No, You Are NOT Going Too Far in Pursuit of Financial Independence

by | BiggerPockets.com

I was talking to my buddy and co-worker Craig Curelop the other night. It was about 7:00 p.m., and we were having one of our not-infrequent discussions about financial freedom late after work. As usual, Craig was cooking dinner at the office after his workout. I suspect that he was cooking here in an effort to save money on electricity that he’d otherwise have to use to cook at home (I can’t even tell if I’m joking about that or not). I was just here late, trying to catch up on emails.

For some time, we’d been having a debate about his approach to attaining early financial freedom. I was claiming that Craig goes too far in his pursuit of financial freedom. Craig was politely dismissing my claim and insisting that he was perfectly happy with his situation.

Craig’s Obsession with Financial Freedom

Now, I think I have some good reasons to think that Craig is going pretty hardcore in pursuit of early financial freedom. He does a LOT.

Craig house hacks in a house that is eerily similar to the property I first bought back in 2014—my first house hack. His home is just a few blocks away from my property, but a bit newer and nicer. Craig, however, gets a far better financial return from his investment than I did and will likely do better with his investment than me over time, even though I bought an investment that has better numbers as a traditional rental property. How does he do this? Simple—he rents out his bedroom on Airbnb and sleeps on the futon in the living room!

Craig bikes to work every day. Thirty degrees and snowing like it is on the day I write this? Craig is still on his bike. Craig rents out his car on Turo, netting positive every month on vehicle expenses.

Craig does not eat sugar. Craig does not consume alcohol. Craig is involved in extra-curriculars like Toastmasters in an effort to constantly improve himself. Craig reads incessantly. Craig hang-dries his clothes to save money on electricity. Craig gets up at 5:30 a.m. each morning to pursue his goals. Craig meets investors and potential contacts multiple times per week.

Craig has literally optimized almost every part of his life in pursuit of early financial freedom.

Is this too much? I certainly thought so at first—and I told him so. I thought so until our conversation the other night, when I suddenly remembered what I did to jumpstart my journey to financial freedom.

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Related: 7 Daily Habits of Real Estate Investors Who Seek Financial Freedom

My Obsession with Financial Freedom

See, when I got started on this journey, the term “house hacking” (but certainly not the concept, which has been around forever) had just been invented by Brandon Turner in this article. The concept of biking to work was completely foreign to me. In fact, every single person I had ever even heard of (excluding the 40-year-old virgin) drove to work or took public transit. Riding a bike had just had not presented itself as an option until I began reading a blog called Mr. Money Mustache (one of my favorite blogs of all time).

In spite of friends and family who thought I was crazy, I bought a house hack. I took this “Mr. Money Mustache” guy’s advice and biked to work. I read over 100 personal finance, business, psychology, and career-related books. I quit a stable, hard-earned job with middling corporate opportunity to pursue a highly risky job at a startup. I networked with investors all over the city. I tried to get up early to pursue a version of the Miracle Morning even though I hated it and am a night owl. I cooked all of my own meals and almost never consumed anything that even approached unhealthy. I kept a “daily log.” I even hung dry my laundry instead of installing a dryer. I did this for years. I still do much of this.

I don’t regret it one bit. In fact, looking back, I wish I’d been more like Craig—more obsessed, more (not less) productive.

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect Forever!

The reason I initially thought that Craig was doing too much was that I am currently growing soft. Nowadays, I still house hack. I bike to work, but much less frequently, and often on a custom built e-bike that I put together over the summer that is pretty awesome. This is partly due to a nasty foot injury—I suspect I will resume with biking more regularly on the road bike as the foot continues to improve and the weather gets nicer in the spring of 2018. I cook less and eat out a few times per month. I love Chinese food and am willing to splurge on it now a bit. I enjoy dates at casual restaurants with my girlfriend. I have a dryer.

I still spend very little compared with your average American, but it’s creeping up a bit.

I sometimes forget that I needed to do the hardcore things that Craig is currently doing to get where I am. Are they things that I want to do for the next 50 years? Are they things that I’m even still doing today?

No, not all of them.

Am I proud that I did them and happy that they contributed to my current position?

Absolutely.

But the point of all of this is that I can afford to bring some luxuries back into my life now. I have enough passive income to purchase some of these things and still get ahead. And while my passive income more than pays for my lifestyle as things stand, it is not yet enough to comfortably fund the life I could see myself wanting in the future—a life that will involve fewer still of these optimizations.

As my portfolio continues to grow over the next few years, I see a more permanent house in my future. I see potential pets. I see a very nice, large kitchen and a significantly improved bathroom in a future residence compared to my present situation. I see some luxuries that I’d truly enjoy, like maybe a backyard or garage filled with home gym equipment (purchased second-hand via Craigslist, of course). I see myself gradually approaching a lifestyle that anyone would call middle or upper-middle class.

But I’ll be able to live that lifestyle at extremely low cost, with minimal waste, and fund it entirely with a surplus from real estate cash flow. This result will unfold gradually, as I consistently increase my passive income in the coming years. And this is possible solely because of the optimization that I implemented in the past and am continuing to ride in the present.

I’m starting to get soft, and I may well continue to soften in the future. To plan on living an entire life of perfect optimization would defeat the purpose of pursuing financial freedom. I seek bit by bit to build the exact life I want—and to only increase my standard of living in proportion to my passive income—and never in excess to the point where I will grow fat and lazy.

I’m willing to go without some of the things I eventually aspire to in order to make that dream a reality.

Craig has a similar vision. Craig will not be living on a futon forever. As his wealth grows, as he eliminates his student loans, and as these choices become less and less meaningful to his financial position, I am certain that Craig will cool it a bit.

Related: The Surprisingly Simple “Secret” to Financial Freedom Most 9 to 5-ers Overlook

Once you are at a point where you feel that you can ease off the gas pedal, do it. Do it in certain areas that are most meaningful to you. As your passive income increases and covers your living expenses you can stop making the “sacrifices” that everyone thinks Craig and I are making!

But What About Living in the Present?

Notice, however, that neither Craig nor I give up or gave up certain things that are universally accepted as important to a well-lived life. Like travel. Like nights out with friends. Like attending sporting events. Like visiting family. Like attending life events of those we are close with. Like volunteering in the community. Those are the things we associate with living.

Craig does not go too far in his pursuit of early financial freedom. Craig is one of the healthiest, most well-adjusted folks I know. In spite of his unforgivable love of Boston sports teams, including the New England Patriots, he is a genuinely funny guy, a hard worker, and has friends who come to visit him from all over the country. Craig is doing this whole thing exactly right and will enjoy experiences comparable to every other 20-something in Denver over the next few years, based on his interests. The only real differences between him and the rest of the pack are that he will arrive where he is going on his bicycle, and he will rest his head at night on a futon instead of in a bedroom. He says these things do not affect his happiness. And I believe him. How could they?

I believe that Craig has some of the highest odds of anyone I know of achieving a $1,000,000 net worth by the age of 30. You might look at Craig and think, “That’s crazy – I could never do what he does and sleep on the couch while renting out my bed!” But I challenge you to see things from the other perspective—from Craig’s perspective and mine.

Is it crazy to build that much wealth that early in life? Is it crazy to enjoy the same recreational activities as your peers, yet come out way ahead financially? Is it crazy to create a life that is healthier, more fun, costs less, and sets you up for greater career success or income generation? Is Craig crazy? Am I crazy?

Or is everyone else crazy?

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You Need to Get Obsessed with Optimizing Your Life, Too!

Almost every day since I started optimizing my life, my life has gotten better. I’ve become healthier, wealthier, stronger, happier, a better skier, a better rugby player, and more in tune with my family. I’ve experienced career accomplishments. I’ve since met a wonderful girl who I’ve dated for a year and half and love very much, and I have what I consider to be a pretty good, fun-filled life.

I believe that this progression of events is not unique to Craig and me. Almost everyone I know who has gone on to achieve financial freedom at an extremely early age, who has accumulated a large amount of wealth in a short period of time, or who has started a successful business has done some version of aggressive, all-out optimization in pursuit of their goals.

Maybe successful folks didn’t sleep on a futon or even house hack. But you can be sure that they devote outsized time, in the beginning, to getting some kind of venture off the ground. You can be sure that they earn more than they spend—by a lot. You can be sure that they become obsessed with the success of the venture they’re involved in. Every blogger on this site is obsessed with their craft. They study it relentlessly for years. You need to develop the same healthy obsession with your goals as well.

No one has come to me and said they regret these types of choices. No one regrets giving a worthy goal their best efforts. And even if they do, in most cases, choices like these are easily reversible. You can always stop reading, stop networking, stop biking, and stop house hacking if you decide it’s not for you. Craig can simply stop listing his room on Airbnb tomorrow if he wants and live at a lower cost than almost every American, in the heart of an expensive city at that!

Yes, folks can build a million-dollar net worth as middle-class wage earners over a period of decades. That’s not hard and can be achieved automatically, with merely sane spending habits, buying a reasonable home, and contributing to a 401(k). I’m not talking about achieving this result. I don’t write for folks looking to achieve this result. I seek to help people trying to achieve early financial freedom in a fraction of that time.

And to do that, you need to become obsessed. And if you truly want to give yourself the best chance at achieving this goal rapidly, you need to optimize with a passion and zeal.

The part of the journey that Craig is currently in is the part that so many more of you readers need to undergo to truly jumpstart your journey to financial freedom. This should be the fun part. It’s where you really make the changes necessary to become successful. I’ve met dozens of people who are undertaking this journey and house hacking (yes, with kids) in the bottom units of up/down duplexes. I’ve met people who have begun biking to work. I’ve met people who read relentlessly or who take action day after day in pursuit of success with their career or side hustle. For the first time in years, many of them are excited to take on life. They identify the correct opportunity, the opportunity that offers them a real shot at achieving their goals, and they pursue it 100 percent, with their best efforts, for years.

Don’t mistake these folks for the outliers. The folks who achieve financial freedom rapidly without making optimized choices in almost every area of life—choices that increase their wealth, productivity, and happiness—are the exception, not the rule.

Conclusion

Look, I totally understand that Craig’s approach—or even my approach—may not be something that you want for your entire life. Frankly, I DO NOT plan to house hack in perpetuity, and I am reasonably sure that at some point Craig will move on from his futon to a bed, then a house that he eventually wants to reside in semi-permanently.

The whole point of this is not to live like this forever. It is to do it as long as necessary to achieve your goals. The point is to create and execute a plan to create the life you want and then live that life exactly as you want, as the person in nearly complete control, forever after. And along the way, you’ll probably find that many of these “sacrifices” are actually all-around improvements in your day and lifestyle!

I’m not trying to convince you to live on a futon. I’m trying to tell you that doing so will not impact your happiness if you go in with the right mindset. And that it is not and should not be a permanent state of affairs. I’m trying to tell you that choices like that are the ones that increase your odds of accumulating money and freeing up time with which to pursue big income and investment opportunities unavailable to folks with tiny savings rates and no free time.

You may think that I’m strange for biking to work, making my own meals, and living in a house hack. You may think Craig is strange for renting out his bed and car, sleeping on a futon, and biking to work. But to us, this life is better than an alternative that involves long commutes, being handcuffed to a mortgage, and engaging in unhealthy or unproductive behaviors that don’t produce results or fond memories! And in five, 10, or 20 years, the folks who make choices like this are more likely than not to be multimillionaires with multiple properties and multiple sources of income.

Dave Ramsey famously says, “Live like no else now so later you can live like no one else.” The implication of this is that you have to give up happiness and sacrifice now to live the life of your dreams later. This is not how I have experienced things. Life was better immediately after making the choice to optimize my lifestyle around my goals, AND it continually improves as I reap the financial, career, health, and relationship results of those choices. I feel good about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. You can live better than everyone else now, in an extraordinarily low-cost, productive, and impactful manner, AND live like no one else later.

I made the mistake of thinking that Craig was going too far in pursuit of financial freedom. But he can and should go farther and faster if he can and will continue to love his life. Let me state it all again: He enjoys it. And he should enjoy it. He is becoming healthier, wealthier, happier, and more self-confident with each passing day, week, month, and year. I too have enjoyed it and will continue to enjoy it. You should enjoy it, too.

I honestly believe that those of us who pursue early financial freedom and make the optimizations necessary to make that a reality experience a better life in the interim while pursuing it, a better life approaching Financial Freedom, and a better life after achieving financial freedom. There is no “sacrifice” in this way of life. The “improvements” you make to your life may have positive effects immediately and will likely only continue to grow.

I give you permission to choose the healthy, wealthy, happy path that you know will leave you better off when its all said and done. And once you decide to go for it, optimize for happiness, health, and wealth without apology.

What lengths do you go to in your pursuit of financial freedom? Have you ever encountered criticism for living the way you do?

Share below!

About Author

Scott Trench

VP of Operations at BiggerPockets.com, Scott is also a licensed real estate broker/agent, real estate investor managing 8 units in Denver, CO with a partner, a house-hacker, and personal finance nerd. His book, "Set for Life" (published through BiggerPockets Publishing) thoroughly details a step-by-step journey to early financial freedom for full-time workers earning median incomes and starting with little or negative net worth. When he's not helping full-time workers move toward early financial freedom, the 26-year-old can be found playing rugby, biking, or skiing.

19 Comments

  1. Thomas Baran

    Thanks for the article Scott, I feel quite the same way. Since I’ve started on my path to FI my life has changed dramatically for the better and I am very happy. I don’t even consider the things I do as “sacrifices” – they’re things I do that I enjoy.

    Craig you’re not the only one sleeping on the couch! I’ve been renting out my bedroom on Airbnb for the past year and have thoroughly enjoyed sleeping on a mattress in the living room, meeting interesting people from across the world, and earning extra income.

  2. Jerry W.

    Scott, it is nice to see that you can see both sides of the coin. I have been in the situation where I was not saving huge amounts of my income to invest, I was actually being very frugal because I was a very broke college student trying to get by. My wife and I would consider going to a local grocery store once a week when they sold hot dogs and a small cup of pop for 25 cents eating out. If we had pizza it was never more than once a month, and usually it was when we had friends over who pitched in to get it. Most of the meat we ate was wild game I hunted myself and butchered myself. We clipped coupons and bought on double or triple coupon days. Despite living about 4 miles out of town I often rode a $10 yard sale bike to school. I looked forward to snow days as I could walk around with a snow shovel and earn extra money. I worked several part time jobs while going to school. Several years I was only able to go to school one semester a year as I had to work the other 8 to get money for books and tuition. I was blessed that my wife was also frugal and hard working. We had 2 children with no health insurance and no government subsidy and paid every Dr. and hospital bill off in full but it took many years at $10 per month until I got out of college. I did kind of house hack. My first purchase after I was married was a trailer house. We paid lot rent but saved $300 to $500 per month over what regular rent would have been. It was pretty junky but we fixed it up enough to sell it for more than I bought it for after living in it several years. I used the money from that as a down payment on a parcel of land and another nicer trailer house. I had to install a well and septic system on the land. After I graduated I rented that out for a year or two and finally sold it. I had purchased a small house in the next town I moved to and was able to pay it off completely with the proceeds from selling my trailer and land from the university.
    I have never owned a new car. We used to buy old beaters and fix them up, now I buy a 2 or 3 year old car with low mileage and drive it for about 10 years, then repeat. I paid to put 2 kids through college, and own about 30 to 35 rental units, and a commercial property. I own a small horse acreage and my own office. I live much better than I used to. My wife and I now eat out nearly every lunch, and I buy what strikes my fancy in the grocery store. We are comfortable. Despite being able to afford it, we have never bought a new car. While my rentals do not generate my any income, they are on 15 year notes and so my principal pay down each month is substantial. While I have invested in real estate for over 30 years, only in the last 3 years have I gotten serious about it and really grown. Had I been more aggressive I would already be retired. Over time we must spend our gains on those we love and the things that make them happy. It is nice that you see that coming in advance. It is not just about what we can make, but what we can do with it for those we love.

    • Scott Trench

      This is fantastic Jerry – thank you so much for the thoughtful comment, and I’m sorry – I don’t know how I missed the comments on this post until now. I think that your last sentence is the best part of your reply as well! Your hard work seems to have paid off really well for you and your family.

  3. Richard Potts

    I wish, I wish, I wish I had started living this way in my 20s, rather than well into my 30s and only after the crisis of a divorce. My horizon for financial independence is not 30 but 50. So be it.

    Keep up the good work, Mr. Trench. This sort of article and your resolve gives me hope for the Millennial generation. You all might just save us yet.

  4. Tim Wang

    Thanks for this. I really related to this article, as I am in my early 20s, and sacrificed a lot by moving out to a new city not knowing anyone there. I, too, live a very structured life style. I get up at 430am every morning to get my workout in before my full time job. I prepare all my meals for the entire week. I don’t go out drinking and partying with my friends as often anymore, because I found that the next day I was highly unproductive. On one hand, I do feel a little lonely since my lifestyle is vastly different from anyone I know. On the other, I feel great that I am working towards accomplishing my goals: achieving a healthy life style, buying my first property, and eventually finding financial freedom.

  5. karen rittenhouse

    Agreed, Scott.

    When we started back in 2005, we had a huge vision and total commitment to obtain it in a very short time. We gave up EVERYTHING for 3 years, which was part of our plan. I had a very close friend who said, “I would never want to your life.”

    7 years later, our life has far surpassed our goals and we live in a home we had never even dreamed of. If you can dream it, and you’re willing to put in the work it requires, you can more than achieve it. I’m proof.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Great article!
      I drive a 1996 Ranger pickup that I bought in 2014, and my wife drives a 2003 Toyota Highlander Limited that we bought in 2013. They both drive and look great and we like saving a lot on car purchases. We have an antenna o the roof of our house for TV. We do not feel deprived at all.

    • Scott Trench

      Karen – I have this feeling that progress is made in 18 month chunks. For example, if you look back over the last three months, you may have only made a mall bit of progress. But if you look back over the last 18 months, the progress is HUGE! Two 18 months chunks – 3 years, is the amount of time it took for me to go from frustrated and making paltry progress to having an extremely low cost of living, a much higher salary, and the first meaningful ($500+ per month) passive income. It is so worth the three years of grind to get to that point. I believe that over the next 7 years, I will have very good odds of slowly rolling back some of the choices (I might house-hack ONE more time here) and building bit by bit, exactly the life I want, much as you have.

  6. I completely agree with you and I live accordingly. I really enjoyed reading your article – so much so that I ordered your book ‘Set For Life’ through Amazon. It should arrive tomorrow, very much looking forward to reading it!

    Thank you for the interesting post!

  7. Chad Carson

    Well done Scott and Craig. Too often people look only at the specific choices (biking to work, house hacking, sleeping on futon, high savings rate, etc) instead of looking at WHY. Optimization and happiness are the whys.

    Optimization is living efficiently financially. But if those specific behaviors don’t make you happy, then it’s your option not to do them. But what people like Craig (and Scott and me in our own hardcore stages) realize, is that it’s always a tradeoff. Those “hardcore” behaviors definitely build wealth faster. But ironically, when you live a life of discipline working towards a goal like that, you also learn a lot about what makes you happy and what doesn’t.

    So, when you do start getting soft (I’m there too Scott!), you still have the awareness that you don’t need that much to be happy. And this philosophical reward has actually been much bigger for me personally than the financial ones.

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