6 Tips To Help You Achieve A Better Retirement

Many people are already planning on working for a longer time because they don’t have enough money for retirement. Those reading the blog and focused on taking a different approach from the common one (either FI/RE or digital nomad or something else) already understand the traditional mindset of working hard and buying what you want (even if you go into debt) is more and more difficult. Some specifics of this post use terms that make sense in the USA (like IRA) but the ideas are universal.

The economy is no longer as robust after the financial crisis in 2007. While the recession is over, the cost of living has gone up. What’s more, there aren’t as many options to earn a high income unless you work in the technology sector. There is so much competition for even high skill jobs that it’s easy for employers to pay less than they used to in the past.

Those focused on FI/RE do consider retirement (obviously) but digital nomads for all the other ways I think this lifestyle is appealing often don’t consider the long term at all. And this is a serious problem.

For traditional employees and digital nomad and other freelance type employees one of the biggest challenges with planning for retirement is not the economy. While the economy certainly is a significant factor, it’s not the only one. You also have to take a look at your money management skills. There may be many ways that you are paying too much and saving too little. If this is the case, then it’s vital that you learn new ways of making your money go farther.

recliners and palm trees on the beach

Photo by John Hunter in Langkawi, Malaysia. Prepare so you can retire to this, or even combine FI/RE and digital nomad ideas and work here (with lower expenses) while working toward retirement.

With that in mind, here are 6 ways to save your dreams of retiring at age 65 or even earlier.

  1. Are You Adding to Your Retirement Savings With Each Paycheck?
    Direct some of your paycheck to a 401(k) or IRA and you will soon be above average in preparing for your retirement.
    One of my favorite tips to nearly painlessly greatly improve your retirement life is to put some of every raise you get toward retirement savings. For example, if you get a new job (or a raise) that gives you an extra $5,000 a year in income set aside $2,000 into a retirement account (every year). As you get further raises do the same thing.
  2. Where are you spending your money?
    You may have more control of your money than you think. Take a look at your recurring expenses. Can you spend less on cable? Cable companies make millions because of the fascination people have for entertainment. Is it possible that you could spend the same amount of time sitting in front of the TV doing something else — like starting a new hobby that will be more personally enriching? What about electricity? Perhaps, you can use a local electrical supplier if you live in an area that has energy deregulation. This site explains how you can buy cheaper electricity in a deregulated market like Texas.
  3. Do you need to upgrade your car, phone, TV, laptop so often?
    In the past, buying a car every three years made fiscal sense because you would save on repair costs. However, cars are now made much better and will run well for many years. By buying a car less often and looking after it better, you could save tens of thousands of dollars because every time you drive a new car off the lot, it depreciates in value. Computers used to become painful to use (as the new software took advantage of and thus required the big gains made in hardware to work well – this is much less true today). This money could go toward your retirement.
  4. Do you have money leaks?
    It doesn’t take much to spend money on small inconsequential things. An evening with friends, a latte when you’re tired, an extra few boxes of your favorite snacks when grocery shopping… all these things can add up quickly. You can also save thousands every year by skipping the convenience of eating out and learning how to cook nutritious meals at home. While it isn’t necessary to become a tightwad overnight, wincing when things are a few dollars above your comfort level, increasing your awareness of how you’re spending your money will help you realize that many of the things you buy aren’t giving you that much satisfaction in the first place.
  5. Do you use your credit card almost reflexively?
    Paying with your credit card is convenient, but you do have to remember that even if you keep up with your monthly balance, you are still paying more for the things you bought because you’re being charged interest, perhaps even high interest. Since it’s so easy to whip out a credit card then to carry cash or try to figure out if you have enough money to use your debit card to make a purchase, it’s only too easy to buy more things than you intended. I pay for nearly everything that I don’t buy online in cash.
  6. Do you postpone money management?
    Since you are busy most of the time, it’s easy to shrug off the basics of money management—keeping a budget, living within the budget, and saving a little every month. You use excuses like promising yourself that you’ll start your retirement savings when you earn a little more or pay off your credit cards. Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop long enough to give you enough time to plan everything perfectly. Even if you have started to budget, are you sticking with it? And if you have stashed away some cash, are you now looking for ways to keep that money active?

Changing Habits is Challenging
While these seven ideas are easy enough to grasp and won’t require any financial wizardry to put into action, the challenge is breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones. It’s uncomfortable, of course, but if you do, it will be rewarding in the long run. The earlier you get started, the better your retirement options will be.

USA Proposes Rule to Welcome International Entrepreneurs

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is proposing a new rule, which would allow certain international entrepreneurs to be considered for parole (temporary permission to be in the United States) so that they may start or scale their businesses in the United States.

Read the advance version of the notice of proposed rulemaking: International Entrepreneur Rule. To submit comments, follow the instructions in the notice.

“America’s economy has long benefitted from the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs, from Main Street to Silicon Valley,” said Director León Rodríguez. “This proposed rule, when finalized, will help our economy grow by expanding immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment and generating revenue in the U.S.”

The proposed rule would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use its existing discretionary statutory parole authority for entrepreneurs of startup entities whose stay in the United States would provide a significant public benefit through the substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation. Under this proposed rule, DHS may parole, on a case-by-case basis, eligible entrepreneurs of startup enterprises:

  • Who have a significant ownership interest in the startup (at least 15 percent) and have an active and central role to its operations;
  • Whose startup was formed in the United States within the past three years; and
  • Whose startup has substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation, as evidenced by:
    • Receiving significant investment of capital (at least $345,000) from certain qualified U.S. investors with established records of successful investments;
    • Receiving significant awards or grants (at least $100,000) from certain federal, state or local government entities; or
    • Partially satisfying one or both of the above criteria in addition to other reliable and compelling evidence of the startup entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

Under the proposed rule, entrepreneurs may be granted an initial stay of up to two years to oversee and grow their startup entity in the United States. A subsequent request for re-parole (for up to three additional years) would be considered only if the entrepreneur and the startup entity continue to provide a significant public benefit as evidenced by substantial increases in capital investment, revenue or job creation.

As is always the case when rich countries seek to attract entrepreneurs they are seeking those that are already fairly well off and successful. And despite the difficult hurdles for entrepreneurs and business people to get working visas to the USA there are still many seeking to do so. This would be a good step, even if it leaves many people without an opportunity.

Related: The Future is Engineering (2006)Statistics on EntrepreneurshipEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipStart-Up Chile – An Innovative Program for Global EntrepreneursScience and Engineering in Global EconomicsFunding Entrepreneurs in Nicaragua, Ghana, Viet Nam, Togo and TanzaniaIskandar, Malaysia: Present and Future

Making Money as a Nomad in the USA

There are many posts about how to make money online as a nomad. Some ideas work pretty well for some people (freelance work – especially as a digital nomad, writer, bookkeeper, etc.). The biggest problem isn’t learning about these options (they are repeated all the time in many different places online) but actually making them work for you. It can be done and is actually easy for some people, for others it is a very hard (the biggest challenges are having the right skills, marketing and establishing a base of clients).

I have been paying much more attention lately to nomads in the USA which opens up income possibilities in addition to online income. More than I ever saw in digital nomads there are some people making a decent amount from YouTube (documenting the vanlife/RV-life and their travels) – still this is likely a crowded market and being successful will be hard (but aiming at providing a small bit of additional income may be an option for a larger group of people).

In this video Kev provides a good recap of some of the nomadic and location dependant options: getting day jobs through craigslist and temp agencies. Another popular idea is workcamping. These are essentially temp jobs specifically targeted at nomads (campgrounds, farming help often at harvest time) and some that get lots of interest from workcapers Amazon… seasonal hiring, etc. These often don’t pay a large amount of money but for people that have very low fixed expenses (no “sticks and bricks” to pay for as they travel and live in the RV/van) it can work.

Another potential source of income for earning money providing services to other nomads (work on vehicles, install solar/electrical, haircuts, etc.).

Another idea that can work is an etsy store such as the one Driving and Vibing have earned most of their income from.

Kev also mentions a digital nomad income source in his video: human intelligence tasks (mechanical turk). Find some of the better options; though these usually don’t pay very little.

Related: Vanlife in the USAHousing Savings When Living as a NomadGolden Rules for Making MoneyNomadic Businesses in the Age of the Internet

Getting Started Early 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.

[removed embedding video that no longer exists]

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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