Scott: Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, show number 98, with Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life.
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Vicki: Clear your mind, getting rid of your debt, having savings and for a lot of people, just getting $100,000. I mean that’s like impossible in most people’s minds and $100,000 at four percent interest is not going to be financial independence but it frees you to reset your life.
Scott: 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 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, Mindy Jensen. How are you doing today Mindy?
Mindy: I’m doing so well Scott. I’m so excited for today’s episode. It is with Vicki Robin. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her. She wrote this little book called Your Money or Your Life. Did she say it published in 1992? It went on to sell… I don’t think this is correct. I think her publisher is maybe not sharing accurate numbers. They went on to sell 600,000 copies but I swear I know 600,000 people who have read this book.
Scott: Yeah, I think it’s clearly a dominant force in the relationship with money and using money in passive income and just fueling financial independence and living a lifestyle of your dreams. It’s just a foundational work in this world that we live in in the financial independence community. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s absolutely a must read. It’s one of the several books on this subject to go and figure this out.
Mindy: Yes and I’m going to stop you right there and I’m going to stop everybody who’s listening and say, if you have not read Your Money or Your Life,” you need to pick it up at your local library, pick it up at the bookstore, order it on Amazon right now, you need to read this book. You need the information that’s in there. It’s just so… At the time it was groundbreaking when it came out. She got on Oprah. It’s groundbreaking in that it will absolutely change your life about money. If you’ve already read the book, get a copy and give it to somebody who needs to read the book because it will change your life, it will change their life to read this book and understand, that’s what I could be doing with myself, instead of just plodding along at work, pushing papers back to the next guy over and over again, eight hours a day, what is it, stamping out widgets. It will change the way that you look at everything.
Scott: Absolutely and she’s just a pioneer, incredibly smart and thoughtful and intentional about how she does things and I think you’re going to pick that up in our interview with her today, when you hear about the life choices that she made versus those that were available to her and those that her peers made and where that directed her over the course of life intentionally to where she is today having changed millions of lives and really making an impact on the community.
Mindy: Yeah, what I thought was really interesting, she said that Your Money or Your Life isn’t a finance book. You know what, it’s like seven different books all wrapped up on one. It’s a book about finances. It’s a book about living intentionally. It’s a book about your community. It’s a book about building the life that you want and when you take money out of the equation, your whole life opens up and you can literally do anything you want because you’re not worried about putting food on the table. You’re not worried about your car payment or your house payment or hopefully you don’t have those. When you fix all your finances, when you become financially independent, it isn’t about retiring, it’s about living your best life.
Scott: Absolutely. Shall we bring her in?
Mindy: We should but before we do that, let’s hear a note from today’s sponsor.
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Mindy: Huge thanks to the sponsor of today’s show. Thank you Robin from Your Money or Your Life. Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I’m so excited you’re here today.
Vicki: Yeah, I’m excited to be here too.
Mindy: We start every show off with, where does your journey with money begin? And I’m really, really curious how you grew up, childhood, early adulthood, your whole money story. Ready, set, go.
Vicki: My whole money story. It’s interesting because every time I reflect on it, being 74 years old, I have a lot of stories. They’re mutable but when you said it just now, I thought of when I was like 40 years old and I had a little friend over and my grandma gave me two covered cherry chocolates, one for me and one for my friend and I figured out that I could have both as long as I lied. So I mean, I had an enterprising mind from the get go, I guess. I grew up in an upper middle class family. My parents were both professionals. My mother especially, had grown up in the depression, where her father lost everything except his pretenses and his wife’s pretenses. They had a real skill at appearing wealthier than they were. Holding their heads up high in the middle of not having a lot and then she married a doctor but I think she always taught us that poverty mentality or the depression mentality of use it up, square it up, make it do or do without.
Vicki: Just when I was a kid, it was clear, she would take me to the bargain basement store, I would have a choice of one dress for school from the nice store or five dresses from the bargain basement store. I learned early on not how to stretch a dollar but how to appear prosperous in the eyes of the world. That’s an interesting memory. My father was a doctor. That was a high class, upper class profession and my family is Jewish but my grandfather changed the name from Rabinowitz to Robin and so we appeared to be Christian, which was lucky in North Shore Long Island. I guess the story I’m telling right now is sort of like the mutability of class and I’m aware of class right now because a friend of mine and I talked about my appearance now of having more than others. I don’t see that. I see myself as still in that frame of figuring out how to put together a life that works for me on the resources that I have. I guess I’m skillful. So that’s my upbringing. I went to Brown University and it was paid for through an inheritance I got from my father. That was all taken care of. I came through and I was top of my high school class.
Vicki: I have a lot of privilege. I have educational privilege. I have intellectual privilege. I have racial privilege and I have that sort of background. I have a training in how to present yourself. It’s interesting for me, this morning to be reflecting on that because I just had that conversation yesterday and also, I was just in the middle of a text with somebody on this issue of class in America, which is theoretically supposed to be a classless society and yet it’s not. It’s increasingly not and so the people who are at the bottom who basically in the ’70s…
Vicki: The parents of the people I grew up with, they were all in the everything gets better and better in the United States. People get more and more prosperous. People were able to have a middle class income working on a blue collar job. It was a really different time and I think a lot of times, when people in this movement, the FIRE movement, talk about themselves, they really don’t talk about social class. They don’t talk about the milieu they grew up in. They talk in an individualistic way like, “This is how I made it through,” but they don’t talk about the influences of psychological and social influences of class. At least my perspective,” or at least it’s always a story of, “I broke through.” All that privilege has really [inaudible 00:11:37]my ability to make my life work no matter what my means.
Vicki: I was part of back to the land. All I had to say, 1969, I put all my furniture out on the sidewalk, sold my car, bought a van and started the great adventure that we all took back then. I spent a long time home studying, philosophizing the meaning of life, analyzing what was wrong with the culture I grew up in. It was really great for that period of time and at that time, what I learned was to use… We had such limited means that we never threw money at any problem. We just like, if the car broke down, we learned how to fix the car. I learned a lot. I learned to hunt. I was never the one that pulled the trigger but to butcher and can meat and we raised pig, we raised animals. We had a half acre garden. We did those things and it all seemed like the richest life I could imagine.
Vicki: This morning I was thinking about, why did that feel not like poverty when I was living below the poverty level? And it was because I was in a community that was dedicated to the same thing I was. My reference group was in the same situation I was and had the same spirit of adventure I had and it wasn’t until many years later, really when Your Money or Your Life was published in 1992 and I went on the road, where I was interacting with people who had way more than I did and it was like leaving a bubble of contentment and being in a world where people thought nothing of saying, “Let’s go out for drinks.”
Vicki: [inaudible 00:13:48]. “I’ll have water.” “Let’s go for lunch.” “I’ll have the soup.” “Why don’t we just split the bill four ways?” Existential crisis for a week. Just reflecting on this and I guess it’s appropriate for the podcast because this is what I’m talking about. The struggle to match your life with the lives of people around you and it’s because we’re social animals and rejection. Banishment, rejection, losing status, these are all survival things for a social animal. I bet you there’s people who listen to your podcast for whom these psychological issues are intense, whether it’s that you were born with a silver spoon and so you feel ashamed or whether you were born with no spoon and you scrap your way up in life.
Vicki: That was my circumstance and then the other thing that I did when I was younger is I lived in Europe for a year and a half and I went to school in Madrid, college, and I had a certain amount of money for a certain period of time. I double the period of time and spent the same amount of money. I really learned how to be super frugal and do everything I wanted. I had a car and I really loved traveling to the hinterlands in Spain and every weekend, I would just get a bag of oranges a bunch of baguettes of bread and fill my car with people and then we would sleep in nunneries. We would knock on the door and you get to sleep in haylofts. It’s those sorts of things. It’s those sorts of things that inform my life. This having a range, having class fluidity and also stuff fluidity. My financial independence journey really started with I teamed up with Joe and I’d met him fairly early in my life and he explained to me how I could take the savings that I had invested in, at that time, Canadian bonds, dollar denominated Canadian, province of Ontario bonds at a nine percent interest and then I could turn…
Vicki: I know. Yeah.
Vicki: Yeah, you’re going to die at this one. Then I had another bunch of money when my mother died and I got to invest that in 1981 at like 12 to 15 percent interest. Basically I would say there’s a lot of dumb luck involved in my story as well. I often think of myself as the Forrest Gump of everything. I like wandering into scenes that I don’t belong in but somehow or another, this seems to work.
Scott: Vicki, one question I had about all this. This circumstance that you described and how it was all relative to your circumstances. Many people, I think, were raised in a middle, upper middle class lifestyle but probably didn’t go down the same route that you did in your 20s. What do you think your peers, who you grew up with, did their behavior differ from yours in their relationship with money?
Vicki: Oh, my God, yes. I mean, for years I avoided my high school reunion because I was voted most likely to succeed in my high school class and then if I’d gone to a reunion-
Mindy: I’m sorry, did you or did you not write a book that sold more than 100 copies?
Mindy: What are we at now? Two million? Five million?
Vicki: No, no, a million copies.
Mindy: Only a million.
Vicki: There was about 30 years between graduating from college and that and that feels accidental to me as well. I mean, it feels like the product of a focus on what matters most. I mean, for me, Your Money or Your Life is a spiritual book. It’s a spiritual book… Presents as a money book but it’s really a spiritual book. It’s about your attitude toward life and focusing on what matters most. We really had dedicated ourselves to growing spiritually and so that didn’t produce a very prosperous lifestyle but it did produce Your Money or Your Life, which is not just about the math. I just did a class on this where I really wanted people who are fans of Your Money or Your Life to understand that it wasn’t about the money, it was about the meaning. It was about the purpose. It was about building soul force and not bank accounts.
Vicki: I think that that book shines with a level that inner work that we’ve done for a long time. People I graduated from high school with are doctors and lawyers, accountants and hedge fund managers and some of them bumped into something in life and were bumped off of the… Not all of them. I think it wasn’t a chosen lifestyle.
Mindy: I’m listening to you describe this amazing lifestyle where you are doing what you want to do. You chose to live on a homestead and maybe you’re living below the poverty line but you don’t feel the poverty line because you’re well fed, you have clothes, you’re surrounded by people who are also doing all of the same things. You sound happy to me. I wonder how many of those doctors and lawyers and hedge fund managers are so excited, or do they wake up in the morning and they’re like, “I’ve got to go to work again.” I mean, maybe the lawyers are really excited to go be mean in the courtroom and maybe the doctors are super pumped about saving a life but they aren’t allowed to go find their spiritual self because they’re too busy trying to keep up with the Jones’ and try to make the payments on the cars and all of that.
Mindy: I’ve read that, that you were voted most likely to succeed. I’m like, “Okay, check that box off.” I don’t know, maybe it’s a preaching to the choir thing but it sounds like you get to spend your days doing whatever you want and if medicine was your thing, now you have the opportunity to go and study that because money isn’t an object. You don’t have to worry about putting food on the table and paying your mortgage and all of that. Yeah, I disagree with you. Sorry, respectfully disagree with you. You did become the most likely to succeed. You succeeded. You won life. Congratulations.
Vicki: Thank you. I’m still here. Let’s hope my life holds out for another 10 to 20 years. Just back to working with Joe. I felt that he has something that other… I’d never heard anybody talk about money like he talked about money and so when people started to approach him about, “What do you know that I don’t know?” I mean, I was there when he was sitting, thinking about how he’s going to explain what he did to a couple who wanted to find out and he was thinking through, “First I did this, then I did that,” there was no nine step program. He didn’t follow a program. He did all of this very reluctantly. He had no desire to be famously. That was all an interruption to his main intent in life. So he did that explanation to the couple, then people would show up, three couples in our living room or four people. We started doing the seminars because we were working with an organization that needed money and so we thought, well we could teach this and raise money.
Vicki: So really, until Joe died and really for several years after that, all the money we brought in was dedicated to funding mostly little groups that were working toward a sustainable future. That's also part of my history that until the whole group of people… Joe died, the group of people unraveled and I set out on my own. That whole period of time, none of that money was mine so people look at best selling author, million copies, think, "She has a boodle of money," and now because I've saved and because Your Money or Your Life continues to be successful and we don't have the foundation anymore. I don't have the foundation, the money comes into my pocket and I've turned it into paying cash for two houses. One I live in with two rentals and then I bought another rental. I don't know if I'm on topic anymore. No, I think the thing is, when I'm out on the road for Your Money or Your Life, that's when it became my means and the gap between my means and what other people had, created stress for me because I had to figure out how from the circumstance I was coming from, I could look prosperous enough so that people wouldn't reject the message because the messenger looked like a hippie.
Mindy: That’s an interesting point. Yeah, because-
Scott: There’s some foreshadowing to this too earlier in some of the themes growing up.
Vicki: Yeah, that’s what I mean about, I was aware of where I was going to get to in this story from the beginning, that I’m just thinking today about class issues and a lot of ways you determine somebody’s class is by the things they have. Also, for me, writing the book and publicizing it and traveling and speaking, etc. that was all about lowering consumption in North America as an environmental issue because it became clear to me in the late ’80s that consumerism was the biggest driver of basically… Then we were interested in the hole in the ozone but we were pretty clear that we were heading toward breakdown some place around the 2020. I mean, the early people in the sustainability field were already mapping resource flows and consumption and they said, “If we keep going the way we’re going, our civilization is going to start breaking down around about now.”
Vicki: I was a little Dutch girl. I was trying to influence Americans to consume less, save more, for the sake of the planet, for the sake of the critters and for the sake of the plants and for the sake of the healthy soils and for the sake of all that. That’s why I did all of it, and it was fun. I mean, I learned a ton. That was the challenge and we knew that we were so radical that if there was a hair out of place, people could go, “She looks ratty, I don’t have to do what she’s talking about.” It was in service to a mission at that time. I don’t know. I’ve wandered all over the place, so there you go.
Scott: What were your relative means at that time and how did you stretch it to pull off that appearance and relate to your target audience?
Vicki: Here’s the deal, I mean, at that point I was spending about $800 a month and I know that because I have accurate to the penny accounts. It was about $800 a month was what I was spending at that time. Joe was about 500. How did I pull that off? Is that what you’re asking?
Scott: Yeah, what were some of the things you did to appear prosperous or relatable to your target audience with this work on that budget?
Vicki: Well, one of the things just to say, is that when you live in a group of people, that’s one of the biggest strategies for lowering your expenses. A resource shared is an expense halved. I had plenty. I had more than enough. I shopped in thrift stores. Everything I had just about except for underwear was used. I had good taste from being brought up by a mother who had really good taste. I cleaned up… I have to say, I was fortunate and I think the good fortune was something that was installed inside of me that was not cowed by others, that I could read a situation and figure out how to be in it in such a way that I could fit enough to be able to do the work I wanted to do. I bought what I thought was a really nice dress, this purple dress for the first book tour. Boom, there Joe and I are within a few weeks on Oprah in my purple dress with these big shoulder pads and this little cinched in waist. I saved that dress and I was on Oprah for a second time and I wore the dress as a symbol of, you don’t have to buy something new for every wedding you go to, and then I saved the dress for maybe I was going to be on Oprah again. I never got on Oprah…
Vicki: Stuff like that. Number one, being able to costume. I think it’s all costuming. We used to call it clip boarding because you go into a circumstance, you know, a day timer thing or whatever. At that time, we had paper day timers. So you have your little leather day timer that you got at the thrift store and you hold it in your arm in a very official way and somebody says something to you and you open up your day timer and you take a note and it’s just like, “Wow, who’s that? What’s she writing in her day timer?” I don’t know. I guess what I’m saying is that a lot of our money life is about appearances.
Mindy: Sure. You want to appear as wealthy or wealthier as everybody else so you fit in.
Vicki: And a lot of consumption is about overcoming the shame of not having what other people have or being influenced by your new best friend is somebody in an ad and you want to have the body that person has. You want to have the couch they have. You want to have the motorcycle they have. A lot of our consumption is really about self comparison and trying to get on the pony that other people seem to be riding and so that’s why, since 1974, pretty much through a set of policies in the early ’70s, this started to drive apart… The middle class started staying at the same level and the wealthy started accumulating more wealth. So a lot of consumption has been people trying to bridge that gap because it appears that other people have what they don’t.
Vicki: I learned this when I used to work in an agency that provided Christmas presents for people in poorer communities who had hit some hard times. Not that they were stuck there but they were used to giving Christmas presents to their kids. Anyway, so we’d go and we’d dress up like Santas and go and deliver bags of presents and I was stunned by how nice everybody’s houses were. They were nicer than my house. Their furniture, their end tables, everything was like, “Wait, what is this about?” I found out that people were renting furniture and an incredible interest rate so that they could feel respectable. That what I was doing, encouraging people to spend less, was difficult for people at the bottom because they needed to spend more, they felt, in order to hold their heads up, to get…
Vicki: Honestly, folks, I don’t know why this is the topic. I’ve never talked about this on any of my financial independence podcasts but I think it’s an important part of it because a lot of people end up in debt. We joke about buying things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. We joke about that but it’s actually, really, true. So you have to start waking up and peeling off those layers, those false layers of status and just start asking, and that’s what Your Money or Your Life does. You start asking, who am I? Who am I in the middle of all this stuff and all this debt and all this lifestyle? Who am I? What do I really want? When I was five, what did I think about life? Yeah, I think that’s an important part of the process. Please ask me another question because I’m lost.
Scott: No, I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic. It seems like there’s two key things here. One, you mentioned resource sharing and that enables, if there’s a trapping of the middle class that you want but you’re sharing your housing expense, you can so easily afford it and it’s not going to break your budget if that becomes necessary. It’s just contextually, in terms of the framework that other people can apply to their lives. Then secondarily, it’s the fact that this is, I think, the major thing inhibiting a large portion of the middle class, where you want to appear prosperous to other people. A lot of the questions, even in the FIRE community is around, how do I have this appearance? How do I get this great value or get the same result as what other people are doing but at no cost or a fraction of the cost? It’s why travel hacking, I think, is so popular within the FIRE community. It’s a completely different experience to go and take that cruise that you’ve earned with travel reward points than it is to pay $1,000 in cash for it. So maybe there’s some of that going on there as well.
Vicki: There’s a sense of pride and cleverness in that sort of self cleverness that you get to have what other people have on half the cost or a quarter or no cost. That is a lot of the FIRE community, is that cleverness, which I just explained has been real for me.
Scott: Maybe another question about this would be, how have you seen this movement evolve over the last couple of years? Are we seeing a growth in the FIRE community in the past five, 10 years or has it always been there and always been growing slowly and we’ve just maybe noticed it because, I’m 12?
Vicki: Number one I don’t know because I came into it… I stumbled into it a couple of years ago. I determined I wanted to update Your Money Your Life because I met some millennials who were in debt and disoriented. They’d never heard of Your Money Your Life so I thought, “Okay fine. I’ll update it for this next generation. Leave it in better shape than I found it.” Because a lot of the advice from earlier was pre smartphones. It was a different world back then. It wasn’t until a month after I signed the contract that I discovered the Reddit, the financial independence Reddit. At that point I think there was a couple hundred thousand people on it. I think now there’s double that. So it’s kind of burst onto the scene in the last couple of years. I take no credit for that. I think a lot of it is Mr. Money Mustache and Mad Fientist. A lot of it is that some of the main proponents have burst on the scene. They’ve been public. They’ve been interested in podcasting. Podcasting is, I don’t know, it’s like five years old maybe. Before that we did it differently.
Vicki: So suddenly the information is flowing out and then anybody and his brother can start a website and start blogging, put up some ads someplace and do some affiliate codes and start to make money. It's been not only a movement that has caught hold because of the value of it but it's also a style of education that has caught hold because people realize they can make money from it. So I think that's been part of the burgeoning thing is, is that it's been a sort of new ecological niche out in the internet. So a lot of people have come to fill it. Including my dear friend Grant Sabatier, who's helped me a lot, who has Millennial Money and his book about financial freedom. So he taught me a lot to talk millennial a lot. So I think the technology has promoted this explosion. There's a new simplicity to it, whether it's Mr. Money Mustache's beautiful chart about if you save more you're just sort of like block and tackle. You're just pulling your FI date closer to you. So I mean he has had a lot of influence I think.
Vicki: There’s always been somebody who comes along in every generation who just hits that sweet spot and suddenly they gain prominence. I think, one book I read called The Simple Life by David Shi really made a difference for me. He traced this impulse throughout American history and really every generation has a version of this. It’s frugality, simplicity, conscious living, rural arts, back to the land. There’s always about 20 percent of the American population that’s interested in this. They’re interested in a counter cultural approach. I think what I see in the FIRE community though, by and large, not critical of anybody, is that it is about the math and the money. I mean it really is about the math and the money. I do not see an intense spiritual dimension, a desire for life to be more meaningful, a desire to leave your job not just to leave but to be part of something that you long to be part of, but you can’t because you have to work.
Vicki: So it’s been very… Joe was an engineer. I see a lot of techies, engineers in this movement. I find people relatively apolitical. Just, figuring out what the system is and how to work it and how to get through it and how to have a life that they prefer, but don’t see the social political dimension of things. One of the thing that’s happening is that the middle class is stagnant. I tell people, you know I mean, basically I call us smart rats. We’re the smart ones that get off the ship. You know, you start to see really one of the basic tenants is be an owner of capital. It’s the capitalists who actually are getting wealthier. The W2 people are stagnant. So you start to figure out, “Okay how can I be one of the capitalists? How can I own capital and live on passive income because that’s the winning game?”
Vicki: So FIRE is sort of like an every man’s capitalism. You know how to win at the capitalist’s game. That’s what I noticed in this generation. In my generation it was more spiritual growth. Like, meaning, purpose, back to the land, simplicity. There was one of the important books when Your Money or Your Life came out was Duane Elgin’s book, Voluntary Simplicity. So a lot of what we did was a critique of affluence and a choice to live a life that was not retiring early but to step outside the more is better world and live in an enough is enough world and learn that skills that basically our affluent lifestyle has eliminated. Because people don’t even know how to cook anymore.
Scott: Absolutely. I love what you just said there about how it’s a capitalist’s game. It’s about the numbers. Perhaps that’s why there’s a lot of growth in this is because some people appreciate that spirituality component and should. I think I’m with you on that. Some people don’t. But a lot of the content out there is not talking about what you do with it once you accumulate the capital and the passive income. It’s just talking about how to do it. I think that there’s some really interesting implications down the line from that where you wonder is the financial independence movement, is all this stuff we’re talking about accelerating income inequality or wealth inequality? Or is it combating it when it allows the everyman to apply a very sophisticated level of intelligence on accumulating and then investing and harvesting the returns of capital? So I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there.
Vicki: I think one of the things I’ve said to people that I’ve met in the FIRE community when I’ve been asked to do talks or podcasts, is that there’s sort of like an identity crisis. I call it an induced midlife crisis. What’s it all for? What’s it all about Alfie? So people scale the wall of fear and they pull the trigger and they get out. They are in the uncomfortable part of freedom. They’ve lost their social circle. They’ve lost their time structuring. They’ve lost their ability to talk to the guy in the bar on Friday nights. They’ve lost a lot of what makes us belong. For a while there is a period of time where you sleep, you pig out on Netflix, you do the things, you learn to play guitar, everybody talks about learning to play guitar. Or you go and you travel. You optimized money and now let’s optimize other things. You know? So let’s optimize our bodies. And then that, I think, wears out for a lot of people.
Vicki: What I notice is that a lot of people who’ve been on the FI path, they had the experience we had where people notice that you know something that they don’t. You start to be an educator. You start to share what you know in a lot of different ways. Some people they start their blog or some people, you know, they volunteer in the senior center and they help people with taxes. People start to realize, I have something I can give because I’ve mastered something in this world. But eventually I think that then you start to realize there’s more to life than any of this. I don’t know what it is. So people start to, whether it’s going back to school or volunteering, people start to explore what else is there in life? So it’s a process but since the FIRE community’s so focused on the getting there, there’s not… I’m starting to serve the people who’ve gotten out and are looking for something else. I don’t know if that addressed your question.
Scott: No I think that’s helpful. On that same topic, how do you… A lot of people we’re starting to see are getting out of the game earlier, before they meet any of the technical definitions of FIRE like this four percent rule, these arbitrary numbers. Maybe they’re doing something more similar to what you were doing where, “Hey there’s some math to this but it’s about what I want to do with my life. I’m going to get out of there.” I wonder if there’s a correlation between the amount of your nest egg and passive income and other types of assets that you have and your ability to go after that. Maybe it’s not totally FI but maybe there’s a point earlier in the process where people can start making that shift. What do you think about that?
Vicki: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of people. Number one, I’ve talked about the levels of financial independence and the first level for me is freeing your mind. Getting out of the competitive status game and realizing that there’s a me inside all of this pretense. There’s a me inside and the me inside wants something different from all this stuff. So freeing your mind and being able to see how you’re being manipulated to buy things is really important. There’s plenty of people for whom that’s the whole deal. That’s the whole deal. So they get their expenses under control because they want what they have, they don’t want what they don’t have. They don’t know the difference. Then they go on to… They get a masters in something else. They retool for a profession that’s more aligned with who they are. Then there’s getting out of debt. I think the getting out of debt is… If it only leads to getting out of debt and not building it up again, that’s such a liberation.
Vicki: You can do so many things if you just do that. Then there is the people who have a financial plan of, say, six months of savings. Six months of expenses in liquid assets in liquid form. That, people go on the road with their family. People do the things they already do the delayed pleasures at that point knowing that they could either apply their old profession to make some money or do it part time. There’s one person I know and probably tons more figure out, they want to be in nature and they volunteer… They live in national parks. They get a stipend and they do a few programs for the visitors. Basically it’s like getting on top of just that. Clearing your mind. Getting rid of your debt. Having savings. For a lot of people, just getting $100,000, that’s like impossible in most people’s minds. $100,000 at four percent interest is not going to be financial independence. But it frees you to reset your life.
Vicki: So I think there’s many, many, many reset points along the way. I actually think retiring early, I have been challenging that idea more and more. Because I think what makes life worth living, one of the things is meaningful work. Applying yourself to something that stretches your mind, that uses your body, that you, yourself believe is important. That you have deemed it important enough for you to spend your life on and that serves the human journey. You know, that serves a larger community. Because as I said, we’re social animals. So I think working… I think the point should be financial independence. Free your mind, free your debt and freeing yourself from one paycheck away from penury and then rededicate yourself to something that’s meaningful. I’ve called it recently, financial independence retire eventually.
Scott: Love it.
Mindy: I love that. No, no, i love that a lot because I think so many people hear about this, “Oh wait I can quit my job?” That’s desirable for a lot of people because they don’t love their job. Who loves pushing the papers to the next person eight hours a day? That’s not a lot of fun. I mean for most people. Some people might really love that. I had a boss that I really couldn’t stand. Everything about her was like… She was a miserable person. She shared that with everybody. I didn’t want to work for her anymore so I quit. It wasn’t about never working again, it was about never working for her again. Never having to work for her again. So I work at BiggerPockets now because I love my job. I’m teaching people how to invest in real estate and teaching them about their finances. But so many people that I meet on this, about FIRE, are focusing on the RE part. The, “Oh I can’t wait til I quit my job.” “Well what are you going to do when you quit?”
Mindy: “Oh I don’t know.” Then don’t quit. If you don’t know what you’re going to do you’re going to be really bad at it. You’re going to watch TV and sleep all the time and gain a lot of weight. You need to have a purpose. I love that you’re “Retire eventually.” Yeah but now you don’t have to work and make money. You just have to do something you love. The park ranger. That was Carl’s initial desire was to quit his job and then be a park ranger. Now he’s doing other things.
Vicki: Right but you could be a park ranger eventually. That’s the thing is that, I guess if I’m talking to you because I’ve been financially independent a long time, I have retooled my life again and again and again and again. I have been interested in many things. I’ve had a chance to just bus myself back to a buck private. I’m doing it now with climate change. I want to make a contribution to this, what I consider a climate emergency. So I’m hauling forward the skills and the projects that I’ve done before and in theory, if all goes well, I’m going to go the climate conference in Santiago Chile. But I don’t fundamentally, professionally, have any right to do this. But I have the freedom to learn and I have the freedom, I have the humility to not have to go with my entire brownie badge of badges, my brownie sash, I have the freedom to go as somebody who is not professionally authorized, who is a learner who cares deeply. That always takes me into stuff that’s interesting.
Vicki: I’m not an economist. I wrote a book about money. I’m not a financial planner, financial anything. But I cared. I wrote a book about local food and I’m not a farmer. I’ve had a messy garden for years. I always have a messy garden. But I cared about provisioning for my community and for communities in general. It’s the largest supply chains of our food system that would break down. So I just dove in. I learned everything. Basically all I’m saying is, one of the freedoms is the freedom to have new interests and follow them and new interests and follow them and new interests and follow them. It’s like there is no one thing. Maybe you travel for a year and then that bug is gone. If your identity is, “I travel,” then boom you’re screwed. So at the end of that you might find that you’re in Nepal and you want to work in an orphanage.
Vicki: So you do orphanage for a while and then you work in an organization that looks at the problem of poverty in two thirds world and then that's not it for you anymore. You can continually respond to the calling that comes from within and the calling that comes because you've encountered things. One of my favorite stories is Kristy and Bryce. What's her book? Millionaire.
Scott: They were on one of the episodes of the podcast. They’re traveling around Europe, is that right?
Vicki: Yeah because they’re traveling full time but-
Mindy: Quit Like a Millionaire.
Scott: Quit Like a Millionaire.
Vicki: Sorry, Kristy, if you’re listening to this. But they bumped into a librarian who told them that the books for kids were all about white kids. Or there were books for people of color, kids of color, but they couldn’t find them in the library. So Kristy and Bryce applied their tech skills to a database for librarians so that they could say, “Okay, Asian, transgendered…” Then they would find books for kids who were like that. So you encounter needs and you realize, “I have a lot of skills and I can help.” So that’s what I hope people will do.
Scott: I think it’s a wonderful mission. It’s like the point of this is, when you help people become financially free early in life or at least mentally free early in life from this, they’re going to go on and change the world in a positive way, in countless ways that you can’t predict.
Scott: Which I think is an incredible mission. Something that we’re trying to do here, that everybody in the FIRE movement I hope is trying to do with that.
Vicki: Yeah. Liberate life energy to serve in these very complex times where we need people liberated from the thrall of capitalism so that they can help as people fall off the bottom or fall off the side, or that there’s parts of life that are not being attended to because we’re all so busy. Yeah. I agree.
Scott: All right. Hope you’re enjoying the show. We’ll be right back after a word from today’s show sponsor.
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Scott: I have a question about your levels that you were talking about, where you free your mind, get out of debt, have some savings, maybe target $100,000 or some mental break point on that journey. That was no issue for me because I started this right out of college and lived like I was in college, continued doing that. I’ve never been in a position basically except for the first couple of weeks at my job where I felt that I was going to be completely constrained by that. But I think someone who’s purchased a middle class lifestyle, who has a nice home with a big mortgage, who has a car with car debt on it, who has a lot of money in their 401K maybe but very little cash liquidity in their bank account, maybe that is going to be a more difficult challenge for them. Do you have a different set of advice or is it the same thing, just it’s going to be a little harder to free your mind and figure your way out of that situation?
Vicki: I don’t think it’s hard. I think you can wake up in any circumstance. The Buddha woke up being a prince in a castle. You can wake up in any circumstance. That can be quick. You can just like, one morning you wake up and you can look around at your whole fiefdom and you go, “This means nothing to me. This is not who I am. I stumbled into a path. It’s wrong. I got into the wrong machine. I got on the wrong horse on the merry-go-round.” That’s easy. There’s grief upon awakening no matter what your means, whatever your life circumstance is. Because when you wake up you realize, “Okay I have to start back peddling out of this. I have to do it intelligently. I mean I could throw caution to the wind. I could sell my house in a sinking market. I could just put frying pan to fire.”
Vicki: But you start to see what you can do. Maybe you get rid of your car and you realize, “I could actually buy a beater with a really good engine but no class.” I mean you start to look at where you’ve invested yourself in sort of looking good. So I think you can back peddle out of that. Now I mean a lot of people with that kind of house and that kind of lifestyle are not going to look at taking in boarders or subdividing their house to have a mother-in-law but that’s something you could do. You could, as I say, a resource shared is a cost halved. There are people I know who have a life like that who have moved out of their house into a motor home and rented the house. I mean that’s another way. You say, “Okay I have these assets I have these debts. How can I deploy the assets in such a way that they actually pay off my debt?”
Vicki: So I think the other part of this, which doesn’t have anything to do with your means, is your cleverness and your motivation to clear things up. If you look at your circumstance and you think [inaudible 00:56:25]but you really don’t have the guts to do anything different because your partner doesn’t want it, your parents will be disappointed because you’ve got the golden handcuffs on you, whatever. If you don’t have the depth of motivation you’re never going to do anything. But if you do, you will get creative. You will see how I can turn what I have into assets. It’s like my house, having put two mother-in-law apartments on the ground floor of my house, that’s the sort of thing that’s totally possible once you wake up.
Scott: I did want to ask about that because at BiggerPockets, we do have a heavy lean towards real estate investing in our community. Could you tell us a little bit about your current housing situation and how you’re using real estate?
Vicki: Yeah so I live in a community where just the basic dynamics of the economy are sort of ruining the… They’re not ruining. That would be an extreme thing. But challenging our community because working class people, increasingly can’t afford to live here. People have houses and they’ve turned them into Airbnbs. So a lot of working class people are being kicked out of their houses, kicked out of the mother-in-law apartment so that people can make more money. I’m not criticizing that, I’m just saying that that’s happened. It’s a free market economy so people have the right to do that. You can do whatever you want with your possessions pretty much. So that’s not okay with me. It’s not okay with me to… The town I live in because of economics, is becoming almost like a gated elder community because people with resources have been able to come in and buy up the real estate.
Vicki: I’ve been very dedicated to affordable housing. Basically because the people I love, don’t have the means to stay here. People are leaving. People who are central to my community are leaving because they can’t afford it. That’s part of my motivation of putting in this mother-in-law apartment. It was to provide affordable housing to people. Very often the people who’ve rented it and then I turned my garage into an apartment because I liked having that mother-in-law so much that… I just say, “Okay I’ve got a resource and how do I share it? How do I share it in a way that still works for my needs, which is for a lot of privacy and autonomy?” So I rent them at below probably market value rent. I get income. People in the community get a place to live. Very often, my little places are people who either are new to the community or young people with service jobs or somebody who’s in a divorce and they are transitioning.
Vicki: Sometimes I have people for a couple of years but usually it’s just the six months to a year getting their footing in life again. So I love doing that for the dual reason that it provides some income and also it provides a service. So also looking at this, I had money in socially responsible investments in market products. I wanted to be a one woman reversing the lack of rentals. I mean rentals are scare as [inaudible 00:59:50]. So anyway I kept my eye out to buy a property that was in decent enough shape and that I could rent for a decent rental. I found one last April. Boom it went on the market on Sunday, Monday morning I had an offer on it because I’d been looking at the market and I knew that this house was a good one. So fixed things up, now I have a renter in there. So it’s a dual thing. It’s like, I like real estate because it’s real. There’s not some market condition, not some stock market condition. Even, I mean I realize even if things tank, I’ve got a tradable resource.
Vicki: Even if money tanks, I’ve got a community resource that’s tradable. So as I told you, early in life I lived very close to the ground. That feels good to me. I don’t like to ride a high horse. I like to ride the pony where your feet are almost dragging.
Scott: No I love it. I love the fact that your… It’s first an intrinsic motivation. A desire to help the community. And then it makes sense financially. Third, you operate and are achieving that and it’s helping your lifestyle, your community goals, it’s supporting your values. I think that’s wonderful.
Vicki: Right. Yeah. That feels really really good to me. I’m also involved in a network, this model’s been used in other communities, a network of people with wealth who want to bring a percentage of their wealth into the prosperity of our community. We call it Whidbey Island local lending. People with business ideas will present them to the network and people in the network who want to invest can invest. Usually it’s loans. So there’s about two million dollars that have been loaned into our community through this network. I’m actually basically carrying two mortgages right now for people. One a farmer and one a single mom. That feels good because that’s… Everything for me is about community. Yeah, I’ve supported farmers. I’ve supported local food restaurants. I supported the pet store where I buy my cat litter.
Vicki: My return is basically my net return is as good as anybody on the index fund. So I’m investing in my community in the businesses and the real estate. All my investments strengthen the weave of my community, which actually, for me, is a currency because the more I support the people around me, the more there’s a sense of belonging, that the fabric is strong. If I need something, the fabric is there for me too. The money economy doesn’t do that for you. It doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t love you. Your investments don’t love you. They won’t come and bring you flowers when you’re in the hospital. If you invest yourself in the money economy, all you’re doing is participating in a fairly spiritually desiccated environment.
Scott: No I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s something that people are going to have to work in order to gain access to, is the type of investing that you’re doing. But it’s probably far more rewarding. You may have lower risk investing in things that you know, people you know, businesses you understand, real property that’s local to you, that kind of stuff. And you may get better returns. And you may do so in a socially responsible manner. I think it’s fantastic and wonderful there.
Vicki: One more thing I'll say is that there was a 16 unit apartment complex, four fourplexes, that was for sale right in the middle of my town. There's a bunch of us who got together who basically we did low interest loans, bridge loans, two year bridge loans to a group of people who were willing to do the conversion of this into a condo community. They put solar panels on the roof and they built a common house. Yeah so through that bridge loan where everybody who did the loan charged two percent interest for two years, and we were able to create a 16 unit condo complex that has high community values. So I mean it's not just small individual projects but there's sometimes people get together and you can transform something in your community. You could take something that's run down and you could form a group that wants to make it into a hostel for travelers. You can do that. Just you change your mind about things.
Scott: Love it. Well Mindy, shall we transition to the famous four?
Mindy: Yeah, Vicki is there anything else you want to say before we get to the famous four?
Vicki: That’s a good question. I really think in this circumstance it’s been pretty free wheeling and you’ve been pretty receptive. So I’ve probably said more than I should.
Scott: Oh no it’s been wonderful. It’s been awesome.
Mindy: I don’t agree at all. Mindy disagrees with Vicki on every turn. But no I could happily talk to you for another four hours.
Vicki: Thank you.
Mindy: This has been wonderful. You know, everything you’re saying I’m hearing, I’m understanding, I’m thinking exactly the same thing as you. It’s not about the retirement. It’s not about focusing on that one thing and the community, when you find a community that you fit into, when you haven’t fit in… I mean we have the same Mom, you and I do. I have a lot of the same experiences that you do although I would have given my friend the two chocolate covered cherries because I don’t like cherries. But I’m hearing you saying all these things and when you find a community that you fit into, it’s just like [inaudible 01:05:58]. It’s so wonderful. You don’t have to feel like the big weirdo all the time. I love that you’re building a community where you are with what you want to do. That’s fantastic.
Vicki: I will say one thing, just how you said it is like, I have joined a community. I didn’t form it. I’m contributing to a community, a place, that was here before me, it will be here after me. That feels very comforting too. To be part of something that’s larger than yourself, that you’re not always having to lift up through your own life energy. So that’s just the one correction.
Mindy: Well I will stand corrected.
Mindy: Okay it is now time for the famous four questions. These are the same five questions that we ask of all of our guests, or four question and one command. Vicki are you ready?
Vicki: I am ready.
Mindy: What is your favorite finance book?
Vicki: Yeah so there’s a lot of people that I adore whose books I’m not going to talk about. What came to mind when I heard that question was a book called the The Resilient Investor by Michael Kramer and Hal Brill and one other, I’m sorry I can’t think of the other. But anyway it’s a framework for investing. It’s a framework for understanding that not all currency is money and that you can invest yourself in… They have like a nine square format where you see all the different things you can invest yourself in to increase your sense of wellbeing and wealth. So The Resilient Investor by Michael Kramer.
Scott: Awesome I have not heard of that but I’ll have to check that out. That sounds very unique, interesting.
Mindy: Yeah, I’ve never heard of that book either.
Vicki: That’s why I said it.
Scott: There we go. Well what do you consider to be your biggest money mistake?
Vicki: Okay, my first loan in this lending network, I had no idea how to do loans. Once again I was a buck private and trying to just do good in the world. A woman came in with this idea of doing a bakery. She reported having a resume that was able to do this. I didn’t know how to read a business plan. Anyway, I loaned her $5,000 to get her bakery started. I was so excited to be part of it. It turned out several years later that she borrowed the same $5,000 from a lot of people in the community and gave them the same equipment as collateral that she gave to me and that she kept borrowing and borrowing and that’s how she paid her staff. She never had any profit. Eventually when up against the wall, she left. She just bugged out of town. So adios that. So I’m better at doing it now. I use my heart and head.
Scott: Fair enough. I think there’s a lot of lessons there to learn if you’re interested in getting into this kind of private sector investing and lending.
Mindy: I want to point out too, Vicki said she didn’t know how to read a business plan. I’m assuming you know how to read a business plan now?
Vicki: I do better. I know how to write one as well as reading one. So yeah, I’ve learned enough to be able to do a good job at local investing. I have a lot of money in my community now. A lot of my personal money in the community.
Mindy: Wonderful. What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?
Vicki: Well, step one of Your Money or Your Life, usually I say, “Oh just start keeping track of your money.” But step one is to do a balance sheet. I think if you’re trying to get oriented and you’re disoriented in your personal finances, being able to look in a no shame, no blame way at your current position, being able to stomach that, being able to look at, “Oh I’ve brought in two million dollars in my life and now I’m $10,000 in debt and I have no idea where the two million dollars went.” That confrontation with the results of your financial behavior in the past, if you can stomach it, and we say in Your Money or Your Life, no shame, no blame. If you can just look at that and accept, “Yeah, right, that’s what I did. I made two million dollars, boom, next time I do that I’m keeping it.” It’s very motivating. I also, sort of the other side of that is gratitude.
Vicki: Acceptance and gratitude. If you look around at what you have and you’re just very grateful for it rather than rejecting it because you made a mistake or rejecting it because it’s not as good as other people’s. You just walk in gratitude. Everything you have. You only have three forks. “Wow I have three forks.” You just turn that, everything… So the more gratitude you can legitimately feel for the blessings in your life, the better foundation you have to get your finances together.
Scott: Awesome. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties? It’s the most difficult question of the famous four.
Vicki: So my humor, I’m an improv actress. I do improvisational theater. My humor is all situational. It’s all playing off of other people’s offers. So I have no jokes.
Mindy: That’s okay. Dollar Revolution tagged Scott and I on Twitter with Eddie [inaudible 01:11:26]who posted a joke about Star Wars. Did you know Wookie meat is edible?
Mindy: Yes, but it’s a little Chewie. Oh my God, Scott.
Scott: That was a Wookie groan. All right. Where can people find out more about you Vicki?
Vicki: Well yourmoneyoryourlife.com is Your Money or Your Life website. VickiRobin.com is my own personal website where I’m blogging on social issues pretty much. Yourmoneyoryourlife.com is like the one stop shopping for everything associated. And also, there’s the Your Money or Your Life community on Facebook that is really active. I appreciate it. I go in and I like people and I learn things. So I recommend joining that community.
Mindy: I didn’t know you had a community on Facebook. I have to go check that out. And all of these links will be available in our show notes, which can be found at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow98. Vicki Robin this was fabulous. I think I did a pretty good job of not fangirling all over you today but it was internal I swear. This has been an honor speaking to you. I’m so excited. You just made my whole day.
Vicki: Thank you.
Scott: This has been wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing everything.
Vicki: Thank you for having me. I’ve said things I never said before in this context. Yeah. I think I was keying off your subtle fangirl thing. But I think these issues are not spoken about. The class, the envy, the status, the getting roped in. What gets you roped in to a way of life that makes no sense to you? How do you step back out of it? I think that’s super important.
Mindy: Yeah, you’re right. Nobody’s talking about this. I think that it’s one thing to hear about it and think, “Oh this is really great but then yeah, you need to figure out your why and figure out how to fix all the things that you’ve done. I don’t want to say done wrong but done not true to yourself.
Vicki: Unconsciously. Unconsciously.
Mindy: Yeah, this was wonderful. Vicki thank you so much.
Vicki: Yeah, thank you-
Mindy: We will talk to you soon. Bye [inaudible 01:13:39].
Vicki: Okay bye, bye. Thank you.
Scott: Thank you. All right that was Vicki Robin from Your Money or Your Life. Mindy, what’d you think?
Mindy: You know. Oh my God. I can’t contain my joy. My whole body is just bubbling up with excitement. That was fantastic. I love her mindset. She’s just… She gets it. She’s got it. She understands what life is all about. I love that she’s building her community. I love that she’s working on things that don’t necessarily bring her a ton of money because she doesn’t have to have that anymore. She still makes money but she’s not… That’s not her focus. Taking that away from your forefront of your mind is just really freeing. The comment, I absolutely agreed with everything that she was saying but you know, I disagreed with her a lot in the episode. I was voted your most successful or most likely to succeed. Yeah, you hit that. You hit that nail right on the head. You’re uber successful. You’re Vicki Robin. It felt like I disagreed with her all the time but I didn’t. I was like… I just I can’t. I got to stop rambling. Scott what did you think?
Scott: You get the sense with… I don’t know maybe this is too far but like the founding fathers right? These guys who started America and got our country going and set up our government. These guys, a lot of them, if you look back, were financially independent early in life. They figured out this, “Hey here’s a way to set up my business,” like Ben Franklin’s printing shop. Get a partner to run it and split the income, whatever, I got passive income. Ben Franklin I believe was a house hacker I believe as well. Then they go and pursue a wide variety of interests that go across a large degree of disciplines. That, I think, is really something that excites me about what Vicki has done with her life. She’s really been able to have been like, “Money, yeah it’s like pretty basic math. Here’s how to get by on very little. I don’t really need that much. Here’s how to create passive income and all that kind of stuff. I’m going to go and pursue impactful matters with my life one after the other, the whole way through.”
Scott: I just think that’s such an appealing and interesting way to appeal to things. I think that’s… One of the things she also said, there’s a warning in there if you picked it up where if you make your identity about what you’re doing on the path to FIRE, like I’m going to travel the world, I’m going to be a renowned world traveler and then you’re like, okay a year after you’re into that and you’re like, “I don’t want to travel anymore.” You’re in trouble. So understand that FIRE is really about the ability to reinvent yourself multiple times in multiple interests. There’s just a lot of really great stuff that came out of that show.
Mindy: Yes now that you’re at the end of it, go back and listen to it again. I’ve already rambled. I enjoyed that discussion thoroughly, I would like to give a shout out to the Mad Fientist for introducing me to Vicki because that is how we got her on the show and this is going to be a very good episode that will resonate for a long time. Scott, I was so excited with Vicki’s comments I didn’t even look up a goodbye. Clever. Let’s use Vicki’s way. Clever ways-
Scott: Let’s just do a Chewbacca goodbye.
Mindy: … to say goodbye.
Scott: From episode 98 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. You’ve got Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench and we’re going to say [inaudible 01:17:12].
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