Financial Independence, Retire to Entrepreneurship

Financial Independence, Retire to Entrepreneurship

Financial Independence, Retire to Entrepreneurship: is that the new and improved FIRE?

Regular readers of this blog know I’m huge fan of Financial Independence or FI. I’m not the biggest fan of the RE part or Retire Early part of FIRE. The latter makes little sense to me. 

Check out some previous posts on this subject for further reading:

I feel you should really strive for Financial Independence, not Early Retirement.

Taking things a step further, I’m actually working towards FIWOOT!

Here are my aspirations for Financial Independence, Work On Own Terms.

FI, FIWOOT, FIRE and FITE

It’s all about your interpretation really…

FIRE (i.e., the FIRE “movement” if you will) continues to gain traction with some 20- and 30-somethings who are seemingly fed up with the status quo of personal finance – they want to FIRE. A reminder, FIRE concepts are hardly new:

  • You develop and sustain a high savings rate for many years.
  • You keep consumption in check during those saving and investing years. 
  • You put savings to work as investments.
  • You invest wisely for long-term growth, such as in mostly stock market equities, real estate, or other appreciating assets. 
  • You rinse and repeat until wealthy and/or financially independent.

These very simple personal finance concepts existed long before any movement.

Whether you strive for FI, FIWOOT, FIRE or FITE (Financial Independence, Through Entrepreneurship) the journey is essentially the same: avoid mass consumption and save a bit of money for better, more flexible days.

Financial flexibility is important

FIRE

Money and Time can deliver Options in life.

I’m not pursuing FIWOOT to stop working forever – it’s just not in the name!

I’m not wired that way nor does that interest me. I have a creative side. I enjoy building things. I like the social-side of work. I enjoy the intellectual challenges that come from some forms of work. 

If you are pursuing FI, FIWOOT, FIRE or FITE (or anything else related to this mantra) then I wouldn’t hesitate to claim you’re wired similarly. 

FIRE has never been really well suited for me and it might not be right for you either.

Why would I make sacrifices in my 30s and 40s, in any job I don’t like, to retire early, only to live on meagre savings?

That sounds miserable.

Instead, maybe financial independence through some form of entrepreneurship is something you’re striving for – and I suspect many others are too. Financial independence at its core offers financial flexibility.

Being financially independent – or very close to it – delivers flexibility to embrace new opportunities or take some risks. It can help you deal with life situations with less financial stress. It can provide enough savings or investments to enjoy new experiences for you and your loved ones. At the end of the day, any financial flexibility is worth striving for…

Follow your passions!

Millions of people have passions, great ideas and interests they cannot pursue due to financial limitations. The reality is, taking risks are hard decisions to make when you don’t have the financial means to recover. 

Yet having some form of financial flexibility allows you the freedom to take those leaps of faith and follow your passions, even when the financial future is largely uncertain. I know a number of bloggers and creators, who are passionate about personal finances and various money matters – who have turned those passions into new, blossoming careers. These folks certainly don’t want to retire. In fact, some work harder than ever because they love what they do and want to share that passion with others.

Robb Engen from Boomer & Echo is one of those people. 

While Robb and I have some different views on investing, including how we invest, we share very similar philosophies on FI, FIWOOT or a more appropriate definition of FIRE for many: Financial Independence, Retire to Entrepreneurship.

Robb didn’t want his family to live like a student for years on end, so he decided to take a leap of faith not that long ago and turn his passion into a full-time business. 

I’ve had the pleasure to know Robb for some time now and I figured it would be great to check-in and see how his entrepreneurship journey is coming along, including his takes on FIRE, 4% rules, how he invests his own money now (versus many years before), and much more.

Robb, welcome back to the site and nice to chat!

Thanks so much Mark.

Robb, a lot has changed for you over the last couple of years. Let’s recap for folks that might not follow your blog (yet!). You quit your job to be a full-time entrepreneur and grow your online business.

Talk about the leap of faith that took, what went into that decision? (I suspect there was some trepidation involved in changing careers!)

Hi Mark, there certainly has been a lot of changes, highlighted by quitting my job at the end of 2019 to focus on blogging, freelance writing, and financial planning.

I’ve been side hustling since 2010 to help accelerate our savings and financial freedom goals. I always dreamed of turning my side hustles into a full-time gig, but it’s tough to leave a steady job with good pay and benefits, especially with a mortgage and a young family that relies on me.

As my kids got older, I found myself with less and less free time to spend working on my side hustle. It seemed like most evenings and some weekends were spent meeting deadlines, answering emails, and taking care of everything that comes with managing a business. It was exhausting and I was burning out.

At the same time, life at my day job wasn’t all that rosy. The public sector was going through some painful budget cuts, and layoffs were on the horizon. The old, “do more with less” mantra was becoming the norm, and the job was starting to become a grind.

We booked an epic 32-day trip to Scotland and Ireland in the summer of 2019, and when we got back my wife and I had a long chat about what it would look like if I left my job. We loved the idea of location independence and being able to travel more and run the business from anywhere (one day we might even get to experience what that’s like!). I put in my notice shortly after and haven’t looked back.

Awesome.

Robb, even though you invested differently a few years back I know you’ve always been a fan of low-cost investing – whether that was formerly via a basket of your own dividend paying stock selections or more recently with your all-in-one ETF solutions for lazy investing. How have you seen the investing landscape change in recent years – for the better? For not so much?

The investing landscape has definitely changed for the better. Canadians pay some of the highest fees in the world and have invested $1.75 trillion in mutual funds. Having low-cost alternatives like robo-advisors, or asset allocation ETFs for DIYers is a game-changer for both reducing fees and simplifying our portfolios.

Even for passive investors, it wasn’t that long ago that the Couch Potato model portfolios contained 7-10 ETFs. Talk about unwieldly to manage! Now, with an all-in-one solution like Vanguard’s VEQT, you can get exposure to global markets with just one product. I can’t understate how much of a difference that makes for investors, who no longer have to spend time monitoring and rebalancing their portfolios.

Frankly, even the most knowledgeable investors aren’t that good with this stuff (me included). The more we can automate, and take decisions out of our hands, the better off we’ll be.

Well said.

I recently read on your site something to the effect that “somewhere along the way” you made a goal to achieve $1M in net worth by the end of 2020. You realized that goal (congrats by the way!) but like many of us in the double-comma club, that milestone just comes and goes and life goes on. Can you speak to the mindset you need for financial success? It’s really not trying to spend like a millionaire – is it?

Thanks, Mark! You’re right that the $1M milestone is more of a vanity metric than anything. When people dream of becoming a millionaire, they’re likely thinking about how it would feel to spend $1M rather than to have $1M in net worth. We certainly haven’t changed our mindset when it comes to spending and saving, just because we’ve hit some arbitrary milestone.

Like a lot of people, my finances were a bit of a mess in my 20s. I used my late 20s and early 30s to dig out of debt and build a foundation of good savings habits. Someone told me back then that instead of worrying about where you’re at compared to your peers, just focus on what you can control (like your savings rate), and keep the needle moving forward. Wealth snowballs over time, and when combined with some lucky breaks like a promotion, or income from a side hustle, or a 12-year bull market, your net worth will increase at a pretty good clip.

It’s important to have goals, that’s what keeps us going. I also believe in aligning your spending with your values. With that mindset you can live a rich life no matter what your income or net worth is.

Time Spent and Money Spent

I know you’re well aware of this but I’ll link to it anyhow!

I’ve written about my plan to “live off dividends and distributions” in the early years of semi-retirement, while working part-time, to mitigate any negative sequence of returns risk. I know you’re well versed on the subject of sequence of returns. How are you planning to mitigate that risk in the future yourself? Are you going to keep a healthy cash wedge? Continue to work? Other?

Some investors have realized early retirement ignoring any 4% safe withdrawal rule!

Mark, I’m definitely more interested in financial independence rather than early retirement. I’m doing what I love right now, and it’s paying the bills, so I have no plans to stop anytime soon. Some days it feels like I’m already retired 🙂

As I mentioned, I am really interested in location independence and the idea of working from anywhere. So, down the road, I could see myself scaling back my workload while enjoying the freedom to travel.

I’m a big fan of the bucket method where you keep a year or so worth of spending in cash, another 3-5 years’ worth of spending in bonds or GICs, and the rest of your portfolio in stocks. Replenish your cash each year by taking from your fixed income bucket and rebalance your fixed income bucket by trimming your stock holdings.

(Mark – here is my plan for a cash wedge/bucket approach in semi-retirement.)

I like the idea of withdrawing from my RRSP early and deferring CPP. I’d like to always contribute to my TFSA, but also use it as a flexible account to withdraw from if I ever have a big one-time purchase, or want to give an amount to my kids.

That’s the general idea, but I’ll admit I don’t have everything fleshed out at this time.

On a related note, some advisors, experts, others, will question if the 4% safe withdrawal rate (SWR) really makes any sense. What’s your take on that?

I don’t think the 4% safe withdrawal rate is all that useful in real life scenarios. Your spending needs really drive your retirement plan. We also receive income from multiple sources, like from a workplace pension, government benefits (CPP and OAS), maybe some rental income, plus from our personal savings. Then we might have some legacy goals on top of that, where we’d like to leave something behind for our children or a favourite charity.

Mandatory minimum withdrawal rules from RRIFs and LIFs further complicate matters. It’s tough to stick to a 4% withdrawal rate when you’re forced to withdraw 5.28% from your RRIF at age 71.

Rules of thumb can provide a decent framework to think about saving, investing, and retirement planning. But we all have unique circumstances that make it challenging to apply them directly to our lives.

I think retirees should take a flexible and dynamic approach to their spending and withdrawal needs. Excess income could be contributed to a TFSA each year. Retirement enhancements such as deferring CPP can also help ensure you meet your spending needs throughout retirement. A healthy cash buffer is helpful to weather any downturns in the market. Track your spending and make adjustments to your plan each year, rather than relying on one simple rule for a 30-year retirement.

I’ve long since argued that any path to financial wealth should be largely boring – save, invest, stay the course, focus on equities, diversify, minimize fees – and you should end up more than OK after a few decades of this simple path to wealth-building.

But, with the rise of cryptocurrencies, the recent tech boom, and other investing alternatives has me thinking there is absolutely some room for some/a small bit of speculative plays in a portfolio. So, I have a few questions:

1. What’s your stance on that? I mean, how much should prospective retirees speculate in their portfolio if at all?

I’ve reviewed a lot of portfolios and I’m always surprised to see how much speculation is going on. I’m talking failed cannabis and bio-tech stocks to the tune of 90%+ losses in RRSPs. It’s pretty bad.

The problem with speculating is that by the time the average investor hears about a particular stock or sector, the money has (usually) already been made.

I’ve had the odd client who has struck it rich with Apple or Tesla stock, but the vast majority of speculators have portfolios filled with huge losses.

Still, we’re wired with greed and the fear of missing out. It’s only natural to want to ride the wave when you hear about booming tech stocks or cryptocurrency.

I’m not one to judge. I simply recommend setting up some rules around your speculative picks – like no more than 5% of your portfolio, and not in your RRSP for crying out loud.

We need rules, because without them how will we know when to take profits on our winners or cut losses on our losers?

2. How much do you dabble in speculative plays yourself and in what?

A few months ago, I shared exactly how I invest my own money. I’d describe my investing approach as aggressive, yet boring. I hold Vanguard’s All Equity ETF (VEQT) in my RRSP, TFSA, LIRA, and Corporate Account. I don’t allocate any investment dollars to individual stocks or alternative investments.

I know, it doesn’t make for exciting dinner party conversation (remember dinner parties?). But I know myself as an investor after several years of stock picking and I would much rather own a small slice of every stock in the world than try to guess which one(s) will be future winners.

That said, I bought $100 worth of Bitcoin while I was doing research for a freelance assignment last year. It’s now worth more than $400. Do I wish I bought $10,000 worth? Maybe. But I know that same $100 could easily be worth $50 or less, so I don’t sweat it.

Lastly, as someone who seems clearly on the path to financial independence, what inspiration do you have for GenX or GenY aspiring to achieve the same based on your lessons learned?

A lot of young people have anxiety about their station in life – that they should be earning more, that they need to buy a house right away, or that their stock portfolio should be worth more.

I’m reminded of the quote from fellow blogger Paula Pant at Afford Anything, “You can afford anything. You just can’t afford everything.”

Young people have a lot of competing financial priorities and both short- and long-term goals they want to achieve. The key is to focus relentlessly on your top priorities and be okay with putting others on the backburner (for the time being). Don’t feel bad if you can’t max out your TFSA, or your kids’ RESP, one year because you have other obligations. You have time to catch up.

As long as you live within your means and make a plan that identifies and then focuses on your top priorities, you’re going to be fine.

A great summary, thanks so much Robb.

Readers, I hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Robb as much I as did. Robb has been a big supporter of yours truly over the years and I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank him for that. It is greatly appreciated. 

Robb, it was nice to catch up! 

You can find Robb’s outstanding content on Boomer & Echo here or follow him on Twitter like I do @BoomerandEcho.

I’ll be back again soon with more great content. I look forward to your comments on this investor profile.

Mark

My name is Mark Seed and I'm the founder, editor and owner of My Own Advisor. As my own DIY financial advisor, I've surpassed my goal and I'm now investing beyond the 7-figure portfolio to start semi-retirement with. Find out how, what I did, and what you can learn to tailor your own financial independence path. Subscribe and join the newsletter! Follow me on Twitter @myownadvisor.

23 Responses to "Financial Independence, Retire to Entrepreneurship"

  1. Great, great, great interview. I would love to quit my job to do something more entrepreneurial. I think I need to be patient and actually acquire the funds to take the leap and actually go through with the entrepreneurship route. $1M is a great goal to have achieved. A feat that not a lot of people do.

    Reply
    1. Thanks David. Yes, it’s certainly a major milestone for many and $1 M is not trivial in terms of net worth building these days. It’s still a big number.

      All the best!
      Mark

      Reply
  2. Great interview from two great contributors to personal finance in Canada. I set up my Couch Potato portfolio years ago with individual ETFs, but I’m a huge fan of the asset allocation ETFs, especially Vanguard’s for the reasons Robb gives, and have put my adult kids’ TFSAs (their earned money, not given to them) in VEQT. Super-easy to manage, little temptation to tinker or market-time, and very well diversified to carry the day. They’ll thank me in 20 years.

    Reply
    1. Thanks very much for the kind words!

      Yes, those all-in-one ETFs are great new gift for investors and no doubt your kids will be very grateful in another 20 years of saving and investing in that. Smart. I own XAW myself for the same reasons and I’m likely to own more in my TFSA in 2022+.

      Reply
  3. Two of my favourite bloggers together, what more can I ask for in a read 🙂
    Thanks to both of you for continuing to educate and make personal finance more fun to read about.

    Reply
  4. Thanks Mark and Robb. Great insights and recommendations of how to invest and save and look to the future. The over 5% forced withdrawal rate from your RRIF after you turn 71 does not concern me if my expenses will be less than that and if I have other savings to rely on such as TFSA and non-registered accounts for expenses.

    You are so right on people taking too much risk in their portfolios, especially in RRSP’s. I manage the TFSA’s of myself, my wife and my son. I decided to take more risk in my account investing in small caps in the tech industry, less risk in my wife’s account investing in a mix of small caps and dividend stocks and invest in only dividend paying stocks in my son’s account. Well guess who is doing the best after a couple of years? My son’s account by quite a margin. Maybe over time it will equalize but it was a good lesson for me about taking risks in investing.

    Appreciate all the assistance you provide to the public on your sites.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for your insightful comment Roger. Sounds like you have things well in hand as the CEO or CFO of your house!

      I appreciate the kind words. I’m sure Robb feels the same!

      Reply
  5. Great interview Mark and lots of wisdom from Robb ! Thanks to guys like you more and more people have a better look and control on how their retirement and future could look like.
    Many thanks to both of you.

    Reply
  6. Great interview Mark & Robb. Mark, I like how you used a picture from The Behavior Gap.

    Robb, your idea of withdrawing from RRSP early is what we are planning as well. I think having your hands tied to a mandatory minimum withdrawal rate with RRIF is not a good idea. Any reason why you went with VEQT over XEQT?

    Reply
    1. Thanks Bob! I chose VEQT for two reasons: One, it launched a few months before XEQT (that’s when I switched to the one-ETF solution). Two, I have a lot of respect for Vanguard as a company and want to support them. I don’t think they’re known for being the second lowest cost provider in the industry so I suspect they’ll reduce the fees on their one-ticket ETFs to match iShares in the near future (like they did with VXC recently to match XAW).

      Reply
  7. That was an outstanding interview from my two favourite bloggers! Robb can always put things into context in such simple and down to earth language. I will continue to pump you guys up to my friends, relatives and anyone else who will listen. Thanks you two.

    Reply
        1. Great interview with solid, easy-to-follow advice, Mark and Robb. I appreciate the Paula Pant quote, and often kept this similar one in mind when making any major decisions: You can do anything you want in life, but you can’t do it all.
          Choose wisely, don’t look back and have no regrets. It’s all we can do.

          Reply

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