Financial Freedom for Millennials: Two Book Reviews
It’s a great time to be alive, and it’s a great time to become aware of the role your money will play in your life. The number of resources available to you is growing by the day.
Today, I’ll be highlighting two excellent resources for millennials with an interest in financial freedom.
The first is a playbook to guide you to financial independence from a millennial who has achieved it. The second is a play-by-play memoir from a millennial who discovered the concept and made drastic life changes to make financial freedom a realistic possibility.
Personally, I’m a relatively young member of Generation X. My wife doesn’t express many millennial traits, but by birth date, she’s technically a millennial. She attained financial freedom by virtue of being patiently married to a relatively young Gen Xer with a great job.
It won’t be that simple for most millennials, but there are tried and true methods. I’ll be discussing them as I review Grant Sabatier’s Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need (released today!) and Scott Riecken’s Playing With FIRE: How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom?
With forewords by Vicki Robin and Mr. Money Mustache, respectively, these two FI books are legit.
Financial Freedom for Millennials
My friend Grant was kind enough to not only send me an advance copy of the book several months ago, but he also sent a few signed hardcovers, as well. I’m keeping one to share with a friend, one to give to an email subscriber who comments below, and one to give away soon in a yet-to-be-determined fashion.
I first met Grant at FinCon17 and we had another chance to chat by the big flamingo at the 2018 conference. Before that, I knew him online as the Millennial Money blogger who was really into both personal finance and blogging — he generously did free SEO audits for dozens of us via the Rockstar Finance Forum, easily spending dozens of hours if not hundreds. His 67 Best SEO Tips for Bloggers is an authoritative post I revisit from time to time.
As a witness to his enthusiasm, work ethic, and drive, I’m not surprised to see him a couple years later with a widely distributed personal finance book published by Penguin House, a podcast interviewing people like Tony Robbins, Vicki Robin, his own father, and James Clear. Stay tuned for episodes featuring The White Coat Investor and me, eventually.
Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need
This book is substantial in both substance and size. A hardcover, weighing in at 19.2 ounces with a total of 342 pages including the index, references, and glossary, there is a lot of information to digest, especially if you’re new to many of these concepts.
The author does a great job summarizing the most salient points. At the end of each chapter, you’ll find a concise recap of the top seven to nine lessons with two to three sentences each.
There are fourteen chapters covering the meaning and purpose of money, how to earn it, how to wisely spend it, how to invest and grow it, and, perhaps most importantly, how to enjoy a life where money is not front and center.
Once you achieve financial freedom, money should become a lesser concern. You’ll have all you need, as the book’s subtitle clearly states.
How is this a book for millennials? It starts with the author. He’s at least a decade my junior, and he’s a guy who side hustled and hacked his way from a boomerang child who couldn’t afford a burrito to a millionaire in about five years.
He understands the gig economy and how to best take advantage of it. An entire chapter is devoted to “hacking your 9-to-5.” Millennials, for better or worse, are finding themselves in positions where one job for many years is less likely to be a viable option and probably not the best path to wealth or financial freedom.
My parents’ generation, the baby boomers, were more likely to have pensions, job security, and they benefitted from an impressive stock market throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Generation X has seen a shift away from pensions and a less steady stock market, but I believe we’ve relied less on side hustles and multiple income streams than the next generation.
It remains to be seen how life will play out for millennials, but as I said in the introduction, Mr. Sabatier’s book is an excellent playbook to improve your own odds of success.
The High Points of Financial Freedom
The overall message is great and consistent with what I’ve done and what I preach. Maximize income, spend for value, and grow that gap between the two to increase your savings rate.
Invest in a simple and straightforward manner, take some risks with your career and your money, but don’t put it all on the line. Financial freedom can be yours in a decade or two at the most.
What sets this book apart are the details. As I mentioned, there’s a chapter devoted to making the most of your primary job. Negotiation tactics are discussed thoroughly, and everyone, including my physician readers, would benefit from employing these strategies.
The book goes into detail on how to create and recognize opportunities to advance your career, make yourself invaluable, and turn an idea into a profitable business. Grant believes that consistent habits are key, and he shares a number of the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yes, yearly habits he has developed.
Grant has read over 400 personal finance and entrepreneurship books, and he claims to have spent about 2,800 hours bringing this book of his own to life. The book’s about more than just money, though. I loved this passage discussing what to do after you’ve attained financial freedom:
“Do what you’ve always wanted to do and take the time to discover new things. Let yourself grow and change. I can’t even imagine where I’ll be in five, ten, twenty, or thirty years.”
There’s some real wisdom there. Any time I think back as my past self from five or ten years earlier, I know I would have been surprised to learn where I’d be and what I’d be up today. Life is a box of chocolates and all of that.
More great life advice in these few sentences:
“Family and friends are more important than money. Money doesn’t matter if you don’t have anyone to enjoy it with. Spend time with your kids, siblings, parents, grandparents, and friends. Health is more important than money. Try not to burn yourself out. Take time to recover and recharge.”
The content is solid from beginning to end, and a lot of people are going to benefit immensely after reading this book. I mean that sincerely, even if I do have a few little bones to pick. I’m talking tiny bones, like those three middle ear bones. Honestly.
A Few Minor Quibbles
This is a book review, not a book report, and it wouldn’t be complete without a few criticisms. Honestly, I feel some of these represent my own failure, as I had access to the text before it was too late to make changes.
I must confess I had never read a book on Kindle before, and I struggled to figure out how to work with this .ASCM file to make the words appear on my son’s Kindle Fire, and by the time I finally got it to work, the book was already off to the printer. Please accept my apologies, Grant, for not perusing the book sooner!
In a broad sense, I know that this is the playbook that the author used to achieve financial freedom, but it’s a stretch to say that anyone could replicate his success, not that the author implies that anyone could. I do believe that everyone should try to make the best of their situation and that they’ll be much better off if they take action on just a few things they’ve learned in the book.
I think that’s all he is going for; do some of these things and you’ll be in much better financial shape. But not everyone has the confidence or moxie to take a bunch of coworkers out to lunch to pick their brains or charge what would the equivalent of what could be a year’s salary to spend a few hours creating a website. That was a bold strategy, Cotton!
Now, let the nitpicking commence.
I didn’t agree 100% with some of the details in the investing section. For example, he says “it’s important to rebalance four times a year.” I’ve read data that demonstrates rebalancing once or twice a year is adequate, and most of us can rebalance in an ongoing fashion with new additions without having to sell assets while we’re still earning a living.
International stocks only get a few short paragraphs, and they’re regarded as generally riskier than U.S. stocks, but useful for diversification. He recommends no more than 5% of your portfolio in international stocks, while acknowledging many advisors would recommend 30%, but doesn’t share his rationale. I realize both Warren Buffett and John Bogle have said foreign stocks are unnecessary in a portfolio, but I would have liked to hear the author’s reasons for his opinion. I keep about 20% of my portfolio in international stocks.
In the section on investing in taxable accounts (which I’m a big fan of) the best case scenario for tax-advantaged account space does not take into account the possibility of a defined contribution (cash balance) plan or non-qualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan, either of which could push someone’s tax-advantaged space well into six-figures. Not everyone has access to these accounts, but I know plenty of people that do.
Grant also recommends using the same stock and bond allocation in taxable as you have in your other accounts. I find it easier and generally more tax-efficient to treat your entire portfolio as one pool of money and apply your desired asset allocation across all of your accounts (and your spouse’s accounts if finances are combined).
Speaking of spouses, you don’t hear much about Grant’s wife and her finances, but that is intentional. He did confirm that their financial freedom is not limited just to him; they have enough for joint financial freedom, but unlike Grant, she prefers to stay out of the public eye. I can respect that.
There is a chapter devoted to real estate, and it’s quite good, but in the investing section, he lumps REITs along with gold to say you can go ahead and ignore those. Personally, I believe REITs are a viable and completely hands-off alternative to owning physical real estate or making crowdfunded or other syndicated real estate investments.
He quotes the break-even point of buying versus renting as 2.1 years. This will vary by region, but a more realistic figure I’ve seen is closer to an average of at least five years. One of the sources cited is Zillow, and you can imagine Zillow has a vested interest in convincing you to buy, as the site clearly makes money by referring you to realtors and mortgage lenders.
Speaking of mortgages, he states that in the 1980s, it would have made more sense to pay off an 8% to 10% mortgage as quickly as possible, since other investments were unlikely to return that match. But the truth is that Certificates of Deposit and Treasury Bills were paying closer to 15% in the early 1980s.
With his entrepreneurial ambitions, the author may not plan on implementing a withdrawal strategy anytime soon, but I’ve thought mine through. In a list of where you should draw from, the 401(k), IRA, and HSA were listed before a 457(b), which I find odd since a 457(b), at least a non-governmental one, should be the first account you tap.
The deferred compensation you have in a 457(b) is not actually your money until you withdraw it (and therefore subject to creditor risk if the employer goes bankrupt), and it’s readily available without penalty at any age as soon as you separate from your employer.
I won’t need the money when I leave my job later this year, but I plan to drain my 457(b) over the next 5 to 10 years at the most.
OK, that was more than enough!
That section grew to be much longer than I anticipated. It’s not that it’s a bad book by any stretch of the imagination; there are just a few details in which we don’t see eye to eye, but in the big picture, the greater message of the book is spot on.
As stated in the introduction, I’m totally keeping one of the copies Grant graciously sent me to give to someone whose life could be changed by this book.
Playing With FIRE
You may have heard about this FIRE documentary that has been filmed and will be released shortly. I’ll be sure to share the details when it’s available for viewing. You won’t see my smiling face in the film, but a number of our friends are featured, including the aforementioned Mr. Money Mustache, Vicki Robin, and Grant Sabatier.
I had the pleasure of meeting Scott and the film’s director Travis Shakespeare over beers at a Florida microbrewery in the fall of 2018 as they were putting the finishing touches on the documentary. They’re great guys and I’m excited to see their final product.
While we’ll have to wait a bit to see the movie, the paperback and audiobook that accompany the film are available right now. As a Kickstarter supporter, I had early access to the audiobook, and I took it in over the course of a handful of New Year’s Resolution workouts last month.
Whereas Grant Sabatier wrote the financial freedom playbook, Scott Rieckens provides the play-by-play.
A few years ago, Scott, his wife Taylor, and their young daughter were living the good life near San Diego. Two solid incomes gave them a comfortable six-figure after-tax takehome pay, and they had a six-figure lifestyle to match.
Scott seemed to be fairly content with the status quo, although becoming a father and navigating a couple career detours had him thinking more about what their futures might look like. Then he heard Tim Ferris interview Mr. Money Mustache.
And everything changed.
Here was a father living a joyful and purposeful life, thriving on an annual budget of about 20% of Scott’s. When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, but Scott’s interest was piqued.
After discovering MMM, he took a deeper dive and contemplated how to a) broach the subject with his wife and b) start implementing meaningful changes to make early financial independence a realistic goal.
As you might imagine and can surmise from the documentary’s trailer, there were challenges aplenty. The decision to document this journey with a film crew had the potential to turn their private struggle into a public crucible.
I won’t play spoiler and share all the details, but the fact is we likely won’t know how their experiment turned out for another decade or so. Their path to financial independence is in its infancy.
Playing With FIRE High Points
I listened to the audiobook and I appreciated the fact that Scott himself read the audio. It’s a personal saga, and it feels more personal when read by the author. His wife also participates in the recorded version, reading the portions where she shares her perspectives on money and the life-altering choices they were making.
They both did a great job of defining their “whys” for making these bold moves. The making of the film brought Scott face to face with his newfound heroes of the financial independence movement, and his recanting of those encounters was affirming.
As this was more of a memoir than a guidebook, he doesn’t go into near as much detail when describing the math and investment philosophies (as compared to Sabatier’s Financial Freedom), but he does give a solid overview.
Being less detailed, along with the fact that I had no print copy to dissect, I don’t have much to quibble with. I did send Scott some feedback on some “fuzzy math” when discussing multiples of spending and accompanying withdrawal rates, but it was a minor point.
I loved the contrast he painted describing how he liked to brag about getting a good deal, while his wife was most proud of her expensive possessions that provided proof of her success. I had noted in The Frugal Physician that some people were wired like Scott and others like Taylor, and I can imagine having one of each under the same roof can lead to some marital discord, particularly when embarking on this Financial Independence journey together.
How do they reconcile these differences? Can they find a workable compromise? The tension is palpable, but common goals help create common ground.
Fuel for the FIRE
Each of these books brings welcome fuel, helping to spread FIRE to people who may be less likely to read blogs or listen to podcasts.
The nature of each is very different and they complement each other well. One or both could resonate well with someone who may be open to the idea of making some changes to better their financial and personal lives.
Playing with FIRE is the book to spark inspiration, and Financial Freedom would be a great followup to teach someone exactly how one can implement any of myriad strategies to make true financial freedom a real possibility.