raleigh when the kids are in school full time.  Here’s a snapshot of how I spend a typical week while at home. After a morning walk to school with our youngest, I like to have a cup of coffee while relaxing. Maybe read a book, maybe watch some Netflix. [PoF: and chill?]

Then we might go on a bike ride and run some errands. Afternoon could have us relaxing at home or doing some volunteer work. But yeah, we’re mostly homebodies during the school year.

In the summer we flip our homebody lifestyle on its head and go on a big family vacation for a month or two. Since I retired, we’ve been on a road trip to Canada not once but twice with a wide swing through the central US on our way north!  We spent seven weeks in Mexico another summer (with a three-year old in tow!). And most recently in the summer of 2017 we spent 9 weeks traveling across eight countries in Europe.

I’m very happy with how the past five years of early retirement have turned out. I wouldn’t change a thing! The youngest kid will be out of the house in 12 years but until then we hope to do plenty of big crazy summer vacations with the family.

 

[PoF: You really are living the dream. If you were willing to part ways with the public school system for a little while, you could have exponentially more freedom! Of course, that could be a lot of work. A lot of work for a retired person, that is.

I’m jealous of your extended summer travels, but we’re only about a year away from having the freedom to do the same. Is it 2019 yet?]

 

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.

 

Money advice – live like a resident as much as you can for as long as you can. Choose your lifestyle inflation elements very carefully and focus on spending money on things that bring you value and not mere status objects.

Don’t fall prey to crazy investment ideas. A low cost, tax efficient portfolio that includes no more than a few index funds can get you to the million dollar mark with relative ease.

Be smart with taxes. Take advantage of your tax-deferred savings opportunities as much as you can (as in MAX THOSE SUCKERS OUT EVERY YEAR!).  If you’re working in a 1099 environment, research options for solo 401k’s or other retirement accounts that may let you defer more than $50,000 per year!

Non-money advice – enjoy life. You only get one go at it and money isn’t everything. [PoF: Wait, didn’t you get the memo?] If you want to get to retirement very early, you’ll need to save a lot. You can save a lot and spend quality time with family and friends too.

 

[PoF: Sound advice across the board. I think this is my favorite question among the bunch. There is never a shortage of wisdom in these eleven sentences, and your response is full of it — full of wisdom, that is.]

 

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?

 

$1,000 per day for 11 days? We’re so used to traveling on the cheap (in relative terms) that I don’t really know what I would do. Our entire annual travel budget is $10,000 (plus another $10,000 in miles and points from credit card bonuses!)

An easy answer is to book a high-end suite on a luxury cruise line and live the high life for a little over a week.  Throw in some first or biz class plane tickets to/from the cruise port if there’s any money left over.  The high end luxury suite and first class plane tickets aren’t something I would buy today because it would blow our travel budget for the year! But hey, if I have to spend $11,000 in only 11 days, that might do the trick.

In my travels, I’ve noticed that enjoyment of a particular place is weakly correlated to how much I spent to get there or stay there.  Other aspects like food, weather, crowd levels, and scenery are really what drives enjoyment of travel to me. And it doesn’t always cost a lot to enjoy all those factors!

 

[PoF: I’m with you on the travel spending. I’m definitely not a 5-star guy. I’m just as happy, and frankly, feel more comfortable at the 3 to 3.5 star type of place or experience. It’s nice to be treated well, but I don’t need to be treated like royalty, and I can carry my own bags, thank you.

In a use-it-or-lose-it situation, though, I can see the joy in getting the Rainman suite just to see how the other half lives for a change.]

 

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

 

  1. Water – my go to drink of choice for thirst
  2. Soda – I like it but don’t drink it much because they say it’s bad for you
  3. Milk – only with Oreos or cake or brownies
  4. Coffee – oh how I love thee but oh how your caffeine bothers me if I have more than one cup
  5. Light American Beer – yeah, I like the watered down stuff
  6. Schwarzbier – I stumbled on this chocolately/coffee-like rich amazingness last summer in Germany (trying to re-establish my beer-cred here)
  7. Rum – I like it
  8. Bourbon – I like it also, and it likes me
  9. Margarita – the frozen kind from a blender
  10. Piña colada – una mas, por favor!
  11. Green tea – great in the afternoon when I know coffee will keep me up all night

 

[PoF: I only drink milk with dinner. Pretty much every night. And I only drink light fizzy beer when desperate. Like stranded in the desert and there’s no water but there is a light beer desperate.

Glad to see you’ve found a more interesting beer to drink, and I’ll bet you could find dozens of quality beers stateside if you narrow down what it is you like about the Schwarzbier.]

 

 

Now, eleven foods.

 

  1. Tacos
  2. Pizza
  3. Pad thai
  4. Nachos
  5. Tacos
  6. Salad (I really love it though my other foods make me look like a glutton!)
  7. Spaghetti with meat sauce COVERED in parmesan cheese
  8. Tamales
  9. Tacos
  10. Lo mein noodles
  11. Pulled pork BBQ

 

In case it wasn’t obvious, I really enjoy Mexican food (the American stuff and the real stuff). If you’re a fan too, check out this glorious summary of us eating our way across Mexico.  Fair warning: you might want to bookmark that link and save it for after lunch or dinner, otherwise it will make you really hungry.

 

[PoF: Thank you for keeping it simple. I can both pronounce and relate to everything listed. Joe got rather fancy with his list, but Crispy Doc took the cake. And no, he didn’t list cake. But he did list Ghormeh Sabzi and Bhindi Do Piazza, both of which I can neither relate to or pronounce. It’s unclear whether or not I could safely eat them, but they were listed as edible by another physician, so I suppose I could.

But I might rather hang with you over some pizza, nachos, and schwarzbier.]

 

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

 

PoF stopped by my blog way back in 2016 and left some comments. I think it took me a while to head over to the site and check it out.  Since then PoF has really taken off and gained in popularity greatly!

 

[PoF: Thanks for stopping by, my RoGue friend! 

I’ll take that advice to heart. Wait. You didn’t give me a piece of advice. I only asked for one piece!

I’ll take that to mean you don’t think I need any advice, and I thoroughly appreciate the compliment. The next time, you find yourself in Minnesota, hit me up and we’ll find the best pizza, tacos, and nachos in town. And maybe a good beer or three.]

 

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

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Check out Root of Good if you haven’t before. It’s quite… ummmm… good! Do you have a twelfth question you’d like to ask my early retired friend? That’s what the comment box exists. Fire away!

 

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12 comments

  • Three things

    1) what a great story! I love reading this stuff still to this day, even though I have my own blog now. Retiring at 33 and living the good life is such an inspiration.

    2) I don’t live too far from you. This neck of the woods is crazy affordable. Still blows my mind how much money we save by living in the Tar Heel state (as much as it pains me to call it that).

    3) You gotta broaden your beer selection. Surely you like something other than an American light beer?

    P.s. really solid advice for us physicians. Seriously. Spot on.

    TPP

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  • First of all major points scored with the mention of radiology (and no insult taken it really is a pretty sweet specialty if you find the right practice).

    Amazing savings rate and great use of geoarbitrage to retire in early 30s. That just sounds amazing especially from a physician who didn’t really start making money until age 32.

    • I know basically nothing about the various specialties but I figure looking at pictures of stuff can’t be too bad vs. having to cut people up, stick sharp things in them, or stitch them back together and make them look pretty. Seems like radiology would be a good fit for me! 🙂

      I hear you on the loooong delay in earning money in the MD career track. I was kind of smirking to myself when all my high school classmates that were much higher achievers than me all finished their residencies or specialties and started making real money. Right around the time I retired 🙂 Take that, all you suckers that nominated me for “Most Likely to Be a Class Clown Forever”. 🙂

  • Interesting. Point of trivia I was born in NC. Why does it pain you (physician philosopher) to call it the Tar Heel state?

  • Light beer?!?!? Ugh…

    Also… hilarious that I drink milk every night with dinner unless we aren’t at home. Ha

    • Nothing wrong with a cool refreshing light beer. There’s a reason they come 24 to the case you know!

      And I’m glad I mentioned my love of light beer here. It seems to really irk all you beer aficionados 🙂

  • Great interview. Root of Good is one of my favorite blogs. And I enjoy Justin’s engagement on Twitter, he’s a really funny guy.

    All of those posts that you listed are classics and I need to reread them!

    My wife and I are planning to have three kids too. So your retirement life is a great inspiration. When our kids reach school age, we may try to model our life similarly. We live near great public schools, so I would want them to stay enrolled. Homeschooling sounds like too much work. But instead of being a homebody, I will probably either work part time or 32-40 hours of week. I don’t want to risk becoming bored and losing my skills.

    I am a huge fan of German beers too. In addition to schwarzbier I like dunkelbier. Both are dark beers that taste amazing. I also heard that Justin is not a fan of American IPA’s…

  • I think my view for Justin has changed significantly after reading the “light beer” comment…. :p

    Still gotta meet Justin in person one of these days.

  • Justin,

    I’ve enjoyed listening to you on podcasts and following your blog over the years, and while it makes every month’s high cost of living in California feel more painful by comparison, I appreciate your transparency and vulnerability in putting your expenses out there. Thanks.

    Since I’m a beer ignoramus as well, I’ve got no issue with your drink of choice – if anything, I think all the would be Stoics ought to commend your ability to reduce your wants to something that no one else seems to want, and is thus cheap and plentiful. Zeno of Citium would be proud.

    Thanks for sharing your story,

    CD

  • Wow, that’s an eye-catching title you have of paying only $150 in tax on $150k of income. Nice!

    Miriam

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