May 152017

Different Priorities for People in Different Income Groups

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people from across the income spectrum have different priorities when it comes to their spending. The graph below from shows average spending patterns for U.S. households in 3 income categories — one just below the poverty line, one at the middle of the income distribution, and finally one at the top of the distribution. 🙂

Here are some interesting notes to take away from this data:

  • Everyone pretty much spends the same ratio of their income on housing, clothing, shoes, and entertainment.
  • Poorer households tend to spend a larger share of their income on home cooked meals and utilities.
  • Richer households allocate a bigger chunk of their spending to education and saving for retirement.

Some expenses are more elastic than others. They take up a bigger piece of the household budget if the household has more access to money. Earning more income is generally a good thing for financial security. But if all new income is being squandered on entertainment then that’s not going to help someone in retirement.

Since my priority is financial independence here is how I like to use the information from the chart. The average person buys a bigger home when he makes a bigger income, as represented by the data. But housing is one of the largest expenses and does not need to be bigger than necessary. By living in my current home for the past 8 years while doubling my income I have effectively reduced my spending on housing by 50% over time. 🙂 I can use these savings to put towards my retirement portfolio so I can reach FI/RE sooner. The same concept can be applied to transportation and gasoline as well. Instead of upgrading to a gas-guzzling luxury SUV, I’m still driving my 10 year old hatchback.

The idea is to keep expenses the same, while increasing income, and investing the difference. 🙂 Of course there are times when it’s appropriate to capitulate to lifestyle inflation. When I start a family I will probably need a larger home and a bigger car. Knowing when to delay gratification, and when to upgrade is a personal decision that everyone is capable of making for themselves in their own way. That’s why personal finance doesn’t start with our money. It actually starts with our personal priorities and values, I think.


Random Useless Fact:

Say what you want about North Korea, but they are better at celebrating Earth Day than any other country.

Apr 062017

A New Way to Measure Your Success

There are varying degrees of success and many different ways to define it. For example, in order to be a successful frequent flyer, you will probably need a lot of connections. 😀 And if you’re trying to lose weight, success is all about mind over platter, and winning that Nobelly Prize. 😄

how much do you value your free time?

Financial success is often evaluated in terms of income or wealth. But I often argue that time is our most precious resource. Unlike money, all our days are numbered. So given this reality, perhaps the best way to evaluate our success is to find out how much we value our free time. 🙂 This can be done with the following steps.

  1. Think of an activity that is neither pleasant nor unpleasant to do for you. It also can’t help you gain skills or make you smarter.
  2. Determine the minimum amount of money you would charge to perform that service for 1 hour for a stranger.

This mental exercise will reveal how much you value your time at an hourly rate. 🙂 For example, services I can provide that I neither like nor dislike include slowly folding laundry and walking around town for no reason.

I would have gladly accepted $20/hour to fold laundry 10 years ago. But things have change now. I would not give up my free time for any amount less than $40/hour today, because I can offer valuable skilled labour. Furthermore, I’m 10 years closer to death so there has to be an added premium on the remaining time I have compared to the past me. Due to simple economics, the fewer days I have to live, the more valuable those days are to me.

In a way, $40/hour is an indicator of my level of success in society. Perhaps a doctor or lawyer would value their free time at $120/hour. This wouldn’t be surprising given their place on the social economic ladder. It is not only a measure of their immense human capital compared to mine, but also their financial status.

How the Value of Time is Tied To Success

As self sustaining adults, the value of our free time should be the lowest at the start of our careers. But over time this value should increase to keep up with our growing human capital. Over time our demand for time is increased, and demand for money is reduced because we can earn money easier and more quickly.

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Mar 132017

I recently came across an informative and inspiring thread on the financial independence subreddit about additional income streams that people have. Here are some ones I thought could be relevant to people who read this blog.

Ideas for Extra Income

  • Rent your car. Turn a depreciating asset into an income stream. 🙂 “I rent my car out on Turo. It’s the AirBnb of car rentals. I live walking distance from work and rent it out all the time. I rent my Wrangler for about $50/day and have been making around $800/mo in gross margin.” ~plz_callme_swarley
  • Invest in a rental property. “I’ve got two rental properties, both I pay someone else to manage. I made 8k off of one last year and 21k off of the other one in net profit (new roofs are expensive). They’re both paid off and provide a small but steady trickle of income, I’ll probably try to save enough to get 1 more each year for the next 7-8 years.” ~SEJeff
  • Buy profitable blogs and websites. “Bought a few niche websites on Flippa, earning a little over $100 per month. Import some stuff from China and sell it on Amazon as well.” ~jb611
  • Walk other people’s dogs. “Signed up through but now my clients pay in cash to avoid extra fees. I only have 2 clients because I’m too busy to take on more. I mostly work on lunch break from my job with occasional overnight stays. Make about $300/month….I recommend signing up on The process takes a little effort and you need 2 references – I had my girlfriend write one and a buddy wrote the other. The site isn’t extremely easy to navigate which is partially why my clients pay me under the table now.” ~CalPolyJohn
  • Write online. “I make about $3,000/month editing Wikipedia for pay. I get my clients from, they’re great! I know a lot of other people doing this so if you want in, just start editing Wikipedia, learn the rules, and then all you need is just clients…..I can do a new page in about an afternoon and I charge $500-$1,000. It’s only 3-6 actual jobs/month. If you want to do it, make sure you spend some time editing the Encyclopedia to learn the rules.” ~TaylorSwift2015
  • Become a freelance translator. “Freelance translating (Japanese>English). Brings in $4200/month pre-tax for 50 hours/month of work…Professional (and non-professional) translators usually create profiles on both ProZ and TranslatorsCafe to look for and offer work. People with no real translation background may use a site like Gengo, whose rates are considerably lower (3 to 8 cents/word). Finally, it is also common to Google “Translation agency” and send your resume to as many translation companies as possible (rarely works, but then again you really only need 1 good client to establish yourself).” ~nakoyao
  • Monetize your lifestyle/hobbies. “I rent out my place on AirBnB when I’m travelling ($6300 in 2016). I offer private lessons as a cross-country ski instructor ($1600 this season). I host house(boat) concerts ($1-2000/event). My friend sells the overflow from my vegetable garden at the farmer’s market ($700). I take tourists out fishing/netting/ice fishing/canoeing ($3200 in 2016)” ~Holy_BatLogic
  • Teach English online. “I teach online classes for $20/hr. Just started last month, made $692 in half of February.” ~OzarkCatholic  “There are online tutoring gigs for ESL, you can get 16-20 an hour pretty easily. Check out VIPKids” ~brikky

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Dec 222016

Outgrowing The “Middle Class” Label 

Hello high-income earning friends! It’s been a few years since I’ve written about my income from a holistic point of view. So for the sake of transparency I thought I would give everyone an update on my income situation.

My salary is currently closer to $60,000 than it is to $50,000. I won’t disclose the exact figure because I work with people who read this blog. As for my side incomes, they have gone up as well. 🙂 I’m leaving out rental income below because I use the rent to pay my farmland mortgage so it’s basically a wash.

Gross side incomes per year.

  • Part time job – $10,000
  • Dividends – $8,000
  • Interest – $3,000
  • Freelance – $10,000

Total side incomes = $31,000/year

If we put all the numbers together we see that I am making in the rough range of $90,000. Sweet sassy molassy! I believe this means my income is no longer considered middle class anymore. I am now part of the trendy upper middle class. 😉

In any case, I’m earning more than $75K/yr, which is a very important psychological hurdle. According to the Wall Street Journal, the magic income level for maximum satisfaction is $75,000 a year. “As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until [they] hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness.”

Retiring Early on a Modest Salary

It’s rare for graphic designers such as myself to ever earn a six figure salary. What this means is that I have to implement a different strategy for FI/RE than someone else who’s a doctor or engineer. To make up for a lower salary, I boost my earnings by moonlighting, and also by increasing my investment returns by taking on more calculated risks. The extra income streams essentially increase my income by $31,000 a year right now and should continue to grow over time. They should also make the eventual transition to retirement easier. And by using leverage to invest in growing companies and other profitable assets like farmland and high yield bonds, my total portfolio has continuously brought high returns since 2009.

This method of choosing individual investments is admittedly more risky than the passive, Boglehead market indexing strategy. But I’ve also been compensated with higher returns, at least so far. I can’t say this plan is guaranteed to work for everyone or that it’s sustainable long term. But I started investing in my early 20s. Today I’m almost 30 years old, and my passive income is about $1500 per month, while my expenses are about $3000. So it’s working out for me. The only issue is I don’t know how my leveraged portfolio will perform in a bear market or recession, which hasn’t been tested yet.

I believe in the next 12 to 24 months it’s very likely that I will be making $100,000 per year including all my income sources. Wow. Never in my wildest childhood dreams did I expect to earn so much. I know six figures isn’t what it used to be but it still feels like a huge amount of money to me.

Many other high income earners claim that they don’t feel $90K or $100K is a lot of money. I don’t know if they’re just being modest, but I certainly do feel much more privileged and happier now than many years ago when I earned only $40K.


I used to believe that you have to be smart to make a lot of money. But apparently I’m living proof that someone with an average intellect can do so as well. I modelled my financial plan based on the brilliant minds that have already figured out the formula for success. All of my investment ideas and strategies can be boiled down to one simple philosophy; Do what other successful people do. 🙂 That’s it!

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Jul 282016

University Grads Make More Money Over Time

According to a recent study from the University of Ottawa, the cost of higher education is still worth it. University degrees are linked to higher salaries almost regardless of the subject. 🙂

The study published this week looked at income data for 620,000 graduates of 14 different universities and colleges between 2005 and 2013, spanning an 8 year period to gauge progress over time.

On average, graduates from universities in 2005 made $45,200 in inflation-adjusted income in their first year after school. This number increased every year after that, growing by a total of 66% to $74,900 in 2013, which covers an 8 year period. But college graduates started off somewhat lower. The average income for a new college grad was $33,900 in 2005. After 8 years it has grown by 59% to reach $54,000. These numbers only represent the average. Individual results of a college or university education can be very different from one person to another.


A closer look at the study’s findings reveal a big difference by gender. Both men and women start off making about the same after graduating university. But 8 years later, those averages diverge. The typical male university graduate who started working in 2005 was making 91% more money by 2013. His female counterpart who graduated with him saw her income only increase by 42% from 2005 to 2013.

I think there are a couple of main reasons for the gender discrepancy in income growth.

  1. Men and women tend to choose different majors. STEM fields, particularly technology and engineering, are pursued more by men than women. These fields also consistently offer lucrative career paths.
  2. Many women tend to take time out of the workforce to raise children. This is due to a fact of nature. Nearly every research has shown breastfeeding increases a baby’s intelligence. Men can’t give birth or breastfeed.

Higher Education in Universities

As with any report we have to consider any hidden agendas. A university study that concludes going to university is a good decision is like a real estate agent advocating for home ownership. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but we should be aware of the bias. 😉 We can also keep in mind that university graduates have been pre-screened to have certain qualities like being smart or ambitious enough to attain high grades in high school. These personality traits often lead to higher earnings regardless of attending university; correlation ≠ causation.

Higher education isn’t for everyone. Some folks excel at formal education, while others do better with a trade or entrepreneurship. The important thing to remember is that learning is a lifelong process and we can pursue it in many different ways. 🙂

Random Useless Fact: