As mentioned in the MoneySense version of the blog, one of the readers highlighted — Oakville-based David Davidson — also sent along a photograph of himself, which we’re running here (on the left).
For continuity and archiving purposes, here’s the original version of the blog:
By Jonathan Chevreau
My recent column on planning for longevity attracted some good counterpoints from readers. In it, I suggested that with life expectancy rates steadily on the rise, people shouldn’t get too hung up with early retirement.
However, I recognize that my own preference to “just keep working” (at least for the time-being) is not necessarily shared by everyone.
There’s more to life than working
Click to the comments section of the story, and you can see one reader was concerned “the author can’t think of anything they would rather do with their time then work.” He or she cites such non-paid activities as volunteering, cultural activities, and visiting friends and family:
“Those activities would be mentally and socially stimulating, and wouldn’t require that I have to be somewhere at any given moment. I would be in charge of when and how often I participated.”
Well sure, but I’d argue much of that can be accomplished on nights and weekends. I don’t see paid work and other rewarding activities as being mutually exclusive. I certainly can see plenty of things I’d love to do that don’t result in attaching an invoice. One reason for my focus on “Findependence” has been my wish to pursue longer-term creative projects.
I’ve also argued that as the Boomers shift gradually into semi-retirement, they can find a more comfortable balance of paid work and those rewarding alternative activities. Several years ago, my wife went down to a four-day work week, precisely so she could visit her aging parents in the country, usually on Fridays. Both have since passed away and she has returned to a five-day week but the point remains. Those who are really well to do and who have an extensive network of friends and family can go to a three-day week if necessary, or do what one self-employed colleague of mine does: she works from home from 8 am to 2 pm, then takes the rest of the day off for all these other activities.
45 years of working is enough
While it wasn’t posted as an online comment, I also received an email from an Oakville reader happy to be identified by his real name (and supplied the above photo): David Davidson is 62 (as I will be in a few months) and has been working full-time since he was 17.
“After 45 years I think I’ll stop working and enjoy the fruits of my labour before it’s too late … I do get exasperated by all the ‘keep working and never spend your money’ retirement articles I see these days”
While Davidson agrees with my skepticism about “extreme early retirement” he draws the line at planning to work into advanced old age and having to save enough money to last beyond 100 years of age:
“That seems like ‘extreme working’ to me and a way to ensure the financial management business hangs on to my money as long as possible.”
Davidson says he has “scrimped and saved all my life to pay off the house, and put my children through university debt free, all while maxing out both my and my wife’s RRSPs and TFSAs. This was not easy and involved a lot of long hours and sacrifice from everyone.”
Now that they are totally debt-free and the children launched, the couple have more than $1 million in combined registered savings “and we intend to spend it.” (She has a small indexed pension; he does not.)
Delaying CPP until age 70
As a hedge against extended longevity, they won’t take CPP until age 70, but it has “long been my plan to have all the savings spent by our mid-80s. After that, if we need money, we’ll have the house to sell (it’ll probably be too much for us to look after by then anyway) and we can rent an apartment or whatever.”
Davidson says his parents and grandparents had minimal expenses once they passed age 80:
“My father and his wife are both 89, in good health until recently, and don’t spend all their CPP & OAS (neither has a pension); my mother and my wife’s mother were the same. My wife’s father died at 68 so there is a downside to planning to live a long time – you might not make it.”
Well, yes, we all realize that. As a friend of mine says, “Live every day as if it were your last, because one day it will be.”
Enjoy the good early years of Retirement
Davidson sensibly counsels enjoying the “really good early years of retirement, before infirmities and just plain exhaustion set in.” He describes my hail-and-hearty 98-year-old friend Meta who still works part-time as “an outlier: the reality is most of us aren’t like that. My father rode his motorcycle until he was 88 so he’s been as healthy and active as anyone could wish for. This year at 89 he has inoperable cancer and most would say he’s had a good long life.”
The headline on today’s blog so perfectly sums up the subtle difference between “Retirement” and “Financial Independence” (aka “Findependence”) that I felt compelled to devote a whole blog to the idea.
It was used in a guest post earlier this week by certified financial planner Matthew Ardrey on our sister site, the Financial Independence Hub, and you can find the whole post here.
Foundation is a paid-for home
Ardrey, who is with T.E. Wealth, seems to view the topic of Financial Independence just as we do on these sites, even down to the basic principle repeated often in the book to which this site (FindependenceDay.com) is devoted. In the book, one of the two financial planning characters, Theo, tells his young clients more than once: “The foundation of Financial Independence is a paid-for home.”
Here’s what Ardrey tells clients just starting down the road to Financial Independence:
I’m often asked how one can get to this wonderful nirvana known as financial independence. The first step is to pay off your home. By having a debt-free residence, you have eliminated what is most people’s largest single expense. Without this hanging over your head, you have freed up significant cash-flow.
Even Ardrey mistook FI for Retirement early on
Ardrey and I have followed each other on Twitter for some time. Ardrey posts as@MattArdreyCFP. But it was only recently, in response to something on one of these sites, that Ardrey casually dropped the fact that he’s been preaching Financial Independence (as opposed to traditional Retirement) to his clients since he entered the financial planning business at the turn of the century.
He noted that the financial planning software used at the financial firm where he got his start did not have a retirement calculator. Instead it had an an analysis tool on “Financial Independence Needs.” At the time, being new to the business, Ardrey thought it was just a fancy way of referring to retirement planning but as the years progressed, “I would soon discover that financial independence was something else entirely.”
So, to return to the headline today, what exactly IS the difference? Here’s the key passage:
Retirement, by definition, is the cessation of work with the intent of not returning. Financial independence, on the other hand, is having sufficient financial assets to have the choice about whether or not you continue to work. So, one can be retired and not financially independent or vice versa.
It’s all about Freedom of Choice
This is of course pretty much what I’ve been saying, or at least the characters in the book and ebooks: “When you’re financially independent, you work because you want to, not because you have to (financially speaking).” And that’s exactly what Aubrey tell his clients:
The main differentiator is freedom of choice. If you are not financially independent, you have no choice but to continue working if you don’t want to alter other aspects of your life. Once you are financially independent, you can choose if you want to continue to work in the same capacity – or at all. This freedom to choose is empowering and it’s what I encourage all of my clients to work towards.
Some real examples
So far in this blog, I’ve reiterated Ardrey’s views. I want to close with some examples closer to home. I can think of a few friends or family members who are “retired, but not financially independent.” One couple in particular comes to mind: they do not work and live entirely on government largesse: some combination of CPP, OAS and GIS. Once upon a time they owned a home, a cottage and a car but today they rent a small apartment above a store. They have time freedom, yes, but no financial freedom. They depend entirely on the one source of income from the Government and if that dried up, I don’t know what they would do. Even with it, they are severely constrained in what they can do. So they are indeed “retired, but not financially independent.”
For the opposite situation, I need look only in the mirror. My wife and I choose to continue to work, and keep deferring future income sources that could be taken now if we chose: employer pensions, CPP, drawdowns from registered and non-registered investments, etc. Our home was paid for early in the 1990s, our cars are paid for and we have no debt. We are in fact financially independent but NOT retired, paradoxical as that may seem.
And finally …
Today is Boxing Day and I will probably CHOOSE not to do much more work on these sites, or for paying clients, until the New Year begins, apart from a few pre-arranged pieces and guest blogs. I wish all readers a very Happy New Year. See you on the other side!
Last summer I thought I’d be financially free by 40. Reality – and unplanned expenses – set in this year and I’ve adjusted that ambitious projection by five years. I’m still on track to reach a net worth of $1 million by the time I turn 41, but financial independence will have to wait a few more years. Here’s why:
Remember, financial independence doesn’t necessarily mean retirement. It simply means the date your income from investments exceeds your day-to-day expenses so that you no longer have to rely on regular employment to meet your needs.
My initial projection was indeed ambitious – with us having a paid-off mortgage by 2020 and increasing the income withdrawn from our business by 100 percent (from $3,000 per month to $6,000).
That’s okay – on paper the original plan didn’t factor in these expenses, plus I hadn’t fleshed out exactly how I’d make those numbers work. Now I have a better idea, but unfortunately it’ll cost us five years. Here’s our financial freedom 45 plan:
Financial independence at 45
In late 2016, once we pay off the HELOC and car loan, we’ll have $27,000 per year to save toward our ‘findependence’ goal. With that amount, we’ll put $12,000 into my RRSP and $10,000 into our TFSAs, plus throw an extra $5,000 payment toward our mortgage.
That pushes our mortgage freedom date back to January 1, 2025. At that time, our home should be worth $600,000 (using a conservative 3 percent annual growth rate), my RRSP should be worth $380,000, tax-free savings accounts should total in excess of $150,000, and the commuted value of my defined benefit pension will be roughly $310,000.
The key to paying our monthly expenses after financial independence will come from our business income. We currently withdraw $3,000 per month from our small business, which includes income earned from three websites, freelance writing, and from my fee-only financial planning business.
But the fee-only planning service has gone better than anticipated – earning $10,000 in less than one year and expected to grow to $18,000 in year two as existing clients stay on and I continue to add one or two clients per month.
After completing the CFP certification in two years I’ll have the opportunity to ramp-up my efforts and potentially offer fee-only planning services full-time. At that point, between existing and new clients, the service could bring in roughly $36,000 per year.
My three blogs collectively earn about the same – $36,000 per year – after expenses and so if I can maintain or increase that income then I’ll be able to meet my $6,000 per month goal for business income.
Our projected expenses haven’t changed. After the mortgage is paid off we could live comfortably on $36,000 per year, which leaves the additional $36,000 of income to go toward taxes, short-term savings, and retirement.
A financial plan is just words on a page unless you commit to taking action. Even if your financial independence date seems like a moving target, it’ll become more precise as you monitor and update projections based on your true reality.
While it’s disappointing to push financial independence back five years, it’s comforting to know that I’m zeroing in on a target date that’s based on reality and not a wild projection.
Editor’s Note: You can find the original version of this blog at Boomer & Echo earlier this week, here. Note too the several comments at the bottom. In his original headline, Robb used the phrase “Findependence Date.” When I asked why not “Day,” he said he “didn’t want to steal your thunder.” I realize that good bloggers respect others’ intellectual property but let me make it clear that I’m fine with people using the phrase Findependence Day and Findependence. Half the point of this site and sister site Financial Independence Hub is to bring these terms into general usage and displace “Retirement.” — JC
The following is adapted from a speech I delivered to Toastmasters Port Credit this week. The actual talk was eight minutes long; this expanded version would take 15.
As I look around this room, I see a mix of people: everyone from students and those just embarking on the workforce to people who are already retired.
I’ve worked as a financial journalist for more than 20 years and can tell you the word Retirement is a favorite word of both the financial industry and the media. It’s a handy way to depict a far-in-the future “dream” that conveniently helps banks, mutual fund companies, insurance companies and others sell various financial products, from funds to annuities. And we in the media are almost as fond of the term Retirement: I’ve seldom witnessed a newspaper, magazine or web site that turned away financial advertising!
I’m 61 and you could call me semi-retired. But my message to the younger people in the audience, and even some of the middle-aged ones who fear they’ve not saved enough, is FORGET RETIREMENT!
Is this heresy? Not at all. Because there is a better term: Financial Independence. As some of you may know, a month ago I launched a new web site called the Financial Independence Hub and everything I’m saying here can be found at the site.
Alan Moore, XY Planning Network
In fact, it includes a guest blog by Alan Moore of XY Planning Network in the US who posted a blog on exactly this topic. The X and Y refers to Generations X and Y, so he is providing financial planning advice to millennials and young people. And he too is telling them to forget about retirement but instead to seek Financial Independence.
Aren’t the two terms the same thing? Not really. To me, Retirement is the full-stop retirement our parents or grandparents enjoyed if they were lucky. They got a job out of college, enrolled in a Defined Benefit pension that guaranteed a certain steady future stream of income, hung in for the gold watch for 30 or 35 years, then retired at the traditional retirement age of 65. They could now watch day-time TV, golf, nap, play bridge or putter in the garden to their heart’s content for a decade or three. This is what I call the “full-stop” sudden retirement.
Perhaps some of you here are now enjoying such a retirement. Like Mark over there.
Show of hands: how many of you younger people here think they’ll be able to rely on a DB pension when they’re as old as Mark or me? And how many think they’ll stay with a single employer long enough to collect a big enough pension that they’ll never have to work again?
To the young, Retirement is a remote unattainable concept
The problem with the term Retirement is that it seems so terribly far away for young people. The official retirement age keeps rising: it’s now 67 for younger folk instead of 65, if you’re talking about the eligibility age for Old Age Security, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it reached 70 at some point. So telling a 20-year old they should cancel their SmartPhone service in order to save money for a retirement half a century away is hardly an inspiring message, is it?
But that’s what all the retirement peddlers want you to do: put away 10% or preferably 20% of your income by practicing delayed gratification. They may tell you that you’ll need a million dollars or more in order to retire one day. Too often, sadly, young people hear that and figure it’s so impossible they may as well give up and spend it while they have it.
In other words, they are telling young people that in order to enjoy a decade or two of leisure when you’re old and grey, that you need to deny yourself pleasures like travel or eating out while you’re enjoying your youth.
Let me tell you, any of the grey hairs here would probably love to take their retirement savings and use it to book passage on a time machine that would let them relive the Swinging Sixties. If you’re 20 today, I imagine that your 70-year old future self would feel the same way about your life right now.
A more attainable goal
So what do I suggest as a substitute for the word Retirement? I call it Findependence, which is just a contraction of Financial Independence. I’ve written a book, Findependence Day, which is just the day you’ve reached Financial Independence. The ebook I talked about in my third speech here is a sort of “Coles Notes” summary of that book.
Financial independence is generally used to describe the state of having sufficient personal wealth to live, without having to work actively for basic necessities. For financially independent people, their assets generate income that is greater than their expenses.
In practice, I think this means being able to survive without the single stream of income most call a full-time job.
Leaving the nest at 27 is NOT Financial Independence!
Defined this way, Findependence can occur decades before the traditional Retirement, so it’s a goal that young people may find is more worth shooting for. Interestingly, last week I blogged at MoneySense about a study about young people and their financial readiness to leave home. They used what I consider an incorrect definition of financial independence: that if they left the nest and stopped depending on the Bank of Mum and Dad, that they were therefore financially independent. If they could get a job and pay their rent, that was the definition, which resulted in the absurd headline that most millennials hope to be financially independent by age 27.
I don’t think so. Even with DB pensions, the earliest most people aspired to Financial Independence was 55, which is the earliest some pensions permit early retirement. Anyone hear of Freedom 55? That London life campaign was one of the most successful sales pitches for Early Retirement. Yet only a few government workers or business executives who strike it rich ever retire that early.
Why do billionaires keep working?
Why is that billionaires like Warren Buffett continue to work? Or young tech entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerburg? Don’t you think Zuckerburg, who’s all of age 31 or so, couldn’t be findependent by now? Obviously, they have passion and are driven by purpose.
What does that tell you? Age 55 is way too young to “retire’ in the classic sense of doing nothing: playing golf, watching daytime TV, reading all day. Yes, many people THINK they’ll travel all the time once they retire but as I wrote on another blog last week, travel is overrated and expensive, and is really something you would only want to do some of the time, not ALL of the time.
Integrating the Three Boxes of Life
Findependence is about integrating education, work and play. On my sister site, Findependence.TV, I’m interviewed about a concept called The Three Boxes of Life, which is the title of a classic book by Richard Bolles. In the old days, we started life in the first box, Education, spent 15 or so years there, then graduated to the second box, Work. We stayed there for 35 to 50 years, and then came traditional Retirement, the third box of total play and leisure.
On the video, I talk about there being really only a single day: you work a bit each day and make money, you learn a bit each day and at the end of the day, you may “play” by getting some exercise, reading, watching TV or whatever.
On the site, there are blogs on concepts like mini-retirements and the four-hour workweek. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take the occasional mid-career sabattical or series of three-month vacations earlier in life, rather than saving it all for ten or 20 years of doing nothing when you’re too feeble to appreciate it? That’s why the subtitle of Findependence Day as well as The Financial Independence Hub is “While you’re still young enough to enjoy it.”
Meta celebrates her 98th birthday. With Alizon Sharon (c) and Ruth Snowden (r).
Plan for Longevity, not Retirement
Life expectancies are on the rise because of advances in medical science and more of us are practicing better health habits, with a focus on proper diet and exercise.
We can all expect to live a lot longer than we once thought, which is why the “Hub” ends with a section on Aging and Longevity. There you’ll find some blogs by Mark Venning of ChangeRangers.com, who coined the phrase “Plan for Longevity, Not Retirement.” I think it’s a great concept.
And it isn’t just a theoretical concept. On Sunday, we had a dinner party for a female friend of ours who celebrated her 98th birthday. She showed us a custom-printed card from – get this – her co-workers. You see, Meta still works two half-days a week at a local printing company. So she still spends a little time in the Work box. She also reads a lot, swapping books with my wife (Ruth, above), so part of her days are in the Education box. And she still travels and parties, so that’s the Leisure box.
A Novel Approach to Financial Independence is one of the bestselling e-books in Amazon.ca’s Love & Romance category, as you can see in the screen shot to the left. Here’s the link to Amazon’s listing. Depending on the day, it sometimes hits #1 in the category.
Love & Romance? What about personal finance? Well, I’ve always described the original Findependence Dayas a financial love story so it’s not as out of the box as it may seem at first blush. Click on the blue link in the title above to find out more about the Romance plot that’s at the heart of the original novel.
The full book features a couple, Jamie and Sheena, who are 28 at the start and follows their ups and downs as a couple over 22 subsequent years. It takes a “life cycle” approach to personal finance and centers around Jamie’s declaration that he will become financially independent (“findependent”) by the time he turns 50.
There are numerous setbacks along the way, including business failure and betrayal, separation, children and more. As CTV Senior Financial Commentator Patricia Lovett-Reid says in the foreword to both the original book and the e-book, money troubles are often the cause of marital disharmony. You can read that foreword, by the way, for free because it’s near the start and Amazon lets you “look inside.”
e-book is a “Coles Notes” synopsis of the original book
The e-book pictured above is sort of a “Cole’s Notes” synopsis of the original book, summarizing the plot but focusing more on the content on financial independence. It’s short (15,000 words) but costs only C$3.37.
Amazon lets you designate purchases as gifts and with Christmas just around the corner, you have to admit it’s pretty cost-effective! Especially if you can change a young person’s life for the better, as we say in the ad below (also shown on the front page of Findependence.TV).
I always enjoy chatting with readers of my blogs, columns and books. The other day I had an especially enjoyable dialogue with a 28 year old Winnipeg-based real estate investor named Saxon Funk. Saxon had bought the Canadian edition of Findependence Day and after a few emails introduced himself on the phone by noting he was the same age the protagonist in the book — Jamie — was when he embarked on the 22-year voyage to financial independence described in the novel.
After graduating from high school, Saxon tried door-to-door selling and selling insurance. He discovered day trading and foreign exchange trading in his early 20s but despite some success, learned that the activity was just as apt to leave him broke. Ultimately, real estate became his preferred road to financial freedom.
3-month mini-vacation in Asia
What really got my attention was the fact he had read a book featured in this blog earlier this summer: Timothy Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Workweek. Not because of my blog, I might add: Saxon read the book three years ago and actually enjoyed a three-month “mini-retirement” in Asia last year, in company with his wife.
Saxon works from home although he is still a salaried employee with one of the telecommunications giants based in the west. But he has a firm plan for achieving financial independence through various passive streams of income. Part of his search included a perusal of Ferriss’s material and Robert Kyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, as well as this site.
Saxon is attempting to build his passive investment income through vehicles like Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and actively managed reasonably priced mutual funds from Mawer Investment Management. But his real play for findependence comes through real estate. He started while being frustrated in a previous job and reading various books about financial freedom. He was attracted to real estate when he discovered he could buy properties at 10% down, and he caught the Winnipeg real estate cycle at just the right time. Some properties in the city have doubled and tripled since he began buying properties.
Real estate is his main path to Findependence
He’s not a member of the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN) or its rivals but Saxon could be the poster boy for any of those educational outfits. He certainly speaks their language, speaking of the 14 “doors” he owned at one point, before selling one of his buildings (a triplex) at a tidy profit. He’s now at eight doors, as he wants the stability of lower levels of debt servicing. Similar to Jamie and Sheena in the novel, he and his wife live in one of the units of the building he still owns, renting out the rest.
He’s not implemented too much of the Ferriss material, other than absorbing the power of outsourcing and technology. So he has a 1 800 number he gives to tenants and when he’s out of the country can manage his properties by outsourcing to property managers closer to home. He’s not yet down to a four-hour workweek (neither am I!) but he does have a vision of living in places like Thailand, where you can get by comfortably on a Canadian income of $1,500 a month.
He doesn’t consider himself findependent yet, but notes that if he were 65 (or 67), the combination of being debt-free, rental income and the usual government sources of retirement income (CPP, OAS), he would be able to enjoy the kind of lifestyle championed by Ferriss et al.
“I could be. We would still have food on table. I don’t worry about getting fired or let go; the main property we live in covers all our bills and puts money in our pocket. If I were 65 and qualified for CPP and OAS, yes we would be more than free but since we still have another 40 years to go; most of our money goes to giving, investing and trips. So we’re at the point where our money is all play money.”
Despite being a member of the generation that has grown up with the Internet, Saxon views himself as “an old soul” who is not totally sold by the promises of web-based freedom. He does have the beginnings of a website at www.saxonfunk.com but has yet to pursue the blogging that would be part of it.
On November 7th, 2014 a new spin-off website to this one was launched, devoted to the topic of Financial Independence.
The philosophy behind the new site was explained in the previous post about reframing the “Retirement” discussion as the emerging alternative paradigm of “Financial Independence.” That blog featured two prominent U.S.-based financial planners, Michael Kitces and Roger Wohlner (aka The Chicago Financial Planner.)
To clarify, the existing site will continue to exist, but chiefly as a vehicle to sell the two existing Findependence Day books, the new e-books and any other spin-off products that may be developed over the years. The new “Hub” attempts to look at the entire topic of Financial Independence from a North American perspective, so will (hopefully) range far beyond the particular books featured on this site.
A prominent feature of the new site will be reviews of other books on Financial Independence, both by me and by guest reviewers I would love to hear from. It will also feature all the other blogs out there on the topic, even those that still bill themselves as personal finance, frugality or retirement blogs. We started with the list of Plutus award-winners that Roger Wohlner featured on his site recently.
We will also have a monthly email newsletter free to anyone who enters their email on the home page of the new site. Better get over there now, and thanks for reading!
These are not brand new projects but are short (15,000 words) summaries of Findependence Day (the financial novels shown on the right)and priced accordingly. First out is the U.S. e-book. A Canadian edition will be available next Thursday, Nov. 13 (date moved up from Nov. 24) but can be preordered now. Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature lets you read the forward, my new introduction and the first two chapters free.
Companion guide serves as teaching tools to full novel
The purpose of the new e-books is to act as a teaching tool or companion guide to accompany the full novels. Thus, they are aimed primarily at three groups: financial advisers working with individual investors; teachers of personal finance or financial literacy who work with students; and finally parents, who may want to use the full-length book to teach their children or relatives the basic principles of financial literacy or findependence.
The ebooks are priced at US$2.99 or C$3.37 (the minimum amount you can charge at Amazon and still qualify for maximum author royalties). (Note the Kindle version of the full U.S. edition costs $7.09 but sells for less on other e-book platforms, primarily through Trafford.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.)
Financial focus, but includes short plot summaries
The focus of the e-books is less on the story or novel, and more on the underlying financial principles. However, it does include short plot summaries of each chapter. It also summarizes in bullet point form the financial lessons associated with each chapter. (These end-of-chapter recaps already appear in the full U.S. edition and e-book but not in the original Canadian edition.)
The new e-books also include the glossary and bibliography from the full U.S. edition, and a new introduction by myself. The U.S. edition includes a forward written by certified financial planner Sheryl Garrett, and the Canadian edition again features a forward by CTV News senior financial commentator Patricia Lovett-Reid.
While the ebooks are for the Kindle, you don’t need a Kindle to read them: Amazon provides a free Kindle reader app that lets users of iPhones, iPads and other devices read Kindle ebooks. Amazon customers can also access the Kindle Cloud Reader, which you can find here.
Astute observers may note that the title of the ebook inverts the wording of the full U.S. book. My reasoning was that while the term “Findependence” may slowly be catching on in Canada, where the book was first published in 2008, the term is less familiar in the U.S., so the main title focuses on the more well-known phrase Financial Independence.
The ebook also includes live links to two new web sites on financial independence that are in the process of being launched in a matter of days.
Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo by Helen Chevreau.
Half way through a three-week vacation in Turkey, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of integrating a little work with the travel. As my daughter has noted after a long summer of independent travel, everyone has SmartPhones these days and it’s not hard to find places with wireless: all hotels and most good restaurants have them, and many other places as well.
Roaming charges from North American telecom suppliers are prohibitive so we do what the student travelers do and leave the devices permanently in Airplane mode. That means enforced SmartPhone vacations from email and social media during times between wireless access but hey, it’s a vacation too, right? And anyway, who wants to be connected all the time?
They’re still swimming in Bodrum. Photo by Jonathan Chevreau.
In blogs earlier this summer (a summer that for me has extended through a lovely September in Toronto and now an even sunnier continued summer in Turkey), I described Tim Ferris’s idea of mini-retirements, described more fully in his best-selling book, The Four-Hour Workweek.
For me, the longest vacation I’ve had until now was two weeks long: my honeymoon in 1989, and two subsequent fortnights (as the British call them) in Europe and Scandinavia. So three weeks is a record but I can see how those of us from colder climates might eventually want to arrange their “Findependence” to include stints of eight or ten weeks in a row nicely timed to avoid January, February and the first half of March. (the depths of winter in Canada and the northern United States).
I’ve referred before to the American folksinger Phil Ochs and his (I believe) last album, entitled Rehearsals for Retirement. I won’t rehash my usual distinction here between traditional Retirement and Financial Independence but suffice it to say that a longer-than-the-normal two-week vacation can be considered either a Mini-Retirement or a Rehearsal for Retirement (or both?).
You can “work” during Mini-Retirements
When in Turkey …. Turkish baths. Photo by Jonathan Chevreau.
Since my notion of Findependence sees a continued role for work and creativity well into one’s 60s and 70s, a Mini-Retirement or Retirement Rehearsal simply means travel along the lines this Turkey trip has gone but more so.
As you can see by reading these words, I felt moved to write this blog while still abroad, if only because I need to have some words to surround the photos that accompany it. I’ve been posting such photos to my Twitter and Facebook feeds all along but not without the context a longer blog can provide.
As was the case when I was blogging from home this summer, I’m composing the first draft of this on my laptop outside. As I sit on the second-floor balcony of the Su Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey, the sun is hitting my feet but the rest of me is in shade. Below and in front of me I can see a long lap pool that at night is lit up in my favorite shades of blue and green. Even at mid-day you can still hear the odd rooster crowing, though nothing like they do around dawn. Later, during a final edit and with lunch beckoning with the family, I’m sipping a glass of local red wine.
The longer the Mini-Retirement, the more work may play a role
Underground caves of Cappadoccia. Photo J. Chevreau
Thus far, this vacation has resembled the one-week and two-week versions: nice accommodation, meals out, guided tours etc. Not what I’d term guerrilla frugality! In the future, if and when we attempt a ten-week stay somewhere like France or Italy to get away from winter, I can see ratcheting down expenses considerably from these levels. Probably, we would rent a house or villa for several weeks, shop for groceries and wine locally, and prepare our own food in our temporary home, just as we would do at home in Long Branch, Ontario. We would have full Internet access and all the gadgets that accompanied us on this shorter vacation: Kindles, iPhones, Blackberries, iPads and laptop computers.
Even during this Turkey trip – wireless permitting – I’ve surprised myself by staying on top of the news as much as I have and similarly monitoring and posting to various social media. The quantity is no doubt much reduced, perhaps to the relief of all concerned. But this trip has confirmed in my own mind that it is indeed possible to combine business and travel to some extent, even if the pleasure/work ratio is slanted heavily to the Pleasure side. For the curious, we do have a family member who is keeping the home fires burning: that means the cat is getting fed and orders for the Findependence Day book are being fulfilled with no delay. The cloud accounting software I described some weeks ago can be accessed remotely, as can our bank accounts and discount brokerage accounts.
While I’ve only made a stab here of testing the idea, I suspect that the longer the mini-retirement (or extended vacation) and the more you settle in one particular spot, the more “work” would play a role — defining “work” as something that creates invoices or at least moves forward long-term creative projects that might one day bring in revenue.
In short, the rhythms of life continue. In many respects, it’s the best of all worlds and I look forward to trying an extended “Mini Retirement” as early as January of 2016 (plus of course shorter vacations in the meantime).
Cloud-based accounting means the end of shoebox accounting
The book The E-Myth Revisited makes some amusing points about small business owners. Almost to a man (or woman), they loathe accounting. They may enjoy marketing or creating new products or services, but keeping track of expenses, invoicing and the like? It’s the last thing they really want to do, which leads to the usual habit of procrastinating by shoving paper receipts into the proverbial shoe box, then presenting the whole shooting match to their accountant once a year.
But no accountant I know will accept such an arrangement, or if they do they’d have to charge a prohibitively high rate for the service. In practice — and I base this on running a personal corporation since 1999 — you at least have to put all the receipts and paperwork into folders representing the major expense categories, then summarize it all on a spreadsheet so the accountant can make some sense of it.
At one point, I experimented with shrink-wrapped accounting software, which typically cost a few hundred dollars. But I was never comfortable with it so stuck to the shoebox-and-spreadsheet routine. Until this summer, when courtesy of the very helpful folks at Knightsbridge, I discovered Accounting by Wave.
This software has several good things going for it. First, it’s free. Second, it’s cloud-based, so you can store all your info on “the cloud” and access it from whatever computer you have access to: there’s even an iPhone app. Third, it’s Canadian. And fourth, it’s relatively intuitive and easy to use. What more do you want?
Not surprisingly, the software has 1.5 million happy users, most of them the small businesses, consultants and freelancers the company has targeted. And wouldn’t you know it, right off the topic they promise “shoebox accounting stops now.”
Integrated with your business bank account
The software lets you input your corporate bank account information so right off the bat payments to your account and disbursements from it are automatically recorded. You’ll have to spend some time reconciliation expenses incurred via credit cards, cash disbursements and the like but an hour spent every week or two should suffice for most home-office setups like mine. And it sure beats dreading the annual spreadsheet ritual!
The software is quite proficient at keeping track of customers and invoicing, and it generates various reports on demand that show the current expenses, payments and accounts receivable. And yes, it lets you add HST. Again, there’s an element of garbage in, garbage out here, so the reports will only be meaningful if you’re staying on top of all the transactions and properly categorizing them.
How does this relate to Findependence Day?
Glad you asked! If you’ve followed this blog since May, you’ll know I believe in creating multiple streams of income, whether you’re gainfully employed, semi-retired or even fully retired. Part of that is Internet-based: refer to Robert Allen’s book, Multiple Streams of Internet Income, or any of the three books by Scott Fox. (His site is here, and latest book here).
But the other piece of the equation is running your own business and keeping track of all the moving pieces. As I’ve come to appreciate, a traditional “job” really comes down to serving and satisfying a single client, which in practice means “your boss.” The traditional corporate or government job largely shields the employee from accounting: all you need to worry about is submitting the annual T-4 slip with your annual tax return, claim the usual deductions and hope for a tax refund at the end of it.
The good thing about self-employment is that (hopefully) you don’t have any boss but yourself and instead of one huge mega-client, you have many smaller clients. You may lose one from time to time but the others can keep the ship afloat until another replaces it. Seen that way, a “job” is the opposite of diversification: you have all your eggs in one basket and if your boss decides to smash that basket, you’ve got trouble.
This cloud-based software is a real boon to keeping on top of your business. Hopefully, all your earned income from multiple clients or products or services constitute a major part of your revenue stream. Of course, you should also have investment income, emergency savings and pension income (depending on your age), so that your “Findependence” isn’t riding on any one of these.