Comfortably Numb (And How I Woke Up To Financial Independence)

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“Hello, is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?” — David Gilmour and Roger Waters, Pink Floyd, 1979

If you're reading this post you have confirmed that, indeed, someone is in there. And together, in so many ways, we are all home in the financial independence community.

Welcome to CHGO FIRE. It's awesome to meet you. I hope to get to know you in the months and years ahead as we blaze a path to financial independence together.

I've wanted to blog about my personal journey to financial independence for some time and just haven't pulled the trigger on it until my new friends, Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa, the co-hosts of the ChooseFI podcast invited their listeners to become bloggers. So … here we go!

My story is a long and winding road, but here's the short version (there'll be plenty of time to get into the weeds in future posts).

Since the internet was just a wee babe, I've been out of college and cruising the hedonic hamster wheel to try to live the life that American society prescribes.

  • Go to college
  • Get a job
  • Get married
  • Have kids
  • Buy a house
  • Fill it up with crap
  • Get a raise
  • Buy a bigger house
  • Fill up bigger house with more and new crap
  • Hey kid, look at that shiny car! Yeah, I'll take one of those!
  • Get a promotion
  • Buy that second home

It literally. never. ends. The pressure to consume, the pressure to keep up. It's almost as though we are somehow programmed at birth to respond affirmatively.

I had become, as the song goes, comfortably numb. Like a zombie, just commuting to an office every day. With some distant dream of retirement and travel. I had just accepted that this was the way things were and would always be.

Then, an explosion occurred. A personal Big Bang!

I read an article in, of all places, Crain's Chicago Business about a fellow Chicagoan who retired when she was just 34 to travel the world. Sure, I had heard about Mr. Money Mustache, but I'd never so much as scratched the surface. It was that Crain's article that was my gateway to the FIRE community.

I was immediately hooked.

For weeks and weeks, I consumed. Whether it was a blog while waiting for swim lessons to end or a podcast while I was driving an hour to work, I was devouring this stuff like I used to devour Portillo's chocolate cake! (You Chicagoans know what I'm talking about.) I binge listened to every Mad Fientist podcast on a cross-country road trip with my daughter (and my ex-wife!) to look at colleges!

Mr. Money Mustache, ChooseFI, the Mad Fientist, Afford Anything, 1500 Days, the Root of Good, the Frugal Professor, Physician On Fire (and I'm not even a doctor!), Millennial Revolution, Rock Star Finance. That's not even half of the list.

JL Collins! How can I forget JL Collins and the stock series?

I mean, I even stopped listening to music for a few months because I was so completely engrossed!

Finding my tribe

I had found my home. This place, and you all, just made sense. Here I could throw up the proverbial middle finger to the status quo and declare a new path.

And I optimized. I mean, I read Mr. Money Mustache's clown car post and I almost immediately went and sold the ridiculous SUV that I drove (almost always alone) for a teeny little gas sipping used car. Paid in full.

My very own clown car. I seriously drove this thing. Mostly alone! Please, just face punch me now and get it over with.

In the months ahead, I'll share all of the optimizations I've made and the many, many still to come.

CHGO FIRE is my attempt to share this entire journey with you, to forge a path forward together and to have a good time along the way to FI (and eventually even RE). I hope you will tune in regularly and become a member of the crew.

I've chosen to write anonymously at this point because I'm still gainfully employed. It'd be nice to stay that way for the time being. Anonymity gives me the opportunity to be bluntly frank and brutally honest. It gives me the chance to share with reckless abandon and that's what I aim to do.

CHGO FIRE is going to do at least three things …

  1. Share my journey, share all of my royal screw-ups and cover topics that we share an interest in.
    • Things like geoarbitrage. In fact, on this journey forward I'll embark on a little geoarbitrage without even leaving my current hometown. I hope you'll be passenger for all the details.
    • Details on the side hustles I'm building so I don't rely on just a single source of income (and because I'm freaking passionate about them).
    • How it is never too late for FI.
    • How to be frugal with children.
    • One of the many things I've screwed up … divorce and the havoc it wreaks on financial independence.
    • How the pursuit of financial independence lead to a complete overhaul in other areas of life, such as diet.
    • How I survived my first FI Christmas!
    • Helping my kid get into college and my attempt to light a second generation fire.
  2. Share my monthly numbers. I'm always drawn to blogs like 1500 Days and Wealthy Accountant because I'm curious how others are doing. Curious what “their number” is. Curious how they invest their stash. Anonymity affords me the opportunity to share openly and openly I will share.
  3. I'm most excited to do something that I haven't seen any other financial independence blog do. One of the Milestones of FI is that Personal Capital call once you hit $100,000 in assets. Well, because I came late to the FI party, I was lucky enough to get that Personal Capital call within days of signing up for my Personal Capital account. (If you haven't signed up for your own Personal Capital account, it's super easy and so helpful!). I listened to their pitch. I was intrigued. And now we are going to conduct a little experiment together. Here it is …

Personal Capital vs Vanguard VTSAX

  • Personal Capital vs. Vanguard VTSAX! Mano y mano, for all the FI glory!
  • Like the Mad Fientist has said before, I have been sitting on some cash, trying to time the market, thinking this can't continue! Shite's gonna go south any day now! And when it does I'd run out with my wash basin and start scooping up stocks at fire sale prices. And what do you know? All it's done is increase about 15 percent as I've been waiting and watching. JL Collins doesn't even know me (yet!) and he's ashamed.
  • Now it's time to do something about it. So, on the same day, I will invest $10,000 with Personal Capital for them to quasi-actively manage and I'll invest another $10,000 in everyone's favorite, Vanguard's awesome VTSAX fund.
  • Real money. Real results. With an update once a month.
  • Personal Capital knows they start at a disadvantage because they charge .89 basis points to Vanguard's .04. But they're confident little buggers over there at Personal Capital. So we'll see what happens together starting in the coming weeks.

Well, that's the plan. Thanks for reading post numero uno.

So … stay tuned. Join in. Let's Go! (which, coincidentally is a great Matt and Kim song you need to check out).

Until next time …

How CHGO FIRE finally woke up and started pursuing Financial Independence

47 thoughts on “Comfortably Numb (And How I Woke Up To Financial Independence)

    • You are so right! Money in the bank is king! I actually took what I was paying on that beast and am having it transferred directly into a brokerage account at Vanguard. Reoccurring frugal win of the month.

  1. Off to a great start! Look forward to reading more and to see VTSAX crush Personal Capital 🙂

    I’ve also struggled with a market timing problem that has me sitting in too much cash. Looking at alternative investments from index funds at this point (rental properties, businesses, etc… maybe even some cryptocurrency, just kidding, don’t face punch me 🙂 )

    • Ha! No face punches here! If we could all rewind the clock five years on the crypto bandwagon, I guess we would all still miss the boat because we buy and hold low-cost passively managed index funds like VTSAX. Oh well. Yes, finding a good rental could be a win! Good luck and thanks for reading, Juan.

    • Thanks for ready, OncNurse! And if your username betrays your profession, thanks for what you do to care for those battling cancer. You are a real American hero!

  2. Just GREAT. Yet another personal finance site I’m now utterly smitten with and addicted to. Sigh…
    (Hope you can sense the sarcasm! Loved this post and looking forward to more!).

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my first post and for your response, Tracey! It’s a lot of fun to tell my story and hopefully someone finds it helpful. Stay tuned for more!

  3. Great start. I’m late to the FI journey and look forward to hearing about how it’s going for someone with teens (and all the expenses they bring). Can’t wait to read the next post!

    • Oh my god! You aren’t kidding, Nicole! They;re expensive little buggers, aren’t they?!? I have one heading off to college in the fall so the expenses are getting ready to ramp up! I’ll cover all of that in gory detail in the month ahead. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

  4. Very exciting to read your post! Congratulations on your start. I love that you’ll be sharing some of your self-proclaimed screw-ups and successes too. Flows well.

    • Thank you for reading and for the positive feedback! There are so many screw-ups, where do I start? I remember listening to Millennial Revolution a few weeks back on the podcast and how they couldn’t come up with a single screw-up! I’ll help skew the average screw-ups in the favor of lots of screw-ups. Stay tuned for all the gory details in the months ahead.

    • Ha! Sounds familiar! I think some of my coworkers thought I was going to just retire on the spot! I’ve learned to temper it and only really geek out in the details of FI with those who are drinking the same Kool Aid!

  5. Recently signed up to Personal Capital and received my call. Got the impression that they don’t want to sell you investment advice unless you have 100k outside of a 401k.

    My 401k is well over this amount but literally had the guy ask me three times whether I had over 100k in non-401k, non-home equity. Will be talking with the adviser tomorrow will be interesting to hear what they have to say. Hard to compete against VTSAX but I sure do like their website.

    • MB, you are spot on! Which is sad because it crushes my plan to do the Personal Capital vs. VTSAX challenge. I’ll write about this in my next post, but stay tuned as I think I’ve devised another mano y mano challenge that may be of interest to our community.

      I agree, Personal Capital’s website is personal finance gold. Many people in the FI community have the resources to put into their system, but paying .89 for theirs when VTSAX is .04 seems illogical to me. One of Personal Capital’s arguments is that VTSAX is market cap weighted so when those stocks with heavy market capitalization drop, VTSAX will plummet while their doesn’t. I’m sure you heard this on your call today. Too bad we will never know which approach is best — unless we want to entrust Personal Capital with $200,000 minimum.

  6. I’m still on the no music kick since I have so many awesome podcasts to listen to. I have a bunch of old episodes to get caught up on and am still discovering some killer new ones too. Too many podcasts, too little time. Looking forward to hearing your story CHGO FIRE!

    • Thanks, Wow! Yeah, it has been a constant struggle between podcasts and music. Sometimes silence just wins out too. Thanks for the feedback and stay tuned for more.

  7. Hey CHGO FIRE….WOW! I feel like I read my own intro to the FI community. I read that same Crain’s article! It turned me onto MMM and then it snowballed from there to all the other blogs you mentioned. Although I am late to the party, I now have a plan with DW to retire earlier than we ever thought possible because of this community. I am in your neck of the woods and will enjoy reading about your journey.

    • Thanks, Fiways. Same here — I was planning to work well into my 60s like the non-FI world until about a year ago! Now I can choose to retire, keep working or focus full-time on my side hustles in just a few more years. I’ll hit what I consider to be my F-U money in a few months and that will be such a feeling of relief. Keep in touch here and at [email protected]. And thanks for the great feedback.

    • Thanks, Jason! The PC v. VTSAX thing has hit a snag. Watch for an update in my next post.

      Thanks for the note and for reading!

  8. It seems we’ve got a fair amount in common, CHGO FIRE. The midwest, kids, big homes full of stuff, the revelation… I’m always up for a beer if you find yourself a little further north (and west).

    And thank you for the kind mention above.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • More in common than I’ve written about so far — and perhaps more than I will share in the blog. But would be cool to share over a beer. I’m heading up to Minneapolis in the spring to visit a friend. Perhaps we can meet up on the way. Drop me an email to [email protected].

      The mention in the article was a must. The PoF Sunday Best is what I wake-up to every Sunday!

    • Thanks, Amy! Way too many years, right? You and me both! Feels so good to be locking it down though. Love your blog! So much positive energy! Thanks for reading and commenting! Stay tuned for more.

  9. I love your intro post! I really look forward to reading more and I especially love that you’ll be tracking the Personal Capital investment vs VTSAX. Awesome! Can’t wait to hear the results!

    • Thank you for the awesome feedback, Laura! PC is making it really hard to get it going, so I may be shifting gears a bit. I think it will still be a fun experiment though. Stay tuned!

  10. Never wait. Wealth is built by time in the market more than the investment vehicle or market timing. Never wait (for emphasis).

    • You are so right! Learned that lesson over and over again in 2017. I’m already starting to rectify it between some equity and a coming real estate play. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more to come.

    • Aaron! Thanks for your positive feedback. I still have some optimizing to do on the car front. I traded the beast for a Mini. It gets almost double the MPG of the beast, but almost half of a Pruis. Don’t event get me started about the MPG on the Nissan Leaf! So at some point I will optimize on the car front again. Good luck on the car hunt. Drop a line when you do pull the trigger so we know what you get. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Yay! Another blogger with kiddos. I have little ones but it’s nice to read of what’s to come. I’m so aware of how I speak to them about our budget and how we spend. Fun post, thank you!

    • Thanks for the positive feedback, Slice! It’s a crazy ride. I have older kids and younger kids, and I’ve learned so much that I’m trying to do catch-up with the older ones. Sending them blog posts and such. Trying to figure out a plan of attack with the younger ones. Reading Smart Money, Smart Kids at the moment. College decision time coming soon for one. Stay tuned to the blog. More coming soon. Thanks again.

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