BiggerPockets Money Podcast 59: Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) with Scott Rieckens

by | BiggerPockets.com

Scott Rieckens was raised in a Navy family. He lived on base and often shopped in the commissary. It gave him a rather skewed sense of what things actually cost.

Fast-forward to adulthood. He knew he should be investing, but he wasn’t sure what to do exactly.

With no outstanding consumer debt, he was ahead of his peers. But his savings rate was miniscule.

Both he and his wife were contributing to their 401(k) plans—certainly a good move. However, they were missing out on some pretty massive growth by investing in a money market account instead of the stock market.

Then one day…

Scott queued up the latest Tim Ferriss podcast episode. He heard a story about how a guy and his family lived on around $25K a year. The guy was from Colorado and called himself Mr. Money Mustache. And just like that, Scott’s life was transformed.

Financial freedom became his new passion. Although it took some time to get his wife on board, they’ve now completely reset their lives.

If you’re looking for ways to talk to your spouse about financial freedom, THIS is an absolute MUST-LISTEN episode!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Scott: Welcome to BiggerPockets Money Podcast, Show Number 59, where we interview Scott Rickens from Playing with Fire.

“I just thought, let’s focus on happiness because I don’t think my wife and I are very far off as far as what our real goals are. What our happiness list is. Let’s start focusing on that instead of saying, hey, you’ve got to stop spending money. Because that’s not fun”.

It’s time for a new American dream, one that doesn’t involve working in a cubicle for 40 years, barely scraping by. Whether you’re looking to get your financial house in order, invest the money you already have, or discover new paths for wealth’s creation, you’re in the right place. This show is for anyone who has money or wants more, this is the BiggerPockets Money podcast.

Scott: How’s it going, everybody? I’m Scott Trench and I’m here with my co-host, Miss Mindy Jensen. How are you doing today, Mindy?

Mindy: Scott, I am doing fantastic. I am super excited to listen to another Scott. It was nice to be one-third of the show that isn’t Scott on today’s episode. I’m really excited to hear Scott’s story. I mean, I’m excited to share it with everybody because as you said a moment ago, his story is so great because it isn’t exceptional. That doesn’t mean that it’s boring. It means that it’s relatable.

It isn’t some random thing that he like won the lottery in order to get to where he’s at. He did what everybody else has done—stop spending so much money. Start saving more money. And look, you can watch your savings grow. You can literally watch your net worth get better and better and bigger and bigger simply by doing these same things that are relatable and repeatable that Scott shares in this episode today.

Scott: Yeah, I love just how deep he goes into his mindset and how his living paycheck to paycheck lifestyle on two median salaries was frustrating for him and he felt like he wasn’t getting ahead or getting a new life. And then just how he nurtures his passion for FIRE once he discovers it and how he brings along his family and how they kind of assessed all of the options.

I mean, it’s just a fantastic story for anyone looking to make a change that maybe needs to get a spouse on board or need to kind of weigh and figure out all of the soft and hard costs of aggressively pursuing this thing we call FIRE.

Mindy: Yeah, this is an excellent episode for anybody who like you said, needs to bring their spouse on board. This is a very common question that I get over and over through e-mails and the forums and on BiggerPockets, BiggerPockets.com/forums if you have a question, is how do I get my spouse on board with investing in real estate or how do I get myself on board with pursuing the financial independence and its lifestyle.

Scott gives really great ideas and idea isn’t the right word—his story is a perfect way to introduce this to your spouse. And he takes it and instead of framing this in a confrontation manner, he frames it more as a question with his spouse. What is it that you want out of life? And if you’re having struggles with convincing your spouse to even just look at this idea, this episode is one that you need to listen to and one that you need to listen to with your spouse.

Scott: And what’s shaping up to be what we think is an awesome documentary called Playing with Fire that will be released to the preliminary audience a few weeks after the show, our episode of the podcast here is released. And then look for it some time in early March. It’s Playing with Fire.

Mindy: Yeah, that’s going to be a really awesome show. I would like to point out that my husband’s in there. I don’t know how much of the actual movie he gets into but in one of the trailers I saw, I did see the side of his head.

Scott: Yeah, he’s famous now.

Mindy: He’s going to be famous. Okay. Before we bring in Scott, let’s hear a note from today’s show sponsor.

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Mindy: Okay, huge thanks to the sponsor of today’s show.

Scott Rickens from Playing with FIRE documentary, welcome to BiggerPockets Money podcast. I am so excited to have you on the show today.

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, thank you, guys. I am so happy to be here. I am an avid listener of the show and I am not just saying that. I really love your show and all of the guests that you have on. It’s like, hanging out with our friends. So thank you.

Mindy: I love hearing that. Thank you for listening. Okay, we can just sit here and thank each other forever. But let’s not do that because that’s not exciting for anybody but me. Why don’t you walk us through where your journey with money begins?

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, so I had an interesting upbringing. I was raised in a Navy family. I’m a Navy brat. So I grew up primarily on Navy bases. What’s interesting about that is everything is a little bit cheaper. The government subsidizes the Navy Exchange and the Commissary, which is our grocery store. And the Navy Exchange is our mall. So I grew up in kind of exotic areas. I was in Hawaii. I was in Puerto Rico. I was in Washington, D.C., Virginia Beach, San Diego. Those last couple weren’t very exotic but you get the gist.

Sometimes, specifically in Puerto Rico, primarily I was in my teenage years and I was really—the memory was starting to take hold and I was starting to notice things and apply things. That’s where the lessons were coming in. That was kind of an isolated area. We didn’t leave the base very often and when we did, because I was young, I couldn’t drive or anything like that. So we would just kind of stay on base.

So that was like the beginning of me understanding money and starting to earn money. I used to go off the back deck of our house, which was on the east shore of Puerto Rico, and go spearfishing for lobster because our neighbors would have a lot of people coming in to visit because they were in Puerto Rico and you have a place to stay. And they would hit up me and say, hey, Scott—I need four lobster tails for tomorrow’s dinner. And I would charge ten bucks a tail and I’d go out and I knew all the little spots and I’d go snorkeling and spearfishing for lobster.

So that’s like how I first started making money. I was thinking about this the other day and I realized that no wonder I’ve always chosen jobs that were fun, because I could never go back from that, snorkeling for money. So I set a dangerous precedent early, early on. But I also realized that by living on these military bases, I had sort of a warped view of what things cost. And then from there, we moved to a small town in Iowa. And again, the cost of living was cheap.

And so the cost of living in general has always been a bit warped for me. Then I met my wife. I got into my earning years. I met my wife and we ended up down in San Diego. I think that whole upbringing and that lack of awareness with cost of living really sort of supported this lifestyle that my wife and I started going down. And I’ll get into why hers did the same in a different way. But in my case, it was let’s go move wherever we want.

We would go on vacation and we’d hang out at this place and go, I just want to live here. And then we’d go, why don’t we? And that’s actually what brought us to San Diego, was we wanted a place that had a healthy economy and a place where we could really earn good money and have opportunities but we also wanted a sort of vacation lifestyle.

And after doing some research, we found a little island called Coronado off the coast of—off the downtown skyscape of San Diego was perfect. It’s close to this major metropolitan city and it’s still an island vacation home and it happened to be a place that my dad worked way back in the day, with the Navy. So it’s kind of always been a second home.

So we just said, sure. Let’s do it. And the reason why Taylor felt that way is because she grew up in a little bubble herself where—she grew up on this little island community outside of Seattle and just never really had to pay attention to money. Her family wasn’t wealthy beyond belief or anything. They got there really early to this little island community when there weren’t a lot of people there and they ate cans of beans to be able to afford this little lake home. That’s what they tell us, anyway. But she never was in wont of anything.

Between the two of us, we both came to this head of let’s just do what we want. It’ll work out. And that’s what got us to San Diego. So fast forward six years, we moved here at the very bottom of the market in 2011, 2012 when everything was kind of at its bottom as far as real estate goes and rent had taken that huge hit. It was just at the bottom. So cost of living when we got here wasn’t insane yet. But fast forward six years and this city has absolutely exploded.

We’ve come out of that recession. And the lifestyle creep had continued. The cost of living was increasing. I had up until that point always brushed aside the idea of personal finance or learning about investments as, that’s a whole Master’s Degree in and of itself. There’s a bajillion books out there about it. I don’t know which one to read. I tried Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I didn’t seem to get too much out of that. I felt like I basically was making the excuses on not investing my time into fixing this problem that I was feeling—and seeing—but really, feeling, which was, we’re never really getting ahead.

And so my money journey but to reaching the point where I learned about FI, I think I covered that pretty well and I was driving to work one day still feeling that stress and anxiety and lack of knowledge which turned into like guilt and self-loathing and all kinds of interesting, terrible things.

And I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast because I was hooked on podcasts that were talking about startup culture or how to accelerate or optimize. Because I was trying to come up with a million-dollar idea as my way of fixing this issue. Instead of looking at our savings rates, I was looking at how much more I could earn to fix the problem.

And I was driving to work and I heard Mr. Money Mustache come on the Tim Ferriss podcast and it’s about a 15-minute drive to work and it’s about 15 minutes into the podcast. I pulled over, found an excuse to be late to work, and listened to the whole thing. And that’s where I found FI.

Scott: So that’s awesome. By the way, that’s a great podcast that everyone should go check out. It’s Tim Ferriss and Mr. Money Mustache. Going back a second, can you give us a little picture about the nuts and bolts of your financial situation over the six-year period? Were you earning a relatively high income, a relatively low income, or were you accumulating consumer debt? What did that kind of look like?

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, so my wife and I never accumulated consumer debt. We were very, very fortunate. Our parents had instilled one very important rule into our brains which was always be able to pay off your credit card. Use them sparingly and don’t get into that kind of trouble. But I did have student loan debt. Taylor had a little bit when I met her but she paid it off pretty quickly. She had some scholarships and did really well on paying them down. She’s very astute at those types of things, just generally keeping the house in order.

For me, I had racked up quite a bit more student loans because I didn’t have the scholarships. So I had about $36,000 in student loans coming out of college. And up until about two years ago, I was still paying those down because I only paid the minimums the entire life span of that loan until the last payment.

So between that, car loans, or lease payments, and we never had a mortgage. So it was just car loans, student loans, and then like a perpetual credit card monthly payment, that was our debt story. So we were very fortunate on that front. We never got ourselves into any significant debt to have to crawl out of—that said, we were always living primarily paycheck to paycheck.

We did a couple of set it and forget it things really early on where we knew that 401Ks are something you should do. That was the extent of our knowledge. You should do that. Okay.

Mindy: Did you do that?

Scott Rieckens: So we did that and we would set that up. So that was something that we were growing our net worth to some extent early on from the start of our careers. And I think in the last five years or so before finding FI, we had opened ROTH IRAs and tried to max that out while we had the money to, which was rare. I think one year, we did.

And so, yes. We were definitely starting to fund our retirement accounts lightly. But other than that, we were living paycheck to paycheck. We were finding ways to spend the rest of our money in lavish and exciting ways for a good solid decade together.

Mindy: And it’s always easy to find a way to spend that money. I mean, there’s always something you could buy. So what was your income? Do you remember what your actual income was? What was your savings rate—you said that you knew the 401K was something you should do. Were you doing the bare minimum to get the company match or not even that, or you were funding it completely?

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, so my wife was funding her 401K to the max because there was a company match. And I had never actually had the ability to do a 401K so it was always Taylor doing the 401K because I had been an entrepreneur for about eight years and when I found FI, it was about six years. And so I never set up a solo 401K or a IRA or any of those options.

So yeah, she would always fund those. I know the numbers in 2016—we made a combined $142,000. And we spent $132,000 of that. That does include us putting money into that 401K. But that worked out, I believe to about an 8% savings rate. And that was a good year. That was a fantastic—2016 was like our peak earning year at that time.

So right out of college, I made $28,000 a year. I think my wife was a little bit higher than that. And then we progressively stepped up over the years. We would move around and figure something out or get a promotion or whatever. So we were always growing our earning potential. But yeah, it accumulated to about $142,000 in 2016.

Scott: So you’re in this position and you discover this Mr. Money Mustache podcast with Tim Ferriss. What is it about that situation that was so revealing to you, or eye-opening? You’re saying that this life, you were feeling like you were getting stuck and not going anywhere in your life. I don’t know. I’ll let you take it from there. You kind of get what I’m asking.

Scott Rieckens: I think I do. And that’s going to put a nice bow on this. So, you know, if you hear that story, you hear well, Scott, you didn’t get into incredible consumer debt and you guys did save 8% in 2016. These aren’t terrible situations. But what was happening was, it was this constant force of opposition, kind of the dark side. It was kind of like, the Death Star was just always looming in the background where the cost of living was continuing to rise around here.

We had talked about never having a mortgage a little earlier. San Diego, the real estate prices here have just completely skyrocketed to astronomical numbers. And there are still areas where the homes are in the $500,000-$600,000 range. But typically, those areas are not the nicest neighborhoods. And in late 2015, we had our first child.

And so that was becoming increasingly important to myself and my wife that we live in a neighborhood that feels safe. We got school coming up in the horizon. We needed—we liked the idea of having a solid public school system because if you go private here, that’s another salary we’d have to go find. This is what I’m saying, is that it wasn’t so much that we were in these dire straits and I found this thing that just became a huge epiphany and I took a hard 180.

And yet, it was because we were looking out into the distance and I was saying, this isn’t sustainable. We’re living in an unsustainable lifestyle. The only way that this gets better is if I earn significantly more. And for me, the reason why I pulled over to the side of the road is because I didn’t feel like I had any more to give.

I felt like every day, I was getting up, I was going straight to Starbucks and picking up a high octane grande cold brew and a sandwich so that by the time I got to work, I was already fueled up and ready to go so that I could get a solid eight to ten, eleven hours in before I headed home. And by the way, work had cold brew on tap, which I continued to sip through the day.

So I was just constantly wired to try to do the best job that I possibly could and then get home and hopefully have a couple of hours max with my new baby, my wife, our friends, all the things that you try to fit in and then it’s rinse and repeat. It was like, oh man, and by the time you get to the weekend, you don’t feel like doing anything.

And so, for me, when I was hearing his depiction of his own life where he was casually getting up and hanging out, maybe going to do this and that and hanging with his friends, a lot of community involved in his conversation and I thought man, I missed what I was looking for. I missed those days where somebody would just knock on the door to see if you were home. That wasn’t happening where we are. It’s a big city and everybody’s so busy and we were so busy that we weren’t inviting that community in.

And so, I think in some ways, I had felt like that sort of childish wonder and that childish optimism that I think a lot of us start out with. I felt like it had slowly been shipped away with all these obligations and burdens and this 9 to 5 thing. It’s not that I don’t like to work. I love working and I love the creative process and I actually really liked my job.

It was just the earning that I had to do to meet the demands of our lifestyle that I wasn’t even sure that I liked. Because I just never felt right. So that was where the epiphanies were happening for me. It was really less about the numbers. It was more about the emotion of it.

Scott: It sounds also that like when you used the word unsustainable as one of the key words I kind of picked up on or how you were feeling about your life, and it seems like basically what I’m gathering is, you were optimized to the full extent on the income side. There wasn’t really—you were already working 11 hours a day and giving it your sweet best efforts. So it’s like, how do I actually earn more money?

That seems very difficult from where you were sitting originally. You’re not a business owner, it sounds like, at the time. So how do you earn way more money? I don’t know. But that’s where Mr. Money Mustache kind of came in and said, here’s a part of your, a piece of the puzzle to your financial equation that is completely under your control that you can kind of go after and fix.

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, I suddenly realized that that savings rate was the million-dollar idea. That by hitting that savings rate as hard as I could—and that was the one thing I could control. I didn’t need to listen to another Tim Ferriss podcast. I could just go and dive into this FIRE lifestyle and see what they have to say about cutting our expenses and how this whole thing worked and how on earth are you retiring at 30?

That was fascinating to me and so I stayed up until 4:00AM sometimes. I had to hit the cold brew a little harder but it was worth it. Everything takes effort. You still have to work at it and so I was working at this new thing. But oh my gosh, the flood gates opened. It was like, I was so excited. And yeah, so that was the beginning of our personal finance journey, our money story.

It was hearing that podcast and then immediately diving in. And then I really respond to Pete’s writing. I get his sort of jokey, sort of irony style and also, he’s just an incredible writer. So it was just really enjoyable to just really dive in. I felt like he was spoon-feeding me all these things I should have been learning my whole life in nice little compact blog posts.

And I got so hooked on it that I was looking for other material that he was participating in. As a video producer and a content producer, I explore all kinds of mediums. So it was podcasts, it was blogs, it was what’s on YouTube? And I was finding little bits and pieces and that led me to Brandon over at the Mad FIentist and Paula Pant and all these amazing people within the FIRE community.

And he’s giving me suggestions on books. I don’t think I read a book for five years and all of a sudden, I’m reading J.L. Collins’ A Simple Path to Wealth, breezing through it and thinking it was such an easy read and thinking well that’s the only investment book I’m going to need. I’m just going to have to go pay that forward. But when I got to the YouTubes and realized that there wasn’t a whole lot to check out and going on the financial independence subreddit and there was actually a thread like, what are some good personal finance documentaries? And everybody was like, there really aren’t that many. Minimalism is kind of close.

And I was like, hmm, this is what I do. Hmm, this would be a really cool way to get to know these people because I’m sitting over here, listening to all this stuff and consuming this and going, I want to be friends with all these people. They sound amazing. How do you do that, you know? I remember the first idea I had was, at one point in time, Pete had mentioned in a blog post that he liked San Diego and I thought, I could offer my place to him. And I came into Taylor and I was like, I found this guy online and I think it’s really cool that dah dah dah, and I was thinking maybe we could invite him down and we could go get a hotel locally and let him stay at our place.

And she’s looking at me like, this is a terrible idea. You’re going to freak him out before you start. And I was like, yeah, you’re probably right. Oh, my gosh. Maybe I’ll just make a documentary about it. Maybe that will get me in the door. Be careful what you wish for.

Scott: Well, let’s tie it into this. It sounds like you sparked the idea and you immediately dived in and consumed lots of content on the subject and completely immersed yourself in it. What actions did that look like when it comes to actually taking control of your personal finances? Did you start tracking them? Did you start to put the spreadsheets together? Did you use Mint? Did you make any changes in the expense side? What did that look like?

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, so for me, I’m not an Excel spreadsheet guy. I’m not a math guy. That’s not how the brain works for me. I’m on the creative side over here. Hitting the easy button is the best way to get started for me on this front, so I went straight to Mint. I had already been feeling this for years so I had a Mint account set up. But it did me no good because I never had a long-term goal associated with what we considered at the time pure and utter deprivation.

What do you mean I can’t go to sushi dinner? What do you mean—what are you talking about? What do you mean we can’t go to this vacation? No. Let’s just keep doing that. We’ll figure out another way. We had this lottery mentality. Things will work out. So I went back to the ‘easy’ button on Mint and really just started formalizing Mint a little bit. I got in there and really made sure expenses were being pointed to the right topics or trends.

I remember thinking, this feels like a very overwhelming task. How far back do you go? And there’s a lot of data here and I’m not a data guy. And so I thought, let me just give it a three months’ combover. I just went through and filtered three months’ worth and I thought, that will give us a decent picture. And that’s something I recommend to everyone, if you’re just getting started, is get on Mint. Hit the ‘easy’ button. Find a good, solid financial tracker like Mint. There’s a couple of others out there but I think that’s one of the easiest. And just give yourself three months.

I’m actually doing this with my parents right now. Kind of like holding my mom accountable and she doesn’t like it. And it’s been an interesting little ride. Just go back three months. It makes it easy and it makes it something that you’ll actually do. When I got in there, I saw things I didn’t like. And that happens. And so I was kind of on that journey on my own. I hadn’t really brought Taylor into this fold quite yet.

I had started to pass some links to her and I would e-mail her some things and particularly, Mr. Money Mustache posts and a couple of podcasts. You know, I would ask her about it kind of casually afterwards. And you know—because I was nervous. I was nervous to bring this stuff up to her. I wasn’t the only one spending money in the house. We had had somewhat of a contentious relationship with money up until that point. There was nothing broken but we also weren’t working on it in any way, shape, or form.

And there was definitely plenty of times where I could recall some kind of argument or fight happening, not knowing how to process or deal with those things. I’m not even sure what my stance on the argument was and then we just kind of brush it under the rug. That felt a little bit better and we didn’t want to be fighting with each other.

I had no incentive to be bringing it up to her yet. I wasn’t prepared. I kind of—I think I was lucky in that I was “savvy” enough to see that upfront. That this was a big idea. And I had a feeling that this was my ticket out of here to move. That was something I had been feeling like I wanted to do for a long time. So I took it slow. So that was my first item was get on Mint, go back three months, check out what’s going on there. Lick your wounds. Get over it. This is your reality.

Mindy: Did you share this spreadsheet or your spending tracker with your wife? Did you show her what you had been spending and go, hey, let’s go look at this and see how this works.

Scott Rieckens: No, I didn’t. I didn’t bring that up right away. Like I said, I sent her some links. I was kind of dabbling in that. She wasn’t really responding to it and so I was just thinking, how on earth am I going to do—I remember running down the boardwalk and I was listening to a podcast, as I love doing, and I remember hearing on The Mad FIentist, he was talking about how—he was talking about the relationship with his wife and how he and Jill had gone back and forth.

She knew that he was into this stuff. He wasn’t really into it. He never really demanded that she come into the fold. Somehow come around and she had written him a little on his computer and it was this beautiful, heartfelt letter about like how she had suddenly had this emotional connection and an epiphany to why this was so important to him. She sort of was like inviting him to let her come on board and to start this with him.

And I remember just like—oh, man. That was a big one for me. I was really into that episode and I loved it and I took a lot from that. Which was, okay, this is something that isn’t necessarily immediately apparent to everyone. Which is actually something Taylor said to me later on, which was, well if this is so amazing like this, why isn’t everybody doing this?

And so I think that was kind of in her head. So I got really lucky one night. I had this one idea, let’s just write down a list of things that make us happy. And let’s start with happiness. I had just gotten done reading Happiness is the Only Logical Pursuit, which I think is my favorite blog post by Mr. Money Mustache, of all time. And I just thought, let’s focus on happiness because I don’t think my wife and I are very far off as far as what our real goals are and what our happiness list is. Let’s start focusing on that instead of saying, hey, you’ve got to stop spending money. Because that’s not fun.

Here’s the other thing. My wife, she works really, really hard and she’s really worked hard to get to where she is. And so, to tell her that she can’t spend money anymore, it’s kind of like, I didn’t even feel right about that. I don’t think that’s how you should go about talking about money and going, okay—this is the thing we need to do. Let’s rah rah around this thing that we need to do. And it’s like, well no, you’re telling someone how to live and then you’re suggesting that you cut back and cutting back isn’t fun until it is and that’s a journey to get to that point, right?

Luckily, I was smart enough to say, let’s just write a list of the top ten things that make us happy on a weekly basis. And that’s what she did. In fact, I suggested that to her and it just happened to be on an afternoon or an evening when we didn’t have a lot going on. I ran up and took a shower and came back down and she had done the list. She had already written this thing. I was like okay, that’s great. I don’t even have one yet.

So I’m a processor. That’s a vastly humongous question. So I had to take a couple of days and then we went to a park or something and just sat down and just kind of revealed it. So my wife’s list was very simple. It was, have coffee with my husband. And cuddle with my baby. And read her a book to go to sleep. And have dinner with the family. And I really like coffee and I really like chocolate. I really like wine. And go for a walk. So it was like, exercise, family, community, friends, and wine and chocolate. Pretty much.

I said, look, the only things that I see that costs money on this list are wine and chocolate and I think that’s really interesting. And the other thing that I saw on this list is the beach and we are spending astronomical amounts of money to live next to this beach. So how important is it? It doesn’t even cut the top ten. And that was the first time that I started framing what would inevitably be my pitch to how we would approach this.

Mindy: So I love that you reframed the discussion and I think this is really important because this is a question that I get a lot in e-mails from people who are listening to the show, even on the bigger pockets forums. How do I convince my spouse? And sorry, ladies, but it is typically a man asking this question. How do I convince my wife to come on board? And I really like how you reframed this whole discussion from confrontational, you have to stop spending money.

Well, who wants to hear that? Nobody wants to hear that. They want that to be their idea and if you’re telling me to stop spending money, you’re not the boss of me—I’m going to go spend more. So I really like how you changed it from this confrontational demand to more of a questioning, hey, what does your ideal day look like? You said you were working 8, 10, or 11 hours a day—were you working 50-60 hours a week? And how much time was your wife spending at work before this whole thing?

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, so we both were probably burning the midnight oil about that much. I would say 50 hours is probably an average. That would fluctuate quite a bit. Being in video production, you have sort of your normal 8 to 5 or where you’re kind of getting stuff prepped and you’re doing sales and you’re meeting clients and you’re pitching ideas and all that stuff.

And then when you get into production itself, that can sometimes be a one or two-day blitz or a two-week blitz. You might be in town and it might be kind of an easy day or you might be on the road and you’re actually putting in 15-16 hour-days. You’re getting the most out of that day, going to sleep and getting right back on the train.

Not to mention travel, not to mention lugging around 12 Pelican cases that are 60 pounds a piece. Sometimes we’d be in rural Alabama and be like, 110 degrees and humid. Oh, man. It’s a young man’s game and I was getting a little older and feeling it a bit. So Taylor, on the other hand, she’s in recruiting and she’s a commissioned salesperson. And if never ends. You just have to keep picking up the phone. You can’t just rest on your laurels with that type of job. So yeah, we were both feeling pretty tapped on that front.

Scott: So we heard what was on Taylor, your wife’s list. What was on your list?

Scott Rieckens: So I remember when I heard her list, I just thought like, I knew I loved you but this is a beautiful reminder because my list was so similar. You know, there’s some man stuff on it like going fishing and playing competitive sports, stuff like that. But I mean, it was pretty much the same thing. Exercise, family, have a nice coffee, having a couple of bears. You know. Just real simple stuff.

And outdoors was really a focus for me and it was very in line. And that makes sense. We got together in the first place. We had similar interests and similar values. And really similar goals. But we hadn’t spent a lot of time really focusing on that stuff. It’s like, you fall in love and then you get together and then kind of day to day goes by and the next thing you know, it’s ten years later and you have kids and you have jobs and you’re trying to make it all work. That’s insanely hard, especially with kids. My goodness. That’s a whole another ball game.

And so we had an impression of that, already feeling a bit trapped. And then we had to add the kid and it’s a whole another animal, literally. You’ve got an animal in your house. What am I going to do with this animal?

Scott: Once you kind of compared these lists, did that help you get on the same page with pursuing the goal? What did that conversation look like once you had it?

Scott Rieckens: It was the beginning of our discussions with this stuff and I remember about a week after that discussion—well, in that discussion, I very candidly pointed out the beach isn’t on the list. I want you to strongly consider living around here. I think up until that point, Taylor’s idea was, we’re staying in Coronado. We’re never leaving. This is my forever home.

And after that discussion, she was open to going on Zillow and checking out various neighborhoods in the San Diego area. Which was a huge win for me because up until that point, we weren’t leaving. We weren’t leaving this island, and this island is like getting to the point where a lot with a tear-down home that you literally cannot live in, may be condemned, is $700,000, $800,000, $900,000.

And that was at that time. I think it’s even worse now. And those prices are in like this one corridor where traffic is insane and every single day, military traffic is coming on and off the island and there’s no quality of life in that little corridor. So the odds of us being able to afford a place was low and if we were able to afford it, it would be the money pit. It would be like, we were working to live and so thank God that was the start of that, to say maybe we can go off the island. Maybe we can go across the bridge and look at some other stuff.

In the meantime, I was trying to find material, media that I really thought might resonate with Taylor because what I sent her up until that point really hadn’t quite hit her. She didn’t really respond to Pete’s sort of abrasive, jokey kind of style because she felt a bit judged.

She hadn’t come through that journey that I had already and I had a little bit more callous on me than she did on that front, so that just didn’t resonate with her and I was like, well, why not? It just made a lot of sense and a few others just didn’t quite hit and it wasn’t until I found—it was the episode, the pillars of FI on Choose FI with Brad and Jonathan.

I sent that to her and she was driving up to L.A. for work and like, once she got up there, she sent me a whole list of notes. She called me and was like, I get it. This was amazing. I can’t believe—that’s when she said, why isn’t everyone doing this? And I was like, oh. We got something here. Okay. And from there, I sat back for about a couple of weeks, maybe a month and let her kind of go on her own journey.

I would continue to share stuff that I found inspirational. She took a deep dive and found her own stuff, her own voices and we took a little pause together and I didn’t want to push anything because I knew this was going to be a full-on reset and those should not be approached lightly. So that’s how we kind of got started after that list.

Mindy: So how long after you asked her to make that list did she discover the Choose FI episode?

Scott Rieckens: I would say that was within a couple of weeks. It was really right off the bat. Once the list happened, everything sort of kind of started to fall into place. Once she heard that episode, then it was okay, I felt comfortable sharing Mint. Now we can talk about what’s really happening here and starting to share ideas and go, let’s talk about this together. Can we make it work here together?

And then it’s not me saying, it doesn’t work. It’s us coming to the realization together that it’s going to be a hard life. It’s going to be a long working life to stay here. And then we started looking outside of Coronado in other areas because we were thinking about buying a home. I had done a lot of research on the real estate side. I was very, very interested in getting into real estate, had been for many years, never felt like it was possible. Now at least I felt like it was possible because we could explore places in San Diego.

And that was a very painful journey. Taylor was still breastfeeding, which was a whole career in and of itself. She was still working her career. She was stressed. And all of a sudden, we’re going around looking at real estate. She doesn’t really want to leave the island yet but she likes the idea of retiring early. And she ended up getting shingles. And you can get that from stress. That can present itself from sheer and utter stress.

So we hit a stress point that was really high, really early. For me, that was an indication that A, we needed to be more careful, pull back. Let’s stop this whole real estate hunt. That’s not important right now. But it was also an indication of, I don’t think this is working. Because we weren’t finding things that we were happy with on the other side of the bridge because the cost of living here is still high. The price of homes are still high and the lower the price, the worse the neighborhood is, as if all real estate.

So, it was getting to the point I think where she had to kind of hit rock bottom to be open to a new way of life. And what we had realized was that the top three—house, cars, food—they were the problem. And we couldn’t just move down the street to fix the house issue. Because we lived over here on this island, we needed two cars.

And then food prices, just going to Von’s or what would be the equivalent of a SafeWay or a Hi-B or wherever you are in the country, a big supermarket, was still really expensive. And we were trying to ween off of the pretty expensive restaurant habit. And so those were the three big things. We started with food and that fell pretty easy.

And suddenly, we had a little bit of a win. Okay. We have stopped eating out. Okay. I’m starting to make breakfast burritos in bulk and taking them to work. That’s saving me a ton of money because now I’m not spending $6 a morning on a sandwich at Starbucks. And that was something I realized suddenly was we needed some wins. We needed some validation that we could do this and that it would work.

So that was like the beginning. It was like okay, we’ve got this under control. We’re saving $600, $700, $800 bucks a month just by making these small changes. That’s going to make a big difference because now we had this calculator we could put this through, which was, what’s that going to equate in ten years? If we take that same amount of money and we invest it and it grows, what’s that really mean to us? We had never put that money through that kind of filter. It had always been, can we afford that thing? Do you have the money? It’s in the bank. Yes, you can. Right on. That was our life.

And now, it was. Can you afford that thing? Well, it’s not about what you can afford, it’s do you even want to give up that freedom on the back end? How much further away will you be from that goal? That really is the carrot. The thing about FIRE that I absolutely love the most is there’s no better pitch. It’s like, would you like to get rich and gain all of your freedom back and be happier and less stressed? Yeah? Oh, okay.

Well here’s the thing. I don’t think you can beat that. So yeah, that was our first win and that’s when we started looking at, I think my wife started becoming more open to okay, well if we move to a place where you don’t need the cars—and remember, walking and exercise and stuff were on the happiness list—maybe we can downsize.

Maybe we can design a life where we only need one car. Or at the very least, let’s get cheaper cars. My wife was leasing a brand new BMW. I was leasing a brand new Mazda, which I thought was super frugal and awesome. We were financially illiterate and we had a lot of undoing to do.

Scott: So what does that look like? How did you resolve the housing and transportation sides of the expense category?

Scott Rieckens: We were bike-riding to Jovi’s first swim lessons and I had started to dabble in the idea of turning what would eventually be a move away from California altogether into an adventure. And I had started to seed that idea into Taylor’s mind. And she wasn’t having it. She wasn’t interested. But I kept doing it because I knew at the very least, the one hook could be an adventure because she is adventurous since she likes those types of ideas.

I kept seeing that and I just thought, you know, I don’t know if that’s working. And we’re riding our bikes and it’s like 10:30 in the morning, in Coronado it’s 72 and sunny. It’s the most beautiful day. We’re going by the marina over to the public pool that is like the most epic public pool ever to bring our daughter to her first swim lessons, which is kind of an iconic moment in your life. And I’m on a high. I mean, I’m on a life high. And I thought, I don’t really want to leave here either. This is so wonderful.

You know what? Maybe she’s right. Maybe we can figure this out a different way. Maybe we can hit our savings rate real high but just know that housing is going to be tough. Maybe I can still find that million-dollar idea for earning. This is going through my head. And Taylor, who’s in front of me. She goes, you know what we should do? We should just get an RV and we should just drive around the country. And that would be really fun.

What? Huh? I couldn’t believe it. It was like I’m almost to the point where I was about to give up and then she comes through. Oh, my God. So that afternoon, I am not making this up—there was an RV show at Qualcomm Stadium where the Chargers used to play, in the parking lot. And I said, great. Let’s go have some fun. So we went and we looked and we shopped RVs and stuff and I’m on this huge high. Pretty soon, we realized we didn’t want to live with a toddler in an RV and that would be a bad idea.

But that opened up the first spreadsheet I ever created, was I created a budget for six months to go around the country and to check out these various cities that I had already done a ton of research on that had lower cost of living and all these different tax structures and all on the West Coast with a sizable airport next to it. Good population. All of these things I wanted. And I thought, it’s time to learn a little spreadsheeting. And I did that. And I got in there. I got my hands dirty and I created a budget with the RV and without the RV.

And it actually worked out to be fairly similar if we could get decent rent prices and just drive ourselves or fly ourselves. It wasn’t that much of a cost savings. You think, in your head, if you get an RV and travel around and then you’re avoiding rent but it didn’t really shake out to be that. And I think the happiness factor was also something to be very aware of, was living in an RV with a toddler—that might be a little too extreme when you’re already trying to shift your life around completely.

Mindy: Living in an RV sounds great when you’re not living in an RV. My parents live in an RV and it’s real small when there’s more than zero people inside. And I know that I am going to get a ton of e-mails from people—I live in an RV and I think it’s awesome. Good for you, I’m not moving in with you. But you know what? If you want to live in an RV and that’s what you want to do, that’s what makes personal finance so awesome. It’s personal. I am not ever going to live in an RV but I can see the appeal.

You keep saying, “Here on the island”—do you still live there? Where do you live now?

Scott Rieckens: No. So I had that list and I showed Taylor this budget and I realized with that budget, I actually put it against our current spending, and I had never done that—I even set up, I knew that if we lived in a different place, we would save money. I hadn’t actually done the numbers on what kind of impact it could make. And by her turning around and saying, maybe an RV, I fell off my bike. And then going through that, having that budget, I suddenly realized, if we go on an adventure for a year and I quit my job—and I can freelance, because I know a lot of people in the industry and I can pick up a job here and there—and you can continue to work.

Taylor works remote and we always knew we had that option—if we did this, we would save, I think it was something like $60,000 over the course of the year and then I started plugging that into the retirement calculator. And that’s me freelancing. That was me taking like half-time off. I only have to earn half of what I’m earning now, and I think I can do that. And it was such an epiphany of like, we are spending so much money. And if we just recalculate this life, we can start enjoying it so much more, work so much less, spend so much more time together.

Even going on the road, which kind of sounds like an undertaking. It actually ended up being the catalyst. It was a convenient catalyst to say, let’s just pull the ripcord. Like really, we’re driving eighty miles on the freeway. Pull the ripcord and let the parachute just take you out of that car, off that freeway and somewhere else. And that’s what we did.

Once we kind of came to that decision together, it was like, I couldn’t believe it. And I am a very impatient person when I have a good idea and I want to see it come to fruition. I already know what it’s going to look like. Let’s get there. So this was—we made this decision in May and I remember Taylor said, when do you think we would move? And I was like, June? I’m ready. Let’s go. She was like, you are on crack. That’s not a good idea. Come on, now. Come back down to reality.

And she said, let’s do December. And I thought, I can’t live with that. I just, no way, no how. I’ll go nuts. It’s like putting a rat in a cage kind of thing. So we settled kind of right in the middle and said August 1. And that ended up being the right move. Thank you, Taylor. And so we started getting our house in order and figuring out how we’re going to do this and putting the plans in place. And then we wanted to go check out these various cities.

We had boiled it down to Boise, Idaho, Spokane, Washington, Reno, Nevada, Bend, Oregon, and I always forget the last one. I think the last one was just kind of rotating. It was just kind of like maybe this or maybe that or maybe this. It ended up coming down to those four places and we started going around. We had already lived in Reno so we kind of already knew what that was about, which was why it was on the list. But our adventurous souls—we didn’t want to go back to a place we had already been.

We wanted a fresh start. We went to Spokane, Washington, and it’s a great place. It was definitely contending. Boise, we never ended up making it to Boise because on our journey up the coast, we stopped in Bend, Oregon and within an hour of arriving—and on the way in, you’re going, what is this place? There’s something magical and weird about this place.

And then you roll in and you see Mount Bachelor and The Three Sisters and Broken Top and they’re all like snow-covered on the tops but you’re in like high desert, 75 degrees. There’s craft breweries on every corner. There’s people walking around with kids and it was like, where are we? And we walked through what’s called Drake Park next to the DeShoot’s River which was this beautiful river that’s super fresh water that runs right through the middle of the town. And it was like, I don’t really want to go anywhere else.

Scott: But there’s no coffee or wi-fi in there.

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, I know, right? Wow, we gotta go. See you later. It’s not going to work. Scott, that was the first epiphany that we had when we got there was, Taylor realized that there was life outside of Coronado. That there was other places that had walkability and casual lifestyles and a good feeling when you were there. Thank God we hit that first. We didn’t have to go through this pain of, we don’t like this for this reason and getting all picky and weird about it. It’s just like, we fell in love with it right away. It made that journey that much easier.

Mindy: And Bend is less expensive than San Diego.

Scott Rieckens: Absolutely. Yes.

Mindy: Okay.

Scott Rieckens: Perfectly.

Mindy: Well, I want to stop there and make a point. Actually, the house I live in now, I’ve lived in for five and a half years. Before this house, I have never lived in a house for more than five years and I probably have a skewed few of moving because, I’m not an Army brat or a Navy brat but a corporate brat. We just moved around a lot and I think a lot of people had this upheaval sense that, oh, I’m leaving everything I learned, everything I know. It’s okay.

There’s airports that will take you back to where you grew up and there’s the internet. It’s this new thing where you can do Skype calls and you can still stay in touch with people even though you don’t live next door. And frankly, how often are you seeing those people that you live next door to when you’re working 80 hours a week trying to afford the house that you can barely afford because it’s so expensive. What did we say on the real estate podcast, Scott?

Within a two-hour drive of any major metropolitan area in America, there is a more affordable place. I mean, what’s a two-hour drive? If you could live within two hours of San Diego and still see all your family—and it doesn’t sound like your family actually lives there, anyway. It’s just a nice place to be. You can still go visit San Diego. They have airports there, too.

Scott Rieckens: That’s right. That’s right. We weren’t literally leaving our friends behind. And we didn’t see them all that often anyways, which sucked. I mean, we would have loved to. Even if we freed up our time, they’d still be running around as busy as they are—and that’s the other thing about a place like San Diego, too, is there’s actually so much to do. There’s so much going on at all times in these metropolitan areas.

What we did is we designed it where, we wanted to find a place between 150,000 and 200,000 in population. Because oftentimes, in that type of setup you’ve got enough people where there’s a lot going on—well, I shouldn’t say a lot. But enough going on that you feel like there’s a nice variety and you’re getting some culture and some arts and some of that fun stuff. But it’s small enough where it feels like you know your neighbors and there’s a sense of community and people look out for each other.

And what’s really great about it is oftentimes, there’s one obvious event that’s happening in a smaller town that everybody wants to go to instead of a place where there’s a major metropolitan city where there’s 15,000 things that you totally want to go see. Which also is a problem because, now which things should I go to? Not to mention, are our friends even interested in coming because they’ve already got plans to go to this other thing? It’s like, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we live by just yeah, making a small choice.

By the way, I must caveat about this because I’ve gotten in trouble with this before. We could have found a place outside of San Diego that we could have lived that would have saved us money. And it is possible to live a FIRE lifestyle in a high cost living area or in the surrounding areas of a high cost living area. I know that. But as you said earlier, the FI journey is all relative to each individual and it’s flexible.

And so this is my story of what I’m talking about. This is all relative to what we wanted, what our goals were, what our tastes are, what is important to us, what our happiness was. And in that context, we made the choice to leave. So I just want to throw that in there as a caveat and not get into too much trouble over here.

Scott: I think that’s a great point and I think that’s a great story. I think this move has resulted in you being able to accumulate more assets and build that net worth and move towards financial independence.

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, here’s a secret that my director from the film would be upset if I told you—we have effectively doubled our net worth in a little less than two years.

Mindy: Whoa.

Scott: There you go.

Scott Rieckens: I mean, we’re on a fast track and it’s been hard. It really has. There’s been a lot of struggles. There’s been some pain. We didn’t get it all right every time but anything that’s worth doing is going to have some obstacles. It’s going to have some pains and some learning. You’re going to have failure to succeed. Those things are going to happen.

I mean, I can tell you unequivocally that none of it was scary enough not to start. 100%. And we ultimately don’t regret a thing. I mean, there’s definitely things that we would have done differently. There’s different choices we would have made but if we hadn’t made bad choices then we wouldn’t grow from them and we wouldn’t be getting better at this.

Scott: Well, you mentioned it. Let’s talk about it. What is this film, for people who don’t know?

Scott Rieckens: Oh, that thing?

Mindy: This little thing.

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, that little thing. It’s called Playing with FIRE. It is a full-feature length documentary that we made that covers one family’s journey on a path to FI, which happens to be us. And we also get to go out and meet many of the influences in the FIRE space. I like to call them friends in the FIRE space. And meet the community that makes up this wonderful framework—whatever this is, a movement, a framework, an idea.

The coolest thing about this and why I think it was important to make something now is that it feels it was at a tipping point. It feels like it’s starting to become a part of the zeitgeist. We’re still naming it. We’re still figuring out what everything is. And that makes it interesting. It’s fluid. It’s volatile. It doesn’t always make sense. There’s all kinds of stuff going on and that makes it a really interesting story.

So we try to get out and meet as many of the folks that we possibly could that would give us the kind of access necessary to tell us a compelling and entertaining story. So that not only can we try to dispel the myths of the FIRE movement. You hear this stuff all the time and you get the Suzi Harmons of the world and what not. I hate even mentioning that there because that was probably part of her goal.

But you just see a lot of articles, a lot of naysay, saying if you retire too early—blah blah blah, you kind of address all of those things. And the idea was, if we can share this framework and this world with as many people as possible then we can at least do our part to pay it forward. One, two—we can really liberate people who are feeling the same struggles that Taylor and I were.

And then three, we can have something for this amazing community that hopefully they can use as a calling card and they can use to point to and say, see, we’re not crazy. This is what we’re doing. It makes sense now, right? Like, it’s not about spreadsheets. This is about happiness. This is about time. This is about freedom. So that’s what we set out to do and we are so close.

I am actually talking to you today from Coronado, believe it or not, and I am getting in a car and driving to L.A. tonight to meet up with the editing team and Travis, the director, and we’re going to work on the final finishing touches and we’re hoping to picture lock in the next couple of days. So we’re getting very, very close. Very close.

Scott: Nice. So if I’m listening to this show and I’m anxiously anticipating it—do you have any type of semblance of a time when I may be ready to check my calendar and mark it off?

Scott Rieckens: Yeah, we are gunning for some time in March. We are hoping that, first and foremost, there is an amazing kickstarter campaign that we ran and we had an overwhelming amount of people come in and support that. So I think there’s about 800 that backed that level that gets the movie early. And we’re hoping to deliver that by mid to late February. So we are within a month of that link going out to those folks.

After that, it’ll be about a month or so in between and we’re thinking mid-March to late March of 2019, we will be getting it out into theaters and putting on some sort of screening tour and kind of rallying the troops and making it an event and making it fun. But our hope is to release it theatrically through—it’s a theater crowdsourcing platform, Tug.

And essentially, if you want to see the film come to your town, you can become an admin and we can help support the marketing of that and they can also maybe hit up all of their friends and get some word of mouth marketing going. And if they meet the minimum threshold of tickets then the theater will open its doors to that group and play the movie.

So it’s a really cool way for us to not have a million-dollar Hollywood budgets to open it up to thousands of theaters and instead, let the people who want to see it bring it to their town and that way, we’re being a bit democratic about it. And that’s the U.S. distribution plan as it stands today, early on. And in the meantime, there’s some interesting little tidbits there. We submitted it to Hot Docs, which is a crazy name for a film festival but apparently it is like the world’s foremost documentary film festival up in Toronto.

So if that happens, the way film festivals work is they have people who are buying stuff and looking for movies to put on platforms, so that could be an interesting twist to get it on Netflix early or Amazon or one of those types of platforms. And then eventually, no doubt about it, we’ll have it on iTunes and Vimeo as what they call Video-on-Demand. So we can at least get it out to any country around the world that has that ability to get on those platforms.

And then at that point, we’ll start looking at international if we need to but as you can hear, one thing leads to another thing leads to another. We’re not quite sure how the dominoes will fall so we’re sort of ready for any sort of way it will go. But our ultimate goal is to get this thing in front of as many eyeballs as we possibly can after we pay for it. We just need to pay for it. We just need to pay for the darned thing.

Scott: Pay off the movie and then help to change as many lives as possible and make sure they’re aware of financial freedom and a way to do it.

Scott Rieckens: Exactly. Yep.

Scott Rieckens: Awesome. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that we had the opportunity to write a book about this story as well, which I didn’t see coming but as a journalism major, I was pretty excited about it.

Mindy: What do you have there? Is this a copy of the book?

Scott Rieckens: Well, maybe.

Mindy: Playing with FIRE by Scott Rickens. Wait, that’s you. Tell me about the book.

Scott Rieckens: So the book is just a little more in-depth look because you make a movie, the analogy I like to make is we’ll go and sit down with our favorite human beings, these influencers that changed our lives. We’ll have these two hour-long epic conversations and like five minutes of that will get into the film. You really have to break it down to try to fit in as much of that story as you can.

And so, with the book, we had a little bit more of an opportunity to get more in-depth into Taylor and I’s story, into these influencers about how they influenced us. And we tried to write like what my editor called a financial memoir, essentially. It’s more about an emotional journey than a how-to of what it feels like to go through this. So for anyone who’s nervous to get started or doesn’t know how to get started, sort of has heard of FIRE, has heard of personal finance but doesn’t really know how to begin.

The idea was that we can get them sort of emotionally ready and maybe inspired on that front and give them some framework on who they should be paying attention to and how we did that, how we put that into sort of an action plan without getting into too much detail. It’s a beginner’s guide.

Mindy: The Beginner’s Guide to Playing with FIRE. Where can I get this, besides already in my hands?

Scott Rieckens: It’s on Amazon. It’s on Barnes and Noble, Hudson Books, a lot of those types of places. The audiobook will be hitting the internet any minute now. It says it’s pending in the backend, so I’m waiting for that to hit. And I had the fortunate ability to work with Pete, Mr. Money Mustache, on the foreword of the book which is so beautifully written, we almost just scrapped the whole book and just printed that. Talk about a humbling moment. He actually just sent me his audio version of the foreword so I’ll be uploading that to the audiobook so you can hear it straight from the man himself.

Mindy: Oh, that’s awesome.

Scott: Love it.

Mindy: Okay. Well, Scott, this was fabulous. I’m so excited to hear your story and I’m so excited because I really love how you got your wife on board and I love how you just changed your whole mindset and it wasn’t this huge mountain to climb. Like hey, I was not making massive mistakes but I certainly wasn’t furthering myself down the path. And then I changed it up and now I’m here. I’ve doubled my net worth in two years. That’s pretty amazing.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us. And now—we’re not done yet. It is time for the Famous Four questions. These are the same four questions that we ask all of our guests plus a demand at the end. Are you ready?

Scott Rieckens: I’m ready, I think.

Mindy: What is your favorite finance book?

Scott Rieckens: My favorite finance book, because I’m only through two chapters of—

Mindy: Set for Life by Scott Trench?

Scott Rieckens: It’s an amazing book.

Scott: It’s a great audiobook. The narrator just has such a smooth and wonderful voice.

Mindy: It’s fabulous.

Scott Rieckens: It lulls you into inspiration in ways unprecedented for. Set for Life excluded, The Simple Fact of Wealth by J.L. Collins—if I didn’t say that book, he would have had eaten me for breakfast. I would hear about it. For anyone who knows him, I say that lovingly. And also because that really is a book I wish I had found so much earlier on in my life’s journey. I think it’s one of the easiest reads to quickly understand how the markets work and gives a really good pitch for how to passively invest your money in the stock market. So I highly, highly recommend that book, as most people in the FIRE community do. And as my favorite.

Scott: I’ll chime in. The narrator of that book, Mr. Collins, actually does have that smooth intonation voice that’s very incredible. So definitely consider checking that book out in Audible or thinking about reading it.

Mindy: Yes, if you’re going to consume that information, having Jim read it to you is the best way to consume that. You know his voice. He was on Episode 20 of our podcast and he’s like James Earl Jones or Barry White with this really deep, smooth, amazing voice.

Scott: Love it. What was your biggest money mistake, do you think?

Scott Rieckens: Okay. The person will not be named in this conversation, but we found out while going through this journey that while we had been putting money towards a 401K, we didn’t know where that was invested and we didn’t really know what we were doing. I mean, honestly, like I said earlier—we were like, okay, we’re putting money towards a 401K. We’re good.

We found out that it had been invested in a money market while we had the most unprecedented rise in stock market value in our lifetime and that hurt to find that out. That was a big mistake not to pay attention to that early. But as I say, that’s on cost fallacy. That’s the thing, right? You can’t go back and dwell on that. You have to go forward and make the changes you can make today so that’s what I tell myself as I cry myself to sleep.

Scott: I just love that you’re saying, hey, we made $142,000 one year and spent $132,000. But my biggest mistake is an opportunity cost from investing. I think that’s really a wise and remarkable thing to say.

Scott Rieckens: Well, thank you so much. I’m going to take that to heart. I’m going to write that down in my inspiration wall. I think that’s the right way to think about it, though? All of the other decisions were probably dwarfed by failure to invest optimally. It all boils down to getting started in that savings rate. But actually completing the journey comes down to investment approach. It’s a great point.

Mindy: Yep. What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Scott Rieckens: Oh, man. There’s a lot of really good tidbits. The one that just comes to mind, I would say is, try to frame your decision-making around happiness. That will get you so much further. Because it’s very easy to get harder on yourself. This process, this FIRE framework, it’s simple. And that’s what I love about it so much. I think that’s why it’s catching on so well. It doesn’t make it easy, right?

I think what makes it easier is continuing to focus on happiness. Start diving into that. I hadn’t even asked myself really, what made me happy. I just kind of thought I instinctively knew. And happiness in and of itself is a lifelong pursuit and a journey you really need to go down and you tend to. So I highly recommend—here’s another little tip. I highly recommend creating a personal mission statement. J.D. Roth has a excellent post on this where he pulls from a bunch of different sources and he kind of gives you a framework. I did that.

I even went as far as kind of creating my own, which I’ll post a blog about as well for those who are interested. Because as an entrepreneur, I had written three or four mission statements for businesses and they are hard. They take time. And they’re very important and they’re very valuable when you get them right. I just couldn’t believe I hadn’t done one myself and I was like, come on, take care of yourself first, right?

And the rest will follow. So I think having a personal mission statement makes it much easier to understand what guides you, where your happiness will lie, and what your goals should be. And I think putting your decisions, especially about money, through that framework will always help.

Scott: All right. We’ll go onto the last question. And the most difficult one. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Scott Rieckens: Okay, full disclosure. I looked this up on the internet and I found this one. This is my favorite. I don’t tell jokes at parties like this. Though you guys and this whole segment—you’ve almost convinced me otherwise with the ridiculous hilarity that ensues with the backend of these episodes.

Okay, are you ready?

Scott: Yes.

Scott Rieckens: All right. I’ll see if I can do this right. Here comes the delivery of a lifetime. A blind man walks into a bar and a table and a chair—all right. I got some laughs.

Scott: So, a deaf bear walks into a store and he’s trying to buy a pair of scissors. So he takes his fingers and he makes the scissors sign, this little click, click, click, click. And the clerk sells him—gets it and finally gives him a pair of scissors. And everyone’s wondering—and I’m wondering if you can guess how the blind man is going to communicate that he would like a pair of scissors to the store clerk. Do you guys know?

Scott Rieckens: Nope.

Scott: He says to the clerk, I’d like a pair of scissors.

Scott Rieckens: I like it, I like it. Such a repertoire. You even pulled the joke from the exact same topic.

Scott: You set me up. You set me up. I had to pull that one out. I felt obliged to.

Scott Rieckens: You are a national treasure.

Mindy: Don’t encourage him, Mr. Rickens. Okay, from HonestlyMom on Twitter, her four-year-old’s favorite joke is, why don’t dinosaurs take a bath? Because they’re dead. Which I thought was really cute. Plus I want to give her four-year-old a shout-out. I don’t know what your name is, little four-year-old, but HonestlyMom, thank you for sharing your four-year-old’s favorite joke.

My daughters have been giving me a ton of jokes so on upcoming episodes, if our guests does not have one, my daughters will share them for you and they’re pretty awful, so Scott Trench will probably love them.

Scott: Perfect.

Mindy: Okay. The last of our Famous Four is a demand. Tell us where people can find out more about you.

Scott Rieckens: Yes. You can find out more about me at PlayingwithFIRE.co—that’s .co. We’re on Twitter actively, Instagram most of the time, and Facebook hardly ever. But we are on all three of those platforms and that’s where you can find us. You can always reach out to us via e-mail. [email protected]. And every week or two, I go through that list and I respond personally to everyone. So that’s where you can find us.

Mindy: Wow. Clear out your inbox because you’re about to get swamped. Okay, Scott Rickens from Playing with FIRE, the movie, the book, the website, the Twitter, the Instagram, everywhere. Playing with FIRE. Thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your story. This was hugely helpful. To me, I love being able to direct people, places where they can start their journey and this is an excellent overview of yours.

Scott Rieckens: Thank you guys so much for having me. It’s an absolute honor and I love what you guys are doing. Keep it up.

Mindy: Same!

Scott: I love what you’re doing. Keep it up. Let’s hang out.

Mindy: Yeah, we’ll hang out. Let’s do it.

Scott Rieckens: All right, I’m coming to Denver.

Mindy: Woohoo! We’ll be here.

Scott: All right, that was Scott Rickens from Playing with FIRE. Mindy, what’d you think?

Mindy: Oh, my goodness. I cannot say enough good things about Scott. I love his story. I love his ability to tell it in a really relatable and a really interesting way. I am in this space. I’ve been in this space for five years now and like we said in the beginning, what’s so remarkable about this story is that it is not remarkable at all. There is no secret sauce to this financial independence dream. You can do it. Make more money, spend less money, increase your savings rate. Over and over again, we hear the same thing and it’s just prood that it works.

Scott Rieckens: What I thought which was really wonderful about the way he presented that was he didn’t come on here and say, this is the right away to do things. We should do it this way or we should do it this way. He came in and said, here’s my story. Here’s how I felt about something. Here’s the options that were presented to me.

I blew my mind when it was a possibility. Here’s how I decided to pursue it and here’s all the emotional reasons why I went ahead and made these major changes to the most important things driving my financial opposition so I could live this life. And I think that’s like a really powerful way of communicating all of this stuff. It’s something that you can relate to and understand. Sometimes I’m guilty of thinking, this person is not behaving very efficiently in pursuit of financial independence. But you don’t get that from Scott at all, right?

Mindy: Yeah, and something that came up after we stopped recording but before we said goodbye to Scott completely is that this whole entire journey was two years long. Almost two years to the day that this episode releases is when he heard that first Mr. Money Mustache episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast. And this is even more mind-blowing, the fact that he did this, is the fact that he did this in two years.

Scott: Yeah. It’s such a repeatable scenario for you if you’re anywhere close to the same situation, both working full-time jobs in any city and feeling like you’re not getting ahead. There’s no point to what you’re doing. There’s no—you’re not happy or you want to make a change. What he did—his thought process, how he brought his spouse along. All that stuff, are, I think really good nuggets of wisdom to think about applying it to your own life.

Mindy: I absolutely agree. So if you are new to this journey. If you know somebody who is new to this journey. If you know anybody who is having a difficult time convincing their spouse to get on board with them, please share this episode with them. You can find it at BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow59 and it’s obviously, it’s anywhere they have podcasts.

Scott, should we get out of here?

Scott: We should but before we get out of here, just a quick plug. If you enjoyed the show and you want to always listen to BiggerPockets Money podcast whenever we have a new one, feel free to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Play, wherever it is that you’re enjoying the podcast.

Mindy: Thank you, Scott.

Scott: Just a little plug there.

Mindy: Thank you, Scott. Yes. Please hit ‘Subscribe’ and we come out every Monday, although every once in a while we have a bonus episode and you will get notification of that if you are subscribed to us. All right. From Episode 59 of the BiggerPockets Money podcast, this is Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench and we’re wishing you BiggerPockets. This signoff is courtesy of Dan, who suggested it to me in private message. You can private message me on BiggerPockets. You can also e-mail me at [email protected] or Scott at [email protected]. You can send the show a note at [email protected]. And there we go.

Scott: On that note, I have one more final thing. One of my buddies recently had his ear reattached in a surgery. It was on New Year’s Day, actually, emergency ear attachment. And I remember walking out of there and the surgeon had come out and we’re all anxiously awaiting the news to see how this is going to go. And the surgeon says, “Wishing you a Happy New Ear”.

Mindy: I’m like, is this a real story, Scott? Or is this some dumb joke?

Scott: It was a real story, of course. Anyways. Goodbye, everybody.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Scott’s journey with money
  • How he started making money
  • The advantages and disadvantages of living in a military base
  • The reason he ended up living in San Diego with his wife
  • How he discovered financial independence
  • The reason they never accumulated consumer debt
  • His recommendation on how to track your spending
  • How he manages his personal finances
  • The steps he took to convince his wife to pursue financial independence
  • The importance of happiness when pursuing financial independence
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “The FI journey is all relative to each individual and it’s flexible.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Anything worth doing is gonna have some obstacles, it’s gonna have some pain, it’s gonna have some learning and you’re gonna have failure to succeed.” (Tweet This!)
  • “It is not about spreadsheets. This is about happiness. This is about time. This is about freedom.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Cutting back isn’t fun until it is.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Scott

About Author

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast is for anyone who has money… or want to have more! Join BiggerPockets Community Manager Mindy Jensen and Director of Operations Scott Trench weekly for the BiggerPockets Money Podcast! Each week, financial experts Mindy and Scott interview unique and powerful thought leaders about how to earn more, keep more, spend smarter, and grow your wealth. You'll get tips for getting your financial house in order and actionable advice from guests who have been in your shoes - and found their way out.

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