I imagine most people, especially those who have made radical life changes (or any change for that matter) can remember their tipping point. I have one I’d like to share.
It happened during a lunch break at work. Myself and a coworker were eating perhaps a bit too much and bit too quick. Still in my early 20’s and a former collegiate athlete these poor eating habits had started to show on my body. But being one of the younger people in the company the habits hadn’t transformed me as much as others in the company. This particular coworker being twice my age was getting bigger and in more pain by the year as you could see and even hear when he moved. We made eye contact that said ‘yeah that’s not good to eat like that’ and he stood up, patted his belly, looked at me and said, “You just wait. This will happen to you too.”
The interaction and those six words hit me like a brick. I looked around. Everyone looked just like him. Tired, out of shape, a bit dissatisfied. I did a lot of thinking the rest of the day and was bothered this person assumed my fate would be so similar to everyone else's. I used him and that interaction as my new motivation. He was my picture of Ivan Drago on the mirror in Rocky IV. I’m pretty type A so this was huge just to get the ball rolling. First I started eating right. And by eating I only mean I went raw vegan for the better part of two years. Then starting a vigorous exercise program that ballooned all the way to an ironman triathlon career.
But it wasn’t just health. I started questioning everything. Does everyone here, or anyone, feel moved by the work they do? Why are they working into their seventies? Why do they keep telling me social security is going to dry up and I’ll have to work until I’m 80? What if I want to work until I’m 80?
There began my journey into finances. It was pretty obvious pretty early why most people around me became stuck in jobs. They simply didn't know what to do with the money they made. They bought materialistic possessions out of habit or out of ego. They put 75% of their income into housing, transportation (cars), and food. Also those in unsatisfactory jobs simply needed to blow off steam so they spent money on entertainment, alcohol, and big weekends. They bought the latest tech and anything else that would give a quick hit of dopamine and a welcomed distraction.
I learned that those who seemed to live a life on their terms had assets and not things. They spoke of the freedom of owning less. To remain lighter and more agile. They bought long term interest producing investments. They drove modest cars or none at all. They used real estate as a tool to build wealth not a statement of self worth. They understood the accounts that would lower their taxable income on paper yet setting them up for long term financial success, like a 401K. They invested in self improvement and growing their skills. Staying ahead of shifts in the workforce as to always be in a position to earn.
So I did what I could to jump onto that train and jump off my current train. Still loaded with student loan debt I stopped the bleeding in places I could control. Cooking my own meals. Buying a new anything as a last resort. My needs and wants became brilliantly more clear and separated. I went from a 40,000 dollar ‘ego machine’ truck to a 200,000 mile Toyota Prius. Then to a bicycle and a bus pass. I traded the ‘comforts’ of single family home or having my own apartment. I thought buying a duplex made wonderful sense. Live in one half and rent the other to offset mortgage and other costs. I was still young and in debt and did not have a lot of cash or time. I partnered with a like minded friend. Cutting the cost of entry in half. We lived there for years while offsetting living costs. Neither of us live there now and we rented both sides and the house essentially pays us. At one point as a 30 year old I lived with 6 roommates! Sharing a bath with 2 others. This place was within 5 miles of where I worked and very bike-able. I could save my two biggest assets. Time and money.
These changes became habits. I was able to get to 100% debt free before 30. And the fact that I even had a ‘net worth’ was reason enough to smile. Full disclosure I am giving the highlights here. There were stumbles. Times when biking in the cold rain sucks. Having your roommate walk in on you moving your bowels is frustrating. But it’s not worse than still being at that lunch table at 65 years old. Patting my overgrown belly while warning some kid of his doomed future.
I coach people when I can on how to replicate or preferable to better than what I did. I hope to be a motivation and light that all people can look to when looking to make life changes. So I can instead be working into my golden years by choice. Sitting at a lunch table. Saying to a young person proudly; “You wait, this can happen to you”
Great story, Jim. I love your values and your persistence in getting your financial house and your health in order. I'd expect a lot of success in your career and in your overall health.