Are you keeping track of how you are spending your money? Our guest, Justin Taylor, talks about intentional saving and why you should spend on things that will bring you happiness and fulfillment. From the military to his corporate job, he kept records of his expenses to analyze what aspects he could trim down to save more money, all to achieve financial independence. Today, he is making millions and enjoying the fruits of his labor. Some say you’re going to miss out on life if you’re always working hard and saving money, so you have to pick one or the other. Justin is proof that you can have both. Tune in to discover how!
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Intentional Saving: The Journey Towards Financial Freedom With Justin Taylor
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In this episode, I am here by myself. Zeona is coming back from Washington. She finished furnishing her Airbnb. If you haven’t already checked out her blueberry cabin Airbnb, check that out. We’ve got a pretty cool show. Before we get into the show, we usually ask this at the end, but we would appreciate it if you could leave us a rating or review on iTunes. It is super appreciated. When we try to look at all of the feedback, we try to make changes to any suggestions you have. The more ratings and reviews, the more the show gets sent out to all the people. When we all hit financial independence, we all want to be together with our friends, which helps us spread the good word.
Justin is our guest in this episode. He is a very good friend of mine. He’s got a great story. One thing I love about his story is that it is so relatable. It’s probably the most relatable story we’ve ever had on the show because he did not fall into any stroke of luck. Everything he has done to date is 100% repeatable by anyone reading. All it boils down to is methodically saving over the course of 5 to 7 years, letting compound interest do its thing.
The stock market and the markets have done well over the past years. Maybe not so much in 2020. Still, he’s been able to create a pretty large amount of wealth for not doing anything crazy like going out and doing 100 deals or raising a bunch of money. He’s basically putting money in the stock market and saving. We’re going to go through his story here. Let’s bring him on the show.
Justin Taylor, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
I’m doing good. I’m shaking off a little jet lag, but I’m excited to be here.
Where were you again?
I was out in Saudi Arabia. I also hit Bahrain for a few days.
That is not a place that you hear a lot of people say they’re coming back from. What got you out there?
I had a buddy that I was in the Air Force with who’s out there. He thought he was going to be there longer than he ended up being out there. I had to make one of these last-minute, quick trips out there. The timing was perfect. They were ending Ramadan going into Eid, one of their big celebrations. That’s what brought me out there. I didn’t know what to expect. When you have a chance to go somewhere like that, have someone can show you around, have a place to stay, have a car, and make everything super easy. That made it approachable.
You probably didn’t need to do it on a budget, but I know you and your brand. You do it on a budget. That’s awesome. Let’s take it back to where and when did you first hear about financial independence?
It would have been close to your neck of the woods. That has been Colorado. It would have been in around April of 2014. What got me into it is I’m sitting there. I graduated from college, commissioned into the Air Force. I had my job that I’d been wanting. I’d been striving to be commissioned in the Air Force, graduate from college, and all of these things to hit these milestones, but I wasn’t happy. I was struggling with that. I was like, “I don’t know what to do now.” I’ve hit all my accomplishments, but I’m still not happy.
I know you’re familiar with that trip to Cozumel. We were going to see the orphanage and meet some of those kids. From that trip, I realized like, “This stuff is where the happiness is. Not anything else. Not these accomplishments.” I started trying to figure out, “How do I get there? How do I get to where I can do whatever I want to with my time, spend time giving back, and spend time with my family?” For me, that’s where happiness would come from. That led me down the rabbit hole of researching how I stopped working, what are countries with low expenses, and things like Mr. Money Mustache. That’s what set me off on my journey.
That’s awesome. How did you know that you weren’t happy? Have you ever seen happiness? What was your baseline?
I’d always been a super happy, carefree person. It was honestly the opposite. I never saw what being depressed felt like, so that was shocking to me. I was like, “I don’t like this. What is this?” As I started introspecting into myself, I’m realizing it’s because I’ve hit all these goals, but I’ve also moved eighteen hours away from anyone I’ve ever known. I’m alone. That’s when I realized that these accomplishments are what I was racing towards but being alone is the problem. Not having the people around me and the things that give me joy is the problem. How do I bring that back? How do I guarantee that I never have to say no to that? It was a big part of it.
We were in 2014. You’re having this revelation. You find Mr. Money Mustache and start to see the light. What happens next?
Naturally, with my upbringing, it was pretty easy to have a high savings rate because I was in that scarcity mindset naturally. Growing up, we didn’t have much. My mom had my brother when she was fifteen, so there’s never been a lot of money. There’s a lot of history there with my family, where she raised us as a single mom. We didn’t have anything. I grew up in North Mississippi. There’s not a lot of money floating around there.
I graduated from this tiny little public school in the country where no one had money. I had never seen money. Even though I was only making $40,000 something a year, to me, that felt like a ton. Saving 60% to 70% of that was not that difficult because having a few thousand dollars to spend was a ton of money. I’d never had any money. I went and got roommates. I was spending $400 a month or something on rent and had a paid-off car because I had this mindset that you don’t borrow money for things. You pay for things you can afford. I didn’t have a lot of expenses, and it made it pretty easy.
When you said you had a roommate, was that a house hack? Did you simply rent a place with roommates?
There’s no house hack. There was this website. You can search for people, specifically military people, around places. I ran to this guy’s basement that I didn’t know. He was house hacking because he owned the house. He was renting the basement to me and this other guest bedroom to a JAG officer, but I was paying nothing.
There’s always a silver lining. A decent lot of people in this space have had that scarcity mindset growing up where money wasn’t super available. That is almost the foundation of achieving early financial independence. It’s being able to spend $20,000 a year and still being happy. You said you’re making about $40,000 or $50,000 at this time in the military?
Are you still in Colorado Springs?
At that time, yes.
Let’s keep going here. How much are you saving when you’re in the military now that you are intentional about saving?
I’m saving 65% to 68%.
You’re saving $30,000 a year on a $50,000 salary.
I don’t even think I quite spent $20,000 those first couple of years.When there is an opportunity to save money, take it. Click To Tweet
That’s insane that you’re able to do that without house hacking because while your mortgage expense or rent expense is still super low, it’s still probably one of your largest expenses, if not the largest expense you had.
It’s the largest single expense.
Let’s keep going then. What happens from there?
Things have been pretty stable there for a couple of years. You start getting slight pay increases in the military as you make a different rank, but you’re in the same location. Things improved financially when I got stationed in Boston, which is where I moved next. That would have been January of 2017 when I moved to Boston. The way the military pay works, part of your pay is location-based. That part is tax-free.
Out of all the places in the country, Boston is probably the easiest to bet money on. If there’s anybody who happens to be reading who’s in the military or has a spouse or friend who’s in the military, there’s a mental trap you can fall in, where you want to go to these low costs of living areas because you’re thinking, “That’s where I can save the most money.”
If part of your pay is based on the location and you get paid more to be there, that gives you room to save money. A good example will be if you’re stationed somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Montana. They give you $1,000 a month, or you could sleep under a bridge and save $1,000 a month in Boston, where it will be $3,000 a month. You can spend $1,000 a month on a place to stay and save $2,000 a month.
There’s room to save money. It’s a common misconception I saw people fall under where they would go and target these low costs of living areas and not think about the math behind it. Moving to Boston, I got a big increase there. That’s tax-free. Later on, it was 2008, I was pinned as a Captain in the Air Force. At this time, I’m bringing home my after taxes closer to $90,000 a year.
You’re making $90,000 a year in Boston. I’m from Boston. I lived there too. I know it was expensive. How did you find a place to live? Did you rent a room? There are colleges all around the area, so it probably was pretty easy to find a place. Did the military hook you up with some housing?
The military didn’t hook me up with housing. This is another misconception from people outside of the military. They’re like, “Everyone in the military has their housing paid for. They live on base.” That’s true for some junior enlisted people, but that’s not true for most of the military. It wasn’t true for me as an officer. Anyway, I found my house looking on Craigslist. I found this awesome older gentleman who was my landlord.
He was a true guy from the South, like an Italian. He had the crazy Boston accent. Neither one of us could understand each other, but he specialized in placing people and these units that he was renting out. You know how all those houses are around Somerville, where it’s these-story houses. Each level is normally three people living in it. He’s putting all the random people together, like putting that puzzle together. I was paying $700 a month for rent in Boston.
On a percentage basis, $700 a month for rent in Boston is crazy low, even in 2017 and 2018. When I lived there in 2015, I was paying $1,100, and I was sharing a bedroom. That’s nuts.
I looked it up. It was $775, to be exact.
Your housing expenses did double. It went from $400 to $800. Your salary went from $40,000 to about $90,000. The percentage that you’re spending on rent is about the same. Maybe it’s a little bit better in Boston, believe it or not. You’re in the military. You’re making $90,000. How are you getting around? Are you buying a car in Boston? What are you doing for food? What else is there here?
I still have a good savings rate. I’m spending around $25,000 a year in Boston. My car was paid off. It’s a 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid. For whatever reason, I understand it, but people always want to talk about my food budget. If you think about it, it’s not moving the needle if I double my food budget. Since I’ve been tracking my spending, I generally spend around $60 a month on groceries. That always freaks people out.
This is back in 2018. This isn’t now, right?
It was slightly in 2021. Since I started tracking in 2015 to now, it’s probably $60 to $70 range, pretty tightly. It might be a little bit getting closer to $100 a month now.
I know it doesn’t move the needle, but food is probably the third largest expense that people spend. I know this is your expertise. I want to want to unpack it a little bit here because we came back from the grocery store. We spent $125 for 5 or 6 meals that we’re going to be having here. Uncover it. What do you do?
First of all, I don’t have any food allergies. I’m also not buying organic grass-fed, pampered meats. I’m only buying typical stuff from the butcher counter. I’m mostly going to be a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Maybe some chicken thighs, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, things like that. We don’t buy sodas, boxed stuff, or snacks. We buy the things from the refrigerated section. A lot of people say, “Stay on the outside of the grocery store.” It’s very true. The other thing is some people feel like, “You got to have a grocery list or else you’ll go crazy, and you’ll buy too much stuff.” That’s what keeps you imbalanced.
I’m a big non-believer in grocery lists because if you go to a grocery store and get on your list like a pork loin or name your product, then you go there and are like, “This crazy deal on chicken thighs,” there’s no reason you can’t make the exact same dish with different meat or vegetable. Be flexible. Get more comfortable with cooking and substituting things in and out. Don’t go towards those dishes that have an encyclopedia of ingredients. Those things will help you keep that budget low on groceries.
It’s basically like, “Keep it simple. Don’t follow the recipe.” You get a veggie. Get a carb if you want carbs and get meat. That’s all you need. The other thing depends on where you are in your journey toward financial independence. In the early stages, maybe you should be in grass-fed organic meat. I’ll admit it. That’s why our meals are more expensive. My wife is into the grass-fed or grass-finished, all that stuff. We’re buying meat at $9 to $10 a pound. It’s like, “I worked hard for 5 or 6 years scraping on beans and quinoa to get it so we can eat this stuff.”
When you’re in that scraping and saving mode or if that healthy food is not something that you’re valuing at that time, by all means, what you’re eating is not an unhealthy diet. You’re not going to McDonald’s every day. You’re not eating the snacks and the sugary stuff. You’re eating veggies and meat. You will still be very healthy doing what you’re doing.
We always still value health, like working out, eating healthy, keeping our weight in a good place, a good muscle mass, all that good stuff. Never cross that bridge deep into the nutritional journey and look for the specific types of meat raised in specific ways. My dad raises cows, so I’m pretty familiar with how everything works, but I never got that deep into it.
That’s perfectly fine. You’re in Boston. You’re in your mid-twenties or maybe late-twenties. Boston is a fun place to be. Red Sox won the World Series in 2018. There are some parties happening. What are you doing? Are you having fun while you’re in the city? What’s going on there?
I had tons of fun. I would have people who would always say things like that when they would see my budget. It was hyper-focused on what brought me happiness, which was traveling experiences, and all the other stuff was cut out. I put together this Google Doc of all the trips we went on. It would have been 2019, which was our last year while we were living in Boston. It was nuts. It was too much, honestly. It was to the point where the next year, we looked at each other. The pandemic ended up coming in taking care of that for us, but we looked at each other after 2019 before the pandemic started and was like, “We can’t do this again. Not financially.” It was running us into the ground.
We did so many trips. We went to so many places. Every weekend, it was a concert, a sporting event, or flying somewhere. As you know, I’ve got all the data. I’ve got every single purchase I’ve made since 2015 in the spreadsheet. I’m always super transparent about it. I always throw it out on the blog what I’m spending money on. I was not at home, sitting on my hands. That’s a common painting of me. Sometimes it gets around. People think I’m probably like eating cardboard and beans, and I sit at home and don’t do anything. Nothing could be further from that.
I know that for a fact too. I know you’re a super fun guy. I always love hanging out with you. This is the second question that I know you probably get a lot. Maybe you got this when you were single. How the hell do you think you’re ever going to meet a woman spending this amount of money? Tell us a little bit about how you met Leslie.
It was hilarious. Someone took one of my articles and posted a financial independence subreddit on there, which you would think is like, “These are our people. They’re going to be supportive.” It was about this trip that Leslie and I took to Hawaii. All everyone did was start bashing me and telling me how miserable she must be and all that stuff. First of all, it’s extremely sexist to think that I need to provide for Leslie when she’s not her own human who’s not also making six figures and doing a great job. The other thing is it’s also naive to think you can’t have a ton of fun and go a lot of places without spending a ton of money.
I know that’s not you. I’m saying the masses. How I met Leslie was in Colorado. That could be a whole show about how we ended up meeting each other. The condensed version is I was friends with a girl in the Air Force who went to college with Leslie in San Antonio. Now, I’m friends with this girl in Colorado who’s in the Air Force. Leslie also has a job in Colorado.
She comes over to our house. Funny enough, it is me coming back from the second year of my mission trip. I landed that night and got home. It’s like a house party vibe. I’m like, “I don’t even know who some of these people are.” Leslie knocks on the door, and I’ve gotten off the plane. Luckily for me, I looked real tan, making a good first impression. We went out that night, and the rest is history, but it was tough. We dated for a couple of months, and she moved to New York. We did long-distance for almost three years, but we’ve been together for a couple of years now.
If you can get through the long-distance, you can almost get through anything. Did she have anything to say about your extreme saving habits? You’re not normal. It must have been a little bit of a shock to her. Did she love you for who you are? She’s a great person.
The biggest thing is there was no smoke and mirrors. I wasn’t trying to act that it was going to be one way and start changing things all of a sudden. I vividly remember one of our first dates at Phantom Canyon in Colorado Springs. I somehow get off on a tangent about how excited I am about this price per pound of chicken.
I remember taking us to the $2 Tuesdays at Fox & Hound. I remember vividly. We’ll put out a coupon, and it’s like a free entree for my birthday or something. It was very clear early on that when there are opportunities for me to save money, I’m going to take those. At the same time, we’re going out to the national parks, camping, going on trips, concert festivals, beer festivals, and all these things and having a good time. When there is an opportunity to save money, I’m going to take it every time. As long as it’s not getting in the way of me having a good time, I’m going to take those opportunities.
She also realized that some people could think that must be exhausting for her or for me. It’s got this weird second nature thing I have. I don’t spend a lot of brainpower on it. I don’t think about it. It’s natural to me. It happens. It would probably stress me out if numbers never crossed my mind. If I stopped thinking about it, I’d be stressed like, “What am I missing?” It doesn’t stress me out thinking about it.
That’s great. A lot of people get fulfillment in different ways. It’s in some way being creative. For some people, it’s making more money. For some people, it’s saving more money or how to save that dollar one way or the other. I know that you and Leslie are super happy. I can see that based on all the trips that you guys go on together, and you’re doing all these experiences.
I’m sure a lot of people are wishing they could live the life you were living if they could look to see what you’re doing and not see what you’re spending like, “How the heck does this guy afford all this stuff?” You’re spending maybe $20,000 to $30,000 a year. I want to keep talking about that because now you’re making more money. You’re making $90,000, maybe six figures or so. We’re looking at 2018 and 2019. How much have you increased your lifestyle, if at all?
The only real increases were due to the natural difference in housing costs going to Boston from Colorado. Other than that, everything stayed pretty flat. I was still saving 70% of my income. I was spending right across 2017, and into 2018, I was spending about $2,300 a month, all said and done in Boston. That includes everything like all the housing and food. It’s every penny that I spent. It was about $2,300 bucks a month, which was up a little bit from Colorado. It was almost completely tied to the housing change that extra $300 to $400 a month.
You’re still spending the same amount. Are you making over six figures at this point, or are you still at that $90,000?
When I said $90,000, that’s after taxes. It would take a six-figure job to make that much money. It is difficult to compare a military income with a non-military income because the tax situation is different. That’s why I am always talking after-tax dollars. It would take a six-figure job offer to be able to bring home the same amount of money that I was bringing home because I was bringing home $90,000 a year.
This is why you were in the military. When did you leave the military?
That would have been the 1st of September 2019. I vividly remember because I only had one week off between the military and my corporate job. That was FinCon DC. I left the military at the very end of August. We did FinCon DC then I went to work in that second week of September of 2019.
What was your job there in September of 2019?
This company is called Pivotal. They started in California, but they had an office in Boston near Kendall Square. It’s a software company. My role is customer success manager, which, unfortunately, sometimes when people hear that, they think you’re answering phones and telling people to restart routers, but it’s a little bit more valuable than that. It’s normally what you call SaaS company, Software as a Service company. When a company buys a product, they’re going to purchase the product once. Every year, they’re going to have a renewal where it’s like, “Do we want to buy this product again?”
It’s up to you to have that person be successful, see the value they’re getting from the product, and look for opportunities to expand within their business to increase the amount of money they’re spending. You’re managing that account, that life cycle after the initial sale. You’re not doing like a cold call, but you’re still looking for expansion opportunities. That’s still the same role I do now. It’s only our company was acquired by a different company. I managed some people now and moved teams. Essentially, that’s the same function with the role that I’m playing in now.
How did you acquire the skill from the military? What gives you the qualifications to go to this job?
My background was in Computer Engineering. That’s what I went to college for. My last couple of jobs in the Air Force is what helped me. One job was what they would call a green door or black world, which is more a classified job, but it was dealing with IT. My last job before I got out was we were helping organizations across the Air Force take their old applications and pair them with a contractor to help them refactor that code so that it can be run on a public cloud like AWS or Microsoft Azure instead of being run on cram on the actual Air Force base.
That is what this company that was hiring me was looking to help customers do. It is to transition from a more antiquated model on cram to a public cloud. I was used to those personas. I was used to talking to those people. I was used to the problems they were facing. When I joined the team, that technical aspect of it and the conversations and the day-to-day was way easier for me than I think it was for even some of the employees who had been there for a little while because they were CSMs, but they were from different companies who had different expertise. At the end of the day, other than some of the technical knowledge, it’s all soft skills. It’s how to talk to people, solve problems, and manage a project, which I think anyone could do if they put their mind to it.
I suspect you probably had a pay bump from military pay to the corporate, private world?
That’s where a big pay increase happens. I’ve got all my numbers here. The way they work is I happened to start tracking my spending in April when I started tracking it. My fiscal year was from April to March. When I say 2019, that would be April 2019 to March 2020. I’ll look at 2019 as my last, which is when I was still in the Air Force.It's easy to fall in that middle trap of comparing yourself to somebody else. No matter who you are, there's somebody doing worse or better. Click To Tweet
I was looking at a little under $9,000 a month to take home, then moved forward to 2020, where I’ve got like a full year under my belt where the whole year is me making money in my new corporate job. Now, I’m looking at $16,000 a month to take home after taxes on average over the course of that year. I’ve doubled my salary instantly in a take-home-wise way and more than doubled it from a W-2 standpoint. Even take-home-wise, I had doubled it.
I suspect you’re living at the same still. You’re so focused on saving to hit this financial independence marker. Are you still saving?
Yes, and it got even more aggressive. My savings got more aggressive because of COVID. COVID cut out a lot of my travel, which is where most of my spending was going. I didn’t know COVID was coming. In February of 2020, I’d always wanted to make a little camper van. I fell in love with the Ford Transit, not the one that most people have seen as the big one, but the Connect. It’s the tiny little Ford Transit. I thought it would be so cool to take something like that and turn it into something you can live in because it does not look like you could possibly live in it or even sleep overnight because they’re so small. I found one. I start converting it, then the pandemic happens. It turned out to be perfect timing.
Leslie and I are taking it on a big trip. We go across to New York, to Notre Dame’s campus, and to Chicago. We come up to Colorado. You and I hung out on that trip. We went on a hike for a friend’s wedding. On that trip, it was completely unplanned, but we were going to surprise Leslie’s mom in Austin. The night before, we’re driving through the night to surprise her. Again, she doesn’t know we’re coming.
She makes a statement like, “Our little condo in Downtown Austin that we’ve had since the ’80s is opening up like a person’s leaving. We need to find a new tenant.” When we were in, we surprised her. We were like, “Let’s go check this thing out.” We started talking to them, and we realized they’re renting this apartment or at least 50% below market value. It needs some work. It’s not being managed properly. Right there and then, we made a decision like, “Let’s ask our bosses. Can we go remote forever regardless of what COVID says or the status of COVID? If so, we’ll move to Austin. We will pay you your property taxes.”
We were paying the property tax amount, so that was $275 a piece. It would have been $550 total for the two of us to live in an apartment in Downtown Austin. In exchange, we would stay there for a year. They gave us a small budget like $3,000 to find materials. We would renovate the place, and when we moved out, we would find someone who would rent the apartment for at least 50% more than they were renting it for then. We would handle all the property management stuff.
My rent went all the way down to $275 a month. There was so much less travel in 2020. We had lots of trips canceled. A lot of things were refunded. We bought all these concert tickets and plane tickets and those are all being refunded. Now, my expenses are dropping. That period of April 2020 to March of 2021 was pretty nuts. My average spending was $1,288, even though I was making the most money I’ve ever made in my life.
You’re making well into the six-figures at this point, and you’re spending $1,200 a month.
My savings rate was 92% that year.
COVID did that for a lot of people. COVID allowed me to not travel and focus tons on growing my business. I made more money than I ever made in my life in 2020. When COVID and unforeseen things come up, resourceful people can take different situations and adapt to it to make it the most advantageous for them. If you’re in that victim mindset, which most of America was, it was probably a bad year for most people. You’ll see who’s going to take control of that, and it sounds like you were one of those people. You didn’t go back to Boston from that trip. It sounds like you moved from Boston to Austin.
We cut our trip a little short, so we could get back up to Boston and get all our stuff sold, pack up and get out of there. It was 40 days since the day we pulled into Austin. I have this a-ha moment. We’re moving the U-Haul back to Austin.
You’re working throughout this trip, like on the van trip. You live in the van like the Instagram van life that people are showing where you’re laying in front of the Grand Canyon with your laptop on your lap and answering emails.
It was a bit of that, but this is a tiny van, so it wasn’t our intention to live in it. We spent a few nights in it, but we’re also breaking it up. When I visited a friend’s Chicago, we stayed with him. We’re in New York. We slept in the van, but we were hanging out at my buddy’s house all day. When we were in Colorado, we were at a friend’s wedding. They had this hotel type of arrangement. When we were in Austin, we were staying at her parents’ house. We spent a few nights in it and were able to pull over and work from it when we needed to. This is a tiny van. It is smaller than a lot of passenger cars. It was not meant for living in. It was never intentional.
That takes us to now. Where are you now? Are you still working that same job? Do you like the job? Why are you doing all this? Why are you saving so much? When are you going to quit?
I do like the job, and I’m going through interviews for a promotion to manage the team. I like the team. I liked the challenge. I like getting to mentor people. We have our own podcast at The FI Show. We interviewed a lot of people. Like yourself, there are a lot of great real estate success stories out there. Something I wish I would have leaned into more, but I’ve always enjoyed my W-2.
I try not to beat myself up about that many times and feel like, “I’m so far behind,” when I compare myself to these other people. You’re happy, traveling the world, seeing things, and in a good financial spot. It’s easy to fall into that middle trap of comparing yourself to somebody else. No matter who you are, there’s somebody doing worse or better. It’s not good to get too wrapped up in your success and not get too down on yourself about the person in front of you succeeding more.
I love that you said that because I found myself in that place months ago, where I thought that I wasn’t doing as good as I should have been, or I should’ve been honestly leaning into real estate more so I could make more and all that. I took a step back. I’m like, “Pump the brakes.” I was able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. As long as you are happy, your spouse is happy, and you’re healthy, what more could you ask for?
I have started loosening the reins a little bit on spending. We bought a house. I got myself a new truck. I made a decision. I’m happy with my job, but since I do have this steady flow of income coming in, I want to take this time to experiment with like, “Would these things make me happier?” I don’t want to wait, retire, have this essentially a fixed budget, and think, “I wonder if having a vehicle would make me happy.” I want to go ahead and knock out all those assumptions and scratch those itches, then keep the things that matter to me and get rid of the things that don’t. I’ve never let myself experiment too much with some of those things. I can also pay off a lot of things now while I’m working that won’t be ongoing expenses.
I can buy a new vehicle. I can buy a camper. I can do these things then they’re not expenses later in life. I’m using this as a real experimental time. It’s funny. I’m still saving close to 80% of my income, even though I’m spending because I’ve been able to keep increasing my income to the point where I can spend $4,000 a month, and still, $4,000 a month is crazy. That’s a new truck payment, a nice house, doing everything I want to do, and I’m still saving whatever 80% of my income.
You’re a different breed, and I love it. Did you buy the truck in cash? Did you buy the house in cash? Interest rates were super low when you bought them.
It was super low when I bought them. Now, maybe not. Earlier on, I had a real problem with borrowing money and felt like I owed somebody. It was up to a point like when I bought my Fusion back in the day. I was like, “I’m going to build my credit up.” I didn’t know anything about personal finance. I was like, “I think it would be good for my credit.” I had one regular payment, and then when I went to make my second payment, I was like, “I can’t stand this,” and I paid it off. With this truck and how much more comfortable I am with the way financing works and the math behind it, it’s a 0% loan. I don’t have any interest in this truck for five years. Why would I pay it off?
The house is a 2.6% interest rate. If they would’ve given me a 130-year loan, I would take it. I don’t care. If the interest rates are that low, I always feel like I can outperform it. You can have things like this in 2022, where it’s worse. We’re into 2022, sitting here. The returns don’t look great, but long term, I believe that I will take all the money you’ll give me at 0% or 2.6%. I did not buy them cash. I didn’t put a penny down on the house, and I ended up making money closing on the house. I’m not a big real estate aficionado, but I feel pretty proud about that one.
I suspect you did the VA loan?
It’s the VA loan, and then our realtor gave us a percent back. We ended up making a few grand off purchasing that house and know the amount.
Congratulations. I want to give a quick recap. This whole money journey started for you in 2014. How much money did you have? When you first started tracking your net worth, where were you at? What year was that?
When I first started tracking my spending, that would have been April of 2015, and I had $38,000 of net worth.
I read your article. Mostly through your birthday gifts, like small salaries and all that stuff at the time, you’re saving slowly. Let’s fast forward to your most recent one. If you feel comfortable sharing where you’re at now, it would be cool to see where this journey has taken you in a pretty simple way.
In April 2015, it’s $38,000. I had already been working full-time for a little over a year. Most of that money was money that had been saved cash from working that year. Going into my career, I had no money. There were no inheritances. There was nothing like that. No handouts. No money was given to me. I went to college and was on from my parents. There are none of those things. I had a government career for most of this journey. I had this civilian career for two years.
In October of 2021, I hit $1 million. The markets are all over the place. I’m still over $1 million, but I became a millionaire in October of 2021, which feels crazy to me with a background I came from. I look around at where I could have ended up coming from my little town in North Mississippi. There are not a lot of people who make it out. While I feel privileged that some dominos fell the right way, I’m also proud of the work I’ve put in and what I was able to build.
Your story is such an incredible story. The one thing I want to take away from that the most is that you did it in such a simple way. You’re not trying to sling a bunch of real estate deals. You’re not trying to raise money from other people and make things hard and risky. What you did was so not risky. Anyone could do it. It’s a matter of like, “Are you okay being a little bit different?” I have a lot of one last question for you. Did you get any flack from your parents or people you loved for not spending a lot of money? They’re like, “What are you doing? You’re a millionaire. Why are you still getting the free expired meat?”
There’s a little bit of a mixed bag. The way we grew up, being frugal, was natural. It was normal. I was also a weird subset of that. I was an extreme version of that. I was always into math and money, even as a little kid. My uncle used to always tell the story. That was one of my favorites where I and he and my cousin were riding down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to visit my aunt. I was ten years old. He sends me into the gas station to get some cokes. He wanted Coca-Cola because of my whole family on my dad’s side. I’d spent time working for Coca-Cola, but in the South, people call all soft drinks cokes. This is a little behind-the-scenes knowledge there.
He tells me, “Go in there and get some cokes.” I’m in there for ten minutes. He’s like, “What is going on?” I finally came out and got something like a Shasta Cola. He’s like, “I told you I wanted cokes.” I started explaining to him how much the cost per ounce was and how much cheaper this soda was than the soda he asked for. He’s like, “I don’t care. It’s not what I asked for.” This is before they start giving you a little cheat code, the little orange sticker that tells you what the price per ounce or pound or whatever it was. You had to calculate yourself. I was sitting there as a little kid. I was always good at doing math in my head. I was sitting there figuring it out.
I come back, and I’m so proud of myself. I’m like, “Look at what I did.” That’s always been ingrained in me to be that type of person. People who don’t know me as well, you get the flack from. When I’ve done presentations, one of the slides I always show is it will be this one slide that will have dozens of pictures of whatever the previous year was and all these trips I went on like, “Can we squash this and put this to bed now?”
You talk to almost any American, like, “What have you done in the last year?” and I guarantee you that I’m in the top five percentile of the amount of trips and things I’m going on. This whole mentality of, “You’re going to miss out on life. It’s a choice. You either get to enjoy life and save and retire early. You got to pick one or the other. You either save the money or you retire early,” is a pet peeve of mine. You can have both.
You’re a living example of that. We’re going to head into the final part of our show. Before we do, do you have any other words of wisdom for the audience?
I’ll pull up one of my favorite ones since we talked about food. It’s a thing to keep in the back of your head. It’s this intersection of when you think about what you’re eating, what you’re spending your money on, and what you get value from. It’s a simple question I’d ask people which is like, “What did you have to eat for lunch last Tuesday?” It’s a weird question. Most people can’t answer it, and that’s the point.
You don’t even remember what you ate last Tuesday. Things that you can’t remember that you spent money on a week ago are the things you can remove from your budget. Those things that you light up like you want to tell people about that concert you went through, that trip you went on, and get excited about it, those are the things that deserve a sacred place in your budget. You should not cut out unless you have to or hit some life event.
Focus on cutting out the things you can’t remember. When you’re getting Uber Eats in the middle of the night for $40 or when getting $5 with the food, you don’t even remember that, but it’s impacting your ability to reach financial independence. Ask yourself, “What do I have to eat for lunch last Tuesday?” It’s a litmus test to figuring out what’s important in your budget.
I liked that. It’s giving some tangible context to like, “What should I spend on and what shouldn’t I spend on?” I haven’t heard that before. Spend on the things you’ll remember, the experiences, the trips, the relationships, and get rid of the things you want. It doesn’t matter what you’re eating for food as long as you’re eating something. That’s awesome. With that being said, we will head into the final four. These are the four same questions. One is a little different in that we ask everybody every episode. The first one is, what book are you reading now?
I was listening to this book called San Fransicko, which talked about some of the homeless situations in California and maybe some of the histories that led up to it. Whether you would agree with the author or not, it’s important to listen to both sides of the argument. I like pushing myself to think about both sides. It’s an interesting book about some of the drug and poverty situations in different large cities. It’s tackling how you solve these problems and homelessness. Is it straight money? Do you build houses? What’s the litmus test for who gets to live in those houses? It’s a very complex problem, so I’ve been trying to learn more about that.
I haven’t heard of that one, so that’s good. The second question is, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve been fortunate to have jobs that I enjoy. Especially coming from my dad is someone who I would also see that I thought trying to maximize the most of a dollar like money was important. For him to tell me that the best decision he ever made was one time when he walked away from a job that was paying more to become a police officer, which is the career field he ended up in, like how much happier he was.
It’s to be able to give me that flexibility to say I can make decisions that aren’t necessarily the most financially safe if it means I’m happier to go ahead and go with that. It’s seeing someone else who I know is not living on hopes and dreams. They’re a very rational person to give me that advice or even more. I’d say that.
I love that. The third question is, what is your why?
My why are the relationships, the people, and the experiences. I don’t need a lot of fancy things. I don’t need people to know who I am. I don’t need any of that. I only want those sitting around the campfire moments, pointing at something and saying, “I changed someone’s life for the better.” Those are my why.
You’re changing a lot of people through your blog and through, hopefully, this episode and a lot of different things. Fourth and final question, what weird, embarrassing thing could you find in your search history if we looked at it now?
Probably the amount of sloths. I resonate greatly with the soft animal, the expressions they make, and their lifestyle. I get a kick out of these funny sloth videos where they’re interacting with people and other animals.
They’re slow and steady.
They never care in the world. They’re oblivious to what’s going on outside of the house.
They’re just smiling and slow. I love it. Where can people find out more about you?
You can google Saving Sherpa. Luckily, that has a pretty good recognition. The webs that will pop up, like Instagram and Twitter, are all @Saving_Sherpa. It’s technically Saving-Sherpa.com. Cody and I had the podcast over at TheFIShow.com. You can find that on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.
It’s a great podcast as well. Give that a listen. Follow his blog. Justin, one thing I love about your blog is that you are excruciatingly transparent in your budget. You’re showing your net worth, how much you’re spending, how much you’re making, and following along and seeing your journey. If you’re reading this, where are you? If you’re making $40,000 or $50,000 a year and you’re early on in your journey towards FI, you’ll look to see where Justin was at that point and see where he was spending.
Years from now, when you’re making $90,000 to $100,000, you can go back and look at Justin and see where he was spending the $100,000. That was the purpose of your blog. It was so people could go back and relate to where you are in your journey because your story is so relatable. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Copy and paste. In the next couple of years, you’ll likely end up with a million-dollar net worth traveling the world and going to Saudi Arabia for ten days or whatever the heck that you do.
It’s like you said before. It’s not the craziest store in the world. It’s not this get-rich-quick scheme, but I hope it is relatable. I hope that everyone realizes that they can also do the exact same thing. That’s why it was so important to me to be super transparent because I wanted to give people the cheat code. That’s where the name comes from, Saving-Sherpa. I wanted to be someone’s guide, someone they could follow along to the destination and follow me step by step. That’s what I hope people can do. I hope they can find it relatable.
Thank you so much for coming to the show. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s great to have you on. I’m sure I will be seeing you some time in the near future. I feel like our paths always crossed. If you ever find yourself in Denver, or I don’t know if you knew, we moved to Idaho, so if you find yourself in Idaho, let us know, and we’ll link up.
Will do. Same for Austin.
That was Justin Taylor, one of my good friends from Saving-Sherpa.com. One thing I love about Justin, his story, and why I love his blog is because it is so transparent, and I mentioned that. You’re able to see everything from his spending to his expenses. Wherever you are in your journey, track his story and see where he was at, where you’re at now and follow him step by step. It is a super easy thing to do. Take some of his tips, whether it’s food, travel, whatever it is, like how you get cheap housing. Anyone could spend less money. As you methodically grow in your career, you’re going to make more money, so your savings rate is going to increase.
As your savings rate increases, you’re able to save and invest more. Time is on your side. Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. That will generate tremendous amounts of wealth so that you can go ahead and live the life you want to live. I know Justin very well. He does a lot of traveling, probably 4, 5, or 6 months of the year. He and his girlfriend are out traveling with friends or by themselves, whatever it is. They live a super nice life. If you want to go back and reread this episode, he provides some great tips, especially saving for food. That’s his number one thing.
I love the tip that he gave. Those things that you can’t remember are the things that you can cut out or spend less money on. With the things that you can remember, think about your experiences, vacations, trips, relationships, all those things. Those are the things you’re going to think back and remember. Spend frivolously on those things. Cut back extremely on the things that you won’t remember. That does it for this episode. If you could please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, that would be amazing. Give us feedback. You can always hit me up on Instagram. I’m @TheFIGuy. Let us know how we’re doing. We will see you in the next episode. Thanks, everybody.
- Justin Taylor
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- The FI Show
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About Justin Taylor
I’m a Mississippi native working in Boston and want to help everyone find their path to becoming financially independent and, if you so choose, retire early. There are many other bloggers out there but few that are at the early stages of their journey so that you can follow along. Fewer still that are not making a six figure salary, had no inheritance, paid their way through college, and no risky investment strategies. Basically, I want you to follow along as I prove that retiring in your late 30’s early 40’s range is possible for anyone.
I hope through this you learn a lot about finance, yourself, and how those two aspects intersect. Seperating real happiness from the happiness you believe you need to buy is such a rewarding experience. Follow along, ask questions, and share my story!