An Interview with The Godfather…of Financial Independence

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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:

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:

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:

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.

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*cackles maniacally*

35 thoughts on “An Interview with The Godfather…of Financial Independence”

  1. I bought The Simple Path to Wealth for a long haul flight back to the UK. By the time we landed it was complete (except the pesky part about US tax, ew!). I then gave it to my mother to read when I was at home and she loved it too. She’s just entering retirement so it’s a bit late for her, but still there’s plenty of useful pieces of advice for all ages.

    Have to say, if anybody wants a succinct and simple way to learn about reaching FI, this is a must buy. I particularly like his advice for going 100% stocks if you’re young. Not many FI bloggers recommend that approach and it’s one I’ve since taken on board.

    1. Ya know, MM…

      …you just wrote a perfect 5-star review that would look stunning up on Amazon. Just sayin’…

      Regardless, glad you and your mom liked it. Just between us, I hated the pesky US tax parts too. 😉

    1. Never despair, Sue…

      ..if it sells out before you get a spot, put yourself on the wait list. Then, if you’ve been pure of heart, the gods will smile on you.

      We love to have you join us!

  2. Hey, he looks like me… 100% Dividend paying and Prefered shares, sure, at a definitive bottom, such as 2009, or even 2012, but always rebalancing after the 7 year period.

    You need to have some cash to buy those bottom dwellers, when the time is right. Ok, time for my own Blog…. but here is the rub…

    All markets, long term, equate to between 6-8 % over the long haul, but many in the short, will double (TSX, DOW) or tripple (NASDAQ) … so you want to take some advantage of that, therefore reblance to short term bonds at the top (7 years minimum) and do it in stages… (dollar cost averaging)

    100% Equity is not a good strategy at any age.


    1. Yup. I was floored that he did. I was like “say what? JL freaking Collins is reading my crap?” *insert disbelief, confusion, major freakout*

  3. Ooohhh I would love to learn more about the Chautauqua. As an aspiring FI, I often day-dream about escaping the grinds and travel the world, but alas, I have bills to pay. Where do I sign up for the next Chautauqua?

  4. It’s amazing how a pioneer like Mr. Collins sorta stumbled into FI, without fully appreciating the positive effect it would have on readers. It reminds me of Bob Dylan telling an interviewer that he had no idea that the music he was writing in the 60s would be ground breaking. It’s gifted freaks like these that are my favourite because they carry no air of superiority with them.

    Obviously those of us who discovered and benefitted from Millennial Revolution owe gratitude to Mr. Collins because he inspired your journey.

    I agree with Mr. Collins that those of us chasing or achieveing FI will always be a freakish minority. The internet is a level playing ground where everybody has free access to the same information, but only a few will treat it as a tool to learn ways of becoming FI. The internet is only a toy, a place for games, porn, and social networking for most and always will be. There is nothing with that either, and I prefer it that way, too.

    Bravo on an insightful interview.

    1. Yup, we all have Jim to thank for showing us the way. By being the lighthouse beacon in the fog, he made it safe for us to sail.

    2. Nobody has ever mentioned my name in the same breath as Bob Dylan, let alone referred to us as “gifted freaks.”

      In my case they tend to leave off the “gifted” part…. 😉

  5. Such an interesting point about the overwhelming amount of money that is spent in this country (US) and around the world by advertisers that perpetuates the habits of spending and using credit. For those of us to are able to break through and “see the light,” I wonder what enables that? Are there commonalities FI folks share?

    1. I was shocked by the amount of ad money too. I think, in my case, the key was finding out about FI. Once I had a goal, none of that consumerism crap affected me anymore. All I cared about was freedom. Maybe the commonality is the common goal of FI. Once you have a goal in mind, it’s easier to row hard towards it and not be distracted by shiny things.

    2. Yes.

      Some things (I’m sure there are many more):

      1) We’re control freaks. We hate having to work on other people’s schedules. We want to be our own boss and set our own timetable. We want to choose when to work and when not to. This seems normal to us but most people, it seems, prefer to be ‘managed’ somehow.

      2) We love freedom and the simple things in life. It’s so much fun to be able to walk in the park in a summer day rather than be trapped in a cubicle.

      3) Our job is not our identity. Sometimes people kill their bosses when they get fired or go into a depression because they think their job defines them. For us, it’s usually just about making money (since most of us don’t like our jobs).

      4) We have lots of interests that we’re passionate about and want to be able to spend all of our time on. Clearly some of the bloggers love writing and traveling. Personally, I love marine biology and want to spend much of my time beside the ocean. I want to visit Lake Baikal in Siberia (the oldest and deepest lake on Earth that has 1000s of species found nowhere else).

      5) Obsessive single-mindedness. We’ll work 7 days a week and skip meals if that’s what it takes to reach our financial goals. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but it is what it is.

      6) Consumerism is irrelevant or non-existent to us. We live to please ourselves with comfort, stability, and happiness. We don’t seek the approval of anybody else really. Sure, we like fancy things and splurge once in awhile, but we’re not going to chase the latest material goods just because the people around us are.

  6. I wanted to say that I believe that financial will never become mainstream in the current workforce mechanics and this is a mathematical certainty. Unless we have robots running everything, we will never all be able to retire. Someone needs to work.

    Money is just a means of exchange, it allows you to have other people work for you. The fact that someone has money, is only relevant if other people don’t have money. When you buy stocks, bonds etc, your FI depends on them to keep providing income.

    Remember, you own stock of both advertising earner and advertiser spender companies. So let’s not pretend that we want everyone to be FI at this point, as this is not possible, at least with current technology. Your freedom comes from other people’s work.

    And that is perfectly fine, because you have played your cards right. You have resisted instant gratification, you have worked long and hard to achieve your goal. You deserve it and I wish you the best of success.

    If we want FI for all, the best thing we can hope for and envision is a future society powered by robots, guaranteeing survival level income for everyone and building from that point every person will be free to chose the work that best fulfills him, regardless of the pay.

    Just food for thought.

  7. I believe you either are inclined to follow the herd or are not. From the time I was a kid, I never bought into the whole ‘keep up with the Joneses’ concept. I always wanted to pursue my own interests and not be constrained by what society told me was important. Did the whole college thing but never saw the appeal of buying the McMansion or the fancy cars like so many of my colleagues. Have always stayed debt free and invested since my first paycheck. Had enough FU money in my 40s to only do work that has really satisfied me.
    So, I don’t think FI will ever become mainstream. Too many other influences in our society are working against it. The goal for most is more stuff, not freedom. As I get older I have no regrets about roads not taken. It’s a good feeling.

  8. Great interview and love the sass FIRECracker haha! I love your style and recently discovered your blog through other FI bloggers.

    Love reading everyone’s comments – seems like a lot of you have already or close to reaching FI – and especially like being able to absorb in the knowledge of like-minded people in the FI community.

    Currently working in a buying department for a major retailer and can’t agree more that most people have no real discipline or drive to reach FI. Their ‘interest’ in FI is limited to keeping up with their social circles and prioritise superficial showy measures of success (designer clothes, expensive dinners) while living paycheque to paycheque!

    1. Thanks and welcome to the site! Yup, it’s definitely nice to see “our tribe” in the comments 🙂 When we were working on reaching FI, it helped a lot to be part of the FI community and not get derailed by negative people at work.

  9. Amazing interview! My wife and I discovered in the last few months, that we are part of this “FI Tribe”, but we only doesn’t know that it exist! We are brazilians, both 33 years old and with 13 years of work now, reaching FI just at the turn of the year. Planning to quit our jobs on March/2.017 and go for a RTW trip with our 2 years old son. The blog has helped a lot!
    Thanks a lot and keep the good work!!

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