Findependence Day: How to achieve Financial Independence — while you’re still young enough to enjoy it

Findependence Day Book from Jonathan CheverauFindependence Day is a financial primer that uses classic fiction structure to impart core financial concepts to young people just embarking on the working world and raising a family.

Findependence is a contraction of Financial Independence, so Findependence Day is the moment far off in the future when your income from all sources exceeds the income you could get from a single employer. Henceforth, you work because you want to work, not because you have to.

The financial concepts roll out in the order of a normal human “life cycle,” proceeding from saving for college, graduating, landing a first job, enrolling in an employer pension plan, getting married, buying a first home, saving for retirement, raising children. Then the cycle resumes as you save money for the education of your children, and they need to learn the same concepts as they graduate and confront the working world.

The thrust of the novel is to impart enough major concepts that if all of the suggestions were implemented, you would achieve financial independence while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. Thus, in the book, a young couple named Jamie and Sheena want to reach their Findependence Day at the relatively young age of 50.

This is not a get-rich-quick book but is about getting rich slowly, whether through financial assets, pensions, real estate or — ideally — a combination of all of these.  It takes 20 or 30 years to achieve financial independence and the book follows the couple over 22 years: hence the “financial Pilgrim’s Progress” description of one reviewer.

The book begins when Jamie & Sheena are 28 and featured guests on a financial reality TV show. Humiliated by their credit card debt before a nationwide TV audience, Jamie vows his Findependence Day will be the day he turns 50. But Sheena won’t buy into the “guerrilla frugality” habit needed to save money.

Jamie prefers stocks and financial assets and wants to be an entrepreneur. Sheena on the other hand has a comfortable teaching job and expects a generous Defined Benefit pension plan when she retires. She feels uncomfortable with Jamie’s punts on the stock market, urging him to invest instead in something more tangible, like the bricks and mortar of real estate.

Their disagreements over money escalate, as Jamie stakes everything on the big score when his hobby website attracts a big social networking site. Betrayed by his business partner, his world falls apart, threatening his dream of early financial independence.

All-American edition now available, including as e-book

In April 2013, Trafford.com published the new revised all-U.S. edition under the same title, in both hardcover and soft cover, plus most major e-book formats (just $3.99 for e-books). The plot and characters are almost the same, but the setting is entirely in the United States (chiefly Chicago, Boston, Maine and Florida). The financial content is all-American and current as of early 2013, so it’s all about IRAs, Social Security, Roth plans, 529 plans etc., with no Canadian content whatsoever. The manuscript was vetted by several American financial planners, including Garrett Planning Network founder Sheryl Garrett, who also penned the new foreword. Also new is a glossary and end-of-chapter summaries of the new financial concepts Jamie and Sheena learned in the preceding action.

Click here to purchase directly from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or Trafford.

Click here to order your copy of the Canadian edition of Findependence Day

Never work again?

neverworkagainIn researching the post-Findependence lifestyle, I’ve come across a lot of books that invoke the phrase  “Never Work Again” in the title, or variants that suggest much the same thing. There is, for example, a free e-book with that precise title but you soon discover that these kinds of books equate the word “Work” with the corporate 9 to 5 routine.

Most of them, like the Tim Ferriss book we looked at earlier this summer, involve leveraging the Internet to create a mobile lifestyle that can earn money anywhere in the world. Other examples are The Laptop Millionaire and Click Millionaires. In the case of Erland Bakke, author of the book shown on the left, if you follow your passion and the money eventually follows, this is no longer defined as “work,” even though for all intents and purposes it is.

These books propose business ownership and the pursuit of multiple clients and at some point leverage their personal time to either employ one or more assistants, or to outsource various pieces of “work” that one either lacks the skills for (like web-site development) or lacks the inclination to focus on.

Better to sell products than time

laptopmillionaireThe fundamental decision is whether to continue to sell one’s time – this is what salaried employees do, as do “one-man band” freelancers – or to pursue the sale of products. The latter route, whether of tangible products or web-based information products, contains the seeds of potentially greater wealth, but of course requires a lot of upfront-time, energy and often capital in order to establish the infrastructure that will later deliver a sort of “freedom.”

I’d still call this work, even if it’s the supposedly glamorous field of “internet marketing.” Certainly, the covers of these books and e-books suggest the hybrid nature of this lifestyle. Typical are the two covers I’ve used to illustrate this blog:  you see someone lounging on a beach somewhere – we’ve probably run versions of this idyllic scene in various “Retirement” covers in MoneySense – but instead of the lounger languidly sipping a pina colada and reading a trashy paperback, we see instead a laptop computer perched on their stomach. They are in fact “working,” however idyllic the environment, not unlike the photo I ran of myself “lazing” in the back yard in this blog earlier in the summer.

Working and Living become intertwined

Far from “stop working, start living,” (to borrow from the title of Dianne Nahirny’s book on early retirement), the philosophy of these books is to combine living with working, taking advantage of the global infrastructure of the World Wide Web to engage in money-making activities anywhere in the world.

Personally, I envisage such activity as a supplement to the traditional sources of “retirement” income we write about regularly in MoneySense. My faith in the stock market was shaken sufficiently by the events of 2008 that I’d be reluctant to count exclusively on dividend income, however diversified the portfolio. And we all know that the phenomenon of “financial repression” practiced by the world’s central banks has conspired to keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future, which makes counting on highly taxed interest income from fixed-income investments equally dodgy. If I were a real estate tycoon, which I am not, I’d want to add rental income. As I am not, I envisage some combination of selling my editorial services and creating new web-based products. These blogs will continue to report on this adventure as time goes on.

 

 

House rich, cash poor? When a reverse mortgage can make sense

Here is my latest MoneySense blog on this subject.

Click on the link above if you want to see the links, but for continuity’s sake I’ve inserted the the text below:

While I personally never expect I’ll need to use a reverse mortgage, the topic keeps coming up. Most recently CBC Lang & O’Leary Exchange host Amanda Lang interviewed MoneySense’s own Bruce Sellery on income generation option. A couple weeks before that, it came up over dinner with a friend.

A reverse mortgage is a loan secured against your house, typically representing up to 50% of its value. As people live longer and house prices rise, it’s becoming an increasingly popular option for seniors who want to stay in their homes while still tapping its equity.

My friend is almost 70, twice divorced, has no heirs and has virtually no savings or employer pensions, except for the government pensions CPP and OAS. These he has already begun to draw from, even though he also continues to work at least part-time. (He’s in sales, so commissions can be sporadic.)

But what he does have, in addition to an average car that’s no longer new, is significant equity in a Toronto townhouse. Whenever we meet, I congratulate him on making for him what was the smartest financial decision of his life. Like most Toronto homeowners who bought more than a decade ago, he’s more than doubled his initial investment.

In effect, he is house rich and cash poor. As he prepares to stop sales work altogether, he’s trying to figure a way to generate a little more income than CPP and OAS will deliver to him. Naturally, the idea of tapping his home for equity appeals to him. This could be done in several ways. If I were him and in the same situation, I wouldn’t go the reverse mortgage route but would downsize. I’d sell and move to a modest condo located on the subway line, enabling me to sell the car and ditch the cost of vehicle ownership. If you don’t need to drive to work because you’re no longer working, that’s a substantial savings. Public transit should suffice most of the time but if you do need to take the odd cab, as I say to another elderly friend, “you can take a lot of cabs for what you pay out each year in car insurance.”

Another downsizing option is to sell the townhouse and leave the big city entirely, finding “twice the house for half the price” somewhere in the country, or a cheaper major city like Montreal or Halifax. Ideally you’d end up with a paid-for rural property, no debt and perhaps $150,000 or $200,000 that could be wisely invested: first to the maximum TFSA limit.

But my friend is very fond of his current house, likes the community and really doesn’t want to move. He’s willing to do what he did when he first bought the home and take in a paying tenant. If ever there were a candidate for a reverse mortgage, it’s him. I told him to research the reverse mortgages online, get hold of P. J. Wade’s book, Reverse Mortgages: Best Friend, Worst Enemy … Your Choice! and find a financial institution or adviser that’s familiar with the topic. The Canadian Home Income Plan (CHIP), which is offered by HomEquity Bank, is the main source of most reverse mortgage products that are available in Canada. You can also speak to your financial institution about other options that may meet your needs.

Remember, I told my friend, a reverse mortgage is exactly that: instead of paying down your interest charges and building home equity, you do the opposite: you’re going more and more in debt, paying higher than normal interest and depleting ever more home equity as time goes on. But you can stay in the home for the rest of your life (health permitting) and if you have no heirs, you may not be concerned about what’s owed on the home when you do die. In the meantime, the extra cash coming in from the reverse mortgage is tax-free, so won’t result in clawbacks of OAS or the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

As Wade puts it, reverse mortgages seem to contradict the old saying that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. In certain situations, such as my friend’s, it seems you can have your home and spin off extra cash from the equity too.

Reimagining Retirement

reimagine-your-retirementThe book pictured I picked up at the recent Write Canada 2014 writer’s conference in Guelph, Ont., the third time in five years I attended that event.

Joyce Li is a project manager and motivational speaker, originally from Hong Kong, now living with her family in Brampton, Ont.  Reimagine Your Retirement is published by Word Alive Press, and is what you might expect from a publisher focused on spiritual writing. Li’s perspective on Retirement is not at all the traditional  “full stop retirement” we think of when we see the ads from the banks and fund companies.

Instead, she views Retirement as a sort of spiritual/vocational halfway house between one’s working years and eternity.  This is not dissimilar to my own view of Findependence or Semi Retirement. In fact, she credits Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life for inspiring her almost a decade ago: she gave six family members copies of Warren’s book, with personalized inscriptions.

Are you haunted by “nagging dreams”?

Li spends time a good chunk of time talking about ”nagging dreams “ that have yet to come true. And who among us does not harbour dreams we’ve not yet been able to manifest in this harsh workaday world and its seeming financial constraints? Li doesn’t make light of the financial side of retirement but seeks a way to reconcile it. And she’s not shy about confessing her own youthful dreams of becoming either a movie star or a pop star.

Spiced liberally with biblical quotes, Li is all about planning: plan the work, work the plan.

In the opening chapters, she reminds us the concept of retirement was non existent in biblical times and throughout most of history.  And whether retirement is  voluntary, involuntary, or delayed, Li doesn’t shy away from the financial side of it. One reality is that “Retirement requires financial support for an unknown time.”

And did you know the bible  has at least 250 verses that discuss money? Interestingly, she says the Bible has “no direct reference to retirement or retirement planning,”  except for one passage in  Numbers 8:23-26.  (“at the age of 50, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer.”)

While she  acknowledges that some plan never to retire, some will partially do so, and some will fully retire to disengage from the workworld altogether, Li’s personal orientation seems strongly oriented to reinvention or reimagination, as the book’s title suggests. This may entail going back to school, or  embarking on a brand new vocation.

The book will find few readers among atheists and agnostics, but will be thought provoking for those who see a spiritual dimension to life, no matter what particular religious affiliation.

A book for writing in

I wouldn’t suggest obtaining a library or ebook version of this book, as Li provides plenty of blanks she encourages one to fill in, with multiple exercises to put self discovery and concrete planning into practice.  She’s all about discovering one’s skills, life gifts, spiritual gifts and passions, then encapsuating what you’re discovered into a personal mission statement that will chart your 20 to 30 years of a reimagined retirement.  She’s a strong believer in the power of visualization, which of course is exactly what I suggest in my own book: drawing a line in the sand and declaring it your Findependence Day, even if it turns out ultimately to be a moving target.

 

 

 

 

How not to prepare for retirement

My latest Financial Independence blog at MoneySense.ca can be found under the above title here.

For convenience, here is the text, with a few minor tweaks at the end:

Despite the steady flow of retirement savings crisis headlines in recent years, it seems many Canadian couples haven’t even discussed the topic with their significant others, let alone started a savings regime.

Last week, RBC reported that 68% of not-yet-retired Canadians 50 or older who participated in its annual retirement poll have yet to discuss their post-career lives with their partners. Eighty-six per cent are reluctant to discuss health issues, 81% don’t want to raise the topic of what happens if one of them dies sooner than anticipated and two-thirds haven’t discussed what they will do together in retirement. And astonishingly, only 36% have discussed how to finance retirement and where they would live once it occurred.

RBC_Retirement_Myths

Retirement preparedness is no better in the United States. Thirty per cent of American workers have less than US$1,000 in savings and investments while three-in-four have less than US$30,000 saved in their retirement accounts, according to data from 2012. Similar to what RBC found, 56% of Americans have not tried to calculate how much they need for retirement. Little wonder the average expected retirement age in that country has risen from 60 in the mid-1990s to 67 today. In other words, many will merely wait for social security to kick in. As it stands, 35% of Americans over 65 rely entirely on social security for their income and 40% of U.S. baby boomers plan to work until they die, according to a 2010 AARP survey.

It’s clear that couples on both sides of the border can do better to prepare for their post-career lives and the first step is talking about it. Do you plan to work part-time or launch your own entrepreneurial venture once you leave your day job? Does your partner hope for the same?

Mark Venning recommends those 55+ plan for extended longevity, not the traditional full-stop retirement. Canadians can now expect to live to almost 82, versus just 57 in 1921, according to the most recent figures from Statistics Canada.

One Alternative to Saving: Early “Six-Feet-Under”

Imagine the daunting prospect of “retiring” at 60 or soon after and having to live another 40 years without a paycheque? As The National Post recently noted, some gerontologists are suggesting Canadians could expect to live to 120 in the near future. Now there’s a scary thought experiment: living 60 years without a paycheque!

The way I see it, those of you without a solid savings plan are either going to have to work a very long time into old age or hope for “Freedom Six Feet Under” before you run out of money. To the people who have saved only $1,000 or $30,000, just how long do you expect that money to last? If this is you, perhaps you should take up skydiving, stop exercising, start smoking and eat nothing but junk food.

Either that, or show this blog to your spouse and start having a serious chat about what your joint retirement looks like. And I can tell you from where I currently sit, it can look great, but only if you get serious about it.

Embracing Change

1838 Mark Venning Low Res copy

Mark Venning, Change Rangers, courtesy Mark Venning

As noted last week in my MoneySense Financial Independence blog, I intend to write a series of posts on the mass migration of almost-retired baby boomers moving from large corporations to free agency.

I recently attended a full-day workshop on this topic put on by Mark Venning of ChangeRangers.com. Venning knows well of what he speaks: He has spent more than a decade and a half working with mature (55+ generally) clients who have migrated from corporate employment to self-employment. A big part of his perspective is extended life expectancy and longevity: he prepares clients to continue working at some level well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. The slogan on his business card and website is Envision the Promise of Longevity.

Claiming your place at the fire

As I argued on the MoneySense blog, 40 years is a long time to go without a paycheque, which is how long someone leaving the paid workforce might have to plan for if they leave paid employment in their early 60s. Add the type of extended longevity that Venning and others envisage (I’m thinking of Lee Anne Davies and her Agenomics blog, or Moses Znaimer of Zoomer Media), and “retired” boomers need to start preparing for this next great stage of their lives. There are of course many books on this topic: we looked at one last week and another I’m currently reading on my Kindle is Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose.

Leaving the Corporate Womb

But back to Mark Venning and Change Rangers. I can’t possibly summarize his content in a short blog but suffice it to say that in this economy there are many talented people who are either voluntarily or involuntarily being motivated to consider alternatives to employment in large corporations.  One is self-employment, an option that “more and more people 50+ are exploring,” he says.

Compared to 50 years ago, these mature people are in better physical condition, so can expect an extended lifetime. “They’re living longer than they typically used to so they have to plan for a longer period of time,” he told me in an interview, “This is why the word ‘Retirement’ doesn’t work for me. It’s about longevity planning. My core message is plan for your longevity, not for retirement.”

A Portfolio Career

As I see it, there are at least three ways to go when you decide to set up your own shop. One, you may see this as an opportunity to test out clients (and them you) with a view to possible full-time reemployment down the road. Second, you may decide such a “portfolio career” is a more attractive route at this stage of life: when you think about it, a single “job” means just a single client, which is less secure than having several clients. And of course, you don’t have a traditional “boss,” although being your own boss has challenges of its own. And third, while many choose to start such enterprises tentatively as a one-person shop working from a home office, there’s always the possibility of growing the enterprise down the road so that one day you are an emploYER, rather than an emploYEE. And that in turn offers the potential to sell a business.

Free Agent Nation and other books

As I warned, this blog doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface but for now, I’ll leave you with a few book suggestions from a list Venning hands out. One I just read on the Kindle is Dan Pink’s Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself. Another I’ve just begun is Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting: a Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. And a third I’ve put on hold at the library is Alan Weiss’s Value-Based Fees: How to Charge and Get What You’re Worth.

 

Degrees of Findependence

Long Branch section of Lake Ontario. Photo by J. Chevreau

As my parallel Financial Independence blog at MoneySense.ca shows here, there are degrees of financial independence. For one-stop-shopping purposes for users of this site, I’ve included the blog below:

Degrees of Financial Independence

In researching the web for content clarifying the differences between Retirement and Financial Independence, I came across this May 8, 2014 post by J.D. Roth, of the Get Rich Slowly site.

In his “coming to terms” post, Roth finds the traditional word Retirement carries too much baggage, so he prefers the term I also like: Financial Independence. That’s a fairly common stance among the semi-retired and early retirees who write about this topic: the only difference is few have (as yet) adopted my contraction of Financial Independence: Findependence. The reason I invented that term is that I felt if we are to have a catchy popular alternative to the word Retirement, it should be shorter than the two-word seven-syllable mouthful called Financial Independence. Retirement is one word and three syllables; Findependence is also one word and has only four syllables.

A continuum of financial freedom

But whatever the term you prefer, it’s important to realize there are degrees of Findependence/Retirement, or a continuum. This is a point Roth makes in the article flagged above.  He talks about four types of retirement: the traditional full-stop version that begins (usually) at age 65, Early Retirement (launched usually in one’s mid 50s or early 60s, although there is a genre of Extreme Early Retirement that supposedly begins in one’s 20s or 30s). And finally there’s the concept of multiple Mini-Retirements championed by Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek, and which I blogged on earlier this summer.

If you reframe the Retirement discussion as being about Findependence, it’s also possible to describe a similar continuum, just as it’s possible to describe different degrees of financial freedom. Roth notes we all begin life completely dependent on our parents, including financially. At some point, children leave the nest but will depend on an employer and/or financial institutions. Once free of consumer debt, a greater degree of financial freedom is achieved, and this freedom expands once you own a home free and clear: which is why I say the foundation of Financial Independence is a paid-for home. At that point, you are no longer paying a mortgage or paying rent to a landlord, although of course you will still have to pay municipal property taxes and if you’re a condo owner you may be on the hook for ongoing maintenance fees. Beyond that, you’ll still need external sources of income for heating, hydro, roof repairs and all the other expenses that home owners incur. And finally, true Findependence arrives (I call this Findependence Day), when enough money is coming in from multiple passive sources of income (Pensions, investments, etc.) that you no longer need to rely soley on income derived from the single source called an “employer.”

Cadillac vs Chevy retirements

But even then, there’s low-level Findependence and high-level Findependence. You may have saved enough not to have to go to work five days a week but may not be so flush that you can eat in fancy restaurants and travel the world 365 days a year. Most people on the Findependence continuum will be somewhere between the latter luxury Findependence and a barebones one that requires eating in most days and restricting exotic travel to a few weeks a year. If the latter, it’s perfectly logical to continue to work on projects or part-time to fund a few more luxuries and the occasional mega-trip.

 

 

Second Acts … and beyond

SecondActsAs this blog says ad nauseum, Findependence is not synonymous with full-stop retirement.  Au contraire, financial independence merely sets the stage for entering another chapter of one’s life story.

The illustration is from the cover of Stephen Pollan’s 2003 book, Second Acts, which I got from the local library. (Frugality guerrillas may like my tip here: download a free sample from Kindle, read the intro, then place a hold on the web site of your local library. This way you get a bit of instant gratification, but you also save money.)

Sidebars of famous Second Acts

One of the nice features of this book is dozens of sidebars where the authors (Mark Levine is also credited) highlights such famous second acts as Ray Kroc, Jimmy Carter, Paul Gauguin, Ronald Reagan, J.K. Rowling and many more.

Pollan himself has had a major second act as a life coach, following a stressful corporate career which ended with the good news that he had tuberculosis. Yes, good news, because the alternative diagnosis was lung cancer.

A focus of the book is written exercises designed to help readers uncover the life of their dreams, putting that dream into words, developing a “second act mindset” and identifying the blockages (or “closed doors”) that prevented actualizing dreams during the long “first act” so many have settled for.

Chief among the doors that have to be pushed open are age and money. Many convince  themselves they are “too old” to embark on a second act, or that they require staggering sums of money to pull it off. Another concern is often “duration.” If the prelude to a second act is going back to school or otherwise paying your dues in a profession like acting, then the number of years it will take to make the transition can weigh on those who are already approaching their golden years.

In some cases, we are own worst enemies: for some, fear of success prevents people from pursuing their dreams, for others it’s the opposite: fear of failure. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that we can’t proceed without the consent of close family members.  Pollan and Levine also devote a chapter to physical health and appearance, urging readers to do whatever it takes to realize their dreams: if that means losing 50 pounds, then get out there and diet and exercise; if it takes cosmetic surgery to enter a field that puts a premium on youth and beauty, then do it.

 

 

YOUR Declaration of Findependence

Fireworks show over Khao wang Historical Park, Phetchaburi,ThailandIn advance of America’s July 4th celebrations, I thought I’d devote this blog to helping retirement savers prepare their personal “Declaration of Findependence.”

The other day at Forbes.com senior writer Richard Eisenberg devoted a piece to this theme, and cited my own recent experience in finally living the life I describe in my book, Findependence Day. Findependence, of course, is merely a short-hand description of the phrase Financial Independence. Findependence Day is the day in the future when you believe that income from all sources — including investments, pensions, rental income, business income, royalties – will exceed income from the single source most of us call a “job.”

So, without further ado. It’s up to you to fill in the blanks to reflect your personal circumstances:

Declaration of Findependence for ________ (your name here)

1.)  Based on my current age of __, I believe I should aim for  the __ day of the __ month in the year 20__. This happens to be the year I turn __.

 

2.)  I understand that as this milestone approaches, the actual date may have to be revised. If financial markets are very strong, I may even be able to move it ahead by __ years. If markets are weak, I may be forced to move it back by __ years.

 

3.)  I am currently employed by ________________ and am enrolled in a pension plan. The earliest date I can take an unreduced pension is ______.  I can also take early retirement by _______, provided I am willing to receive a smaller payout.

 

4.)  As an American  with ___ years in the workforce, I am eligible to begin taking Social Security benefits as early as age 62, which is ___ years before/after my planned Findependence Day. The latest I can take them is age __, in which case the payout will be much higher. Based on my annual contribution statements, the optimal time for me to commence Social Security is age  __.

 

5.)  Depending on whether I was born before or after Feb. 1,  1962, I will be eligible to take Old Age Security (OAS) benefits at age 65/66/67. (Circle one). If OAS is my only source of income in old age, I will also be eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Ideally, so is my spouse, in which case the day we’re eligible to receive combined OAS/GIS benefits will be our joint Findependence Day.

 

6.)  As someone who enjoys work but not necessarily all the stresses of full-time corporate employment, I see myself being semi-retired or self-employed by age ___.  By adding  $_____ thousands of dollars of part-time income a year to all the above sources of income, my Semi-Retirement could begin as early as ____, which is the year I turn _____. I will call this my Preliminary Findependence Day.

 

7.)  Instead of having one long extended Retirement at the end of my life, I prefer the concept of multiple “Mini Retirements,” and therefore of multiple Findependence Days to fund them. I would like to set the year _____ as the year of my first Mini Retirement, and therefore _______ will be my first (but not necessarily last) Findependence Day.

 

 

 

 

My Declaration of Findependence

FindependenceDayBook_USAs noted by Richard Eisenberg at Forbes.com (here) and NextAvenue.org, I recently made my personal “Declaration of Findependence.” As he noted, July 4th seems to be as good a day to make such a declaration as any other.

It’s been about six weeks since my Findependence became official, although as I confessed to Richard, the timing wasn’t 100% what I would have chosen. As things are working out, however, I actually have a head start on my most recently amended Findependence Day: which I’d planned for next April, when I turn 62 and start to draw modest pensions from my 19 years at the Financial Post and a few shorter-lived corporate gigs.

A moving line in the sand

There’s a scene in the book (both Canadian and US editions) where I talk about the power of “drawing a line in the sand” about your Findependence Day. I do, however, note that it often turns out to be a moving target. External circumstances are as apt to move the date forward as backward.

IMG_0261

Goodbye to the Volvo: photo by Jonathan Chevreau

If stock markets are doing well, as they are now, you can move the date ahead in time. As I told  Forbes.com, I viewed my April purchase of a new Camry Hybrid car as an exercise in “rebalancing.” Pictured is the old Volvo S70 it replaced, and which was featured once in an article I wrote for the National Post. Taking some profits on stocks and paying cash for a new car puts a solid tangible asset at your disposal: and I’ve found it a very pleasant and useful addition to my Findependent life, however fond I was of the old Volvo.

Another way your Findependence Day can be moved forward is if circumstances at work change. These days, the economy is such that if a major corporate restructuring occurs or a new boss comes in to leave their mark, your financial independence may arrive sooner than you think, and perhaps slightly scaled down from a higher level of Findependence down the road.

But that’s the whole point of Findependence and having a reserve emergency fund: you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. As long as you’re debt-free and your investment and pension income exceeds your income from salaried employment, you’re ready for whatever the corporate world will throw at you.

The ultimate boss is yourself

As for what Findependence has been like in practice, in truth it very much resembles the four-year period I spent as a freelance technology writer in the 1980s.  The commute is a lot better although lacking a “buffer zone” to read in or listen to audio books, news or music. You still have to discipline yourself to put in the morning’s “two hours of real work,” as per the earlier blog here on the four-day. And of course, you have to promise yourself to do the same for the two-hour “afternoon shift.”

During the first six weeks, my daughter — now in Ireland — was around the house observing the transition. I joked about what it was like having an unemployed bum hanging about the house. She was having none of  it.  “You’re self-employed, Dad,” she reminded me. End of conversation.

Next time (on July 1st and in time for July 4th), we’ll look at how to declare YOUR Findependence Day.

 

 

 

 

How to work four hours a day

yachts

Photo by Jonathan Chevreau

Last time, we looked at the concept of The 4-Hour Workweek, which is also the title of a book by Timothy Ferris.

How realistic is the 4-hour workweek, which Ferriss equates to the mobile lifestyles of what he terms the “New Rich,”? Well if you’re semi retired, four hours a week of productive work is four hours more a week productivity than the traditional full-stop retirement.

Precursor to 4-hour week from the 1950s

What I find curious about Ferriss’s four-hour a week concept is that it resembles in some respects a much older strategy called the four-hour day. In the 1950s, William J. Reilly wrote a book called How to Make Your Living in Four Hours a Day (without feeling guilty about it). (Harper & Bros. NY 1955). Note the subtitle!

I wrote about this a few times in my old Wealthy Boomer column in the Financial Post prior to joining MoneySense, including one in June 1997. In fact, most of my time in the paid workforce has used some  variant of the four-hour day. Ironically, the person who flagged me to Reilly’s book in the first place was a former boss and still friend, Norman Evans, who took the photo of me in last week’s post. Even though he was my employer at the time, and presumably seeking maximum productivity from me, he was serious about me using the four-hour day.

Two two-hour stints focused on what you’re really paid for

The idea of the four-hour day is that very highly creative people like composers, novelists or even high-level executives, really have only four or five hours of high-level mental daily energy to perform the tasks they have to do. As any office cubicle dweller can tell you, very few people do a high-energy 8 hour day for every hour they’re on the job.  For senior managers and creative types,  what’s important is the high-level brain power being expended: not the amount of time one’s bum adheres to an office chair.

So it’s important, whether you’re a salesperson, executive, artist, musician or writer to spend at least two hours of the workday morning doing the work you’re really paid for: making cold calls or closing deals if you’re in sales, writing articles if you’re a writer, writing a symphony if you’re a composer, etc.

Having done your  two-hour morning stint, you’re free to spend two hours over lunch networking, learning or exercising, as long as you promise yourself to spend at least two hours in the afternoon doing the work you’re really paid to do. In the case of former boss Norman, he often espoused using the two-hour interregnum between the two two-hour work stints for “killing two birds with one stone” concepts like walking meetings.

A corporate compromise: a 4-hour day tucked inside an 8-hour day

As an example,  imagine your morning shift of “real work” is between 10 am and noon, and the afternoon shift between 2 and 4 pm involves being back at the desk making sales calls, editing or writing, budgeting or whatever.  Note that this leaves an hour first thing for doing things like reading the paper, checking email or social media, and the same at the end of the day. Even when I was a newspaper columnist, I practiced a version of this. As an editor, it was trickier. Because at a large corporation like Rogers there are many meetings and interruptions, with staff continually poking their heads in for impromptu meetings.

True, my official hours at MoneySense were more like 9 am to 6 pm, with a one-hour commute tacked on both ends, but within that nine hours was an inner core of two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.

The 4-hour workweek more aligned with Findependence

Admittedly, the 4-hour Work WEEK espoused by Ferriss is a quantum leap of difference: he’s really pushing the envelope with a four-hour workweek. If it works, I’ll revisit his strategy in future versions of this blog but right now, I’m inclined to view findependence as more compatible with a 4-hour work WEEK, and the four-hour DAY as more compatible with salaried corporate employment: even if it’s the variant I describe that requires being there physically at the start and end of the normal office 9-to-5 day.

The Mexican fisherman: working to live or vice versa?

Before closing, I should note that our friend the Mexican fisherman also makes an appearance in Ferriss’s book. This was of course the subject of my current Financial Independence column in the new Summer issue of MoneySense. As I noted there, the Mexican fisherman story is all over the internet and I wrote the piece before I even read Ferriss’s book, but it does indicate the general theme of living in the present, and the folly of forever “slaving and saving” today for the mirage of a single one-time-and-forever “Retirement” in the far-off future. (All on the assumption that employers, pension managers, financial markets,  health, spouses and family cooperate.)

As John Lennon famously wrote in what turned out to be his final album, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I can relate  to that, especially this summer, but also firmly believe that if Life hands you an unexpected “Plan B,” the B stands for Better!, as best-selling spiritual author Joyce Meyer argues in her book, You Can Begin Again.

Next time, we’ll also look at the notion of “Second Acts.”

 

 

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