Reshaping My Money Story: My First Year On The Path To Financial Independence (FI)

Discovering Financial Independence (FI) and realizing the new possibility of living it has been utterly life-changing for me. It’s like I awoke from the Matrix and realized that so much of what I did was out of social & environmental programming. Prior to FI, I was sleepwalking through many areas of my life. Drift was for real.

But with this newfound possibility of FI a whole new reality began to emerge & I was filled with new life! I discovered renewed energy, more creativity, took massive action, achieved newfound abundance & was able to live on purpose in a much deeper way!

For those of you who are reading about Financial Independence for the first time the simplest explanation I can share is that it means your assets generate more than enough income to cover your cost of living. At this point all paid work becomes optional. There are almost an infinite number of ways to achieve this. Some ways include building a massive stock portfolio, rental real estate, passive income endeavors, etc. Why is FI important? Because it empowers you to only do work that you are truly passionate about & truly lead a life of your own design without worrying over whether your chosen work/life design will cover your cost of living. [read this article for more background on my discovery of FI]

I still laugh ironically at my younger self who naively thought he was living without being influenced by outside forces. As I’ve previously written & spoken about before, no matter how hard you try you are (1) the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, (2) a product of your environment & (3) what you consume—including food, information & experiences. [read this article for more on these three related principles]

In truth, a lot of my major habits around consumption were completely out of whack with my own personal values. My top personal value is Freedom. I’ve now learned just how enslaved to mindless consumption I was since discovering FI. No wonder I was rarely satisfied with life despite the fact that most people would likely consider the outside perspective of my life fairly good & quite successful. When your living is out of sync with your true values it is virtually impossible to find any lasting happiness or peace of mind.

I discovered FI a little over a year ago. This last year has been radical in many ways. 2018 has been a fascinating discovery & rediscovery of what really has true heart & meaning to me, what is not important to me personally, and what progress & success actually mean to me.

Ultimately, this journey to FI is empowering me to radically reshape my money story into one that is filled with redemption, learning, optimization, positivity, personal power, strength, leading by example & so much more!

In this post I will share my major FI achievements, milestones & personal insights from year one on the path to FI.

FI Path Year 1 Achievements & Milestones*:

CampFI Southwest 2018 in Joshua Tree, CA

CampFI Southwest 2018 in Joshua Tree, CA

  • Got caught up from being 6-years behind on my taxes.

  • Finally paid off the last of my debt (originally $40K+ in credit card & school loans). Something I had been carrying for over 15 years.

  • Started tracking income, expenses & net worth with both Mint & Personal Capital.

  • My fiancé became my FI Wife (my official FI Life Parter).

  • Attended my first CampFI with my fiancé. 60+ people gathered together in a desert to learn, discuss all aspects of FI & play! This was one of my highlight experiences of the year! This is also where my fiancé began to discover her “Why of FI”. Plus, I got invited to be a speaker at CampFI Southwest 2019 in Joshua Tree!! [Use “JDC” to get $25 off your ticket].

  • Co-organized a monthly FI Meetup Group that met every month of 2018 and regularly had 30-60+ members show up to each event.

  • Built FI friendships that excite & empower us daily. These add massively to our life quality and I believe many of them will be lifelong flourishing relationships.

  • Started travel hacking, including taking my first all-points trip with my FI Wife.

  • Sold my Range Rover & got a Prius.

  • Started using Gas Buddy

  • Split internet bill with neighbors.

  • Had microwave repaired for $25 at local shop versus spending $100+ for a new one.

  • Started enjoying our company’s complimentary lunch (an awesome employee benefit) & started meeting with more friends who also get complimentary lunch at work. This led me to cultivating more & deeper friendships and radically reduced my monthly food bill.

  • Stopped buying so many books & instead learned to always use the Library.

  • Stopped paying to rent digital movies & tv shows unless they were free with Amazon Prime or on the family Netflix account.

  • Opted for matinee movies & just discovered $6 ticket Tuesdays at my local theater.

  • Learned to use SF Fun Cheap for weekday, weekend & holiday activities instead of paying a ton of money for events.

  • Stopped all subscriptions that were not being fully utilized.

  • Stopped getting so many professional massages (1-3 per month was my old habit; a shit ton of money) & instead learned to give myself a massage using a foam roller, tennis balls, yoga tune up balls, & a selfie-massager. Occasionally my partner and I trade-off massaging each other. This saves money AND is a massive intimacy builder!

  • Opened a Vanguard account.

  • Began investing in in Index Funds (VTSAX & others).

  • Maxed out my 401K for the second year in a row.

  • Completed a Backdoor Roth for 2017 & 2018 [see this article for a great how-to].

  • Tax loss harvested for the first time.

  • Got the Personal Capital call.

  • Grew our yearly income massively! Record earning year for the both of us!

  • Grew our Net Worth by 3.6X+!!

  • Achieved major FU Money [Freedom Unlimited]!!

  • Achieved a 90% monthly savings rate with 75-90% monthly range throughout the year!!

    • In my mind this is my crowning FI achievement (tied with discovering my FI Wife) as this means I only have another 2-5 years before I hit my FI number!!

FI Insights*:

Know your “Why of FI.” If you don’t know why you are after something it won’t be long until an obstacle arises and you give up. With a powerful “Why” you can blast through any blocks that come up (and they will come up). In one word my Why of FI is: FREEDOM!! It’s a deep why for me and probably deserves its own blog post to really get into the nitty gritty details.

FI is a Superpower. FI creates massive personal freedom. It empowers me to do what I truly want to do and avoid doing things I don’t really want to do. Personal Freedom in all that you do is like living with a Superpower.

FI is a Mindset, Philosophy & Life Optimization System. At its core, I believe FI is a mindset and way of living that guides all aspects of your life towards living in harmony with what has true heart & meaning to you at your deepest levels. It encourages us to optimize all areas of life to live in accordance with our deepest values. When we live in harmony with our True Self… Happiness is a natural byproduct!

Personal Finance & FI are a muscle. Learn & grow by doing. Confidence & strength is built through experience. If you’ve never gone to a gym a lifted weights it can be pretty scary and intimidating at first. You are weak at first AND you don’t really know what you are doing. But you keep going. Little by little you get stronger. Your understanding & knowledge of your body grows. The tools at hand to improve & strengthen your body become familiar. Your all around fitness expertise deepens. This is all done through incremental improvement.

Personal finance is the same. It’s something you can build to become incredibly strong. But you gotta start training. And you gotta keep training to keep it strong. For years I avoided taking control of my personal finances despite being great at making money because I was scared and didn’t know what to do.

Over the last few years I’ve learned that almost always the best way to learn is by doing. Sure you make mistakes along the way, but many people wiser than me claim that mistakes are the best teacher. I strongly agree with this fundamental concept.

This first year on the path to FI I hit the personal finance gym daily. Each week I got stronger. Each week I got more confident in what I was doing.

Money is energy. The better you manage it the better your life. Like all energy (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) it can be cultivated and it can be squandered. Taking the time to develop habits & systems to cultivate it will empower your life in incredible ways. You can use it to transform your life and the lives of others.

Energy flows where focus goes. Prior to discovering FI I had no idea what my savings rate was, how much money I was losing to debt interest every month, had no clue I was bleeding money left & right from unused subscriptions & non value aligned expenditures. The inefficiencies & pain around money management goes on. At work, I had no real reason to challenge myself to make more money and do even better. Hell, I didn’t even know what I was making every month. The ignorance was there because of all the money shame I had been carrying. After I faced the shame I realized had no authentic “Why” when it come to money in my life. Once I made FI my overarching focus I started optimizing my entire life—career/work, personal finances, relationships, & more. The change in 1-year has been nothing short of remarkable!

If your personal finances are strong & growing it makes healing, growing & positively transforming in all other areas of life much easier & way more fun! Money to support our basic needs (shelter, food & water) & a good standard of living empowers us to work on other life areas from a position of strength & abundance (versus a position of weakness & scarcity).

If you’re wracked with fear about how you are going to pay for next month’s rent & food that is where all your energy goes. At this level it’s pretty much impossible to focus well on any other areas of growth—i.e. relationships, fitness, health, spiritual growth, service, etc.

Once you have your personal finances strong & growing you have massive amounts of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual energy to apply to the other important areas of a life worth living for.

Build money management systems & automate as much as possible. Set up the systems and let them do the heavy lifting. Get every single bill on automatic payment (after getting rid of as many bills as possible of course). Have your company automatically max out your 401K & other retirement accounts. Automatically invest surplus income. Take the human thinking/doing out of as much of the wealth building process as possible. This is how I grew my Net Worth so drastically this past year. I set up the systems and then several months later I was like “Holy Shit!! My Stash’ has grown like those magical beans from the mythical story of Jack & The Beanstalk!”

Do everything you can to slow down and/or reset Hedonic Adaptation. Almost all humans suffer from being on a Hedonic Treadmill. Once we get the newest iThing, we are happy momentarily. But it isn’t long before a new iThing comes out, we want it, and our happiness leaps back into the future. We are once again back at “once I achieve                      then I will be happy.”

This never enough, never satisfied, satisfaction short-lived way of living pervades every area of our life—home, cars, stuff, career, relationships, fitness, etc. While one could argue that this mental state encourages us to always strive for more it is a slippery slope. Without thoughtful reflection the default thinking for most of us is “more” which is often accompanied by feelings of “not enough.”

The negative side of this never satisfied style of living is that it leads us to be unhappy with our actual present moment life because we are stuck with attitude of never-enough-wanting more-grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-once-I-reach-this-future-thing/event-THEN-I-will-be-happy-mentality. The only place that we actually live is in the present. From present moment to present moment.

The key is to strive for growth in all areas which includes planning for the future while simultaneously living in the present. Otherwise, if you are are just focused on your future happiness, you will create unhappiness in your present.

An awesome yoga teacher of mine recently shared this amazing quote with our class that really brought this paradox into focus for me. It goes like this:

“If your happiness is in the future then that is where it will remain.”

By practicing FI & using Negative Visualization you are often able to avoid Hedonic Adaptation or at least slow it down significantly. These practices bring you powerfully into the abundance of your present moment. The result is greater satisfaction with what you have and this leads naturally to higher levels of joy & gratitude for your actual life in the present moment no matter how close or far you are from your goals. [Negative Visualization is a stoic mental technique that empowers you to combat Hedonic Adaptation & be grateful for exactly what you have & where you are at in life. Read this short Instagram Micro Blog for deeper understanding.]

Frugality makes doing things even more creative, fun & valuable. I learned this from my regular reading of Mr. Money Mustache (aka MMM). When you take the mental energy & time to figure out how to do things for free or frugally you end up getting super creative & end up having way more fun during the process than if you had just taken the easy/lazy route & spent hard-earned money. Adding intention into what you are doing (versus mindless consumption) makes you value it more too. Again, when you value what you have, life is filled with greater gratitude & satisfaction.

Infrequency & intermittent abstinence heightens satisfaction. Now when I do spend money on something like getting a professional massage it feels wildly decadent & delicious. By foregoing extravagant things a majority of the time it makes me deeply appreciate them at a much deeper level when I do partake. It literally encourages me to more deeply value my monetary investment & accompanying experience. When you have something every day or every week/month you speed up your Hedonic Adaptation. When I got massages all the time I was constantly comparing each experience against all the others. I.E. “This massage wasn’t nearly as good as the one I had last week.” Compare this with: “Holy sweet Buddha! I haven’t had the luxury of a massage in several months and this just feels sublime!” In the first example there is virtually no satisfaction for the experience. In the second example I’m experiencing divinity.

What I really love to do costs little to nothing. Learning, reading, creative endeavors, fitness in numerous forms, movement, nature, spiritual communion, spending time w/ people I love & admire, etc. As a Life Alchemist pretty much all my pursuits involve healing, growing & transforming in one form or another. With a FI Mindset most of it can be done by spending little to nothing.

Long term goals drive daily energy & focus. Once I solidified FI as my 3-year overarching goal everything came into sharp focus. Suddenly I knew exactly what I needed to do each day, week, month, & year. This clarity gave me massive energy, drive & focus. I became a man on FIRE!!

FI empowered me to fall deeply back in love with my career & work: Through my discovery of FI and my commitment to getting on the path I realized at the deepest level just how incredibly luck I am—I have a career I love AND I get to do work that I deeply believe in! [I am a founding team member of a Stanford Startup—Oh My Green.]

Helping to build & lead a Stanford Startup was & is one of my biggest lifetime dreams. For the longest awhile I took it for granted. Then I discovered FI & strategies for combating Hedonic Adaptation and I fell deeply back in love with what I get to do each & every week.

Additionally, my Stanford Startup dream is propelling me along at a fast clip to reach my FI. Wait!! I can be living a major life dream & building towards FI?! Life is truly grand!!

FU Money makes work even more fun: With FU Money & the power of FI behind me I get to play full out at work! I can push past boundaries & limiting beliefs with abandon. This led me to have a record breaking year at work. No longer am I playing small or playing cautiously because I am worried about making mistakes and losing my job or my company going under. In truth, I no longer need my job for basic survival. This empowers me to become the best I can be at the fastest speed possible. Plus, there is even more work/FI synergy at hand: I lead sales for my company so the more I grow, the more my company grows!

Community is key. Leverage the hive mind. Life is lived through the people in our life. We are not meant to undertake this journey alone. And the best way to go far is to go together. A digital community is great, but an In Real Life (IRL) community is even better! Either find or create a local FI community like I did and/or visit some of the major FI Meetups & Events around the world like CampFI, Chautauqua, FinCon, etc. I regularly find new strategies & inspiration for my path to FI through my local community & those I met at CampFI.

No matter where you live or what your income you can optimize your expenses & avoid lifestyle creep. I live in one of the highest costs of living places in the world (Menlo Park/Silicon Valley). Through intelligent & strategic design I have optimized & continue to optimize my expenses.

No only have I slashed my living costs, I also avoid lifestyle creep (aka lifestyle inflation). The fact is that as most people increase their income from all sources they also increase their spending on all sources. Some people want fancy cars, restaurants & bigger/nicer homes, etc. I want freedom first.

For the record, I pass no judgement on fancy cars, homes, meals, etc. I am just optimizing for my freedom first. That is my order of personal preference.

Also, for the record: I do live a somewhat unconventional life from what many might consider normal living in Silicon Valley but two important ideas come to mind: (1) I’ve always believed myself to be somewhat of a contrarian & (2) if you can live like no one else now, then you can live like no one else later. As a self-diagnosed rebel with a cause, both of these come naturally to me.

Instead of “Working Years Until Retirement” I prefer:

“Working Years Until All Paid Work Becomes Optional.”

Photo Credit: Mr.Money Mustache

Choose a keystone metric of success: I decided to focus on my Monthly Savings Rate as the overarching metric that I would use to measure my success on the path to FI. This was inspired by the life-alchemizing article “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement.” I will probably always attribute that article to my FI Awakening. After reading & internalizing that article I realized that Freedom Unlimited (the ability to only do work that you love in an amount of time that you feel is healthy & fun) was totally within my grasp and the timeline to it was purely a product of my ability to maximize this one metric!

This resulted in me getting my savings rate to 90% by the end of my first year on the path to FI. And this means I only have another 2-5 years until I reach my version of FI!! Knowing I am so close is incredibly empowering, energizing, & exciting!!

The reason this metric is so empowering is because it is in your control! It is a function of your monthly take-home-pay minus your monthly expenses. [See this article for more background on how to calculate it.]

Monthly expenses are completely in our control. We can optimize for less expensive housing, more efficient cars & commuting, eating at home more, not buying random shit we don’t really need, doing fun & creative things that are free or frugal, etc.

On the other side of the equation we can always work towards making more money through raises, commission based work, a new job with better compensation, side hustles, etc.

Ultimately, as the business management luminary Peter Drucker said,

“What gets measured gets managed.”

By using this one metric as my definition of success I was able to quickly become a man on FIRE!!

Understand & leverage the power of compounding marginal gains. Saving on internet & phone bills, reducing one’s cost of car ownership, keeping rent/mortgage as low as possible, & reducing costs wherever one can is incredibly powerful. It is amazingly powerful on both sides of the FI equation. As you reduce your annual cost of living you need less to hit your FI number AND your savings rate goes up because your monthly net take home (income minus expenses) increases, thus empowering one to save & invest more at a faster rate. This allows us to take greater advantage of what Einstein deemed the 8th wonder of the world—Compound Interest!

Keep an internal locus of control. Focus your mind & energy only on what you can control and/or have a significant level of influence over. We cannot control whether the stock market goes up or down. However, we can control our monthly expenses and we can significantly increase our monthly income through numerous ways—raises & commissions for high performance at work, acquiring rental real estate, developing side hustles, etc. I first learned about this concept from Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I further ingrained it into my consciousness by reading this article from MMM, this article from Get Rich Slowly, and studying Stoicism (that seems to be its origin). [this is my favorite book on stoicism]

FI & FU Money give us massive personal power. #FIFU empowers us to avoid worrying about financial disaster. By having FU Money you are not worried about losing your job, a recession, or some other catastrophe the Universe throws your way. With your Freedom Unlimited fund you are good to roll with the punches and can take a playful approach in all that you do in life. Being on the path to FI means you have your cost of living under control so no matter what happens you will come out okay or great. This dynamic empowers you to operate from a position of STRENGTH versus a position of FEAR.

Mentally & emotionally, when you have a FIFU plan in place, the worry associated with wondering about your job security or if your startup is going to make it begins to fade away. Even if disaster strikes you have a well-managed Stash (and maybe some side-hustles) that will empower you to weather any storm. Worry starts to transform into increasing optimism as you begin to realize that with FIFU & flexibility you can handle anything. Like I mentioned before, FI is a superpower.

The Happiness of Pursuit. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey you are on and who you are on the journey with. In one my favorite books, “The Obstacle Is The Way,” the author taught me this idea that has fundamentally changed my approach to life. That idea is:

“The process is the prize.”
— Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way

I’d add to it and say that the process & the people are the prize. Whether it’s growing a Stanford startup, growing my muscles, growing my relationship with my partner or growing my Stash’ so I can reach FI the real treasure is the journey itself and the people I am on the journey with.

This adventure that I am on is why I love my job/career so much—I work with brilliant, vibrant souls doing work that empowers me to learn & grow while living out my personal mission. Meaningful work creates a meaningful life.

On the home front, I have so much fun figuring out this FI Adventure with my FI Wife! Learning & growing together is one of the best aspects of a great relationship.

Plus, I have all these other real & virtual friends across the world with similar overarching life goals, interests & personal values. Interacting with them weekly brings life to my life!

The journey of life is just so wildly fun when you’re rolling with a powerful crew who excite & teach you new awesome stuff all the time!

There are infinite paths to FI and we each can find the way that is personally fun & exciting: I am and have always been a bit of an extremist. My Life Partner is quite a bit more balanced. When I first discovered FI I went on a rampage cutting as much non-essential spending as possible. I cut my spending to the bone in very short order. I dumbly expected my partner to follow. When she didn’t I nagged her about it. This led to bickering and breakdowns in our relationship. I stubbornly learned that her path to FI is going to be different than mine AND we can still do it together!

Now she lets me be as extreme FI as I want and I let her take her own journey. The ironic part is that as soon as I stopped worrying about her path to FI and stopped putting pressure on her she started surprising me regularly with her own FI super moves.

What we’ve since discovered is that we place different values on different things. Shocking, right? Sure, we have plenty of overlap, but we also have some key differences. Eating out is one of them. Ever since I was young I’ve severely disliked spending my money on dining out. It always felt like wastefully eating my money. I did it for much of life because I thought I had to live up to other people’s standards, but most of the time I would be left feeling like I had just done something that didn’t sit right with my true self. Now that I’ve embraced FI I realized I can be the frugal weirdo who rarely goes out to eat on his own dime. That doesn’t mean I won’t eat for free at my work or another friend’s company lunch as they are job benefits (one of the many great benefits of working in Silicon Valley). And though I enjoy great food my mindset has always been “I eat to live.”

For others, like my partner, food is an experience. And when shared with others its value is magnified. I can totally respect this. Understanding and respecting one another’s personal values is another key part of a great relationship.

I now encourage my partner to eat out with her friends and family as often as she pleases. In return, she empowers me to eat at home as much as I want. It works great for us! We both get to live our values with no judgement on the other’s actions & decision.

For the record: Even after being on the path to FI I do occasionally go out to eat and pay for it. I recently had Dim Sum with some of my Stanford Classmates, paid for my fiancé & I to eat it, and had a truly divine experience I’ll never forget (review insight about infrequency above).

Teamwork makes the dream work: Getting on page with your Life Partner and family is absolutely crucial to making the path to FI actually work. Same goes with your friends. I am still learning how to share my FI Path with my Life Partner, my family, & my non-FI friends & colleagues but so far everyone who know is on board with me being on this journey and they often make suggestions and/or create opportunities for me to fully live my FI Path! What is really awesome is that the more you team up the faster you go and the more fun you have!

Constantly Fuel the FIRE (blogs, books, podcasts, meetups, events, etc): Like anything worthwhile it takes constant cultivating to keep it alive in your life. This past year I fed my path to FI daily by reading at least one MMM article per day and listening to at least one episode of ChooseFI or The Mad Fientist each week.

Through my reading/listening program I was constantly reprogramming my mind every single day to think with a FI mindset.

I then doubled down with FI empowering books & regularly meeting with other FI people in real life through my monthly FI Meetup and attending my first CampFI with my fiancé.

More than a year later I am still keeping these cultivation habits alive daily, weekly, & monthly. Remember, you are what you consume. This includes information & experiences. So consume with empowering intent!

It’s never too late to get on the Path to FI. I started in my mid-30s, but I’ve personally met & read about many who got started in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s & beyond! They say the best to time to plant a tree is yesterday, but the second best time is today!

FI is a journey not a destination so make it as FUN as possible: I cannot emphasize just how important this one is! FI can be a very long journey and if you are miserable and not having fun while on it then you are literally wasting your life! And if you are miserable on the path to FI you will likely be miserable when you are FI.

So, don’t frugal yourself into a corner by avoiding all things that cost money. Some things and some experiences are worth every dollar you spend on them. The key is to become a Valuist—one who spends money on stuff (things & experiences) that adds real value to one’s life while optimizing for the best price.

Deep down I believe Life & FI are a game and they are meant to be played to maximize FUN! I am doing everything in my power to make this journey as fun as possible and recruiting everyone around me to have fun too whether they are on the FI Path or not. [BTW: Fun is probably tied for first for my top personal value if you haven’t figured that out yet.]

RE is optional. Traditionally F-I-R-E stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. A lot of people balk at the thought of retiring early. And in some sense I do too. I love to work, create & build out dreams. Hence, I’ve redefined what FIRE means to me. In my mind the RE is optional. As mentioned above I’m absolutely in love with my job & my career. Plus, as a founding team member of my company (employee #4) I plan to live out this Stanford Startup dream at least until we (1) go public, (2) get acquired or (3) go out of business. I’m doing everything I can to help us reach option one! I plan to continue working with our awesome company after going public as I’m having loads of fun, constantly learning/growing & I deeply believe in what we are doing

Be the Lighthouse. Be the Lantern Bearer. Be the Captain of your ship. We are all on different parts on the Path of Life and the Path to FI. Many still struggle with personal finances whether it’s dealing with debt or taxes, managing cash flow & expenses, earning & saving more, ad infinitum.

We all have to room grow in Life & FI. Nonetheless, you may be further along than someone you know well. By sharing your journey you serve another on their journey. By sharing what you are learning you can empower your family, your friends, your colleagues, your community & your world!!

We are all in this together remember? There is nothing more valuable to those struggling & lost in the dark than a bright shining beacon of light. Be that light!

And remember, even with a lighthouse or lantern we all must put in the individual work to reach it and to carry it forward for others when we get there. Gods help those who help themselves. Don’t expect someone else to row your boat and don’t row someone else’s boat. Teach them to row their own boat through the darkness towards the light. Same concept as the parable of giving a man a fish to feed him for a day versus teaching him to fish so that he can eat for a lifetime. The best way to do this is by leading by example & sharing openly about what has & has not worked for you.

Be the Lighthouse. Be the Lantern Bearer. Be the Captain of your ship.

FI Year 2 & Beyond:

Some current & future FI goals include:

  • Have massive amounts of fun on the path to FI with my FI Wife (my #1 goal).

  • Serve as a FI leading example to family & friends.

  • Continue to build my IRL & online FI community.

  • Maintain 80-90%+ savings rate.

  • Automate more.

  • Take more trips with points.

  • Reduce monthly cellphone bill.

  • Get an estate plan in place for both parents.

  • Develop additional side hustle that generates $500+/month.

  • Explore other investment strategies (real estate, peer-to-peer, etc)

  • Reach my FI in 2-5 years.

Now that I’ve completely reshaped my money story from one of victimhood to one of ever-increasing growth & victory the future is bright & full of possibility! I’m thoroughly enjoying the new money story I tell about myself, TO MYSELF, & to others!

Is my work done? Heck no! This is a lifelong practice and I’m excited & grateful to be on the lifelong journey—continuously growing stronger & wiser! This empowers me to not only serve myself, but to also serve others at the same damn time! How awesome is that?! It’s like having your cake, eating it, and still being in awesome shape!

I’d love to hear from readers about your Money Story & your path to FI as I’m always looking for thoughtful reflections, new strategies, ideas & insights! I’m also open to new goals & areas for exploration! Please comment below or drop me a note on one of my socials!

With love & alchemy,

Justin David Carl—aka Mr. Money Alchemist (MMA)**

End Notes:

*Good chance there are more achievements, milestones & insights, but I’m still mentally reviewing the first year. I will update the article with additional ones as they are mentally recognized.

**I’m officially claiming the nickname “Mr. Money Alchemist (MMA)” in homage to Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) as he has been such a massive & awesome empowering influence in my life & continues to be every single day.

Follow my Instagram (pictures below) for loads of empowering content or interact with me on Facebook & LinkedIn.

Facing Financial Shame: How I Overcame Some Serious Money Darkness

I tried running for as long as I could. Away from the fear & darkness. But eventually the weight of it all got so heavy I could no longer move forward. And this is when I decided to turn around and finally face it. Once and for all.

I've been virtually MIA online since August 2017. This is in stark contrast to the fact that I was blogging regularly, posting on Instagram & Facebook religiously, as well as going Live (aka video blogging in real time). This was my daily/weekly habit previous to my abrupt disappearance.

So where the hell did I go...?

The short answer is that I went to clean up my personal finances. They were a fuckin' mess. Unpaid taxes. Unfiled taxes from a few years. School loans. And credit card debt.

Here is the long answer:


I came back to finish my Stanford degree in 2013. Instead of paying money I owed for taxes for 2011 & 2012 I decided to defer and make small monthly payments with interest. This way I could keep the cash for living expenses as I wouldn't be working for at least a year. I had my own business so taxes weren't automatically taken out of my monthly income.

Though this strategy worked well initially, it ended up leading me to make things much worse. When it came time to do my taxes for 2013 I pushed them off, sort of feeling that I had gotten away with not paying them in 2011 & 2012. I realize this was untrue as I was still paying on them monthly, but squarely facing your finances can be woefully scary when you have no money coming in.

When I finished up Stanford in 2014 I joined a startup and wasn't making much money for the first year or more. So when it came time to do my taxes for 2014 & 2015 I put them off again & again. I stupidly told myself I would take care of them "later."

Well, later never came. Or rather it did, but I still didn't take care of them. I let it get even worse. Even at the end of 2016, despite making pretty good money, I shied away from getting caught up on my taxes. By this time the shear number of years of taxes I had to clean up scared the hell out of me and I continued to try to hide from them. The mess was too big to even begin.

Plus, it felt so good to finally have money accruing in the bank. In truth, I knew that a good portion of it would need to go towards paying taxes and other debts but I still wasn't ready to face it.

It would have to get worse for me to finally take action.

One day I was looking over my growing finances and noticed that over $20K had been taken out of my business account by the State of California. That sure was a wake-up call!


I started Stanford when I was 20 and took out my first school loan. Fortunately, I qualified for a decent amount of financial aid & scholarship so I didn't have to take out too much money. Unfortunately, despite making some pretty amazing money during my 8-year stint working in Hollywood Nightlife I never paid them off. Although I did a decent job of making the minimum payments I was much more interested in "living the life." Or in other words, the more money I made the more I spent. This is also known as "lifestyle inflation."

15 years later these student loans were still eating away at me financially, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.


About 6-months after coming back to Stanford I asked my girlfriend (now fiancé) to move up from LA and join me in Menlo Park, California. This meant leaving her current income and starting over here. I was still finishing school (no income) and to make matters worse, Menlo Park has one of the highest costs of living in the world.

Though we had some money saved we were soon using the credit card more & more to make ends meet. It got bad pretty quick. Soon we were unable to make the minimum payment and had to do what is called "pay over time" where you essentially pay only a part of your minimum payment and defer the rest for later.

The credit card company loves this because it means they get to charge you even more interest on an even higher balance. We took it so far they eventually disallowed us from using pay-over-time. We were sitting on about $24K worth of credit card debt when they cut us off.


  • Unpaid taxes from 2011 & 2012
  • Unfiled & unpaid taxes from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
  • School loans: ~$10K
  • Credit card debt: ~$24K

I won't go into details of just how much I owed for all the tax years as I am still new to sharing my personal finances in such a public way, but let's just say it was a lot. Plus I was six years behind!

At this point you may be thinking, "Good god! Who even admits to being so far behind publicly?!"

Answer: a life alchemist who is on a mission to empower people to transform & self-actualize. Who better to be a lantern-bearer in the financial darkness than someone who has spent years crawling around in the muck & the mire, intimately getting to know it, and ultimately discovering the light within.

I'm definitely not the only one who has gotten behind on their finances. And I won't be the last. I believe that by sharing my vulnerability & ultimately my recovery it will provide others an opening to do their own recovery work in this crucial life area.


Being in debt & behind on your finances sucks. It is soul-sucking and it gnaws away at your life. It stains anything good you have going. An ever looming shadow lurking over all that shines. Trust me, I know. I've been carrying around the shame and energetic weight of unfinished taxes since 2011 and I've had debt since 2002. It's only gotten heavier and scarier over the years as I've pushed it to the side to deal with "later."

Well, later finally did come. The shame and accompanying pain become too much to bear. It literally caused me to creatively shutdown. Hence my disappearance as a blogger/vlogger & online force of transformation. How could I encourage others to do their "work" if I was running from my own opportunity to heal, grow & transform?

Deep down I knew that in order to move into the next level of my life I would finally have to clean up my financial mess. It was one of the key messages that was delivered to me during my Vision Quest. Yet, even after the most transformative experience of my life to date I still put it off for a few more months. Instead I took the fire and used it to push myself forward creatively.

Nonetheless, the call to face the darkness eventually became too loud to ignore. So I shut down externally and focused internally. And that's where I've been. Putting in the work to heal & recover.

But even before this I was laying the groundwork. I needed both the internal focus and the pre-work to get through it. 

I would love to say that it all happened in a perfectly linear order, but real life isn't that simple. Instead, I had to reach a certain level of pain in addition to having specific awakenings, learnings & experiences occur before it all came together.

In no particular order...

Here are my steps I used to reclaim my financial power:

1. Define your why:

Before I could even begin to tackle this mountain of darkness I had to get clear on my why. Why did I want to get my finances cleaned up? 

For me it was pretty simple. I was tired of dragging around this weight. Feeling afraid. Feeling trapped. Feeling powerless.

I wanted to be free & secure. I wanted my power back.

At an even higher level, I wanted personal finance to be one of my strengths so I could inspire others to find their own freedom & power. This would allow me to further deliver upon my personal mission. Once I knew this the next part was to...

2. Share the darkness:

I started with my fiancé. Even though I was afraid she would judge me I knew that I needed to tell someone otherwise I would only continue to fall deeper. I had to admit that I had a problem. You see, shame loves secrets. This is how shame controls us. It keeps us separated, alone, disconnected & powerless. Yet, when we have the courage to share our darkness we realize that those who love us unconditionally don't judge us. Instead they embrace us. My fiancé listened compassionately, she consoled me, and then she opened the door to the next step (#3).

Sharing with one person allowed me to share with others. I shared my dark secret with other family members and close friends and quickly realized that they all still loved & accepted me. They did not turn their back on me. I think consciously we all know this, but subconsciously we fear that we will lose those we love most if we share too much of our darkness. Actively & openly sharing breaks us free from this subconscious self-imprisonment.

The more I shared my darkness the more its hold over me lessened. This in turn opened me up to the next step.

3. Get help:

When you get behind or you are buried underneath something you have no idea how to tackle find someone who knows how to get through it and leverage their expertise. My fiancé introduced me to her friend's tax accountant who turned out to be a total tax rockstar. I had no idea where to even start, but this accountant was a complete pro. Step-by-step she helped me get each tax year cleaned up.

4. Action cures fear:

I did my best to do something every day that would force me to directly face my financial fear & shame. I worked on my taxes. I called my accountant when I was confused or unsure what to do next. I read personal finance blogs. I listened to personal finance podcasts. Eventually, the fear fades when you embrace it often enough.

5. Set new goals & get inspired:

During the time I was getting my taxes cleaned up I decided that I no longer wanted to just be great at making money. I also wanted to be amazing at managing my money. With this new goal new sources of inspiration began to show up. I discovered the infamous Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) and read his article "The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement." This one article fundamentally changed my thinking about personal finance and got me hooked on the subject.

Fueled by my newfound personal finance addiction I stumbled upon another MMM article titled "News Flash: Your Debt is an Emergency." After reading it I was super inspired and I paid off all my school loans & credit card debt in one day. I literally face-punched my debt into the ground with one haymaker.

6. Find your financial tribe & continuously learn:

Thanks to Mr. Money Mustache's ridiculous & hilarious persona (and awesome story-telling) I finally fell in love with personal finance and the concept of Financial Independence (FI). The definition I like the best is having wealth to cover expenses indefinitely without having to work. I don't necessarily want to stop working anytime soon as I am having a ton of fun building Oh My Green as one of the founding team-members. Nonetheless, having a nest egg (or Stash) that covers all of my living expenses would bring a level of freedom & security never before realized. Becoming a multi-millionaire in the next 5-15 years would also satisfy a childhood dream.

Through MMM I discovered a powerful tribe of people pursuing financial independence & early retirement (much earlier than 65). The FI tribe knows how to get there faster with more consistency than any other I've come across. Plus their emphasis on freedom is right in line with my personal values. There is something magical and powerful about surrounding yourself with others on similar paths with similar values. And it radically increases the speed at which you learn & move along your journey.

I am now regularly geeking out on saving money, investing, retirement accounts, travel hacking, tax optimization & numerous other wealth-building strategies. All because I found a tribe that makes personal finance fun and exciting for me.


I still have a long way to go on my personal finance & wealth accumulation journey, but I can happily say that I am 100% debt free & completely caught up on all my taxes (filed & paid). I've also made fierce gains on growing the Stash, rapidly increasing my net worth & pumping up my financial muscles.

So, no matter how far behind you are financially know that it's never too late to get caught back up and begin getting ahead. Through my personal study of those in the FI community I've encountered numerous stories of real people coming back from 100s of thousands of dollars in debt. Even if you think you are too far behind know that you are not. And you are not alone.

Feel free to follow the steps I outlined above and add in your own. If you know of or discover any useful tools, resources, or steps please share them in the comments at the very bottom of the page. I'm always looking to improve my own process and share with others!

In alchemy & service,

Justin David Carl 🌒


Cover Photo by Glass Locket Film, Suit by Vesey Exclusive

Alchemical Resources:

  1. Mr. Money Mustache. A leading figure in the FI community. His writing is hilarious. If you are anything like me it will make you enjoy personal finance. Fair warning: he is pretty extreme. I've found that by studying the extreme and creating a workable version for myself leaves me in place much further along than where I was before. If he seems too extreme find another personal finance voice that works for you.
  2. Rockstar Finance. This site aggregates popular personal finance blog articles from across the web. It's a great place to find some personal finance personalities/stories/journeys that resonate & truly inspire you no matter where you're at in life.
  3. ChooseFI Podcast. Best podcast on Financial Independence I've discovered so far. Start from the episode one and run through them all. It will provide a deep & well-rounded education in personal finance. It regularly fills in the gaps in my personal finance education. Regular listening also keeps me personally motivated each week to take action on building my wealth.
  4. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed To Be & Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. This book is not necessarily about money or personal finance but it deals powerfully with shame and that is something that almost always accompanies money in some way or form.