How to Retire by 35

TLDR; The way to retire earlier than usual retirement age is to build up a personal financial portfolio that pays you enough to pay for your outgoings. Lean FIRE is the concept of maximising passive income and minimising outgoings as much as possible. I managed this by age by piling up my savings into a flat that’s rented out, and now mortgage free. I also scaled down my expenditures by moving out of expensive London and back into my Dad’s house. A few years ago, I would have regarded this as a massive step back in the progression of my life, but now I’m happy with it.

More than a few people have expressed interest to me in being able to stop working, either altogether or just to get a bit more free time in order to do the things they want. Something other than their job that seemingly consumes their entire lives. Either by having to work crazy hours, or so stressful that they can’t think of anything aside from work in their free time. And usually when they hear my story there’s always at least a couple of things they find desirable for themselves or at the very least, somewhat entertaining.

By far the biggest impact on my daily life has been the decision to stop working full time and work on ways of living without the need of a regular job. The ‘grand-vision’ seems to continually change and evolve over time. Also by reading up on other people’s opinions and actions it’s helped me to craft my own vision of what I’d like for myself.

Certainly the path so far has certainly had its twists and turns, with countless roadblocks and seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

Something that I’d like to accomplish is to be able to show other people that it is definitely possible to make changes they want, and that in fact it’s far more possible than they expect. It’s not a skill I feel I have at this point but it’s becoming apparent to me that when I’m writing that that’s an outcome that I’d like to achieve. 

I watched a Jordan Peterson lecture clip the other day which seemed quite agreeable to me. Instead of attaining the high goal or achievement, It might not be on a person’s radar at all. Instead, the goal is simply not to be in misery. Instead of deciding how to upgrade to that new Audi R8 from your current Ford Focus, the goal might be how to afford the bus fare to get to the supermarket and then how to be able to afford to feed a family of 4 on food stamps. Whilst I can’t quite say I’ve lived a life quite that meagre, the premise of feeling like you’ve ended up in the bottom of a pit with no discernible way to get out is definitely a regular experience I managed to find myself in! And the path of getting out is often never the one I thought it would be, or what people told me when I asked for help or advice.

So instead of framing ‘Being retired at 35’ as an end goal after a series of deliberate and successful positive steps, it might be worthwhile to spend some time looking at the mistakes and traps I fell into, got out of, and then try my best not to fall into again in order to not have to work again.

I get comments from people saying that they would love to not have a job as well, but then list off their barriers in their own lives. I must say that 9 times out of 10, they do have pretty convincing arguments that mean that they couldn’t just give up their job. Things like having kids, a mortgage to pay off, debts to pay, having to keep their CV current. I’ve actually had a recruiter tell me that it was dangerous to leave big gaps in your CV.

In his book Unscripted (definitely a recommended read), MJ Demarco talks about people being ‘In Deep’ – That is, they are stuck in the throes of what the majority would call ‘being a responsible adult’ Whereby a full time stressful job is absolutely necessary to maintain the current lifestyle for yourself and dependants, and the alternative to having a job and paying for these necessities would be worse than not having them.

Some of the specific issues people complained to me about (or I have had the very same complaints)

  • Job is boring or stressful (or stressful because it’s boring)
  • Can’t give up the job because bills, mortgage or loans
  • Can’t give up career because it would throw away years of time studying and working
  • Can’t stop working now because the job market is poor
  • Can’t get a job doing what I want because the job market is poor
  • Missing out on other opportunities because of the current job
  • Can’t seem to catch a break
  • The job used to be good, but just keeps on getting more and more stressful
  • Want to go travelling, but can’t because job
  • Want to get out of the city, but can’t because of the job they’re doing now or can’t find a job in the place
  • Family commitments have trapped someone in a situation they don’t want to be in
  • Don’t know what to do next (i.e. what to do after school)
  • Didn’t know what to do after school, and fell into situation or job they now know they don’t want to be in!

Broadly speaking, I see 2 major reasons why these sorts of things happen, In my case and others:

  • Not taking care of personal finances or facing financial disaster
  • Not aware of or seriously considering other options there are to take

I think I was born with the curse (or gift, possibly) of never being able to put up with frustrations. The good side to that is that whenever problems exist, it’s developed a mindset in me that I always feel strongly to solve that problem. And that works so long as the problem has a solution. The problem is that not all problems have solutions, so inevitably I end up with a problem that can’t be solved, and that’s frustrating! As a result, I’ve jumped around a few different situations, places and jobs. Luckily the years of dealing with frustrating situations has taught me patterns to deal with the daily grind, culminating in 2019 with the recognition that I was pretty close to never having to work again, unless by choice.

By the time I was made redundant from my job in 2018, I had built up enough of a savings portfolio to be able to live off the income generated from it. This was largely due to the rental income of my flat back in my hometown, whose mortgage I had paid off a couple of years before, and the compound interest of a savings portfolio.

It still wasn’t enough to live in London, as rental prices were just too high, But by the end of 2019 I had resolved to move out of London and back to my dad’s house in my hometown.

Some might see that as a massive step backwards. And I guess in some ways it is. It’s leaving a massive gap in my CV, giving up my personal space and moving out of a big city. And I’m no longer living with my wife, and I’m now back in my bedroom that I grew up in!

But in other ways its the best decision I ever made. And it’s only just the start. Not working for a full year now has shown me that there is a whole world of opportunity out there, without the financial restrictions I had before.

In some ways it’s actually a harder life, because no-one is there to provide a structure of what to do every day, I have to create that myself. If I choose to lie in bed all day and watch Netflix, then I get to do so. And I’m loving it. Or if I want to write a blog that no-one will read, then I get to do that too!

The great thing about this is that the activities I do are less bound by the financial requirements they were in the past. In 2013 I started making apps for studying languages and then shifted into Plants Dictionaries. The Plants thing was the more financially successful line, but I hate gardening, so I spend less time on them. I stopped feeling guilty about playing PlayStation, watching TV or otherwise ‘wasting my time’ by doing ‘non-productive’ activities.

As luck would have it, my old classmate asked me to help out on a software project of his in Japan, so I’m now doing some part-time work doing project work remotely. Which has actually worked out extremely well, given the pandemic and Lockdown state of the world. I can do a little paid work, limiting the exposure of daily work-grind frustrations and still have the freedom to do what I want, which may include doing nothing, if I want to.

App Recommendation

AppSales –

This app lists temporarily reduced price and free apps on Android. I use this in conjunction with the Google Rewards App in order to get premium apps for free or cheap, and very seldom paying with my own money.

There’s wishlists and different lists for New sales, Free, and HIghlights. I go through all the lists every few days to see if there’s anything that takes my fancy.

It’s a fun way to get new app recommendations, and generally speaking you can be assured of slightly higher quality than free apps. The major difference I’ve found is that paid-for apps tend not to be crammed with ads and In-app purchases. This is particularly true of games, where it seems to be the norm with games now to have ads between every level and every time you die.

Youtube Channel Recommendation

Japanese Ammo With Misa –

I actually met Misa in real life! The first interaction I ever had was when my friend asked me to go to a London meetup where she was hosting a fan meetup in a park in London. Maybe 20 people or so were there. Quite a diverse group of people. It was my first time to meet an actual youtuber! I think at the time she had around 80 thousand subscribers, now it’s something like 300k.

Afterwards I looked up the channel. It’s a Japanese learning channel with a bunch of beginner level videos at the start but then moving on to interesting points of Japanese language. I’m not sure you could use the channel solely to learn Japanese, (I studied initially with classes in Uni) but what’s good is that there are videos talking about points that come up in casual fluent speaking that would never really come up in textbooks. Of course, by living in Japan and speaking Japanese and having the right friends who would take the time to explain small points. But it’s quite entertaining and informative in a relaxed manner if learning up conversational Japanese is your thing

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Using Agile Sprints and Trello boards for everything

In my adult life I’ve had a few cycles of not working and then working again over long periods. One of the issues I have is making good use of the time that’s not managed for me. Over the years I think I might have improved very slightly, but the basic answer I keep coming back to is that I need a sense of time scarcity in order to make me value the free time I actually have. As a full-time employee, that sense of time scarcity is strong, and very debilitating.

During the times I haven’t worked, I’ve inevitably ended up getting lazier and lazier until I get to a point where I am disgusted with myself that I’m not accomplishing enough to go give in and ‘get a job’

The last year or so has actually been quite a strange sensation, because I’m doing part-time work and still have a whole load of time which, for me, seems to strike the right balance. I am ‘technically’ productive because I can point to the paid active work I’m doing and actually earn money for. This satisfies the people around me asking what I’m doing with myself and making sure I’m becoming a bum. Yet the hippy side of me is still satisfied because there’s still time and freedom to ‘do my own thing’

There is still some fine-tuning to do, and there probably always will be, but it’s the closest thing I’ve ever got to that strikes the right balance for me.

The last 4 organisations I’ve worked for have used a kanban Agile style workflow, and this I’ve found to be the best way of organising work for programmers by far. It allows the freedom of programmers to do what they want in their own time, but yet also encompasses a plan by managers to not only be able to specify what work gets done and when, but allows tracking of progress and gives better control of the overall direction of a project. Gone are the days of ‘It’ll be done when it’s done’ (hopefully)

Something I’ve found when I ‘do my own thing’ is that I have a hard time switching between different ‘levels’ of tasks that ultimately results in not getting any work done at all. Programming, on a computer, is a very ‘ground-level’ task. Trying to think about the design flow between different screens in an app is not easy when you’re in a text editor writing code, much less the overall structure and flow from a UX point of view.

From the experience of working to Agile workflows in professional companies, I decided to apply the management techniques of that to my own projects. Instead of using Storyboard in xcode to plan out the flow of my app I switched to pen and paper to sketch out userflows and screens, and use a google word document to capture ideas and features I was looking for. From that, high level user stories and programming tasks were generated and then I could then put them into a backlog in Trello. When each week would begin, I’d shift some tasks into a ‘Todo this sprint’ column, and break down the tasks into smaller tasks to give more clarity as to each task. Sometimes even planning tasks were included in the top-level plan, which themselves spawned now tasks to either add to the backlog or to ‘this week’ tasks to do.

I found the process of doing this helped me to see the work from a high-level planning perspective, rather than get entangled with ground-level work and have to shift mind-sets on the fly when doing the actual work itself. By planning out a week of work for myself up-front, it even gave me a better sense of progression as I worked through it.

One thing I didn’t really consider, but has since become really important to me, is to be able to have a mix of ‘easy’ and ‘challenging’ tasks, that I can choose between at any time that suits me. In the morning, before the caffeine has kicked in, I’m usually not in the best mindset to be solving harder challenges, but I would be able to do easier things like change the colour of the background, or bump the version number up. This is especially important these days of keeping away the distractions of Netflix and Playstation, so that I don’t end up wasting the free time I have.

It’s very noticeable the difference in weeks when I’ve planned versus the weeks I haven’t. Not just in terms of productivity, but my feeling during the days. If I have a purpose, then it really does give a better sense of the day and I feel like I get more out of it. By all means, having the freedom to sit in my pyjamas and watch Netflix and play Playstation all day is great, but no-one wants to be bored and have nothing to do except Netflix and Playstation. This is especially relevant during the these Lockdown days when so many of our physical freedoms have been lost.

Following with some of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology, I’ve even started to add in tasks which have nothing to do with programming, but rather just my general life. So tasks like ‘Search and buy house insurance’, ‘Vacuum the house’, ‘Send a message to a friend I haven’t talked to for a while’ are in my Trello board. The tasks themselves aren’t exactly difficult, but being able to see them in a list for me to knock off allows me to ‘cognitively distribute’ the distraction of having to remember a list of tasks and also know that they have been captured somewhere and won’t get forgotten.

App recommendation

Google Rewards –

I wrote about this a long time ago, but it’s still functional and I still make use of the app. The app uses your location history to determine what shops you’ve been to recently and then asks you questions for feedback on recent visits. Not exactly something you should consider if you value your privacy, however you do get a few pennies for each questionnaire you do, that can be used as credit in the Google Play marketplace. After enough credit has built up, you can then buy premium apps using the credit. This way you can still buy apps without having to actually pay for them. The developer will even get a kickback as the credit you spend on their apps will go to them.

I’ve been doing this for a few years, done 525 surveys and earned a total of £79. That money has gone into the app-store to buy apps that I wouldn’t otherwise have bought. Specifically, it’s helpful during this time of finding new apps to write about.

Youtube recommendation

Gaming Historian –

A Scottish-American Youtuber who makes great quality researched videos about particular aspects of the games industry. Some memorable videos have been ‘The History of Super Mario 2’ (In the west, the Super Mario 2 game we got was a very different game than the one Japan got) and ‘History of LJN’ (After years of AVGN videos lambasting LJN games, an interesting in-depth look into the company behind all those terrible games)

They are well-researched videos, interesting and well produced. I always jump on board to watch a new video from this channel when I get the notification.

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