Am I financially independent? (And does it matter?)

It's been two years since I last looked at my overall financial situation to determine whether I have the resources to meet my goals. In those two years, much has changed.

I sold my condo and bought a home in the country. I repurchased Get Rich Slowly. I invested in not one but three other businesses. The stock market has bounced around, I've begun part-time work at the family business, and I've made many other minor adjustments to my daily life.

With all of these fluctuations, I'm naturally left to wonder: Am I still financially independent?

As I've mentioned many times, financial freedom exists along a continuum. For the sake of this article, I'm discussing the fifth stage of FI, the point at which investment income supports standard of living.

[The Stages of Financial Freedom]

At the end of 2016, I was FI (but only just). What about at the end of 2018? Do I still have enough saved to fund my future indefinitely? Let's find out.

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Five lessons I learned while making a documentary film about FIRE

When J.D. decided to spend three weeks in Europe with his family, he asked a few people if they'd be interested in contributing articles during his absence. He even asked me!

My name is Scott Rieckens, and I'm new to the world of smart money management. I'm new to the world of financial independence and early retirement. I'm new, but I've totally immersed myself in it. I've immersed myself so much, in fact, that I've spent the past eighteen months creating a feature film about FIRE. (FIRE is the clumsy abbreviation for "financial independence/retire early". Basically, the FIRE movement is all about saving big so that you can choose to live however you want.)

"You've been in a unique position over the past year," J.D. said when I asked him what I should write about. "You've had amazing access to a variety of people who think and write and teach about financial independence and early retirement. You've been able to hear what they think and say in private as well as public. What about sharing your biggest takeaways from this experience?"

Perfect! I can dish out everyone's dirty laundry and avoid posting those embarrassing stories on my own site. It's a win-win for me, really. J.D. is such a sucker.

You ready? Let's go behind the scenes of the early retirement movement. Here are five things I learned while filming Playing with Fire.

Lesson #1: The FIRE Movement is Polarizing

When I started down the rabbit hole of early retirement blogs and podcasts, I was swept up in the euphoria that many others have experienced: "Holy moley, I'm going to retire in less than ten years!"

Coming from fifteen years of a spendy, financially-illiterate lifestyle, this was a huge revelation that gave me hope, joy, excitement, and...butterflies. Imagine the control over your life! Imagine the freedom! Think of all the ideas I will chase, the whims I can explore! Think of what this means for my family!

Somehow, though, I missed the blog post or podcast episode that explained just how difficult it can be to live within the FIRE framework while the people around you wonder what the hell you're talking about.

  • "But I like my job."
  • "That sort of lifestyle sounds terrible."
  • "Are you joining a cult?"

These reactions dampened my enthusiasm. Nobody had warned me that there might be people who thought we were crazy for pursuing financial freedom.

Now, as FIRE is spreading through the mass media, there's been push-back from unexpected corners. Financial guru Suze Orman says she hates the FIRE movement. The comments on articles and interviews around the web are often negative -- even hateful.

I wasn't expecting that. How can something so positive be viewed with so much negativity?

Since starting our project, the number-one thing we hear from early retirement folks is: "I really hope this film makes it easier to share FIRE with my friends and family. Every time it comes up, things get weird and my already-socially-anxious-self gets all clammy."

I can say unequivocally that we have the same hopes.

Our society's relationship with money seems completely broken. When the best-selling vehicles are full-sized $60,000 trucks, yet 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, it seems the general population is managing money at a fifth-grade level. (And again, that used to be me before I found FIRE.)

We've got a lot of work ahead of us.

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The thin green line: Why you should be skeptical of financial blogs

Why you should be skeptical of financial blogsI've been blogging since before "blog" was even a word. (I wrote my first blog post twenty-one years ago last Thursday!) I've had a financial blog for a dozen years now. In that time, things have changed in a variety of ways. For instance:

  • Blogging has become more business-like and less personal. A decade ago, most blogs -- even money blogs -- were rooted in the author's individual experience. Nowadays, most big financial blogs have a minimal editorial voice. They're much like money magazines used to be.
  • Audience interaction is limited. In the mid-2000s, it wasn't unusual for blog articles to get dozens (or hundreds) of comments. This site has old articles with over 1000 comments. Nowadays, many blogs have removed reader comments...because they receive so few reader comments. And when blogs do allow comments (as here at GRS), they're scarcer than they used to be.
  • Today, most bloggers want to make money. In fact, that's their primary goal. When I started blogging in 1997, there was no way to make money from it. When I launched this site in 2006, my primary goal was to get out of debt. My secondary goal was to help others get out of debt. Yes, I wanted to make money -- but that was only my third aim. It was almost an after-thought. (This was, in part, because it was more difficult to make money blogging in 2006.)

Most of the changes in the world of blogging are neutral. They're neither good nor bad. They just are. But I think the move to a more money-centric approach often does a disservice to readers -- to people like you.

How I Became a Blogging Cynic

Twelve years ago, if I read something on a financial blog, I generally accepted it at face value. If somebody recommended a book, I trusted their sincerity. If they wrote about the best bank accounts, I believed they were telling me about the best bank accounts. If they raved about a company or service they liked, I had no reason to doubt them.

Today, I'm much more skeptical. Why? Because most of my friends are bloggers, and I know what they think and say in private.

Now, these folks are not bad people -- I love them! -- but, like most of us, they'll sometimes put profit ahead of, well, truth. Honesty. Objectivity.

  • Today, for instance, I saw an article from a colleague I respect. He was raving about a financial service. The problem? I'm damn sure he's never used the service himself and the only reason he's recommending it is he gets a commission on it. With his huge audience, he can make big bucks by promoting this company.
  • Or there was the time I overheard another colleague talking with her partner about an advertiser who had just cancelled their affiliate program. (An affiliate program is, essentially, a commission program. You provide a sale or a lead to a company, and you get a kickback.) "If they're not going to offer an affiliate program," my colleague told her partner, "we're not going to promote them. We need to go back and change articles to feature a company that does offer an affiliate program."

I wanted to call out my colleague on that last one but I didn't. I bit my tongue. I think her actions were shady, but I realize that not everyone shares the same values. What isn't right for me and my business might be perfectly fine for her. What's perfectly fine for me and my business might seem shady to somebody else.

I'm not willing to criticize other financial bloggers for what they do. I'm not in their shoes. Their business is not my business. They're free to make choices that adhere to their personal ethics. (My hope is that they're at least considering ethics when they make these choices.)

But I have to say: The stuff I hear and see behind the scenes has made me cynical. I've become skeptical of the stuff I read on other money blogs. (Not on all money blogs -- I'll recommend some I trust later -- but on many of them.)

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A primer on finding unclaimed property

Finding free money lying around with your name on it seems a little too good to be true, doesn't it?

That's what I thought when I learned about Missing Money, a website that offers to help you track down unclaimed property that may belong to you. Sometimes free money is for real, though. The site is legit and exactly what it claims: a tool for finding free money. Specifically, money that's already yours that you may have forgotten about or lost track of.

What is Unclaimed Property?

Unclaimed property is any financial asset that has been abandoned for a period of time. That time might be as little as one year or as much as three, depending on the state you live in. If the financial institution or company holding your money loses contact with you and can't locate you within a certain period of time, they have to turn your assets over to the state. According to Missing Money, some common types of unclaimed property include:

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Best non-U.S. personal finance sites?

People are the same all around the world. Everyone struggles with the same things — including money. Because of this, financial advice from one country is generally applicable to other countries, as well. Sort of.

While general advice is easy to transfer from one culture to another, the specifics are often lost in translation. In the U.S., we have a Roth IRA. But in Canada, they have an RRSP. And in the U.K.? Well, I'm not sure.

Nicola lives in the U.K., and she recently wrote to express her frustration, and to ask for advice. She says: Continue reading...

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Good-bye, Microsoft Money! 12 powerful personal finance programs

Microsoft Money is no longer available for purchase. Microsoft has essentially conceded that there's no demand for the personal finance software product. From the website:

With banks, brokerage firms and Web sites now providing a range of options for managing personal finances, the consumer need for Microsoft Money Plus has changed. After suspending annual updates of Money Plus in 2008, Microsoft is announcing today that we will no longer offer Microsoft Money Plus for purchase after June 30, 2009.

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