Living simply is its own reward, but it’s still great to be encouraged about what’s important in life by those around us. I recently found such encouragement while visiting a longtime friend, a high-profile attorney with a successful career. But, unlike most attorneys, he lives a simple life, saves, coupons, and is more satisfied than any attorney I know…
While the herd went one way, he went another…
My friend (We’ll call him “Jim”) and I share a high-achieving, ambitious, and overachieving background. But somehow, he learned to live the simple life, one that continues to inspire (and challenge!) me.
When we met, Jim and I lived in the same place and were colleagues, and many years later, we once again had moved across the country and lived in the same town. We shared nights out on the town, intellectual conversations, and many values.
But that’s where our similarities ended.
Back then, I was somewhat frugal during my corporate career days, but he kept a simple lifestyle, and wow, was it a challenge to me. Because where I thought I was frugal, he actually was.
While living in a major metropolis, Jim rode his (electric) bike to work. Most of us thought it quirky at the time, but recently, I realized that he was able to forego the hundreds of dollars per month (quite a few hundreds) that I spent on my vehicle maintenance, gas, and savings for another vehicle once that one died. He even had fewer headaches by way of repairs and maintenance than I did in my already-busy work-focused life. I thought my lifestyle was frugal since my rent was cheap, but Jim saved both money and time by living so close to both work and play.
While I still ate out, he cooked cheap, simple (yet good) meals, ate a lot of frozen burritos, and occasionally splurged on cheap take-out or a fast-food coupon offering. It was different (and it’s not what I currently do or recommend), but it enabled him to save immensely on groceries and avoid wastefulness. Even when we went out on a weekend, he typically rode his bike, and he always carried a flask with him on Friday nights out — cheaper than buying drinks at a bar, he told me. And he was right. (I don’t drink much, but still, I learned to admire his money-saving habits.)
Before I moved away, he greeted me one last time in the mid-afternoon from his “home office,” a lawn chair where he sat with a laptop looking out across a gorgeous lakeside view in near-perfect weather. It was perhaps the most obvious clue that maybe, just maybe, he had figured out the whole work-life balance thing.
For several years, Jim banked his big salary, saving almost all of it. But, unlike most young attorneys, he still pushed for balance in his work.* When that finally wouldn’t happen, he left his job and went to one that allowed him to work for causes he enjoyed at a more work-day pace. It was an abrupt change for a young professional, but one he has never looked back from.
Like many young professionals, he works in an environment where his colleagues and friends are typically rushing around seeking bigger, fancier jobs, titles, or incomes. Many have flown away to NYC, DC, or places with higher-profile jobs/careers, and are still working intense hours, while he found himself content with less and enjoying his spare time.
After a number of years, he has become more or less financially independent: he’s able to sustain his lifestyle with the sustainable proceeds from his investments should he so desire. Instead, he continues working, but with the constant flexibility to leave his job should it become too much or should he quit enjoying it. In fact, he recently admitted that he’s considering a move to a more part-time position with some friends where he would enjoy the work, work from home, sustain his current lifestyle, and have more time.
We met again recently for a joyous occasion: to visit the riverfront ranchland he purchased and camp for the weekend. This time, I came with a new admiration for his frugal habits and the life they now allow him to enjoy.
Living the dream…
Jim is now the proud owner of a beautiful property alongside a river: while it may not seem frugal at first glance, for him, it’s a life passion–and a responsible investment. But it was years in the making…
Jim fired up his jeep–he confessed he only uses it on weekends for trips to the ranch–and we headed out. As we drove, I asked questions about how he came to his frugal lifestyle, why he invested in real estate, and what his plans were–and the answers were fascinating.
It turns out that Jim has a number of friends who, like him, have figured out the “money” part of life and are now financially independent. Many did so through real estate, but he shared stories and they were each very different: one loves refurbishing properties and began profiting by reselling them, another purchased properties as investments while the real estate market bottomed out in 2008-2009, and another happened into rentals and now adds to his collection. None of them started out independent, and all had very different life and educational backgrounds, but here, in their early 30s, they were all financially independent.
Interestingly, Jim had never heard of financial independence blogs such as Mr. Money Mustache or the like; they simply happened upon saving and the simple life on their own, by knowing what they wanted to focus their time upon.
On a beautiful country escape…
Jim knew he wanted to own land and so he began outlining what he wanted: land on the river, within reasonable distance, and still relatively untamed. For five years, he searched, visiting properties. He set up alerts and watched in unusual places as well; he literally monitored all riverfront property sales within a huge geographical area.
Then, one day, Jim found one to inquire about: it was listed well below market price. He called, visited, visited the neighbors (after they called to have him arrested, that is, for what they assumed was trespassing) and learned that the owners lived in a state across the country and had inherited the land long ago, letting it sit dormant for decades. Jim, however, had visited so many properties that he saw the potential and immediately knew what to look for. He also knew that this property was way below normal price, and now he knew why: the comparable properties were three non-riverfront properties and the owners were so distant that they never realized the bank or broker was selling the land far below market value.
So, Jim made an offer and they accepted; he then inspected the land a lot, knowing he could still back out if there were issues. In the end, he purchased the land for 33% less than any riverfront property he has seen listed in five years, and his is an excellent one.
Jim now proudly owns a much nicer and much larger ranch than he ever imagined, one that he could likely flip instantly for a significant profit. Or, instead, he could sell off a portion (it’s much larger than he needs) and keep the rest. For now, he’s simply holding it all…and installing hammocks all over to enjoy its great natural beauty.
When you value your money, you take time before spending it and really get to know what it is you’re buying. I call it the power of waiting, and it’s invaluable on big purchases. Quick decisions can be very poor decisions, especially if you’re not an expert. Jim did that, and it served him extremely well. (In fact, he admitted that he was still nervous about the purchase, right through when he made it–but he knew it was an unparalleled deal.) The land came well-stocked with wildlife: we saw deer, hawks everywhere, and he has even spotted a bald eagle’s nest nearby (complete with eagles). Wild blackberries were growing everywhere; we tasted the first few to ripen, and they were outstanding. His land is also full of trees with extremely high-density wood: great for making woodwork, extremely durable, or perfect for firewood. Grapes and grapevines also cover his place. And wild onions dotted the riverside, perfect for campfire cooking. A person could literally live off of that land–and it turns out he has one neighbor who has done exactly that for decades. It’s a place I look forward to spending much more time.
Our last morning, I spent a full hour meditating and taking in the gorgeous green landscape. Before we left, I collected a bouquet of wildflowers–a huge variety–for my wife (who truly missed out) because there were so many there.
Seriously: who wouldn’t want to spend more time laying in hammocks above the river, watching the hawks and eagles, enjoying the swaying breezes, hunting, or enjoying freshly-picked wild blackberries? I’m increasingly convinced that Jim has it right, and all the folks rushing around busy metropolises (like, say, me) may be missing out…
It was a lesson to me as well, and profoundly motivating: as soon as we returned home, I immediately set up searches for homes within areas where we may one day consider purchasing. I now view them daily, drive by local properties for sale, and have plans to attend some open houses–even though we’re unlikely to purchase for months if not years. By scouring the market, though, I hope to learn it well enough to spot great deals rapidly. For now, it’s a huge source of encouragement: it’s hard to put into words how much freedom Jim enjoys, knowing he can quit his job, live off his land (or sell it!), enjoy the simple life, or completely change careers should he desire. It’s admirable and something I hope to emulate so that I, too, can spend my time living out my passions.
What are you doing to move towards freedom? What passions would you pursue?
*Before all the attorneys begin objecting, yes, he was in a practice that allows some pushback. I know that not all of you may do that; some may lack the ability, or at least think they do. And many fear what will happen even if they even try. But it’s nonetheless encouraging, and I’m sharing this story as an inspiration. It’s what one can do as a young professional if one sets about it with diligence.