Getting an Early Start on FI/RE

image of the cover of Daredevil #181

I started adopting the mindset that set me on the path for FI/RE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) when I was very young. I collected baseball cards when I was a kid and added comic collections when I was a bit older kid.

Early on I was paying attention to the investment potential. I enjoyed not just the collecting but also the idea of making money by buying something and then selling it later for more money (which is the fundamental idea of investing). It came naturally to me.

I never much liked spending money on something that lost its value. For some things, like ice cream, I could happily spend my money even though I would soon have nothing to show for it. But more often I would rather buy something I could enjoy and also believe I would be able to sell later at a higher price.

image of Watchmen comic cover

When I started actually trying to sell baseball cards for money I learned about he difference between reported “value” and the ability to get cash for what you owned. Not only can’t you sell items to a store at the “value” reported in pricing guides you often couldn’t sell them at all (they didn’t want the items at all).

In high school I started renting space to sell at shows. There you were selling to the public (or other dealers). I learned vivid examples of the challenges of turning assets into cash. And I also learned about the weaknesses in the economic ideals such as the market being efficient. I saw how often the very same product (the same baseball card) for sale in the same hall would have very different prices (over 100% more was not uncommon) and the sales were often not close to the best buys. The friction in this situation was much smaller than the typical purchase (all the items were in the same room, just a little bit of walking created the friction).

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Becoming A Self-Sustaining Freelancer

Despite the advantages of freelancing, few people understand why it’s one of the best decisions you could make in your career.

Working for other people brings many challenges. Sadly, often that can take the form of being micromanaged. In organization heavily weighted toward bureaucratic decision-making, you have to conform to corporate policies to keep your job even when the rules are outdated or don’t make sense.

Freelancing allows you time-freedom, allows you to make up your own rules on how to use the day, and allows you to focus on what you do well to the point of mastery. In addition, there is no cap on your income, no office politics, and nobody to ask permission from to go to the bathroom because you’re leaving your desk unattended.

Design Your Lifestyle

As a freelancer, you also get to make lifestyle decisions that thrill you. You can pick and chose what works for you, you can chose to call Directv, HBO and/or Netflix. If you’re a gourmet cook, you can spend time in the kitchen making your favorite meals. And if you’re a health enthusiast, you can stick to your special diet to build muscle and burn fat and then go to the gym when it’s less crowded to sculpt that perfect body.

As a freelancer, you get to choose your own lifestyle. You don’t have to be tied to a cubicle in a corporate maze to earn your living. You also don’t have to hope for a shred of cheese to be tossed your way now and then by your overlords, because you can pitch your work far and wide and get as much cheese as you like.

How to Flourish as a Freelancer

While there is much more that can be said about the pleasure of doing work you love all day long and the freedom to create your ideal lifestyle, let’s take a look at 3 ways to flourish as a freelancer.

Choose your weapons

In a duel, the combatants get to choose their favorite weapon because this gives them the greatest chance of winning and saving their own lives. Similarly, in freelancing you get to work at something you do naturally well to win at the game of money-getting.

If you love to write, create graphics, take photographs, design websites, write code, and so on, there is someone willing to pay you to do it for them. They either don’t know how to do it for themselves or they know how to do it, but don’t like doing it. What you find easy, they find difficult. In fact, what you love to do is probably more like play than work.

Master your craft

Whatever you’ve chosen to do as a freelancer, you probably have long aspired to do it better. Consider your work as a trained apprenticeship.

Let’s suppose you love to write blog posts.

When you set up your own blog, you probably won’t get paid for it until you’ve spent a considerable amount of time establishing your reputation as a blogger. However, other people don’t have the time (or inclination) to write for their own blogs and will gladly hire you to keep their content schedule on track so that they can build their brand.

While you can certainly get plenty of practice writing blog posts, which will make you a better writer, you can take it one step further. Reinvest some of the money you earn as a blogger to take a master class or two from top bloggers to learn how to create viral posts.
Meanwhile, there is nothing to prevent you from building your own blog while you work.
Similarly, you can upgrade your work as an author by ghostwriting books or as a photographer by doing photo shoots for clients and using photos to spice up your blog posts (like this one I took).

view of large lake, mountains and clouds

View from my room at Prince of Whales Lodge, Waterton International Peace Park, Canada

In other words, whatever your talents, you can use freelancing as a way to get really good at it.

Working at a job you hate is a recipe for unhappiness.

Think like a business person.

Even if you do get to do what you love all day, get generously compensated for it, and can get the experience and the educational opportunities to master your craft, freelancing is still a business. Besides mastering the golden rules of making money, you should also get good at building your platforms, growing your portfolio, collecting proof, and consistently pitching.

Let’s take a closer look at these four components to freelancing success:

  • Platforms. You build your brand through your website by creating a blog and by establishing a social media network.
  • Portfolio. As you work for clients you will be adding to your portfolio of work to show new clients
  • Proof. How do prospective clients know that you can deliver what you’ve said you can on your platforms? You have to show proof based on past work. Collect testimonials from clients whose business you’ve helped improve through your contribution.
  • Pitching. While people will come to you because of you brand name and referrals, you also have to get good at pitching. This means actively soliciting work.

    Think of freelancing as a combination of farming and hunting to sustain yourself. For long term food supply, you can plant crops. This is what taking classes in your craft, building your platform, adding to your portfolio, and collecting testimonials will do for you. Meanwhile, you don’t want to starve while your crops are growing, so you also need to do some hunting. This is where pitching helps out.

Some people are happy working for others and that is fine. But for those that are constantly frustrated and unhappy there are alternatives to explore. It isn’t easy but it may be that it fits your personality and desires more to design your own job. If you are willing to meet the challenges it is a path that many have found to be very rewarding.

Vanlife in the USA

I have been reading about the possibilities of living in a van (customized to be a small RV) for several months. I am getting more interested in this idea. The cost of living in the USA is so high, especially if you want to travel – which I do.

The combination of where I want to travel (National Parks, National Forest and nature largely) and the cost effectiveness for van living works out very well. You can often park for free in US National Forest and BLM land. Also the cost of campgrounds is much less than any form of lodges, motels or hotels; so even in the instances you pay for lodging the costs are greatly reduced.

Another option for free parking are many Wal-Marts across the country actually don’t mind RVs and vans parking overnight. Many other businesses are hostile to just using their parking lot overnight when it isn’t being used. I must say this is something that greatly increases my opinion of Wal-Mart. I am not a huge fan in general but this is a very real positive action they are taking. It definitely encourages me to shop there.

Stealth parking on city streets or parking lots is another option with van living. Often cities seek to stop such living which is why the stealth part is important. Some cities and residents are more apposed to the practice than others. Obviously if there are negative externalities from you parking your van for a long time that will encourage people to seek to stop that. But if you don’t make anyone’s life worse there is much less likely to be an issue.

Even if you don’t it can make residents, police or security guards nervous (which I understand is possible in some instances) and that is something that again makes it more likely you will be bothered and maybe not allowed to park. I am still in the early phase of learning about all this but it does seem a tactic of driving to a sleeping spot at night and leaving early in the morning is a good idea. And moving around so you don’t park in the same spot (that people will notice anyway) for long periods of time.

One of the words I learned recently is boondocking, which is free camping and at least when I have read about it means also off the grid (no electrical connections, water…) for your RV (or a van that is able to plug in to services). I knew that this was somewhat available on USA Federal Government lands (BLM and forests) but I think it is much more available than I thought (I am still learning so…).

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Reporting on the Noise Level of Lodging Options

I would love a service that reports on the noise level of hotel rooms, apartments for rent etc.. I am far more sensitive to noise than others. And in my nomadic existence the most annoying thing for me was noisy places. Even in renting out apartments on a regular lease I had serious problems with extreme noise issues.

Reading reviews will provide some level of noise warnings when past travelers complain about noisy conditions. But this is time consuming (reading through lots of reviews to try and see) and not very accurate. Technology could provide a better alternative, even if it still isn’t perfect.

No solution is going to be perfect but it would be nice if there was a device that you could put in rooms and it would measure the decibel level and record loud noises. I would image smart engineers could design it to automatically categorize many noises. The device could then provide a report of how noisy it is and what kind of noises were recorded.

The idea is the device could be placed in empty rooms/apartments and create a record. That record could then be shared with prospective renters. I realize there are issues with making this work. But I think the market is significant.

One big market to consider (likely the biggest by far) for selling such a device and service to would be large hotel chains. They could gather data on noise issues in their rooms. They could make improvement and measure the improvements. They could gather data on what measures work and which don’t. They could use data to guide reservations for those expressing a desire for a very quite room to the rooms that best fit their needs. I also think for apartments there could be a bit market.

I realize the number of people that noise is as big an issue as it is for me is small. But there are a reasonable number of people that are bothered by noise that such a service would be worthwhile I think.

I sure hope someone fills this need. And if someone is already offering such a product and service I hope the market adopts it quickly.

Noisy fans are good for providing white noise to cover distracting noise. That is very helpful in many cases. It isn’t so great at covering up loud hallway noise (though with the right room setup and fan placement it can be ok in some rooms). The integrated units in the walls can be decent but for example are usually not good for dealing with hallway noise. And also some are designed so you can’t run the fan all the time (it only goes on if cooling or heating is needed): if you are creating a hotel (or the heating and AC system) make sure the fan can be set to run at all times.

Related: Gadgets to Mask Noise and Help You Sleep or ConcentrateTurn Windows Into Sound Canceling FiltersDealing with Noise Pollution in Your CondoFinding Places to Stay to Stay with Decent wifi

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Golden Rules for Making Money

P. T. Barnum wrote the Golden Rules for Making Money in 1880. He provides a few paragraphs on each of the 20 golden rules:

1. Don’t mistake your vocation
2. Select the right location
3. Avoid debt

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master. When you have it mastering you; when interest is constantly piling up against you, it will keep you down in the worst kind of slavery. But let money work for you, and you have the most devoted servant in the world. It is no “eye-servant.” There is nothing animate or inanimate that will work so faithfully as money when placed at interest, well secured. It works night and day, and in wet or dry weather.

4. Persevere
5. Whatever you do, do it with all your might
6. Depend upon your own personal exertions
7. Use the best tools
8. Don’t get above your business
9. Learn something useful
10. Let hope predominate but be not too visionary
11. Do not scatter your powers
12. Be systematic
13. Read the newspapers
14. Beware of “outside operations”
15. Don’t indorse without security
16. Advertise your business
17. Be polite and kind to your customers
18. Be charitable
19. Don’t blab
20. Preserve your integrity

From the introduction,

Those who really desire to attain an independence, have only to set their minds upon it, and adopt the proper means, as they do in regard to any other object which they wish to accomplish, and the thing is easily done. But however easy it may be found to make money, I have no doubt many of my hearers will agree it is the most difficult thing in the world to keep it. The road to wealth is, as Dr. Franklin truly says, “as plain as the road to the mill.” It consists simply in expending less than we earn; that seems to be a very simple problem.

The thoughts are worth reading today. You can update things a bit, from read the newspapers, to read the websites, but mainly it is sensible advice today.

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so." - Mahatma Gandhi

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Leaving on a Jet Plane

In this post I expand on my comment on Reddit, to this comment:

> If I had one piece of advice for anyone really (really wanting, not
> just dreaming about) wanting to be a DN, it would be: buy a plane ticket!

This is advice for if you want to a digital nomad next week.

If your preference is to increase your odds of having a successful digital nomad experience then I suggest taking longer. Do 3 things:

1) Get experience earning money in a location independent way (you can do that where you live more easily than anywhere else).

2) Save up some money. This item most people will skip but it is helpful. It can be hard for many people to do. And if you don’t want to you can do well without saving much. But you do increase the risks of running into money problems that you could have smoothed over with savings.

3) Travel to where you would like to be a nomad for a trial run. If you want to do it in SE Asia take some time visiting and seeing what it is like. Travel in the way you plan to as a digital nomad. Don’t stay in nice hotels if your digital nomad plan is to live cheaply.

As with all this advice you can ignore the particular advice and learn from even just doing part of it (visiting but staying in much nicer places and being just a tourist will tell you more than never going at all), but doing more will prepare you better (and let you learn if it is what you really want to do).

Some might require extra steps, maybe to earn location independent money you will need to learn a new skill, and maybe need to gain experience etc..

view from my porch (with laptop in forground, plants and another cabin in the photo), Luang Prabang

View from my porch in Luang Prabang, Laos. This was a great place to work (not my average location to work, one of my favorites). I tethered my laptop to my cell phone connection which was fine (you could stream video), it did fail for about 20 hours over 2 days but otherwise was good.

Just leaving on a jet plane tomorrow does work for some people. But I think there are many more people it doesn’t work for than it would work for.

And truthfully many people don’t want to take the time to do a thorough job of the 3 steps I mention. You don’t have to do a thorough job if you don’t want, but it will give you a better chance to succeed and enjoy your experience.

There are also many other sensible things to do first: learn about visa rules, pack well, deal with things like health insurance, deal with mail (family, friend or service) – you often need a physical address at home for some things, find good sources or information on living as a digital nomad, figure out how you will handle banking (it can be a real pain to find an international business bank as a digital nomad), and on and on. You can read about these things on my post here and in some posts on my Curious Cat Travel Destinations blog and many other good blogs.

Related: Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) and Location Independent WorkingLocation Independent Living Can Be In Your Comfort Zone and a Good ExperienceTransfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And SaveMy Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part Two

Health Insurance Considerations for Digital Nomads

Health insurance is something that many young healthy people don’t think about. And many digital nomads are young healthy people, though not all of them are. And if you are from most rich countries you may not think about health insurance as your country makes it pretty easy to just be treated if you have health care needs, without a need to have bought health insurance.

But when you are traveling outside your country health insurance is important. I am not very familiar with the details of how health coverage works for all the different countries so you will have to figure it out for your own country. It wouldn’t amaze me if European countries set up some kind of reciprocal care agreements but I have no idea if they do (they should if they don’t).

In the USA we know what a nightmare health insurance is. The ludicrously expensive USA health care plans generally don’t provide any coverage when you are outside the USA (even inside the USA, but not in your own state there are severe limitations). There are many wonderful things about the USA but the health care system is a nightmare and has been for decades.

If you are going to fly off and become a digital nomad one of the critical items to consider (though many don’t give it the attention it needs) is health insurance. It is true that in many countries you can pay out of your own pocket for health care that would bankrupt you if you used the USA health care system and tried to pay out of your own pocket (tens of thousands of people go bankrupt in the USA due to health costs).

If you use good personal financial planning practices you should have at least 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund (and I would strongly suggest at least a year for any digital nomads). That emergency fund should be able to pay for routine medical visits in many countries (Malaysia, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore… – I would imagine this is true in most countries, but certainly not the USA.) without a need for health insurance.

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Companion – Take Your Friends Along on Walks (Virtually) as Security

This app, Companion – Never Walk Home Alone, lets you share your location with friend(s). They can follow you on a walk home or into an area you are unfamiliar with. I think this is a really nice idea. This is another example of using technology to help us.

It is far from perfect protection, but it is something. The friends you share your trip (walk home, etc.) with can follow your progress and are notified when you reach your destination (I assume when you indicate that to the app).

The only security it provides is that you can know very quickly if they are delayed. Still that is better than nothing and can let you contact local authorities quickly. I imagine it should also provide the police a much better indication that their truly is something worthy of quick investigation if you can show they notified me that they were just walking home, it has now been far too long and they are going away from home and not answering their phone…

Many people worry too much about risks but still risks are real and devising tools that will help people feel more secure and help us react quickly in those rare cases when something bad is happening will be a good thing for society.

Over time, if this app is successful all sorts of features could be added, to automatically provide emergency numbers for the area the person is located in, links to interested non-profits that provide safety resources, pin responses (that have a safe and contact the authorities answer), etc..

There are many uses for this that could be beneficial including for kids and the elderly and anyone at risk of getting lost. I imagine it could even be useful to share with someone you are trying to meet up with (you could both see where you each are). It would be useful if the app let you see both locations on 1 map (but I bet that isn’t an option yet).

Related: Helping OthersMulti-generational Housing CommunitiesTransfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And Save

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Peer to Peer Car Rental

Turo provides peer to peer car rental in the USA. I have rented cars through them before and have found it useful. A big part of the reason I do so is I find the big rental companies pricing so opaque. And if you want something like an SUV the pricing is often very high through car rental companies.

And it isn’t just the pricing that is opaque through the big rental companies, even the rules are crazy. Some seem to block you from renting if you are local (for example, if you didn’t fly into the city) or if you don’t have car insurance (which I don’t because I don’t own a car). It is all just a lousy customer experience to deal with them.

Toyota Rav 4, Skyline Drive, Virginia

My Toyota Rav 4 on a visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

You can also chose to rent out your car through Turo. It isn’t really ideal for doing while you travel overseas, as someone needs to deal with the car (get people the keys, check it out, clean it up…). But if you had a friend that wanted to pick up some spending money maybe you could leave it with them while you travel.

When I went on my oversea travel adventure I sold my car before I left. And actually I still would as I planned to be gone for years. But, if you were doing something like going to South East Asia for 6 months, you could possible have your car earning money while you were gone.

Eventually there might even be model where you can leave your car with a location that deals with arranging pickups etc.. I think that would be a nice addition to this business. I think it is also a pretty good business for Turo also. One big advantage is they can sell insurance at a huge markup (so make lots of money) and they also get a portion of the rental payment (I think 20% of it).

Related: Should I Sell or Keep My House When I Become a Nomad?Transfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And SaveTaxis in Johor BahruMy Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part 2

Economics: Digital Nomads, Visas, Foreign Currency

This is a slighted edited version of my comment to someone asking about countries that have laws specifically detailing digital nomads are allowed to work on tourist visas. My background is in economics and investing based on economic understanding.

The question of digital nomads working encompasses legal questions (do I need a special visa etc.), regulatory realities (regardless of what the law says how is it enforced at the ground level?) and economics (I am talking here about the benefits to the country economically from having digital nomads).

I like the economic thinking that should drive what the governments wish to accomplish. The prohibition against work on tourist visas makes sense when work is defined as it was historically (being hired by a company in the country that otherwise would have hired a citizen). So when I am thinking about it I find thinking about the macro-economic level view and how that is manifest in laws and policy. From a practical standpoint of being a digital nomad what really matters is how that all gets filtered down to the government employees on the ground making decisions.

Few laws say what is legal they normally say what is not. I would imagine few countries specifically say it is legal to do work from another country (as a digital nomad, as a employee answering an email on your vacation, as a private investor reading the news and making using the internet to buy or sell a stock using your broker from home, as a writer writing your book that will be published back home or whatever).

The laws usually are pretty clear you can’t apply for jobs and get hired by a company inside that country to do work in that country on a tourist visa.

“Thailand” has said it is ok to work as a digital nomad (work for some company outside the country) while on a tourist visa. But these pronouncements by officials don’t carry much weight with other officials so they are not worth much.

What is helpful is knowing the prohibitions against working are primarily about not having foreigners take jobs of the citizens. Digital nomads don’t do that. So they are not meant to be prohibited anymore than the other examples (an executive participating in a conference call from work while on vacation etc.).

But since it isn’t clear cut it can be confused by officials as something not allowed. It is much easier not to have to get low level officials to comprehend the intent of the laws. They think of it as tourists can’t work in the country and that is essentially true. But how “work” is defined is the issue; and digital nomad work doesn’t fit the description of work in that context.

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