Welcome to our latest edition of Behind the Screen. This week we have JW who runs the site The Green Swan. JW is a young guy who has already managed to save up over a cool $1,000,000 and is racing towards financial freedom. Check out this interview and make sure to take in his site at the end.
Let’s talk a little bit about who you are and where you are coming from. Tell me about your money journey? What got you started in learning about personal finance?
My name is JW and I’m just an average Joe. I grew up in the Midwest, went to public schools, got average grades, and like many millennials, graduated college right before the economic recession which negatively impacted many folks’ career aspirations. I made it through alright, not unscathed, but I continued to work hard to advance my career.
Now at age 30, my wife and I have managed to save over a million dollars and continue to be on pace to reach financial independence (FI) by about age 35. You can read more about this journey in my post Net Worth Explosion.
We also have a budding young family with a 2 year old so we continue to experience the personal finance challenges life throws our way including daycare, investing for college, and the occasional and unanticipated healthcare expense!
Such is life, and we talk about all our personal finance stories and more at www.thegreenswan.org. Additionally, I recently published a book to document a proven path to reach FI and early retirement titled The Green Swan: Work Harder, Work Smarter, Retire Earlier and Find Your Beach which you can find more about by clicking the link.
I’ve always been interested in personal finance and grew up with good role models in my Dad and Mom. Going through college and shortly after was when I really dug into it more though, and even in recent years as our goals have evolved into focusing on reaching FI I’ve continued to read and get more involved in personal finance topics.
What would you say the biggest money obstacle has been for you to overcome?
The constant challenge that my wife and I face is the balance between spending a bit extra today to enjoy life (i.e. a nice vacation or extra activities / programs for the kid, etc.) vs. deferring consumption for greater spending in future years.
Many people obviously face this challenge, and we haven’t necessarily gone about it much differently than others. However, I would say that we maintained a very skimpy and frugal life until just the last few years at which point we’ve only loosened the belt just a bit. And I think that is the key, as you age and get closer and closer to reaching FI, it seems more appropriate to begin migrating your spending closer to what is most ideal for you and as you envision your retirement.
I will say though, for us, living a relatively frugal life will always be in our DNA. But it is nice to begin enjoying a few more “creature comforts”.
How has overcoming that obstacle changed you?
I wouldn’t necessarily say we have overcome this obstacle since it is more of a constant struggle and there will always be some give and take. But it has definitely changed us. It is just a matter of how you can find enjoyment in life at a low cost. We are constantly combing through our expenses categories to see where we can cut back without necessarily lowering our lifestyle quality.
I’ve talked in the past about the Four Frugal Life Lessons I learned growing up as well as how I’ve found some unique ways to cut back including by going Solar, having my wife cut my hair, by Cutting the Cord, and trying to Manage the Cost of Children as much as reasonably possible.
Are there any obstacles you are still working on?
The thing about personal finance is there is always an obstacle in your way, in one form or another, and some of which you never see coming.
A couple of the major obstacles ahead of my wife and I are the funding of our child’s college education in conjunction with continuing to fund our retirement accounts to reach FI.
And another constant struggle of ours is trying to define what retirement will look like for us. Will we transition into a slower paced job to keep some income coming in for a few years, begin more philanthropic pursuits, get more involved in our child’s various activities, etc. It is fun to think about, but we are nowhere near figuring this out. There will definitely be more to come on this front, but we have time still!
There’s a moment in the Godfather 3 when Michael Corleone is trying to get out of the “Family Business”, and he says: “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.” What is one bad money habit you just can’t seem to shake?
Oh boy, this is a really tough question as it can be hard to say exactly. But I will go with a spending habit that I can’t and probably won’t ever shake, and that is going to major college football games. College football is passion and I enjoy going to major events with a group of close family and friends. That includes some fairly expensive travel and tickets for games such as the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl, and also regular season games at LSU, Stanford, Cal, Michigan State, Clemson and many others. This is all in the past 5-6 years and I have more tentatively scheduled for this upcoming season. This is not necessarily a great habit for someone trying to live a frugal life and reach FI at a young age, but it is something we budget for and try to plan ahead and keep as reasonable as possible.
If you were to start your money journey all over what would you do differently?
I suppose you could say my money journey started when I decided to go to the in-state university for my Bachelor Degree. And if I could do it all over, I sometimes wonder if I would have been better off pursuing a degree from a more prestigious, private university. I don’t know the answer to this question.
At the time I simply applied to one college and when I got accepted I was done with my search. Not that I don’t feel fortunate and proud to be in my current position when it comes to career and life path, but I wonder how things would have been different. And the other reason I ponder this is in preparation for my little one to eventually be in a similar position and what I’d encourage him to do when that day comes.
If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d be interested to hear them in the comments!
What is your proudest money accomplishment?
I would probably have to list two things for this. First was when I went back to school for my MBA. Not only was it a proud moment to earn my degree, but it was a proud money accomplishment because I was able to do so by receiving employer reimbursement for about half of the expense and I paid the rest in cash.
My second proud money accomplishment would have to be buying solar panels and finding a way to make it financial accretive as I describe in Solar Cents. I bought them in 2015 and received significant tax incentives and 0% financing, all while significantly reducing my family’s carbon footprint.
Who is your money hero?
I’d have to say my older brother. He was always my role model and we’ve both been interested in personal finance since we were in college or before even. We’ve always bounced ideas off each other and even to this day talk about various personal finance obstacles or issues we are facing. He’s also been the primary motivator for me to pursue and advance my career and has helped me through many personal finance issues, big and small, in the past.
What was your worst money mistake?
To be honest, I don’t know if I have made any one consequential decision related to personal finance that has been too bad. I’ve made a bad investment decision here or there, but nothing that has cost me too much.
What I’m afraid of is the number of major decisions I have coming up and not making a mistake on those. For instance, I’m currently in the process of entering a new business venture with all my siblings and putting up a pretty large sum of money to do so (hopefully that won’t turn out to be a mistake!) and another major decision I’ll have coming up is deciding when to enter earlier retirement (which obviously has the potential to be a regretful decision one way or the other).
Personal finance decisions can be a constant struggle. One thing I’ve tried to do is just make the best decisions I can with the information I have available at the time. It’s hard to have regrets when doing the best you can and trying to make the most informed decision possible. Life’s too short to get caught up in the past, it’s more about what you can make of your current situation and doing the best for your future.
What was your first money lesson?
My first major money lesson would be not trying to time the market. When I first started investing, I would track the performance of my mutual funds daily (which definitely is not good for the psyche). And I’d see the market go up and down on a daily basis and think to myself how much money I could make if I could just cut out some of the down days and be more active in timing the market.
Needless to say, that is a really silly decision that I’d equate to picking red at the roulette wheel in Vegas. I talk about this fairly extensively in my book as part of my four tips for successful investing. I recommend giving it a read as it is very applicable for folks at any stage in their life.
Additionally, if you don’t believe me, read A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel.
What money habits do you see in yourself (or others if you are perfect) that make you cringe?
I’ll talk about the money habits of others because I’m perfect, just kidding! But this is one of my biggest pet peeves that I see others do fairly often and that is spending money you don’t have. Whether it is buying an expensive new car just because you can get approved for a loan (all the while you have plenty of other debt including credit cards and student loans to worry about) or buying a bigger house (even though your current house suits all your needs) as soon as you have enough to make a down-payment and get approved for a new and bigger loan.
It perpetuates the consumer and materialistic personalities that far too many have in America and also the “forever-broke lifestyle” because you spend as soon as you earn and never break the cycle.
Would you classify yourself as a Spender or a Saver?
Saver, always have been. I learned the power of compounding young and I have always tried to maximize savings and my investments. In my post Invest to Win I explain why I invest entirely in equity investments and in My Portfolio Composition I explain my strategy and investment rationale as well as briefly discuss a recent opportunity to buy a small business with my siblings.
What’s the one personal finance book that had the biggest impact in your life?
I don’t read as many personal finance books these days as I used to, more online magazines and blogs. So I’d have to save Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I read this shortly after college and it really opened my eyes to thinking about money differently and helped frame my approach to personal finance as I entered the working world.
Ok now for some non-money questions. Let’s get into what makes JW who he really is.
Give me a list of your top 5 foods?
- Breakfast meats including bacon and sausage:
- Pizza, especially Hawaiian, BBQ Chicken, and Pepperoni;
- BBQ Brisket, I love me some BBQ;
- Jalapeños on most all foods, a little spice never hurts; and
- Ice Cream, especially chocolate caramel brownie
What is your favourite drink (alcohol or non-alcohol)?
With a little one now, I drink considerably less these days. But on the weekends I’d still have one or two beverages. I really like my IPAs, and as far as liquor, I love making myself an occasional Sazerac, Manhattan, or Old Fashioned.
What kind of daily traditions or habits do you have?
One of my favorite indulgences is ice cream. I try to live a healthy life, eating well and exercising regularly, but I basically eat ice cream every night before bed. I’ve done this ever since I was a little kid and I don’t see this habit being broke anytime…ever.
Which group do you fall into:
Apple of Samsung? Samsung for most all electronics, but I do have an Apple phone currently
Coke or Pepsi? Coke if I had to choose, but I cherish my health too much to drink either so I’d prefer water
Coffee or Tea? About two cups of coffee in the morning and a tea in the afternoon
Night owl or morning bird? Early bird gets the worm, I’m a morning person all the way.
I’m a huge music fan, what’s one of your favourite albums?
All-time favorite is Dave Matthews Band. All their albums are great, but I could listen to the Dave and Tim Reynolds Radio City Music Hall album over and over.
What’s the one movie you could watch over and over again and never get tired of it?
Tommy Boy. I was a big Chris Farley fan, rest his soul. I watched his movies constantly growing up and Tommy Boy was my favorite. I’m pretty sure I watched it once a day one summer (back when I was in elementary school).
What book are you reading right now?
I don’t read a ton of books, but right now I’m in the middle of Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. It is really good and gives some good behind the scenes info on how things can be built and constructed to promote certain behaviors.
I’ll also take this opportunity to put a plug in for my recently published book, The Green Swan: Work Harder, Work Smarter, Retire Earlier and Find Your Beach. In this book, you will follow the path I took to save over $1 million in 10 years and you will also learn to live The Green Swan lifestyle and get your personal finances in order.
Finish this sentence with the first thing that comes to mind:
I would rather _soak in sun on the beach__, than __work_______,
Simple answer, but, hey, it was the first thing that popped into my head! That might explain why the last part of the subtitle to my book is “…and Find Your Beach”.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“The safest way to try and get what you want, is to try to deserve what you want.”
- Charlie Munger
This is my favorite quote because it exemplifies hard work and effort which I think are keys to getting anywhere in life.
There you have it! Head on over to the Green Swan and check out JW’s site.
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