The real estate industry is filled with wonderful opportunities. Join us in this episode as we listen to James Lowery’s path to financial independence. James was working in a physical therapy clinic when he overheard a conversation that intrigued him. That’s when he learned of Mr. Money Mustache’s site, where he was able to read blogs and forums related to saving money. As a result, he changed his life course, selling his possessions, such as his car, replacing it with a bike, packing food for lunch, and many more to save money. He even encouraged his wife to go onboard with him. James and his wife were able to save money and invest in real estate and slowly grew their rental properties and portfolios. But that path doesn’t come without challenges. How were they able to survive the pandemic? Stay tuned and find out!
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Investing: The Path To Financial Independence With James Lowery
James Lowery, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
Thanks so much for coming here. Tell us where you heard about financial independence and when that all came to be for you.
I was a manager at a physical therapy clinic and a patient was talking to her therapist about the site that she had found. She said, “If I had found out about this website ten years ago, my husband and I would be retired.” I was interested in what that site was. I asked the therapist, “What was that website that she was talking about?”
Her therapist said, “I’ll check it out and I’ll let you know what I think.” She was gatekeeping the information from me. That pissed me off. I went to her desk and picked up the sticky note that she had put face down on her desk. I looked at it and it said MrMoneyMustache.com. To me, this was information I wasn’t supposed to have and so I dove head into it.
She did not want you to retire because you were taking care of retirement properly.
I don’t know. It was such a weird scenario but I’m happy it happened because maybe I wouldn’t have been so into it if someone hadn’t tried to keep the information from me.
What year was this?
This was in 2016.
In 2016, you’re introduced to this mystery of Mr. Money Mustache. I suspect the next thing you did is you went on MrMoneyMustache.com. Tell us what happened after you saw the mystery site.
I’m reading all the information, going through the blog post and through the forums. This is day one and I’m interested in the information here. I go home. My wife and I live in a fancy condo at the time. She comes home and I’ve already cut down the air conditioner. I’ve already changed the heat on the hot water heater. She comes in and I blast her with all this information. I was like, “We’re not shopping anymore. We’re not doing this. We’re not doing that.” It was the worst way that I could have posed this idea to her. That was initially what happened.
You were married at the time when you were figuring all this stuff out. Tell us, how did your wife react?
It went as poorly as that could ever go. She was like, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” I was like, “We’re not going out to eat.” A few nights a week we were going out to eat. I was like, “We’re not doing that anymore. We’re not shopping. We’re not doing this. We’re not doing that. We’re going to save a ton of money and we’re going to retire early.”
To her, she’s like, “One, it doesn’t even sound real. This kid’s falling into some MLM or something.” She knew I wouldn’t do that. That’s exactly what happened. From her perspective, she’s like, “I come home and all of a sudden, my husband is a changed person. Now, my life is looking completely differently.” I did not do that.
Mr. Money Mustache was also my gateway and it’s funny because he jokes that it’s a cult and it is. You get excited about it and then you can only relate to people that are doing the same thing. I could see how she was a little freaked out, especially because you were already married so she’s stuck with you. How did you get it to turn around? I’m hoping you did.
I did. We slowed down a little bit. I took a little bit off of constantly pressuring her because I’m sending her all these intuitive blog posts and things like that. The other side of it is Mr. Money Mustache speaks to me. I need someone to tell me that I’m being weak for doing this or that and I need someone to call me out on it. I like the brash part of it. That didn’t speak to her. That doesn’t resonate with her. I changed my approach entirely and I started living by example.
I went and bought a crappy bike off Craigslist and started biking to work. I started packing my lunches on my bike ride to work. I used to drive home every day on lunch to hang out, eat, and do stuff like that. Now, I was even eliminating that. I started trying to live by example. We would go on walks every day and talk. When I posed it to her saying that she could retire early and she could quit her job, that’s when she was on board.
It’s funny because when you first discovered financial independence, you want to shout at the rooftops. You want to tell everybody and everyone thinks you’re an absolute psycho. The best way to do it is exactly the second way you did it, James, lead by example. Start cutting your lunch, start house hacking, start doing something that’s going to drive you towards that goal and people will see it.
People will see you start taking more vacations, start doing part-time at work, and they’re going to be like, “That is working. Let me go ask James how that is.” They might be a year or two behind you but that’s fine. It’s better than not having them figure it out at all. I love that approach, James. What were you and your wife making at that time?
I was a manager at a physical therapy clinic. I was making $40,000 a year. My wife, Emily, is an engineer and she was making around $70,000 at the time.
Combined, you’re making $110,000 a year. At that time, it’s a good amount. That’s before all this inflationary craziness is happening. You make $110,000 a year, which is still a lot of money for that time together but you gave Emily that gateway, that light to say that she could also quit her job and that’s what got her on board. When you started your financial independence journey, do you know how much you were spending in relation to how much you were making?
Kind of, in the fact that we’re happy if we had $1,000 in our checking account. After all was said and done, when the monthly expenses would come out, our mortgage and different things like that, if we had over $1,000, we were like, “We’re safe.” Essentially, we were spending all of it that was coming in.
Do you know what you’re spending that money on?
Anything and everything. This leads into the whole fire portion of it. If I’m in something, I’m 100% in something. We decided, “Let’s start running again for health.” I bought Trax bikes. That’s such an unnecessary purchase. I had plenty of shoes that I could have ran with. I bought a kickball because I wanted to be competitive in our work kickball league.
We would go out to eat all the time. We bought cars and we had nicer things all the time. Shopping was a big thing for my wife. She enjoyed having, not necessarily even nice clothes, just multiples of the same clothes. If it was a dress that she liked, she had it in five prints. It was nonstop. It’s little things that leaked out.
That’s what America breeds and that’s what society breeds, as you’re growing up. You’re supposed to spend what you make. Everyone asks you how much you make, not how much you’re worth. That’s always the big question. Figuring that out, at such a young age is amazing because this is 2016 that you’re discovering this. What are some of the firsts? You mentioned that you started cutting food and all that. What were some of the things that your wife started to do as well?Freedom is when you can just live the life you're used to living and not work. Click To Tweet
She started to pack her lunch as well. Once we got on board, she was cool with me. She trusted me when I said, “If we do some of the things that I’m talking about, if we implement some of the big ones particularly, then we can retire in five years.” She trusted me that I had our best interests at heart and that I wouldn’t lead her astray so she hopped on board. I remember we went to CampFi and she saw that there were other people who had already done this. That normal people had done this made a lot more sense to her that this is achievable.
You’ve convinced your wife and you’re starting to save more money. Do you know what you’re immediately able to get your savings right to?
We sold our expensive condo and bought another one for a fourth of the price. By that alone, we were saving over $1,000 a month. By biking to work and all that stuff, we were pretty poor about tracking our spending at the beginning and we’ve never had a budget. I’m the anti-budget guy. I can’t tell you exactly what we got it down to.
The fact that you knew what the biggest killers were. Everyone knows this, it’s housing, transportation, and food. You knocked out those three things. That’s all you did, no budget, no spreadsheets, and no thinking about it. You quartered the price of housing, you start biking to work, you start packing your lunch, and you go out to eat less. Just doing that, I guarantee that you’ll be able to get at least up to 50% savings without even looking at your spreadsheets. Now that you’ve done that, I suspect it took you a few months to implement that towards the end of 2016. When did you buy that second condo, the cheaper one?
We closed on it in December of 2016.
The end of 2016 and early 2017 is when you’re now at the savings rate that you probably want to be at. What happened? Are you working and saving? What’s going on in 2017?
In 2017, my wife got a work assignment in St. Louis. The way that it was structured with her bonus was because she was going to be traveling for work, they were going to give her per diems. She had a rent allowance and all these different things. It essentially replaced my income so we were like, “Let’s quit and go to St. Louis and have a little experiment there.” She kept her job, I quit my job, and we went to St. Louis for six months. I ended up finding another job at a physical therapy clinic there and then when we came back, I got the same job for a raise.
Where were you living before St. Louis? I know St. Louis has a low cost of living. I don’t know if it was a lateral move for you. That was also nice for savings.
It was more of a lateral move. We’re in Huntsville, Alabama. It’s a low-cost living area. It used to be. I know that everybody’s got a high cost now but it’s still relatively affordable here.
You and Emily moved to St. Louis. You’re no longer working, you’re getting another job. Maybe your income is the same. At least you’re able to save more because of your expenses. You’re still saving. What are you doing with your savings? Are you putting it in a brokerage account? Are you letting it stack up in your savings account? What are you doing?
I was bouncing around between jobs so we were maxing out her 401(k) but anything outside of that, we were letting it stack up in the savings and that was when we made our first real estate purchase as well.
I certainly want to get into the real estate stuff. Why did you max out your 401(k)? I always ask that because you can’t access that for 40 years.
I had already looked into the Roth conversion ladders and converting it over to an IRA and all those types of things. Plus, we were trying to lower our taxable expenses like our taxable income. We were like, “We can diversify. I’ll max out a Roth and you can max it out of the 401(k). We can do it that way and diversify what our tax liabilities are going to be in the future.”
You mentioned the Roth conversion ladder. What is that?
Essentially, you convert a portion of 401(k) to your IRA and it takes five years for it to season. You have to have five years of living expenses to set up. This was what I thought we were going to end up doing. That’s why I was already trying to set up the Roth conversion ladder by front-loading the 401(k). We haven’t had to do that but what you do is you essentially convert a year of living expenses into your Roth. From there, it seasons for five years and then you can start taking it out. You do that every year. Every 6, 7, or 8 years, you get to pull that money back out.
What was your vision at this time of what post-work life would be like? You look young to me so I’m assuming that you would have stopped in five years and then done what? Were you thinking about building a business or chilling on the beach?
Chilling on the beach is the idea. There wasn’t an end goal of, “I want to quit so that I can pursue X, Y, or Z.” It was like, “Let’s see where life takes us and once we have those options, we can decide.”
I’m going back to the Roth conversion ladder for a minute. The purpose of this Roth conversion ladder sounds like you’re able to basically take pre-tax money and invest in your 401(k), convert it into a Roth IRA, which is a post-tax account, and wait five years because that’s what you need for the Roth IRA to extract that money. You’re able to take that money and not pay taxes on it. That’s my understanding of the Roth conversion ladder. Is that right?
Pretty much. When you convert it from your 401(k) to your IRA, that is a taxable event but, in our minds, we were going to have X amount of living expenses already saved up. Our taxable income in the years that we were going to be converting was going to be low so we were going to pay essentially little to no taxes on the conversion itself.
To do this most efficiently, you have the $12,000 standard deduction that everybody gets. While $12,000 probably is not enough for anyone to live on, if you want to take it out and pay zero taxes in a year where you make $0 in income because you’re financially free and you’re not making any income, you’re able to convert that make $12,000 to the IRS, but you take that $12,000 deduction. Therefore, your effective net income is zero. That’s a way around paying taxes on at least that $12,000.
That’s my understanding of it.
Me too. Hopefully, we’re on the same page.
We were talking about your house before. Did you guys rent it out when you went to St. Louis? I’m curious where your interest in real estate spiked from.
I was interested in renting out our condo while we were in St. Louis. Unfortunately, because the company was paying our living expenses in St. Louis, we couldn’t do that. I was suggesting, “Let’s do it and not tell anybody.” My wife is a little more by the book. She was like, “If we have to pay back all the money that they’ve paid us for this, it doesn’t make sense to take on the risk of that.” We left it empty while we were in St. Louis and then once we came back, we started focusing a little more on the real estate as well.
Let’s get into your real estate, your first investment. How did that come about?
I had decided to try to invest in real estate based on some of the things in the forums I was reading on Mr. Money Mustache. We had determined that real estate investing was going to be the fastest way to FIRE and it definitely is.Don't care about what other people think about you because the chances are they're not thinking about you at all. Click To Tweet
I’m surprised you were hearing that in the forums because Mr. Money Mustache himself is not that into real estate. Most of what the traditional FIRE movement people talk about is index funds and investing that way. Tell me a little bit about what you were reading.
I should preface this by saying that I had already had an interest in real estate because I had read a book called The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and it was a bunch of little hacks about how to be fit and different things like that. Once I read that book and was interested in it, I decided to read The 4-Hour Workweek, which was his more popular work.
In that, it was talking about building passive income streams and one of the things he said was, having an eBook, having a blog, and having things like that. I was like, “None of these things are interesting to me.” One of them was real estate and I was like, “Real estate, I can understand. I can get into it a little bit.” I started reading BiggerPockets at that point and this is probably in 2013 or 2014. I was managing a gym at that point and I let my limiting beliefs get the better of me.
I was like, “I don’t make enough money. I’m not going to be able to buy a house. It’s not a realistic thing for me,” so I quit reading any information on real estate. Once I found out about FIRE, I had already read BiggerPockets’ forums, read a few of the posts, and different things like that. I already had this affinity for real estate.
The seed was planted. You come back around to this idea now that you guys have a little bit of savings. Were you looking at St. Louis while you were there? Where did you first get started?
We had looked in St. Louis but we bought in Alabama. The first rental property we bought out of state in a way. We were living in St. Louis at the time but we were buying in Alabama. The first property was a crappy little duplex for $47,000. We looked at it before we went to St. Louis and it was in a bad area. We were like, “We do not want to get this under any circumstance,” but it was listed at the time for $60,000.
I wasn’t interested in it but the thing is it was mislisted. It was listed as a single-family home so all the people that are interested in investing in duplexes and multifamily are not seeing it because it’s a single-family home. All the people who are looking for single-family homes, don’t want it because it’s a duplex. It sat on the market for a few more months and I ended up doing a lowball offer at $47,000. My realtor was like, “You know the price is $60,000.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s fine.” They accepted the first offer. I was pissed off. I was like, “I should have offered less.”
$13,000 was that number difference. That got you to buy in the shady area. You weren’t ever planning on living there right? How much did you guys put down for this property?
We put down the traditional 25% so that might have been right at that $13,000, which is essentially what we put down.
It’s your whole downpayment. I didn’t realize you can get loans for a house that small. Did you do something special?
You have to shop around to find a mortgage company because a lot of the costs for a mortgage company are fixed costs. They don’t make as much off of a $50,000 house as they would $100,000 or more. We ended up finding a few lenders because that was one of the harder parts. We didn’t have enough cash on hand at that time to buy these properties. Four of the properties that we bought were $50,000 or under.
You went with this one lender and a couple of lenders. How did you find them? Were you asking? Are there any tips to find lenders like that?
We went to a mortgage broker who could shop around at different rates. We tried to find anybody online that was listed. Capital One at one point was doing mortgages and they would allow it for under $50,000 so they were one of them. We found one particular company and we started working with them, because we talked to the mortgage originator and told her, “This is our plan. We plan to buy X amount of properties in this amount of time.” It was ten at the time. She strategically put some in my name, some in my wife’s name, so that we weren’t getting closer to the limits with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Let’s get into the numbers a little bit then. You got the purchase price of $47,000 and you’ve got your crazy low mortgage. How much was that mortgage monthly? What are we getting for rent and all that stuff?
The mortgage might have been $450 a month in mortgage cost but for our rents, we inherited a tenant at $325 a month, and then we placed a tenant at $400 a month. It already surpassed the 1% rule pretty easily, but 1% it’s easy to get when you’re $40,000. $325 is absurdly low but that’s what the tenants were paying at the time. We were happy to inherit a tenant that was there. We didn’t want to place one. We ended up placing one tenant and we were happy and he was there for years. Once he decided to move, we decided to sell the place because we didn’t want to own a property in that asset class.
That’s great to know. You buy a property and it’s cashflowing $200 to $250 a month after you set some aside for reserves and everything like that. You were doing this in 2017. Is that right?
When did you sell it?
We sold it in 2021.
What did you sell it for?
We sold it for $130,000.
Look at that. It’s almost tripled your value. That’s incredible. What did you do after that first one? It looks like you’ve got a couple of hundred bucks a month coming in. You’re starting to see the power of real estate. What happens next?
It’s exactly what you said. We saw the rent money was coming in and I was like, “This is easy. I’m winning in real estate. This is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.” It only would have taken a toilet to go bad or something like that. That would have wiped out all the cashflow for a few months. We found a house that had a mother-in-law suite off of it so we were like, “This is perfect. It’s two more units. It’s listed as a single-family home so people that are looking to rent out an apartment aren’t interested in it.”
We’re going into this little rabbit hole of finding places that are not necessarily mislabeled but something that other people aren’t as interested in. We had that property under contract for $87,000 and it’s a 3-bed, 1-bath house with a 1-bed, 1-bath apartment off of it. While we’re in the process of closing and waiting on all the mortgage things to go through. It’s a 30-day closing.
While we’re waiting for that to happen, we find two other properties pop up. Two duplexes, side by side for $50,000 each. The problem was we didn’t have enough money to buy all of them for 20% down so we decided to house hack the mother-in-law on the first property because it was the more expensive one so that we could put less percentage down. We could use what cash we had to buy the other two properties.You want to live healthy as long as you can. That includes financial, mental, and physical health. Click To Tweet
Where were you living at the time? Were you living in your original condo and then you decided, “We’re going to rent the condo. We’re going to move to this place.”
Exactly. When we found out about FIRE, we were in a big fancy 1-bed, 1-bath condo that was 1,200 square feet then we moved to a 1-bed, 1-bath condo that was around 600 square feet for $43,000. It was a fourth of the price. We were living there until we found this house hack that we decided to move into solely because we didn’t have enough money to buy so many places. We went from having a duplex to having six units within a month.
That’s amazing. The ADU house hack is so smart if you can pull it off. The thing that people usually do is they go, “We’re going to live in the big house, the three-bedroom or whatever it is,” and then, “There’s a cute little 1-1 in the back.” If you could, keep your life small enough that you can live in that 1-1 in the back and rent out a 3-bedroom, 5- bedroom house, especially if you can do it on Airbnb. It’s so powerful. I love hearing that you guys were doing that. It’s awesome.
It sounds like you found your game, real estate is your game. Did you rinse and repeat that over the next couple of years until you had the passive income that you needed?
Yeah. It was early mornings and late nights. I’m bad and I still struggle with it but at the time, I was terrible at outsourcing anything. I’m showing up at the properties. One of the duplexes is in poor quality so I’m over there every morning and every night working on it. I’m painting, redoing the kitchen, and redid the bathroom. I’m tearing out tubs and I’m doing all sorts of stuff. It’s rinsing and repeating.
At that point, because we had gotten so many properties all at once, I was like, “I don’t want to get anything else until we get these occupied.” It took a backseat on purchasing because we had gotten six properties in a month so now we’re at eight doors. We decided to try to focus on those to get them rent-ready. Once we did, we kept the ball rolling a little bit more and got up to ten.
Are you doing this traditional long-term rental stuff? Did you ever switch over to anything else?
We were doing long-term rentals until we quit our jobs. Once we had quit our jobs, we were planning on moving to Europe and that was the catalyst for us. We were like, “We’re going to go to Europe and live there.” When we were getting ready, we had already quit and we were waiting on some flights. We were trying to wrap up some things around here. One of our tenants turned in their notice.
At that point, we decided, “We’ll turn this place into an Airbnb. That way we have a place to stay when we want to come to visit family or friends and stay in the area to deal with our rentals or anything like that.” That was the reason why we got into short-term rentals. It was because we needed a place for ourselves to stay.
When did you decide to quit your jobs? At what point are we at now?
That was 2019.
You’re building for a couple of years until 2019. In 2019, you’re like, “I’m out. I’m going to go to Europe and travel.” Before you do, your tenant gives you its notice. You turn that into an Airbnb because you want a place to stay. I want to make sure I’m following. What happens next?
We had a cohost that managed the Airbnb. We furnished it and went over to Europe exactly like we had planned. We were traveling around, spending time in all these different countries, cities, and things like that, and then COVID happened. All of a sudden, the perpetual travel nomad thing doesn’t work out anymore. We got shut down in Cyprus for a few months and ended up coming back to the States. Especially at the beginning, everybody was concerned.
We thought, “All our tenants are going to lose their jobs. We’re not going to have any money for rent and mortgages. We need to go back and get jobs ourselves.” Luckily, we were not in that scenario. We have a good tenant placement process. Our tenants were all great. No one paid late even. No one missed a payment. It was perfect. It was the best-case scenario but at this point, the world was shut down so we decided to come back to the States and stayed in one of our rentals that were vacant again. We decided to live in it for a few months and convert it to an Airbnb as well.
Are you slowly going to be transitioning everything over to Airbnb over the next couple of years as your tenants move out? Have you seen that power or are you diversifying?
We’re diversifying right now. We have four rentals that we’re turning into short-term rentals. One of them is medium-term and so we have three short-term rentals. The other five are long-term rentals. We prefer long-term rentals but we do like having a few short-term rentals and we enjoy the management of short-term rentals.
Why not continue with the short-term rentals if you like them? It’s more money.
There are a couple of reasons. One, we don’t want to be that involved. We liked the diversification of it. At some point, something’s going to come down the line where not every place can be at Airbnb. We’re luckily in a city where all we have to do is have a business license and jump through a couple of hoops. There is going to be a certain point in our minds that we aren’t going to be able to have all the properties as Airbnbs. We like our long-term tenants that are there.
What we’re doing is we’re essentially waiting for a tenant to turn in their notice to leave and we’re raising rents incrementally to keep up with the market. Once a tenant turns in their notice to leave then we’re like, “Maybe we’ll turn that place into an Airbnb.” It’s only certain places that to us are in the right area, location, amenities, and make it easier for us to manage as well.
What made you do a medium-term versus having that be a short term?
It was a short term. It was the first condo that we had mentioned but we were breaking the HOA rules, which essentially is what happened. We got away with it for years because the HOA wasn’t enforcing it. It’s a one-bedroom condo. There are no issues. People are coming and going minding their own business.
Eventually, the HOA catches on and says, “You cannot short-term rent this place at all.” They said that we couldn’t have it on Airbnb at all but I found a loophole in the HOA bylaws that says as long as it’s rented for more than 30 days but less than six months, I don’t have to send them over a lease. I don’t have to do X, Y, or Z and so we turn that one into a medium-term rental so that we can flirt with that rule.
How’s that working out in that location because sometimes medium-term is specific for a location?
Surprisingly, it has done well. We didn’t think that Airbnb was going to do well, to begin with. Honestly, when we set up our first one, we thought, “It might be vacant for half the month but as long as we can make what we were making with a long-term tenant, then it’ll be a wash but it’s done well.” The medium-term has been booked up. We’re having same-day turnovers with our medium-term booking and it’s a minimum of 30 days or more.
I’ve got a question. Have you ever heard of a place not working with Airbnb or likely short-term or medium-term rentals because the location is bad, or they’re not getting enough bookings, less than they expect? I haven’t ever heard that.
No. I haven’t heard that with an entire city maybe. I’ve definitely heard that. With some of our rentals, I wouldn’t convert those into an Airbnb just because they’re not in an area that people would come and enjoy. They would be knocked against on the reviews because of where it is and that kind of thing.Let's see where life takes us. Once we have those options, we can decide. Click To Tweet
Z, do you have?
I have but I’ve been doing Airbnb since 2012. There were certain areas that didn’t do well at the beginning. It was always big cities and then now it leaks down the line that it could even be a super rural location that still rarely works. Now, would some of those places work? Maybe. The other thing I would say about making it work is that sometimes the numbers don’t work. If you look at what the high cost of mortgages is now and the high cost of homes in general, yeah, a lot of times the numbers don’t make sense, and people don’t realize that.
James, where are you now? What does your passive income look like? It sounds like you guys aren’t working at all unless you guys got jobs again. What are your expenses? Are you financially independent?
Yes. We’ve been financially independent since 2019. We quit our jobs and have been traveling and barring that little stint in COVID. We travel all the time. We’ll say that our income is definitely covering our expenses. We’re still buying properties with cash now and so we’re making more than we were spending. Initially, we were concerned.
We’re the worst early retirees because at the beginning. I was posting all these net worth updates and I was tracking every month. It was tough, the mindset shift between seeing our numbers grow especially our 401(k) and stuff like that while we were contributing, and then quitting our jobs and starting living off of our income and not seeing it grow at the same rate was tough mentally.
Every month, I was diligently tracking exactly what we were spending and I was trying to beat previous months. It was almost artificially low. COVID, to us, was a godsend because we quit posting on the blog. It was a weird scenario where we didn’t want to say, “Being braggadocious.” All these people were in hard times and we’re talking about how well we’re doing.
I took a backseat from posting and tracking the expenses so meticulously and now we have a much healthier relationship with money. We got more coming in and we spent plenty more. We still live frugally but we’re not artificially keeping it low. If we want something, we buy it. We have no concern there.
That’s the dream that you wanted to get to. Rewind it to years ago when you first heard about financial independence and you said that you wanted to retire in five years. You did it in three. Now, in a few years, you were like, “You don’t have to think too much about it. You can live the life that you’re used to living and not work.” That’s the freedom that everyone wants.
I love the idea of talking about the relationship with money because it’s pretty complicated. I noticed that, even for myself, I was financially independent at 28 and now over 35. I’m working again and building a business and it’s so easy to get trapped in that space of, “I want a little more cashflow. I want this and that. I’ll get an assistant. Now that I have an assistant, I have to pay for her.” I respect that you guys have kept not working and it seems like you’re balancing it helpfully.
Thanks. I tell people all the time, “Everybody’s different. I’m a non-stressful person. I’m pretty easygoing and I don’t even think about money. I talked about it. I enjoy money but I’ve won at money.”
James, we’re about to head into the final part of the show. Are there any words of wisdom you want to instill in the audience before we get there?
No, I don’t think so. The audience probably has plenty of wisdom themselves. They’re already reading this.
The best answer I’ve ever received. I love it. Let’s get into The Final Four. Z, kick us off.
What are you reading right now, James?
I finished reading the entire Harry Potter series. I know it’s probably not the answer that you may want but I’m a closet nerd. My wife and I finished rereading the Harry Potter series all the way through but right now I got The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I haven’t started it yet but I’m about to.
James, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I should preface this by saying, my parents are deaf. At one of my school events, I’m insecure. Not insecure but insecure about the fact that when I’m at an event, my mom is in the stands cheering for me and stuff like that. In high school, everybody was embarrassed by their parents and so I am embarrassed by my parents, my mom especially because my dad passed away.
I gave my mom a hard time about cheering for me, which is a terrible thing to do. I didn’t want to be a spectacle. I was concerned about what other people thought about me. My grandmother told me, “Don’t care about what other people think about you because chances are, they’re not thinking about you at all.”
Charlie Munger has a quote that says, “When you’re twenty, you care what people think. When you’re 40, you don’t care about what people think. When you’re 60, you realize people never thought about you anyway. The quicker you can get to that 60 years of wisdom, the better.” It sounds like you’re there, James. Good for you.
For question number three, what would you say is your why that keeps you going on this path?
I mentioned this in the previous answer. My dad passed away when I was younger. I want to live as healthily as I can for as long as I can. That financial health, mental health, physical health. My goal is to spend my time enjoying my life and to not be beholden to fears, holding me back from quitting my job, traveling, or taking risks.
Last question. You’ve done a lot of traveling. What is your craziest experience in a hotel or Airbnb?
We booked an Airbnb in Cinque Terre. My wife booked it and I was hands-off. I was like, “I trust whatever you pick. Go for it.” We don’t have any service at the time in Italy and so we miss our Airbnb host’s meetup to get our keys. The Airbnb host is berating us. Once we get on Wi-Fi, we receive all these messages of this woman essentially cussing us out because we haven’t met her at the appropriate time. We reached out to her and told her that we were on our way over.
She’s like, “I’m not even there. I dropped the keys off in another city at McDonald’s. You have to take a train to McDonald’s and then take a train to get back to the city that you’re supposed to be in.” We do all this right, jump through this hoop, get our keys, go and check into this Airbnb and we have to climb three flights of stairs, open the door, climb a flight of stairs to get to a bedroom.
What they’ve done is they’ve taken what was a good-sized bedroom and put a piece of wood right down the middle of it. They’ve split it into two bedrooms. The doorway itself is half a doorway that you have to turn sideways to get in and out of. From there, you have to take another set of stairs to get to the kitchen.
In the kitchen, it had a bathroom off of the kitchen. It’s one of those small bathrooms that have the toilet and the shower combined. While you’re using the bathroom, the shower is dripping on you and there’s mold in it. We’re going to spend the night there. It’s too late. We lay down to go to sleep and we can feel the whole building swaying with the wind. It was like we were on a cruise ship. It was super sketchy.
That’s what you get when you’re too frugal.
I can’t believe you stayed there.
We didn’t stay. We only stayed that one night. We ended up booking another place the next night. I pulled up Airbnb and it was getting ready to send over a message to them explaining why we weren’t going to stay there because it was not as advertised and all these types of things. I pull up a listing and one of the first sentences says, “It is a traditional home set across three floors.” I was like, “The stairs were expected.” I didn’t read the listing because I let my wife book it. She had a little hard time about it but the next place she booked was perfect so she got a pass.
You let her book the next place. Where could people find out more about you?
We are pretty active on Instagram @RethinkTheRatRace. We have a website RethinkTheRatRace.com. I know we’ve talked a little bit about long-term rentals and short-term rentals. We have a free calculator on our website. It’s RethinkTheRatRace.com/calculator. It’s a fun little tool that I created that lets you plug in what your rents are and how much more you can make as a short-term rental versus a long-term rental.
Check out Rethink the Rat Race. James, thank you so much for coming on. Your story is super inspiring. I love how you were able to achieve FI so quickly. I love that you’re able to stack your money, lay low and chill and enjoy it. I appreciate that.
We’ll see you next time.
- James Lowery
- The 4-Hour Body
- The 4-Hour Workweek
- Harry Potter
- The Obstacle is the Way
- @RethinkTheRatRace – Instagram
About James Lowery
I’m a 28-year-old former medical district manager who is obsessed with financial and physical health. Both my parents are deaf, which means that I am a CODA (child of deaf adults) and I am fluent in ASL. My parents divorced when I was 6. Unfortunately, my father passed away when I was 13 from complications due to his unmanaged diabetes.
So, raised by a single mother, who worked at Wal-Mart to afford to raise three kids, it’s safe to say that my family was pretty poor growing up. My grandmother was kind enough to watch us while our mother worked third-shift. However, she didn’t contribute much in the way of finances other than helping my mother manage the little money that she had come in. I couldn’t count how many times the water or electricity was cut off, and we had numerous cars repossessed.
For a while, I overcompensated for my humble upbringing by spending every dime I had to buy nice things to prove that I wasn’t poor, which just perpetuated the cycle and made me poorer. I had plenty of examples growing up on how to not manage your money or your health. Once I saw the light, it was relatively easy to make the changes I needed, which was to go back and live like I was poor again. Except this time was by choice!
These are a few reasons why I am passionate about maintaining health and building wealth. Luckily I found a wife who is not only supportive but also open-minded and willing to work toward a common goal of retiring early. Now that we have reached this goal, we have years to focus on traveling and living long, healthy, happy lives.