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Jonathan Mendonsa: Stealth Wealth

We are talking about financial independence. If you want to escape the rat race, it is a whole lot easier than you may believe. Our guest is Jonathan Mendonsa from ChooseFI. That is Choose a Financial Independence.
If you're getting to know Jonathan, he is on the path to financial independence. He has a partner that is already there and financial independence is being able to cover your expenses every year from the money that you have in savings. If that sounds good to you, then you're going to definitely love the show. We're going to talk about getting back to broke.

Jonathan was so deep in the hole that he had to call himself out and he calls that getting back to broke. We're going to talk about travel hacks, grocery bill hacks, things that you can do that doesn’t necessarily require you to be frugal because that's not what we're about here at WealthFit and on the show. However, there are some things that we can do, easy things to reduce and live within our means.

We're going to talk about how you expand your means. There's a mindset that comes with it. We're going to get into it in the show. We're also going to talk about how you shouldn't try to replace your income and that's what a lot of financial advisors or people in the financial arena will lead you to believe. You want to replace your expenses or be in a position to replace your expenses. No matter what lifestyle you want to live, this is something very powerful. If that sounds a little weird to you or a little off tilt, then you're going to definitely want to pay extra close attention as we get into it in this show.

We're also going to talk about stealth wealth millionaires in this show and how on the outside may not reflect what the media leads us to believe about being a millionaire. If that sounds interesting to you, you are going to find this fascinating.

Dustin
Jonathan, you've got the American dream. You're a pharmacist. You've got a six-figure salary coming out and tons of schooling behind you. However, you decided that this path was no longer the path for you and you walk away from it when in fact a lot of people would covet to have this opportunity. What made you turn your back on that and pursue a new path?
Jonathan
It's probably interesting to have a little bit of context there. Pharmacy is a doctorate. That's eight years of college work, four years of undergrad, four years to get my doctorate in pharmacy. I graduated with six-figures in student loan debt, $168,000 in student loan debt. I've always been interested in personal finance. I knew early on that this is something I couldn’t have. I’ve got to pay this off. I'm like a madman. I took my entire paychecks for close to four years and paid my taxes and whatever was left was sent back to pay down my student loan debts, paying them off in over four years. Essentially, at the twelve-year path, getting back to broke over the age of 30. Now I’ve got it made. I’m making this entry level six-figure salary. I'm debt free and moving in the future, but then something interesting happened. I started the side hustle talking about my favorite topic, the why of paying off your debt, the why of living below your means, the why of optimizing your finances. I started a small business.
It was a podcast. It exploded. At some point, I started bringing in a small amount of income because I bootstrapped my lifestyle. Because I had implemented all the principles some of which we are going to talk about on the show, I was in a very fortunate situation. There were a few things that happened. We were going to have our first conference, which is a branding event. It allows you to network and do a few other things. There was a documentary that wanted to come film with us and talk about this podcast that’s having a pretty large impact. Finally and probably most importantly, we had the obligation to go visit my wife's family. She lives in Africa, so we can only go every couple of years. When you go, you go for a couple weeks and that's a lot. It's a lot for a pharmacy manager. In Corporate America not just in pharmacy, most of us get a couple of weeks of vacation a year.
In my case, it was twenty days that I had to divide up between my sick leave and my PTO. With all this on my plate and 40 hours plus at work and 40 hours working on this podcast, I couldn't keep it all on going and take this time off. I went and checked my employer's playbook to find out is there any room there and they had something called an unpaid leave of absence that I could get conditional approval for. One of my employers, I said, “I can't keep doing it all. Can I take this unpaid leave of absence?” He says, “I don't think it's on the company's best interest for me to let you go,” to which in the context of what I talked about now and what maybe we'll explore a little bit further, I was able to say, “I don't think it's in my best interest to stay.”
Dustin
Kudos to you for having that and seeing the bigger vision. You're on the path to getting out of debt. You've got a nice salary coming in. You put your time in. What prompted you to start exploring financial independence? Were you concerned about it? Were you trying to shave years off of how long it was going to take you to get back to broke? What was that why you got into studying this financial stuff?
Jonathan
Financial independence, this idea of getting to the point where working for money is optional. It is one of my favorite things to talk about. If I have a preferred small talk, some people want to talk about sports. I want to talk about how do we get to this point? What are the different strategies that people are using? I was on a family trip. It was a cruise and the average age on this cruise was over the age of like 60. This is the norm. People that finally have freedom, their golden years to travel the world, they can't even go do the expeditions or get off the ship because they've given away potentially the best years of their life in service of something else. Maybe these W2 high powered jobs, W2 income jobs. We as a society have given permission for people to claim their golden years, but selfishly I was like, “What about my best years, 30s, 40s, 50s? What about now? Why do I have to delay everything that I want to do and put inside of this twenty-day a year-type window?
That will be fine. That's crazy talk. Who's doing this except that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who have figured out that there is a way to get this freedom and flexibility way earlier in your life? Time is your only fix non-renewable resource. While you hear that idea get rich quick and the word scheme attached to it, I think rightfully so because when you say that you have this picture of someone trying to sell you something and you end up with your pockets lighter and a little bit thinner, but get rich quick-ish can happen every single time because it's based on simple math. I can think of many people that have pulled this off in different ways. How do we do this? How is this possible? At its core, all it comes back to a very simple equation, what you earn minus what you spend is equal to the difference or the gap. What we do is we need to figure out how to optimize that. Ultimately, it comes down to controlling what you can control, which is your expenses as a result of that your savings rate.
Running through a very obvious example here, there's a study several years back that says the average American is saving negative 2% at that time. It's a little bit better. We’re in the positive finally around 3% or 4%. When you say 1% of your income, it’s going to take you 99 years to replace one year of expenses. You say 10%, it’s going to take you nine years to replace one year of expenses, 25% three years, but if you say 50% of your income, $0.50 on a dollar you earn. It’s only going to take you one year to replace one year of expenses. What's crazy about this is if you can save 50% for a relatively short period of time like ten to fifteen years, then at a minimum you have ten to fifteen years of expenses saved up.
If you pair that with common sense investing strategies that we talk about, in reality, you manage to build for yourself a perpetual money-making machine to create this vehicle where you never have to work or rather it’s optional. This isn't like the anti-work show. I probably worked harder for myself than I ever did for an employer, but it's incredible the power of having this third income earner in the home that's working 24/7 while you're sleeping. It happens because you front loaded a little bit of sacrifice and you made some intentional decisions.
Dustin
I want to ask you, why do you think people haven't done this? It's becoming more and more aware. If you're in the community you hear about these stories a lot, but why don't you think more Americans, more people around the world haven't challenged it or go with the status quo?
Jonathan
There's a lot of market interest to be able to siphon off every extra dollar that you have. You’re the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. Most of us spend time with Netflix. Most of us spend our free time watching reruns on TV. Even with the WealthFit podcast, the people that are making the choice, they decide to stretch a little bit and change their normal social circle. If we are following what our friends are doing and our friends are following what their friends and their parents are doing, you feel like you're the crazy person that says, “Maybe we should spend a little bit less than we earn?” That doesn't feel like the normal choice when guessing what you can finance your furniture. You can finance blinds. Everything can be done on layaway, use credit cards to bridge the gap from one paycheck to the next. There are so many market forces convincing you to spend every dollar you earn because it’s a perversion of what I said, you only live once.
Dustin
You're spot on about that. I want to bring that awareness to people. I want to highlight something you said 50% of your income. Jonathan, that's crazy. People are thinking that like, “Yes, Jonathan can say that. That’s easy for him. He was a big-time pharmacist.” How can people save 50% or even 40% or 30% of their income when the old adage is save 10%?
Jonathan
It goes back to the original equation we mentioned, what you are minus what you spend is equal to the difference. There are so many ways to tackle this. I’m going to give you very specific details and examples of how we can do this. It's important always grind it. This is not a one-dimensional problem rather it's a solve the problem. As soon as you move out of a fixed mindset, “It can't be done. It's impossible,” to “How can I do this? I should probably find out what other people are doing.” If you’re paycheck to paycheck now, you're going to have to do something differently if you want to get a different result. I know that should be obvious, but it's not. It's very easy to say I am what I am, but in reality, where you are now is a snapshot. Life is a moving picture and you have the ability to make a different choice tomorrow that can move you in a different direction. For actual details, let's go and let's look at that simple equation, what you earn.
We can tackle that side of the equation. You can blow up the income. This is a little bit more nebulous, but to give you a few ideas. You can career hack if you're in a bad industry, you can cross the street to a competitor. There's a skill set where somebody knows something that you don't and when you're not getting any raises, they’re averaging 8% raises year-over-year. You can retrain and move into a new sector very easily. Let's say that you're in a stagnant career base and you have no movement. In fact, I'm sure you will be able to document examples I have of individuals that have moved into something where the money is being thrown out like coding. Did you know for instance that right now, there is1.4 million jobs a year that need to be filled by software engineers, software coders? Only 400,000 of those are being filled by people that are graduating from colleges. That means there are over 900,000 jobs in the United States alone that need to be filled by these types of individuals.
I don't have four years that I can go do another college degree and go through all that process. There have been businesses that have been built to help solve this. There's a company that comes to mind. We interviewed them. Ryan Carson from Treehouse, this isn't a plug for them, but it serves as an example. They offer essentially what comes to a six-month boot camp where they can give you this training for some more less than like $1,500. They offer job placement with this. The starting salary for an individual is $50,000. You can make upwards of $100,000. Within a year or two, you vastly transform where you're doing this. I gave you this one specific example to say that is an option. If that feels okay, that's great, but I need something that I can do now. Let's look at the other half of the equation. If you have not been tracking your finances that indicates it's probably suboptimal. For most of us, we have recurring bills or expenses or things that we haven't considered that are hemorrhaging tons of dollars, hundreds of dollars, if not thousands of dollars, each month and we can clean that up.
A few examples and this is an extreme example, let me throw this out there. There was a Consumer Affairs article released in 2015 that reported that 5.8 million people were still paying AOL $20 a month for dial up. A better example would be how many of us are paying $200 to $300 a month combined for our Internet and cable. That's crazy. We're paying someone for the privilege of pumping in TV into our house. It’s then loaded on top of what we're paying them. We're paying for the privilege of watching commercials. If you have verbalized, how come there's nothing on TV and simultaneously you're paying over $100 a month for internet or TV and simultaneously saying, “I feel like I have no time,” then that better has spoken to your soul and say, “I need to start making change to more. I don't have cable. Right out the gate, I'm sure I saved over $100 a month on cable.”
I have a couple more examples. I'm going to go with one more because it’s so obvious. Let's talk about cars. All of us say, “If I bought a used car that would be great, that would save me some money.” You would be right. When you make a decision to purchase a new car due to the depreciation, you were throwing $100 bills out the window as that thing depreciates. Let's assume that everybody is going to buy at least one new car. You make the decision to buy a modest $20,000 vehicle instead of whatever the upper end of that spectrum is. My friends, there is no uptrend. Let's say you buy that one vehicle and you drive it, be willing to drive it for fifteen years until it disintegrates into dust. You say nobody does this. My co-host, Brad, did this with both of his cars. He drives a 2003 Honda Civic that he bought new and a 2002 or 2003 Highlander that he bought new with him and his wife and they drive them forever. Toyotas do this. They last forever. We know this. Hondas do this forever.
If there's another type of car that isn't the case, don't get that car. If you do that and drive that for fifteen years until it drives no more. Maybe you get another car and do the same thing. That decision as opposed to the individual that's managing the payments, “I can afford the payments.” They had those $200, $300, $400 a month payments every single month for their entire lifetime. That one decision is worth a million dollars. Here's another example, for an individual that maybe they're on the lower end of the income spectrum and that spectrum is very big, which is why it's a one-dimensional piece out there. This one individual that maybe they're making $30,000, $40,000 a year somewhere in this range, they say, “I don't know if I can frugalize anymore. I don't know if there's anything else to cut.” It depends what choice you're willing to make. I know individuals if you look a $30,000 a year type of lifestyle and you look at where is the money going? You look at it as a pie chart. At that level, the vast majority of your expenses are going to be tied to your transportation cost and your housing, maybe food. Those three will make probably well-over 50% of that pie. If you look at transportation and housing, you say okay that's 50% of my income right there, what can I do?
One, can I move closer to work so I can walk or commute to work or bike to work? That cuts out 17% of the pie. Two, is there a way that I can live for free? No one can live for free. You’ve got to pay something for shelter. I know individuals that do something called house hacking where you save up enough to purchase a single-family or duplex or triplex home. If it's a duplex or tri, they live in one room and rent out the other two units. Because they’ve selected the situation where the math works, they're essentially living for free or very little. If you're able to pull that off, by virtue of those two choices, you immediately hit a 15% or 50% savings rate. It's not telling you that you have to do any one of these things, but if you’re paycheck to paycheck and saying it's impossible. I promise you tomorrow, you'll be in an exact same situation unless you take action.
Dustin
You hit one of the big ones which is house hacking, which we covered on our shows. If you're interested in learning more about that, be sure to check that out. Let's talk food bill. We talked about housing being a big one. Transportation, you knocked those out. Next up is food. What are you doing? What are people in the community doing to hack around the big food bill?
Jonathan
This is another example I use, something called anchoring. I’m going to reference my cohost, Brad, on this because he and his wife have got this down to a science. They shoot for a target of $2 per person per meal. I do the same thing at varying levels. Here's the idea. Most of us have no idea what we spend on food. We don't have a plan. We go into the grocery store without a plan. The grocery stores have a plan for us. Not having that fun. That's the way they are designed. If you do not have a plan, you are going to have inefficiency all over the place. Even after you buy all the food because you don't have a plan, you're likely going to go out to eat. To be honest, eat out at the high end is what $50 to $70 per serving. At the lower end of eating out, you're still probably closer to $10 a serving, $15 hours a serving. Going to like a bar scene or with your friends out on the weekends as a part of this. This can be serious money.
I know people that are between their grocery bill and dining and entertainment, I'm sure they're well-past the $2,000 a month range. That’s probably a more extreme example, but I'm sure it's in the realm of possibility for someone that's tracking it. If you put a little bit of intentionality into this and you keep in your mind that $2 per person per meal, it is quite possible to shave $1,000 a month off your grocery bill. It's absurd if you target. Let me give you a more extreme example of what that means. Do some meal planning, create meals in bulk and have an idea of what it costs. For instance, oatmeal is pennies per serving. It's nothing. Rice and beans think about that, it’s pennies per serving. Steak is anywhere from $7.99 a pound all the way up to $20 a pound or more. If you’re eating on steak, this is not going to work. You can do a blend of the two and you can get those costs to average out.
Maybe your breakfasts are very inexpensive and your dinner is a little bit more, but between the two, you're averaging $2 per person per meal. That’s $6 a day per person and blow that out times 30 days, you're looking at somewhere under $200 per person per month. Let's say that you missed out by half, you're still going to save $500 off your grocery bill. It's cool. This again goes to the idea of anchoring. If you are comparing yourself to your friends and they never track their food then you’re doing it why. If you surround yourself in part, you can do this digitally by connecting yourself to a podcast or to a community of people that are all thinking about this way and making decisions based on this type of thought process that anchoring process is going to save you thousands and thousands of dollars over your career. It shows you how it matters. It's important to think about this in terms of how to establish my number.
This is something that bugs me. Many retirement calculators out there talk about replacing your income. Go look at anyone across the spectrum. If you're trying to place your income that can be a pretty hefty task, but it's inaccurate because what all of us want to do is we're trying to replace our expenses. Think about that. We want to replace how much our life costs. Whatever that may be, we're trying to replace that. When you keep that in mind, the way to figure out what your number actual is, is to figure out how much your life costs and track it using some software like Mint or a simple Excel sheet or write it out whatever it costs. Find out how much your life cost on an annual basis and multiply it times 25. This is something that retirement planners call the 4% rule. We like to call it the 4% rule of thumb. Those two are the inverse of each other. If your life, for instance, cost $40,000 a year, 25 times you need $1 million. If you can get $1 million saved up in reasonable investments, there's a lot of evidence to support the fact that that will provide enough income each year in inflation adjusted dollars to support your lifestyle for at least a 30-year window if not eternity. That's based on something called the Trendy Study, which is out of the depth of this particular absolute but it is a wonderful place to start.
Let's say that you live on the higher end that you’re like, “40 is not going to cut it.” Commercially, if you want to live up to $100,000 a year then you're going to need $2.5 million. It's amazing the power of having a number of mine. I know so many people. I know some doctors. Frankly, they go to their advisers and without even asking them how much their life cost tell them that they need $10 million. Where does that number come from? What is it based on? You make a lot of money, but you need to replace your expenses whatever it is. It’s fine if you love your job and you make the mistake of working ten years to longer, twenty years to longer. That's great. That's awesome. I hope all of us tap dance our way to work. What if you hate? What if it's a soul sucking career and you’re in it? You think that you have to hit this number. Your only fixed, non-renewable resource is your time. That's it. To be able to realize how we come up with this math, how we came up with these numbers can save you decades of your life and allow you to reallocate your energy towards the people that bring you most value and the activities and experiences that bring you the most value.
Dustin
I want to get into some of the things that you touched on entrepreneurship and your journey there. First, I want to talk about the last big one that people love to chat about as you know running a blog and doing podcasts is travel. What are your tips on traveling? That seems to be the thing that we enjoy the most, most of us and it is the thing that can be the most expensive especially if you've got a family of four and you try and get them cross-country. What are your tips or hacks there?
Jonathan
We did an episode to my podcast, ChooseFI podcast Episode 9 where we rolled out, I guess our strategy and how we go about doing this. This is one amazing thing. Let me let me start off by saying we use travel rewards to do most of our travel for free. There are two points I want to make. One is that if you are in corporate America and you only have this 20-days year off. In many cases, you are also trying to combine this with your family's lifestyle and your schedule like you're always having to travel and keep travel time then you're always going to have to pay full freight on travel. If you have been able to reclaim your time and use unorthodox times for vacations, for experiences, that type of thing, then travel gets a lot less expensive right out the gate. That’s a cool thing to consider an added benefit of a more designer lifestyle.
Beyond that, we are huge fans of travel rewards. First of all, let me practice this by saying that people that have trouble with credit cards, people that don't pay off their credit cards on time and all this be a bad strategy for you. For individuals that do pay off their credit cards on time and in full there are some amazing opportunities out there to travel the world for free and that's barely hyperbole. We usually open up very targeted credit cards that have a big sign up notice as we roll our normal spending onto those cards for a period of a couple of months. We get that bonus and then we will then usually look for another card. We’ll create a portfolio of travel rewards and then we use those points and miles to essentially travel the world for free.
I've taken my family to Zimbabwe multiple times now using travel rewards. My wife traveled to Greece using travel rewards. What's amazing about this is essentially you're not using your post tax dollars to pay for travel and then on top of that, you're bypassing whatever marginal tax bracket you would fall. You could put that money that you're saving back into saving up for retirement. It takes a little bit of understanding how the cards are structured together and what order you should open them and that sort of thing. The larger point is you can look at the problem a little bit differently. There are plenty of people that pay for the convenience of having it exactly when they want it, etc. If you can be a little bit creative, if you can be able to travel when other people simply aren't, then everything gets easier.
Dustin
I hadn't considered traveling during off peak times. It makes so much sense like common sense. I’m going to press you a little bit and I'm hesitant a little because I'm sure there will be a new credit card with the new offer. Is there one in particular? Is there a particular airline or hotel that you're in favor with right now?
Jonathan
One of my favorite cards to start off with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It’s a fantastic card. You get 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. A lot of these premium cards have fees attached to them and this one has a $95 annual fee, but it's waived for the first year. One of the reasons that I love Chase Ultimate Rewards is that they have so many phenomenal transfer partners. This is a big deal. Chase Ultimate rewards if you want to transfer, who can you transfer it to. In my particular case, we like to travel to Zimbabwe and in Zimbabwe, one of the common fliers is South African Airways. They are part of the Star Alliance, which means that they are connected to United. United is one of the transfer partners for Chase. Chase allows you unbelievable flexibility with transferring those points to different providers. That's a wonderful default position for someone to start with and then you can go out from there.
Dustin
Thank you for that. I appreciate you sharing your insights and wisdom there. You talked a little bit about this here at Get WealthFit podcast. We are big fans of expanding your means. If you work one minute on living within your means. We're big fans of spending ten minutes or investing ten minutes to expand so a 10X there. I want to talk a little bit about side hustles and what are some of the more interesting and creative ones that you've seen, that you share with other people to consider. The ones that are easy and creative, let’s go there.
Jonathan
I love the idea of something called the intersection method. When you're considering that what you can do is you look at your talents and your interest. To put this in perspective, when you look at some of the things that are out there, entrepreneurship is a pretty wide spectrum. You could be an Uber driver, but frankly anybody could be an Uber driver. Maybe if you are a graphic designer or you're a lawyer or you are a physical therapist, if you look at that intersection of skill, is there something that I can do that Joe off the street can't do? That's going to allow you to add a premium to whatever service that you have. Looking at your skills and then comparing them to your interests your passions. Then maybe looking to see is there a way that I can be competitive in this market? Another way to look at it is essentially what sucks or pain points? Is there something that's annoying or irritating that if I could come up with a solution for, it would make my life easier. If you can come to that conclusion, then it’s likely going to serve other individuals as well. Those are two different strategies. The third one is truly what I'm interested in.
For me, let's go back to my example. I was incredibly interested in financial independence. I was interested in getting to the point where working was optional and talking about that. If there is content that you are fascinated by, then that is something that's worth pursuing because you can figure out how to build a business model around that. There are people that have figured out how to build businesses, talking about woodworking or doing a sport or learning a skill. There's always this aspect of I'm not an expert or I'm not a guru. If you're not a guru, then you need to realize that and say that to my advantage because if I'm not a guru, maybe I'm more relatable. Figuring out what your weaknesses are and then reframing them as strengths or opportunity is massive especially if you're trying to become a content influencer.
Dustin
You were the pharmacist. You were doing that and then you did this on the side. Your mindset as you were starting this. Were you going in with the mindset to monetize right away or were you just delivering value? What were you thinking when you were doing what you were doing at the beginning?
Jonathan
It was 100% side hustle. What's amazing about building a side hustle going to what we talked about at the beginning, I’d love to set the frame. There was no downside. This is that intersection method, “What am I interested in? What do I want to do?” For me, there are a few ingredients that I was looking for. I didn't know it at the time. This is language that I figured out since I wanted autonomy. I wanted mastery. I wanted purpose. I wanted identity. I wanted connection. Five little things that to me those increasingly lighten me up. When I started the podcast, it was a way for me to define an identity and to create connections. I didn't realize along the way that the autonomy was going to be so powerful. The ability to work on what I wanted to work on, when I wanted to work on. I didn’t know how addictive that would be.
Mastery, to go from Googling how I do a podcast on YouTube and sifting through all that garbage that's on there to find that one thing that does hard work and be like, “This is fun.” I spent two weeks digging into one little technique and adapting that into my life that was so addictive and fun. Finally purpose, I didn't get that until much later on maybe two or three months in. I was like, “This is having an impact in a small way in the world.” People were messaging me and saying that something that they heard on the podcast has had a direct impact on their life and their families’ life. Those five ingredients for me were transformative. That's why I knew there was no possibility of me ever walking away from this then. If you listened to my story getting back to broke at the age of 30 and then moving forward not on the traditional path pursuing this essentially from the ground up. I had to figure out the business side. That is even more fun. You keep adding skills onto this. What does it look like to build a business? As I'm sure you're aware in this community, there are so many different ways to build a business online and that has been a fun game in and of itself.
Dustin
Take us back to that moment when you made that first dollar, how did it come in? What was going through your head? Did you share with your girlfriend or spouse at the time? Take us there.
Jonathan
I do remember. It was like $0.30 off Amazon affiliate. I was like, “I made this while we slept. That's unbelievable.” When it started to rack up and it started to get to the point where it's coming close to paying my bills, I was like, “This is a real thing.” There are multiple paths that you have. When you have a podcast, it’s one dimensional, at least it appears one dimensional at face value. You can run advertisements on your podcast. That's the traditional model. If you have a podcast and a website, it gives you other additional options and that's important. We ended up finding out that at least initially we didn't want to run ads on our podcast. What we ended up doing instead of running ads is we create affiliate partnerships with a few different individuals that we are cultivating this relationship with.
We let our audience know upfront, “These are our partners and if you want to support us, this is why we're so passionate about it. You can sign up for them if you want to support us using our website.” A lot of people did enough that it outperformed what we were expecting. It turned out to be a very viable model for us going into the future. There are plenty of other ways to monetize as I've got deeper into this. You can create a content-based course based on your specialty. You can do patriarch. For the entrepreneur that's out there, that is a completely different rabbit hole that it offers. There are so many different viable options. You can run ads on your site as well. It's fine now. What is it that you want to do and what you finish with, doesn't have to be what you start with, but you're going to have to start somewhere. What's amazing is as you get started, that's when you start getting suggestions from other people, “This works. Try this.” That person is always standing on the sidelines paralysis by analysis. It's hard to get that feedback to know where those tripwires are. You need to take action.
Dustin
I want to talk about the community and the lessons learned. What surprised you? First, I want to give love to your partner. What's the story? How did you guys meet? What's that been like having a partner in the biz?
Jonathan
I am a podcast fan. I listen to podcasts since I found out they were a thing years ago. It's my preferred method of learning. It clicks with me. I was listening to another well-known podcast in our space called the Mad Fientist, who was talking to my cohost and they were talking more about travel rewards. I had always known or heard about travel rewards, but I always thought they were for crazy people that didn't know what they were talking about probably weren't good with their finances. This was a finance show and they were talking about how to use these travel rewards. It suddenly clicked. It made sense to me and I said, “I have given up so much free travel over my life. This was a mistake.” What was even more interesting was at the end of that episode, he mentioned that he lived in Richmond, Virginia. I lived in Richmond, Virginia. I was like, “No way, this is a real person.” That feeling where you don’t think that these podcasters are real people. They are but they're on the internet.
This was a real person that was in my city. I was like, “We have got to get lunch. You're talking about my two favorite things, travel rewards and financial independence. We’re merging these together. This is amazing.” We got lunch. I was talking to him a little bit more about it. I said, “I can tell that you’re as much into talking about financial independence as I am. Wouldn't it be cool if we created a podcast?” I found out that he had reached financial independence. He was already on the other side. I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could create a podcast with both of us where we have your set of experiences as someone who's already done this and is on the other side and me someone that is in the pursuit?” We have these two different perspectives going back to that idea of transforming your weaknesses and turn them into strength. That's one for me.
I was not at financial independence and not financial independence, but I could be on the path. I can be that guide that says, “Here’s what I'm doing,” and we get that contrast up, here's an individual that has reached it. Neither of us knew that this was going to be a thing but he said, “Yes.” It's was crazy to me he said yes. I'm still astonished by it. He said yes, it became a thing and then from there, I was finding out and trying to imagine the Google search for how to start a podcast. That's a very deep rabbit hole. I remember hearing this long before that interaction with my cohost. I was listening to another podcast and someone said, “There's someone listening to the show right now that has been thinking about starting a podcast with the biggest names in podcasting. We don't even know who they are yet. They decided to start. Someone listening to the show right now and a few years from now is going to have a massive show, way bigger than mine. I wonder who that's going to be?” I heard that and I said, “You're right. Anybody can do this. There's no resistance. Are you willing to take action and try it?” Yes, I did. It's been an amazing experience. It's transformed my life.
Dustin
Incredibly savvy of you to get a guy that is where you want to go and get them to commit to that. That's incredibly wise of you. I want to talk about the community. You've built this following in Brad's footsteps. What has surprised you over the years about the community? What have you learned? What have been some surprising stories out of your guys in this community?
Jonathan
The biggest thing is the diversity. All of us tend to put up a straw man of who we think this person pursuing financial independence is. I'll give you a version that the New York Times mentioned and it was this white male software engineer that did this. They didn't have any kids. My private Facebook group, which we’re recording this variant of 2018 has over 30,000 people on it. In that Facebook group, you can look at the demographics. It is over 50% female and most of the people in there have kids, have families. This is not something that is for this one tiny little segment of the population. This is for everybody. We all want this. We may not know it yet because there's competing marketing interest drawing our attention in other ways. What's very interesting to me, I very specifically remember that when I was talking with Brad early on, I wasn't impressed by his car. When I met him for the first time, I wasn't very impressed with his car or his stuff or his clothing attire. He’s not wearing these high fashion premium brands or anything like that. Not wearing an expensive watch. All the trappings, “I've made it a success,” that thing. This is the stealth wealth community. What that means is because you're not wearing your wealth on your sleeve, you have wealth.
A lot of these are stealth wealth millionaires. What I notice though the implications of that were because he hadn't bought all the stuff, he'd bought the ultimate luxury. He had bought his time. We see that reflected in our community, the choices that people were making over and over again. That's one of the things that I'm so passionate about. I would refer to it if you reach financial independence, it's almost like you've been able to build, and I got this quote from a good friend, Alan Donigan, “A suit of armor.” You can build a suit of armor meaning you can try anything. You can do anything. It's going to be okay because your worst-case scenario where it doesn't work is everyone else's every day. Failure doesn't matter. Failure is a sign of growth that you're moving forward to something you get excited about. I know people that are writing movie scripts and they're pitching them to Hollywood. I know people that are scuba diving off the coast of a country or traveling for six months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, taking their family on a one-way trip, buy a one-way ticket and you say, “Let's go do this, homeschooling around the world and have a good friend.”
He's on a six-month trip around Asia. He's doing a giant homeschooling adventure with his family where they're taking what he wants his kids to do is create videos of the different countries that they go to and talk with the locals. Find out a little bit more about this get a total immersion experience. It comes down to what is it in this life that you value. For him, when he created the list of the top ten things in this life you value, stuff is going to be pretty far down this list. Most of us will be intellectually honest, realize that we value time with family. We value experiences in different variations of that. The question then becomes do your actions align with your values? When you find yourself saying that, “What have I done over the last week? I watched a bunch of Grey's Anatomy reruns.” That's probably not indicative of lining up your actions with your values. If you don't do that, it's hard to get traction on designing the future you can get excited about.
Dustin
What is your most worthwhile investment?
Jonathan
Definitely myself and my relationships. Are you spending time cultivating yourself? I've been reading the book, Mindset, very famous book by Carol Dweck. It talks about this idea of fixed mindset versus growth mindset. What's crazy about this is you have the ability to put somebody in either fixed or a growth mindset like what you say to them. You have the ability to tell yourself things that limit you. When you realize that you can be or do anything you can cultivate any skill set. I've always told myself I’m not creative or I can't draw. I'm not an artist. When you are able to pivot that and say I'm the type of person that can learn anything if I give myself the time to do it and the grace to fail and fail forward. As soon as you identify yourself as that type of person, the entire world opens up to you so that's my pivot on investing in yourself.
Dustin
What's your guilty pleasure spend?
Jonathan
I love technology. That’s a deep rabbit hole, but I try to keep it under control.
Dustin
What's your favorite tech?
Jonathan
A podcaster, I have this thing called the Babyface. It's made by a company called RME. It has been absolutely phenomenal. For multiple reasons, I’ll probably like a YouTube video on how I use it. When I first started looking up YouTube videos in 2017, I was spending weeks trying to figure out how to create a podcast. All these videos were dated and they were all going in one big circle saying that I needed to buy a mixer and noise gate and I did. I bought it all. I had all this massive equipment. You can do it with one device and one cord and you can have an amazing quality. You can mix minuses and all this other stuff. I'm a massive fan of Babyface. It’s been a cool investment.
Dustin
In the last couple of years, you’ve grown your business online. You've got many demands for your time. What have you personally become better at saying no to, to get to where you want to go?
Jonathan
This is a big point is moving to scale. This idea of working on your business versus working in your business. At some point, it became very clear that I had not a side hustle, but I had a business. I was the CEO of a business, but I was still doing all the things that you would do if you were working in the business, all of them. I was wearing every hat imaginable and I literally couldn't keep it all going. There’s an aspect of trust and releasing control and making sure that someone else can at least replicate the work that you were doing. I was afraid to outsource it. That was the biggest pivot for us. Honestly, it's not a vacuum. You don't find those individuals. Part of that was networking. I know me and you met and come before me and you had that chat. That was the first year that I found the first members of our team that we have now. That was transformative and it allowed me to slowly move out working in my business. We have a better show and a better product because of those decisions.
Dustin
When you feel overwhelmed or in focus, what do you do to get yourself back on track?
Jonathan
The biggest thing that I've noticed is a state of drift that can happen from too much technology. This is an interesting paradox or dilemma that I find myself in is that I have my job or this little business that I’ve created is inexorably tied to social media. It's inexorably tied to technology, things that I also enjoy and those lines get blurred sometimes. If you don't find that balance point, if you don’t have that routine and you find yourself drifting through the day, doing everything and nothing at the same time, it can add to low level stress. What I try to do is structure specific activities to make sure I get done. Even structure the things I know I need to get done in the day. Not everything is blocked out to the T, but I know that I want to spend time with my wife and son that we want to have a walk around the block in the morning. It's like 45 minutes to one hour little walk. I know that I want to have some exercise built into my routine. I have that carved out. There are a few different activities that I use like that to keep myself centered. I try to avoid letting my passion, which is also my business spillover into every facet of my life. It’s that saying you work 80 hours for yourself to avoid working 40 for the man. Don't let that be your story.
Dustin
I find you fascinating and I loved your journey your growth and what you're up to in the world. For folks who want to continue the conversation with you and see what you're what you're up to, where can they do that?
Jonathan
The podcast is ChooseFI. You can find that anywhere podcast around Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher. If you want to get started, I highly recommend check out Episode 100. We set that up as a great gateway asset for individuals. Find us on ChooseFI.com.
Dustin
Thanks again, Jonathan.
Jonathan
Thank you, Dustin.

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