Book Review – Choose FI Your Blueprint to Financial Independence

Chris Mamula (Can I Retire Yet?), Brad Barrett (ChooseFI), and Jonathan Mendonsa (ChooseFI) wrote the book together. The primary author of the book is Chris. He quotes Brad and Jonathan throughout the book driving home different points. They use material from the Choose FI podcast hosted by Brad and Jonathan.

In the intro Chris shares his motivation for reaching out to Brad and Jonathan to compile this book. “This is the book I have been seeking for the past fifteen years and have not been able to find. This is the book that could have saved me six, if not seven, figures in financial mistakes and years of angst and unhappiness that I experienced on the path to FI because I was pursuing the wrong things.”

They categorize topics into one of the three levers of personal finance: Spend Less, Earn More, Invest Better. There is also a Get Started section. Below are a few quotes from each section and what they mean to me.

Get Started:

  • “Homes serve as status symbols. Time and money are spent to keep them up by homeowners who rarely have time to enjoy them. Financed cars depreciate while being used primarily to transport people to and from work.” – This resonates with me right now. We are in the midst of a car purchase, so I am thinking about how our family uses cars. I’ve been working from home for the last year. And I’ve learned the type of car you drive doesn’t matter, when you drive under 500 miles a year.
  • “FI is not about running away from the things you hate in life. It’s about running toward something.” – I have many interests and hobbies. Board games, blogging, weightlifting, basketball, soccer, reading and trumpet to name a few. During my work week I struggle to balance these and run out of time every week.
  • “What you spend, not what you earn, determines how much you need to achieve FI.” – This realization was the catalyst for my FI journey. As a financial advisor, I asked a thousand prospects and clients about their finances. Most had vague ideas about expenses and spent the majority of what they made. A good savings rate was 10%. Now I realize the importance of savings rate. And increasing the gap between income and expenses is the top goal for us. This takes us to the levers we have to reach that goal.

Spend Less:

  • “I love being part of the stealth wealth community. We’re a community of people who don’t wear our wealth on our sleeves. Instead, we strive to save 30 to 50 percent of our income and are willing to be slightly more intentional to do it.” – I appreciate this aspect of our finances. I am comfortable driving old cars, wearing plain clothes and eating basic food.
  • Most will find at least three areas to cut recurring spending while improving quality of life: insurance, cable TV, and cell phones. Those who Choose FI consistently spend less than those on the standard path in these areas.” – I view these as the 2nd tier of recurring expenses. The first tier: food, shelter and transportation. From the 4% rule every $100 eliminated from our monthly budget is $30k less we need in retirement assets. This math challenges us to reduce these recurring expenses.

Earn More:

  • “Many people find themselves crushed by student loan debt. Often, they’re stuck paying interest for loans they acquired before they were even old enough to buy a drink legally. And many have degrees that don’t even give them marketable skills. They end up having to take jobs unrelated to their field of study to start paying back the loans. This traps many people on the standard path.” – One of my primary reasons for pursuing FI is to gain vocational freedom. Many people trap themselves into having work the highest paying job possible. Regardless of what this does to your personal life. Once we structure our financial life around that income level we’re stuck.

To help my kids avoid this, I will be very intentional with their academic and career discussions. And we will always weigh the cost of academic decisions with the long-term view in mind.

  • “What if someone is considering a journalism degree? Wettrick said, Start a freaking blog!” – Explore you career interests by actually doing the work before committing resources. Internships provide this experience and remain a great option. And in today’s digital age, you can create work samples online. Employers want to talk to young people who show initiative.

Invest Better:

  • “It’s common to think investing is confusing, overwhelming and impossible to do on your own. This is not an accident. There is a tremendous incentive for the financial industry to promote feelings of inadequacy, fear, and confusion in investors. Creating complexity and anxiety allows the financial advice industry to justify their existence.” –Mamula explains his bad experience with his financial advisor recommending high fee products. I don’t think this industry is that different from any other. There are good characters and bad. The products that financial advisors offer have higher fees than index funds. That is how they get compensated. We, the consumers, must decide if the service they provide is worth the cost.
  • “The best way to avoid behavioral mistakes is to develop systems, remove yourself and your emotions, and allow the process to do work for you.” – System development is one of the great human superpowers.

The book explains the Choose FI philosophy well. I like the structure of layering different strategies into one of the three broad levers: Spend Less, Earn More, Invest Better. Bonus idea for a revised edition: add an impact score to each of the techniques.

This book is an excellent introduction to Financial Independence. I’m a few years down the path having consumed hundreds of hours of content on the subject. So, I cruised through the book at first read – recognizing this as a review of the Choose FI philosophy. Right now, I am seeking 201 or 301 FI level material.

Who is this book for?

I am comfortable handing this book to anyone.

  • Especially people early in their career or approaching the college decision. They have so much to gain from this knowledge.
  • I would also recommend this to anyone in their middle years. Many have a big income shovel but aren’t using it effectively.
  • Or those who are recently out of debt and looking for the next financial goal.
  • Or those in the traditional rat-race, burned out and without a vision that doesn’t leave them working their 9-5 to 65.

For the young pros: How would you like to structure your financial life to give you flexibility to pursue your passions in your prime years? And avoid a mid-life crisis?

For the mid-lifers: How would you like to take control back in your life? Incremental changes will provide you hope and purpose.

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