Welcome to the Dreamcatcher, a round-up of the posts and podcasts that inspired me in some way this week.
On my list of blog posts to write is one about how I just can’t come up with our FI number right now. There are so many short-term and situationally inflated expenses right now that our monthly spending at this point should be at an absolute peak. However, if Chris can arrive at a number, surely I can at least give it a SWAG (that’s Sophisticated Wild-Ass Guess, for those uninitiated). He acknowledges that the number will change over time as life happens and different things make the number obsolete. Both of us are far away from any kind of early retirement decision, so the number is more a far-off guidepost in the distance than a “Your exit, next right” sign. I’ll turn my frown upside down and see what I can come up with. Consider me “inspired.”
Mr. Money Mustache is one of the biggest personalities in the early retirement community, and the gateway for a lot of people who find their way into the FIRE community. Myself included. Many people have their eyes opened for the first time by Pete Adeney, and that makes them excited to adopt a whole host of heretofore extreme savings behaviors. Part of MMM’s schtick is to shame people into realizing many of their comfy consumerist behaviors are gross exaggerations of what is minimally required of them. Do you really need to drive your car two blocks? Does your air conditioner really need to keep the house at 72 degrees, even when it’s a beautiful 75 outside? Do you pay $80 a month for a gym membership but sit on your ass and watch TV while the kid next door mows your lawn for $15? And he’s right. But people can take it to far, and Debts to Riches makes a valid point that we in the FIRE space can be just as guilty as the crowd keeping up with the mythical Joneses but in the opposite direction. Trying to hold yourself to a lofty standard of thrift and utility can be just as unhealthy as trying to mimic a life of glamour and excess. This is a game of balance, and everyone has a different fulcrum. Find the one that’s right for you and let everyone else worry about theirs.
If you’ve read the Dreamcatcher before, you know I like to throw in things that aren’t personal finance related but have some kind of connection in my mind. I consider that a feature, not a bug, and hopefully you feel the same. Ear Hustle is a podcast recorded at San Quentin prison in California, and it’s about life behind bars as told by the people who live there. I’ve been amazed by the candor, intelligence, and humanity on display by people serving life sentences for crimes many of them committed before they were even of legal drinking age. It’s a window into a world I can’t possibly understand. In this episode — which, fair warning, contains a lot of talk about the sexual lives of incarcerated married men — there was one part in particular that struck me. An inmate is about to have his first 48-hour family visit with his wife, in which they will spend that time in a small cottage on site — which he describes as being like project apartments. This is a man who has spent decades locked up, and he’s asked to describe the emotions of having this first family visit where he will get to live as close to a normal life as he has since being sentenced. “When I first walked in the door, I just started laughing to myself, because I’ve been waiting for this for so long. Tears coming down my eyes, but I’m still laughing. … It was overwhelming. I first opened up the refrigerator, and it was like ‘Damn, this is a refrigerator.’ One thing I really tripped on was when I opened the freezer, was the ice cube tray. And I’m like, damn, as soon as I seen it I really grabbed it and like, cracked it to separate the ice cubes. But it had been so long since I’ve seen it.” He goes on to talk about the rest of the experience, and his appreciation for the simple things we take for granted is so obvious in his voice. His pride in being able to take his wife’s luggage out of the car and bring it into the room is palpable. It’s another reminder to appreciate what we have, both in simple possessions and personal connections, not from a self-help guru, but from a man whose existence doesn’t afford him the luxury of either very often.
I’m going to stretch “inspire” on this one. This is the only personal finance take I’ve seen on The Money Fight, and since I’m a long-time fan of mixed martial arts that’s enough of a hook to grab my attention. The three lessons are good ones. I’d also add a few others. Lesson 4: Hustle. This fight didn’t happen because it was logical. It happened because Conor McGregor willed it into existence by hustling. Lesson 5: If you really want something, don’t take no for an answer. The UFC is notorious about locking down its fighters and preventing them from making money elsewhere. McGregor didn’t let that stop him. He got himself licensed as a boxer to set himself up for a possible legal path (the boxing-specific Ali Act) that the UFC would not have wanted to go down. Thus, he left them with few options but to play ball. Lesson 6: Don’t dwell on your failures. As he did after his loss to Nate Diaz, McGregor was reflective of the errors he made, realistic about his performance, and ready to move forward. He’ll do so with a much brighter future, too. As I’m sure you aren’t all as into the sport as I am, I’ll stop there, but there are other interesting lessons in McGregor’s story.