One Week in Maui

Last week, after several months of work, I finished writing my ebook on how to be the Chief Financial Officer of your own life. Editing has begun, and we’ll soon be compiling support material for a release date sometime this spring. In the meantime, Kim and I flew to Maui.

When I was a boy, classmates would disappear every winter. They’d be gone for a week (or two or three) at a time. After they returned, they’d have dark tans (while the rest of us Oregonians remained pasty white). My friends would describe long hours of frolicking on beaches and swimming in the warm ocean. Warm ocean? I couldn’t imagine such a thing. In fact, it wasn’t until two years ago — during my trip to Easter Island — that I first experienced a warm ocean

Kim, on the other hand, has a long history of vacations in tropical climes. Ever since we met, she’s been talking about introducing me to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Hawaii. And so, here we are — finishing our ten-day trip to Maui.

We’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve spent tons of time in the sun. We’ve also spent tons of time in the water, swimming with sea turtles and fishes. We got up-close and personal with whales. We took a couple of drives around the island (although we opted agains the Road to Hana this trip), enjoyed some excellent dinners, and consumed many Mai-Tais.

Here are some photos from our trip (click an image to view a larger version) — and there’s a short video at the end of this post:

Honolua Bay, where we snorkled one rainy day…

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At Black Rock in Kaanapali, brave souls did cliff diving…





Kim and J.D., enjoying the sun while watching whales…

A couple of humpbacks putting on a show…

Some of our fellow passengers learned to Snuba

Swimming with the fishes…

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Two sides of Kimmie!

We spent a fun evening at the delicious Old Lahaina Luau


As you can tell, I loved swimming with the sea turtles. Kim loved watching the whales. I captured a bit of video from both activities and compiled it into a four-minute clip:

This has been a great trip. Very relaxing. I feel re-energized, and I’m eager to return home to take on the big projects I have ahead of me! Maybe I ought to take a warm-weather vacation every February…

Action Cures Fear

Note: Today, as with every Monday during 2014, I’m publishing a short “chapter” from my unpublished ebook about fear, happiness, and freedom. Astute readers will recognize that much of this particular chapter appeared as blog post at this site last May.

Saying “yes” is the first step to fighting fear and living a life without regret. But saying “yes” isn’t enough by itself. To cure fear, you must also take action.

My friend Cody is a personal trainer. He coaches athletes to lift more and run father than they believe they’re able. Cody says one key to achieiving peak performance is overcoming fear.

When lifting weights, for instance, many athletes — especially novices — become intimidated. They may be physically capable of living a given weight (and may have even lifted that very weight in the past), but they’re afraid to do so; they think about what might happen if they drop the bar. Others might imagine the pain and suffering that comes from running a marathon, the long hours of work ahead, and allow those thoughts to stop them from attempting the race.

Cody says that successful athletes overcome their fear by turning off their brains and taking action. Instead of waiting for the moment when fear subsides — a moment that might never come if she keeps thinking about it — the veteran forces herself not to think about what she’s doing. She simply does it. She lifts the weight or scales the wall or dives into the pool. She keeps running and doesn’t think about the distance that remains.

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At the start of the classic science-fiction novel Dune, our young hero is put to a painful test. To calm himself and focus his mind, he recites this litany against fear:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

If fear is the mind-killer, then action is the fear-killer. To overcome fear, you must reach a point where you’re no longer thinking — only acting. Thought creates fear; action kills it.

Cody’s insight isn’t new. Motivational speaker Brian Tracy has said, “If you want to develop courage, then simply act courageously when it’s called for. If you do something over and over again, you develop a habit. Some people develop the habit of courage. Some people develop the habit of non-courage.”

And in The Magic of Thinking Big, David J. Schwartz writes, “Action cures fear. Indecision, postponement, on the other hand, fertilize fear…When we face tough problems, we stay mired in the mud until we take action. Hope is a start. But hope needs action to win victories.”

Schwartz proposes a two-step plan to build confidence and destroy fear:

  1. Isolate your fear. Determine exactly what it is that scares you.
  2. Take action. Figure out what action will counter your fear, and then do it.

“Hesitation only enlarges, magnifies the fear,” Shwartz writes. “Take action promptly. Be decisive.”

Often what we’re actually afraid of is the unknown. We like certainty, and choosing to do something with an uncertain outcome makes us nervous. The initial step into the unknown can be scary. But after the first, each subsequent step becomes easier and easier. When you act, you remove the mystery.

For years, I was frightened to speak in front of crowds. I avoided it. And when I agreed to speak, I put off preparation until the last possible moment. But when I began to say “yes” to offers and opportunities, I had to learn to speak in front of crowds. At first, I didn’t like it. But over time a funny thing happened. The more talks I gave, the better I got — and the more I enjoyed it. I’m still not great at it, but my fear fades a little more each time I step on stage. Action is curing my fear.

How to Retire Early

The best way to retire early is to be a non-conformistEvery morning when I get out of bed, I pour a cup of coffee and sit down at my computer. While I wait to wake up, I browse my favorite websites. This morning, as I was browsing Ask Metafilter, I stumbled upon an intriguing question. A user named House of Leaves and Grass wrote:

I’m turning 30 this year. My husband and I are discussing a retirement plan that includes a farm in South Carolina. Can you recommend some resources (blogs, persons willing to email, books, etc) so that we can make an informed decision about whether to do this and what sort of financial planning we’ll have to do to make it happen?

Talk about something that’s right in my wheelhouse! For years, I had a similar dream. I wanted to retire with Kris to a farm in the country where we could raise goats and grapes and filberts and corn and more. That’s not how things worked out, of course, but I still remember reading about this (idealized) lifestyle for hours at a time. And, of course, I’ve been thinking a lot about early retirement lately.

As I waited for my coffee to kick in, I dashed off an answer to this would-be farmer. Here’s an edited version of my response.

First, be open to the idea that your priorities may change. That is, plan for this future and make it your mission right now, but be aware that it’s very hard to predict what the Future You will actually want.

Countryside magazine is awesomeI found that Countryside magazine was one of the best ways to get a feel for what this sort of lifestyle really entailed. This publication is largely written by readers, all of whom are into the farming/homesteading lifestyle. They share their experiences and expertise with real-world situations. It’s great stuff.

As for the financial planning stuff, I can address that too. (I’m a personal-finance writer by trade.)

I’m not going to go deep into the theory behind any of this stuff, but my advice to you is:

Begin saving as much as you can as soon as you can. The two factors that make the biggest difference in how much you’ll have saved in retirement (or at any point, really) are how much you’ve contributed and how long you’ve been contributing. Your investment returns do contribute to the final number, but they’re not nearly as important as saving early and often.

What is early? Well, now. Start saving now. Not much more to say about that.

How much should you save? Most traditional advice is to save ten or twenty percent of your income, and for years I’ve spouted that line too. In the past few months, however, I’ve come to realize that this advice is inadequate. If you save just ten or twenty percent of your income, it’ll take you forty years to have enough accumulated to retire (or to pursue whatever goal you have).

Instead, aim to save fifty percent of your income. Seventy percent is even better. If you can save at this rate, you’ll be retiring to your farm in South Carolina in ten or fifteen years instead of forty. The math behind this is shockingly simple, yet most people miss it. And most people complain that they could never save fifty or seventy percent of their income. Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who do manage this amazing feat. These industrious folks quietly retire at age 35 while their peers continue to say that it can’t be done (all while buying into the modern adult lifestyle).

How do you achieve such a high saving rate? There are only two things you can do to boost it: spend less or earn more. You should do both. When most people try to cut spending, they focus on the small, easy stuff like clipping coupons. That’s great — and you should definitely do that — but you’ll have a greater impact on your bottom line if you go for big wins. Housing and transportation are the biggest expenses (by far) in the budgets of most Americans. If instead of spending the average 33% on housing, you spend (say) just 15% of your take-home pay on housing, you’ll save a ton. And if you can live without a car (or with a beater), you’ll save a second ton. Meanwhile, finding ways to boost your income will also accelerate your savings.

Where do you put these buckets of money you’re now earning? Tuck it all into a low-cost stock-market index fund, such as VTSMX or FSTMX. Maybe add a total bond index fund too. Resist the urge to own more. Resist the urge to move money in and out of the market. Ignore the financial news. Ignore what your friends are doing with their investments. Just funnel your money into these funds and stand pat for the ten or fifteen or twenty years that you’re accumulating cash to afford your farm.

If you do these things — slash housing and transportation expenses, boost income, invest in index funds and leave the money alone — you should be able to build a sizable nest egg in half the time you’re planning to spend on the project. During that time, keep dreaming the dream and building your skillbase.

If you want moral support while trying to save fifty or seventy percent of your income (your friends and family will think you’re crazy and say that it can’t be done), read Mr. Money Mustache, Early Retirement Extreme, and Afford Anything. I’d recommend my own blog too (Get Rich Slowly), but sadly the focus isn’t on this sort of financial behavior — it’s more geared toward those in the modern adult lifestyle.

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

As for books? Check out Early Retirement Extreme, Your Money or Your Life, Cashing in on the American Dream, and How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. (The latter isn’t about money but philosophy. Ignore the libertarian politics and focus on the personal behavior stuff.)

There. You’ve just received the sum of the financial wisdom I’ve accumulated over the past decade of reading and writing about personal finance. Put it to use, and you’ll have your farm sooner than you think!

I don’t know whether this Ask Metafilter user will put my advice into practice, but I hope she does. Regardless, it was a hell of a lot of fun to encapsulate my current financial world view into just a few hundred words. This is what I’ve spent the last four months writing about for my ebook. And here I’ve summarized everything in a matter of minutes.

You Make Your Own Luck

Luck is no accidentWhat we think of as “luck” has almost nothing to with randomness and almost everything to do with attitude. According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, only about ten percent of life is truly random; the remaining ninety percent is defined by the way we think. Wiseman says we have more control over our lives — and our luck — than we realize.

John Krumboltz and Al Levin, the authors of Luck is No Accident, agree. In that book, they write:

You have control over your own actions and how you think about the events that impact your life. None of us can control the outcomes, but your actions can increase the probability that desired outcomes will occur. There are no guarantees in life. The only guarantee is that doing nothing will get you nowhere.

This has certainly been true in my own life. When I sat at home, afraid to do things and meet people, I was “unlucky”. Once I took action, my fortunes changed.

Wiseman says that “lucky” people share four attributes:

  • Lucky people make the most of opportunity. This is more than just being in the right place at the right time. Lucky people must be aware when an opportunity presents itself, and they must have the courage to seize it.
  • Lucky people listen to their hunches. They heed their gut instincts.
  • Lucky people expect good fortune. They’re optimistic. They think win-win. They make positive choices that benefit themselves and others.
  • Lucky people turn bad luck into good. They fail forward, learning from their mistakes and finding the silver lining in every cloud. There’s a Spanish saying, “No hay mal que por bien no venga,” which can be roughly translated as, “There is no bad from which good could not come.” Lucky people believe this.

Our attitudes produce our luck.

In Impro, Keith Johnstone’s book about improvisational theater, he writes:

People with dull lives often think their lives are dull by chance. In reality, everyone chooses more or less what kind of events happen to them by their conscious patterns of blocking or yielding.

This, my friends, is truth — perhaps the fundamental truth.

Choice is the backbone of our year-long exploration into life and meaning. The theme will appear repeatedly in the weeks and months ahead, and not just when discussing luck and fear.

At the heart of happiness is choice. We make meaning in our lives through our choices. At its core, freedom is about the ability to choose. And our financial states — for good or ill — are largely defined by choice.

“Everyone chooses more or less what kind of events happen to them.” Learn this quote, and learn to love it. Because you already live it, whether you know it or not.

Moderators and Abstainers: Two Approaches to Balance and Temptation

For the past four (almost five) months, I’ve spent most of my work hours writing an ebook. At first the book was about how to “master your money”. Then it became a treatise on financial independence. That morphed into a grander project about how to achieve financial and personal independence (and is the source of my year-long series of articles here at More Than Money). In the end, in its fourth iteration, the book turned into a manual on how to be the Chief Financial Officer of your own life.

I’m good at writing short pieces. I’ve been creating bite-sized blog posts of 500 or 1000 or 2000 words for years now, often on a daily schedule. But I’m less good at molding larger pieces of writing. I finished the first draft of my ebook on Wednesday afternoon, and it weighed in at 96 pages and just over 40,000 words. But getting to that final product felt like pulling my own teeth.

Part of the problem is I’m not good at balance. Try as I might (and I do try), I can’t figure out how to juggle all of the things I want to do in life. How does one learn guitar, study Spanish, go to the gym, cook healthy food, write weekly articles about money, all while writing a book? (Not to mention other miscellaneous tasks!) It’s tough. At least for me.

Eventually, I simply had to pull the plug on everything else, which is what I did when writing Your Money: The Missing Manual. At the end of January, frustrated because I couldn’t seem to finish the ebook, I stopped going to the gym, stopped practicing guitar, stopped studying Spanish. I got up every morning and wrote for eight or ten hours. The method worked, but I didn’t enjoy it.

Perhaps you’ll notice that this issue seems similar to others I’ve had in the past. Very similar.

To me, this “all or nothing” state of mind reminds me of how I got into (and out of) debt. It reminds me of how I gained (and lost) weight. And it reminds me of how I swore off alcohol for the month of January. For me, moderation is difficult. It’s tough to find balance.

As part of my ebook project, I’ve been conducting short audio interviews with some of my favorite folks. I interviewed Adam Baker about debt reduction, for example, Jean Chatzky about money rules, and Liz Weston about credit. In one interview, I talked to Gretchen Rubin about the relationship between money and happiness. During that conversation, we discussed the book she’s writing now, which is about habits.

3 Temptations
For some, abstaining from cookies is the smart choice. Others can indulge in moderation.

Rubin says that not everyone is the same.

At one extreme, there are Abstainers. Abstainers tend to have an “all or nothing” approach to life. In order to reduce their alcohol consumption, they stop drinking. To refrain from eating cookies, they can’t have cookies in the house. Abstainers have trouble stopping something once they’ve started — but they’re not tempted by the things they’ve decided are off limits.

At the other extreme are Moderators. Moderators do better without absolutes and strict rules. Instead of swearing off cookies completely, they have one cookie on two or three nights per week. (Me? I’d eat the whole damn package!) They don’t need to go dry for a month to drink less — they simply drink less. Moderators enjoy an occasional indulgence and find that it actually strengthens their resolve instead of weakening it.

Here’s a short bit from my recent interview with Rubin in which she describes the difference between the two personality types.

Gretchen Rubin
For some people, it’s much easier to give something up all together than it is to indulge a little bit. And it’s very important to know this, because both sides try to convince each other. And Moderators – those are the people who can have a little bit – will often say things like, “You shouldn’t be so rigid with yourself. If you deny yourself everything you’ll fall off the wagon. It’s not healthy to always say no to yourself.”

But the thing is, for an Abstainer, it’s easier never to have French fries. It’s easier to never have sugar. It’s easier to say none that can manage it a little bit.

This is a good test for whether you’re an Abstainer or Moderator: Let’s say that I handed you – and here, J.D., I’ll ask you too – let’s say I handed you a bar of delicious chocolate and I said, “Hey, J.D., eat a square of that chocolate.” So you eat a square. And then I’m like, “Okay, hey, just put the rest of it in the drawer of your desk.”

For the rest of the day, would you be like, “Oh, my gosh. When am I gonna eat the rest of that chocolate bar?”

Or would you be like, “Oh, I had a little bit of something sweet. I don’t want anymore. I’ll have another square tomorrow.”

J.D. Roth

Gretchen Rubin
I would be haunted by the chocolate bar.

J.D. Roth
Yeah, me too.

Gretchen and I are Abstainers. This quality manifests itself in all aspects of my life, from work to food to money to love. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — but it is a thing. I need to be aware of this, and I need to know how to work with it to my advantage.

And, perhaps, I need to find ways to moderate this tendency. I don’t enjoy those times in my life during which I have to flip a switch and be “all or nothing” about something. I like it better when I can pretend that I’m a Moderator by drafting schedules, by deciding to develop habits and routines.

After I submitted my ebook manuscript to my editor on Wednesday, the first thing I did was sit down and draw up a schedule. Spanish in the morning! Followed by guitar practice! Then email and blog posts for Get Rich Slowly and More Than Money! Then the gym! Then more work in the afternoon!

I love the schedule. I love looking at it and imagining this ideal life where I adhere to a regular routine as if it were nothing. I know it would be good for me. But I also know that I don’t work that way. This sort of balance seems impossible to achieve. It’s a pipe dream.

Still, I’m going to try.

Right now, however, I’m going to take a long, hot bath while reading a comic book. In fact, maybe that’s what I’ll do all day…

Note: Photo by Kathleen Franklin.

The Lottery of Life

Note: Today, as with every Monday during 2014, I’m publishing a short “chapter” from my unpublished ebook about fear, happiness, and freedom. Astute readers will recognize that much this particular chapter appeared as blog post at this site last September.

My work nowadays involves meeting and chatting with folks from all walks of life. They email me to say, “Want to have lunch?” and I say, “Of course!” (After all, I’m all about the power of yes.) We talk about podcasts or travel or bicycling or comic books. Whatever strikes our fancy. When we’ve finished our tea or our Thai noodles, nothing seems to have happened — not on the outside, anyhow.

What’s happened, though, is that we’ve both received lottery tickets. By meeting and chatting and sharing ideas, we’ve been given tickets in the lottery of life.

Exchanging lottery tickets with Jim and Pete

I also get a ticket whenever I try something new. (Because I now try new things all of the time, I’m accumulating a lot of lottery tickets.)

I get tickets when I say “yes” to things that are scary or difficult too. When I spoke at World Domination Summit in 2012 — something that scared the hell out of me! — I got a lottery ticket. When I flew to Ecuador last September to talk with people about Financial Independence, I got a lottery ticket. When I introduce myself to strangers or “important people”, I get a lottery ticket.

But note that these tickets are rarely handed to me. To get them, I have to take risks. I have to move outside my comfort zone. As much as I enjoy sitting on the couch in the evening watching “Downton Abbey” with Kim, neither one of us receives a lottery ticket for doing so. To get tickets, we have to do things.

Colleen earns a lottery ticket…

The prizes in this lottery are many and varied.

When I learned Spanish, for instance, I received a winning lottery ticket that has paid off in all sorts of ways. I made new friends (my tutor, my English student), traveled to new places (Perú, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador), read new authors, tried new food, watched new movies, and so much more.

When I was in Quito last fall, I rode the teleférico, the cable-car that carries visitors 4000 feet up the side of a nearby volcano. During the fifteen-minute ride, I chatted with two couples that spoke only Spanish. If I hadn’t learned Spanish, I couldn’t have understood them, much less conversed. But because I do speak Spanish, I enjoyed a pleasant chat about one couple’s life in Venezuela and the other couple’s life in Quito. Plus I garnered a restaurant recommendation for later that evening. yet another small prize I won simply because I took the time to learn another language.


Any time I do something — especially something new — there’s a chance my life will be vastly improved in the long run.

Not every meeting and not every experience pays off — in fact, some are disasters — but many do provide a reward. Often enough, those rewards are enormous. Winning lottery tickets are so common and so fruitful, in fact, that I’ve almost become addicted to playing the lottery of life. I relish making new acquaintances, going new places, and trying new things.

I used to think I was unlucky. Good things happened to other people, and never to me. Everyone else had more fun than I did. Now, seven years since learning to say “yes” to life, I know the truth. Wishing won’t make you happy or wealthy, and good things don’t just happen. Luck isn’t magic or a gift from the gods.

You make your own luck.


Winning the Jackpot

Seven years ago, taught myself to say “yes” to the opportunities life presented. My newfound willingness to meet people and try things has paid off in some big ways.

In 2008, for instance, I received an email from a blog reader. He’d be in Portland the following week and wanted to know if I had time to meet for lunch. “Sure,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

I met the reader and his wife at a local Thai restaurant. We had a great conversation. I was impressed by his story and his drive. I gave him blogging tips. He told me stories about traveling the world. His wife showed me how to stretch my injured hamstring.

Over the next year, my new friend shared a couple of guest posts at Get Rich Slowly. He stayed at my house one night when he got stranded in Portland.

Eventually, this guy — whose name was Chris Guillebeau — moved to Portland. Our friendship grew. In 2010, I joined Chris for a train ride from Chicago to Portland. On that trip, he shared a crazy idea. “I want to create a conference and hold it in Portland. I want you to be on the planning team,” he said. For the next three years, I helped to organize the World Domination Summit, which has grown into a grand party for 3000 people.

Success breeds success. When you do something well, you open doors to new opportunities. When you fail to act, doors remain closed.

In my case, saying “yes” to lunch with one stranger has had a ripple effect that continues to spread throughout my entire life. Because of that one action, I’ve met hundreds of incredible people, some of whom have become close friends. I’ve traveled to Norway. I’ve spoken on stage before one thousand people. And so on. This very article — and the ebook I’m currently scrambling madly to finish — is a direct result of me overcoming my fears and taking a tiny risk. The downsides were negligible, but the payoff has been enormous.

This is only one example of the huge jackpots I’ve received from saying “yes” to opportunities that I would have ignored before. At times, it feels like I’ve won the lottery. In fact, the lottery is the perfect metaphor for what happens when you embrace new experiences and new opportunities.