I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Mamula at FinCon and received an advance copy of the newly released ChooseFI book. I’ve been an early fan of ChooseFI, finding the podcast in March of 2017 and still listen to every episode within a few days of being released. Even though I’m already financially independent, I enjoyed getting a copy of the ChooseFI book and read it while thinking about the books that set us on our path to financial independence. This was enjoyable and it turned out to be a bit different than what I was expecting after hearing the early discussions about the project.
What were my expectations: When this was first brought up on ChooseFI, the hosts mentioned this book looking like what Tim Ferris had done with his series of interviews in creating the wildly successful Tools of Titans and follow up Tribe of Mentors. I was a big fan of both of those books, which contained a combination of interview notes and follow up questions sent to the guests with four to twelve page chapters per guest.
What was reality? The ChooseFI book was not a recap of interviews, but written as a combination of a philosophical and tactical approach to making the choice of financial independence. It moved nicely between the two and is setup in topic based chapters referencing both lessons from guests and takeaways from Jonathan, Brad, and Chris. I want to highlight some of the philosophical and tactical takeaways that stuck with me as both valuable today along with what would have provided value progressing through my working career.
“FI is not about retiring early or retiring at all really. It’s about having the freedom and flexibility to design your life in alignment with your values. You can work on the things important to you. You can work at your own pace. Or you can choose not to work at all. FI gives you the power to decide” – The Retire Early (RE) part of FIRE gets a lot of press because of the shock value. I’ve been there and still experience the “wait, you’re retired?” surprise when someone is talking to me at the ripe old age of 37. Leaving my full time job has been a personal discovery of lifestyle design and it will involve some level of work on my terms.
Leaving a corporate career from Brad Barrett: “I soon realized I was living someone else’s dream” and “I saw partners at my accounting firm working seventy hour weeks and wasting their lives away in an office. That’s wasn’t how I wanted my life to turn out”. Jonathan chimed in with “I felt trapped in my success. I spent seven years and tens of thousands of dollars on a degree”.
It is a personal evolution to say “Work is what I do, but it is not who I am” when many people are programmed to have a career label coexist with personal identity. The ability to separate these two is advanced level thinking for people attempting to choose financial independence and I loved this and other philosophical discussions in the book.
Chris spent a lot of time talking about increasing income, which I fully support seeing more of in the financial independence discussion. Our path to financial independence was solely through W-2 employment: My wife and I jointly made around $2.5mil in our working career but spent less than $1.3mil over the same sixteen year period. That plus some boring investing equaled a comfortable level of financial independence and this is achievable for two working professional. The excerpts from both ESI Money and The College Investor discussing growing their corporate career spoke to my path and is an effective path for many and I hope to see more of this content on ChooseFI in the future.
“This concept of aggregating small wins is powerful. Choosing FI is not a single choices. It’s many small choices that continue to build on one another until you eventually reach a tipping point”. Financial Independence is about multiple small decisions made each day for a decade to a decade and a half and it does reach a tipping point. There is no magic bullet to financial independence, instead its about a series of choices to live on an average or below average amount while earning an average to above average income
I loved seeing how blunt Chris, Jonathan, and Brad were as it relates to vehicles: “Get over the idea that a car is a status symbol and accept a vehicle for what it is, an object to transport you from point A to point B”. I had a similar rant in Your Car Is a Tool, Not a Status Symbol.
My favorite tactical chapter in the book was related to taxes. It alone makes the book worth buying. Financially independent types have some unique tax advantages that I’ve never seen aggregated into one place like this. Growing the gap between what you spend and what you save creates financial flexibility. That flexibility opens up some options for tax optimization that aren’t available to the average person. This includes:
- Maximizing 401ks and IRAs lowers taxable income in the high earning years
- Realizing that income later while earning less than $100,000 puts a couple in a single digit effective income tax rate
- Reducing full time work after a decade to a decade and a half drastically lowers your lifetime contributions to FICA and Medicare
- Having an income under $100,000 in early retirement for a couple allows dividends and capital gains to be earned tax-free.
- Outlining a different way to look at/use an HSA account, which is not only before income tax but also deducted before FICA/Medicare taxes if done through an employer plan.
- Understanding healthcare and its tax implications through the ACA and subsidy cliff in early retirement.
Enjoying the Journey and Redefining Retirement
I give Chris a lot of credit for taking on this project. I think the most challenging part about writing a book on financial independence. is balancing philosophy and tactics. For me, I’ll always remember the philosophical books that impacted the way I think about money: Your Money or Your Life and The Millionaire Next Door. I can name a dozen of tactical books I’ve read, but none stand out to me as life changing.
ChooseFI’s podcast has has always been about both philosophy and tactics, but I view the timeline of the show as starting more tactical and maturing into something more philosophical. I’ve seen Chris acknowledge the timing of the ChooseFI book meant some later interviews he would have liked to include didn’t make it in. Three of the interviews mentioned by Chris that didn’t make the book jumped out at me as other great philosophical takes and I would have loved to see them included.
I appreciate Chis and team for letting me write this review. You can order the book through Amazon (affiliate link) for its release on October 1st or request your local library to carry a copy for your community to enjoy.