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So the other day, William Shakespeare e-mailed me, saying “hey there FIRECracker, you write pretty well!”
Did that really happen? No of course not. Shakespeare’s been dead for 400 years and doesn’t know what an email is.
But someone EQUALLY as amazing DID email us: J. L. Collins, author of “The Simple Path to Wealth“, and writer of one of the first FI blogs we followed when we discovered Financial Independence. Since that fateful e-mail, we’ve spoken a few times on Skype, and each time our conversation ended up stretching from 1 hour to 2 and then to 4! I guess that’s what happens when you meet your tribe. You never run out of things to say.
So of course now that I had an in with Shakesp—er I mean Jim, I took that opportunity to pester him until he agreed to an interview on the Millennial Revolution. And here’s it is, for your viewing pleasure:
Jim, I often refer to you as the “Godfather of Financial Independence” because you along with Mr. Money Mustache (Pete) were among the first people who achieved what we now call FI and who actually wrote about it publicly on your blog. Why did you start writing about it way back in 2011?
Godfather, eh? I rather like that.
Here’s a clip of me being godfatherly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eikbQPldhPY
It all started when I managed to completely turn my daughter off to all things financial. Who knew young kids wouldn’t love being relentlessly lectured on savings rates, investing and the 4% rule from the crib thru high school?
“No! We’ll read ‘Puppy Too Small’ or ‘Good Night Moon’ later. Now see here in this Wall Street Journal article…”
Once she reached the age when she could just refuse to listen, I resorted to writing a series of letters on financial stuff to her in case, you know, she might be interested after I’m dead.
I shared these with a colleague who suggested other friends and family might be interested and he suggested I put them on a blog. This seemed a great way to archive them.
While, of course, I had heard of blogs before I had never actually seen one. I joke, but it is true, the first blog post I ever read was the first one I ever wrote.
This was in the spring of 2011. This also explains the boring title of my blog.
I wanted those friends and family to know it was me. All the variations of my name were taken until I added the NH (New Hampshire) at the end. Voila: jlcollinsnh.com
Had I any idea it would grow into the international audience it now enjoys, I might have come up with a cool title like “Millennial Revolution”
Might not have, too.
Wait, so kids AREN’T into the Wall Street Journal? Does that mean I have to cancel all those subscriptions I brought for my nephews for X-mas? Damn it!
When you retired, were you scared shitless like I was? I mean, when we did it we had guys like you and Pete to look up to and say “OK, they did it and they seem just fine.” But you didn’t have that, so how did you convince yourself to do it?
But for me it was never about retirement as I describe in this guest post I wrote for Mr. Money Mustache: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/05/26/guest-posting-financial-independence-23-years-later/
It was about having F-You money, which to me is enough to step away from any job any time for any reason.
I liked my career and I liked working. I just didn’t like doing it all the time. F-You money allowed me to take several breaks or sabbaticals along the way. The shortest was ~3 months. The longest ~5 years.
I only “retired” in 2011. By then I had been FI for 22 years. So, a lonnnnnnnnnng but not very scary transition.
But back then, I didn’t have even the concept of FI. I’d never heard the term and wouldn’t actually until after I began blogging.
But about three years into that 5-year work break something interesting happened.
During this time, my wife had also quit her job and our daughter was born. (Such things happen when you’ve got time on your hands…)
I was reviewing our expenses and investments and I noticed something interesting. For the three years to that point we had no earned income, we were paying our bills as usual and we’d made no change in our lifestyle. Yet at the end of each year our net worth was greater than the year before.
I knew something remarkable had happened, but I had no idea what to call it or even that it could have been a goal.
Embarrassingly, it never occurred to me that this also meant I never had to work again. Possibly because I was looking forward to the next gig, but mostly because I was wandering blindly thru the wilderness.
As for when I officially “retired,” I thought I had hung it up for good in 2012 after the tech crash and 9/11 cratered the best job and company I’d ever had. I mourned that loss and figured the universe was telling me I was done.
But then in 2005 a long time friend, a guy who had worked for me in the 1980s, lured me back in to work for him.
He was the best boss I’ve ever had and I enjoyed the team he’d put together and our customers. But the company was the absolute pits.
After six years (5.99 years too many) I said, “Joe, I love you but I just can’t do this anymore.” I don’t think he believed me.
Six months later I said, “No. Really. You gotta find my replacement.”
We were on the way to dinner with clients at a first class restaurant, always great fun. He said, “You know you’re going to miss this!”
“You’re probably right,” I said.
We were both wrong.
You’re right. It isn’t so much about retirement as it is about having enough F-U money to walk away from your job whenever you want.Still, I gotta say, now that we’ve been retired for 1.5 years, NOT working is so much better than working. Especially when I can steal Downtown Abbey quotes like “what is a weekend?” Eh? Eh? Downtown Abbey reference high-five?
*Holds Out High-Five*
*Jim just stares back blankly*
OK then! So how does it feel to inspire this new wave of Financially Independent Early Retirees (myself included) to quit their jobs and follow in your footsteps?
Are you people nuts??!!
I am still stunned that I have this international readership. The only person I am trying to convince is my daughter, and that remains a work in progress.
That said, it is wonderful when people take the time to tell me my writings have helped them reach FI or have inspired them to take the journey. It still feels more than a little unreal. But good.
The blog is by far the most gratifying work I’ve ever done.
Lowest paying too. I made more at age 13 as a busboy.
Oh, we’re all nuts, Jim. And it’s alllllllll your fault!
Do you think Financial Independence will ever go mainstream? Or do you think it will continue being a non-standard path that only us freaks and outliers follow?
Hey. Who you calling an outlier freak?
I doubt it.
In 2015 companies around the world spent ~$600,000,000,000 on advertising. Almost 1/3 of that in the US alone.
This is money poured into convincing us that “we deserve a break today,” that we just must absolutely have the latest in trinkets and trash, that hot women (or men) will jump into our beds if only we drive the right car/wear the right scent/dress in the latest fashions and that home ownership is always a wonderful investment and the ticket to “The American Dream.”
(Thanks all the same, but having F-You money is my American Dream)
And counterbalancing that is a handful of us FI bloggers who get wildly reviled anytime our message hits the mainstream media. Yeah, I think I know which side is gonna win and where this is gonna end up.
We might reach a few receptive new folks, but mostly we are destined to remain outlier freaks. I kinda like it that way.
Actually, now that you put it that way it kinda explains why so many of my friends are brainwashed. That is a LOT of advertising telling people to do the wrong thing. Which dovetails nicely into my next question: If Financial Independence was taught in schools and everyone started retiring in their 30’s and 40’s, do you think that would blow up the economy?
Beats the hell out of me, but it ain’t never going to happen.
Even if sound FI principles were taught it would likely simply mean, for the most part, that fewer folks would hit their 60s solely dependent on Social Security. And that would alone be a very good thing.
But right now, in the rare cases when investing is taught, it is mostly based around such nonsense as stock picking contests designed by Wall Street types looking to line their own pockets with future commissions.
Better nothing was taught at all than this bilge.
But it is hard for me to think that a country of financially free citizens would be a bad thing. Financially free doesn’t equal sitting idle on your ass.
I have yet to meet an early retiree who wasn’t actively engaged in some interesting, useful and often profitable endeavors. They just no longer have to do it solely for the money. Work is actually pretty great when you’re not a slave to it. One of the keys to happiness in fact, research tells us.
So, yeah. It’d be fine. But it still ain’t gonna happen.
BTW, I hate the term “retiree” or “retirement.” The implication is just too damn passive for the reality of the FI folks I’ve met.
You’re absolutely right. I have a friend who’s FI but is keeping his job because he enjoys it. Having F-U money doesn’t mean retiring, it just means you can now CHOOSE to work even if you don’t NEED to work.
You recently published a book “The Simple Path To Wealth,” which we loved and think all our readers should get right the Hell now. What was it like writing it?
Personally, I think it should be issued to each new-born babe as they enter the world. But then that’s also how I turned my daughter off to the whole idea so what do I know?
Writing it absolutely sucked. I hated the process and more than once set it aside (often for months at a time!) raging “Life is too short and I don’t need this grief!”
It took three years. Three!
As I say in the “Acknowledgments” section the book, it wouldn’t exist were it not for my editor’s (the great Tim Lawrence!) cheerleading and badgering and dragging me back to it mostly kicking and screaming.
That said, I am thrilled to have it out there. Even more thrilled at how well it has been received.
Gloria Steinem was once asked if she liked writing. She said, “I like having written.”
I’m with her.
Well, good thing you pushed through the pain because your readers are all reaping the rewards of it now. I know we are. We brought a couple of books on our trip around the world, and your book is the only one we haven’t mailed home because of how often we need to reference it for our investment posts.
As someone who’s crawled through the writing trenches of HELL, I can say publishing a book is a million times harder than writing blog articles. What possessed you to do it, Jim? Why do you love pain so much?
A billion, billion times harder.
I always wanted to write, er, have written a book. But had I any idea of what it would take, I never would have begun the project.
I hated the pain of it. Fortunately, my pain didn’t bother editor Tim even one little bit.
What ever possessed you??
A traumatic brain injury, clearly. That’s the only reason that makes sense.
Anyhoo…so you run this thing called a Chautauqua. Tell us about that.
Ah. Chautauqua. Ahhhhhhhh…
Chautauqua is an old Native American word to describe a gathering to share stories, ideas and wisdom. And that’s exactly what we do.
Each year we take a group of ~25 people down to a cool resort in Ecuador along with some of the best bloggers in the business for a week of presentations, conversation, excursions and just hanging out around the fire or hot tub depending on which resort.
After, attendees routinely tell me it was one of the best weeks of their life. Many say the best week.
Here’s the big secret:
People come to meet the speakers, visit an exotic country, do seriously cool things there and enjoy good food while staying at a 15th century monastery in the Andes or a modern resort built into the side of a hilltop over looking the cloud forest.
But what makes it so special in the end is that, often for the first time in their lives, FI folks find themselves hanging out with others who “get it.” As one said, “I’ve found my tribe.”
Judging by what attendees have said about them, these Chautauquas sound suspiciously like a cult gathering or a cover story where super-villains gather and hatch Illuminati-style plots to take over the world. Care to comment on that?
That, of course, is the other big secret.
Mostly I designed the Chautauqua because I wanted to travel to a cool place and hang out with interesting people. Score!
The Illuminati have already been replaced, the world is within our grasp…
So it IS a super-villain plot-hatching retreat! Then I only have one last question: can I come next year?
Oh, I have such plans for you My Pretty!
(insert evil Wicked Witch of the West cackle here)
Editors Note: For those keeping track at home, J.L Collins has identified with “The Godfather”, “The Wicked Witch of the West”, has admitted to Illuminati-style conspiracies at Chautauqua, and to top it all off, he sent me this interview in a Apple Pages document like some sort of psychopath. Clearly this man is evil and we should all be very very afraid of him.
Come meet us at this year's Chautauqua UK! Details here