The profoundly important value of finding community

By nature, we humans are drawn to tribalism and community – that is, we like to gather in groups around shared interests. I’m not even an amateur sociologist so I’ll leave it at that. But I doubt anyone reading this will disagree with my statement. Some associations are incredibly close, such as those with our families, partners, and our closest friends. Others are rather casual and fun – fans supporting the same sports team and enjoying each other’s company, even if only briefly at a bar or a stadium. Most of the groups in which we find ourselves are somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes.

When it comes to financial independence, retire early (FIRE), it can be difficult to find people with whom you can talk with full disclosure. The ideals of this path are rather foreign to some, and often merely suggesting your interest in FIRE to somebody can be met with confusion, derision, or even complete disgust. My YouTube show partner, Eric, and I have talked about this in several episodes on our channel (here, here, and here). Of course your spouse or partner is an active participant in the journey so they are a valued confidant. And perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a good friend on the journey like I do – these days, but I didn’t earlier on. But many people don’t have any of these. Where to turn?

The internet can be a positive place for discourse…right?

As one who’s been online since the early days of what we now collectively term as the internet, I’m the last person to claim that it’s a wondrous land of only positive interactions. But it’s also difficult to argue with the fact that there are topical communities of all kinds, across a breadth of platforms, where one can find like-minded folks. Groups of people with similar interests congregate in forums, in groups on Reddit or Facebook, on chat rooms + servers, in the comments sections of blogs and YouTube videos, and the list goes on. There’s certainly no shortage of options. But what is actually useful?

I think all of the above have their place. FIRE-themed blogs and YouTube channels tend to be very high quality content, since many creators not only have first-hand experience, but also generally take the time to research and perhaps even reference their content. So even from a purely informational source, there’s plenty of value. I would assert that similarly themed forums and groups are also pretty useful, while being less formal in nature. But the bar to content creation is much lower in these platforms, so you get the benefit of a diversity of experiences and a much higher volume of materials to take in. This can also lead to signal to noise issues, of course.

All of the above forms of content creation generally have a social aspect to them as well, in the form of comment sections and otherwise providing an ability to reply and engage with others using the resources in question. The quality of experience here differs by the specific group or forum, as well as based on what the topic is. Trolls can of course raise their heads anywhere, though there is often moderation in place to manage this. There’s also the challenge of those lesser informed or simply who have an axe to grind to disrupt otherwise productive discourse. There are good reasons why some people say “never read the comments” – though of course doing so means potentially missing out on really valuable – and personal exchange.

Enter Discord, and the benefits of live community engagement

I extensively used (and still do to a lesser degree) all of the above resources on my path to FIRE. In fact, I discovered that FIRE “was a thing” via the very same, after years of saving towards early retirement before realizing others had similar goals and a framework to get there! But once I achieved financial independence and left my career at 47, I found I was craving something more. When I posted on those forums I sometimes received appreciative responses from those earlier on their journeys, but it wasn’t very engaging. The experience was often rather one-way. But one day I stumbled across a Reddit post about a Discord server dedicated to FIRE (What is Discord? for more info). I’d used this chat service in an app coding class before, and my teen sure used it a lot to talk with her friends. But how would it be useful to me now? I was certainly intrigued!

It turns out it’s been really great for me in several ways. First and foremost, this community is filled with a diverse group of several hundred people, all of whom have one very important thing in common: they’re all on a FIRE journey. Some are still in the early exploratory stages, while a few are out the other side, post-RE. Most are very actively working towards achieving FI. That makes it a really safe space to talk openly about a topic that can be challenging to discuss with others not on the path. Some of these people haven’t yet shared their aspirations with close friends or families, yet here they can talk openly – and completely anonymously if that’s their preference. Importantly, it’s also an incredibly supportive and largely very thoughtful group of people.

I particularly appreciate that there’s a broad range of ages represented among participants, as well as a diversity of geographic locations. Admittedly, there aren’t too many 40-somethings on the server – yet (Discord being much more popular with younger people) but I was happy to see another “old guy” online yesterday. There’s also a much broader gender diversity than I typically find among the other resources I listed above. Not to put too fine a point on it, but nearly all of the most popular FIRE-themed blogs and YouTube channels are led by men, and those are largely white Americans in their late 30s to mid-40s. That’s definitely not the case on this server, which is hugely beneficial in my opinion. I learn so much by engaging with a more diverse group of people (hint: diversity and inclusion has real value).

Where I find value in participating

One thing I truly appreciate is the open exchange on the server. Because the platform allows one to be as anonymous as they like, information is shared with a huge degree of freedom. Many on this server share their full financial pictures, their goals, as well as their successes and challenges along the way. This is so valuable for others on the path who may have had no good reference points prior to joining the server. I sure wish I had so much data available, along with an ability to ask questions in real time when I was much earlier in my own journey! It’s impossible to overstate the value of that in providing education and actionable information to help you develop and refine your own FIRE plans.

Due to the channel infrastructure used on Discord (configurable by server) it’s also super easy to focus on (or ignore) topics that are (or not) of interest to you. Cryptocurrency not your thing? Mute that channel or don’t spend time there. Want to ask questions about your portfolio? Head on over to #investing and see what people think about your asset allocation. There are also wholly social channels to talk about hobbies, cooking, or travel – just to name a few. It’s pretty handy to have a “one stop shop” all under one roof and some use it more socially than others – it’s a personal preference. You can also DM with people.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the incredibly valuable feedback I’ve gotten from our server’s community on my own content creation. I know that whenever I share an article or a new video, I’m going to hear from at least a few of the folks I interact with most often. And their input is so helpful to me – and I probably don’t thank them enough (thank you!). True, comments on the blog and on YouTube come with increasing regularity, and those are also useful (thank you, too!). But there’s just something different about getting input from people you know a bit better – and understand their viewpoints more. I’m honestly so thankful for their willingness to help me improve my content.

Go find your people!

I believe we all need to find community, and also that it can take a variety of forms. For those on the FIRE path or who are interested in learning more about it, you have many options at your disposal. Personally, I still consume content from all of the different sources listed in this post. Of late, I’m certainly finding some of the most value in this FIRE Discord server. If it sounds like something you’d like to check out, this link is your personal invite! It’s a free service and (sadly) I get no kickbacks for referring you. I’m just happy to share a great resource! If you do stop by, please be sure to say hi to me when I’m on:

PS – I’ll take this post as a reminder that I really need to make a good Resources page for this blog so I can share all my favorite blogs, subreddits, etc. with you!

image source: Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Let’s turn your passion into a business and generate some passive income!

Today I’ve elected to write about a favorite topic area of mine. Have you ever wished you were the one in complete control of your work schedule; selecting the hours and days you wish to get the job done, and from where you do it – perhaps on a tropical island or at your ski lodge? Sounds too good to be true, right? But many are doing it, and so can you.

Do you have any interest in generating extra income outside of your primary employment? Perhaps you have dreamed of how you might launch a small business from a hobby you truly enjoy, and grow it until you can quit your other job to run your own personal business empire? Are you already retired and are excited by the idea of creating a small business you can run part time? If any of that sounds good please read on!

Generating passive income and growing “side hustles” into small or even huge businesses are common paths to achieve financial independence. Search YouTube and you’ll see exactly how true that statement is. If you have even the slightest of entrepreneurial streaks in you, this could be the accelerator you have been seeking! I don’t claim mastery of this area but I’ve studied it extensively. I am also fortunate to have learned a lot from several sources, including my Two Sides of FI creative partner, Eric. I have no step-by-step plan for world domination to give to you. Rather, my goal is to share a few resources and thoughts with you in the hopes they might inform and inspire you to do a bit of research, start brainstorming, and eventually launch your own next big thing!

Who wouldn’t want a four-hour workweek?

Sure, some among us truly love their jobs and wouldn’t trade them for the world. That’s really great! But I suspect even those lucky ones wouldn’t mind having greater control of their schedules, over the priorities that frame their days, and be able to take time off whenever they want. These are indeed some of the benefits of what I’m going to describe here. If you’ve never heard of Tim Ferris, let me enlighten you. He’s an entrepreneur, best-selling author, blogger, podcaster (the first to have a show exceed 200 million downloads), and to many, a sherpa who guided them to the lifestyle they always wanted. Enter, “The Four Hour Workweek”.

This is a remarkable book (Kindle and Audible versions also available) despite its seemingly fantastic title. On the surface, it fanciful indeed, but the concepts contained to help one realize that vision are rather straightforward and easily understood, yet very effective. I am among several people I know who cite this book as wildly influential – if not transformational towards how they think about work.

In short, this book and it’s D-E-A-L method guides the reader towards a variety of practices to modify your existing work to place it much more directly under your control, or even better, to create your own thing. Importantly in both cases, the methods aim to reduce the active time you spend performing “work” – trading your time for money, gaining leverage and efficiency via a variety of different means. The most effective of these aim to help you generate passive income – among the most powerful levers available to transform your ideas about the relationship between work and money. There is something in this book for everyone, irrespective of your age, field of work, or intended retirement age.

Passive income: make it once, benefit “forever”

The concept of passive income is simple on the surface: earn money without doing active work – or at least, not continuously doing active work as in a standard job. One easily relatable example of passive income comes from owning rental property. You buy a house, someone else rents it, and you get that monthly rent as income. Anyone who has been a landlord knows that it’s not entirely passive, even if you pay an agency to handle the day to day work. But you get the idea. You buy the house once, and it generates income as long as you have it. Once the mortgage is paid off, that rent is all profit minus the cost of upkeep for which you are responsible as the owner. However, in the internet age, there are myriad options to generate passive income without owning a bit of real estate!

Today, digital assets are a very common and powerful way to generate passive income. We touched on this in several episodes of my YouTube channel, including this one. Click that link to check it out, and hear the many ways in which Eric generates passive income. He’s a sole practitioner architect. But as he states on the show, his aim since realized, was to get to the point where >80% of his income came from passive sources. He has written several books, created internet-based courses, sells plans and software add-ons, has affiliate programs, and also runs a very popular YouTube channel. But isn’t there work required to write a book or develop a course? You bet! But you do that work once, and then make the material available for purchase. People purchase it and you earn income. You put in the work to film and edit a YouTube video, and earn ad revenue when people view it. You create the asset and it generates recurring revenue. If you choose wisely, your content might even age well and need minimal upkeep over time. Sounds great to me!

I’m not an architect and neither are most of you. But each of us certainly has expertise in one or more areas, gained over our lives and the course of our careers. Surely, there are ways to monetize that knowledge and experience – many of those means are largely passive in nature. How might you approach this given your own interests? Yes, I can hear some of your thoughts already: Not everyone wants to write a book, develop a course, or launch a YouTube channel. Of course those are only a few of the ideas you can undertake. The Four-Hour Work Week describes other paths well worth considering. But perhaps you’re still not sure where to start, or want something a bit more actively managed? There are some great resources out there for more information and inspiration!

“Tune in. Take Action. Make Money.”

Those few simple and well-chosen words are the defining tagline for “The Side Hustle Show”, a key resource site and incredibly popular podcast hosted by Nick Loper. I’ve learned tons from him and the many fascinating guests he has on the show. I highly recommend it – and I get no benefit from you checking it out.

Side hustles at their simplest can take the form of part-time gig work (things like driving for a rideshare app or Instacart shopper) that you never intend to grow to something bigger. You’re just supplementing your main income source(s) with some other work. But there are countless ideas out there for much more passive means to generate income as well.

My wife has generated a fun, small passive income stream from one of the ideas she learned from the show (Episode 339: Low content publishing). She designs and sells a variety of journals, yearly planners, password logbooks, etc. via Amazon KDP print-on-demand. With this approach, there is no inventory, order management, or customer service – Amazon does all that! Most importantly, there is effectively zero cash outlay required for this business. She uses free web-based software to do layout and design (something she enjoys even without any paycheck!), and uploads the PDFs to Amazon, who lists them on the site. People find her books via search, they order them, and she earns royalties on each copy sold. This is just one idea where with just a little effort and creativity, you can have a nice side business – or perhaps something much larger!

But side hustles don’t have to be passive if that’s not of interest. On the podcast I shared above, you’ll find countless examples of people who took a hobby or a passion (baking cookies is one that comes to mind) and grew it to a six-figure income personal business! Side hustles are great because they are a safe means to test the waters. Sure, there is effort involved in exploring an idea and testing it out. “Hustle” is in the title after all! But doing something as a side hustle means that you’ve got the security of your primary income while you investigate your new idea(s). I’m certain each of us has something they love doing and have wondered whether it could be a business. The answer is probably yes! And if you don’t have that “magic idea” just yet – check out the podcast and website I listed above and learn from the examples of others.


As stated, my intention was not that this post handed you a blueprint for your next business. Of course I have no idea what your interests are and what would fit you best! But this article will have been a success for me if it merely inspired you to check out one or more of the sources I mentioned, gets you thinking about ideas for your side hustle and/or future business. It’s so easy for any of us to get wrapped up in our daily grind at work, home, or otherwise. You’re all busy people! But I’d challenge you to give this some thought. Who knows what exciting development might come from it? I wish you all great success!

image credit: Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Keep pushing towards that goal! Perseverance revisited

screenshot from EZ Calc app

The value of perseverance is a topic I’ve covered before, and one that is a favorite of mine. They say that the times that truly challenge you are also the ones from which you grow the most. From both my work experience and my personal life, I’m a firm believer in that! The last time we addressed this topic, I shared a story of a key point in my college journey and by extension, my career and my personal life. This time, I’m happy to provide a follow up to my last post, one that concerned my first iPhone app wholly developed by me, EZ RetireCalc.

REJECTED! Well, twice, actually…

If you read that post from last week, you’ll recall that I developed a very simple app to provide an answer to that all-important question, “how much savings do I need to retire”? Apparently that first version was too simple as Apple rejected it (twice!), essentially for that reason. Needless to say, I was pretty deflated by the whole experience. I knew it was a simple app but that was the point, right? Apple, like other vendors, has specific guidelines about the content that is distributed on their App Store. Despite my hard work, my app didn’t cut the mustard.

After the second rejection, I decided to post the article (which I had already written) on the blog with a link to a beta version of the app. I did this knowing full well that fewer people would download the app given the extra steps required to use an app still in testing. In actuality, only three people downloaded it over the course of a week, despite the fact that there were quite a few (110 as of today) page views for that article. What to do next? My gut reaction was just to move on. I enjoyed making the app and it was an important part of my app development educational journey. There was no need to beat a dead horse, right?

More learning needed – and an idea

I decided I was just too novice a developer and needed to put more work into skills building, and set out on a new learning path. I’d been happy with the several Udemy courses on iOS app development I’d taken to date, but thought I needed a kick in the rear. I found Hacking With Swift, another popular option that was more challenging and that I though had a steeper learning curve (note: it is available for free, though I elected the paid version to get the additional exercises, PDFs. etc). This one really seemed to fit my personality. You didn’t need to watch videos if you didn’t want to given the well-written articles and sample code provided. The course also focused even more on problem solving and included far more independent development opportunities – perfect!

Over the past week I completed about a third of the curriculum, which took a lot of hours – but I have really enjoyed it! Again, this is one of my favorite things about no longer being constrained by my work schedule: I set my own hours and that means I have the freedom to spend my time how I wish! As my wife, Lorri will confirm, I’ve been spending a large amount of my waking hours at my desk coding – and I’ve really enjoyed it. It wasn’t all rosy though – I’ve really had to push through some challenging work at times. To that point, at least once I’ve had to set things down and come back the next day with a fresh head due to being frustrated.

Like most things that have kept me busy in life, they have a way of creeping into my dreams or at least into my waking thoughts…

Eureka!

Just this morning I woke up with a pretty clear idea on how I could add some functionality to the app – and importantly, without diverging from my vision of simplicity. Based on some work that I’d done for a few different projects in my latest course, I had two related ideas for EZ RetireCalc: 1) I could enable the user to save their results (unless you code it as such, apps don’t retain the work you do while using them), and 2) add a screen that lets the user view a summary of their saved results, share them with others, and delete them when finished.

Ideas are one thing, but did I really know how to implement those two things? Even if I could, would Apple view them as sufficient to approve the app? It took me a good five hours to address the former question. In addition to the new capabilities, I also elected to apply some of the other lessons I’d learned in my coursework to clean up the app. There were a few times were I was surprised to find myself feeling remarkably confident in my work – balanced by several other points where I felt I had no idea what I was doing. Learning is like that, right? You’ve gotta keep pushing ahead though! And with amazing online resources like StackOverflow (boy, could I have used that during my college CS courses), there’s always a way to get to the answer! I got the app submitted for review by midday and then the waiting started…

A sigh of relief and an occasion to celebrate

It often takes up to 24 hours for Apple’s app review cycle to complete. So I was both surprised and excited when just about an hour later I received notice they were reviewing my app. Before long I received an email that included the text you see in the picture above. My app was approved! VICTORY!!! Now don’t be mistaken: this is a very simple app and one that an experienced developer could put together very quickly. But it’s only the second app I’ve ever had approved and the first that I wrote all by myself. So needless to say I was excited by this wee success!

I’ve now revised my last post with a link to the approved app, and also made a few updates to the article reflecting the new functionality. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll consider checking it out. And if you did read it but skipped downloading EZ RetireCalc due to the beta testing hurdles, and you own an iPhone – I’d be honored if you gave it a look. I welcome any and all feedback! As a fellow marketing colleague used to remind me often, “feedback is a gift”. I’d be glad to implement ideas that are aligned with my idea of a simple starting point and that improve the user experience.

Have you had any wins lately from pushing through a difficult obstacle? I’d love to hear from you!