Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa have been at the vanguard of the financial independence movement since they started their blog and podcast ChooseFI. Together with writer Chris Mamula, Barrett and Mendonsa are set to release the book "ChooseFI", distilling the interviews and lessons from their podcast into a strategy for reaching financial independence. We spoke to Mendonsa about why we should buy the book. The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
Who is this book for?
I think there's information for people at every stage of life. The great thing about financial independence is it's not tied to your actual age. We think about it in terms of timelines. Instead of something that is going to make a difference when you're 60 years old, these principles work in a relatively intermediate time period. I think about it in terms of 10-year timelines. If you take action on the principles in this book, your 10-year, future self is going to be giving you a standing ovation.
The image a lot of people have of financial independence is it involves a lot of self-sacrifice. How would you dispel that?
I actually don't think about it as any sort of deprivation at all. What I do think about it is, it's aligning your actions with your goals. And I think so many of us don't have goals. We feel like maybe when we're 55 or 60 we'll look up and we'll figure out what our goals are then. And then you're just trying to play catch up and you're in this random place. Financial independence is all about having intention; choices that line up with your values and what sort of life that you want to live. It's more like a worldview rather than any sort of deprivation.
This is not about retirement. I clearly still work, but I've been able to basically design my future on my terms, not based on what the money was telling me I have to do, but around what I want to spend my time doing. In my case, it's my family. It's my two kids. I get to have that time with them at home. I get to basically look at the calendar and say, all right, here's when I don't want to work. Here's when I want to be available for family. If I want to take a month off here, a month off there, then I can reverse engineer that and fill the gaps with when I want to work. I don't spend two hours a day commuting to a job that I can barely tolerate and then coming back and needing to decompress for one to two hours and then just try to make it to the weekend.
There's no downside to having more options in your life. That's the heart of what financial independence is about.
The book takes a nuanced approach to attending college. What role does that play in financial independence?
I'm 34. For our parents' generation college was a no-brainer. You go to college. It's what you do. But we look around at our peers. I'm sure that you have friends that say, "I'm not sure what college did for me." Maybe you think that at some level. So we know this internally and still to some degree we think, well you've got to go to college. But we're starting to question that. The return on investment has become murky at best. I have friends that are teachers with $90,000 of student loan debt. They're screwed. Clearly there is value to college, but it's not college at all costs. It's not any degree at any cost. You have to look at it through the lens of ROI.
Here are a few places you can attend college for free.
What role does the FI community play in the process?
It's huge, because in a vacuum it's very difficult to make these decisions. Marketing grabs your attention. There's a million things vying for every free dollar that you have and if you're just the "crazy one" doing this alone -- you're the crazy one that's deciding to save some percent of your money, that's not upgrading your car every two or three years, that's making these choices to live a more modest lifestyle -- if you're doing that in a vacuum, it's really, really tough.
There's a Jim Rohn quote, "You're the average of the five people that you spend the most time with." One of the things that we realized very early on is that story drives everything and that it's not fun doing this alone. If you can have community and you can have story, then that's something that you can turn into a movement.
How is this different from all the other personal finance books out there?
Some books feel like they just try to get you to debt-free and to me, debt-free is really just the beginning. That's an unfortunate side effect of our consumer culture. You want to get to the point where working's optional. You want to get to the point where you're making the choice to go to work based on how much joy work is bringing to your life. Obviously Warren Buffet doesn't need to work anymore. Bill Gates doesn't need to work anymore, but it lights them up. They found their identity in it. I think it'd be cool if we could all get to a place where working is optional. This book lays a roadmap for that. And it does it in a way that you should be able to relate to because it's pulled from individual stories, normal people's stories. It's great to talk about world-class performers, but they're not relatable. We want to look for relatable. We want to look for replicable. That's what this book is.
Why should we listen to you?
This is not the Brad, Jonathan and Chris book. This is 60 to 70 interviews that have been distilled down to the principles. We've looked for the common themes and given you what we believe to be the most comprehensive, yet simple approach to financial independence that's out there.
The paperback for this book is selling for $15. You can buy a healing quartz crystal for the same price. Why should people buy the book?
I am convinced that if you take action on the principles in this book, you will look back 10 years from now and say, that changed my life. That almost an incalculable value compared to the $15 that you spent for it. And the quartz crystal may or may not be working. Then you'll be trying to figure out whether or not to put it in the recycling bin or the trash can or find a sibling to donate it to.
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