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Book Review: Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial IndependenceI don’t normally write book reviews on this blog, but I’m making an exception for the new Choose FI book.  I was expecting my opinion to sway one way with the book but my impression after reading it went in a completely different direction.

Chris Mamula is the author of Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence (along with coauthors Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa).  If you’re not familiar with Chris, he retired in 2017 at the young age of 41 (beat me by two years!).  He also spends a lot of time writing at the Can I Retire Yet? site.

I met Chris at the FinCon conference in 2017 – such a nice guy!  We didn’t get a chance to talk too much, but you could just tell that he wasn’t going to be a guy resting on his laurels in retirement – he’d be making some @#$% happen.

Sure enough, Chris had approached Brad and Jonathan known best from the awesome Choose FI podcast a while ago.  He had an idea to put together a book on helping others to pursue financial independence.  But he wanted to do something different – he wanted to cull the thoughts and advice of the guests’ appearances that had been featured on the Choose FI show over the years to solidify the book.

This was really a smart idea.  Jonathan and Brad have had on so many great guests revolving around financial independence since they started their show.  Many of them were closing in on early retirement or had already reached FIRE (financial independence / retire early).  Who better to solidify the idea that financial independence is possible and how to get there than the people who are making it happen?!

I hate to say it though, but I went into the Choose FI book with low expectations.  Not because I didn’t expect something good to come from these three guys.  In fact, it’s just the opposite – I’ve seen nothing but quality work from all of them and wouldn’t expect anything less in this regard.

But here’s the thing – I’ve read a lot of personal finance books over the years.  And to be honest, they’re starting to get to be a little repetitive.  I continue to read them though because I still tend to learn a thing or two from each of them.  However, the bulk of what I read now tends to rehash a lot of what I already know.

I was surprised to find that I was sucked into the Choose FI book before I even finished the introduction.

I don’t know Chris well outside of talking to him at a couple of the FinCon conferences.  However, I related a lot to his perspective as I read the Choose FI book.  I felt like he and I went down similar paths in life and that made it a little more personable for me.

Regardless, his story is very inspiring and, if you haven’t reached financial independence or even started down the path, Chris will make you want to push yourself to get there.

The other thing I appreciated is that this is far from a get-rich-quick book.  Chris puts it best when he says…

Building wealth that enables FI is simple, but it’s not easy.

It’s something that I had actually written a post I’d written about last year – The Path Is Simple, but It’s Not Necessarily Easy.  Sure, some folks get lucky and win the lottery or others get a huge inheritance, but for most of us, it’s a matter of figuring out ways to spend less and earn more.

On top of that, the focus of the book isn’t to shove a “this is how you have to do it” attitude.  There’s not an assault to tell you that you need to retire either.  It’s about gaining the freedom that financial independence provides.

FI is not about retiring early or retiring at all really.  It’s all about having the freedom and flexibility to design your life in alignment with your values.

You can work on things important to you.  You can work at your own pace.  Or you can choose not to work at all.

FI gives you the power to decide.  It allows you to use your money as a tool to live a rich life, freeing yourself from the need to go to a job.

Powerful, right?  But not pushy either.  Here’s why financial independence is so important, but what you do with that power is up to you.  You had me at FI, Chris!

And all of this was just the intro.

As you can probably already tell, I’m a fan of this book.  It was well put-together and offers solid advice from Chris, Brad, Jonathan, and the guests from the Choose FI podcast.

In case you’re wondering, I did have an opportunity to join in with a Guest Appearance on the ChooseFI Podcast earlier this year.  But my appearance was way after the cutoff date they used for guest data.  Not sure if I would have made the cut or not, but I was honored just to be a part of the show itself.

So I thought what I’ll do is walk you through the book and point out some of the highlights that I really enjoyed.  Sound good?  Then let’s do this!

 

Choose FI – Get Started

The intro and first three chapters of this book fall under the “Get Started” header…

Introduction: Create Your Own FI Story
Chapter 1 The Stages of FI
Chapter 2 Start with Your “Why?”
Chapter 3 Develop a Growth Mindset

I loved in the intro that Chris talks about how he spent seven years and tens of thousands of dollars on what he thought was his dream job (a physical therapist).  And then he and his wife bought their dream house.  But then they realized that they “were living someone else’s dream.”

This was a “wow” moment for me as I was in the same boat.  I didn’t spend as much money or time in schooling that Chris did, but I did follow suit to become a professional in a career I thought was my dream job.  And it was for a while, but eventually, I realized I wanted something else.

I felt like I was just working this job and living in this nice house because that’s what we were supposed to do.  I needed to break free.  And eventually, I discovered financial independence from Joe at Retire by 40 and that became the game-changer.

As Chris puts it…

Why do so many fail to diverge from the standard path despite its limitations?

One reason is simply the fact that the standard path is… the standard.  It’s the norm.  The standard path is deeply ingrained by schools, families, media, and popular culture.  Above all else, most people have never thought that there might be a different way.

But once you start questioning this trap that many of fall prey to, you can start to change your life completely…

Once we realize money is just a means to an end that allows us to live the lives we want, it’s easy to see that we are progressively gaining power and freedom along the path to FI.

As the chapters then progress, this discussion is how to move through the stages of FI (financial independence).  That means:

  1. Getting out of debt if you’re in it
  2. Creating an emergency fund
  3. Getting your net worth to six figures
  4. Reaching half FI (your assets reach 12.5x your annual spending)
  5. Covering your essential expenses and then reaching 20x your annual spending
  6. FI (your portfolio reaches 25x your annual spending)
  7. FI with cushion (reaching at least 30x your annual spending)

I found it interesting to find that reaching a six-figure net worth alone puts you in the top 50% of American households.

Chapter two of the Choose FI book then takes you through figuring out why you want to reach FI.  Money can only get you the freedom to make your own life – you need to figure out what you want to do with it from there.  Financial independence isn’t the end of the road, it’s the beginning of a new one.

Chapter three then focuses on figuring out how to change your mentality.  If you don’t think FI is possible, you’ll never get there.  You just need to just start, even if it’s only a little bit, in order to move forward.  Then over time, you strive to find more ways to earn and save more and make smarter decisions along the way.

As Brad points out:

This concept of aggregating small wins is powerful. Choosing FI is not a single choice.  It’s many small choices that continue to build on one another until you eventually reach a tipping point.

 

Choose FI – Spend Less

Section two of the Choose FI book focuses on important ways to spend less money.  This is so important because the greater your personal savings rate is, the faster you can reach financial independence.

The spotlight is on looking at the world differently and spending your money where it matters.  It’s also about finding the right places with the biggest returns to save money (like on your taxes).

Chapter 4 Become a Valuist
Chapter 5 Live Better While Spending Less
Chapter 6 Pay Fewer Taxes
Chapter 7 See the World

It would seem that spending a dollar less or making a dollar more would have the same effect, right?  Every extra dollar you don’t spend or every extra dollar you earn could be applied to your savings.  But, mathematically, spending less has a double effect that speeds the time to FI.  Every dollar you don’t spend is a dollar you can save.

Chapter four professes that if you spend your time and money consistent with your values, that’s what’ll make you the happiest.  It’s not about being cheap, it’s about spending your money on what’s important to you and not wasting money on the things that aren’t.

This will be different for everyone.  For us personally, we don’t care about fancy cars, the latest fashionable clothes, or expensive dining.  However, we enjoy travel and being together, so that’s where we spend our money.

We love finding deals on cruises, but we also always splurge and get a balcony.  We spend money on alcohol on the ship, but we don’t care about or ever get the “premium” package for the higher tier alcohol.  But if we want a drink that’s not included, we get it – no big deal.  We’d also rather explore the different ports ourselves so we don’t spend money on excursions.

Each of us will have different levels of valuism, but Chris sums up it best in just a few words in the Choose FI book…

Be happy with simple things.

Those four words can be the key to not only reaching financial independence but living a satisfying life in general.

Chapters five helps you to find ways to save money in the three largest controllable areas of spending (housing, transportation, and food).  He also addresses some of the other areas to work on cutting costs like recurring expenses (insurance, for example).  And then there are the smaller areas of costs that add up dramatically over time – cable and cell phone service being the most notable.

My favorite part of this chapter though is when the discussion changes to encourage you to focus on not just looking at actual costs, but also thinking proactively.  For instance, living a healthier lifestyle can help prevent health problems later that would cost you even more money.

Most of us aren’t very knowledgeable in the area of taxes.  Chapter six is great in helping you understand how you can save thousands of dollars in taxes in different areas.  Not only that, but he notes how FIRE can bring you into a lower tax bracket because your taxable income will likely drop dramatically.

Chapter seven talks about leveraging travel rewards and how to travel the world for free or for next to nothing.  On that topic (small plug!), if you’re planning to sign up for a new credit card, please consider using a link from my recommended credit cards page to help support this site.  And if there’s a card you’re looking for not on the list, let me know what you’re looking for and I’ll send you over a link to use.

 

Choose FI – Earn More

This section is the flipside of the last one – earning more.  It’s the second leg of the 3-legged stool that Chris recommends as the sound path to financial independence.

Chapter 8 Hack College (Or Just Skip It)
Chapter 9 Invest in Your Career
Chapter 10 Build a Network

I was very interested in chapter eight.  It’s not a push against college nor a push for college.  It’s a sound chapter discussing the pros and cons of going to college in the grand scheme of things (particularly financially) depending on what you will do with your life.

If your goal is to reach FI quickly, does it make sense to give up four, six, or maybe twelve years of your life going to school?

And if you decide that college is the right path, there are a lot of great thoughts and strategies here on how to do it in a way that can save you time in school and thousands of dollars.  I wish I knew these ideas when I went to school!

Chapter nine of the book brings us to your career.  For most folks, this will be the lifeblood of your path to financial independence so it’s one of the most vital components.  The information in this chapter focuses on adding value to your position to help obtain the largest salary you can.

Whatever career or job you choose, it’s important to negotiate the highest starting salary possible. When you get pay raises, they are usually based on a percentage of your salary, so you want this starting number to be as high as it can possibly be.

Rounding out the section is chapter ten on building a network which serves to help you to get ahead.  I’ve already written that I was wrong and it really is who you know that gets you ahead and this chapter builds on that.

Ironically, the more you give without expectation of return, the more inevitable it becomes that you will find an army of people looking to help you.

Chris talks about how networking shouldn’t have the negative connotation that seems to be associated with it.  It’s important to build real relationships to do networking right.  He then goes into what you need to do to build these relationships.

 

Choose FI – Invest Better

Who would’ve thunk that the investing section would be this far back in the book?  When you think of financial independence, investing tends to be the forefront thought in people’s minds.  But funny enough, investing is can be one of the simplest parts of the equation.  The critical part is making money and saving it so you have the wealth to invest.

Chapter 11 Lay a Foundation Under Your Investments
Chapter 12 Invest in Index Funds
Chapter 13 Build a Business
Chapter 14 Invest in Real Estate

Chapter 11 of the book takes you through choosing what types of investments make the most sense for you – stocks, building a business, real estate, etc.  And for many folks, a combination of multiple types will be the smart move.

If you’re already on your way to financial independence, chapter 11 probably won’t be much of a surprise to you.  Investing in index funds has become one of the most common discussions in the community.  I talk about how spending next to no time changing the funds in my 401(k) plan years ago put me in a position save over $50,000 over 10 years in fees alone!

Your best bet at investing success is to buy low-cost, passive index funds and to hold them forever to minimize trading fees, management fees, and taxes.

The infamous 4% rule (of thumb) is discussed as well.  If you’re not familiar, the idea is that if you can build a portfolio that is 25x your annual expenses, you’re financially independent.  That will allow you to pull out 4% every year (adjusted for inflation) without destroying your portfolio.  There are a few caveats though that are important to be aware of as I talk about in this post.

Building a business is in the spotlight for chapter 13.  I loved the quote they used from Todd Tressider from Financial Mentor comparing starting a business to investing in stocks, bonds, or real estate where you need capital to invest…

In business, you’re literally creating equity out of thin air.

And it doesn’t need to be a decision of working at a job or creating a business.  Many folks start with a side hustle and either keep it small for just some additional income or they may choose to grow it into a career replacement.  Either way, this could also be an option as something to retire to after reaching financial independence.

And finally, chapter fourteen revolves around investing in real estate.  From house-hacking to rental properties, real estate can be a great investment.  I learned a lot from my first rental property and was able to turn that knowledge around (with the help of a financial mentor) to purchase a duplex in 2015 that provides us a reliable stream of income even while we’re here – retired in Panama!

 

Choose FI – What’s Next

Chapter 15 Enjoy the Journey
Conclusion: Rediscover Possibility

I was very glad to see that Chris included a chapter on enjoying the journey.  He gives examples of some of the folks in the FIRE community who struggled along the way.  One of those is Brandon from the Mad Fientist and his story is very relatable to mine.

Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence - Jim and Brandon
Here I am with Brandon at FinCon in 2017. What can I say – sometimes you get caught up in the moment and shave your head into a Mohawk!

Brandon wanted FI so bad that that’s all he focused on.  It brought him unhappiness and deterred him from enjoying life in the present.

I had a couple of years where I was heading down the same path.  It took away from my time with my family and it didn’t make a lot of sense logically.  It took hearing Paula Pant in a podcast to wake me up and realize that you shouldn’t trade today’s happiness for tomorrow’s.

What’s the point?  What if you don’t make it to FI due to some financial disaster or something else like death?  What a waste!  Don’t forget about today and enjoy the journey!

 

Summary

So there you have it – as I tend to do, I couldn’t stop typing.  Hopefully, this was helpful for you though.

I like to rotate between fiction, personal finance, and non-fiction (non-money related).  It helps me to expand both the left and right sides of my brain.  I love learning, but I think it’s important to give your imagination a chance to grow periodically as well with fiction books.

This turned out to be a great choice for my personal finance book to read in this round!

I appreciated that the authors didn’t just inject only their own opinions on the path to FI.  Although I think that all three guys are extremely smart with sound views, it was a brilliant idea to use the input and thoughts from past guests from the Choose FI podcast as well.  This only serves to add to the credibility of the book because it draws on the views of so many people who are on the same path or have already reached FI.

If you’re new to financial independence, well on your way, or you’re already there, I think you’ll find this book to be very enjoyable with a ton of great insights and takeaways.

Not only that, but I just realized that this post is coming out at exactly the right time – the Choose FI book just became available today!  Check it out here…

>>> Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence <<<<

You should really consider picking up a copy – wherever you’re at on the path to financial independence, this will be a great asset to have in your toolbox!

This will be one of only a handful of personal finance books that I’ll be hanging onto for a long time… digitally on my Kindle Paperwhite, of course!

 

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

 

Please note that I was provided a digital copy of the Choose FI book for early access with the hopes of an honest review.  With my site, that’s what you get – an honest review.  I hope you found it helpful!

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Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence
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2 thoughts on “Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence

  • October 3, 2019 at 10:51 am
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    Thank you for the exhaustive review! It’s nice to see the different points. i agree that sometimes similar subject books can get repetitive, but I still read a lot of personal finance, personal development and business books b/c even though the lessons are similar it’s helpful to read it multiple times, and the author may put a spin on it or have a model or paradigm that really brings the lesson home. Most recently, I read a terrific book called What Game Are You Playing? by Robin Moriarty which is in the vein of career choice, find your why, so arguably a well-worn subject but it was well written and the paradigm of the game and rules of your game was helpful. I also liked how Moriarty built her career and life around travel, which is something I am very interested in.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2019 at 12:06 pm
      Permalink

      “Exhaustive” is the right word, Caroline! I need someone to crack a whip on me and tell me to “wrap it up” when I’m writing too much! 😉

      I haven’t heard of “What Game Are You Playing?” but it looks interesting. I’ll add it to my list to read – thanks!

      Reply

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