Set for Life by Scott Trench
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This is the book that fully changed my perspective of FI. I sincerely wish that everyone and their Mommas will read it to change their perspective too. And honestly hope to one day teach a personal finance course and have this book be a base to that curriculum. As Jered Sturm said in his review: this book could change the world.
Mr. TTF was the one to get me on the FI movement and pushed me to read many articles about this newfound matter. (You can read all about it in Our Story.) I read many of MMM’s articles in the process. However, I was unable to fully realize how early retirement could actually happen for me. I wasn’t making much above minimum wage at the time ($13.33/hour to be clear… and that’s not even my real wage) and I certainly wasn’t saving every dime of that either. Retirement just didn’t seem to be in my cards.
That was until Scott Trench took away any sense of doubt and made me kick my butt into serious gear. I would read one chapter and go plan how I was going to do everything he says because I was so darn excited.
The first thing that hangs people up on early retirement is “Why?” No one can seem to grasp what you could possibly do with your day if you don’t have a job. Our society is so hung up on the idea that work defines you and without work you essentially lose your identity. A common example you will see of this is when meeting someone, one of the first questions they will ask you is “What do you do?” It happened to me just today, actually.
Trench details why you should want to spend every day doing what YOU want and what is best for you and your family. Money may not buy happiness but it sure does buy you the freedom to do what makes you happy.
He understands you aren’t making a million dollars a year. In fact, he explicitly states who this book is for:
“It is designed for the full-time median (around $50,000 per year) wage earner who has little to no initial savings but wants early financial freedom.”
Now, tell me that that is NOT you. Because it sure as hell described me when I first started on this journey. I was working a supervisory position with far less pay than $50K a year and had maybe 100 bucks to my name.
But he outlines what seems like such a simple plan that I almost feel embarrassed that I didn’t come up with it first. There are only three stages of wealth creation:
- The First $25,000 is the Hardest
- From $25,000 to $100,000 through Housing and Income Generation
- Moving from $100,000 to Financial Freedom
As you all know, Mr. TTF and I are in the beginning phases of our FI journey and you are all here for the ride. So, we wanted to outline how we (currently) are planning to implement the Set For Life strategy to reach early retirement. Don’t be surprised if we come back in a year or two and change everything, though.
Step 1: Save a 1 Year Runway – $25,000
Scott starts out by discussing that in order to build up a more realistic runway, you need to first focus on your current expenses. He’s right in saying that saving 1 year of expenses when you spend $60,000 per year will take a lot longer than saving up $25,000, which is his magic number.
This is the step we are on right now, analyzing our expenses and starting the baby fund of savings.
Scott Trench essentially swears by the $25,000 / year rule. To us, that is a crazy, tiny number that I flat out told Mr. TTF we were never going to do hit. But there is no room for excuses in the path to FI.
Our largest hesitation is that this number is for only 1 single person. Since Mr. TTF and I live together and are planning to reach FI together, we calculate our expenses together. This is probably true about some of you and for others maybe not. Initially, you may think the expenses for 2 people would just be double, however, once you live with someone your expenses change quite significantly, in more ways than one.
First and foremost, you housing expenses, whether that is a mortgage payment or rent (like us). You are going to be splitting that expense now as well as all utilities, internet, furniture, and appliances. While bills based on usage may change with 2 people using them compared to one, the changes will be minor (e.g. 2 showers running but still 1 fridge, etc.).
Yet, there are still double of many things to consider like food, cars and transportation costs, and entertainment. We haven’t found as solid a number as Scott has because we have a whole other contention with this number:
We live in Southern California.
Southern California Housing Debacle
According to Investopedia, California has the second highest cost of living in the US and trust us… we are feeling the difference. One of the biggest costs is obviously housing, as it is usually the biggest piece of anyone’s expense pie.
We would love to move closer to work to cut down on commute time as Trench avidly promotes doing. Mr. TTF is currently driving a hour each way to and from work, sometimes up to an hour and a half if traffic is really bad; that’s 2-3 hours PER DAY just sitting in a car. I am a bit “luckier” with an average day around 30 minutes each way.
However, we are living in the cheapest place we can possibly find. We are paying $1,250 a month for a 1 bedroom apartment and live nowhere near work. With Trench’s advice, we could try to move closer to work, but rent skyrockets in those neighborhoods. We can’t find a studio apartment for less than $1,500 a month, let alone a 1 bedroom apartment.
Buying a Home
And buying? Yeesh. We definitely have tried. We would LOVE to househack and are constantly looking for something that could work for us. However, 1 bedroom condos in not-so-nice areas that are not-so-close to work are starting at $450,000. A ONE BEDROOM CONDO! People… that is for the same size place that we are living in now. And they want us to pay a mortgage near $2,500 all in, that’s DOUBLE what we are paying now. Even if we did buy the condo and fixed it up to refinance and rent it out (the BRRRR strategy), we’d be losing at least $600/month not accounting for maintenance, vacancies, etc. as you should.
We aren’t making excuses for the target $25K not working for us. We know we aren’t there yet, but we will get our expenses down some way, somehow! For now, we are focusing on saving our 1 year runway for the expenses we currently have and giving a much more realistic goal of $40,000 for the two of us ($20K each, so not too far off). Granted, I would like this to be cutdown even more because it just seems like so much to spend in one year, but we are saving up our first $40K to be our 1 year runway.
Why we need a runway
With a $40K cash runway in our back pockets, we will have the freedom to take risks. Those risks may be taking a lower paying job for a short time in order to have a higher and quicker potential of making more in 2 – 3 years time. This also can afford us the freedom for one of us to quit our jobs should we feel the need (trust us, some days that need is much stronger than others). This is only a tiny piece of the pie and it is going to afford us a tiny piece of the freedom we aim to get with financial freedom.
One of the biggest questions about saving that 1 year runway that I had was: where should that money sit? I know under my mattress or a piggy bank were definitely not the smartest answers. But in real institutions with FDIC backing, there are just so many options. Trench recommends (and we agree) to keep it in easily accessible cash. That way if you need it, you have it. There are of course many different options to have accessible cash on hand, the mattress being one of them. So the best option?
We found that holding your money in the best online savings accounts with the highest interest rate is our best option. I am currently holding my money in an online account with a Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings Account with 2.25% interest. Mr. TTF has his portion of the runway fund in an American Express High Yield account with 2.1% interest.
This allows our money to grow some while still being extremely accessible and not having to worry about any additional taxes as you do with selling shares of stock. We aim to complete our $40K by the end of this July. With this time, we are looking to earn an extra $42.31 in my account and $232.60 in Mr. TTF’s in just interest by that same time. Not crazy returns, but at least it’s more than the $1.29 we would have gotten in a traditional savings account. (Check out this easy to use Compound Interest Calculator to see what your returns can look like!)
Step 2: Growing $25K to $100K
Since we are currently on Step 1, we definitely have a lot more to talk about regarding our current strategies and status. However, Scott outlines a few of the ways to grow that savings rate to reach the $100K mark and have 3-5 years of savings under your belt. For even more freedom, he recommends increasing income by:
- Using Housing as an asset
- Having a Scalable Income
Like we mentioned before, housing is our biggest focus for this next step. We are hoping once we can grow our 1 year runway, we will be able to use a portion of that for a downpayment on a rental home. And we are most likely going to be focusing on long distance real estate. This will be a great way for us to start at a lower price point and still reap the benefits of real estate investing.
Since Mr. TTF is originally from the Mid West and housing is much less expensive there, we are planning to work with some connections with friends and family out there to see what the possibilities are for us.
Having a scalable income would be absolutely ideal for growing our income as you are usually in a position to earn large amounts of commission. Since I am currently in a Sales Role, that move definitely makes sense for me and would be easily accessible in my industry. However, we are looking to push our side hustles a lot in the coming years. Moving into a new role when we are looking to quit within the next year or two, seems like a lot of additional work that (hopefully) won’t be necessary.
We figure all the time used looking, applying, interviewing, training, and working for the new job could be better put to use working on our side hustles. In the long run, this should have a far higher ROI than any commission based position. And it will be something that I actually enjoy doing.
Step 3: Moving from $100,000 to Financial Freedom
This is definitely the end goal, and we have quite a while to get there. Trench does such a great job keeping you motivated throughout the book. There are so many things that need to change in your life for you to embark on this journey and it can seem overwhelming at times, especially to me (I get stressed about everything). But habits take time to change and he outlines the 10 bad habits you need to kick, pronto:
- Sports Entertainment
- Luxury Residence Far from Work
- Eating Out
- Social Media
- Music at Work
- The Snooze Button
- The “I Want to Try to Do Everything” Mentality
And as a huge organization freak, Trench satisfied my need for documents. He has a section on tracking your progress and provides templates on tracking your time, goals, and money. I have started using the Daily Time Log each day. In the morning, I write out my goals and chores that need to be done. This way, I actually have a focus each day. It also allows me to track my physical activity, learning, and healthy foods. These are all aspects that he believes to be highly important to a well-rounded life. And I, sadly, have a strong deprivation in a few.
Most useful, is the actual time log. With 6 segments of each day outlined, he pushes the focus to ensure you are completing something towards your goal each part of the day. And hopefully, 6 segments later, you will be able to be that much closer to your weekly, quarterly, and annual goal. You should never stop moving toward FI.
I know I said it before, but I just have to say it again: I want to teach this book as a large part of the curriculum to an intro to personal finance course. I just think it is that important. Getting college students to read this before they have “started in the real world” can be hugely impactful for their financial development. This book completely deters people from falling into a consumerism way of life, like so many Americans are.
If you get a chance, in which you should have many available to further your financial education, I highly recommend Scott Trench’s Set for Life.
Let us know how you are taking (or not taking) Scott’s advice in your journey to Financial Independence!