Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Attributes of a Wealthy Individual or The Smartest Guy in the Room Isn’t the Richest

Twin brothers walk into the Wealthy Accountant’s office. One brother is as smart as a whip with an IQ of 147 and a wiz with numbers. The other twin, while looking identical to his brother, is a bit short in the mental category. The less bright brother is hard working, but knows he can’t outthink his twin brother.

Which twin do you think has the greatest financial advantage? Which one is likely to become a millionaire?

Would you believe me if I told you the super-smart twin is orders of magnitude less likely to amass a financial fortune? Yet time and time again I see it in my office: smart people underperforming and average people hitting it out of the park.

Here’s the funny thing. Both brothers are probably equal in intelligence. Life experiences caused one brother to think of himself as average. Perhaps the less intelligent brother preferred working outside with his hands while the high IQ brother pursued a profession.

Doctors and attorneys are awesome at playing financial offense. Many professionals share this quality. But high levels of intelligence don’t correlate well with high levels of financial wealth.

Big Hat, No Cattle

Thomas J Stanley argues in his 2001 book, The Millionaire Mind, that many professionals with a high income don’t have a corresponding level of net worth. Decamillionaires (people with a net worth north of ten million) have a term for people with high levels of income and little to show for it: big hat, no cattle.

These high earning professionals are also extremely intelligent. So intelligent, in fact, they start to believe they can outsmart the markets by timing them. They also have another weakness. Professionals need to maintain an outward appearance of affluence to convince other they are really good at what they do. Who would ever believe an accountant driving around in a bank reposed beater or attorney living in an 800 square foot home?

Average people in average income jobs are more suited to seven and eight figures of wealth! You read that right. The salvage yard owner is far more likely to have a serious level of net worth than a doctor, attorney or (gulp) accountant. Stock brokers and other financial advisors should have an inside track, but spending levels and a high level of understanding of how markets work causes many of these professionals to trade or time the market. The only traders with a snowball’s chance in hell of winning long-term are the market makers and financial newsletter publishers.

My Side of the Desk

Swing around, if you will, to my side of the desk. From my perspective you can see things clearer.

Every day people from all walks of life wander through my office. I have law firms, doctors and even accounting firms as clients. By and large this group enjoys a higher income than average. They also have a low level of net worth compared to what they earn. Worse, I’ve seen more than a few of these professionals pulling in upwards of a half million annually with only a low six figure net worth to show for it.

Before we continue, re-read the last sentence of the last paragraph. For some reason I find it vaguely important to our discussion.

There are plenty of excuses as to why these people are worth only slightly more than their last paycheck. None of them resonate with me.

High spending coupled with high income leaves you just as poor as if you never earned a dime in your life! It’s not the level of income; it’s the level of spending!

Don’t leave my side of the desk yet. I have a few more clients to introduce you to.

Oh, here comes Sam. He worked in the mill his entire life. Not the smartest guy in the world, but a helluva family man. He goes to church every Sunday. His wife died a few years back. Worked in the paper mill his entire life before retiring with $4.7 million. By looking at him (or his car or his home or his . . . ) you would never guess he is rich. (Sam is a real client with a different name.)

Here comes another wonderful client. Jack has a landscaping company. He clips and maintains lawns for businesses and rich people, you know, the doctors, attorneys, financial advisors and accountants. Don’t say anything, but the guy maxes out his retirement accounts before adding more to his non-qualified accounts. Oh, and he is a millionaire too. Didn’t expect that considering the rust bucket he’s driving, did you?

The same pattern holds for farmers (they’re not all poor!), truckers, salvage yard dealers and guys laying concrete.

Reality Check

Don’t bite your tongue so hard. They aren’t all rich. Yes, I know guys in the military (or retired from) who are pretty darn rich. Many are pretty darn poor, too.

Not every doctor and attorney is net worth poor compared to their income. Many people in average jobs struggle. What I’m getting at is the people you expect to be rich are putting on a show. They have a big hat, but no cattle. They spend all their money putting on a façade. There’s nothing left to fund real wealth!

People with average incomes in jobs where there is little to no expectation of wealth have an easier time hiding their financial accumulations. A worn pair of jeans is more than fine to wear to work at the salvage yard or auction house. It’s expected!

When I first started investing in micro-loans on the Prosper platform I was able to see a few details on the borrower. Prosper provided a credit score and income range along with the borrower’s occupation. For some reason accountant’s needed loans in May. This blew me away for two reasons. First, an accountant should be flush with cash after tax season.

Second, some accountant’s work outside the tax field so they could need additional funds. Prosper also listed the reason for the loan request. When an accountant requests a loan to pay bills in May I’m dubious. Online lending platforms are not the cheapest way to borrow money! Any accountant worth his salt would never make such a poor financial decision. I say “his” because no woman would ever do something so foolish. (Yes, that was a joke.)

Prosper confirmed what I suspected from serving my clients. High income professionals frequently are poor handlers of money.

Smarticus

There is a lesson for the wise in this tale. You do NOT need a high income to be wealthy or financially independent! Average people in average jobs with average income can excel financially. The statistics are clear.

Sure, a high income can get you to seven figure net worth status faster if you can avoid the siren call of excessive spending to play the role. Even a below average income can grow into a tidy nest egg if handled properly. Minimum wage is a hard racket, for sure. But once your income climbs to a level even below the national average you have plenty of resources to fund an early retirement!

Excuses will show up in the comments. It goes with the territory on blog posts with this topic. They are still only excuses. Income level plays a role in your net worth. By age thirty you should have at least two years income invested. Once you reach 40 your net worth should exceed at least 10 times your annual income. If you are pulling down a $50,000 annual salary you should have a half mil tucked away in an index fund by your 40th birthday. As each decade passes the net worth report card should grow larger.

This is where the rubber touches the pavement. Really smart people want to trade stocks and bonds. They want to time the market because they did all the research. Of course the market makes a fool of the well educated.

There are only two ways to accumulate money in the market. The first is to drop the money into an index fund, or, if you are so inclined to engage an actively managed fund, a growth and income fund. Forget about aggressive funds and other crazy ideas. Your goal is to be rich!

The other way to get rich investing is to research listed companies for undiscovered value. Buy these gems and hold them for somewhere in the neighborhood of forever. Then go out and find another undervalued business to invest in.

Remember, you don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room. The smartest guy is often broke!

I want to be smart.  Just not that smart.

It’s been a while since I showed you my working papers. Below are my unedited notes for this post. It should also be noted the working title of this post was Attributes of a Wealthy Individualor The Smartest Guy in the Room isn’t the Richest was added at the last minute as a tribute to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. Hope the insight into my writing style helps you with your writing.

What characteristics are most common in the wealthy? High intelligence doesn’t guarantee wealth, it actually hurts! Smart people think they can outsmart the market and time it. Professionals have an appearance to keep. Doctors and sales people need to look the part. The massive spending required to “look good” reduces savings and all the profits those savings generate.

Average people have a much better chance. The salvage yard owner has nothing to prove so she socks away a massive percentage of her income and puts it into index funds because she know she can’t do better,.

I see it in my office all the time. A recent client picked up his return. He is retired with a serious seven figure retirement account before looking at non-qualified monies or other assets. He is an average guy from an average family retired from a mill job. And he’s rich.

Don’t be so smart to talk yourself into poverty. Intelligence can only dig you out of so deep a hole.

Stalking the Recreational Accountant

As regular readers will attest, I’m getting punchy at this point of tax season. Don’t worry. The insanity will pass (maybe).

This is the point where very difficult and unique tax returns show up on my desk. To clients: I’m making headway. Slower than the early part of tax season, but still peeling off work at a good clip. I still need to focus on quality over speed and some of these issues just take time.

I’ll be sleeping Saturday and back to the office Sunday for uninterrupted time.

Also, a reminder we have another drawing this upcoming week. Details on the Where Am I page.

 

What I’m Reading

Earlier this week I introduced you to a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s worth reading, takes a few minutes and is free. If you haven’t already, take a moment to read Harrison Bergeron (& Activity). You’ll think of inequality in a whole new light.

 

What I’m Watching

I have no words for what I’m about to show you. FTL is really good and worth the time to watch.

 

What I’m Listening To

Simon & Garfunkel never fail to entertain. Enjoy Scarborough Fair.

 

Enjoy your weekend, kind readers.

Countdown Clocks

Countdown clocks abound. The most ominous is the doomsday clock counting down to Armageddon. With 26 days to the tax due date here in the States tax professionals are counting down to a less tragic event.

Early retirement was something I dreamed of from high school on. I was attracted to the seasonal nature of the tax profession. The ease at which tax offices can be sold also held my interest. The original goal was to build the business, save like crazy, invest said monies and take an early bow. I decided I should at least enjoy my profession if I’m going to give it my all. The unintended consequence was that I couldn’t unplug as planned.

By the time the birthday cake reached 40 candles I was ready to retire to a quiet and secluded life. Pulling off the Band-Aid fast was tried to no avail so I started a countdown clock. I published it on an old blog. The countdown clock listed the years, months, days, hours, seconds and even tenths of a second. That baby really had a lot of action on the right side.

So I could adequately plan my transition to Easy Street I set the clock at three years. I started an active search for buyers. Serious investors showed up. As the clock ticked down I started to visualize my life in retirement. I hated what I saw and chickened out.

Time Counts and Keeps Counting

When I was a young man I tagged along with my dad as he went to meet the owner of a restaurant in a small town near where I live. The restaurateur was in the final stages of selling his baby. He put 15 years into the venture and did rather well. I was perplexed over why he would quit at a time when he was at the top of his game. Now I realize how often professional athletes make the same mistake I did back then. He then gave a nugget of wisdom that has never left me. “If you can’t make enough to retire from a business in 15 years you never will.”

As the conversation went on he expanded his philosophy. He said the first five years you work like crazy to get the thing off the ground. The second five year period you start making real money. The final five years you should turn obscene amounts of money and if you save and invest there should never be a demand to work again for you.

Wisdom shows up from unlikely sources. An afternoon ride with dad turned into a learning experience. Learning experiences are everywhere when you are open to the knowledge.

In a way the restaurateur had a countdown clock he started the day he opened the doors. In a way I did too. The difference is I didn’t follow through.

Life is too short to waste on things you don’t enjoy. Part of the excitement of life is the feeling we had as kids on Christmas morning. Wanting is far more pleasurable—and memorable—than having. Once the gifts are opened the excitement is over!

Countdown clocks provide adults with the same opportunity. It’s common for people to have a countdown to vacation or retirement. Expecting parents countdown to the expected delivery date. Now if baby would just adhere to the schedule mom and dad would be grateful. (Baby will provide many more disappointments after messing up the delivery day. And a diaper or two hundred.)

Should Everything Have an Expiration Date?

We’re all familiar with countdown clocks in all their manifestations. The real question is: Should we embrace the countdown clock?

I personally think the countdown clock is one of the most powerful tools we have if used properly. As much as I love tax work I’m still feeling the burn as we approach the deadline. I don’t start the countdown clock in February. I’m still fresh and full of lust for another tax project. Now, with a couple months of endless sitting and pounding out returns, I’m ready for the expiration date to arrive. (Twenty-six days and counting as I write, but accountant’s already know that.)

Life should be exciting and filled with anticipation. Expecting a child is awesome (I’ve done it twice so I know), but as Mrs. Accountant can attest, there comes a time when you want that creature cut out of the womb!

Anticipation only works if there is a release at the end. My business exit countdown clock lost its punch when I removed any chance of an expiration date. It also lost meaning.

There will still come a day when I no longer can walk the mile. It would be a dirty shame if I continued on my current path until I was unable to perform in an acceptable manner. There is a sad story behind that.

When I started my practice I hired an extraordinary tax professional. Her name is Bev. For decades she lived the dream of seasonal labor with plenty of time the rest of the year to pursue additional dreams. Bev’s husband worked for my dad’s business. Bev handled books for another business of my dad’s. She also had experience working in other tax offices. She was good at what she did.

Then that thief we call time left his mark. Bev grew older and I sometimes like to say she lost a step as she approached 70, but that isn’t the reason I didn’t call her back one year. The last few years she worked for me the weather of NE Wisconsin made life miserable on Bev. When the temperatures dipped below zero as it does every winter, Bev struggled getting from her vehicle to the door of the office. It wasn’t a long slog either. The cold just took her breath away and it started to scare the hell out of me.

If anything ever happened to Bev because I kept inviting her back for one more year I could never forgive myself. I planned the exit for the last few years she worked for me. Eventually there was no question. She had to take a knee.

Bev is now a client. She is due any day now. I am grateful for all the years she gave to my firm.

If only I could garner the courage to treat myself with the same respect.

Expiration Isn’t the End!

Only one expiration is the end and we all get that one right the first time.

A countdown clock can create anticipation for a vacation, wedding day, retirement party or any other event. Letting go is really hard for some people. Remember who you’re reading.

A countdown clock, an expiration, doesn’t mean the end; it should signal the beginning of a new adventure. Bev was hurt when I told her my concerns for her health. She knew I was cutting her loose. Bev is a lot like me. She would have died running the obstacle course for my company. As her employer I had an obligation to make sure she didn’t die for the cause. Bev deserved an awesome retirement and is enjoying one. Another tax return isn’t worth risking your life over.

There are countdown clocks I have adhered to. When this blog came around I had a difficult choice to make. I have a farm, a tax practice and a new blog. One had to go. I farmed most of my life so I decided it was time to take a different path. There might be a day when I return to my roots. (You can count on it.)

I started a countdown clock to liquidate the farming obligations. Now I have a few chickens for personal consumption. Breakfast is on my ladies.

One end was also a new beginning. You can do anything, just not everything. Choices must be made. Everything should reach an expiration point.

Expiration opens opportunities. I can set a countdown clock in my office without walking away from the profession! I can hire more qualified tax professionals and train them. I still get the thrill of tax season without the pain of endless hours in a chair. (For the record, that sounds mighty nice about now.) Clients sometimes hate I don’t take every last stinking step myself. They don’t know what they are asking for. Most men (and I say men because we are weak compared to the more civilized gender) run until they break. Clients will not like that either.

Now that we have the farm sold (okay, I still own the farm; it’s just devoid of animals at the moment) and the tax practice has an expiration date, what about this blog? Oh-oh! Did I strike a nerve?

I haven’t started a countdown clock for my practice though it is for sale at the right price. (Note: It’s cheaper now than latter in the year.) Realistically I’ll be around for the foreseeable future. But I may not pound as many numbers as I once did.

A flashback to the days when Bev and Jeff haunted the halls of Tax Prep & Accounting Services, Inc.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I spend more time reviewing tax returns than preparing them. Keep it quiet though. Clients don’t have a clue. If clients ever find out they’ll be glad to hear I reviewed every return this year. (So far.) That will change as the calendar rolls a few more years into the future. It’ll be gradual. New and old employees will do more of the work and the world will never know.

The countdown clock has begun.

And as for this blog? I’ve been writing since high school. Finished my first novel my senior year. (Or was it my junior year? I always forget. Age.)

I’ve written other blogs, published books, sold magazine articles and short stories. I even published on content farms. (Notice I didn’t provide any links. Not all material is worth reading. Even your favorite accountant needed a growing and maturation phase.) There is no doubt I will write until the day I die.

But I also wrote what I now call my skanky blogs in the flash fiction TG community. I did it for four years and the traffic was seven to eight times more than this blog. I had my reasons for writing the material. One reason was I always wanted to learn to write flash fiction people would read. I worked that out of my system. Next!

All good things must end. Today isn’t that day for this blog or my practice even, regardless what I say while in a sleep deprived coma. Tax work, consulting and this blog are here to say for at least a few more years.

But if I did start a countdown clock and place it front and center on the home page it might bring back some of that excitement and anticipation.

Dealing with Resentment

It happens to everyone eventually. Long hours at the office or illness or other stress leads to fatigue. Then you get behind the wheel. Distracted by your own issues, another driver cuts in front of you and you react in the nick of time. Your heart races as you speak in a foreign language consisting entirely of four-letter words.

The other driver waves a quick apology and keeps going. Angered by the mishap, you tell your co-workers about the idiot on the highway. The rest of your day is ruined. At home you tell the wife, kids and cat (if she’ll listen to your ranting and raving) about your early morning near catastrophe.

The next day you’re still irritated by the event of the previous morning. You are rightfully angry. Yet you allowed another human being to affect how you felt for over a day while they went blissfully along unaware you even exist!

Minor distractions happen all the time. A car cutting you off in traffic is annoying, but some people take to road rage. Most often the transgression is unnoticed by the offender! The manic that cut you off, causing all kinds of outrage and stress, goes merrily along without a clue of you are. Yet you still suffered an extended period at your own hands. It wasn’t the other driver who harmed you! You did that all by yourself.

Deeper Wounds

We resent careless drivers, especially if they interfere with our journey. Unless an accident is caused the transgression is minor at best. Resentment is the acid which destroys the container which holds it.

There are times we can’t shake feelings of resentment. Betrayal is worst. When a significant other has an affair the wound cuts deep. When a friend stabs you in the back it is hard to shake it off. Even if the wound can be healed a scar remains.

I recently was betrayed by two people I highly respected. I never saw it coming. I was at a conference when I received a late at night text to visit. The individual who texted had recently discussed a business venture with me so I expected he wanted to move forward with the project. I’m notorious for my willingness to work any hour of the day when business is involved. I texted my room number.

A few moments later there was a knock at the door. The potential business partner brought along a friend I also knew and respected. It seemed odd but I let them in.

The two trusted friends then proceeded to destroy said trust. Mrs. Accountant was in the room as they dissected my life with accusations, demanding a detail by detail explanation. They had an incomplete story and didn’t care. If Mrs. Accountant and I had a less firm marriage they could have caused a divorce. It was that serious.

I was furious! How dare they question me? My personal life is just that: personal. And none of their damn business I might add.

All could have been forgiven up to this point. Misunderstandings happen. You hear a rumor or gossip or read something on the internet where it must all be true and act on the faulty information. Most of us have had moments where we’ve choked on our tongue, present company included. When it’s discovered it was an overreaction you apologize and hopefully move on.

That didn’t happen in this instance. The friend who texted doubled down on the stupid and destroyed the relationship forever.

Near the end of the conversation he said, “If your business and blog are destroyed you don’t care anyway with all the money you have.”

The temperature reached boiling in record time. Let me make something very clear. I don’t do this solely for money. We call that a chump’s game around here. I do what I do because I enjoy it and some second rate schmuck screwing it up isn’t going to make me happy.

Inappropriate Response

My reaction, and it was pure reaction, was to fire from the hip, all guns blazing. I was hurt and betrayed. I wrote a post about it since unpublished. It was terribly written because I was writing in the heat of anger. I was hurting everyone around me over my wounded pride.

I removed the offending parties from social media because I wanted nothing to do with them. I only use social media as part of my business, but I didn’t want to see or hear from these people again. I was cut deep and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. From an enemy I could expect this, but a friend? No, a friend’s betrayal cuts to the bone.

Now it’s tax season and the hours are long and sleep minimal. My natural defenses are weak. Sunday I went to the office for a quiet day of productivity without interruption. Lack of sleep powered with a heavy dose of coffee lit my fire. The anger bubbled to the surface.

Declining blog traffic set me off. I put serious hours in this thing and neglected any promotional efforts after the fateful night last autumn. Long hours and fatigue reached their boiling point again. Resentment rose to the surface when I started crunching the numbers. Traffic dropped from a high several months back to 44.6% lower in the last 30 days.

This blog isn’t about padding my wallet. But money is still an important factor. All the profits are destined for charities. The problem is that the profits are pretty minimal right now so any philanthropy is coming from other sources. I enjoy the writing, but am addicted to the acknowledgement of my efforts. Donations to charities (and a very coveted award I won) express acknowledgement. Without something to give I’m not feeling the warm and fuzzy lately.

For a few weeks now I started to feel like quitting. I’ve joked in the past you can buy my practice at a reasonable price right about this time of year. In August I’m happy as a clam so the price is a lot higher. Now, with constant pain from all the sitting and fatigue, I’m looking for the exit. I need a nap to recharge my batteries and the next scheduled nap is four and a half weeks out. It always hurts this time of year.

I cried on Twitter about the traffic issue. (I’m working on my presidential qualities for the next election.) And I blamed it all on you know who (the midnight visitor).

Anger and resentment set in. My visitors hurt my relationships with other venues. Jealousy happens in all fields, but I was unprepared for the vitriol from people I trusted and respected. And the resentment never went away.

I Thought This Was a Personal Finance Blog?

It is. That is why resentment is such an important topic. The traffic issue is in large part my problem. Out of anger I retrenched. I know I’ll never go back to the route of advancement I was formerly on. Still, even with other opportunities, I dragged my feet.

Writing brings me great pleasure. Even tax work! Long hours can physically hurt, but it’s all worth it in the end. I make people’s lives better and that feels better than all the pain the profession dishes out.

This is where I provide meaningful steps to solve issues of resentment. In the past I would always say something from the Stoic literature. In life I usually just let stuff go. It might bother me for a bit before it dissipates, but before long it is forgotten.

This time was different. Interpersonal relationships cause deeper wounds. Flesh is blown from the body. The wound may scab over, but a deep depressed scar is plainly visible.

What I want to communicate is that you must find ways to cope. I’ve included two YouTube videos I found helpful. It’s important! Throwing away the most valuable things in life over a slight is borderline crazy. Nix that. It’s totally batshit crazy!

There is more for me to share. Writing does need an audience to ferret out the juicy pleasure. Most successful blogs in this demographic have more traffic in a day than I garner in a month. Part of the reason is my lack of desire to use Pinterest and other resources to spread the word. Facebook and Twitter send minor traffic and search engines are just starting to notice. I spend all my time pleasuring myself, ah, doing what I like most, writing, and avoiding things I don’t care to do: promotion.

Now that I’ve written close to 1,500 words about resentment and why I’m currently feeling it, I feel better.

That is my advice. Talk to someone about what is causing your resentment. The one who caused the resentment might not be the best person to talk to about it. The guy you flipped off on Interstate 7 is unlikely to want a stimulating conversation on your feelings.

In relationships conversation is vital. Mrs. Accountant and I have always had a strong relationship. We weren’t luckier than everybody else, experiencing fewer challenges. Quite the contrary. The challenges levied against us would bring regular army to its knees. It is all about the communication.

Keep a journal. Write your thoughts and feelings. Ranting to yourself like the crazy guy who talks to himself as he walks a crowded street is not always effective. It could get you locked up in the loony bin if you’re not careful!

My Sunday at the office wasn’t as productive as it should have been as I wasted time walking the halls ranting over my resentment. It cost me money and got me further behind. Blame it on lack of sleep or whatever. It doesn’t matter! The consequences are all the same.

Writing is better than talking. Writing allows you to think about what you are saying. Writing has a way of getting it out so you finally get some closure.

If you have been cheated on, abuse or betrayed, write about it. Get it all out! The sooner you do, the faster the healing can begin. Yes, there will be scars. Yes, it will still hurt. But you will learn to deal with it and get the pain out so it can scatter to the wind.

The only thing you should never do is publish your rant. You don’t want the public to think you are that crazy guy walking the street talking to himself. Worse, you could get a midnight knock on the door of your hotel room.

The Bittersweet Joy of Raising Children

Alone.

My youngest daughter turned 18 on Wednesday and while Mrs. Accountant and I are not yet officially empty nesters the handwriting is on the wall. High school needs to be finished and an adjustment into adulthood is in order before she leaves. The timing is the only thing undecided.

My oldest daughter (I have two girls) stuck around home milking mom and dad for all it was worth. At first the prodding was gentle. As the years passed the cattle prod was more insistent. It’s wasn’t about her behavior either.

Both my girls are well behaved and quiet. Neither took to drinking, drugs or promiscuous behavior. Brooke, the youngest, enjoys playing on the computer and working outside. Heather buries her nose in a book or online research. In many ways it was like they weren’t here.

Quiet and well-behaved doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy quality time with the girls. We spent many hours outside throwing Frisbee. “Puss arm!” and “Butter fingers!” were shouted often as we laughed away an afternoon. Walks to the creek or around the farm are all fond memories. Fire pits, cook outs, and farm animals filled the formative years of my girls. I hope it was enough.

Where Did the Time Go?

Intellectually I knew my children were growing up and working toward a life of their own. Somehow it never sunk in that it wouldn’t last forever. Still, I managed to sprinkle each day with my wisdom and sorted humor. It’s amazing my kids survived at all with a dad like me.

It was impossible to know if my lessons were sinking in. Advice on interpersonal relationships was hardest because your choice in life mate determines a serious percent of your wellbeing and happiness. A good marriage or dedicated relationship (or whatever they call it these days) is one of the most important decisions you will make in life. Money is important, but I can be very happy and poor with the right woman next to me. I was extremely lucky in meeting Mrs. Accountant. Very lucky indeed! She stood firm through the roughest of storms. We weathered a lot and grew stronger over the years.

Here I am with Mrs. Accountant, my girls and nieces at the Jingle Bell Run.

Money was also a common discussion. I kept repeating my mantras hoping something would stick. Instead of demanding my girls live frugally I repeated things like, “You don’t save money by spending it.” Of course I had to qualify the statement as they got older. Spending money on your health is usually a good investment. Changing the oil in your car is spending money, but it does, in a way, end up saving you a lot more.

The two areas you are told never to talk about in public—politics and religion—were common discussions in the Accountant household. We’ll skip the religious conversation for brevity and to allow time for a short detour through politics.

Remember, the original, and still primary, goal of this blog is to leave my children a legacy of my knowledge and experiences. You are here to observe and comment if you want (and do it respectfully). My political ideology is definitely centrist with mild detours to the left and right.

Ronald Reagan was president when I reached the age of majority. I liked Reagan and voted for him when he ran for a second term. It was my first presidential election. Age and experience have tempered my appeal for Reagan, but I still like the guy. The first Bush got my vote, but his performance and communications skills left me wanting.

I voted for Clinton twice. The Monica Lewinski thing didn’t bother me. I knew it was dirty politics only. Considering what we see today neither party is much concerned with ethical behavior when it comes to women. It’s a talking point until they get caught in their hypocrisy.

What I liked about Clinton was his understanding of economics and government finance. The Republicans cried about the deficit once a Democrat was in office. President Clinton knew exactly how to balance the budget and he did it! Clinton knew he could keep a strong economy with growing government spending and balance the budget if he kept spending increases to 1% below the inflation rate. A deficit at 4% of GDP was resolve in about four years on its own. I thought it was genius and few ever talked about it. I guess you have to be an accountant to understand.

Bush II never thrilled me and I voted for Gore and Kerry. My opinion of George W. Bush has improved over the years. I never disliked the man, but I felt he was ineffective and too much a puppet of the establishment right. I’d still sit and have a beer with the guy. I think he is an honorable man forced onto a very big world stage.

I liked President Obama. He was cool under every kind of pressure. I voted for Obama the first time around and would have voted for McCain f he’d have picked anyone else for a VP. John McCain would have been a good president. His just right of center ideology sat well with me. He also played fair with both sided of the isle. Something I admire as professionalism.

Trump is dangerous in my opinion and I’ve shared my thoughts personally with my girls ad nauseam on the subject. Leadership by tweet is not leadership in my world.

Back to “Where’d the Time Go”

Politics is an important discussion point to have with your children. Your children will pick up your position on the political spectrum and that isn’t a bad thing. They’ll stray when they’re ready, also a good thing.

Politics is important and an important part of this discussion because politic affects many money issues. Tax laws can help or hinder you on your way to financial independence. Retirement plans offer tax advantages. The level of advantage is an inducement toward solvency.

Enjoying an ice cream at Frogg’s in Sherwood, Wisconsin.

My disdain for Trump doesn’t cloud my judgment because no matter how much I like or dislike a political leader I know some ideas they have will sit well with me and others less so. For example, I agree we needed tax reform. I’m not as excited the final result will allow for a long-term lower adjustment in rates, but since my crystal ball is cloudy on all future events I withhold judgment. Trump’s willingness (and last I heard a soon to be real event) to have a face-to-face discussion with Kim Jong-un is something I highly approve of. I also think Trump is more qualified on this one issue (face-to-face with Kim) than any president to ever deal with North Korea. I’ll withhold judgment, of course, but am guardedly optimistic. (As I read this aloud to Mrs. Accountant and Brooke I was informed the meeting will not take place. I hope Trump reconsiders. This is his strong suit.)

And then we realize the years have got behind us and the kiddos are finally adults.

After a slow start getting off dad’s couch, Heather has shown real maturity as she gains new friends in college. She is heading to China this summer with future plans of living permanently abroad. I wanted her to get off my couch, but I didn’t think she would travel so far away.

Heather works most Friday’s in my office. She is starting to miss more and more as she continues to spread her wings. She was coming home every weekend. Now she misses some weekends. Soon she’ll be gone for a month or longer and then. . .

Yeah, I miss my sweetie. A good parent teaches and then allows, even insists, their kids build a life of their own. Mom and dad are always there as a sounding board. However, flying is a solo sport. I gave them the tools. It is up to them now. I’d be a liar if I said my heart doesn’t flutter as I watch.

The New Kid in Town

For the Accountant household there are no new kids in town. The kids are all gone. Brooke is an adult now as she reaches for high school graduation and big plans of her own. She has no plans of moving out at this time. But before long the call will be heard and eventually answered. It is the way life is meant to be.

The house feels emptier without Heather around most of the time. She stays up really late (midnight or later) while Brooke and mom go to bed early (around 8). My bedtime is in between. I love the quiet time and house to myself for reading and writing. Yet, there is an emptiness causing me unease. I doubt it will ever go away.

No Regrets

I don’t regret the path I’ve chosen. Mrs. Accountant was better at staying at home than I ever was. Sue raised our girls with incredible patience. She has been a guiding angel for our children and her wayward husband. I can only imagine what she feels as the house grows quieter.

Whenever the girls had an event I was there. Except for 14 months I was self-employed my entire life. The drive which pushes me incessantly also knows when to back off. When it comes to family nothing is more important. I’d rather be poor in cash and rich in family than the other way around. Money is something nice to play with and fill time, but family is the real meaning of love and happiness. Family is what makes life worth living.

Tax season keeps me in the office long hours. Early in my career the office was our remodeled basement. Since 1995 I’ve enjoyed a storefront to escape to when practicing my passion. For nine months a year I am home a lot. Tax season is a nice reprieve for the family from a crazy dad. Then it’s time for the prodigal dad to return home.

Alone, Naturally

The day is fast approaching when Mrs. Accountant and I can sit alone together and enjoy uninterrupted time. It’s a skill we haven’t had much time to practice. There is a sadness in the approaching moment.

No goodbyes, just good memories.

I’ve always idolized older people who have the time to satiate the lust for learning. The ability to while away a day immersed in books appeals to me. I do also understand it is better to want than to have. It may prove difficult to concentrate when my thoughts keep straying to the years when my girls roamed the house.

I hope I don’t second-guess myself. That would lead to misery! I made the choices I made because I thought they were right at the time. There is no value in torturing myself with paths I didn’t take.

The lessons have been taught. All that remains is gentle support and guidance. It is a bittersweet joy raising children. Never once did I dream I would feel like this. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I thought about the instant my last child would leave our home to live her own life. I never prepared because I was unaware of what should have been obvious.

Still, I have no regrets. I brought two fine young ladies to adulthood. For all my flaws they turned out darn good. There is no doubt Mrs. Accountant had a lot to do with it.

Even Pinky, our cat, sits in the front window more now. She stares to the distant horizon and chirps with thoughts I can’t even begin to imagine. Pinky probably feels it’s time for her to roam free too. She might also want to consider the difference between wanting and having.

Soon the house will be empty. Then I can start dating that young lady again I met oh so many years ago. No kids. We can dream again of our future.

Forever.

 

It Never Pays to be a Bear

Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered! —Old Wall Street Adage

 

Back in the early days of my career the investment industry and the tax/accounting industry tried to merge. To be fair it was the investment industry’s idea. Tax offices were the perfect partner to sell securities (usually mutual funds with a respectable dose of insurance thrown in for good luck). Virtually every small accounting firm took the plunge.

Accounting offices are prime for solicitation. Tax professionals have a powerful relationship with their clients. Accountants also know a lot about their clients due to the data collected to file an accurate tax return.

Before someone got the idea to enlist the tax profession, it was common for insurance and securities salespeople to wine and dine the accountants in the area to build a relationship where the accountant fed ripe clients for plucking. (Did I say that?) Then H.D. Vest Financial Services changed the face of the accounting, tax and investment industry in one fell swoop. The world hasn’t been the same since.

As many firms did, I joined the herd of lemmings to the cliff. It wasn’t a bad choice. I learned a lot from my tenure in the field. I also discovered things I found revolting.

H.D. Vest Financial Services contacted me and I was a willing accomplice. The money was very nice, but I also had a massive interest in securities. If the opportunity in securities would have presented itself before taxes I’d probably be writing The Wealth Broker. (Sounds more like an oxymoron to me.)

H.D. Vest required we attend two major seminars around the country each year. (They had me with the traveling schedule.) Every December we met in Dallas (not far from the FinCon hotel last fall). The other event floated around the country.

A Story from the Brickyard

The keynote speakers at H.D. Vest events were influential members of the community. The one speaker who stuck out the most for me was Nick Murray.

Murray cut his teeth in an earlier age when hawking mutual funds took some effort. By the 1990s selling mutual funds in a roaring bull market was easier than taking candy from a baby. Murray’s advice and stories always stuck with me.

The age-old question was front and center: Where is the stock market headed? Clients are always nervous about investing. They’re afraid the market will tank the moment they buy. Murray had the perfect retort. He said he had no idea which direction the next 20% move in the market would be. He didn’t know the direction of the next 50% move, or 75% move or even 90% move. It could go either way. Up or down. But he guaranteed his clients the next 100% move in the stock market is up, not down. He ended by saying if he was wrong there wouldn’t be anyone around to sue him or complain.

A Story from the History Bin

Murray was on to something. Using the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as a yardstick we can check how well Murray’s advice stood the test of time.

Charles Dow published his first index, a precursor to the DJIA, on February 16, 1885. The current industrial average was first published on May 26, 1896. We will use the May 26, 1896 start date for our history lesson as before that the average was more a transportation index and in fact is the basis of the current Dow Transportation Average. The DJIA started with fewer stocks, but by the late 1920s had the familiar 30.

One thing we are familiar with is the sound of the business news broadcasts saying, “Today the Dow Jones made a new high . . .” It happens a lot. There are certainly lulls between new highs periodically, but the upward pace almost seems to be persistent.

With so many “new highs” in the DJIA (and broader indexes) have you ever wondered when the last time was when a new low was made? Well, I have the answer if you’re interested. On August 8, 1896 the DJIA hit its all-time low of 28.48. We haven’t heard a new low in the Dow for over 100 years! The last time a “new low” was made was in the late 19th Century. 19th Century!

The chart in this post illustrates the relentless climb higher of equities. Notice the pimple about an inch from the left side of the chart. That’s the 1929 Crash and Great Depression. The scab about an inch to the left of the year 2000 is the 1987 market crash where we shaved 22.61% off the market in a day! It was a good day to buy stock in Fruit of the Loom. Now I know why Warren Buffet had to buy the company with guys wearing fruit costumes.

The most telling trait of the chart is the parabolic look the closer to the right you get. But if you pick any time in the past it usually has a similar look! In the 1980s it looked straight up. Same in the 1960s. Same in the 1990s. You get the drift. As the market ratchets higher the older areas of the chart look smaller and smaller until even major fluctuations (from the viewpoint of people living through the event) are pimples on the chart if they can be discerned at all.

Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. Once again we are enjoying market highs. The market has been up a very long time. We’re due for a correction, prognosticators say. Then we get a mild correction, but we still fear every shadow. We’re due for a bear market!

To top it off, your favorite accountant mentioned what he thought was an interesting fact. He moved to his highest cash position in his adult life at 52%. Half his, ah, my money went to cash in late January. How lucky can a guy get!

I got lucky because I wasn’t timing the market. Another significant business prospect (a non-public company) came my way. I don’t like borrowing money so I liquidated some serious positions. If all the money isn’t needed some will find its way back into the market. Regardless, my retirement money is still going into Vanguard index funds 100% as it peels off my paycheck. I also automatically deposit money into my non-qualified (non-retirement account for non tax people) Vanguard index funds every month on the 7th. It’s the law!

Now, with my idiotic profession of good luck earlier this year, we must focus on the only way to invest in the market. Like Nick Murray, I have no idea which direction the next 20% move will be. Same goes for the next 50% move, 75% move or even 90% move. But I guarantee you, as did Murray, the next 100% move will be up! The stock market has been doubling again and again from the beginning.

Is it any wonder the DJIA made an all-time low a bit over two years after the average began reporting without ever digging lower? Even the Great Depression couldn’t break to new lows! Yet again and again we hear news of a new high. Maybe this time is different, but I wouldn’t count on it. Business and the economy keep growing with minor hiccups along the way. Bear markets are scary from the inside because somebody is in the corner crying, upsetting all the nice people milling about.

Bear markets are temporary; bull markets are forever.

Final Argument

There is one final argument to stay invested in broad-based stock index funds no matter where the market is at. It involves the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

For 13 days (always a lucky number to make you feel comfy when playing with nuclear weapons) the United States and the Soviet Union came within a whisker of a full scale nuclear confrontation over imminent deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba.  President Kennedy went on television to inform the American people (and warn the Soviets watching) the U.S. had target 50 Soviet cities with nuclear weapons. It was assumed the Soviet Union had targeted an equal or greater number of U.S. cities.

The DJIA only lost a mere 1.2% during the nuclear crisis. That didn’t mean panic wasn’t under the hood. There is the story of a young stock broker who started screaming to sell when an older, more seasoned, broker in the office told the young broker to calm down. The young broker yelled the world could end at any moment and he had to sell. The old broker put a hand on the young broker’s shoulder and said, “Buy. If the nukes don’t fly the market will rally.” (The DJIA added over 10% by the end of 1962.) “If the nukes do fly the trades will never clear.”

The same is just as true today. Could President Trump really cause the end of the world? Maybe. But if the world doesn’t end you’re going to look mighty foolish.

Human history is marked by perpetual growth for many thousands of years. The growth trend has been marred by periodic declines, even extended ones. In the end it was always a losing bet to bet against humanity. Progress has been unrelenting for a very long time.

It always looks like a top. Always! But then we go higher. And if I’m wrong the trade will never clear. (Or at least nobody will be around to tell me how wrong I am.)

And for the record, bulls make money. Bears and pigs both get slaughtered.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. —Winston Churchill

I Hate My Job!

And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey. Love the one your with. —Stephen Stills

The accounting industry has been consolidating for decades. When I started my practice in the 1980s the local newspaper had several pages of business card sized ads hawking the wares of local tax offices and CPA firms. Today you would be hard pressed to find an ad (outside the massive DIY tax software) by any tax or accounting firm even in the depths of tax season.

There are several reasons why the corner mom and pop tax office is dying. The tax code has steadily increased in complexity. If I didn’t have a background of knowledge to build on I might not consider the tax field if I were starting today.

Finding qualified tax/accounting professionals is harder than it’s ever been. The number of graduates coming out of college with a desire to work in accounting has declined. Those who do choose the tax/accounting field are picked up by government agencies and larger firms, all who have deeper pockets to pay new talent.

Stress is probably the biggest factor in the decline of the field as a career choice. Recently I had lunch with two young ladies who started their tax/bookkeeping office two years prior. I accepted the dinner date with the intention on building a relationship to possibly share new clients. Before the meal was served I was informed the two young ladies were so busy they couldn’t take any new clients. In two year they were full-up. They contacted me because they wanted to see the guy in sunglasses writing the crazy accounting blog in the Fox Cities.

Looking for the Exit

Long, stressful hours call my sanity into question every tax season. It always starts nice, but then every client wants a piece of my time to chat. Then I get behind and more tired by the day. By March it physically hurts really, really bad. If you ever want to buy a tax office cheap, make the offer in late March or early April. Just a wise piece of advice.

I get my fair share of offers to sell. A year doesn’t pass where I don’t see three to five offers. The big franchise names always make at least one pass. H&R Block wants to slap their pukey green on the side of my building so bad it hurts. I toss the offer before reading it. The answer is no.

Serious offers I might consider also arrive. Sometimes attorneys show up with paperwork demanding I give them a hearing. My location and time on the job has created a modest amount of value in my neck of the woods, I guess. Some offers show up in the mail, others with a phone call. For some strange reason local tax/accounting offices think I want to sell in August or September. Are they kidding! Running my practice is a breeze in late summer. Why would I ever want to sell when I have full control of the volume of traffic?

A word of advice to anyone looking to buy an accounting office cheap: make the offer late in tax season. From personal emotions and attitudes, I actually would consider an offer at such a time. Anything to release me from the physical and mental agony of unrelenting demands on my time. I’m also more open to negotiating the sale price in late spring. Just sayin’.

I Hate My Job!

You can love any job! I grew up on a family farm (virtual forced child labor) shoveling manure. Believe it or not, cleaning the barn was one of my favorite jobs! I could see my progress with each pass of the tractor. There was something intoxicating about working in shit.

I hated milking cows, however, but look back fondly on the experience now. I learned to accept the long hours in the milking parlor listening to tunes and caring for my ladies, the cows.

Cleaning the barn meant more open space to enjoy the outdoors. Milking cows was managed from the concrete pit of a milking parlor. It was cold and damp. I milked cows for about eight hours a day when I was in high school. There wasn’t much time for a life in such circumstances. I quickly learned to hate milking cows and farming. The pay was microscopic, the work hard, the hours long and I had virtually no interaction with people. The milking parlor was a one man job. I kept twelve cows filling the bulk tank simultaneously for hour after hour. To this day I can still see the fan blowing fresh air into the parlor as I milked cows during a summer thunder storm. If only I could enjoy the rain outside.

I hated my job. It was also 1982, a very bad year for the economy in the Rust Belt. I was trapped and acted as any trapped animal does. Late that year the family farm finished a bankruptcy. I had mixed feelings. I didn’t want to go back into farming and sure as hell didn’t want to milk another cow!

Love What You Do

Accountants see strange things walk in their door. The most perplexing is a young individual who is only a few years out of school complaining how much they hate their job. They’ve been reading some blogs (sometimes even this one) and are invigorated to pursue early retirement. I can’t help but think, Why would anyone spend years in college pursuing a job they didn’t like? I sure hope to God it wasn’t only about money. That would be short-sighted and shallow.

Dream jobs still have their days! Difficulty causes stress, but shouldn’t diminish your love for the task at hand. After growing up working endless hours farming I moved to town for a few years, started my practice and then moved back to the country to a small farm! It was in my blood. Raising animals and the land had an irresistible pull on me. I don’t milk cows on my hobby farm, but there are still jobs I don’t care to do. It comes with the territory.

I was too young to know how good I had it! If I’d have grown up in the big city my early life might have been easier. Then again, maybe not. Kind readers from said big cities might beg to differ. Their life wasn’t all roses either.

My formative years made me who I am. For that I am grateful. The stories I share on this blog and my other writings are only possible because I milked those cows, cleaned those barns and fed those calves. The work became a part of me. A good part.

It took me a long time to grow up and realize anyone can love any type of work. If I worked in the sewers I could learn to enjoy the moment. Cleaning barns has similarities and I liked that job.

Finding work you love is easy. Don’t limit your mindset to preconceived notions of what a “good” job is. Working at a fast food restaurant might not pay a lot, but can easily provide massive amount of personal satisfaction.

My news feeds are filled with stories of people retiring young. How can so many people have chosen the wrong profession to want to quit so badly? Some even spent massive amounts of money and time in college to hone their craft. And still, within a few short years they want out so bad it hurts.

Regardless the age you retire, in my office I see people returning to some form of organized labor. Life is meaningless for many without the companionship of co-workers and clients. “Work” is about serving your fellow man (or woman). That’s the magic potion searched for throughput the ages! The meaning of life is to serve! When you Pay it Forward to help another it gives your own life massive amounts of added value too!

Back Home

After a long day of work it feels good to be home. There is nothing wrong with that. Just because you love your work doesn’t mean there are days it hurts or doesn’t satisfy. It’s okay to feel like you need a break. (Might I suggest a break?)

Early retirement—retirement at any age—is not about checking out of life. No satisfaction is to be found there. A change in career, pursuit of other interests and a short sabbatical are great options you have every right to consider. Traditional retirement is a trap! Providing value is the true meaning of life.

Now we return to your favorite accountant and notice the time of year. Yes, we are approaching mid-March as I write this. S-corporation and partnership returns are due in just over a week. I filed over 40 extensions of these entity returns today alone. Many will be completed on time if clients bring in all their paperwork so some extensions are only filed just in case.

I’m also tired. I don’t feel good. Exhaustion is part of every waking moment. My back hurts from sitting too much. My eyes burn from staring at the computer screen all day. The price of my practice dropped 15-20% since early February. I want to sleep. I want to read a book. I want to go home.

Some smart cookie will read this post and realize now is the time to pounce. In August I laugh sales offers right out the door. Now that we are in the dog days of tax season an offer will not be laughed out the door. I’m too tired to laugh. Should such an offer arrive in the next few weeks I’ll stare for several seconds as I attempt to digest what is happening. I’ll get a visual of life without the work I love and usher you out the door, open or closed.

I love what I do. I love my work! This is who I am; what I want to do. I’ll quit the day they begin lowering my casket into the ground and not a day sooner.

I’ll even milk a cow if I have to.

Church of FI

Sunday service at the Church of FI.

Back in the old days the FI (financial independence) community was a different place. Advice was simple and straight forward. King Solomon reminded us to avoid lending or borrowing. Nearly half the parables of Jesus have to do with money and wealth.

The simple message sold well. So well in fact it became ingrained in religious dogma. The goal was honest. Work hard, save and you will enjoy your old age.

The old school in the Church of FI made the most of a basic message. The advice and values were handed down generation to generation. It lasted for one simple reason; it worked!

The early FI community didn’t have a cool name to draw a crowd. Solomon had proverbs and Jesus had parables. Short stories with a powerful message were the perfect device to hand down important information through the ages.

The early days of the Church of FI are similar to the early days of Christianity when there was a Catholic church. The learned may recall the word catholic (little c) means universal. The Catholic Church was therefore the universal church of God. There was one message, one literal scripture, one true triune God. The FI community for millennia was also an all encompassing philosophy.

Some philosophical movements contained the truths of FI, but had other motives. Sophists, Epicureans, Christians, and let’s not forget the Stoics. But that isn’t what our story is about today. Today we will explore what happened to that FI community of old and how is survived (so far) to become the cult classic so loved by business media outlets everywhere.

The Eve of Reformation

If something is working fine, break it to see what makes the darn thing tick. You know, like killing the goose that lays the golden egg so we can mass produce the goose.

For thousands of years the perfect FI message did the job it was intended to do. But as the Industrial Revolution convinced man he could do better a more scientific approach was needed. By the early 20th Century intelligent men were popping the hood to figure out how the goose laid that darn golden egg.

The path to the FI temple is filled with obstacles.

In 1926 George Clason gave us The Richest Man in Babylon. The story resonated because it basically outlined the same message from the ages. The message delivered in parable was also comfortingly familiar to the more religious time. The story of how a rich man saves money boils down to “Pay yourself first”. It worked back then and works now! Our ears find familiarity in stories advising to save first and spend what is left rather than the foolish other way around.

Now that the ice was broken it was time to dig deeper into the details. Dale Carnegie showed us How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936 followed by Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich in 1937. Hill also did something unheard of up to his time. He researched his topic by interviewing the wealthiest people of his time: John D. Rockefeller, Charles M. Schwab, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and more. The scientific genie was out of the bottle. The goose lived and we now knew a bit more about how those golden eggs were produced.

The scientific revolution in wealth creation brought a new wave of FI leaders willing to spill the beans. Ben Graham published The Intelligent Investor in 1949 and the world has never been the same. Graham’s great disciple is none other than Warren Buffett who proved you can do very well stuffing your money in equities.

More and more books and seminars were to follow. No one had a clue a schism was on the horizon in the FI world. The Reformation was here. The Catholic Church would survive, if smaller, and would never be the only game in town to protect souls, ah, financial fortunes ever again.

Ninety-five Theses

Ever since the reformation of the FI community took place scholars have debated what caused the schism. Some say it was boredom, others our advancing way of life and technology. Me, I say it was the internet.

Before the internet you had a limited avenue to spread your message. Printed material and word of mouth dominated. Television and radio allows for a broader audience, but these forms of media needed a message with mass appeal. Save money! The majority of people didn’t want to hear it. Besides, you can’t take it with you.

(Yes, kind readers, the tone of this post has changed. I set the scene and now my warped sense of humor is bubbling to the surface where I wanted to end from the very beginning.)

Ointment for the anointed.

The internet changed everything. Never before could a young man see a naked, ah, sorry wrong story.

The internet allowed every niche an audience. If you had an interest in conspiracy theories you could now spend all day on YouTube and websites conspiring until you bleed from every orifice. And people didn’t mind since you were comfortably locked in your mother’s basement.

A lot of false starts dominated the early internet days. Several blogs found a following in the FI community, kind of.

You see, the blogs weren’t true canon. The Church of FI had a specific set of rules handed down by God to Moses and passed along to us. The internet gurus were NOT following the rules. They added something to the text! HERETICS!

What is it they added, you ask? RE! Yes, RE, as in retire early. This was the greatest sacrilege in the history of FI! FI was now FIRE to many, as in hell FIRE if you get my drift.

Wealth was always important to the Church. (How else you gonna toss some coins into the plate on Sunday if ya ain’t got nothing to toss in?) Work ethic ranked nearly as high as wealth. This crazy notion of retiring was heresy. Work was good for the soul. Retirement was for old worn out people. To retire before you were practically dead was more than the Church could handle. It was time for a few excommunications, as if that ever worked.

Protestant Explosion

The ninety-five theses were spiked to the church door for the world to see. A few fearless crusaders broke from the catholic church of FI to create the FIRE community. We’ll call them Lutherans in honor of Martin Luther and his behavior back in 1517.

The Lutherans embolden a whole new crew of people predisposed to FI thinking, but preferred a less rigid orthodoxy from the catholic faith. These crazy religious fanatics took the RE thing the nth degree. Most loved the RE idea, but needed something to fill the empty spaces. A large number wanted to fill their days with a side gig or start a business. In essence they traded one job for one they could be boss in. They became the person they loathed at their day job.  These guys are the Baptists and Episcopalians of the FI world.

The Church of FI mascot.

Then we got the true whack jobs who thought they would gallivant around the world. These FIRE people couldn’t wait to break out of their cubicle and get on a plane/boat/car to go someplace else. This group splintered fast into even more sub-sects of the shattered FI religion. One group traveled the world; another enjoyed travel closer to home in an RV or even ditched a terra firma home for the RV. Most FIRE community travelers found ways to hack the system with credit card rewards. Travel was virtually free and certainly cheaper than living in a normal house. These folks are the FI communities Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I saved the best for last because it is the smallest (and newest) sub-set of the fragmented FI world. Yes, these are the people who reach FI, refuse to quit, keep working their day job or business and enjoy home life with nary a thought given to travel.

Your favorite accountant falls into this last category, I’m sad to say. Travel is punishment to me and my kind (grammar police can send their comments to. . .). I wake up early, excited to get to the office. I love my work life and am fulfilled by it. I create value in my daily duties and as a creature of habit prefer to keep doing what I’ve always done. I guess that would make me the Westboro Baptist Church of the FI world.

My kind is wont to carry signs outside FIRE conferences where they make their travel plans and other such acts of sacrilege. We picket airline counters and RV centers wearing burlap on a regular basis. We’re a fun bunch of guys when you get to know us.

We also think we’re purists! Our Westboro Baptist Church is closer to god and the real FI community of antiquity. We work hard at our job or business and come home to our farms and workshops to build stuff with our hands. We think we’re better than you and we are! Dammit!

Our Diverse Community

(The meds kicked in so we are back to our serious voice now.)

I hope my attempt at humor made you smile. The humor part of this post IS a parable of sorts (in a sick religion). The FI community is more than just a bunch of frugal people working to improve their minimalist skills. Members of the Church of FI have different levels of comfort along the frugal scale. Some bike everywhere while some stay attached to their car habits. Some are minimalists living with virtually no belongings. Others try to live on a set amount of money each year; say $25,000 or less (U.S dollars, living in the U.S. or traveling).

Conferences and meet-ups are now everywhere! You can meet fellow FIers around the world. Very few weeks exists anymore where you can’t attend a FI/RE gathering.

Unfortunately there is one part of the community who will not be there. Yes, the Westboro people love the community and its values, but would rather stay at home with family and local (versus loco) friends. If you plant a FI gathering close to their home they might attend. Maybe.

The FI message didn’t always reach the masses in the past. The message may not have resonated. With the FI schism we are a more diverse group than ever. All races, creeds and genders are represented and welcomed.

As we open our doctrine the old canon is expanded. FI/RE had a slash between them in the past. The catholic church didn’t care much for the protestants and the same applied in the return direction. Soon we realized we all worship the same god: FI. The catholics (FI) and the Protestants (RE and all their cousins) are back together as one (FIRE).

It’s a wonderful place, our faith. All are welcome.

The next time you hear a knock at the door, answer it. When you open the door it might be two young people who say, “Can we talk to you about our faith in financial independence and early retirement?” Do yourself a favor, let’em in.

 

(I know how easy it is to offend writing a post like this one. No offense was meant to anyone’s religious faith. Please enjoy the humor and consider the message. It’s important enough for me to stop picketing airports.)