Christmas ’17 Lesson: The Best Gifts Aren’t Found Under A Tree!

We had a weird Christmas schedule this year. It wasn’t your normal December of Christmas parties followed by lots of family time and then mounds of presents on Christmas day. It never is really like that in our family anyway since I am a pastor and our Christmas is dominated with church activities and multiple Christmas services on December 23rd and 24th. But this year was weird-er than normal and I’m glad because the weirdness drove home the true meaning of “Gifts”.


By weird-er, I’m not talking about our Christian viewpoint that Jesus Christ is the true gift, available to all, in the season. While I believe that with all my heart, that’s not weird to me but true. I’m referring to having such a chaotic schedule during Christmas that we never even got to open gifts nor do the normal Christmas morning stuff.  That’s because this year, we decided a while back to do some family travel. Earlier in the year, after saving and planning for about six months for a trip, we decided to pull off all the Christmas services and then on Christmas morning, get on a plane and go to Costa Rica for 10 days! (Being good FI enthusiasts, we paid cash!) Why Christmas morning you might ask? There were four  main reasons: 1) We all could get that time off from work or school, 2) I needed to physically and spiritually renew, 3) We heard Christmas day travel is easier, 4) We wanted to shift the idea of gifts from “stuff” to “experiences”.


Christmas Day Travel To Costa Rica

So we did just that. We held six Christmas services over a couple days and collapsed into bed on Christmas Eve. Then Christmas morning, we headed to the airport. No time for opening presents. In fact, we all agreed earlier that the big present for all of us this year was the Costa Rica trip. So for the most part we just had stockings to go through upon return.


Costa Rica was amazing! The tropical beauty is very “Hawaii-like”, and Hawaii is our happy place. Beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, incredible creatures everywhere. It was truly beautiful. But the best part were the people. They are warm, joyful, hard-working and kind. Everywhere we went, we experienced great beauty and warm people.

We were in Costa Rica for about 10 days, most of them without WIFI, email or any connection to the outside world. We stayed, for the most part, in a home with this incredible view of the ocean but with no WIFI and no easy way to get in or out to ANY civilization (It takes an hour on a bumpy dirt road to get to a 50 person town). Check out the view:


The only neighbors we had were three iguanas that lived on our roof. I was told they have lived there for close to 20 years. Here’s daddy iguana in his morning sunning ritual on the peak of the roof…he just sits there…for hours…I’m either puzzled by his behavior or jealous that he has hours every day to do that!


I could talk about Costa Rica and this wild trip all day long. It was that great. We will remember this vacation forever. But something else happened on this trip that tickles my Financial Independence-focused heart: We not only got away from mounds of presents and a focus on “stuff”, we got completely unplugged from telephones, email, the internet, TV and even music. We went days without being able to get a signal on the phone nor be able to re-charge the depleted batteries. AND WE LOVED IT!!!  We focused on the natural beauty all around us and spent family time together swimming, walking the beach, collecting shells, hiking waterfalls and eating simple food (no oven, hot water or utensils). We simplified. It was awesome. And guess what? When we returned from vacation we were changed by the experience. Nobody cared that we did not have a traditional Christmas with lots of presents. The experiences we shared, both good and bad, were far more rewarding and memorable.

My favorite moment was when our family was parasailing on the beautiful Manuel Antonio beach. My 14 year old daughter leans over to me after her parasail with her mother,  full of adrenaline and joy and says: “This is really cool, maybe the coolest thing I have ever done. So this is why we save money all year long so we can do things like this. It is so worth it!” Here they are taking off on their incredible sail:


The Best Christmas Gifts

As my daughter alluded while parasailing: Experiences will be remembered forever whereas most presents come and go with little to no impact on our lives. Not only will we remember the big moments of our trip, like parasailing, zip-lining and our view of the ocean from our vacation home. But we will remember, and laugh about, hundreds of small, sometimes trying moments, that come with experiencing life in a remote foreign country, like:


  • being held up by a herd of goats that were just sitting in the middle of the road and not willing to move
  • ordering three drinks and one plate of nachos in Spanish and getting three nachos and one drink delivered, oops!
  • seeing a turtle return to the ocean after laying its eggs
  • learning that the rules of driving in Costa Rica are more like guidelines: Something to consider but by no means automatically adopted, like speed limits and no passing zones

It’s all about experiences…and peace of mind. The peace that came with being totally unplugged from our technology was amazing. At first the disconnection was unnerving. It took about three days to get over the fact that we could not connect with anything or anybody. Then, it seemed like time slowed down, like colors seemed richer and joy reigned. We all loved it.


It did not take long for all of us to slow down a bit and enjoy simple things, like walking the beach searching for shells. We also seemed to sleep better and feel better.

Another incredible effect of living simply in rural Costa Rica, removed from distractions and paved roads was that our daily activities were really active, mostly outside and really healthy.


We ate simple meals and ate well because we had make our own food for the most part. We exercised regularly and got a lot of fresh air because we were constantly hiking, on the beach or swimming. And guess what? We felt great! There’s no better gift than good health.

With little electronic distractions we found we were much more able to be in the moment during the vacation. There were no large blocks of time lost in a phone screen or transfixed on a TV screen.


And since the three of us were largely always together, we experienced things together. One time, while traveling on a dirt road, going about 3 miles an hour because the road was hardly passable, we came to an abrupt stop because the road just ended, without warning, into a deep ravine. Thank God we weren’t going fast because we may not have stopped in time before plunging into a creek bed. At first we were all startled, lamenting on what could have happened had we not stopped in time. But the mood quickly swung to one of “that’s just how it is in Costa Rica”, and we kind of laughed about it. After about 20 of these types of experiences we termed the phrase: “Just another Costa Rican adventure”.


Another great gift from being disconnected from the world in paradise: Our attitudes improved and each of us was really positive. We were content. I think the combination of the beauty of the land and sea, the niceness of the people and the “it’s an adventure” attitude made each of us happier, healthier and wanting for nothing. We were completely fulfilled.


I think the key lesson from our Costa Rica Christmas excursion was two fold: 1) The best gifts were more about experiences, together as a family, than about gifts under the tree. Yes, we did eventually come home, open our gifts in the stockings and enjoy some presents. I always appreciate getting new underwear and socks. But the presents we opened were secondary to the experiences we had. 2) When we had less (no WIFI, email or internet), we had more (contentment, fulfillment and peace). Those are the best gifts and they aren’t found wrapped under the tree. Which makes my FI heart happy because we are constantly bombarded with messages of materialism that essentially say, more is better, right? No, in fact, less is many times, better. Less consumption, less distraction, less materialism:

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who

                              craves more, that is poor. ” ― Seneca.

Hopefully, our family will now live more in the moment and more focused on experiences rather than stuff. I think this quote image says it all:


The best Christmas presents aren’t wrapped and placed under a tree!

Should Financial Independence Enrich Our Lives Or Define It?

Recently, I was sitting amongst a group of thrifty friends discussing financial independence (FI) and how important it was to each of us. Some of the discussion was around the definition of FI, and I learned that the definition of FI differs from person to person. Some of the discussion was around dates and amounts of money needed to meet FI. Most of the discussion focused on how important FI was to the group. After about an hour or so of discussion, it occurred to me that FI was the only topic we discussed. There was no discussion of life goals (beyond FI), family, friends, work, sports (Go Astros!) or recent adventures. I found that a bit interesting. On the one hand, FI was a central theme to everyone there. That’s no surprise. Clearly, FI was a top goal for each of us. But on the other hand, is that all there is to our interests and pursuits? Don’t get me wrong, the conversations were interesting and spirited. I really enjoyed it. But it left me asking: Is there more to our lives and our friendship than financial independence?

Which precipitated the topic question in this post: Does financial independence define our lives or does it enrich our lives with the freedom to pursue the goals and dreams in our hearts?

Financial independence: What Is It?


Financial independence (FI) is a term often used without consistent meaning. Typically, FI means having enough income to pay your living expenses for the rest of your life without having to work full time or be dependent on others.  It also usually includes being free from debt, worry and anxiety about money. Some simplify the definition and see it as simply being self-sufficient. While each person might define it differently, it was obvious that FI was the primary focus for each of us. But in this particular conversation, FI was the only thing being discussed. Aren’t we more than the pursuit of financial independence?

A Case For FI To Define Us


Starting with a little help from Webster’s Dictionary, being defined by financial independence means to be described or identified with the nature or essential qualities of financial independence. In this case, that means, identified as being frugal (living below their means), having ample income outside of a regular full time job to meet all money needs, dependent on no one other than themselves, free of debt, free of worry and free to pursue one’s goals or dreams. Sounds worthwhile so far!

People pursuing financial independence are passionate people in their pursuit. Usually focused, committed and goal orientated, or obsessed. Saving and investing, combined with the magic of compound interest, is intoxicating and satisfying. Each goal met just increases the desire for the next FI milestone. In addition, FI can be viewed as a great way to provide or support your family, so it is easily perceived as honorable, wholesome and worthwhile. Still sounds pretty good to be defined by our pursuit of FI!

Sometimes, it helps to find answers by looking backward on life decisions, so it begs the question: On my deathbed, will I be satisfied that my life was worthwhile and all that it could or should be if I defined success as being financially independent? Does my pursuit and ultimate achievement of financial independence completely define me and my purpose on earth?  This view of the topic question starts to shed doubt in my mind that FI should define us because it seems too narrow. Why? Because it seems to me that life should be so much more. I can’t image my tombstone saying something like “Here lies Mike, who pursued and achieved financial independence.” I’ve never seen one of those tombstones. But I have seen tombstones that have listed many other attributes to define the deceased: father, husband, Christ-follower, man of integrity, leader, brother and son, to name a few. This leads me to believe there is more to life than just being financially independent.


A Case For FI To Enrich Our Lives


There is no doubt that money is absolutely necessary to live and the more you have of it, the more freedom, and choices, you have. So having money is very important. And making or getting money independent of full time work is extremely desirable. But money and financial independence do not define us, but enhance  our lives and the possibilities.

Money is just a tool for us to use to meet our goals and obligations. Whether those goals are to raise a family, travel, buy a home or eat dinner, money is just a mechanism to achieve those goals. So to define ourselves by being able to meet those needs, independent of full time work or any dependence on anyone else, seems to be too limiting. I’m not defined by other tools that I have, like a computer, a hammer or a pencil, so why would I be defined by the tool of money independently obtained from full time work?


Means To An End


We are so much more than our money or possessions. Which means that we are so much more than our pursuit and achievement of being financially independent. We are (in my case) a husband, father, Christ-follower, businessman, leader, neighbor, friend, a brother, an uncle, a son, travelers and so much more. The financial independence we pursue is a better way to be all those things. But FI doesn’t define us. To let FI define us is to sell ourselves short. The faster we get to FI, the better, because we can spend more time doing what we want or are called to do, and less time working full time to make money. So financial independence enhances our lives.  It does not define us.


So, going back to that conversation that started of this post: There’s nothing wrong with talking about something you are passionate about, like financial independence. And having deep conversations with friends and family about FI is encouraging, invigorating and informative. But since money is just a tool and being independent of full time employment is just a better means of making it, it stands to reason that financial independence is simply a means to an end. A means to achieve one’s goals in the best possible way. A means to freedom.


Everyday More Salt & Less Pepper: FI Wisdom From Years Of Mistakes & Miscues

While recently getting my hair cut by the same person who has cut my hair for the past 12 years or so, she looked at me sheepishly and said “Mike, times are a changing…it seems like every time I see you, you have more salt and less pepper.” After a moment of bewilderment, I realized she was telling me that my brown hair was gaining more and more gray hair over time. Her statement, while funny, and true, was also a reflection of the years that have gone by in my journey to financial independence. Then I thought about it. Its been 30 years, 8 homes, 6 jobs, 3 kids and 2 careers since I started my FI pursuit. I have learned a lot. Some learning has come from wise decision making, but most, it seems, has come from my mistakes and the steps to overcome them. Here are four FI lessons from many years in the FI pursuit:


Tortoise & The Hair


Rule No.1: Never lose money. Rule No.2: Never forget rule No.1.” – Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet, perhaps the single greatest investor of our time, is credited with this famous quote. Unfortunately, it has taken me the past three decades to get it through my head that loss prevention is the higher priority over the risk of chasing huge returns. See, I have been invested in the stock market all this time. And for most of the time, I only invested in what I knew, which was high tech stocks. At the time I was in the industry. The good news was that high tech stocks have had some incredible returns. Years like 1995 through 1998 come to mind when the annual returns ranged from 20% to 37%. The bad news is that those same stocks had some horrible losses. The years 2001, 2002 and 2008 come to mind. The net result was that I made, and lost, two huge fortunes in the stock market since 1983 with very little to show for it as of the 2008 financial crisis. Hence, starting in 2009, I started to put Warren Buffet’s rules into place and have been rewarded handsomely for it. What I have learned: Slow and steady wins the race, just like the story of the tortoise and the hair. You don’t have to chase high returns with high risk stocks to get a good return. Preventing losses is more important than sporadic years of high returns. In terms of my stock investing, that means investing in high quality stocks, with a proven record of profits, growth and good management operating in good markets. For the most part, I invest in strong dividend stocks which also helps guarantee a decent return. I also re-balance my portfolio to lock in profits and lessen the chance of large losses should the market turn. While I have not had huge annual returns in the past nine years, I have not experienced ANY negative return years. The end result is that compounding the small but regular annual returns have produced more wealth than the previous 25 years of investing combined.

The Few, The Proud, The Life Goals


“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”― Zig Ziglar

Early in my FI pursuit I had vague, long term goals: Something about retirement, kid’s college, independence and travel. Blah, blah, blah. I focused on climbing the corporate ladder and thought regular promotions would take care of meeting my eventual goals. It wasn’t until the first major stock market crash in 2001 that I realized that my goals were too vague and too long term to foster the best FI actions. It’s true, when you aim for nothing, you hit it every time…and go nowhere! What I have learned: Have specific goals in all aspects of financial independence. That includes quantitative giving goals, savings goals, investing goals, as well as qualitative goals for gratitude, contentment and peace. The reason why? The quantitative goals provide concrete targets that are easily measured for motivation and a sense of accomplishment. The qualitative goals help us round out the true independence spirit (Freedom from worry or anxiety) as well as give more meaning to what FI is all about.

Set It & Forget It


When I was younger, I would invest regularly, but only after I paid all my bills. Some months I had a lot to invest, but others, not so much. It was irregular at best. Also, as mentioned above,  in those early years, I really didn’t have stated financial goals. The end result was I never knew if I was on track with my saving and investing. What I have learned: As I have aged, and truly learn to appreciate having financial goals and the power of compound interest, I have learned, first, to order the allocation of money as such: Give first, save second, then spend the rest. Meaning, I give to my church and God first because He deserves it. Then I save (pay myself) second after giving to ensure all my savings goals are met. Then, I make my spending plan (budget) based on what is left over, never spending more than I have. Here’s the best part: I use technology to automatically give, save and pay bills so that I am faithful, regular and not consumed with handling money. Simple and easy.

Sacrifice Good For Great


“There is no progress or accomplishment without sacrifice.”
Idowu Koyenikan

Sacrificing to reach a goal has never been foreign to me. Sacrificing time and effort to get in shape to play high school and college sports was normal for me. Sacrificing fun and parties to get good grades was expected of myself. But somehow, when I got into the working world, and made good money, I didn’t want to sacrifice the trappings of success for the purposes of reaching a bigger, and better, goal. What do I mean by that? I wanted, and got, the bigger house, the nice cars, the big vacations. In some ways, I was trying to stay up with the Jones…and it was very unfulfilling. Bigger homes and nicer cars cost more money and take more upkeep. After a while it felt like my stuff owned me. What I have learned: Foregoing good things, like a bigger home or a nicer car, and using that money for great things like financial independence, helps speed up the process to independence and true wealth, in a big way! I have learned to cherish my smaller home (low taxes, less to clean, less room for stuff to build up) and my old car (paid for) so that I can use the money instead to fuel financial independence! Sacrificing good stuff for great stuff also helps me appreciate everything I have even more. And guess what? I don’t miss the bigger home or nicer car. Sure, they were fun to have but they are not as fulfilling as the long term goal of financial independence.

More Salt – More Focus, More Intention, More Better!


“There are no mistakes, save one: The failure to learn from a mistake.” – Robert Fripp

Yes, the hair is getting gray-er and the time is flying by. But, a lot has been learned and hopefully, that knowledge can be helpful to others on their way to financial independence:

  • Consistent investment gains in solid stocks are better than the vicissitudes of high risk/reward stocks.
  • Quantitative and qualitative goals help focus FI efforts,
  • Automated Fin Tech tools help assure the Give-Save-Spend prioritized relationship,
  • And, sacrificing good stuff for the sake of great stuff speeds up achieving your FI goals.

Financial independence is not easy, but it is worth it! As one of my kids would say when they were young: It’s more better!


Miter Boxes, Mallets & Money: Just A Bunch Of Useful Tools, Sometimes!

Know Your Tools

It is important for a carpenter to know his tools. For instance, a carpenter who is a cabinet maker intimately knows how to use a miter box. And most people, especially carpenters,  know what a hammer is and basically how to use it. Actually, there are several types of hammers that specialize for different functions. There’s is the claw hammer, sometimes called a common hammer, a ball pein hammer, a club hammer, a framing hammer, a sledge hammer and many more that make up the hammer family. Then there is a mallet, which is similar to a hammer but not exactly the same thing. A mallet is a hammer with a large, usually rubber or wooden head, used especially for hitting a chisel. It is the right hammer for wood carving and delicate wood working. But when you use the right hammer in the wrong application, it can be bad, even painful. See, one day, a while back, I used a mallet to try and knock some flooring into position. The flooring was heavy and I  didn’t want to mark the flooring so I used a rubber headed mallet to try and knock it into place. I should have picked up the flooring and moved it by hand, but I was tired and it was late and I had the mallet readily available. So I pounded at the flooring to move it across the floor into place. All went well until it didn’t…on one particular swing I got distracted, took my eyes off the flooring and proceeded to hit myself in the foot with a heavy blow. My initial reaction to hitting myself in the foot was one of embarrassment. But as the sensation made its way to my brain, my embarrassment was quickly replaced with severe pain. It hurt so bad. Bad hammer!

You see, this was a classic example of using a perfectly good tool the wrong way, which resulted in the tool not being productive at all, but being a pain (literally) that hinders progress instead of contributing to it. I guess the moral of the story is that tools are very useful when used (and viewed) correctly, but can be counterproductive if used incorrectly.


Money Is

Money is similar to a hammer in that when viewed and used properly, is a great tool that can help you achieve your goals, but when used incorrectly, can be counterproductive and possibly painful. Money, being a central part of financial freedom, must be viewed and used properly or else be counterproductive to the pursuit of freedom. This is a good lead-in to defining what money is, and by extension, what money isn’t.

  • Money is: A medium of economic exchange and a tool to build wealth. As a tool, it is like a hammer in that you have to get it (some), learn how to use it, take care of it, use it correctly and manage it so that it provides value to you.
  • Money is: A temptation. If you let money be your goal, be the focus of your desires and the answers to your problems, it can tempt you to worship it, hoard it and let it define you.
  • Money is: A test. As we learn each lesson about money we walk away a little bit wiser and a little better equipped to use it going forward. But if we don’t learn our lessons, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
  • Money is: A testimony. Our decisions (wise decisions or struggles) with money and finances in general, are a large part of our testimony to our spouses, peers, neighbors and children.



Money Is Not

It is just as important to define what money is not. Although our western culture wants to paint a picture that money is the root of happiness, power, status and popularity, money is just a tool, not the basis for our identity. Let’s take a look at what money is not:

  • Money is not: A measure of success or our sole goal. There are many successful people that have a lot of money, but not having money does not make you unsuccessful. Likewise, there are/were some incredibly success people that had virtually no money. Many, if not most of your artists, missionaries and teachers fall into that category.
  • Money is not: A component of self-worth. Money is a tool, not something that defines who we are or our value to our families, communities and corporations.
  • Money is not: A reward for good living. Money doesn’t care if you are good or bad. Good living is a reward in itself. If you are a person of faith, you know that the true blessings are things such as peace, joy, love, grace and contentment.
  • Money is not: A guarantee of satisfaction. Money does not guarantee happiness or contentment. In fact, most people who look to money to be their source of satisfaction  never seem to have enough of it.



Use It, Keep It, Take Care Of It But With The Proper Perspective

Money, when kept in the proper perspective (as a tool) and used correctly (as a medium of economic exchange and a tool to build wealth) can lead to financial freedom that includes peace, contentment, options and freedom from worry. But when used incorrectly, as a measure of success, self-worth or a guarantee of satisfaction, can lead to the opposite of freedom: Entrapment, discontentment, misery and, yes, pain, just like that mallet story I told earlier. Our lives change for the better (financial freedom being the main objective) when we view money as a tool and not as our goal.

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An Unconventional Path To Financial Freedom


Financial freedom is frequently associated with making enough money to independently afford the lifestyle of our dreams. But this family approached financial freedom from a totally different perspective: How a quick series of disasters and bad luck forced a family to reconsider their lifestyle and make the tough decisions that ended up in a “Less Is More” financial freedom success story. Read on to be inspired by an unconventional path to financial freedom!

The Worst Day

The day started out well enough: This couple (We’ll call them Bill and Jeanette) in their forties had two well-paying jobs, he was an engineer and she was an accountant. They lived in a large four bedroom home, even though their last child had finally graduated from college and was out of the home. Their finances seemed solid but they had some debt: a mortgage, two car loans and some credit card debt. They were saving some money towards retirement but it was not a priority. There emergency fund was small. It was a pretty normal American financial scene in their household.

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The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Then one hot August day it all got startlingly shaken: First, on the way to work, Bill got into a car accident (no fault of his own) that ended up totaling his car. If that wasn’t bad enough, when he finally arrived at work, he was informed that his good paying job was being eliminated and he had a twelve week severance period (25 years on the job) to find new work. In the meantime, Jeanette also encountered some unexpected trouble. She fell while on the job and broke her right (writing) wrist. The wrist injury would require surgery and at least two weeks out of work. In an instant, their somewhat stable work and home life was upended, putting strain on their marriage and finances.

The Situation


The situation seemed pretty dire: Down to one income, one car and one healthy worker between the two, this family had to make some big decisions. They summarized their situation as so:

  • The large house and debt was too much for the one income
  • Medical bills compounded the financial strain
  • Their savings was woefully inadequate, maybe a month’s worth of expenses at best
  • They already knew they were not set up well for retirement
  • Bill had no job and little enthusiasm to find a new one like his old one
  • Significant strain on their health and marriage

The Big Decision


Fairly quickly, this husband and wife team made some big decisions: First, before Bill even found a new job, they would downsize their home and lifestyle. This downsizing would have three main goals:

  • Lower expenses which would free up money to eliminate debt
  • Start seriously saving for retirement and building an appropriate emergency fund
  • Attain and maintain financial freedom

They asked some hard questions of themselves, like:

  • Do we need this much house? Clearly not
  • Do we need two cars?
  • Do we need these high lifestyle expenses: big cable TV bill, lots of eating out, lots of discretionary purchases, unused gym, Hulu, wine club memberships, etc
  • Can we thrive on only one professional income?

The breakthrough came once they realized that these things (house, jobs, cars, etc) did not define them individually or as a couple. They realized, too, that this situation was a real opportunity to re-think who they are and what they are working towards.

The Plan


With much excitement and anticipation of a better future, the plan came together quickly. Immediately they made financial freedom their purpose and being able to retire in less than 10 years their goal. This is what they decided to do:

  • Sell the four bedroom, four bath house and downsize to a two bedroom, 2.5 bath house about 30 minutes further away from the city they lived in to get a better value.
  • Aggressively eliminate total credit card debt with existing savings and some of Bill’s severance money.
  • Take the insurance money from the totaled car and pay off the totaled car auto loan. Try to live with one car.
  • Live by a budget. This budget was targeted to be 40% of the previous spending level
  • Reduce their lifestyle. No more cable, gym membership, endless eating out and mindless spending.
  • Fully fund their retirement funds each year


They met with their realtor (after the successful wrist surgery) and after a while put up their home for sale. It took three months to sell, but at a nice profit. With the house sale proceeds they paid off their credit card, paid off the first car loan and funded their emergency fund (also using a portion of the severance package). They also set up automatic (full) funding of their retirement accounts and made a new family budget. As a result of these financial moves, they realized they had a new opportunity: With the new budget, only one car and no debt, they learned that Bill did not have to go back into a full time professional position. Bill could, if he wanted to, be the artist/craftsman/amateur farmer he had always wanted to be! After much thought and prayer, they decided to make the big move and Bill began setting up his new career(s).

The Math


It took another month after the house sale (four months after putting their house on the market) to move into a comfortable (1,800 s.f.) home. The previous home was 4,500 square feet. Not only were they able to take their home downsizing profits to pay off debt and supercharge their retirement fund, their new monthly operating costs of their smaller house dropped more than $1,800 between the mortgage, taxes, HOA and utilities! Between those savings and the savings from reducing cars and their lifestyle they were able to take out more than $3,40o of expenses per month! See the budget below.

Bill and Jeanette’s New Monthly Budget

Income:    $7,200 ($6,400 Jeanette, $800 Bill…and growing)

       minus ($1,900) for taxes and tithing

Net Spendable Income: $5,300


Total Housing:    $1,450 (Small mortgage, utilities, taxes, insurance, no HOA)

Auto:                      $ 285 (Gas, insurance, minor repairs – newer car)

Debt:                       $ 0 (Hurray!)

Savings/Retire:   $2,300 (401K, SEP, investments, etc)

Food:                     $ 425 (Includes eating out)

Entertainment: $ 300

Medical:               $ 250 (Prescriptions and HSA funding (savings))

Misc:                     $ 290 (Toiletries, gifts, etc)

The result is a balanced budget, with more than $2,400/month going into savings (45% of budget). There is no debt, a fully funded emergency fund (six months of expenses) and ample financial peace. In addition, Bill’s new artist/craftsmen venture not only feeds his soul but continues to grow slowly, with upside to add more to their monthly income.


From Tragedy To Transformation

Bill and Jeanette turned a tragic day into a transformation to financial freedom. By looking at the abrupt disruption thrust upon them as an opportunity to break out of their rut and take action, they were able to achieve financial freedom. Here’s a short list that describe’s their financial freedom:

  • Balanced budget on their combined incomes
  • 45% savings rate
  • No consumer debt. Only small mortgage on house, to be eliminated in 8 years
  • Full emergency fund
  • Aggressive retirement savings to support retirement in 10 years
  • Bill was able to change his career to pursue his dream
  • Smaller house, simpler lifestyle, more peace, more contentment


Truly, Bill and Jeanette turned tragedy into a contentment-filled, simple lifestyle that allows for current and future dreams to be realized and opens the door for more freedom and options. Now that’s financial freedom!

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Financial Freedom: What I Would Do Differently If I Could Do It Over Again

A Good Start

I’ve been an adult for almost 40 years and the primary bread winner for most of that time. I had a great education, I was taught well by my parents on how to handle money, and, I had strong leadership in my life. As a result, I learned to handle money and possessions well: save money, live on a budget, limited use of debt and didn’t compare myself to neighbors or friends. As I look back, I had a good head start toward sound personal financial management. And I built off that foundation to develop personal financial freedom.


And still, there are so many things I would do differently if I did it all over again!

To start, I would be more receptive to the wisdom and advice of “smart old guys” who gave me advice because they loved me and wanted the best for me. Second, I would have slowed down to speed up: Slowed down my lifestyle and lifestyle inflation as a means to speed up the attainment of my financial goals and dreams. Third, I’d trust the math more and my feelings and emotions less.

What Does All This Mean?

It means that although I did pretty well in obtaining and maintaining financial freedom in my life, there are a bunch of things I want to tell everything young adult so that they could do even better. I want to scream: “Trust me in this! It may not sound fun right now, but boy are you going to appreciate it a little later.” So here it is. Here is a list of things I would do better to reach financial freedom faster, if I could do it all over again.

“Begin With The End In Mind” Stephen Covey


The first thing I would tell every young adult who is just starting out is to take a moment to define their life dreams and financial goals. Before they get their first big paycheck, think about what it is you want to accomplish. For some people, this may be very hard because they really don’t know where they want to go. But at a minimum, try to answer some general questions:

  • Do they want a family? children?
  • Want to retire at some time?
  • Want to have a home, cars, travel, etc?

Having at least a vague idea of dreams and goals does two things: It helps PRIORITIZE our thinking and decisions, and it provides the MOTIVATION we need to keep moving forward toward financial freedom when the clutter of daily life weakens our resolve.

“Don’t Save What’s Left After Spending. Spend What’s Left After Saving.” Warren Buffett


Once we have some basic dreams and goals in place, I would encourage people to set up automatic savings directly from their paychecks towards those goals. I would suggest setting up the savings to come out of the account on the day your paid so you don’t even see, or miss, the money.

  • Immediately start saving money into an Emergency Fund. Start with a goal of having $1000 available for any emergency, working to build that total up to 3-6 months of expenses. Why? Because an emergency fund is self insurance against disaster, including job loss and medical issues.
  • Want ot retire someday? Immediately contribute the maximum toward your 401K/IRA and make sure you get the company match. This is one of the biggest wealth creation moves a person can make. Why? Because 1) Most companies match a portion of your savings, giving you instant return on your money. 2) Retirement accounts have tax advantages. Paying less taxes is a good thing. 3) Compound interest over time is what creates the wealth!
  • Immediately set up automatic savings for vacations, future cars and any other big ticket items you know you will be needing in the future.
  • Once the emergency fund is fully stocked, money can start going into investments, which will be covered later.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” Ben Franklin

By setting up all automatic savings, you fund your goals and dreams before you even see your paycheck. Over time, you will get use to the amount that is left over and have a better chance of living within a budget based on the remaining money.

“Rather Go To Bed Without Dinner Than Raise In The Morning With Debt.” Ben Franklin


Debt; paying money to use other people’s money, is a wealth stealer. Debt eats up precious dollars fast. For most of us, buying a home cannot occur with debt, so for this discussion, by debt I am referring to consumer debt: credit cards, store loans, car loans, lines of credit, etc. Debt steals away financial freedom because it compounds, so the longer you take to repay it, the more it costs you. It also puts the borrower in a form of bondage, in that, the repayment of the debt is an obligation regardless of your ability to pay. It assumes we know and control the future when we don’t. Things like medical issues, job loss and other tragedies can prevent a person from paying their debts, yet the debt is always due. What would I tell the young adult just starting out?

  • If you have credit card debt, eliminate it as your top priority, then stay out of debt. Pay off your total credit card bill every month.
  • Get patience and use cash for everything. Don’t have the cash? Don’t buy the item.
  • Only consider debt to purchase appreciating assets, like a house or for business. But even then, the more cash the better.
  • If the temptation of using a credit card is too great, cut up the cards. Use a debit card.

One more thing about debt. Excessive use of consumer debt is a sign of even bigger things in your life that may steal wealth from you and prevent you from living in financial peace. Using cash requires you to earn it before you spend it. Debt is instant gratification, but at a very high cost. Cash requires you to be disciplined, requires you to prioritize and allocate scarce resources (cash). Debt doesn’t have to wait, requires no discipline nor patience, and since the bill usually comes later, the absence of immediate payment promotes overspending. Develop patience when spending your money to prevent impulse purchases and overspending.

“How Many Millionaires Do You Know That Become Wealthy By Investing In Savings Accounts? I Rest My Case.” Robert Allen

Investing money to realize a gain is risky, but it is the best source of creating wealth. If we are working toward financial freedom, we must let our money work for us and that requires investing our money. The only money I would keep in a savings account would be a portion of the emergency fund. All the rest of the money should be invested in an income producing investment, and there are many types: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETF’s, real estate, CD’s, annuities, and the list goes on. What would I tell a young adult?

  • Invest, invest, invest and let compound interest generate wealth
  • The investment must produce income greater than the rate of inflation for you to generate wealth
  • The younger you are, the more aggressive I would suggest. Stocks have provided the greatest return over time. Don’t know what to do? A safe long term investment is a low cost equity index fund from a reputable company. Think Vanguard or Fidelity to name two. Still need help, engage a trusted investment professional.
  • Invest in timeframe appropriate investments: Need the money in less than 5 years, think conservatively. Have a longer timeframe? You can be more aggressive
  • Pick quality investments, always
  • Slow and steady wins the race. It is better to produce consistent slow gains than deal with investments with wild profit gyrations up and down and hope the timing is right when you need to take the money out of the investment. It never seems to be good timing.
  • “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.” Albert Einstein

“Money Never Made A Man Happy Yet Nor Will It. The More A Man Has, The More He Wants. Instead Of Filling A Vacuum, It Makes One.” Ben Franklin

Most adults, young and old, know that money brings options and choices. But too many adults view having more money as the only answer to financial freedom and solving financial issues. The fact is, having more money CAN be a solution for financial freedom but without discipline, contentment and gratitude, more money will never be enough. What would I tell a young adult?

  • Money is only a tool, that if used correctly, can help you obtain and maintain financial freedom. But keep money in proper context. It is not to be worshiped nor the sole object of our desire.
  • Learn to be content and happy in any and every circumstance. Building wealth is a journey. Sometimes a very long one. Enjoy every minute because life is short.
  • Be grateful for what you have, never letting envy of what others have steal your joy.
  • Use discipline in the use of every dollar. Later on we talk about following a budget, but here I would say this: Be diligent with what you have because seemingly small wasteful spending can lead to large regrets later.

“It’s Not How Much Money You Make, But How Much Money You Keep.” Robert Kiyosaki

A spending budget is the single best way to allocate your money according to your goals and objectives. A budget simply tells our money where to go each month instead of wondering where it went when its all gone. Yet less than 25% of adult actually budget. So what is the result? How about the fact that 88% of adults live paycheck to paycheck or worse! So what would I tell a young adult?

  • Make a budget to guide your spending to support your goals and dreams!
  • The budget can be as brief or detailed as you like, but follow it, and check actual spending regularly to make sure you are following it.
  • Marry a budget with a good cash management process. Some go old school and use an envelope system. But most use technology to automatically pay bills and transfer money to savings. This is the easiest way to make sure your money goes where you want it.

Financial Freedom Is The Goal, Starting Early Is The Key


Financial freedom is having the attitude and resources to live abundantly in each stage of life, free of worry, to completely live out the full purpose of one’s life. Financial freedom goes far beyond having a few bucks. Sustainable financial freedom enables us to reach our potential as people.

Everyone can obtain and maintain financial freedom. Maybe not everyone can be rich, but everyone can have financial freedom. Start now! The key is to start toward financial freedom as early as possible to let compound interest and time build your wealth. Starting early also helps us prevent bad spending habits from forming in the first place. Key, too, is understanding money, and the amount you make, is only half of the financial freedom equation. The other half is spending and investing wisely. I hope this personal finance  wisdom listed above encourages all young people to start early, save aggressively, spend wisely and view debt with contempt…to allow each and every person obtain and maintain financial freedom!

Want more help towards financial freedom? Click on the book image and SAVE on Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

5 Don’ts For Financial Freedom

Financial Freedom – What Is It?

Freedom in Less

Most people have a fairly good idea of what financial freedom means to them. For some it is simply having no bill collectors calling them. Or maybe a little money in a savings account. Others might define it as simply being rich. Having more money than you could ever spend in a lifetime. My definition tends to fall in the middle: As having the attitude and resources to live abundantly in each stage of life, free of worry, to completely live out the full purpose of one’s life. In any case, just about any definition of financial freedom tends to focus on what we DO want (money, time, savings, etc) to eliminate what we DON’T want (worry, anxiety, debt, etc).

Let’s take a step back and focus on the underpinnings of financial freedom. That is, the attitudes and mindset in order to attain the freedom and then maintain it. There are two main attitudes, I believe, that allow us to become financially free: Gratitude and Contentment. Gratitude allows us to appreciate what we have and stay away from focusing on what we don’t have. Contentment allows us to have peace in our current situation, whatever the circumstances.

How Do I Get This Gratitude And Contentment?

Gratitude and contentment come with a pretty clear set of DON’Ts that go a long way in allowing us to obtain and maintain a basis for financial freedom. So, with no further ado, here are five don’ts for financial freedom:


  • Don’t let things you own define you

Your car doesn’t define you. Your bank account doesn’t define you. Nor your home, your toys or your barbecue grill. Your stuff doesn’t define you and neither does your neighbor’s define them. When we look at our stuff to define us it quickly leads us to comparison. Comparison steals joy and peace and definitely steals contentment.

  • Don’t let fear rule you. 

When it comes to our finances, fear makes us defensive, negative and “playing not to lose”. The result is worry and anxiety, neither of which bring about the feeling of freedom. When we experience fear, we lose our gratitude for what we have and the blessing that it is,  and instead, focus on the potential of losing it.

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  • Don’t focus on scarcity, focus on abundance

Fear focuses on scarcity, or the sense that there is not enough (money, peace, possessions, etc). Gratitude focuses on the abundance we have in our lives, however little we may have.   Gratitude is thankful for what you have/had, fear focuses on the loss or lack of it.

  • Don’t view success as keeping things the same. Change is constant

Accept the fact that things change over time. If you view success as keeping things always the same, you will eventually be disappointed. Accept that change is constant and inevitable. Here’s a thought process I use to stay grateful: When things change, I give thanks for the opportunities or experiences that I had instead of focus on the loss when it changes. I had a sportswear for 7 years and drove it everyday, but one day, I had to sell it. I gave thanks for the seven years of fun, not on the fact that I no longer had my dream car.


  • Don’t strive for comfort, strive for freedom

Robert Arnott is quoted as saying: “In investing, what is comfortable is rarely profitable.” Comfort is rarely profitable and can limit personal growth. Many times when we are comfortable, our gratitude slips away. Instead, strive for freedom in your finances, which does require some risk (investment) that builds the wealth that provides the freedom.


Having an attitude of gratitude and contentment is the foundation of living financially free. Yes, we need to save money for future needs, eliminate our debt and live within a balanced budget. These actions are fundamental to financial freedom. But unless we are grateful for everything we have or experience, and content with where we are in our lives and who we are, we will never truly experience freedom from money worries, fear of unpreparedness or comparison with our neighbors. When we are financially free, our options open up and our dreams can become realities. The interesting thing about having an attitude of gratitude and contentment is that once you have them, material things and your circumstances matter far less and that magnifies your financial freedom even more.

Financial freedom: It’s not easy, but it is worth it!

Want more help on your way to financial freedom? Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover can help. Click on the link and SAVE!

The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

FREE123: Freedom In Less – Spring Break Update

Freedom in Less

FREE123: Freedom In Less” is my personal account of pursuing financial freedom by pursuing less: Less stuff, less complexity and less spending. The purpose is not deprivation, but to achieve more financial goals while experiencing contentment and purpose. Take a look:

Less Is More – The Beginning

This series got started one day when I was daydreaming one day about my happy place and how I feel when I am there. For me that place is Kauai Hawaii, on a beach, with a 84 degree sunny day (every day seems 84 degrees and sunny to me there). When I am there, just experiencing the beauty, I am content, happy, joyful and grateful. To say the least, when I am there, I want nothing else. It is simple and I am content. Then I got to thinking: Why can’t I experience that simplicity and contentment more often? Like at home? In my everyday life? The answer is I can. And a simple contented life would greatly enhance my goal of financial freedom.

The Goal: Purposeful Simplification

For this season in life, I am going to purposefully simplify my life by finding freedom in less. Less stuff, less complexity and less spending as a means to reaching my financial freedom goals and find more contentment and purpose. The goal is to live more purposefully, a frugal budget with clear goals and a renewed focus on reducing consumption to achieve more contentment and true freedom.

Spring Break Update


This month my wife and I took a vacation with a simple focus. Enjoy the natural beauty of the island (St. Croix) and immerse ourselves in the people, food and authentic culture with little to no tourist activity. In other words, live in the moment like the native islanders do, spending lots of time enjoying the simple pleasures. We did this for three reasons: First, we needed to slow down and recharge. Second, this is probably the only time we will ever visit this island so we wanted an authentic experience. Third, and most of all, we wanted to simplify the vacation to relax and enjoy simple things like laughing, resting and eating together. We had a blast! Take a look at some of the “Less Is More” decisions we made:

  • We rented a small little cottage (AirBnB) owned by a local artist to give us a feel of what is was like to live like the locals. No air conditioning, pool or cable TV. Instead we enjoyed the simple sounds of the island through our open windows that allowed the trade winds to blow through the cottage. It was amazing. So simple and enjoyable.
  • We rented a car and made it a point each day to go to the local beaches, food stands and watering holes and we met so many interesting and enjoyable people who ended up sharing the week with us. There is nothing like having locals take you to the best (secret) places. And we made fast friends.
  • We kept it real simple. No schedules, no large groups, no long lines. We hiked, swam, walked beaches, searched for sea glass and snorkeled. Easy, fun and very inexpensive. Any we also got a little exercise!
  • We depended upon, and benefited from only using recommendations from locals. As a result, every experience was amazing and extremely inexpensive, like free!


FREE123: Freedom In Less Summary

This month we experienced a “Less Is More” vacation in St. Croix. We decided to simplify and live in the moment on this vacation in order to slow down and spend less. Really, to vacation in a less-is-more style by doing/spending less and enjoying time together more. It was great! The things we did do were memorable and really felt special. The extra time we just hung out together was awesome and restful. And the laughs were endless. By limiting events/activities and excessive vacation spending, we didn’t break the bank and yet enjoyed the most important things: time with friends and shared experiences.




For more on personal finance, try Dave Ramsey’s book: The Total Money Makeover. Click the image and SAVE!

Free123: Freedom In Less – Thanksgiving Update

Freedom in Less


FREE123: Freedom In Less” is a monthly account of pursuing financial freedom by pursuing less: Less stuff, less complexity and less spending. The purpose is not deprivation but to achieve more financial goals while experiencing contentment and purpose. Take a look:

Less Is More – The Beginning

This series got started one day when I was daydreaming one day about my happy place and how I feel when I am there. For me that place is Kauai Hawaii, on a beach, with a 84 degree sunny day (every day seems 84 degrees and sunny to me there). When I am there, just experiencing the beauty, I am content, happy, joyful and grateful. To say the least, when I am there, I want nothing else. It is simple and I am content. Then I got to thinking: Why can’t I experience that simplicity and contentment more often? Like at home? In my everyday life? The answer is I can. And a simple contented life would greatly enhance my goal of financial freedom.

The Goal: Purposeful Simplification

For the next season in life, I am going to purposefully simplify my life by finding freedom in less. Less stuff, less complexity and less spending as a means to reaching my financial freedom goals and find more contentment and purpose. The hypothesis is that living on a frugal budget with clear goals and a renewed focus on reducing consumption will lead to more contentment and true freedom.


Thanksgiving Update

This month my family took a three generation family vacation with a decidedly focused twist. Even though it was a travel vacation to Cabo San Lucas, which is beautiful by the way, we focused most of our time on spending time together. Yes, we did rent jet skis one day and went out to Land’s End another, but for the most part we just hung out on the beach and enjoyed each other’s company. We did this for three reasons: First, this was our first time traveling as a group and we wanted to make sure it went well. Second, with five people, including four adults, we did not have an entertainment budget to play/party hard every day. But most of all, we wanted to simplify the vacation to relax and enjoy simple things like laughing, resting and eating together. We had a blast! Take a look at some of the “Less Is More” decisions we made:

  • We ate out at a restaurant one meal a day. We had a condo that had a full kitchen so we took advantage of that and only went out one meal a day. This saved some money and a lot of time, giving us more beach time. And, it made the trip to the restaurant more fun because the infrequency made it more special.
  • We limited ourselves to one big activity a day. I normally want to go, go, go when on vacation but it is tiring to some of my family and can be very expensive. So we did one activity together each day and it was great: We really valued the activity and we had more relaxing time together to talk, read and laugh together.
  • We chose to walk instead of drive…everywhere. Our condo was literally on Medano Beach and within walking distance to the marina and downtown, so we skipped renting a car or taking a taxi and enjoyed walking everywhere. We had more time to talk, we saw more things and we saved a bundle. Also got a little exercise!



FREE123: Freedom In Less Summary

This month we experienced a “Less Is More” vacation in Cabo San Lucas. We decided to take extended family, three generations, but vacation in a less-is-more style by doing/spending less and enjoying time together more. It was great! The things we did do were memorable and really felt special. The extra time we just hung out together was awesome and restful. And the laughs were endless. By limiting events/activities and excessive vacation spending, we didn’t break the bank and yet enjoyed the most important things: time with family and shared experiences.

FREE123: “Freedom In Less” October Update


FREE123: Freedom In Less” is a monthly step-by-step account of pursuing financial freedom by pursuing less: Less stuff, less complexity and less spending. The purpose is not deprivation but to achieve more financial goals while experiencing contentment and purpose. Take a look:

Less Is More

Every month in this series I reference that happy place we all have where just being there is enough. For me that is in Kauai Hawaii, on a beach, with a 84 degree sunny day (every day seems 84 degrees and sunny to me there). When I am there, just experiencing the beauty, I am content, happy, joyful and grateful. To say the least, when I am there, I want nothing else. It is simple and I am content. Then I got to thinking: Why can’t I experience that simplicity and contentment more often? Like at home? In my everyday life? The answer is I can. And a simple contented life would greatly enhance my goal of financial freedom.

The Goal: Purposeful Simplification

For the next season in life, I am going to purposefully simplify my life by finding freedom in less. Less stuff, less complexity and less spending as a means to reaching my financial freedom goals and find more contentment and purpose. The hypothesis is that living on a frugal budget with clear goals and a renewed focus on reducing consumption will lead to more contentment and true freedom.

What I learned in October 2015

This month I simply put my credit card away and used an all cash system for discretionary spending. So simple. One benefit of this action was some savings in my discretionary spending (shown below). No surprise there, right? But the primary benefit, that I did not anticipate, was how comfortable I became to walk away from seemingly important expenditures when I did not have the cash. As it turns out, things I thought I NEEDED were really not that important. And when I did not get them due to lack of cash, I did not miss them. Take a look at each area of savings with brief commentary:

  • Saved $360 this month just by not eating out as much or cutting back on healthy snack purchases. Found out that many (most) of the time I think I am hungry, I really am just thirsty and water does the trick!
  • Saved $220 this month JUST NOT BUYING STUFF from our discretionary spending budget. This is similar to my experience in September. By consciously avoiding going into retail store for certain items lead to less “add-on” or impulse buys. You know, go to Home Depot for fertilizer and come home with a new shovel and rake too!
  • Saved $125 in family activities. We switched out football games, going to the movies frequently and book fairs for walks in the park, frozen yogurt instead of a meal and simple family fun around our favorite reality show!

October’s FREE123: Freedom In Less Summary

This month we experienced the shift in thinking from “buying” our entertainment and family time activities to making our entertainment with what we had. In this case, with cash or not at all.  By purposefully reducing spending to the amount of cash on hand, we saved a lot of money and found more contentment and freedom, not to mention we proved to ourselves that many things we thought we needed were actually not. I did not track our hours saved like I said I would last month because I couldn’t figure out how to quantify it easily. But I still feel our savings (and freedom) in less includes both money savings and time savings. Maybe I’ll try to measure hours next month. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy living more purposefully with less so that I can experience more!