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I’m here today in WealthFit studios with a special guest, with an incredibly unique story.

He is an Emmy-nominated film/video producer, serial entrepreneur, and author, and has spent his career as a storyteller connecting people with ideas. 

Along the way, our guest today, has generated millions of views through a feature-length documentary, multiple television series, short films, and a diverse range of commercial projects for Microsoft, NBC, Facebook, FOX, Taylor Guitars, BMW, WIRED and others. 

He is also the executive producer of the book and documentary, "Playing with FIRE", which follows him and his family as they devote everything to FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early), a subculture obsessed with maximizing wealth and happiness.

He is Mr. Scott Rieckens  

Welcome to the show

Scott
Thanks for having me. I appreciate that.
Dustin
I am so pumped up. I watched the documentary with my wife and to hear her commentary on it was incredibly powerful. I imagine this is something that you get all the time from people.
Scott
Thankfully, yes. It seems to be a good conduit. If someone is interested in personal finance and they have a partner who may need a little convincing, it seems to be a pretty potent option to use. That's exactly what we were trying to make.
Dustin
You give spouses incredibly powerful tools. I want to go back because I know some people haven't seen the documentary. You had what most people would call the dream life. You were living in the beach town lifestyle here in Southern California. Happy marriage, a two-year-old daughter, a BMW in the driveway and even the Boat Club Membership. One fateful day, you heard a podcast that shifts your thinking and within a few short months, you up and quit your job, convinced your wife to leave your home and friends behind here in San Diego and embark on a year-long journey, rejecting everything you've done. What was that message that you heard that sparked this whole transformation? 
Scott
The spark was this nagging sense of a lack of control over our finances and our future. Not quite knowing how to define, fix or approach that issue. Until one day, I was driving to work and I heard this guy, Mr. Money Mustache on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. I've been listening to that podcast for a long time. It's inspirational and I'm sure you've heard it. There are amazing people there that are changing the world that he's interviewing. The concepts and the inspiration is high level. When Mr. Money Mustache was on, I'd never heard of that person. I've never heard that name in my life. Tim introduced him as one of the top five most requested guests ever on his show. That sparked me. I was like, "How have I never heard of this person?"
How is a person with such a crazy name coming from the branding world, I was like, "What?" I get it. It catches in your mind. It's ridiculous, but that's the fun of it. I thought how is he the most requested guest? Shortly within that podcast, I recognize that the information that I was learning was right in line with this issue that I'd been feeling. I made up some excuse to be late for work and pulled over to the side of the road and listened to the whole thing. I was totally entranced by his lifestyle that he was expounding upon that I'd never heard of. That made all the sense in the world to me. That's where I took this rabbit hole dive down into the world of fire and found all this and went, "Not only do I want this to be my future, but everyone needs to know about this."
Dustin
Let's define FIRE. People, just like you, are knowing this for the first time. I'm excited about that. What is FIRE?
Scott
FIRE is a multifaceted thing. It's a community of people that are excited about this idea and it is a lifestyle that's based around an equation. The equation is defining how you can figure out what is the number that you need to save or invest in so that when you hit that number you can siphon off of that amount of money in perpetuity, never drawing down on the principle, which ultimately makes you financially independent. It defines the way that you can set goals for your finances. By that system, you now have a way to make decisions through that equation. For me, it was a crash course in financial literacy and investment literacy, all-in-one package with a community attached to it who was like, "Do you have any questions? I’m happy to help." The cool thing about it was it was such a simple concept, such as a simple equation that even Mr. C-Math guy could comprehend, understand and implement. 
Dustin
A lot of people experienced this at 65, but a key part of this whole movement is that you don't have to wait to 65.
Scott
It's an intriguing hook to the whole thing. You can define how long it takes for you to retire early. That's part of the acronym based on either how much you earn, how much you save or combination of the two. What I loved about it so much is if you do have some bandwidth there between how much you earn and save, if there's some leftover, you can decide how hard you push your savings or how hard you push your earning potential. At the end of the day, that's a valuable tool to know like, "Should I be stressing myself out at work this much? Can I pull back a little bit?" It takes me longer to get to retirement, but that's worth it to me. To be able to say that define it and know what that means, that was a revelation. That's one of the superpowers of FIRE. 
Dustin
Why don't you think more people do it? They don't know this. The media sells them on buying stuff.
Scott
That's a huge question and I would love to know the exact answer to it. My assumption is that one, and this is speaking from my experience, the level of financial literacy that we have in our education system is almost null. Luckily, I do know that there are more and more states that are demanding financial literacy in classes but it's not near enough. Knowledge is a big part of it. Once you understand this stuff, you can't unseen it, you can't unlearn it and it's powerful. I would say that our ineptness at budgeting, our lack of success in that arena was directly correlated to our lack of education. These small decisions at that time made huge consequences into our future. If we had known these things, our life would look completely different. I don't look back and regret but it took me a while to get to that point. When I first heard about all this, I was like, "We'd already be retired."
I know we would have implemented this stringently and worked our tails off to get to that point and all of a sudden, we're in our 30s and we don't have to work anymore. As I’ve come through this process and spent more time with it, it's much easier to swallow all of that because I live as intentionally as I can as if I am essentially retired. I'm very fortunate and lucky to have found work that I enjoy. Taylor enjoys her job, but she's found ways through the perspective of FIRE to enjoy even more, to understand. Like I was saying, how do you push and pull? How much effort do you want to put in? How much time should you be spending with your family? These types of decisions allowed her to enjoy her job more. We're doing our best to try to enjoy the present and not be too focused on the retirement date. That alone is so liberating.
Dustin
I want to talk about your wife, Taylor and your little one, Jovie. I'm curious if you're as hardheaded as I am in some aspects. Go back to that point. You’re listening to that podcast and you're hearing Mr. Money Mustache for the first time. Does it click right away or does it take going down the rabbit hole researching is this real or were you the guy that was like, "I'm going, that's what I needed?" Did you have to have multiple touches?
Scott
A little bit of both. The general concept was something like, “I want this, I'm going to have this and I’m going to figure this out.” In that way, I was bullheaded and headstrong. I had my reservations. I wanted to understand more before I started walking in the house and be like, "Taylor, we're doing FIRE." I needed to know what I was talking about or where I was coming from and how to explain it. It did take a while, a month or so of extensive reading. I did that because I was so excited. I like reading but I don't do it that often. I consumed these blogs because, one, they're amazing writers. The FIRE community has this blessing of the influencers and the space are incredible writers, in my opinion.
Two, the information that they're talking about is like, "Is this stuff that I’ve always wanted to know and never knew I needed to know it?" I remember having twenty tabs open in Chrome of all these different articles that I wanted to go, and that's what the rabbit hole is. Mr. Money Mustache would talk about some other blogger and then I'd go there and I'd make sure to be like, "You mark that to read that later." That's when I found all these amazing characters and started in my mind to develop this idea around a docu because look at all these interesting characters, look at this compelling idea that can change people's lives. This is worthy of a documentary. 
Dustin
Those are some of the funniest times. When you stumble upon the information and you’ve got twenty Chrome brought up, you consume and time isn't even a thing. 
Scott
I miss it. It was so fun. I found podcasts and books. Anything I could get my hands on. I will say that even then, there was enough information there where I would have been able to understand all that, implemented in my life and go about my day and never think about it again. The cool thing about FIRE too is once you understand the whole system and you put the systems in place. It's very easy to automate those things with the technology that we have available to us. You can set it and forget it and take a peek every now and then, especially once you've developed the habits of spending a lot less. There are a lot of ways to implement that in your life that aren't painful.
Oftentimes, when you start to see success, the savings rates are starting to increase. You've got more money leftover at the end of the month, you feel more liberated about that. That's a powerful incentive to continue on and even to push it. That's where you start to see people hitting 50%, 70% savings rates. Talking about it with glee, with excitement, which was novel and odd to me when I first found this. I'm saving 5% on a good month but 70%? There's no way. I can't even touch that. A couple of months later, all of a sudden, we're hitting 70% savings rates. I'm here to tell you that it's possible. It took a lot to do that.
Dustin
I want to get into the process. I want to talk about the documentary. I'm curious mentally. Once someone has access to information, think about the times in your life, you're so excited mentally to act on it. That's a different story. You can get the information, get excited about it. To take that first step towards it, what did you have to overcome mentally to go from this excitement factor to implementation?
Scott
The first thing I would say for advice is a lot of people can go to a lot of different ways, but it would be universally helpful if everyone did this one thing that I did. I'm not even sure where I got this idea, but I asked Taylor to write down the top ten things to make her happy on a weekly basis and I did the same. She knew why I was asking her, but I didn't share my stuff prior. I didn't set any parameters around it. Think about it from a weekly perspective. Not daily, it's a little too granular. Not monthly, it's a little too out there, just a weekly basis. She had that list pretty quick. I was like, "Did you put enough thought of that?" She did. It didn't take her long. She already knew herself pretty well, which was fortunate for us. 
I would recommend to anyone, spend the time with it if you need to. Get that list locked down pretty nice. If you're single, take a look at that list and see what it is that's costing money on that list. Know that you've given yourself permission to spend on that to some extent. You can look at it later and say, "Is it still bringing me enough happiness to be justified against my other goal here, which is my retirement date or my savings rate or whatever it is?" As a couple, when you're doing this together, you have to be on the same page. It's very hard to succeed in increasing those savings rates and improving your happiness if you're doing it alone. That was a wonderful way for us to check in because, at that point, we'd been together for about ten years.
I don't think I’ve ever asked her this question. If you think about it, I intuitively assumed I knew what made my wife happy and vice versa. That's a big assumption to make. The more I thought about it, I was like, "This is a good exercise in general." I recommend for anyone regardless if they're going to do FIRE or not. It was a good way for us to come together and realize A) Luckily our happiness was very similar. We valued very similar things which weren't surprising but it was good news. B) There weren't a lot of things that cost a lot of money on that list. I got lucky because the two things that cost money on Taylor's list were wine and chocolate. I was like, "If you do this with me, you can have as much wine and as much chocolate as you want. I promise." There is a limit to how much wine and chocolate you can consume. We can slash hard on the rest of this stuff. That's what I would recommend to get started. Get aligned with what your values are and then that will be the perfect filter for understanding how that relates and correlates to the way you spend your money.
Dustin
People show up in your life at the right time. You're one of those guys for me. I hope for many people. One of the things I’ve been working on and my main reason for being a part of WealthFit is I always was expecting some big payday on the exit of a business. It is the same thinking as lotto. WealthFit has dramatically changed my outlook. I manage numbers, which I hated in the past unless it was the final number of the check that I was getting. I've been having this conversation with my wife because she is like most Americans, we do things by default. Even sharing the documentary, quite frankly, we engage even more conversations. For those people out there that are in a similar situation, twenty tabs open, they're super excited. They have that loved one who hasn't gotten that spark and won't read the certain articles in convincing Taylor, you mentioned this happiness exercise. Was that part of the process of sharing this new philosophy, this new mindset with her? What advice do you have for spouses trying to share this with one another?
Scott
It's about aligning your values with your spending and ensuring that the partner that you're with in this life journey understands that. They may not necessarily have to have the same values. We're all different people. You value different things, that's fine. Understanding what those values are and having empathy for the other person is going to be critical in your potential to get on the same page which is what you're talking about. It's not necessarily convincing or selling the person on this because if you only sell the person on it, they may not be convinced. It's okay to say you do want them to be convinced because then they're solidified in this new journey with you. It's all about getting on that same page where here's what we're trying to do.
Here's the goal that we're putting in place. What I love about FIRE is there's a simple equation. We have a retirement calculator on our website and it's the easiest way to get a general idea of how long this is going to take you in your current setup. It's easy to go in with Mint or some other tool like that. You go in and you say, "How much are we spending monthly on average?" Take the last six months. Don't make it this big thing. You’ve got to go back for years. Find out how much you've been spending on average over the last six months and then find that number. Whatever that number is, you now have your annual expenses generally. Figure out what your net worth is. If it's negative, it's positive, it's neutral, and you plug that in.
There are some assumptions baked into our calculator, which makes it easy. They're very conservative assumptions. Nothing's guaranteed in the investment world. Nothing's guaranteed in our lives just the value of money, the way society works. All that stuff is hanging on a thread sometimes, but ultimately these are pretty solid assumptions we can make. When you come out to the other end of that retirement calculator, we saw we were going to be retiring in our late 70s. It was like, "This is terrible news. I'm tired." With the lottery mentality and it's not working out necessarily as well as I had hoped. I said, "What if we move to a place that costs a little bit less money? What if we slash and burn the Boat Club Membership and the stupid luxury car that we have outside?" They're only silly because we can't afford them in the first place.
What are other ways that we can bring down our spending? After doing that, we put those numbers in and we shaved off decades of our working careers. I like work. I think work is important and that's a big misconception with the FIRE movement because of this whole retire early thing. The thing about retiring early is that's an option. It's a wonderful option to have. Maybe you take a sabbatical, you take a couple of years off, you take a couple of months off, whatever it takes, but you will get back to work. Otherwise, you'll be bored, lazy, and not happy. It is important but having the control of deciding what you're going to be working on is critical. It's critical to our happiness, it's certainly critical to mine. At the very least, it's a very intoxicating output of this potential through this equation. That's where I would start. Coupling the happiness list with showing some of those big impact numbers. Here's what we're doing and here's what it could be. 
That's a good way to convince someone, "This is worth checking out." At that point, let them do their own exploring. Don't push, "I did this the wrong way." I was pushing some stuff on Taylor. “I found this awesome article. You have to read it.” I wonder why she hadn't been talking about it already. “Have you read it yet? What's going on here?” I don't want to push too hard and then I'd be like, "Did you read that thing?" "I did." "Did you have the same impact as it did on me?" Ultimately, she found a few voices in the FIRE movement. The wonderful thing about the community is that there's a wide array of voices from a lot of different perspectives. We could use some more diversity, but at the same time, there's a good amount out there where you can find a voice that fits with your life perspective and your experience. Hopefully, they talk to you in the way where the light bulbs start coming on.
Taylor found a podcast episode that did that for her. It was the ChooseFi Podcast. There's an episode called The Why of Fi. She needed to know the ‘why.’ Once she understood that, and those people did a great way where she had felt a little judged because she was the one with the BMW and the luxury car. You get a lot of fire people and be like, "You're an idiot." She felt a bit attacked. She wouldn't fit in with all of this because, at that time, that was a part of her identity, that was part of how she saw herself. It didn't fit. I remember Brad talks about like, "This is about making a bunch of small choices that end up having huge gains in the long run and how you decided to do, that's on you." She was like, "I can get behind that." I was like, "We're still getting rid of that car."
Dustin
We've been fortunate to have Jonathan on the show, so I want to encourage you to check out that that episode. I think it's one thing for you to pursue this with your wife and your family this FIRE journey. To do what you did, which is turn the cameras on, you must have one amazing wife because I can't imagine that decreases the stress of going through this new lifestyle change. Why did you feel so compelled to document this process, this journey? 
Scott
You're right, that was crazy, silly and I don't recommend it to anyone, but it did feel important. I'm glad we did it because once I got through that rabbit hole and saw how this could impact my life, I was so convinced that it would and it is. I'm here to say that it does work. It's just math. Once I realized that this was possible, it was like, "I've got to pay this forward and more people need to know about this because I accidentally found this." It saved and totally transformed our lives for the better. It's out there and it's free. There has to be more here. I was stoked about the podcasts, the books, the blogs I was finding. 
Coming from the video world, I knew that's the place I could contribute and there was a serious lack of video. I wanted to see who my heroes were. I wanted to get a feel for them. I wanted to see them in action. There wasn't a lot out there. This was scratching my own itch while also understanding that if we get this right, it's possible that we could be that catalyst, that Tim Ferriss episode, that blog that you catch that article that you find that all of a sudden enlightens you to what this is all about and how you can take it and apply it to your life.
That's why we made that decision. By the time we made that decision, I am blessed to have an incredibly supportive wife who understands my visions and puts up with them and supports them. It's incredible. I don't know why, but she might be a little crazy. Honestly, by the time we made that decision, she was seeing that stuff too. That said, it took her a lot longer to become comfortable with the lifestyle and you'll see that in the film. She understood the general, high-level value that this could potentially bring and thought, "I trust you." She had an inordinate amount of trust in me, which was silly in her mistake and she'll never do that again but that's how that got made. 
Dustin
I want to talk about the document for a little bit and then I want to get it straight up into FIRE, the steps, and the advice that you have there. 
Scott
The other piece of it that I recognized that was important for us. One of the things I realized was that our relationship with money in this country and possibly in the world is completely broken. We use it in way too many ways. It's all too powerful and it shouldn't be. We use it to judge ourselves and others. We use it as an establishing how we see society and how we see the room that we're in and the group of people we're with. We put too much value on that. I recognize that through reading these blogs and these amazing philosophical thinkers within the FIRE movement. That was a problem and a big part of the way our habits had been formed.
The decisions that we were making, the mistakes that we were making, we're coming from our poor relationship with money and our lack of education. That was another piece of why I wanted to throw ourselves to the wolves and open up the flood gates and show everyone what's going on. My book in detail describes exactly where we were financially down to the cents. I thought that was important. It was scary. That sounds normal to me because I'm so used to it and I've been doing it for a while, but at that time, I freaked out about that decision, which made me intrigued by that decision. It's like, "There's something here. Why am I feeling so nervous to tell people what our net worth is or how much we earn or how much we spend?"
There's a lot of guilt baked into how much we spend. There's a lot of ways people will perceive us based on how much we make or what our net worth is or isn't. Am I ready for that? It was out of those questions that I realized it's going to be good for us to rip the Band-Aid off and share that information and see what happens. We're leading by example. We're showing that it doesn't matter and that's not how we're defining ourselves and that's not how you should define us. We talked about that in the book and that message comes across in the movie, but I felt like that was important. I thought that was worth mentioning is another reason why I felt compelled and why I felt like it was valuable to bring this film to the world.
Dustin
What surprised you about this journey, the film or the book? What hadn't you anticipated that you were pleasantly or maybe you weren't thrilled about in this journey? 
Scott
What I was pleasantly surprised by was I had secretly wanted to also do this selfishly because then I would be able to meet all these people. My hope was that we would all become buds. Because after listening to all these podcasts, they're in your ear, it's a very intimate experience and you start to feel like you get to know someone. I felt like, "I'd love to connect to these people. They're my people. This is everything I've been looking for. I want to thank them. I want to share that excitement with them and I want to meet them." I was hoping that would happen and it did. That's been wonderful. We have an amazing set of friends and community and it's been so valuable to us. 
Dustin
Did anyone turn you down like they were afraid of the spotlight? 
Scott
I try to avoid the comments online as much as possible. There's a lot of trolls out there and haters whatnot who are willfully misinformed. One common misconception that I found interesting on both sides. I was surprised by it myself, but I was surprised how many people didn't know generally about it, which is access. Trying to get people involved in a project. I had this idea like, "We're going to make a documentary about the FIRE movement. We're going to put a lot of resources on this. It's going to have a high production value. I know what I'm doing. I can get a good team around me. We started building that team. I've got all these qualifications and I'm a good person to make this. We're a good team to make this." It seems obvious that you'll join in on this. You'd want to be in this documentary because it seems to me that your goal is to get this information out there. What I failed to know at that time and what I've learned is trust and access is huge and people can get burned by media.
What I didn't realize was like, "Those are all nice qualifications, but I still haven't gotten to know you. I have no idea who you are and what you're going to do with me. My image, my brand and my message." There have been enough people that have gotten burned that they're sensitive to it. It takes more than a phone call and an email to get that to happen. There are some people that I wish we could've gotten in the film that we didn't. There were some people that initially said no that we had to not take no for an answer. Thank goodness we didn't. They say the same thing. I went to the ends of the earth. I literally flew down to Ecuador and joined up in this international meet-up and brought Taylor with me with no cameras just to pre-produce, to get out there and show them who we are, what our intentions are. I'm thankful we did because 50% of our cast came from that one trip. 
Dustin
I think the same thing about our show, “If they only knew, why are you saying no?” Not yet. That's how I frame it to myself. With most creative works, whether it's a book especially in a film, you can't put everything and you want to put everything in. I'm always curious to ask somebody in this realm, what got left out? What made you hurt that you had to cut it out? It didn't get included into the film?
Scott
There are so many answers, but I can pinpoint a couple for sure. One of the things that we weren't able to do or not willing to do is some of the deep, intense conversations that we were having about our relationship that were coming up through this journey. At some point, we realized that there was a line that we weren't willing to cross for the sake of the film, art or even the audience. It was like, "No, we're giving a lot. I'm not willing to give this too." That was something where it's like, "I could pull my phone out and I could document this and it will be compelling, but I might not have a relationship when I'm done with it and I don't know if I want to see this." There were moments like that on the fly and then there were moments where I could not have covered this. In hindsight, "I wish we would have been able to or I wish I would've thought of it."
There was stuff like that that will forever irk me. I would say the other pieces in the film, it may seem that Taylor suddenly realizes that this is all for her. I think there was a little bit there that we could have done to show a little more of that transformation. For the sake of time and creative decisions, it didn't quite get there. At the end of the day, we're happy with how this turned out. We're proud of it. The feedback has been encouraging. What we set out to do is happening, which is the people that don't know about the FIRE movement. We wanted the FIRE movement to be proud of this film. We wanted the FIRE community to see value in it and enjoy it for sure. We also knew that they already know all this stuff. This isn't going to be new to them, so hopefully, they'll enjoy it for what it is. Hopefully, they'll be able to see that this was made for the people that don't know what this is about. I feel pretty good about that.
Dustin
You and Taylor had talked about the ten things that made you happy on a weekly basis and that being one of the steps. I'm curious as to what the other steps is. If we're going to get tactical, if you're going to give people a high-level overview as terms of what are the action items to join FIRE prefacing by saying, "Go do your research, go read up, go do what you did." What would those steps be with that happiness list, what else?
Scott
Those steps are detailed in the book. They're covered loosely in the film. We have a nice beginner's guide on the website and we're developing a course as well. That's beginner rudimentary level, but it's answering those big questions when you're getting started like, “How do you do this?” You do the happiness list. You understand what you value, then you track your money. You put it through a filter of a mentor. You need a budget or there are all these different awesome tools out there that you can use. We have a few that we recommend on our site depending on who you are as a person and how granular you want to get into it. Are you as an Excel spreadsheet person or are you a Mint person? There's some stuff in between. Either way, I would encourage people to try to find the least barrier to entry, the smoothest path to getting this stuff done because you don't have to be perfect about it right away, especially for you people who aren't stoked on math like I was.
Don't worry about that. Get the general gist but start tracking your money, understand where your money is going. That alone, it can be a degrading experience. It can be a sad experience. It can be scary. It can be guilt-ridden. There are a lot of issues with it. Know that going in. Give yourself a lot of grace. Give yourself a lot of empathy. You didn't know about these things prior. You've made mistakes, they don't matter. What matters is what you're going to do now and what you're going to do moving forward. That doesn't happen quickly. I can say all that stuff and they'd be like, "Great advice. Now I'm good to go." It doesn't work that way, just know that and it takes you a month or two to get all this information down. You don't have to do it right away but track that money. Take a calculation of your assets, your net worth. What do you have? What debts do you have? Understand your full financial picture.
When you're done with that, which is log-in every bank account you have, check out all your retirement accounts. Do you own real estate? Do you have credit card debt? Figure all that out. When you've done that, you know what you value, you know where your money's going and you know how much you have or don't have. Now you're in a pretty powerful position. The work begins. You start playing with the calculators, playing with the tools, read up on the resources that we have available online for free in the FIRE community, which is, "How do I start making this situation work for me? I'm tracking my money. I'm seeing that I'm spending too much on this, that or the other thing." Start canceling and getting rid of that stuff, unpacking it if you need to. Get that budget lean, that would be a great place to start. If you have debt, that is an emergency.
Go extreme on that debt as fast and hard as you can knowing that after that's taken care of, you can take a rest. Take a break. Reward yourself after you've saved up a little bit. Don't go into debt to reward yourself. Treat debt as an emergency. These actions and steps were already way in the weeds for a lot of people, if they don't even know what's going on. Once you're at that point and you've got your debt taken care of, you want to start looking at how you're building your assets. In the FIRE movement, one of the books that I love and I will always talk about is called The Simple Path to Wealth by J.L. Collins. He's in the movie, his book is incredible. I've never seen a book that has 800 reviews and five stars on Amazon. It's perfect. It explains how to invest in the stock market and use tax advantage accounts and brokerage accounts and how you invest in a conservative way, that's the least stressful way.
The simple path to wealth. It explained the stock market to me. It explained how it worked in layman's terms and I went from having no idea what that was about being very timid, nervous and fearful because I didn't know to feel I knew exactly how that was working and why I would want to do it and how to do it. It's a small book, it's pretty easy to read. Once you understand investing at least in stocks, you'll realize that taking advantage of any tax-advantaged account is number one in investing. You're keeping as much money as you possibly can. Another thing is to avoid fees. That's something you should do early on. Make sure that any fees that you're paying, you try to knock those out. You don't need to pay more than 0.03% or whatever the expense ratios are and index funds to invest your money wisely. If you have a super complex financial situation, you may want a financial advisor.
There are financial advisors out there that are fee-only financial advisors where you know exactly how much you're paying upfront for the work they're going to do to help you get your situation in order. If that's what you need even early on, even if your situation isn't complex and that makes you feel better. Try to avoid it if you can. Now that you understand investing, the hard work begins and it's fun work. It will improve your happiness and it's all good, which is it's not deprivation as much as it might seem. Slashing those expenses, make it a game, gamify the savings rate. Try to get that thing as high as you can while maintaining some level of comfort and happiness in your life. We pushed it as hard as we could to the point where we were miserable and I'm glad we did. We got to 76% or 78% savings rate at one point but we hated it. It was terrible. We were able to come back from that. That was the new baseline and we average around 50%. I don't track it too hard because it doesn't matter to me that much anymore, which is such a liberating place to be.
We keep an eye on it because we can fall back into bad habits. We have and there have been months where we'll go down to 20%, which in hindsight looking back, 20% is wonderful. To us, that's failing miserably. That's where the long work begins. Eventually, it becomes automated. It becomes a habit and it becomes pretty simple to do. At that point, you can start focusing on you. If at any time you feel that the balances are off, you can start looking at, "Do I have more time or energy to start looking at a side hustle, a business, entrepreneurship which I know you guys work on." There's never been a better time in the history of the world to find side hustles or side gigs and do it remote from your house in your PJs, using your own car to earn money.
It's trying to swing that equation in your favor. There's a whole community online of people that can help you for all these little detailed questions that are going to pop up. ChooseFI is an amazing community. There are pop-ups all over CampFi and Chautauqua. It's all these places you can go to get face-to-face interaction, FinCon. You can do it on Facebook groups. There are tons of stuff going on there. Even in the comment sections of the blogs, there are big debates happening in there. That's where you'll find your support. At that point, the thing that we don't talk about enough is you start looking at self-care. You start looking at your mental and your physical health and that's where I'm at personally in our FIRE journey. We value that immensely. We're willing to spend lavishly on those things.
Dustin
You said in the film and what you've said here. The process is simple. What makes it hard as our attachment, our patterns, and the emotion. When life was tough for you, what kept you going through? Did you tell yourself something? I'm sure you felt giving up, but what kept you in the game from going back to San Diego or going back to that old lifestyle? How did you get through the darkest parts?
Scott
The darkest parts weren't second-guessing or questioning our decisions that we made to decrease our spending. The most difficult parts were more emotional. There were more inner inter-relational. It was unpacking our relationship with money. It was understanding each other's wants, needs, and limits. Those were the harder parts. That's where we would feel that the systems weren't working or things were breaking or "What's going to happen?” Second-guessing the whole situation. You need to be careful, specific, and intentional about the way you go about this with your significant others if you have them. Honestly, whether you have them or not, it's also a social thing. Friends and family are also a big component of this. We oddly were met with some interesting friction from our family, specifically where we were excited about this when we first found it.
We came walking into the door and being like, "Look what we found. This is amazing. We're going on an adventure, we're going to do this thing, and we're going to retire early." The blinky stairs could not have been worse, more dry, quiet, and weird. What I failed to realize was that people's relationship with money is crazy. It's all over the board. You don't know where those people might be coming from. Whether it's your mom, your dad, your brother-in-law, your best friend, they might be making decisions, feel guilt, feel shame, feel the excitement, feel like you're crazy for not knowing this prior. There's a wide spectrum of ways that people might see this. Be careful not to get too dogmatic if you do get into this and you are stoked on it because that's what we did on accident. That bit us a bit. 
Dustin
Did you join a cult? 
Scott
We did. It's this wonderful cult. Don't worry, they're not drinking Kool-Aid, they're enjoying dividends.
Dustin
Have you gotten any of the friends or family to flip that they've seen you go through this process, the documentary, the book and all that?
Scott
Yes. Now that they've seen us lead by example and this isn't going away, this isn't like some little idea that Scott cooked up, that's not going away or going to pass. More curiosity happened. It opened up the chance for more conversations. They got to watch and read our life intimately. It was lucky for us that they were able to see this up close and personal. It’s easy to understand what we're up to, easy to understand how the whole thing works. The vast majority of our friends and family, they're not necessarily deciding to become diehard FIRE people and go the course and drink the Kool-Aid and be a part of the cult. I do see them taking cues. I see a lot of qualifications too. They're coming up to me without prompt and being like, "Just so you know, we didn't spend that much on this." I'm like, "I don't care. I guess I do care about but you don't need to tell me that." I've had friends and family reached out privately or right in front of a group and said, "I'm interested in this. I want to know more."
My cousin who was featured in the book is one of my best friends. I call him Chucky. I was fishing on the Mississippi River when I was back home in Iowa with him one day. I had already gone through the process of being bitten a bit. I wasn't bringing it up too fast, but it came up naturally. By the end of that little fishing trip, he bit a little bit. I got him a couple of podcasts I thought would work for him and they did and he got into it. I was getting texts all the time, "What do you think about this? What do you think about that?" That was exciting to see because that was the first time that it happened and it's like, "We're not crazy. This has the chance to spread." Since then, it's happened quite a bit and it's wonderful to see and we're always there. Our doors are always open to our friends and family about how this is working. Usually, I'm like, "You could get the book, support me a little bit. I did this work already. It's all there." A lot of people want the personal touch. It's been going great. 
Dustin
I don't want to spill all the secrets from the film. It's a great film that everyone should go and watch and who's interested in this conversation. People can find this online. You now live in Bend, Oregon, the film talks about the place that you end up. I'm curious being from sunny San Diego to seeing shots of snow in the film, how did you guys arrive on Bend versus other cities? I don't remember that. 
Scott
We had a list of five cities that we wanted to check out and they were put through a filter of how tax-advantageous are in the States and what's the cost of living like? We had a whole set of parameters of how big it was. What are the schools like? All these things that matter to us. We found some communities that were very FIRE-friendly. The state of Washington doesn't have any income tax. That's amazing. The state of Nevada has a similar situation. There are a lot of places where you can find wonderful communities. They're very FIRE friendly. A lot of people like Colorado. For us, what it came down to was a mixture of that and then a mixture of family. If we had chosen the place that was the most FIRE optimized, I'm not sure that our family would be as excited to come visit all the time. When we got to Bend, we found that it was this perfect equilibrium of the cost of living compared to what we're used to is fantastic.
Are we paying more than we would somewhere else? Yes. We're willing to do that because we have this sneaky suspicion that my mom and dad and Taylor's mom and dad would potentially move with us because they're pretty loose and they're already doing the whole split in their time thing. When we got to Bend, it's unbelievably beautiful. The natural view there is amazing. It's a high desert climate, so we don't get a lot of rain. It's 280, 300 days of sunshine. We're getting plenty of vitamin D. We missed the seasons a little bit coming down to San Diego, it's like, "Do I miss the seasons? This is wonderful." It's a wonderful community. That was a big part of why we made that decision. 
Dustin
I'm glad you shared that because I looked it up and I'm like, "I thought there was income tax there." That goes to show you that lifestyle is important for people that don't want to be in a die-hard that you get to say, you get to decide. That sounds like you played that into the picture.
Scott
For us, it was like, "If we moved to Bend as opposed to this other place, we could put that through the equation. By moving to Bend, we're going to spend another 2.2 years working. Is that worth it to us?" That's another amazing way you can use the equations in the FIRE model to make decisions about your happiness about your life. We took a hard look at that. As opposed to being my previous self with the lottery mentality like, "Will this place make me excited? Yes, let's do it." We know we're going to work a little bit longer to enjoy that area, but it's worth it. We decided that was worth it for us. You can make that decision and then decide that that's the wrong decision and make a different one. That's how we always looked at it. Worst case scenario, we moved back. We miss our friends. There are definitely pieces about San Diego that we miss a lot. It's not enough to not pursue the goals that we've set for ourselves and we're happy where we are. 
Dustin
We should have honestly said this on to put that big carrot out. I'm curious for you as to relatively what your number is, how many years you shaved off of your retirement? Do you track that? 
Scott
It's 35 years or something. It's unbelievable. 
Dustin
How far are you from?
Scott
We're somewhere between 5 and 7 years depending on factors that we can't control. 
Dustin
You just moved a couple of years ago.
Scott
It happens so fast and it can be very potent depending on how far you take it. Saving more than half of our income steadily with the bull market the way it is. It's going well. 
Dustin
Something else that looks like it's going well is playing with FIRE. I came to know it as a documentary. I discovered the book. To me, it looks like you're developing this into a big brand and a business. Is that an accurate assessment? What's the future? What are you working on? What's coming out next? What are you most excited by? 
Scott
One is supporting all the work that we put into these two things, the book in the film. That's been an interesting journey because I’ve been in video production for several years, but I’ve never taken a film to market and that's a whole new experience. It's been fun and a good learning journey. We hope to get it on a major streaming site soon. It's going well. We're happy with the response, the reception and the impacts that it seems to be having on the audience. That's been fulfilling. It's a matter of two-fold supporting those things that we work hard on and then what is next. How do we continue the conversation based on what we know? I'm working on developing a podcast. I love this format. We’re close to launching. What we're going to do is set up a series of monthly challenges. We're going to break down the type of challenge, what the problem is, what the solution will be if you adopt this newly formed habit with us. 
We go through it together. It would be a 21-day challenge once a month. Everything from digital minimalism, some mental challenges, some physical challenges, some fiscal challenges, no spend period. For 21 days, you can't spend a thing go. We'll do beginner, intermediate, and expert levels, so you can choose your adventure. We're going to track the results as well. We're going to do this one way or another, but we're working on it. We're going to try to tie it into a charitable component. You need a reason to commit to this daily. You'll put up some of your money like $5, $10. You'll lose it if you don't do all the days of the checking. If you lose it, it goes to a charity. We're trying to find ways to support charitable giving and giving back. I'm excited about it because it's about expanding beyond the pretty simple equations of Phi and the philosophies of Phi, which had been well documented by my peers and by the people in the cast and the book, my friends. It's well done.
I don't have a lot to contribute there that I haven't already contributed. How can I contribute? This would be a fun way because you see in the FIRE movement a lot of very related topics. Digital Minimalism is a great example. Where Cal Newport is the author of that book, and you see him on the FIRE podcasts. It’s like, “This is interesting.” The more you learn about it, it’s like, “This would provide a lot of benefit to my life. This is essentially optimizing a habit in a way that helps me,” which is very related to the skillsets that I’ve developed as someone in the FIRE community. I like to optimize and I like to improve. How can we do that on a holistic level mentally, physically and continue to flex that muscle? That's what we're working on next.
Dustin
That's fun and exciting because you're engaging people, you're getting them to not listening passively, but giving them challenges. You're involving them in the process.
Scott
I see this as it's a way for me to do that. Hopefully, we can engage with people and I can learn from them. I'm excited about it. I can't wait to get it going. 
Dustin
PlayingWithFIRE.co is the best way to get access to the book, to check out the documentary. They can also get it on an Amazon. Anywhere else that you want to direct people that want to continue the conversation with you.
Scott
The website does a good job of funneling. Someone who's new to this concept through the things that we've done and then also out to all the amazing people that we found that encouraged us to get this thing going in the first place. I would encourage that. If you're searching for Playing with FIRE, I did not make a movie with John Cena starring in a firefighter family comedy. That's not me. Playing with FIRE documentary should get you there. 
Dustin
It takes a lot to put the spotlight, especially touchy subject. You’re a part of the journey. You and your wife were coming into that and to share that with others. We’ve got to give her kudos too for going along with the journey. To inspire people to investigate this to be wiser with their money. Perhaps they want to pursue FIRE but doing what you do in the world. I want to acknowledge you and I want to say thanks big time for being on the show. 
Scott
Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure. 

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