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077: Chris Mamula – The Many Paths to Financial Independence

Chris Mamula documented his personal path to financial independence at Eat the Financial Elephant for several years before leaving his career as a physical therapist in 2017 at age 41. Shortly after, he joined Darrow Kirkpatrick at Can I Retire Yet?, where he continues to follow his calling of helping people live their best lives. He’s the co-author of the book, Choose FI, and his mission is to spread the life-changing message of financial independence to a broader audience.

Today, Chris joins the show to talk about common misconceptions around the FIRE Movement, what it means to have a valuist mindset, and why it’s imperative to prioritize saving money.

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Key Takeaways

00:58 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, Chris Mamula, who joins the show to talk about debt, helping people, and the decision to choose a path towards financial independence, retire early (FIRE)

11:20 – FIRE resources and common misconceptions about the FIRE Movement

15:48 – Having a ‘valuist’ mindset

18:08 – Valuing financial independence over retirement

21:45 – Statistics around retirement readiness and the vision of ‘Can I Retire Yet’

25:49 – How Chris is raising his children to think about money and finances

32:22 – The psychology of saving money

37:16 – One thing we can do to increase financial success and one thing to completely ignore

39:47 – The last thing Chris changed his mind about

41:59 – Jonathan thanks Chris for joining the show and lets listeners know where to connect with him

Tweetable Quotes

“Debt is a part of life for most people – at the very least a mortgage. Virtually no one can buy their first house with cash unless they’re getting a lot of parental support. That’s, unfortunately, a part of life for most people.” (04:50) (Chris)

“A ‘valuist’ just means you really line your spending up with your personal values. To me, that kinda just summed up exactly what we were doing.” (15:48) (Chris)

“There’s this Warren Buffet idea of giving your kids enough that they can do anything, but not enough that they can do nothing.” (28:58) (Chris)

“One of the bigger downsides of reaching financial independence is that I wish I had more impact. But, again, I’m trying to keep perspective of where I’m at in life.” (30:38) (Chris)

“If you really dive into the big things that move the needle – housing, cars, food – change those big things, get out of debt so you don’t have your money working against you, and start saving where your money is working for you and it’s surprising how things add up. But you have to make the change and you have to do those big things.” (35:18) (Chris)

“If you want to change your financial picture, you have to know where your money is going.” (37:56) (Chris)

Guest Resources

Chris’ LinkedIn

Can I Retire Yet

Eat The Financial Elephant


Chris’ Book: Choose FI

FIRE Resources:

JL Collins

Choose FI Podcast

The Psychology of Saving Money

Books Mentioned: Outlive

Mindful Money Resources

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Website: https://mindful.money

Jonathan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathandeyoe

Episode Transcription

Jonathan DeYoe: Hey, welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with Chris Mamula. He just taught me how to say his last name, which I appreciate. I would have done it wrong. Chris documented. And where I first ran across Chris, he was documenting his, uh, personal path to financial independence at eat the financial elephant shortly before leaving a career as a physical therapist in 2017 at the age of 41. From there, he joined Darryl Kirkpatrick at ah, can I retire yet? And he’s the co author with Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendansa of the book choose fi, another great financial personal finance book, your blueprint to financial independence. His mission, like our mission, is to spread the life changing message of financial independence to a broader audience. So most of you know, that sounds familiar, and that might be the reason I wanted to have him on the podcast. Chris, welcome to the Mindful Money podcast. Right when you took a drink. Perfect time.

Chris Mamula: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Jonathan DeYoe: First, I’m super excited for the conversation. I read your stuff ten years ago, and I’ve run across your stuff through over the years. I’m just happy to have the conversation. Where do you call home, man?

Chris Mamula: I’m originally from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, but I now live in Ogden, Utah, and I’ve been here for about five years since I left my career as a physical.

Jonathan DeYoe: Are you. So you’re connecting from Ogden, right?

Chris Mamula: I am, yep. Okay.

Jonathan DeYoe: Okay. And you grew up in, what did you learn specific money know as a kid about money, about entrepreneurship when you were growing up?

Chris Mamula: I know as a kid I had an allowance and things like that. I really believe that the whole adage that more is caught than is taught. And so I know in my family we were very anti debt. And I do remember my parents talking to me about how they always bought used cars and paid cash for them. And I remember it was like a big celebration. They paid off their mortgage when I was probably like in high schoolish age, and they paid off their mortgage early and that was a really big deal. So I think those lessons kind of stuck more than anything. They tried to overtly teach me. I don’t really remember anything they specifically tried to impress on me, but just that kind of frugality, a lot of it out of a sense of necessity and then that anti debt and just kind of making your money work for you were always things. And I guess maybe the other thing. My dad, he was a newspaper photographer, and I think he kind of sensed like he was probably a decade ahead of his time, sensing how the industry was changing. But he went out and became a freelance photographer and started his own small business. So the little bit of entrepreneurial bent I had, uh, I think comes from him. And even like, when I mentioned my original career was as a physical therapist, but I think I always thought as a small business owner, just because I had that, again, kind of drilled into me from watching my dad and my mom helped them run their business. So kind of growing up in that environment. Yeah.

Jonathan DeYoe: So have you ever borrowed to buy a car?

Chris Mamula: I have not, no.

Jonathan DeYoe: Never?

Chris Mamula: No. I mean, my first car I inherited from one of my grandparents when they passed away. And then from that point forward, I always bought, always tended to be used cheaper cars. And then our most recent car, we bought new, but we’ve now had that for, it’s now eleven years old. So we hung onto it for a while, but, yeah, always with cash.

Jonathan DeYoe: I don’t know if this is a lesson in this, but my dad taught me a little different lesson because my first car I inherited, the family car, 1976 Buick electric, basically a tank. Just didn’t have tracks, right?

Chris Mamula: Had tires.

Jonathan DeYoe: But then my first car I purchased, I paid half it. They paid half of it. But then when I went to college, I got a new car and not a new car, but I bought a car and I got a co signer for a loan from my local credit union. And my dad was like, all right, you’re going to college, you’re going to have this car. It was a car I was going to deliver pizza in. So it was like, you got to learn how to manage your debt. And I don’t know which is better, to be anti debt or to learn how to manage debt. I think we need both lessons.

Chris Mamula: Yeah, I think debt is a part of life for most people, at the very least, like a mortgage. Uh, virtually no one can buy at least their first house with cash unless they’re getting a lot of parental support or whatever. So, yeah, I mean, that’s unfortunately a part of life for most people. But, yeah, we’ve really been able, and I kind of just internalized, I think, a lot of that for my parents, and otherwise, I’ve been very much debt free. Even college I managed to get through. My wife and I have six degrees between us, and she did the first one strictly on loans, uh, because her parents weren’t able to help her at all. But even at that, she was working full time and going to school full time, so we were paying that off before she was even done. And then she has actually two master’s degrees, and both of those were able to be paid off as we went through employer stuff and paying as we went. And I got a bachelor’s, master’s and a doctorate in physical therapy and all that with no debt. So very rare.

Jonathan DeYoe: Wow. Well done. Kudos, man. So the lessons that you learned about being frugal, about anti debt, are these things that you said you caught them rather than they were taught? Are these things that translated into beliefs early, or did you have to go through some kind of experience to learn from them, or is it just you absorbed it and it became something you believed?

Chris Mamula: I never really thought too much about this. That’s actually a really good question. But I think watching my dad, he was very successful in his career as a newspaper photographer, won a lot of awards and everything, but he was just miserable with it. He didn’t want to do it. And so it was different than what I did with the whole fire. Financial independence, retire early, and I left my career completely. But he kind of did that and went out and started his own business and just had a belief in himself and wanted to do something different. So I think the idea of your work shouldn’t be miserable. Kind of, I think was ingrained in me and getting into the healthcare system as a physical therapist, I just thought, you’re going to help people. And that’s what I wanted to do. And then within a year or two, I think I realized I cannot imagine doing this for 30 or 40 years. And so I was looking for my own escape route, and it ended up being a very different path than what my dad took, but, uh, I probably did internalize some of that from witnessing that growing up. Yeah.

Jonathan DeYoe: And you discovered as a physical therapist, it was more about paperwork and insurance than it was about helping people. That the discovery.

Chris Mamula: Sadly, yes.

Jonathan DeYoe: I just went through this medical thing where the reason I was in bed for two months in March and April, because I herniated two discs in my back, and I couldn’t get in to see doctors. I could not see them. They. All right, three weeks. We’ll see you. Hm. And then you got to see this one. Then you got to wait three weeks for an MRI, then you got to wait three weeks. And I was like. And my doctor ultimately said, probably the two months in bed was worse for you than the actual herniated discs. I’m like, yeah.

Chris Mamula: That was the thought going through my head as you were saying it.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, exactly. Of course. So bad. Anyway, I’m, uh, on the men, so it’s all good. So you went to physical therapy school all the way through doctoral program. When did you discover fire, and then when did you decide to fire for yourself?

Chris Mamula: So a couple of different. I guess there was kind of layers to that question. We were on the path to fire very early. I mentioned that my wife was paying for herself to go to school. And so before we got married, like I mentioned, my family debt was a four letter word. My wife’s family, kind of different experience. They struggled with money. Um, she had to put herself through school with literally not one dollars of parental assistance. And so getting married, I realized she wasn’t irresponsible. She wasn’t, like, running up debt, out partying, or out doing extravagant or frivolous things. But I still. It freaked me out, like, going into marriage, having debt. So I kind of came up with the plan that we would live, uh, off of her salary. So she covered all of our expenses, and then she was built into that. She was paying her minimum debt payment, and then everything I was earning was getting her out of debt because I really wanted to be debt free before we were married. And we managed to accomplish that, and we kind of realized we were still in that broke, poor college kid lifestyle, and now we had actual salary. So even living off her salary was way better than we were used to, and we didn’t grow up with a ton of money, so better than what we were accustomed to growing up. So we just kind of figured, let’s start keep saving mine for a down payment on a house. S. And then we did that and just kind of kept that snowball rolling. So then throughout my career, I’ve never really spent a paycheck. Uh, my first paycheck every month went to an extra house payment and the second one went to our investments. And then once we paid our house off in like seven and a half years doing that, and so I mentioned being very anti debt. And so from that point forward, I just invested my whole paycheck. And that’s how we were able to reach the point where I was able to leave my career at 41 years of age after like 1516 years of practice.

Jonathan DeYoe: So you were practicing fire. Had you read the fire blogs, listened to fire podcasts, or this was in your nature?

Chris Mamula: It was in my nature, yeah. I would say we were, uh, a good ten years into it. Kind of didn’t really think, I didn’t think fire. I can certainly see why people see these mainstream things and how fire is presented. If I would have seen one of those at the time, I would have thought, this is absurd, think you could do that? And so kind of our plan was my wife and I kind of got into rock climbing and skiing, and so there’s this ethos of being like a dirt bag or a ski bum. And so that’s what we were going to do. We didn’t think we could have kids and so we were going to move west. Uh, my wife had this dream job with a company called Black diamond that manufactures like, climbing gear and backcountry ski gear. And I know once in a lifetime opportunity. And so I was going to leave being a full time therapist and I figured I’d kind of figure it out, maybe do some part time work. And we were going to move west after like ten years of saving. And then just as we were ready to put our house on the market and all this stuff happened, we found out she was pregnant and we could have kids. So that was kind of like a life shifter and it made me get really serious and that’s when I stumbled upon fireblogs. But yeah, we were a good eleven years into the journey. Paid, um, off house, completely debt free, definitely, um, not financially independent, but, um, well on our way.

Jonathan DeYoe: Wow. So, uh, first of all, my wife and I fell in love skiing and rock climbing as well. I don’t know if that’s how you fell in love, but we ended up doing a lot of that kind of stuff. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money on black diamond gear. I love this stuff. I have a totally aside question for you. Maybe you can answer this. It’s been about ten years since I’ve used my soft stuff, the quick draws and the ropes. Do I have to replace that all now?

Chris Mamula: I, uh, would definitely not climb on a ten year old quick draw, but I think the hardware, like the carabiners and stuff, I would think would be fine.

Jonathan DeYoe: My daughter and my nephew are both getting into climbing, and I’m like, we should go outside. But I got to buy all new gear. It’s not exciting.

Chris Mamula: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know the answer to that question, but, um, I would be nervous about it. And especially harnesses are like 30 or $40, I think. And, uh, a rope is 200, so it’s not cheap, but it’s not worth dying over.

Jonathan DeYoe: Not terrible. Yeah, I get it. I just needed to ask that question of somebody, and you just volunteered. I appreciate it.

Chris Mamula: That would be my two cent.

Jonathan DeYoe: So when you discovered fire and you started reading in it, it’s in your nature. Did you find any good resources? Like, resources? You were like, this is incredible. I want to share this with my friends.

Chris Mamula: Yeah, I mean, the one that I’ve probably shared the most. And it really depends, I think, where you’re coming to it from. A lot of the fire blogs that I think a lot of people get them turned onto the subject or, uh, kind of make them wake up to the importance of saving a lot. We already had that kind of dialed in, so we knew that. But for us, we had no idea on the technical side. So I thought investing was just over my head. And I thought tax planning, I had zero idea. We filed our taxes every year, but just followed the software we did. No planning or thinking about it. So there was a resource. There’s a blogger, JL Collins, and, uh, his blog was just jlCollins, I think, nh.com. I think he’s from New Hampshire. And he had what was called the stock series, which really kind of just. It was basically John Bogle’s ideas mixed with a high savings rate for fire. So that was really influential on me. And then there was a writer called the mad scientist who talked about some m tax optimization strategies. And I saw your smile when I said that name. And I know when we first discovered this stuff, it almost seemed too good to be true. And so we have an accountant friend, and we sat down with her, and she was just looking at me with this puzzled look, and I was like, are we crazy? Are we going to go to jail for something? And she’s like, no, what you’re talking about is really brilliant. But just even as an accountant, all she did was just filed returns and she didn’t really put much thought into it. And so the things that they were talking about just, people don’t do this. You live way less, way below your means, defer a lot of it in your high tax years, you could spread it over many years, pay virtually no taxes, all legally, and, yeah, just very simple strategies.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I mean, it helps if you are a business owner. It gives you a little bit more you can put aside, but if you’re as an employee, you can do the same thing, right? Max out your 401 ks, get the match, live on less, invest the rest. I mean, these are all very simple things that you’re right, people have a hard time, very hard time implementing. What do you think some of the misconceptions about fire out there?

Chris Mamula: I mean, I really think the idea that it’s like this extreme lifestyle, particularly, it’s extreme frugality, or you have to be a part of a startup and cash out on a $5 million sale or something. My wife and I did it on very normal salaries. I mentioned the background we came from, particularly hers, where she had no parental help at all. I had good guidance, but not a whole lot of financial help, because just kind of the background we grew up in. So I think really what it’s about is just kind of being willing to be different than the crowd. I know I worked again. I was in a healthcare field. I always use this example, but we work downstairs from an orthopedic surgeon’s office. So there was five surgeons, and you could just look at their cars and you knew who they were. And then there was three therapists, and you could look at our cars. And other than mine, you kind of knew who going down the hierarchy of how much money people made. That’s what they spent on their house, on their cars. All the doctors were members of the local country club. Like, one of them was an avid golfer. It makes sense for him to the other four. I have no idea why they would spend tens of thousands of years on a country club membership, but it’s just, I think everybody just kind of like, you slot into, like, this is what you make. This is like, where you’re at in this social structure, and then they spend up to that as opposed to just being very intentional. Like, for me, we lived in a decent house, but it was way below what we could, quote unquote, afford. Like, from a mortgage standpoint, never cared about cars. So I, uh, drove that car I inherited from my grandfather for like, ten years while we were working to get ourselves established. Just really aligning your spending with your values, I think, is what it’s all about. But you don’t have to be frugal. We traveled the world while we were saving 50%. Like, we’ve been to Africa, South America, doing high altitude mountaineering, dove the great barrier Reef. I mentioned. We’re from Pittsburgh. The religion there is Steeler football. We’ve been to two super bowls. So we spend on the things we value, just not on the things that everybody else does.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the core things to think about. And this is one of the first thing you can be mindful about in your finance, is mindful about what’s important to you. If you know what’s important to you, then you spend on that, and you just don’t do the other things, and that’s okay. And you get more happiness, you get more well being, you get more meaning out of that. It’s just a better way to. So, uh, go ahead.

Chris Mamula: I was just going to add one quick note you mentioned in the intro, like, the choose fi book that I wrote, what that was, it was crowdsourced from. So choose fi is just a really popular podcast amongst the fire community. And so one of the people called into the show, so we use their podcast as the basis of the book, and one of the people called in, and they use this term, being a valueist. And just basically, like, you don’t have to be frugal or a minimalist. I have way too many possessions, and I’m not particularly frugal, I don’t think, but a valueist, just meaning you really line your spending up with your personal values. And to me, that kind of just summed up exactly what we were doing that ten years before we had any idea what we were doing, but we were saving so much just because we kind of nailed that. I think if you’re suffering and sacrificing, it just doesn’t work. But if you spend in alignment with your values, it’s really not that hard.

Jonathan DeYoe: What do you think about the idea that your values change over life? Uh, the things that you think are important when you’re 20 and you’re going to college are going to be different than the things when you have two kids or when you’re 50 and maybe you want to travel more and things are just more expensive. So do you advocate, like, preparing for, I don’t want to say leakage or just sort of the increase in the desire to spend as we age, or do you more advocate, hey, let’s just manage that and make sure we just focus on what’s important to us.

Chris Mamula: That’s, uh, a good question. I mean, I definitely agree. Things change over time. I know for us, we’ve kind of grown our lifestyle as our income and as our investments have grown and everything. But, I mean, I still think we’re very intentional. I mentioned we went to two Super Bowls. I don’t know, growing up in, like, that was something that I just always said, if the Steelers made the Super Bowl, I was going to go. So the first time they were in Detroit, it was a drive. I had family there. We went and just dropped, I don’t know. I think, five grand on a pair of tickets, like, scalped. And, uh, to me, that was really valuable at that time. Since I’ve had my daughter, I’ve not been to any sporting event. I used to go to concerts. Your values change. So in some ways, I spend now on my daughter, and it’s more expensive to travel with three people than it was with two and things like that. But by the same tokens, things that I used to care about, I don’t so much anymore. So I think the key thing is the structural expenses. If you look at where most people spend their money, it’s housing, cars, and food makes up about 50% of most household spending. So that tends not to change very much. And even with that, as we got more intentional, we knew we wanted to live in a different location. So we moved to Ogden, Utah, which, as far as ski towns go, we chose it because it was affordable. It’s on the lower end of ski towns, but ski towns are notoriously expensive. So it was way more expensive than where we came from. So even though we were growing our family, we now had a third person. We actually downsized our house, and to be able to afford that. And so, again, just kind of lining up what is important to us at that stage of life and then making the finances work around it, versus locking yourself into a set of finances and then kind of having to structure your life around that. I think that’s kind of looking at it backwards.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Do you think fi is recognized, fairly unfairly, as, like, the new retirement?

Chris Mamula: I like the idea of financial independence instead of retirement. I think a lot of people, everything is about getting to retirement, and this idea that you’ll get to this point eventually where you don’t have to work and then you travel, and then you do things. And again, kind of a personal example, but in my own family, my parents, they did everything right and got to the point they actually, I guess, kind of early retired. They were in their late 50s, early 60s, but my mom had type, uh, of. And so they were very limited by the time they got to that point. And they were still able to travel and do some things, but she was just fatigued very quickly. And then during COVID her health really declined, and she passed away this April. And so at 66 years old, and so just when most people are getting to that age where you’re supposed to retire. So I think the idea of establishing financial independence, and even if it’s not, like, where you could go without working forever, but having degrees of financial independence where you can start cutting back and living a different lifestyle, to me, is much preferable to deferring gratification for this idea, for this time. That may never come, frankly. And even if it does, 20 years down the road, my daughter will be out of the house, like, right now. I could spend time with her 20 years down the road. I love to ski and hike and mountain bike and climb. Who knows what my health will be? So I’d rather cash in on that now, I guess, and do those things while I can and then while keeping an eye towards the future, not being financially irresponsible.

Jonathan DeYoe: So, uh, I just literally dropped, and there’s a huge shift going on in my own head. And when I think about my finance, I dropped my son off at college this, uh, last weekend. And it’s emotional, and it’s a financial difference. Like, when you set up your grocery order, one quarter of the household is gone. So groceries can be less groceries, less milk, less eggs, less everything. It’s a shift. Obviously, there’s a college education that adds a price. So life goes on. Life changes, you change with it. You like the idea of financial independence instead of retirement. But is there still a point where you retire, or are you sort of saying, hey, we’re going to work forever and have some kind of an income, even if it’s not the 40 hours slog every week, go to the office, that kind of a thing. Yeah.

Chris Mamula: So I think that acronym fire, financial independence. So I think a lot of people think you get to this point where you don’t have to work, and then retirement is the logical next step. I kind of like there’s different people try to play with the acronym I heard, like, financial independence, like recreational employment or whatever, but I like the idea of, I think most people who can retire at 40, they’re resourceful, they’re intelligent, they’re thinking outside the box. They’re probably not going to be able to just sit around and watch Netflix for, like, 16 hours and then sleep the other eight, like they’re going to want to do something productive. But just the difference for me now, I write my blog. I publish once a week, so that’s maybe 15 hours a week, let’s say. And I do some financial planning. I actually just started doing that this year, 10 hours a week through a firm. And it kind of like, I help them publicize things, and I actually do work with clients. It gives me things to write about, gives me social interaction, makes me feel like I’m helping people. But I mean, I basically have total control of my schedule other than those 10 hours a week. So I can write when I want and do the other work whenever I want. It’s, uh, just a nice mix as opposed to work. Get to the point where you’re really comfortable retiring, and then again, that could cost you five or ten years of your life extra. Where to get to that position where if you just make a little bit of income, it takes a lot of stress off of a portfolio, eliminates a lot of the risk, and also, at the same time, gives you a lot of secondary benefits, just psychologically and purpose wise.

Jonathan DeYoe: So, in writing and preparing for the writing and everything, do you actually look at things like the statistics around? And I’m going to use the word, because I don’t really have another word.

Chris Mamula: Right.

Jonathan DeYoe: Retirement readiness. Like amounts, saved, savings rates, these kinds of things. And can you just paint the picture of those statistics?

Chris Mamula: Yeah, I mean, the audience I write to is definitely not the norm. I mean, if you look at average retirement balances, the, uh, one study I tend to look at annually, just for consistency, that vanguard puts out, it’s called, like, their retirement readiness. And it basically is looking at the money in their retirement accounts. But that’s where most people, other than in their house, if they have any money outside of their house, it’s in the retirement accounts. And like, the average person between age 55 to 65, it goes up and down depending on what the market’s doing, but it’s generally between 90 and $100,000. So if you look at, like, I wouldn’t call this a rule, but like a guideline is like the 4% rule that you could take 4% of your portfolio every year. If you have $100,000, you can take $4,000 to supplement Social Security. So basically, you have nothing is where most people are. So, yeah, the audience I’m writing to is very different and abnormal in a good way.

Jonathan DeYoe: They’re on the higher, uh, side of that. So tell me about that audience. Tell me about can I retire yet? Uh, I love the no nonsense, keep it simple message. So what is the mission and vision of can I retire yet?

Chris Mamula: Uh, I think the vision is, I think a lot of people, and this kind of is always evolving. Again, a lot of this is my own personal story and my own personal evolution. But I think where I’m at now and where I find a lot of readers are, now that I’ve reached this point, we’re drawing people that are kind of at that point where they’re making a transition, is people are good savers for a reason. Again, it’s not the normal in society. So the average person is saving $100,000 over 40 years. We’re talking about people that tend to have a million to $3 million by the time they’re 40, 50 years old. So what’s driving them? Again, there, uh, are maybe people that just suffer and sacrifice, and they can grit their teeth and have white knuckles, but most people, they do it for a different reason, and it feels good for whatever reason, that saving comes naturally. And so when you get to that point, it’s actually hard to spend down. So, uh, one of the big topics that I write about now, and I focus a lot on is just getting people comfortable spending from their portfolio or doing things like semiretirement or encore careers or something, that they’re doing things that they enjoy more. And life doesn’t revolve around work, but it gives them that comfort to actually get out and live the life that they want to live versus feeling trapped in constantly. One more year, a little bit more money, and then I’ll be there, because I think a lot of people get trapped in that. And again, the audience that I’m talking to and reading to and writing for.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I’m just really curious about this, because the people that I know that have really high savings rates are almost always coming from a family situation or a lifestyle where they just didn’t have anything, they didn’t have money, they felt poor. And this is my story. It sounds like it’s kind of your story. Sounds like it might be your wife’s story. People that grow up with very little, they’re like, um, this is not going to happen to me. I’m going to do something different. Does that square with your demographic, with the folks you’re writing to?

Chris Mamula: 100%? Yeah, I’ve just interacting with readers and going to meet up events again. I think even my story is maybe a bit rare like my wife’s story, coming from that. Scarcity, I think, is more common. A lot of people, like immigrants, people coming from, uh, countries where they were coming to the country with their parents without having a whole lot, and then first generation people, uh, I think it’s much more natural in that than I think it can be a disadvantage to come from wealth. I think that people think that that’s how you do this. You have to have it handed to you. But if you’re used to driving a new car every two years, and you’re used to going on these fancy vacations and staying in first class hotels, and then unless you make a really high salary, it’s hard to keep that up, uh, and to maintain that and to match the lifestyle, and that’s the tendency. So, yeah, I think definitely that’s normal to come from sometimes, honestly, a position of scarcity, which is, again, kind of what I’m writing to and trying to help people get over that, um, hump and to break out of that mindset.

Jonathan DeYoe: So there’s two things that are tracking on this, and that one is, so are you doing something different to raise your kids, your kid, so that they have, even though she’s not going to be suffering from scarcity, but are you making it sort of as if she’s got some scarcity so that she doesn’t end up being an overspender? Or how are you translating that? Because she’s in a different scenario? Uh, I have the same issue with my kids, and there’s this trend of, and I see this. My families that I work with who have a lot of money, their kids are oftentimes not able to manage their financial lives. Uh, it’s just too easy. Money just flows. They spend too quickly, and mom and dad have to step in and keep supporting. Right. And those people who grow up with very little, they’re able to just manage it and do it and deal with whatever comes their way. And it’s not just scarcity, it’s also resilience in the face of adversity. Right. They’re able to deal with whatever comes their way. So the first question is, are you raising your kid, or will you raise your kids to experience scarcity, or how are you building resilience in them so they can deal with adversity when it comes their way?

Chris Mamula: Yeah, I think what we’re trying to do, and again, this is an n of one. So even if it’s, uh, smashing success, I don’t know how repeatable that it is, but what we’re trying to do is we certainly want to enjoy her and have her enjoy life and give her experiences like she’s traveled. We have a goofy family adventure that we’re working. We’re trying to get to the highest point in all 50 states, which some of them, uh, but that involves work. Some of those are real mountains that she’s been to, so we’re actually up to 31, so she’s been all over doing that. But we do like amusement parks. She’s been skiing since she was two years old. So, yeah, I think she has an interesting lifestyle and venturesome, but doesn’t have a lot of material things. We still kind of keep the values. It kills me, like, for myself, I don’t really care what I spend on clothing because I’ll wear it for ten years, but it kills me to spend money on a kid that grows out of it. Like last year, her ski boots, we got her rented for the season in October, and the first time we went in December, she grew out of them. So it kills me to spend money on actually buying high quality stuff. So, yeah, I mean, we shop in secondhand stores a lot of times for stuff like that. Rent her gear for outdoor stuff, just toys. She doesn’t get it. One of the things we kind of impress on her, we take her shopping, we do through our church, like giving at Christmas time. And I think she sees we buy more for other kids who don’t have than she actually gets. And I think she appreciates and understands that. So, yeah, we’re trying to impress on her. Again, I think that whole idea, like more is caught than taught. Especially she’s only ten, she’ll be eleven shortly. So how much? If we tried to pound this into her, I don’t think she’s going to really care anyway. But I do think she’s picking up and she understands just the idea that we’re around a lot. We go skiing, like, she has a half day Friday. We’re always not working. So we go skiing like on weekdays, not when it’s crowded. And we’re available to go on field trips and coach her soccer team and stuff like that. So, yeah, I think she’s picking up on it.

Jonathan DeYoe: I hope so. I worry about that cycle of family has money, teaches kids poor lessons, and the next family doesn’t have money, teaches kids good lessons and then money. And there’s this up down cycle that.

Chris Mamula: And there’s like that Warren Buffett idea of giving your kids enough that they can do anything, but not enough that they can’t do they can do nothing. And I think, obviously, we’re not Warren Buffett’s territory, but, uh, I think that’s kind of our, like, I know when we were saving for college, we saved the first five years of her life, kind of like we did with our own retirement, just front loaded things. And then we were like, we want to have enough that we could probably get her through a state school and get her through most of the way, if not all of the way. But I don’t want her to just have, like, I think she has a blank check. So we stopped there and, yeah, just stuff like that. We definitely want to help her and not make it as hard as particularly my wife again, like, working full time and going to school full time. I still think she’s dealing with some health, uh, things from living that level of stress at that age. And I don’t think that’s good to be that, um, scarce. But by the same token, yeah, we’re definitely not writing her a blank check, and she’ll be well aware of that.

Jonathan DeYoe: It goes so far just to communicate with them, just to have conversations. And you won’t have had these conversations, but as she’s preparing for high school and college, you have the conversations. I did this when my son was a freshman in high school. He gathered a group of seniors from his high school, and I did more of a wasn’t education. It was just I wanted to figure out what these seniors in high school were worried about. Money. And so we had eight or nine of them on a Zoom call, and they were petrified of being able to afford college, and they were all at private schools. They were all families were well to do, but they were just terrified. Their families don’t talk to them, and you got to talk to them, right? I’m sure you will. Are you having the impact you want? I mean, are you reaching the people you want to reach?

Chris Mamula: I would say maybe one of the bigger downsides of reaching financial independence is I’ve always been a highly motivated person. And I always kind of assumed, like, well, I’m not motivated by money, but I’ll still be motivated. But I would say that, uh, no, I wish I had more impact. But again, I think I’m trying to keep perspective of where I am at in life. Again, my daughter is eleven. I have my health right now. I mentioned I started doing some financial planning, and when I talked to this firm, they had me meet the team. And one of the questions that’s like, where do you see yourself in, like, five or ten years? And my honest answer was, I don’t know. I could see myself eventually down the road working full time if I can, can’t get out and ski because my health goes, or as my daughter gets older and she doesn’t want me around anymore. But right now, yeah, I don’t really have any desire to work more, and I would like to make more impact, but I’m willing to leave that on the table because there’s other stuff I want to do more right now. But at times, it is a struggle, and I wish I was, um, reaching more people with my writing or able to serve more clients, like doing the planning. But, yeah, I think I’ve got a pretty good balance.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I talk to a lot of people and, uh, interview people and just friends in the fire community. And the thing that I’ve started to see come up more and more is, and I share this, they’re doing the work, they’re doing the writing, they’re doing the podcasting, and none of them see the impact they’re having. And so it’s very difficult to feel like, yeah, I’m having an impact. I can write. I post a blog post. You can see some statistics on who reads it. You don’t know if you’re changing people’s lives. You don’t know if people actually embrace the behaviors or if they’re just reading it and going, oh, that’s interesting, and then turn to the page and go to the next thing. I’m sensing a lot of frustration in the fire community, and I just would keep on saying, keep doing it, because there are people that you have an effect on, and one or two of those goes a long ways to changing the narratives.

Chris Mamula: Right.

Jonathan DeYoe: So just keep doing it. I hope you keep doing it. One of the best pieces I’ve seen you, uh, write was the psychology of saving money. It was about the importance of the savings rate. And I loved your setup on this because you contrasted not, um. You didn’t say, oh, it’s hard to save more. What you said was, it’s hard to not save more. Right? Yeah, it is harder to save more than less. But if you don’t save more, the outcome is you don’t get to financial independence. Like, it’s hard to not save more. I love that setup. So talk about the difference. I know you probably don’t remember that specific article you wrote. Maybe you do, but if you do talk about it, tell us about that. Why is that so important?

Chris Mamula: No. Uh, this is one of my favorite topics to talk about, so I don’t remember the specifics of what I wrote in that, but I definitely remember the context. And I think you just had me go over what is the picture for the average retiree, the average 55 to 60 year old who really doesn’t have much saved. And so when you say it’s hard to save 50% when you can’t save 10%, uh, that kind of makes the assumption that it’s easy to save 10%. And clearly it’s not, because even if you’re saving ten, that’s kind of the standard advice, right? Is to save ten to 15%. And, uh, if you do that, you should be on track to be financially independent by the time you’re at retirement age and people are not there. So I flip it around and say, why is it so hard to follow the standard advice? Because it’s clearly not working for most people. And I think the reason is it takes so long to have success, and so people just kind of, they’re not seeing any progress and they’re not motivated and so they actually save even less than what they should and just kind of kick the can down the road. And then, uh, uh, I mean, I just had a meeting yesterday with a woman who’s in her 50s, very good income, nothing saved at all. And that’s just kind of very standard. And that’s kind of where a lot of people are starting. And I think the example I like to give is, again, that standard advice of saving 10%. And then there’s another piece of standard advice is you should have like six months of savings as an emergency fund. And if you just put those two pieces of information together, so if you’re saving 10%, then by definition you’re spending 90%. So if you’re making $10,000 a month, just to make the math super easy, that means you’re spending 9000. And so you’re saving 1000. So after a month you have one 9th of one month. And so if you multiply that out, you have to do that nine months just to save one month and then another six times doing that. So it’s 54 months. So what’s that? Four and a half years just to save an emergency fund before you invest and actually start growing your money, just to have money in the bank. Whereas if you’re saving 50% in one month, you’ve saved one month because you’re living off half and you’re saving half. And I think the part that’s not intuitive is of course you’re going to be saving more because you’re saving five times as much. But it’s just that progress towards a goal. You’re also cutting down how much you’re spending to save 50%, and so you’re lowering the bar. So you’re going to now have that emergency fund in six months if you can save 50%. And I know that’s a big leap for a lot of people to make when they can’t save anything. But if you really dive into, again, what are the big things that move the needle? Housing, cars, food, change. Those big things. Um, get out of debt so you don’t have your money working against you and start saving where your money is working for you. It’s surprising how fast things add up, but you have to make the change and you have to do those big things.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. So saving 50% is hard, but not reaching financial independence is even harder. I mean, that’s the thing that’s sort of stuck in the back of my mind. And I think it’s important in this article, you actually have this caveat that there’s like a. And you just mentioned it, right. There is a minimum spending floor. You got to eat, you got to live somewhere, you got to get places. You need a car, some sort of mode of transportation. And you probably today you have to have a cell phone of some kind. Right. So there is a minimum set of bills. And so there’s some people that are just starting out and should focus on increasing their income. Right. Not cutting. And we just have to admit that, I think, because there are people that are just starting out. Lots and lots of them. Yeah.

Chris Mamula: And there’s like this criticism, I think, of the fire movement, that we’re out of touch. And certainly I don’t say everybody can do this. I mean, that would be silly to say somebody that’s working a fast food job for minimum wage can save 50%. But that person, I think that’s where they are and not who they are, so they can certainly, I was that person working. I was worked at Domino’s pizza when I was going to school, so I was that person. But I was as a stepping stone to bigger things and then growing that. But there’s also, again, I worked in the healthcare profession. I worked with people that made four times what I was making. And we talked finances as they knew. I was starting to write a blog and doing some stuff, and they were nowhere near having even the amount of assets I had and their lifestyle cost multiples of what mine did. So this message does scale, and it is applicable to a lot of people, but not everybody.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, for sure. And that’s my experience as well. I have tons and tons of clients that have incredible incomes. M I met a guy who was like, he had income from books he had written, he was a professor. He, ah, served on the board of multiple companies. I mean, he had an incredible income, but he spent 10% more than his income. Therein lies the problem. So, getting close to the end here, the one common thread that I have in most of these, uh, interviews is I ask you to simplify it for us. So, uh, just pretend you’re on a plane, probably in coach somewhere, there’s a cheaper ticket, right? And someone says, oh, you write at this blog, hey, I got some questions for you. What is one thing that they can do that will help them be more personally and financially successful? And what is one thing that they should stop doing that will help them be more successful?

Chris Mamula: I mean, I think the first thing, because, again, uh, talking to the average person you’re going to meet on an airplane, they’re probably not on top of their finances, and they’re probably leaking a lot of money, and they have no idea. So I think the first thing that if you want to change your financial picture, you have to know where your money is going. So I think just starting to develop. I mean, I’m not a budget, or I’ve never really made a budget, but at least tracking your spending, sitting down every month, and if you spend most of your money on a credit card, that’s maybe the easiest way to figure out where it’s going. Just to look at your statements. If you’re writing checks, if you’re paying with cash, it’s harder. But however you need to do it, sit down and see where your money is going. First off, and without judgment, I think a lot of people are shocked. They have no idea how much they’re spending. They think they know, but I think they’d be shocked if they saw it. And then without judgment, just say, is this money adding value to my life? Is this moving me towards what I say is important? Because I think most people, if you ask them what’s important, they would say their family, their friendships, other relationships, their health. But if you look at where people’s money is going, it’s big houses, it’s car payments, and then commuting costs because they’re in their car all the time. It’s food. Not necessarily because they’re eating great food, but because they’re going out for convenience and picking up takeout or getting fast food and things like that. And I think if people really looked at where their money is actually going and they lined it up, uh, I think that’s the first thing to do.

Jonathan DeYoe: And what’s one thing to stop doing?

Chris Mamula: Maybe just the opposite of that, the mindless spending. But I think maybe even more important is, I think, stop just reflexively spending based on what you see everybody else around you doing. Because, again, I think that it’s kind of the flip side of that same coin of really lining up your spending with your values. But I think a lot of people, they just fall in the trap of, I’m, um, this profession, so this is what I do. And you don’t have to. I mean, you can if that’s truly what you want to do, but you don’t have to.

Jonathan DeYoe: I love the two things. The non judgmental. You said, don’t judge without judgment. Hey, that’s what mindfulness is all about. It’s the non judgmental awareness of the present moment. I don’t know if you’re a meditator, but you sound like one, which is great. So, just before I wrap, uh, up, this is always a zinger. We got to ask something at the end that’s tough. So what’s the last thing you changed your mind about?

Chris Mamula: I don’t remember if we were talking before we started recording or on this, but we mentioned my frustration with the medical system. And so I think working in the medical system, and, again, kind of being a caretaker for my mom, watching her go through a lot of things, I did have a really sour taste in my mouth, and my thought is, you want to do everything you possibly can to avoid the medical system, know, take things into your own control, be preventative. And I still believe that. I think that’s a good starting point. But I read a book recently called Outlive by a doctor named Peter Atia, and he kind of talks about, uh, the four horsemen of the four things that really get people and eventually lead to your death, and that’s metabolic syndrome, which is, like, diabetes and obesity and all that stuff, and cancer and heart disease and cognitive changes. And a lot of what he thinks is kind of lines up with what I think. But he made up some points, particularly with cancer, that once you have cancer, for all the research and all the money it’s spent, we haven’t really gotten any better at preventing death and improving quality of life beyond maybe ten years. And so he really advocates for screening early, and he acknowledges that that comes with risks, it comes with costs. It comes with chance that you may get a false positive and go down roads of worry and maybe even treatment unnecessarily. But he makes a pretty compelling case, and, uh, it impacted me. And then he also talks about using statins if you have high cholesterol. And again, I’m very anti medicine, and traditionally, so after I read that, both of those things were relevant, because last year I turned 45, and that’s when you should get a colonoscopy. And I scheduled it two times, and I canceled it last year, and I also was told that my cholesterol was a little bit high, and I was very reluctant. And so immediately after reading the book, I went back because he made such compelling arguments of, don’t rely on the medical system like most people do, but use it intelligently. So I actually, um, scheduled an appointment. I made both of those changes.

Jonathan DeYoe: That may be the best answer I’ve gotten to that question. So that was just top of mind for you. That’s impressive.

Chris Mamula: Wrote a book review on it for the blog.

Jonathan DeYoe: Okay.

Chris Mamula: Uh, I wrote about it about a month or two ago.

Jonathan DeYoe: It’s also a book that’s been recommended to me by a couple of people. So it’s a good book. So I just want to say thanks for coming on. Thanks for a great conversation. I’m happy to put any links in there you want. So where do people connect with you?

Chris Mamula: So my home on the Internet is canyretireyet.com, and that’s where you’ll find my blog. And you kind of link out to anything else that I do. And I mentioned I’ve now started doing some financial planning. I do that through a company called Abundow wealth. It’s abundowealth.com, and, um, we’re trying to do advice only, uh, relatively low cost advising, trying to bring quality advice to people who traditionally wouldn’t have access to it. And it’s a mission I really believe in. So I’d love if people would check that out also.

Jonathan DeYoe: Thanks, Chris. Much appreciate your coming on.

Chris Mamula: Thank you. It was a great conversation, and this is kind of my favorite part of doing this. I meet a lot of interesting people just by doing these podcasts. So, uh, it was a pleasure talking to you.

Jonathan DeYoe: You as well.

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