Hey Readers, today I have Benjamin Davis, founder and blogger at FromCentstoRetirement.com. Ben is a prime example of somebody that CHOOSES to live his life according to his own terms regardless of the hand he was dealt. So without further adieu…
Walk me through how and why you started your personal finance blog?
Sadly, I developed the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) while doing my PhD, in late 2012/early 2013, which made me question a lot of things in my life. It was like an epiphany because I believed that I could not work for much longer.
Those were very tough times, as I used to drag myself to the office often. Some days were better than others, but still very hard times. I eventually developed a few tools to respond to CFS, including a great diet and meditation. However, I knew that I would eventually be prevented from work, by CFS, and therefore I had to start planning my (very early) retirement.
I guessed I probably had 5-10 years before I started to break apart and so I created a master plan to retire early. The idea was to make enough money in that period and be able to retire by 33-36.
My blog was created to keep me motivated and inspire others to do the same. It was an easy decision based on the motivation I gained by following other blogs.
Michael here – We all have a choice with how to interpret events that come into our lives. Ben is a great example of turning a perceived hardship into motivation that will ultimately enrich his life.
Describe your past relationship with money.
Up until 2012, I was so happy with my life that I didn’t think much of money. Savings were automatically scheduled from my bank account, and I would spend probably about 20 minutes a month thinking about money.
Today, I think about money most of the time. Not about money itself, but about my investments. Having a plan to retire by 33 does certainly require your entire attention. A slight mistake may cost me a lot of money, which may mean postponing my financial freedom.
In the future, I envision myself not worrying about money (which I do now), but thinking about it in a very positive way. After I retire, I will be making enough money to live off of so I will have the freedom to pursue my dreams that do not involve money. I will always be frugal and save money, but I will be more relaxed about it, I am sure.
Describe 1 empowering belief you have about money and how it positively affected your life. On the flip side, describe 1 disempowering belief about money (past or present). What has been the effect on your financial goals?
Money means freedom. Just think of your life as if you didn’t have to work for money. You could still work but you’d certainly do it in a much more sincere and meaningful way.
In fact, this point is great to illustrate both empowering and dis-empowering beliefs about money. Having to work and do things you don’t want to, just because you gotta eat is not that empowering. Having money to take that stress off of you and you can truly do that you like. That is empowering!
Michael here – Ben nails the idea of aligning your beliefs directly with your motivation!
Who taught or influenced you about money when you were growing up? What was the impact?
I grew up in different countries. There was so much excitement in moving from one place to the other all the time, we would not spend much time discussing money. In fact, it was sort of a taboo.
I was naturally ambitious though. Not about money, but as an individual. For instance, I believe that I only did a PhD because I was (and am) ambitious.
What is your favorite personal finance book? What’s the best actionable takeaway you got from it?
What are your top 3 favorite personal finance blogs, and why?
Fi fighter ran by Jay, was a very inspirational blog when I started my journey, and I still follow him.
To be honest, I am so busy with my own blog and my own content (for instance, I published my first book last month and I am working on my second one now) these days that I am not really following any other blog regularly, apart from having a look at PoF every now and then.
Describe one investment type/class that excites you the most, and why?
Real estate. Most of my portfolio is exposed to Real Estate and if you have a look at my stock portfolio you’ll realize that I have very small positions right now, as I believe that there will be a market correction “soon” and this is not the best time to get in.
I love Real Estate because you can indeed attain high cash flow margins, and in my opinion better margins than with any other type of investment. My Real Estate investments yield up to 20% net a year, because I have specialized in deep-value deals, buying properties dirt cheap (especially distressed properties whose owners can’t / don’t want/believe they can’t be monetized) and monetizing them with great tenants. I am pretty much hands on, as far as my RE investments, having created unique platforms to announce my homes and sometimes doing the renovation and repair work myself. I often publish material on RE, including free real estate books, pro forma explanations and how to get rid of stuff, such as couches, as I tend to be pretty much hands on.
How much passive income would you need per month to live happily ever after? What would life look like for you at this level?
- Blogging. I’ve always loved to write and express myself, but blogging is a lot more than writing. But we know that blogging is not only about writing and there are many other tasks involved. I would like to become a reference for Early Retirement and my main goal with it is inspiring people and keep myself motivated. I recently re-branded the site and I think it came out nicely.
- Going into nature more often. I love to hike (especially in not so popular wood trails), find hidden lakes and waterfalls and what not. Happy Ben here:
- Working out more often. Before I started my PhD I used to dead-lift up to 400 lbs. My shape was amazing (I focused more on aesthetics than strength). I would like to come back
- Write more books. but I’ve got a few more in the pipeline. I wish I had time to write more books. This will definitely be a go after I “retire”.
- Participate in multiple Real Estate projects across the Portuguese coast. The idea is to set up short-term rentals for tourists (including surfers). I’ve been studying the market and I think that there is a lot of demand for this.
- Coaching other people. I would like to coach friends for free, once I don’t need any further monetary compensation, so I will ask for a tree (planted by themselves on land I’ve been buying, outsourcing won’t be permitted) and maybe some other things, like volunteering.
Do you discuss money or financial matters with friends and family? Why, or why not?
Only with 2 very close friends, who share some of my goals. Most people don’t understand why I want to retire early and why I am on a journey to amass $700k – they just don’t. Most think I am greedy.
I realized this when I told this to every friend of mine and I’ve started to have weird reactions. So I stopped. There is a close friend who is also investing in Real Estate so we get to talk a lot.
Tell us something about yourself that only your closest family and friends know about.?
Although I share it online, most people who know me have no idea I have CFS. Apart from my brother and two close friends, nobody knows. I tend to be very open on my blog because I know that my readers appreciate that so there is not much that not many people know about me, other than that.
Imagine a poor kid that grew up with no advantages in life. Suddenly he walks up to you asking for your best financial advice, but you only have a few minutes. What would you say?
- Never do a PhD, as I did. That may be a very bad financial decision (especially in the US, where tuition is damn high) for a number of reasons. First, its simply too expensive. Second, statistically speaking, chances are you’ll become an employee instead of a business owner, thus limiting your salary (you trade your time for the dollars, but your time is limited, no matter how well you’re paid). Third, you lose way too much time studying.
- Improve your financial IQ as much as possible. When I decided that I was going to retire early, I read over 100 personal finance and investing books, learning everything there is to know about personal finance and investing. If I had started say 4 years before, I believe I my net worth would be at least 3x what it is now. I would have understood before that money is a tool, which I should use (and not be used by). I also would have understood the power of compound interest and I could have started to use leverage a long ago.
- I would start a business that could scale, and hustle. You know why lab drugs are among the best businesses in the world? Unlimited clientele, unlimited profits. Knowing what I know now, I would certainly have Real Estate in the equation, but I would also have a highly scalable business (for example, selling good-quality products at low prices via drop shipping). Research shows that about 50% of small-business owners in the US fell very satisfied and successful, as shown by a Wells Fargo/Gallup survey. I am pretty sure that the figures are different for employees around the world…
- Build a very large, healthy social network. At the end of the day, the more people you know, you can reach and you can use to your favor (not in a bad way, since I truly believe this should be bidirectional) the easier you make money. That is the cold hard truth. Sometimes is not even what you know, is who you know.
Are you actively seeking FIRE (financial independence & early retirement)? If so, what’s your game plan or strategy?
Yes, I am. My first goal is to hit $700k, which will be enough to yield about $2000 a month. Real Estate is dirt cheap in Portugal right now, and it forms the cornerstone of my master plan to achieve early retirement. I also plan to flip some homes for a quick profit and build a dividend stock portfolio, among other investments.
I detail my complete strategy on my book: My strategy to retire early. If you want, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. You can reach me out there if you would like to talk to me.
Michael here – Thanks, Ben for participating! It’s cool to get another perspective on FIRE outside of the U.S. Regardless if where you live though, Real Estate always pops up as a viable investment opportunity. If you’d like to learn more about Benjamin, head over to his site – http://www.fromcentstoretirement.com/.
Readers, what was your favorite takeaway from this interview?