10 Questions With Financial Freedom Countdown

Today’s 10 Questions features Financial Freedom Countdown. I’m a sucker for rags to riches stories and FFC has a pretty great one. He came to the United States with $1,000 and became financially independent in 12 years. Inspiring.

There are approximately 476,492,292,928 personal finance blogs last time I checked. Why should we read yours?

Very few personal finance blog writers have esoteric investments like Bitcoin, lawsuit financing, commodities futures, art paintings, etc and can talk about them. 

I came from a third world country to the US with only $1,000 not knowing anyone; guided only by an immigrant dream. Achieved Financial Freedom in 12 years living in the most expensive part of the country (San Francisco Bay Area).

The immigrant, late start and absence of family support aspects of my story demonstrate that you can still achieve Financial Freedom

  1. Even if your family knew nothing about money
  2. Even if you have a late start
  3. Even if you live in an expensive part of the country

I was born in a different country and had no knowledge of anything like credit scores, renting an apartment, opening a bank account, investing, etc. My family was not in this country to hand hold; and I had to figure out everything on my own.

I write my blog posts with as much detail as needed; to help my audience along the journey. Many of my blog posts are based on audience requests and the readership has a close-knit community feel v/s the larger blogs. I strive for a mix of philosophy (why), process (how-to), and tactical (comparison reviews)

12 Apostles

The target audience of my blog is anyone dreaming of Financial Freedom in a high cost of living area. There are not many blogs which focus on thriving in expensive cities like San Francisco. I decided to write the blog I would like to ready myself.

As I share my own experiences, I hope we can learn from each of our failures and success stories. I challenge the sacred cows of frugality and “gurus” like Suze Orman yelling at you for drinking coffee.

Instead, I prefer to focus more on increasing income and How to enjoy Financial Freedom now while still working towards it

What is one post that you’ve written that you wish would have gone viral?

My post on Everyone needs Bitcoin. It has become popular in the personal finance and mainstream community to hate on Bitcoin. Since my blog highlights other asset classes besides stocks, bonds, and real estate; I felt obligated to dispel myths.

Oahu

Crypto currencies straddle my twin passions of technology and finance. I also talk about my personal experience with sectarian violence. This is why, I am a strong believer in having at least some assets outside of government control.

I have invested in this space; and it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Why did you start your blog?

Starting this blog was inspired by a distinct memory in my working career. My VP who is in her 70s; one day mentioned that her sister was not keeping well. I naturally assumed she would visit and asked about her travel plans. However, she did not want to take time off given that we had a huge product launch coming up.

Two weeks later, when we were in a meeting; she received a phone call. Her sister had passed away. 🙁

The fact that although she was a VP, earning at least 3X more than me; and yet was a “wage slave” hit me like a tidal wave. It was the inspiration for my post 5 regrets of the dying and why Financial Freedom is the answer.

Costa Rica

Even with high incomes; I noticed many of my coworkers and friends stressed out about work, finances and emergencies. Earning money is one aspect; but effectively investing capital so it works for you is the trickier part. Knowing how to define “enough” and pull back is the hardest struggle.

What is part of your blog that you wish you could do better?

Where do I begin. When you decide to start blogging; there are a million decisions along the way which paralyze you. Also, several voices advising on what is the best approach.

I just decided to take the plunge and hit publish. I was fortunate that my first published post on How to improve Human Capital and accelerate Financial Freedom was picked up by Harlan for the weekly Plutus showcase. Having a veteran on the PF community pick a random blogger’s first post is motivating.

My biggest struggle currently is Social media and Marketing. Any successful blogger will tell you that publishing posts is one half of the battle; and the remaining time must be spent on marketing. However, I have not yet setup any IG, Pinterest, FB or other social media channels.

I only use Twitter but doubt most of my readers are on it. I like Twitter because it is easy to interact with other individuals; even outside of the PF space.

Where do you live? Do you love it, hate it or just meh.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and it is the perfect combination of hustle, beauty and diversity. Despite all the naysayers, the Best Place for Technology Jobs is still San Francisco Bay AreaWalk down the memory lane to see the original garage where HP was founded, or Steve Jobs’ house or dot com legends like Sun Microsystems and Cisco. I see tourists frequently stop by Google, Facebook, Tesla, and Apple campuses for a photo op.

Fun Fact: Facebook’s sprawling campus in Palo Alto, California was previously owned by Sun Microsystems. When Facebook moved in, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t replace Sun Microsystem’s sign. Instead, he flipped it over and put Facebook’s name on the front.

Why?

The Sun logo visible to employees from inside the campus reminds them daily what can happen when you’re on top but fail to innovate.

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. I am glad that even Mr.1500 considers the Yosemite Valley as the most beautiful place. Legend has it that dinosaurs would play hide and seek among the tall mountains 🙂

The city has everything from the Painted Ladies to Lombard street to Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz. Driving for an hour would lead you to Muir Woods, Yosemite, Santa Cruz, and many more fun destinations. If you crave the snow; head to Tahoe. Or if you dislike the snow, one of the hottest places in the world is Death Valley with an amazing fossil canyon. I was not kidding about the dinosaurs 🙂

Golden Gate Bridge

Given the sky-high prices and the current pandemic many folks are wondering, is San Francisco Real Estate still a good investment? I laid out how the work from home culture might change the investment aspect.

The current situation is a great litmus test if people truly like the place they are living; or is it only due to work related aspects. 

Personally, I do see myself here in the Bay Area for the long haul.

Do you rent or own? What are your thoughts on home ownership?

Own. Home ownership is the biggest wealth generator, as long as you live in a region which is land constrained and has great economic prospects.

As an immigrant, I am always amazed that buying houses with a fixed mortgage and low down payment is so easy in this country.

The leverage amplifies your returns; and unlike stocks you have no margin call. At the very least, the monthly house payment forces you to save.

I do realize that people have different tolerances for risk and leverage. Just like you and Mindy; I am not afraid of debt. In fact, my post on Cash Out Refinance and why am I doing it talks about my approach.

I own a primary and a rental. Currently looking to buy another house, if I find the right opportunity.

How do you stay fit? 

I workout 5 times a week for around 2 hours each. The two hours a day might seem excessive but when you are no longer working; gym becomes a social outlet as well.

The gym closures have driven me crazy and I managed to get some equipment to create my garage gym for now.

Sydney Opera House

I mainly focus on body building lifts and take long rests between sets. I have ambitions of competing in one of the natural body building shows.

Building muscle is closely tied to investing for the long haul. It takes time. Day to day results are not noticeable, but over a long enough time frame; you can absolutely see the difference.

I don’t enjoy cardio. Walks in the park or when traveling sounds more fun.

Financial Independence, Investing, and Money

FIRE

What is your FI number? How close are you?

My initial number was $1M in investments and a paid off house. Thanks to the amazing bull market we have had for over a decade, I reached my goal. 

Are you leanFIRE or fatFIRE or fartFIRE?

I consider myself fatFIRE. The fact that I have a paid off house in the San Francisco Bay Area adds a cool $1M to my net worth. Of course, the primary house is a consumption item and technically not earning me anything other than imputed rent.

Notre Dame

However, I consider it a luxury and the fat can be trimmed if my Financial Freedom Countdown journey hits a bump. My home is a 3 bed 2 bath house and since I am the only person living in it; I could technically AirBnB a room. Or I could sell and move to a cheaper location.

Investing

Evil genies aside, what is your investing strategy? Stocks? Index funds?? Real estate??? Crypto????

My investing strategy is ALL OF THE ABOVE.

Accumulate Assets and Avoid Liabilities is a simple formula on how to get insanely rich. I do own or have owned; most of the assets listed in that post, including some esoteric ones like Bitcoin, lawsuit financing, art paintings, etc, 

Pompeii

Besides index funds, I have some moonshot stocks purchased using dollar-cost averaging via  M1 Finance.

I own a rental real estate and have also dabbled on crowd funded Real estate platforms. Learnt an expensive lesson on how to evaluate Real Estate deals that will help you avoid losing money.

Instead of low yielding bonds, I have a large emergency fund yielding more than 8% guaranteed returns.

And to keep everything real, here are my 4 worst investments and how you can learn from my mistakes.

What is your favorite money management tool? 

I would say hands down it is M1 Finance. I wrote a post comparing it to Vanguard, Schwab, Fidelity, Wealthfront and Betterment and was surprised to see that M1 is currently the perfect investment platform. 

Investing is hard due to a myriad of factors ranging from behavioral to psychological.

Getting started with investing and continuing with investing should ideally be automated so we do not second guess ourselves; trying to time the market or chase the next hot sector. Despite all the technological advances and myriad of brokerages competing for our investment dollars, there are not many perfect investment platforms.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

M1 Finance has zero fees, very low minimums, automated investment with automatic rebalancing. Pre-built asset allocations and fractional shares compliment the pies like whipped cream. If you want to check it out, sign up here

Money

Do you track your spending? If so, how?

I do not track my spending currently. Having a budget is quite constraining and the spending across categories varies for me. The reason being I use credit cards and sign up bonuses to maximize spend. However, I have started using Personal Capital and it has an automated budget tracking. I will give this a try and see how I like it.

What did your parents do to raise you to be financially smart?

I remember an incident from my childhood when my Dad handed me some money and I just put in my pocket. My dad immediately reprimanded me “why did you not count the money I gave you? Always count your money no matter who gives it to you and never trust anyone with your money”.

You could say I now have trust issues entrusting others with money; in a good way. A classic example of this is where I have a CPA prepare my returns and then I spend a weekend validating what s/he has done. I learnt that CPAs make mistakes on your tax returns and have figured out how to minimize errors.

I am grateful to have parents who lived within their means and taught us the importance of saving for a rainy day. They did not know much about investments or rental etc but emphasis on education provided the stable foundation to thrive.

Big Questions

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Definitely to procrastinate less. I am not sure if this is a result of achieving FIRE; but I manage to squander days without doing anything useful or productive.

In fact, at the start of the year, I wrote How to get stuff  even when you don’t feel like it to keep myself disciplined. 

If you have a magical power that allowed you to change one set of beliefs in others, what would you choose?

I would like people to realize that the world is not black or white; but rather shades of grey. Any issue or individual or policy has lately taken a binary option, all or nothing.

As a result division and strife have increased. My magical power allowing people to see nuances; would hopefully help us all get along better.

Random Silliness

Elon Musk: Crazy megalomaniac or a brilliant guy who is changing the world?

Huge fan of Elon since he is literally my neighbor. The stock has been quite entertaining to own; even if it goes to zero. And let us not forget, he has 4 other companies to run as a CEO.

Cinque Terre

I wonder how he has time to sleep and still keep up with his tweets and memes generating a cult following. Anyone who builds spaceships in his spare time has to be a genius.

What is the best movie you’ve seen recently?

Lord of the Rings. In my opinion. LOTR is the only movie that encompasses everything from Action and Romance, to Mystery and Drama.

I loved the books and was a tad skeptical that the movies would do them justice. But I was pleasantly surprised at the end result.

Now I am eagerly waiting for Amazon to get started on their Prime Video LOTR TV series which has been in the works since forever. Hurry up Bezos. Stop taking over the world and finish my TV series.

Thanks Financial Freedom Countdown!

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