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Dec. 12, 2021

72. Build Your Blueprint to Financial Independence with Chris Mamula

72. Build Your Blueprint to Financial Independence with Chris Mamula

Join Mike Cavaggioni and Chris Mamula on the 72nd episode of the Average Joe Finances® Podcast as they talk about DIY investing, wealth building, early retirement, and financial independence through financial planning. Chris retired from his professional career as a physical therapist at the age of 41 and started educating himself about investing and tax planning. From experience, Chris shares his tips and tricks on how you can build your own blueprint to financial independence.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Financially planning after college and before having a family
  • Understanding your expenses 
  • The three-investing path (Simple path, hybrid path, and active path)
  • Managing risk and facing challenges
  • Tips in investing
  • And much more!

About Chris Mamula:

Chris Mamula is from Western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. He worked in the US healthcare system for 3 years and became a physical therapist in 2001. After spinning wheels and not knowing what to do, it took him about 10 years of struggle of knowing what he wanted to do before he stumbled into what is now pretty well known as “fire financial independence,” retiring early. That is when he started reading blogs and saw many people with similar stories as himself.  After getting the inspiration and courage, he then started writing his own blog and ended up retiring at the age of 41.

Chris Mamula commonly writes about financial independence and talks about what retirement is and can be at www.caniretireyet.com. His articles have been featured on MarketWatch. Morningstar US News and World Report and Business Insider. He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI. His mission is to continue to spread the life-changing message of financial independence to a broader audience.

Find Chris Mamula on:

  • Website: https://www.caniretireyet.com/
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/caniretire_yet
  • Choose FI book: https://averagejoefinances.com/choose-fi

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Transcript
Average Joe Finances:

Hey, how's it going everybody? So today's guest is Chris Mamula and Chris has used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with a creative lifestyle, designed to retire from a career as a physical therapist at the age of 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement and lifestyle design at can I retire yet? Chris has been featured on market watch Morningstar, us news and world report and business insider. He's also the primary author of the book. Choose fi your blueprint to financial independence. The other two co-authors of the book are Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendanza. So Chris you have an awesome background. I've been following the choose fi group for a while now. It's awesome to have you on the show. Thanks for joining me.

Chris Mamula:

It's a pleasure to be here. I'm excited to talk to you.

Average Joe Finances:

All right. Fantastic. So the way I like to start these off with every episode with every guest is I talked a little bit about your background when, when I introduced you. But I think, myself and my guests would like to know a little bit more about you. So can you dive a little bit deeper into your background? Tell us about yourself and share your story. Like, how did this all get started for you?

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. So I'm from Western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a depressed steel town, I guess you would say. And so grew up a very average, middle, lower middle class, and my parents were both just high school graduates, but they were very devoted to. My brother and I, and giving us a better future. And it was always pounded into us that we were going to go to college and have a better lifestyle and better careers and everything than they had. And so I was always went down that path and I became a physical therapist in 2001. And I was an athlete in high school and had some injuries and just thought that would be a really rewarding career and something I'd want to do for the rest of my life. And after about, I don't know, two or three years of working in the us healthcare system, I realized I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. But I never thought the whole idea of early retirement. At least not like I thought early retirement was maybe 60. I was just spinning my wheels and didn't know what to do. And it took about 10 years and I stumbled into what's now a pretty well known as FIRE, financial independence, retire early community. And I started reading these blogs and I just saw other people that had similar stories to my own. And I was a natural saver. So I was already saving, but I had no idea what to do with investing or planning or thinking that I could retire early. And once I went down that rabbit I got really serious and started writing my own blog. And I ended up retiring at the age of 41 in 2017 and my wife and I, and our then young daughter. She was five at the time we moved across the country to Utah to live in the mountains and be ski bums and live the lifestyle that we wanted to live. And that's what we're doing now.

Average Joe Finances:

Wow. That's phenomenal. That, that is super cool. Retired, just what four years ago now, right at the age of 41. That's a pretty young age to retire, especially given the standard of what everybody thinks of retirement. You think thinking like 65. Or older. So yeah, definitely. You you hit all four of those letters on the financial independence retire early in that FIRE trademark there. I focus more on the whole financial independence aspect versus retirement, because I don't want to tell myself that I'm retired. Like when I hit that area, when I hit fi I don't want to say. I'm retired now because I feel like it makes me feel old, but you add that last letter on there early, and then you realize, Hey, okay. I retired early. That's pretty awesome. All right. So I'd like to talk about your actual journey to getting there. So you started off as a physical therapist, right? So you graduated college in 2001, you said, and you moved on into this career, because you were following the typical, our generation and the generation before, too, like the typical, Hey, if you go to college, you can get a better. Make more money and live a better life. So you were following that typical path now you said it took what two years and you will like, okay, I'm ready to start looking at something else. The good thing is, like you said, you already a natural saver, so that's fantastic. There's a lot of people that are in your shoes that go into these career fields after college and savings is not the first thing that's on their mind. What is it that you think that you did differently after you graduated college and started your career than the typical, college graduate?

Chris Mamula:

I think a lot of it is honestly just kind of luck. Like I mentioned, my parents didn't have a ton of money, but what they had, my mom in particular was really good at stretching a dollar. And it was just always pounded into me that, just, you do not go into debt and like debt was a four-letter word in our house. And then as I was going to get married, so my wife had. Probably a similar upbringing, a similar household income in her childhood. But her parents didn't have that savviness with money. And so she put herself through school. She worked full time while going to school full time and just extremely hard worker, extremely disciplined. And I saw that and I respected that, but she wasn't able to put herself through school without debt. And so as I was coming out debt-free and she had debt and we were getting married. I guess I knew she was responsible. I knew it wasn't like she was racking up credit cards or shopping sprees, but it's still freaked me out. And so I just approached her and I talked to her and I said, I really would like us to be, debt-free getting married. And we established a plan where she graduated a year ahead of me. And so we started just living off of her salary. And as I was finishing PT school, I was working part-time and so everything I was making extra, I was just throwing at her debt. And then my first real paycheck or two as a physical therapist, we were able to become debt-free a few months before we were married and we realized, we were still into that college lifestyle. We were pretty happy. And so instead of inflating our spending, like most people do, we just kept living off of her salary from day one. And we'd banked my salary basically from day one. Like at first after we got out of debt, we just started throwing it into savings for a down payment on a house. And then once we bought our house, we were just basically blindly. We didn't know what we were doing. We were putting one paycheck extra towards our mortgage and the other, we were investing with a financial advisor. So we didn't really know what we were doing. We didn't have a plan, but the whole time every time, I got paid. It was going towards appreciating assets either towards our house or towards investments. And so even though we certainly were far from optimized we were making progress. So we like, when I discovered this FIRE movement, we already were close to paying off our house. We had a substantial investment account. And so we had a head start and we were ready to just really just for a bad pun, but throw gas on the fire and speed up the process towards hitting financial independence.

Average Joe Finances:

Nothing wrong with that pun. I like it. Throw it, throw as much gas on it as you can. So it's awesome that you were able to put that extra paycheck towards your mortgage and stuff and not even realize how many years you were shaving off of your house payments and, on your mortgage by doing so I want to point out, so you said you were able to graduate college debt free. So did you do that because while you were working part-time while going to school and you were paying for it that way, or did you have any type of grants or scholarships or anything?

Chris Mamula:

Yeah, I'd say all of the above. So I'm a big key to our success to my wife and I, between us. We have six college degrees and the only debt we had was on her bachelor's. And how that worked. So we both worked through school for myself. My parents helped me a fair amount with my undergrad, but I was still working basically what my parents just had a sum of money. They saved as much as they could. And they just said, this is your pot of money. And if you use it responsibly if there's anything left over, you would keep it. And if not, you're going to have to take out debt in your name and it's yours. And so I was a good put skin in the game for me, and who motivated me. And so I was able to get through my undergrad with a little bit of a positive net worth. And then my grad school, I was just searching and hunting and I ended up getting a scholarship that paid most of them. My master's degree. And then I was also working through PT school. So again, I graduated, I was actually at a, starting at zero. I may have had a little bit of a positive net worth, but not very much, but it's a heck of a lot. Most, a lot of physical therapists are graduating 60, 80, a hundred thousand dollars in debt. So yeah, it was a huge headstart for me. Just because I think like a lot of people, like just debt is so prevalent and it's just everywhere. So people just accept that. And with my mom and my dad just hammering that into me. Like I was always looking for a different way to do things and trying to get through without debt. And I was able to do that.

Average Joe Finances:

That's phenomenal. You had in your set in your mind the entire time that, you wanted to be debt-free even when when you met your wife and you guys decided, Hey, we're gonna do this. We're gonna get married. And you will like, hang on. We need to make sure that we remain debt free when we do this and you came up with a plan, right? It wasn't like you just winged it. You guys sat down, came up with a plan on how to do it and you executed. So that's fantastic. And then you were able to live there, there was something that you said about your parents. You said that they didn't have a lot of money, but you said your mother was able to really stretch a dollar. So I want to point out, I really feel what it's like to live a frugal lifestyle as well, because being able to stretch a dollar like that, also means you can save a lot more and put a lot more, towards, paying down your mortgage early or towards investments and things like that. Now you said you would take one paycheck and put it towards, an extra mortgage payment, and then you would also take one paycheck and give it to your financial advisor. So what kind of investments were you involved in, with your financial advisor?

Chris Mamula:

Like I said, we certainly weren't optimizing things and this is where our mistakes started coming in. Like my parents, they never made a whole lot of money, but I knew that they were really good savers and they were doing okay. And they were able to help my brother and I through school on really much smaller salaries and my wife and I were making. And so basically I just assumed you see everywhere that like finance is so hard and investing is so hard. So I went to my parents and I just said, You guys seem like you're doing well. Would you mind like telling me how you do your investments? And they said we just have this investment advisor. He seems to be doing well for us. And so I said, they referred me to him and that was the extent of my due diligence. Like I asked zero questions. So what I found out later, as I started getting into like the finding, like getting into the technical side of investing in the whole of FIRE and the financial planning and retirement planning he was basically, he was a commissioned salesman. So we were buying front-loaded mutual funds, who we're paying five and a half percent on every purchase that we made. And then he was advising us to bypass on our 401k. So we were giving up all those tax advantages that we would have had when we were in our higher earning years, never taking advantage of those. Then we were buying expensive funds, which were giving him kickbacks back to the advisor. And then, because these are all in taxable accounts and because we had a relatively high. Now we're starting to churn off a lot of taxes, a taxable income off of our investments that are in taxable accounts. And it was, it's amazing. It's almost sounds like this couldn't be true on two people on average, professional salaries, but I tallied it up in my last year. We paid over $20,000 in unnecessary taxes and fees to the advisor to just to follow this advice. And once I took over my own investments , Yeah, I like, we were able to shave that off. Again, talking about throwing the gasoline on the fire, but that's how we did that. So we already had the foundation with the savings rate. But yeah, and then we figured out the investment in the tax planning side and it saved us literally 20 plus thousand dollars every year.

Average Joe Finances:

That is significant. $20,000 a year is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you're investing it and growing that money. Jeez, exactly. Okay, awesome. So I know you were able to get yourself set up to retire early at the age of 41. It's awesome. And then, the other part about it that I really like about what you're doing is. You did not hesitate to share your story with other people. And people that are, that are really successful themselves and they give back to the community is just absolutely amazing. So you started a blog, right? We talked about that a little bit. What made you decide to start a blog?

Chris Mamula:

I started at the time when I started reading, like FIRE blogs were starting to become prevalent. So if anybody's familiar with this FIRE term, like Mr. Money, mustache the mad FIentist a guy named JL Collins these were like the early FIRE bloggers that I was finding. I go Curry cracker, and I'm reading these blogs and they're all using these anonymous synonym names. And I'm skeptical. Like I never even heard of a blog and I started reading. I somehow stumbled upon, I think I, my original one I found was called early retirement extreme. And it's this guy named Jacob. And he talked about living, like living in the San Francisco area on $9,000 a year or something ridiculous. And like, when I first read it, it almost sounded too good to be true, but I just there was something in, it just resonated with me. And so I started reading and I re I still remember we have a friend who's an accountant and. My wife said, if we're gonna start going down this path, I think we need to like talk to somebody. So we talked to her and we just said, this is what we're thinking about. Doing to do some tax planning and we're reading this stuff. And what do you think about this? And she just looked at us. Where are you getting this? I said, I was reading the mad FIentist and she's like the what? And I said, is this like something not legit? She's no, it's brilliant. But even as an accountant, she never really thought of things this way. And it's just so simple, but so what this whole FIRE community is just taking really simple principles and just basically learning the rules, learning how to minimize your investment fees, learning how to minimize your taxes and totally legal and legitimate ways. And then putting it all together with a high savings rate and the math works. And so it. Changed my life. It I was feeling hopeless, like not knowing how to get out of this career. I didn't like, and we found out around that time, what really motivated me to get serious was found out we were going to have a daughter and it just gave me hope like, oh my goodness, I can design the life I really wanted. And yeah, that's what kind of I guess I didn't really know how to pay these anonymous bloggers back. That changed my life. So I was like, I become one myself and pay it forward to other people and hopefully help them.

Average Joe Finances:

That's awesome. Yeah, that's what a great story, man, and it's amazing that what having a child can do to change your motivation and change, the timeline of what you're trying to accomplish. It's amazing what that can do. I'm doing everything I'm doing right now because I've spent a career in the military, away from my family, and I'm at the point where as I'm getting ready to transition out, I want to be able to focus and have that time to give back, and give back to my family because they deserve that. Yeah, just phenomenal, man. So how'd you go from, starting a blog and writing for a blog to publishing a book? Not just any book, but a fantastic book about financial independence. How did you link up with Brad and Jonathan to put this together?

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. I think what I've realized from my like almost 10 years now of writing is I think if I have one special talent is I find people way smarter and more talented than me. And I find a way to latch on to them. And it's definitely a strategy that it can work because it's worked for me. But so my original blog, it was called eat the financial elephant. And I just started a lot of it was to keep myself accountable. And then, like I said, I just was hoping to build an audience and pay it forward a little bit. And I wrote that for probably four years. I had a very small audience and I just didn't put any time into promoting it. Cause I was still working full-time and at this time we had a young daughter and so I was getting close to the point of retiring and I guess my first partnership actually was the blog now I write on, can I retire yet? And I was reading this blog. And the guy who started at Darrell Kirkpatrick I was reading one of his blog posts and I just sensed that he was burning out and he had a pretty big audience. And so I just reached out to him and I said, like I've been writing, I would be interested in reaching more people. Would you be interested in a partner? And he said, yes. And before I ever quit my job, I was had my first my first retirement job, I wind up writing on the blog. And then I was listening to that at the time it was a brand new podcast. My thought was I wanted to start interviewing all these people that influenced me and then turn that into a book like condensing, all the principles of financial independence and Brad and Jonathan started this choose FI podcast. And I started listening to it and I was like, they're doing exactly what I wanted to do. So same thing. I just reached out to them and I said, I like what you're doing with the podcast, but what do you think about turning this into a book? And they responded again almost immediately. And they said, your timing's kind of impeccable, but we were just talking about that and we would love to have a book, but neither of us really are writers. And so why don't we talk? And so we talked and so I had my second job lined up before I ever was done with my career as a physical therapist. So I had two writing gigs lined up. And that's how they came about was just, I was a fan of both and just reached out organically and and it worked out well on both.

Average Joe Finances:

Yeah, that is super cool, man. That is super cool. Definitely right place, right time and right attitude to have. It's funny because, you're describing how you find people smarter than you and latch onto them. I do the same exact thing, and that is like the whole point. Of this podcast that I have here is because, your typical everyday average Joe, right? Doesn't that doesn't know this stuff that doesn't know where to get started or how to start getting out of debt. This is one of those resources that I'm trying to create for them. And I'm trying to bring on experts like you, people that have done this or people that are in the process of doing this, and this is what works for them. Everyone has a different strategy. Everybody has a different way of going about doing this. But being able to, put all of this together and my listeners can sit here and make a choice. Hey, I really liked this guy's story. I want to check out more about him, learn about him, let me go read that book that he wrote, things like. It's the whole reason why I'm doing this, man. This is awesome.

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. And if I could just interject something, but we that was actually something we talked about in the book. We talk about building a network and I joke about like latching on to people when I joke about being lucky. And there, there definitely was an element of luck with the timing with both of those things. But I think there is a, like a principle again, like we talk about in the book, like we look at these principles and the thing is with both of those scenarios, I looked at not why don't you do me a favor and let me write a book with you, or why don't you give me your blog? But like I reached out and said, I sense that you're burning out. Would you like a voice? Can I help you create new content? Could I help you keep this fresh. Same thing with the book. They had this podcast, they were growing their audience. Neither of them were writers. So I said, how can I add value to you? So now they have this podcast and they did have some advertising things, but how do they do anything to create something that's lasting and to monetize? And so now they have a book with their names on it, but I wrote the 90% of the book and we consulted and they gave me access to all their interviews. So it was a collaboration, but they didn't actually have to sit down and write the book. And so in both of those cases, I'm looking for, how can I add value? And I think that's a principle that other people, If you're looking for, how can somebody help me then you're going to probably get a whole lot of nos, but you might be surprised what yes's you get when you're looking at it and presenting it as, how can I help?

Average Joe Finances:

You're showing that you're bringing something to the table. You got skin in the game here. It's not just a, all about me. It's what can I do for you? I had this conversation with one of my guests on how he built his real estate team. And he was telling me the story about how one guy just approached him at a baseball game and said, Hey, I'm interested in real estate. And I can do this and that, what can I do to help you, grow your business. And just by him asking that question, he's like, wow. So you just, you want to come over here and help me, that's pretty awesome. Sure. Let's do this. Having that type of attitude of wanting to, I guess give more than you receive, you'll receive so much more in abundance because, people usually don't turn your way if you're saying that you're here to help. Yeah. Great attitude and great mentality to have. Okay. So speaking of approaching somebody that needs help and things like that. Throughout your time, building what you've built right now with, from reaching financial independence and retiring to, writing the book, to writing on the blog, to just everything that you've been doing, what would you say that you enjoy the most, or have enjoyed the most on your journey.

Chris Mamula:

I think I've really enjoyed the whole journey. And like I said so for my wife and I we had no idea what we were doing early on. And in some ways that was a curse. Cause we talked about like that $20,000 a year mistakes we were making. But on the other hand, I think it was a blessing in that I think some people now, because fire is this thing, that's it gets some exposure and there's a lot of these bigger bloggers and podcasts out there. And so people are finding it early. But I think people do get fixated on this. It's all about this destination. I need to get to financial independence. I need to get to early retirement and then I'll be happy because we didn't really think that was possible. We were really enjoying our life the whole way. So we basically, we built a lifestyle that we could afford off of my wife's income. So we bought way less house than we could afford. We bought way less cars than we can again, quote, unquote, afford like most people do it through. Finance taking the biggest mortgages they can taking car payments. And we never did either of those things. So we just basically got the big things, and then I say, we save 50%. We lived off one salary and we spent the other, but that's probably not really true really true. Like some years we actually saved a substantial portion of mine. Cause we got into backpacking and hiking and camping and rock climbing. And so we didn't have super expensive hobbies. So some years we just did local things and we saved even more. And yet other years, like we've been to Africa, we climb Mount Kilimanjaro. We've been to Australia and we dove the barrier reef. Like we're very adventuresome we've traveled. And so the things that were really important, we've been doing the whole time. So it was never. And again, I think part of that is just luck. Like we didn't have a goal, so we weren't like set on we need to save as much as we can to get to this point. We were just living our lives and because we got the structural, basic things, we were enjoying it the whole time. So yeah, I would say we enjoyed the whole journey.

Average Joe Finances:

Yeah, that's awesome. So it's not even like one particular thing. Just being able to live the life that you've lived is just the entire thing, which has been super enjoyable. So that's fantastic. Okay. How can someone with a regular nine to five job build wealth quickly to achieve financial independence? Let's say in the next 10 to 20 years.

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. I think the first step that I tell everybody to do is you have to know where your money's going. And it's really, it's so in our society we have most people don't save anything. And I think a lot of people are unhealthy. They are overweight and both of those are very similar. It's the very first step is hard. It's hard to step on the scale and see how much you weigh. It's hard to break down and look at where your money's going how much debt you have or how much assets do you have? Like where are you? So I think you need to be honest with yourself and don't judge yourself. It's not this, isn't the sign of, who you are. It's just, it's where you are. And it's hard to make progress if you're not honest. And if you don't know where you're starting. So I think that's the first step is just breaking everything down, whether you use like a mint or some kind of budgeting thing, or you just use a pencil and paper or a spreadsheet, whatever works for you. But I think you have to start there. I think that's the first step. And then once you do that, and you can be honest with yourself, then it's just a matter of developing a strategy. So we talked about for my wife and I, it was relatively easy to save because we were used to, we grew up not having like super fancy vacations and fancy cars. So when we had two professional incomes, we just saved one and we still lived as well or better than we did as kids growing up. And so it was easy for us, but for a lot of people it's not easy. Maybe you live in a high cost of living area. Maybe you do have big student debts. Maybe you have a bigger family, whatever. And so when we break down in the book is, yeah, so this works fine. If you can save a big percentage of your income, you do what we call the simple path where you're just investing in index funds and it's really easy, but for some people they can't do that. So if that doesn't work, that's not going to get you to your goals. Then there's other investing paths that you have to consider. Again, like we call it, we break it down into three. We call it the simple path, meaning just investing in index funds with a high savings rate. The second path is the active path. Meaning basically you're starting your own business and you maybe it's a whole heck of a lot of work to begin with, but then you start hiring things out and scaling that down and it lets you have a greater rate of return. And then you're scaling that up that way. And then the third is the hybrid path, which is what I know you'd like to talk about is real estate. And it has elements of. The the simple path where you have reliable, whether it's rent, income and appreciation, and you have those things that are reliable, but then you also have that active path where you can find a good deal. You can put sweat equity into improving a property, things like that. And so it's that hybrid path. And so I don't think there's one size fits all approach for everybody. So it's just matching up your goals, interests with your means and your abilities.

Average Joe Finances:

Yeah, absolutely. I agree. That, that is like the, what we were talking about earlier, how everyone has different strategies and different ways to go about doing this. And I liked that those three paths, simple path, active path and hybrid path. I wrote all that down. I think that's fantastic information. And I like to think of myself. I'm probably in that third category doing the hybrid path. Cause I invest in index funds as well. And I've got a lot of dividend paying accounts and REITs and stuff that I really liked, but I also like real estate. I also like my business. I treat my podcast as a business and I also have a podcast editing service and all those things it's just super fun. And I enjoy doing those things. So I think that's another thing that's important to you. Cause if your going to involve yourself into a business. If you're doing like the hybrid route or the active route, you should really enjoy what you're doing and not make it so it's so taxing on yourself because if you're not enjoying it and you putting in all this work, then it really feels like work. But if it's something you enjoy doing, it doesn't even feel like we're, it's going to feel more passive that way.

Chris Mamula:

Yeah, for sure. And one other thing I would emphasize, like those three paths, they're not mutually exclusive. So like for my wife and I, when we were working full time, we had careers, we were able to focus on just index funds and simple things that are going to grow. But as we got to that point where now we can't save any more, but we're natural savers and. When you're saving 50% and then people think it's like, you can just flip the switch where you're like, you're going 90 miles an hour on the road, then you just stop and slam it in reverse. And like now you're spending down your assets and it's terrifying for your unnatural saver. And it was for us. And it's a lot of my readers who I talked to. They have the same problem. So now, like we're able to, so I'm using my writing as a kind of taken that more active path. And so we're creating another income stream off of that in retirement. And the beautiful thing is. You don't. If so we have a paid off house, we don't, we have paid off cars. We live in the area. We want, we don't have to spend a lot of money to do fancy vacations. Cause we ski 50, 60 days a year. Cause we live in the mountains of Utah. Like we have hiking and biking trails right behind our house. It just, our lifestyle just doesn't cost a lot. So even if you can make, just a couple thousand dollars a month, it takes a lot of stress off your portfolio. And so that's we're branching out in that way and we've kicked around real estate, but it just. It's easy to go down 50 pounds and you don't have to do everything. But you can certainly do more than one. Just finding again what fits for what you need and what you want to do and what you like.

Average Joe Finances:

Absolutely. Yeah. I love that. That's fantastic. Okay. I want to talk about as you've gone along in this no matter where you invest or what path you take, there's always risk involved. So I want to talk about that a little bit. So how did you and your wife like manage risk, especially as you were getting closer to retirement? This is, that's what I really want to know. Cause now that you're living in this, you're financially independent right now. And like you said you're living off of your assets that are slowly getting paid down. How do you manage risks to know that you're going to have enough money until the end?

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. So I love talking about risk. It's one of my favorite topics. So because we like doing, like I said, we like doing these outdoor, like we're we rock climb. We've done. High-altitude mountaineering. We ski, I back country ski I think people look at things as it's safe or it's risky. And I think that's really the wrong way to look at things. I think you have to look every choice you make it comes with unique, a unique set of risks. And so how do you manage risks? So that, you're not going to put yourself in a position where you're going to get wiped out, whether that means losing all your money on an investment or whether it's literally wiped out, falling off the side of a mountain, getting stuck in an avalanche and tumbled down a hill. So you have to make good decisions. Cause if you don't take any risks, yeah, you're never going to get hurt or killed in the mountains, but you're also never going to get in to the mountains. If you don't take any risks. And it's the same with this, if you don't put any money at risk, you'll never lose anything, but you're also going to be sitting in a savings account where your money is always losing value to inflation. So I think it's just finding that right balance. And so like for us as we, when we had a high savings, There really wasn't a whole we could be very aggressive with our investments because if the investments went down, we were just buying more every month. And because we could be aggressive most of the time, your investments are going to go up. And so that's the approach we took throughout our accumulation phase. Now that we're in this phase where, Really spending down too much, we can still be somewhat aggressive, but we're also not really saving very much. So we have to dial that back a little bit. So we added more bonds store portfolio, a little more cash. We actually added a little bit of gold to our portfolio. Just some things that are going to not move in unison. And then what I love about the business is, again, we don't need a whole lot of income and what I was able to do. So with both of my writing projects, it was basically all sweat equity. So I didn't put any money at risk, so there's really nothing to lose and it's all upside. And now that I do have, in some things like right now, I just invested in some things with SEO search engine optimization to try to get more traffic to my site, but it's a finite, like I know I'm spending seven to spend $2,000 and I can break that down very easy. If I get X number of page views. Re advertising revenue of say $40 for every thousand views. I can quickly see that I have a ton of upside on that, but there's unlimited my downside's capped at $2,000 or whatever. I'm going to pay this person to do that. And when you're investing in different things like an active business or real estate, you just have to look at what are the upsides, what are the downsides and how do I manage that? And then because a private business is totally different than the stock market. Now I'm having another asset class. That's totally uncorrelated. So again, that's another way of managing risks. So yeah it's a dynamic process and I know I threw a bunch of word vomited a bunch out there, so feel free to follow up with anything, but that's how I look at it is you always have to be looking at how all the pieces are moving together and what enables you to get out there and do some things.

Average Joe Finances:

Yeah, I think one of the key things here that, and you started off with, this is how you actually, you love to manage risk right there. There's a, whether it's in your personal life, going out and climbing a mountain or skiing down the mountain side. We're in your financial journey, it's, it's about managing risk. And I would also say it's probably about managing expectations too. Cause you, you have a certain expectation cause you have a goal in mind, right? You have this end goal in sight. And the only way to get there is to take certain risks. And being able to manage that and manage your expectations be able to flex when things don't go the way you want them to go, one of the things that's super important. And I think that really helped you out a lot, as you said, you were able to, live off of 50% or sometimes less than that, of your income. You had a lot of flex, a lot of wiggle room that if market goes down, that's fine. You're sitting here, you're still investing the same amount of money. Now you're buying stuff at a discount. And I think one of the things that just changing, like your mindset of how you look at your investments and how you're putting money into it. Because, I can't stand when I hear people say, oh man, you know the market dipped I lost $9,000 today. I'm like, you didn't lose $9,000, man, your assets went down in value, $9,000. It will come back, just, stay on course and stay focused. So a lot of times, when you start telling yourself you're losing money, you're losing money, you're losing money. You're going to wind up, pulling out and miss out on that gain when it happens. So it's, I think that's one of the things, especially for somebody that's trying to do, like the whole slow and steady thing, and it's not really slow and steady. If you're consistent, you're going to see your wealth grow pretty quickly. And get yourself to a point where you can possibly retire in 10, 20 years, like we're talking about. That's. That's awesome. So with managing risk comes different challenges. So I'm sure that throughout the entire time that you've been doing this, you've encountered multiple challenges. So what would you say are some of the biggest challenges that you and your wife have ever faced while on this journey together?

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. So this kind of gets back in the very beginning, you've talked about you're not very interested in the retire thing. And originally I was right. So the blog I write at now is called, can I retire yet? And as I told you, the story of how I got involved, but I found that blog because I was literally asking that question, just like I found that the original blog was early retirement extreme. I typed in like extreme, early retirement. I found that, I'm sure one day I typed in something like, can I retire yet? And that's how I found this blog. And I was literally asking that question cause like I just wanted to escape. I wanted out of my career, I wanted to do something different. But as we got closer to it again, like I touched on this a little bit before, but you don't really save 50% because. Like you're some freak of nature. Just like you don't, you can, yeah. You can crash diet and do that for a week or a month or maybe a year, but you can't sustain that forever. And it's the same if like you're suffering and sacrificing to save. You're not going to stay on that. So we saved because it felt for my wife, I mentioned like she had upbringing and it gave her security and imagined for me I was always taught that, you don't go into debt. And as we started having more security, it felt good for me. And we were doing these adventures and things. I was never able to do growing up in a family that didn't have a lot of money. And so it felt good. And so when you retire, you go from to get to the point where you can retire at 40, especially the. Can we took of taking that simple path. You're saving 50% of your income because it feels good. It feels safe. It feels secure. And now you're saying, okay, we're going to hit this time. We're just going to suddenly stop and start spending it down. And it was for myself, it was uncomfortable for sure. And for my wife, it was flat out terrifying. And so like we started in college where we didn't have two nickels to rub together and we were perfectly happy. We never fought about money because we had this plan and we were working towards the same goals as we were accumulating. We never fought about money. And now we're getting to the point where we have a paid off house maybe enough to last forever, certainly enough to last 20, 30 years. And we're fighting about money all of a sudden. And so we had to dig into what is the psychology behind this, what is driving us? What is going to make us happy? And so that's how we got to where we are now. So even though on paper, we can probably retire early in good state we're financially independent. We've found work that we like and fulfills us. And my wife works part-time for a company. She works out of Washington, DC, but we live in Utah. So it's totally remote, no travel, no commute. She works part time. I'm doing the writing, just this PA like we talked about how I got into it, something I'm passionate about. And so we're basically making enough to more or less cover our expenses. So we don't even have to spend down anyway, but yet we're having this freedom. Like I said, we ski probably 50, 60 days a year. We have a young daughter we're very involved in her life. We're always getting out, doing things. And so just building that, but it wasn't something that we figured out overnight and I'd still, I wouldn't say we've totally figured it out. We're still, it's something we talk about and work on and where it's constantly evolving.

Average Joe Finances:

So it sounds like the biggest challenge that you're talking about here was just the fear of retirement. Like the fear of, okay, now we're actually tapping into this that we've worked so hard to save up for now. We're tapping into it and watching these numbers start to go down that, yeah, that definitely can be terrifying. But you've found other ways to, start covering your expenses, doing something that you enjoy doing, you enjoy writing. And this is something that's still giving you all the free time. You need to be independent, be free, right. So you're still financially independent. You're only doing this because you want to, you don't have to. I think that's the key thing.

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. And you touched on the word fear and it goes back to, it ties into what we talked about with risk. So I think if you look at me on paper oh, he's a rock climber. He skis he's on high-altitude mountaineering. He quit his job at 40, with a five-year-old kid. Like you might think like I'm careless and reckless even. But I would say I'm extremely conservative again, like we like saving a lot and like when we're out in the mountains, we're like, I'm constantly learning. Going with people smarter than me. And that doesn't mean I take it lightly and I don't realize like the things we're doing and the consequences they could have, but that's why we take it so seriously. And that's why, I've been doing this stuff for 15 years and never really had an, a, the worst injury I ever had with broke my thumb. And I've never really had any financial stress. And again, because we are so careful and so conservative, so we're not risk-takers. And we're. Not fearless people by any means or we're subject to fear just like everybody else. But I think the key is just finding ways to take little steps, finding workarounds to do the things that you really want to do without putting yourself at risk of getting wiped out.

Average Joe Finances:

So it sounds you're not risk adverse, but you're, you don't get complacent, both with your finances or with, going out on adventures like you do when you go out camping out in the mountains. So the thing is don't be risk averse. You have to take risks, but don't get your, don't get complacent. Don't get yourself to the point where you're so comfortable. That you start to forget doing the little things like I'm not sure you probably because of how conservative you are with this stuff, you probably have a checklist when you're getting ready to go out camping of different things. You need to make sure that you have, when that complacency starts to set and you're like, oh, I've done this 15 times already. I don't need to look at that. I know what I need. And you pack all your stuff and you get out there and you're like, wow. Bring my sleeping bag. This kind of sucks. It's cold out tonight, and it's little things like that, that you run the risk of when you start getting complacent. So I think that's that's huge for sure. Yeah. That's awesome stuff, man. All right. I want to ask you for the people that are listening right now, for somebody that wants to get started, they want to, they're ready to take risks. They paid down their debt and they're ready to start saving and they want to start putting 20, 30, even up to 50% of. Their income away to start, get themselves to the point where they can be financially independent. Do you have any tips or tricks that you would recommend for somebody that wants to start today?

Chris Mamula:

Yes. I think if you're ready to invest I don't think that's something that you need to hire a professional. And I also don't think that it's something that should take. Two or three years, but I do think it's something that before you start putting your money at risk, that you should sit down and read a couple of foundational books. And so I, I reviewed a couple that really helped me and I can I'll list them off, but there's two that I think just to get started one is called the simple path to wealth. It's by another blog, a FIRE blogger JL Collins. I mentioned his blog, I read and he turned that into a. And it's just great to just give you the nuts and bolts of what you need. And he talks a lot about index investing and he talked to me, he talked a lot about a Vanguard and a guy named John Bogle. And so again, like I found these fire bloggers and I was like anybody can write anything on the internet. So I, as I started hearing this name come up, I found John Bogle's books and he has a book called the little book of common sense investing and. It just hits you hard. Like everything in there is just gold. And so those two books I think are just great to start with. And then there's two other books that kind of just branch out off of those and teach you about diversification and more risk management. And that's our Rick fairies all about asset allocation and. William Bernstein's now I'm gonna blank on, I think it's called now. It's right on my tail for the intelligent asset allocator. So those four books are really the four that I recommend starting with. And there's nothing magical. It's not like there's not other good books, but I would start there before you start putting your money at risk. And again, like if you're taking two or three months, that's probably prudent and wise. If you're taking two or three years, then maybe you do need to get help because it's, there's nothing magical. And at some point, if you're stuck in paralysis by analysis, you need to just start investing in your mind

Average Joe Finances:

Okay. And that is definitely something that is a term that you hear often, especially for real estate investors, that analysis paralysis. So again that's the whole thing about being risk adverse, right? You don't, you shouldn't be risk adverse. There's always going to be risk involved. If you're a very risk adverse person. You might want to start to rethink how you're looking at your investments and maybe look at them as less of a risk and more of a benefactor to you in the future for financial independence, but just know that no matter what, there's always a risk, no matter what you do. I mean you could wake up one morning and go outside. You're risking your life every day. You go to work. It's, you never know. You can get into a car accident and die tomorrow and just knock on wood that nobody here listening has that happen, especially if you're listening in your car right now, don't write anything down. Relisten to this another time when you're not driving and then write stuff down. But anyway, Okay. Yeah that's fantastic advice, especially to close this off. But now I have to ask you the most important question of all, because this has been such an awesome interview. Just the information that you're given out here is just fantastic and I'm really enjoying this conversation. So people are going to want to know more about you and I'd like to point them in the right direction to show them how to get there. So if you could share with us, your website or any social media profiles that, that people can follow and check out to learn more about Chris.

Chris Mamula:

Yeah. So I think I really writes to two different audiences. So for the people that are in the, that are listening to this and it maybe got your interest, but you're just getting started and you're not quite sure where to start. My book is called Choose F I Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. And again, that's a partnership. There's a podcast called Choose FI. And so what they do is interview a bunch of different people. Who've taken all kinds of different paths to achieve financial independence quickly. And what we did with the book is we just broke those down into principles that can be applied. So you can pick and choose. We call it like a, choose your own adventure, where you take the things that you like and apply them to your own scenario and you just throw the rest away. And so that's probably the best place if you're early in your journey and then my regular home on the internet it's at, can I retire yet? And there, I kind of . It's a lot about my personal journey and where I am now. So the struggles we talked about as we transition from that point of being savers, to drawing down our investments and just determining when do you have enough and what do you do with this next phase of life when you don't have to work? What are you going to get purpose and meaning? And we dive into a lot of those topics there. So that's at, canIretireyet.com and if you want to reach me, that's where I'm very responsive.

Average Joe Finances:

Fantastic. So I'll definitely make sure we have links to that. And a link to the book. Is it on Amazon or it's on

Chris Mamula:

Amazon or anywhere you buy books? Yep.

Average Joe Finances:

Awesome. Yeah, we'll definitely have a link to you to your websites and also to to the book, because that's just phenomenal outstanding resources also to the books that you mentioned in here as foundational books I'll make sure that those get a note, a spot in the notes as well, because it's important to build a foundation, a strong foundation before you get started in anything like this. And like you said, to take that two to three month period and really educate yourself first, before you get started is super important because if you just jump in and you don't know what you're doing, that whole thing that we talked about with risk while you're being even more risky at that point, definitely educate yourself before you get started. Fantastic advice. Fantastic interview, Chris. This has been an absolute pleasure. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today and all the way from Utah and I'm out here in Hawaii. It's amazing. The technology we have today.

Chris Mamula:

Yes, it's been fun and maybe I'll have to come see you person. That's on my list. I've not been Hawaii.

Average Joe Finances:

When you come out here, definitely hit me up. We'll get together.

Chris Mamula:

We'll do that.

Average Joe Finances:

All right. Aloha.