Validation isn’t the goal but it sure feels good

When my friend, Eric, and I set out to develop our Two Sides of FI channel on YouTube, I wasn’t sure what to expect – in so many ways. Eric is a very experienced YouTuber, and his business channel has nearly 900K subscribers. On the other hand, I had no experience in content creation. So I have certainly leaned heavily on him on this journey in quite a few ways given his expertise, and I’m thankful for all his help along the way. One thing Eric has been consistent about is the value in keeping true to our “why” – that is, the reasons we were undertaking this project and what we hoped to gain from it. I’m more convinced than ever that this is the best guidance for anyone undertaking similar work.

Starting out on our YouTube journey

How did this project get started? If memory serves me right, we’d already been having conversations about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) for a year or so. Eric had discovered the FIRE path through conversations with me, after which he dove in head-first. During one of those chats, he raised the idea of us doing a YouTube channel together, to capture and share the kinds of conversations we were already having. That would be great for us of course, but we earnestly hoped others would find value in it too. We didn’t see any channels like ours out there, so this seemed to be a good opportunity.

We certainly didn’t set out on this project as a business venture in which we hoped to earn lots of money. Sure, we know that once we crossed YouTube’s magical threshold (currently: 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours), our channel would be eligible for monetization via advertisements. But this was definitely a “nice to have”, and if it got to the point where a bit of ad revenue would pay for our podcast / website hosting and other associated fees, that would be great.

Rather, our goal was first and foremost, education. That is, sharing what we had learned: our mistakes, our successes, and our many (many) questions we still had about all things personal finance, retirement, etc. We do not claim to know everything, but with our pre-FIRE + post-FIRE perspectives, we thought we would offer valuable information and opinions. In the best case, this content would help other FIRE aspirants be better informed, hopefully avoiding some of our missteps, and be better equipped to ask great questions and take good decisions for themselves. Personally, I also hoped this would include building a community around our channel, one with whom we could engage and from whom we and others could learn.

Finding and engaging with an audience

I knew full well that putting yourself out there on a forum like YouTube means that you are open to feedback of all kinds: some earnest and thoughtful, while others would be negative or even downright nasty (don’t feed the trolls!). I’d been through this before both personally, and in the workplace where I’d played an active role in company social media. But I still hoped that this one-to-many video (and podcast) format would lead to productive 1:1 engagement.

Why? I guess it’s for a few reasons. First, that kind of interaction is fascinating to me. People are interesting and all of us are unique despite our many similarities. I truly love learning about the lives of others. Next, it can be very gratifying. Getting the feedback that someone else values the work you’re doing, and finds merit in it such that they take some of their precious time to connect with you, is really powerful. And lastly, it’s validating. Positive engagement is a measure that your time is being well spent, and that you are having the impact you desired.

Slow and steady wins the race

Given the time it takes to build an audience and for the almighty and mysterious YouTube algorithm to figure out to whom it should best serve your videos, I knew this wouldn’t be fast. And Eric has always been really honest about that with me, in efforts to temper my expectations. While he has made it super clear that our channel had actually grown fairly quickly relatively speaking, it felt rather slow until just a few weeks ago. We generally received few comments or likes, and our subscription rate seemed to be just “ok” to me.

Please don’t be mistaken – personally, I felt really great about what Eric and I were doing. I’ve always looked forward to our weekly filming calls, as I get so much out of our conversations. I also love how much I’ve learned about podcast production, video editing, and all the backend work required to run a YouTube channel. I’ve grown a ton since Eric has pushed me to improve my skills! And many times I have earnestly said that I’d still be making these videos with him even if we didn’t have any audience at all. I’ve truly enjoyed it and found the work personally very rewarding. This is the most important thing I’ve done since leaving the workplace, and I value this project tremendously.

Surprise!

And then over the last few weeks, things started to change. As one who watches the metrics more than I should – despite Eric’s clear and consistent guidance not to, I saw something different one day. Just like he and others had told me would happen, one of our recent videos started getting a lot more views than usual – a trend that then extended to all our episodes, and from there the ball really got rolling. All the metrics started climbing: views, likes, subscribers – and for me very importantly, viewer comments. As I write this we now have nearly 6,000 subscribers and 200K views. Small potatoes in the grand scheme, but pretty exciting for our little channel!

Suddenly, we were getting hundreds of comments. It’s been such a pleasure reading (nearly) all of them and responding. It’s so gratifying seeing what content resonates with viewers along with the questions our episodes raise. In addition, we get to learn from the experience of those who view our content and then share their own stories. This was exactly what I was hoping for – and it seemingly came from out of nowhere. Sure, we’ve had to ban a few trolls as well, but that comes with the territory. But this experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

Importantly, I know there’s no guarantee this trend will continue. In fact, I fully expect this crazy pace of growth to slow down. But in all honesty, it doesn’t matter one bit. We’ve got a great thing going, have started to build a strong community, and that feels really good. Eric and I have a ton of future show ideas (and are getting many more from our audience!) in addition to those we’ve already put out or have recorded but not yet aired. And I feel better than ever about the return I’m getting on the time we spend together working on this show.

Looking ahead and reflecting

What comes next for the channel? I have no idea. Eric and I talk often about other things we can bring to bear, modifications of what we’re doing now, and so on. Above all, it’s going to be fun, no doubt. And this work has already inspired an idea for at least one solo project for me. If nothing else, our experience to date reminds me that change is certain and it comes when you least expect it. Today I watched an outtakes clip from a recent episode where we talked about making this show. It’s super interesting for me to see what I was thinking about then. Much hasn’t changed over a few months, but some definitely has.

One of my favorite things about this project is we don’t need to do it. It’s not an assigned work project with deadlines nor will it be part of any future performance review. Put simply, Eric and I make Two Sides of FI because we love it. And it’s a decent amount of work – particularly for him, as he’s still running his business and bears the burden of nearly all of the video editing, which is the real heavy lifting of the channel.

We are proud of what we are doing with this project and that is the ultimate validation. As Eric and I recently discussed, it feels really great to produce this show. We are so thankful that others value it too, and are humbled by their kind words. Thank you all for your support and engagement to help make what we are doing even better. We appreciate you all tremendously.

Here’s to whatever comes next!

How we decided where to live post-retirement: A discussion

Part 1:

Part 2:

We didn’t just throw a dart at a map and end up on the Central Coast of California, did we? Of course not! Those who have been following this blog for a while may recall that I’ve written about this topic previously. Re-reading that post, I think there’s plenty of good content in that article and I’d still recommend checking it out. But we can always improve on our work, right? To that end, our most recent Two Sides of FI episodes are a two-part series on this important topic. And in my opinion, the conversational format of our YouTube channel is a great match for this subject!

Of course not everyone chooses to relocate in retirement. They may well have a paid-off house in a town they love, have built up a network of good friends, and are very happy where they are. But particularly in the case of those who are on the FIRE path and elect to retire early, a move is often in the cards. This is commonly the case when one lives in a (very) high cost of living area, like the San Francisco Bay Area – as I did. My family really enjoyed the eight years we spent there, but had always planned to move to a lower cost of living area once I stopped working. That’s a great starting point, but how to proceed with the search to find a new home town, particularly when your options are so numerous?

To learn more about the process my family followed and how my show partner, Eric, is doing the same, please check out the videos linked above – or the podcast version (parts 1 and 2) If a move is definitely or likely to be in your own future plans, I think you’ll find value in the approach we discuss. If you would like a free copy of the “Where to Live” tool that we discuss, you can find one for download at the episode’s show notes.

Invest early and often to ensure your financial goals are met!

Last week we posted “Don’t Make These Financial Mistakes on the Path to FIRE!“, our longest Two Sides of FI video to date. We had so much to say on the topic that even with splitting our edited footage into two parts (part 2 is now live as well!), it was still long. Why? It’s simple: none of us come into this world as personal finance wizards. We stumble through life making financial mistakes in assorted ways. Most of us make lots of them! That definitely turned out to be the case for us, and we enjoyed discussing our many misses along the way. I encourage you to check out the video!

The episode originally had much less of a clickbait-style title. But when we saw the early traffic wasn’t at our usual level, we amped up our marketing! As I suspect we all know well, humans are rather emotional creatures. Many people worry a lot about money, often for very good reasons. But even the more fortunate among us are no less emotional about cash. So our sensationalist headline did result in an uptick in views! Thinking about our conversation in this episode prompted me to write about a common issue that we discussed: wishing we’d saved more, earlier. Read on and avoid our mistakes…

Most of us get a slow start when it comes to saving and investing

Few of us had the knowledge and/or initiative to become big savers growing up – even if we had jobs throughout our teens, as Eric and I both did. As soon as we start earning money, we generally spend it. Sure, plenty of us start savings accounts – we did too. But humans aren’t born with a desire to save and invest. Generally, someone has to introduce us to the concept and convince us of its merit. Unless you’re from a wealthy family, that often doesn’t occur until your first “real job” after high school or college – and only if you’re fortunate enough to work somewhere with a retirement savings plan like a 401(k) or a 403(b).

Even if we do take advantage of those workplace plans, many of us fail to realize the merits of participating fully. How many among us have contributed to a retirement savings plan but didn’t save enough to achieve the full employer match? That’s equivalent to saying “no thanks!” to free money. Yes, I know it can be hard in those early years. As I whined about often early in my career, I was the lowest paid of all my college friends in my first job out of school. It can feel like a real struggle to meet all your obligations and save enough. But even if not right out of the gate, as soon as you can, it’s important to kick up the savings. It will yield huge leverage over time as I’ll share below. Not doing that soon enough is a common financial mistake – one often not realized for many years. A sobering fact: according to Vanguard, in 2020 the median 401(k) balance at age 65 was only $65K. That means half have saved less than that.

The best time to start is yesterday and the second best time is today

So you got a slow start – or haven’t invested at all. Is it too late now? As some will know, one of my favorite podcasts is The Money Guy Show. I’ve been listening to it (now I watch on YouTube) for 8 or 9 years. The title of this section is something I’ve heard hosts Bo and Brian say many times over the years. Sure, it’s best to start saving early (and often), but is it ever too late? Technically, no – but playing catch up becomes harder and harder over time. One of my favorites of the great free resources they have on their website is the Wealth Multiplier. It describes how much money you need to save and invest monthly to reach $1M by age 65. How big of a difference can a few years of savings make? Check out this snippet from their chart:

My favorite take-home from this picture is one they point out often: you have an 88X multiplier on your savings when you start at age 20. In other words, every dollar you invest at 20 can yield $88 by age 65. By comparison, at age 25 that multiplier is down to 44X, at 35 it is less than 13X, and just over 7X by age 40. Download the full table and you’ll see that it only gets worse from there. Translating that into monthly savings, you’ll agree there’s a huge difference between saving $95 vs. $780 each month comparing ages 20 and 40. Wow, right? Particularly for those who don’t love math, I think this image best shows the power of compound interest over time as compared to a graph.

Putting it in context

Eric and I both saved early on and took part in 401(k) plans and other savings vehicles over time. But neither of us would say we took full advantage of those plans in our earliest work years when the multiplier was huge. As we discussed, we did have some financial missteps, challenges, and setbacks along the way – I got divorced, we had student loans, my expenses went up due to relocation, we started families, etc. But even so, in hindsight we know we could have saved more, sooner. We didn’t prioritize saving as early as we could have. Neither of us fully investigated the investment options available to us in those early years. We are both fortunate to have gotten much smarter about things eventually, and benefitted from our career successes which enabled financial catch up. But things could have gone very differently if we hadn’t.

I won’t go into all the details here, but there are many other aspects to consider on this topic, some of which we touched upon in the episode. There are a variety of different tools available for investing depending on the country in which you live; each of which has their tax benefits and other aspects to consider. In the US, these include Roth IRAs and Health Savings Accounts (HSA), just to name two. Particularly if you are early in your career or maybe even still in college, I encourage you to investigate these options. Roth IRAs in particular are a very powerful tool and are available to you as soon as you have earned income. Wisely, Eric has already gotten his working age kids into Roth plans!

But isn’t it difficult? I don’t know where to start!

Above all, don’t panic! This does not have to be complicated! If you have a workplace savings plan and are wondering how to get started, look into target-date mutual funds. These are simple and effective plans that run on autopilot. They have very low fees and auto-balance your portfolio between stocks and bonds relative to your age and time to retirement. And if a plan isn’t offered through work? Have a look at some of the Books listed on our Two Sides of FI website. In particular, I’d recommend The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins. This fast and easily digestible read is chock-full of investment guidance that you will understand immediately and can readily apply. It’s very popular for a good reason.

Now get out there and save! I wish you all the best in your financial journeys!

image credit: Photo by Tech Daily on Unsplash