Early Retirement Extreme: The ten-year update

Today, I'm pleased to present a guest article from one of my favorite money bloggers of all time: Jacob Lund Fisker. Fisker founded Early Retirement Extreme in 2007. It quickly became an influential voice for the nascent FIRE movement. In fact, I think it's fair to say that FIRE wouldn't be what it is today with his work.

Fisker retired from blogging in 2011. Since then, he and I have exchanged long emails on sometimes arcane subjects. Occasionally I ask him for advice. Recently, I asked him if he'd be willing to update people on where he's been and what he's been doing for the past decade. He agreed.

Here, then, is Fisker's story of life after Early Retirement Extreme (and extreme early retirement). Be warned: His story is not short.

Early Retirement ExtremeStarting in 2007 (and largely finishing by 2011), I formalized a philosophical alternative to consumerism in the form of a 1000+ post blog and 100,000+ word book [J.D.'s review], which I mistakenly called "Early Retirement Extreme" (or ERE in acronym form). These days, I stick to the acronym form. :-P

Central to my philosophy was the renaissance ideal of spending your life mastering a productive level of competence in a broad range of subjects. This arsenal of "renaissance skills" would then be combined into a mutually reinforcing web-of-goals, which made living more interesting and balanced — but also more cost- and resource-efficient and resilient in the face of the growing complexities and uncertainties of the 21st century.

Being a theoretical physicist by training (and remaining one in spirit) compelled me to present all of this as a theory of everything, rather than the more typical format of a light non-fiction autobiography or overview. As I didn’t really figure on a general audience — it was fairly non-existent back in 2008 — that also meant using graphs and equations when applicable.

The benefit of that format was that others could use the ERE design principles to construct their own particular plan according to their own individual circumstances and goals instead of retracing the footsteps of one particular individual.

Retiring from blogging

Eventually, I considered the problem of "How to escape the earn-buy cycle in order to live a more interesting life" solved and sufficiently "communicated". In 2011, I stopped blogging. I continued to follow the ERE principles in the spirit of the renaissance ideal with the goal of solving other big problems. Being financially independent (FI), I no longer require any compensation even if I still appreciate it — if nothing else than just to keep score or divert the lucre towards more useful purposes (e.g. supporting people on Kiva or Patreon).

Career workers who don't know me typically ask me what I do for a living, expecting an answer in the form of a job title. (That tends to get awkward and I still don't have a clever response.)

Similarly, people in the FIRE community (and the media that now covers it since they discovered it a couple of years ago) expect a curriculum vitae in the form of instagram-friendly bucket-list of accomplishments. However, following the systems-based web-of-goals approach, it's really hard to answer that in a way that satisfies linear formats.

I follow many different leads and do many different things — often concurrently — and sometimes in ways where they combine and result in new, unexpected opportunities (the serendipity effect). It's therefore difficult to summarize the last ten years of my life in chronological order, so let me instead attempt it as a "skill" or activity-based resume in no particular order.

This format makes more sense since the ERE strategy is to learn something and add value to the process and its environment, a side-effect of which is that I usually don't have to pay to solve problems and that I sometimes get paid. As a consequence, my spending also remains ridiculously low. (I'll get to that near the end of this article.)

I apologize that this is long and boring, but ten years is a long time and one can get a lot done in ten years — not all of which might be as interesting to the reader as it is or was to me. So, for the sake of completeness and in no particular order, and perhaps with the hope that I don't have to write another autobiography for the next ten years, here's a first-hand answer to the question: "Whatever happened to Jacob Lund Fisker?"

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How couples can create a shared plan for the future

J.D.'s Intro
Last December, I took a trip to Europe with my cousin Duane. Before I left, I received email from a GRS reader named Matthias. "If you come through Switzerland, let me know," he said.

The stars aligned so that Matt was able to join us for several hours on a train across the Alps. He brought Swiss chocolate and a bottle of whisky. As we talked -- and became pleasantly buzzed -- he told me about how he and his wife tackle couple goals together via five-year plans for their future.

"I love this idea," I told him. "Will you write about it for Get Rich Slowly?" He did. This is Matt's story about creating a shared vision as a couple. Enjoy!

J.D. and Matthias

In the spring of 2006, I'd been living and working in Taipei, Taiwan for two years and my contract was about to expire. Soon, I'd be returning home to Switzerland.

On a pleasant weekend evening in my downtown flat, my Taiwanese girlfriend and I were reminiscing about all of the wonderful memories we'd made. We waxed nostalgic about the two years we'd enjoyed together. But it dawned on us that if we didn't make some bold moves, our relationship might be coming to an end.

We opened a bottle of fine wine in order to enhance the depth and wisdom of our conversation. Before long, we'd switched from sweet nostalgia to dreaming about our potential future -- together.

How to set couple goals

Imagineering the Future

My girlfriend had just graduated from college and was working in her first job. For my part, I’d just received an offer for my dream job — but it meant I'd have to move back to Switzerland.

The wine was an effective dream enhancer. We let our imaginations loose as we talked about how we could potentially live our lives together. The future took many shapes.

  • Where would we live?
  • What jobs would we work?
  • How could we both be as happy as possible together?

Honestly, it was overwhelming. Our lives three months ahead were like a blank slate. Everything seemed possible! Nothing was certain! Anything could happen!

In order to conceptualize our thoughts and concerns, we decided to write down all of our dreams and goals on yellow stickynotes. This mother of all brainstorming sessions took us half an hour. We each wrote down what was important to us, stuff we’d like to achieve, skills we’d like to acquire — in short, what we’d like to do with our lives in the next few years.

Next, we organized those dreams in terms of feasibility, urgency, and requirements. (To meet certain goals, we had to accomplish others first.) During this process, we tried to keep things fair. We both got the same number of stickynotes. All goals were open to debate, yet at the same time we tried to figure how to best help each other achieving them going forward! Our aim was to work together as a couple.

Step three was to put up an A3 formatted white paper on the wall, draw a timeline from 2006 till 2011 – yes, we were going to plan out the next five years of our life! – and arrange our couple goals in a meaningful way to our life’s “game plan”.

The first five-year plan

Our dreams included things like:

  • Get married.
  • Move to Switzerland.
  • Save for a new home.
  • Learn German.
  • Start a business.
  • Become parents.

In a nutshell, nothing extraordinary — the things young people usually dream of. It was clear that some goals had to be achieved before others. We agreed that pursuing them in a specific order made sense. Then we arranged them accordingly on the timeline.

Becoming a Dream Team

Planning our future was an ecstatic activity. In fact, doing so was the defining evening for our relationship.

That very evening, we actually decided to get married. We decided to chase our dreams together as a team. She was 23 years young; I was 26. Little did we know that this shared activity would help us tremendously on the path to our dream life. We had become a dream team!

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Five steps to make more money while growing your career

You've heard it a million times before: To build wealth, you have to spend less than you earn. It's a great piece of advice -- one of my favorites, actually. Too often, however, people take this to mean simply "control your spending".

While your spending is certainly part of the equation, there's an equally-important component: your earning.

Here's what I think a lot of people miss: It's easier to spend less than you earn when you earn more. It's also easier to reach your financial goals. From my experience, the best way for most people to earn more is to grow their careers. Today I want to show you five ways to grow your career so that you make more money and enjoy greater job satisfaction.

The Case for Career Growth

Unemployment punI know, I can hear the collective groan.

For myriad reasons, many people dislike advice about growing their careers. It's probably because so many hate their jobs.

I get it. I've been there myself.

But I also understand that there's a paradox between hating a career and achieving your money goals. If you hate your job so much that you don't want to focus one extra second on it, you will actually prolong the time you need to work -- the very thing you hate so much!

Instead, if you put a bit of time and effort into growing your career, you'll end up making millions more (literally), hitting your financial goals earlier, and (very likely) enjoying your career more.

If I were able to give you a few, simple, easy-to-implement tips to help you achieve this, would you be interested?

How Can I be so Sure?

Before we get to the tips, let's address the elephant in the room: How can you be sure that the Bozo writing this piece can actually deliver?

In all honesty, you can't. But I do have a few accomplishments that might give you some confidence:

  • Personal experience. I was able to grow my income by 8.16% per year throughout my career. Obviously people have done much better than this, but 8%+ isn't too shabby over almost 30 years. If you don't believe what a huge impact this can make, pick a starting salary and increase it by 8% each year for 28 years.
  • Corporate experience. In addition to managing my own career, I saw countless colleagues and subordinates managing (or, mostly, not managing) theirs. I eventually became the president of a $100 million company, supervising the careers of hundreds of people. So along the way I learned a bit about growing your career, how to get ahead, and how companies view employees.
  • Education. There are thousands of books (and millions of web pages) about career management. I've read many of them and tried a variety of techniques. I will say that most of them are virtually worthless, but there are some nuggets of wisdom that I've applied and learned from.
  • Millionaires do it. I've interviewed over 30 millionaires (and more on the way.) Almost every one of them has developed a high income by applying the skills below which have accounted for a large part of their success.

The good news is that you can do even better than I did. It took me decades to come up with the tips I'm about to share. Most of them were discovered in the school of hard knocks by trial and error. You can cut out the pain of failure and get right to doing what counts.

You can also skip the thousands of tips you might gather from here and there. Simply apply the five steps below and you'll get most of the impact for a fraction of the work.

With that said, here are the five tips you can use in 2018 to grow your career...

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How to set smart goals: What science says about getting what you want

During my two-week break, I've been working to migrate some of my old Money Boss articles to Get Rich Slowly. I thought this long piece on how to set good goals might be useful to those of you about to set goals and resolutions for 2018, so I'm publishing it today. Enjoy!

We've reached one of my favorite parts of the year: the transition from the old to the new. I like that so many of us pause during the winter to reflect on how are lives are going -- and the direction we'd like them to head.

As part of this, many folks set goals and resolutions for the coming year. Unfortunately, most of these goals and resolutions are destined to remain nothing more than dreams. Why? Because most people don't know how to set good goals.

I want to change that.

Let's take some time today to explore what science says about how to set smart goals and resolutions. My hope is that by arming yourself with this knowledge, you'll still be pursuing your aims in April -- instead of having relegated them to the realm of dreams.

The Road Less Travelled II by Phil Dolby

How to Set Good Goals

If you ask most people how to set good goals, they'll tell you that goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed. While this sounds great -- and it's a methodology I've pushed in the past myself -- there's no actual evidence that it works. (Maybe your research skills are better than mine; if you can find studies that show SMART goals are effective, please let me know.)

So what kind of goals are effective? In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares her summary of the studies into productive (and happy) goalsetting. "There is persuasive evidence that following your dreams is a critical ingredient of happiness," she writes. And it matters which goals you pursue while following those dreams:

The pursuit of goals that are intrinsic, authentic, approach-oriented [which I'm describing as "positive" in this article], harmonious, activity-based, and flexible will deliver more happiness than the pursuit of goals that are extrinsic, inauthentic, avoidance-oriented [or negative], conflicting, circumstance-based, or rigid. This mouthful of words is based on decades of research.

Let's look at each of these qualities a little more closely. According to science, Lyubomirsky says, the best goals will be:

  • Intrinsic. Good goals come from inside you, not from an outside source. You'll be much more motivated to get things done if you're acting because you want to and not because you have to. Your goals should be things you'd do even if you weren’t required. (A bad goal is one you pursue simply to please others. Think "want" over "ought".)
  • Authentic. Lyubomirsky says that people are happier, healthier, and work harder when they choose goals aligned with their values. "The more a goal fits your personality, the more likely that its pursuit will be rewarding and pleasureful," she writes. If you're an introvert, it might not make sense to make a resolution that involves joining a group. But if you have a dominant personality, a goal of getting involved in local government could be perfect.
  • Positive. A good goal helps you pursue a desirable outcome instead of avoiding an undesirable one. What do I mean? Well, a resolution can usually be framed as an approach goal (e.g., to be fit) or an avoidance goal (e.g., not to be fat). Studies show that people who pursue avoidance goals are less happy and achieve worse results than those who pursue approach goals. So, find a way to state your aim in a positive way -- as a target you're moving toward rather than something you're trying to escape.
  • Harmonious. All of your goals should be aligned, complementing each other to create unified action. In this way, they can work together to make each one easier to achieve. Conflicting goals cause frustration and stress. (During my RV trip across the U.S., I had two goals that didn't work well together: I wanted to stay fit and I wanted to drink beer in every city I visited. You can guess how that turned out...)
  • Flexible. Your goals will evolve over time. As your priorities change, your goals should too. Don't abandon difficult goals, but be willing to alter direction as your circumstances and priorities change.
  • Activity-based. Goals that involve doing rather than getting tend to make people happier and more motivated. For one thing, you're likely to adapt quickly to whatever it is you achieve -- whether it's moving to Miami or buying a new computer -- so that the anticipated pleasure fades rapidly. Plus, you have more control over whether you do something than if you obtain something. For example, it's better to create a goal in which you aim to take 100 photographs per day (an action you can control) rather than one in which you aim to sell a photo to a national magazine (an outcome that may be beyond your reach).

That last bullet point is important and deserves additional clarification.

Remember how I've written in the past about developing an internal locus of control?

The first tenet of the Get Rich Slowly philosophy is: You are the boss of you. This means that you should spend time and money on the things that you can actually influence while ignoring those that you can't. When pursuing goals, I can't determine the results; I can only determine my effort. Thus, it makes sense to set goals based on my actions (write two hours per day, go to the gym five times a week, max out my Roth IRA) instead of desired outcomes (get 100,000 email subscribers, bench-press my bodyweight, earn a 10% return on my investments).

I think of it like this: It's better to prioritize habits over targets. You have more control over your input than you do over the outcomes.

Why go to all this trouble when setting goals? Because if you're careful to create good goals, you'll get better results -- with your life and your finances. And the better your results, the more likely you'll be to continue working toward your goals...and your larger purpose.

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The power of personal networks

While I believe that focusing on your day job generally has the possibility for greater payoffs than side gigs, I am currently under-earning based on my education and experience. I do keep an eye out for positions that would enable me to advance in my main career. However, in the meantime I have also been making a conscious effort to seek out freelance opportunities.

In order to keep as many options open as possible, I deliberately cultivate my personal networks and foster my social capital. For example, several alumni from my Ph.D. program live nearby. I make a conscious effort to meet them for happy hour or lunch once or twice each semester. It helps maintain a sense of community.

A couple of months ago, one of these friends, Shawn, posted something interesting on Facebook. He said that at the end of this semester, he would be leaving his job as a full-time adjunct at my institution (where he has been teaching for five years or so). Instead, he is taking his side gig full-time. Continue reading...

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The Retirement Outlook for 20-Somethings

Over Memorial Day weekend, a few friends and I took an RV to Banff, Canada. I'm from Chicago and have only been in the Pacific Northwest for a few short months. We Chicagoans are flatlanders and the geographical splendor of the snow-caps that now surround me is a source of a daily inspiration.

While we were heading through Glacier National Park, I sat at the coffee table in back of the motor home playing cards with my girlfriend, contemplating the turquoise melt-water when Brian said from the front seat, “Take a good look, my friends. We're gazing into the future. Here's us in 40 years. This is what retirement looks like.”

It lead to an interesting discussion between a group of 20-somethings about what we picture our retirement will be like. The vision of Florida, golf courses, cruises, and RV trips didn't fit for any of us. We all agreed that our generation, with its student-debt, terrible economy, and little ability to trust the solvency of social security, has to redefine our image of retirement.

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Burgers or Blogging? Further Thoughts on Pursuing Your Passion

Over the past couple of weeks, we've been exploring the nature of work at Get Rich Slowly. What does it mean to pursue your passion? Is passion what work should be about? Or is a job just a source of income?

For me, there's no right answer.

Right now, yes, I'm pursuing my passion, and I love it. As a full-time writer working from home, I'm doing work I've always wanted to do, and I do it on my own schedule. Yet I recognize this isn't what everyone wants. Kris, for instance, loves her job and her co-workers. She finds the work fulfilling, and she likes the security of having an employer take care of things like taxes, paychecks, and health insurance.

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Defining Your Financial Future

For better or worse, language has a significant influences on who we are and what we do in life.

What, for example, is the definition of the word retirement? How has this shaped your life? More importantly, is this definition yours? Or is it shaped by conventional wisdom? If you haven't formed your own concrete definition of retirement, which may be the largest single financial (and non-financial) pursuit of a lifetime, you're unknowingly allowing the conventional meaning of retirement to shape your actions—to define your life.

"Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man." ~ Martin Heidegger

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How to Spend Your Way to Happiness

A photo of a pregnant woman meditating for article on mindful spending

You know the old adage “money can't buy happiness”? Researchers Elizabeth Dunn, Dan Gilbert, and Timothy Wilson say it's a myth. Drawing on empirical research, they've identified key ways that people can get more bliss for their buck.

The link between money and happiness has been studied for decades, and the result is always the same: Money does buy happiness — but less than most of us think. After a certain point — having basic needs met and a little "play money" in your pocket — having more money doesn't create more happiness. But Dunn, Gilbert, and Wilson wanted to know why.


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Six Steps to Strengthen Your Family on the Journey to Financial Freedom

J.D. is on vacation in Alaska. This is a guest post from Dustin Riechmann. Dustin created Engaged Marriage to help others achieve the extraordinary in marriage and in life. Together, his family paid off $54,500 in debt to simplify their lives and achieve financial freedom in their household.

Financial freedom is clearly a desirable goal, and we read about the associated benefits every day here at Get Rich Slowly. It seems like everyone should be paying off their debts, growing their savings accounts and investing to build wealth. So, what's the problem?

Surely, there are many reasons why folks fail to create a plan and (especially) follow it: laziness, lack of knowledge, apathy and disorganization to name a few. However, there's one major reason that may not immediately come to mind.

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