Only three posts left in the 1 More World blog central story arc! Can you believe that? We’ve come quite a long way since I launched this blog on June 30, 2020. There are still several more key puzzle pieces looking to be set into place. And money is one of them.
My house in Austin went on the market late August. I am so fortunate to have received several good offers right away. So….SOLD! Closing hasn’t occurred yet (as of this post), but it’s scheduled for next week.
Hard to Say Goodbye
Two days ago I returned from a short trip to Austin to tend to my dear periwinkle house one last time. I had to quickly sell, donate, and throw out, all kinds of miscellaneous items, large and small, that were still in the house, mostly in the garage. For me it was emotional to the hilt. I cried a lot. No, like…A LOT! Wednesday afternoon, I had the honor of doing a walk-through with the new owner. I am profoundly sad/melancholy about passing along this house that has been such a big part of my life but also feel really happy about the new owner. I think she’s going to take great care of the place for years come.
My last few minutes with the house were meaningful. I walked slowly through the house from back to front. In every room I paused to reflect and remember. I saw each of the cats that lived there over the years from my first cat Shelly to my mom’s last two cats Sam and Kera. I listed in my head all of the people that lived in the house at one time or another. I even thought of the hundreds of Airbnb guests that house has hosted, as well.
When I stepped into the empty bedroom where I’d slept my first night ever in that house some 32 years ago, I was overcome. I walked my body over to the location where my bed was positioned and crumbled down to the bare floor. I let the tears flow. The moment was deeply emotional. Not all that I felt was sadness, just heavy, complicated, raw, living, human, emotion, spilling out into the room. Whatever it was, I tried to let myself just feel it.
Right after the night of the avalanche back in April, I dove headlong into researching whether or not I might have enough net worth already to pivot my entire 55 year old life towards a fresh new beginning somewhere else in the world. That’s what this post will be about– the money, honey! I will share with you how much I have and my thought process around planning out this last stretch of my life. I will get into some detail below, all without revealing my new city, country and continent. You won’t have long to wait for the reveal, however. It will be in my next post.
Whenever I’m talking about my “net worth,” most of it (two-thirds) is the value of my house. Whatever strategizing I did on how to achieve my bright new fresh and exciting future was built upon when the house would sell and for how much. Now that I am so close to selling it, I can tell you that everything is going according to plan.
Sometimes it takes a while. 55 years is nothing on the cosmic scale, but in my life… it’s everything. That’s how long it took for me to know myself well-enough to identify a “lifestyle” that has a pretty good chance of making me happy. I’m calling it “I Want What I Want.” Before you recoil in horror at how simultaneously arrogant and obvious my declared lifestyle choice sounds, make sure you know what it means. I touched upon this briefly in an earlier post so I won’t retread the same ground here. Just know that I want a house with a roommate, quality cookware, and enough money to make choices at the grocery story without having to stress too much over items that tend to cost a little more…like pecans.
Specific purchases aside, the I Want What I Want lifestyle means I can just be myself. I am not a fancy guy with expensive tastes, so living simply but comfortably without having to stress over money is all I’m really talking about. I think it’s within reach! A little further below, I’ll get into specifics, but first some background on me and money.
Not a Fan
Just being honest with you, I am no fan of money. It’s a means to an end, of course, but if I can avoid being bothered by tending to it, all the better. I was the child of a depression-era father. Do you have any idea what that was like? The constant energy he spent worrying about money created a walk-on-eggshells atmosphere for all those around him. Me not giving a shit about money now is how I am balancing out the equation. Having said all that, I do have a degree in accounting and, occasional minor missteps aside, I am generally capable of handling the basics of money when I need to; I would simply rather not.
As a little kid, I saw my dad go off to work every day wearing his Haggar slacks, button-down shirt and tie, and those polished black dress-shoes. He must have earned a good salary as an engineer for Brown & Root. We owned the house I grew up in, a rental house on Seminole Street, and even a (primitive) bayhouse down near the Texas coast where we’d often spend our weekends. Financially speaking, my dad did well. And yet the Great Depression never allowed him to relax.
Just as the person I am today is traceable back to the environment I grew up in, I suppose this was no less true for my father. He would have been 10-13 years old while the Great Depression wreaked havoc on daily life in the US. At least with me, he never talked about bread lines or soup kitchens, or how his out-of-work father might have yelled at him for leaving a light on, or taking too much time in the shower. I guess my dad didn’t need to talk about his experiences during the depression; he revealed them on a daily basis through his over-the-top, high-volume, angry rants over money and not wasting a penny of it. Within the walls of my childhood home, the Great Depression never ended.
Steve Says To “Buy The Best…”
By the time I was in my mid-to-late teens and earning a paycheck of my own, I started to de-program myself from my dad’s extremist mind-set towards money. Eventually, I went hard in the opposite direction, but it was a process- an evolution that spanned years. Money is a devilish frenemy. Figuring out your relationship to it requires some genuine life-experience.
To be clear, I am not saying my dad hoarded money so I am now a spendthrift. My dad was simply an unbearable cheapskate. I’d prefer having less stuff to buying cheap. Steve Pasco, the late husband of one of my oldest friends, once told me his motto when it comes to buying stuff. He said, “Buy the best and you’ll never be disappointed.” I love that phrase and have repeated it to myself and shared it with others many times ever since first hearing it.
Like nearly everyone I know, my own financial situation has been precarious at best for most of my life. It’s only been since my late 40’s that I’ve been able to breathe easier. In 2012 I inherited about $170K from my Aunt Betty. Over half of this money was from her IRA and not readily available to me without paying unwanted taxes on it, which in some cases it made sense to do. All in all, this money helped me get a solid handle on my financial circumstances for the first time ever. Of the original inheritance I received from my aunt, I still have about $75K left.
By the way, my father– the man that spent his whole life figuratively hunched over every dollar like a miser –died with only a couple thousand bucks to his name. From the “estate” I received around $450 for being the beneficiary on one of his depleted investment accounts. The fascinating corollary to my dad’s depression-era preoccupation with money is that one of the ways he chased the dragon of financial security was that he gambled. Whether it was the stock market, investing in coal mines (yes, coal mines), playing the lottery, or taking trips to Las Vegas, my dad was enamored by the thought of one day “striking it rich.” A few of his investments turned positive over the years, but far more of them did not.
Tim Mullaney, my newly-found financial advisor, is an interesting cat. My initial consultation with him over Zoom was scheduled for 11 am on a Monday. I was ready early and waiting with high anticipation for 11 o’clock to roll around. 11:05… 11:10… 11:15. I watched the minutes proceed and my phone was not ringing. It’s our first meeting, how could he not be on time? 11:25… 11:30. Maybe I have the appointment set wrong. Or are we having time zone confusion? I double-checked everything. I was in the right place at the right time, so where was Tim? I texted my friend Vanessa, the one who had recommended I talk to him. By now it’s 11:40 or so. Vanessa says she’ll send him a text. Another couple of minutes pass and finally Tim calls. His voice is gentle. He apologizes, telling me he was with another client and their meeting went long, which is kind of what I figured, but still…. Then, seeing how my own initial conversation with Tim lasted nearly 4 hours, I understood how he prioritizes his time and why his approach to clients sets him apart from nearly everyone else working in the financial services industry.
When I told Tim I no longer wished to live according to a set of rules I had no say in making….and that I wanted to start living life on my own terms, he was fully on-board. This was something Tim figured out a long time ago in the aftermath of his 22 month old daughter’s diagnosis with leukemia. It was a multi-year long ordeal where Tim learned a painful but invaluable lesson about accepting things that are outside of one’s own control. He also learned the flip side of this— recognizing that many things in life are within our control….if we choose to take the wheel and drive with intention.
Tim’s daughter Kelsey survived her battle with Leukemia. She is now 26 years old and doing well.
Despite Tim’s apology, my guess is that he wasn’t truly too bothered to have been 40 minutes late for our first appointment. He was helping a client. That was Tim’s priority. These are his terms. #RESPECT
After my own initial marathon conversation with Tim, I was feeling more positive than ever I was on the right track. Regarding the big question- Is a little over a half-million dollars of net worth enough for me to achieve my I Want What I Want lifestyle? While not answered until our third or fourth conversation. I will skip ahead and just tell you it looks to be a YES!
In our society (and in most societies around the world), you just don’t talk openly about money. Well, not my rules; I’m so going to spill the golden beans. Really, here’s why. I figure my story has the potential to be instructive to others. If I’m not open and honest about the real-life dollars involved, suddenly there’s nothing for the next person to latch onto and relate back to their own financial situation, be it more or less. Plus, I can’t be the only one in the world in their 50’s that’s been motivated to go to work every day on blind inertia alone…only to have it dawn on them during a night of high-flying revelations that there might be another way.
Knowing if $550K is a big enough number for me to achieve my I Want What I Want lifestyle, I first had few things to figure out. If not in America, where would I be living? Once I had that answer narrowed down to two locations, I was able to make some round-number estimates of how much it would cost to resettle myself into either of these two new-to-me countries. My estimate had to include living expenses for the first year or so it might take me to get settled ($50K), money to put down on a four bedroom house ($110K), and money to furnish it to my liking ($20K). Included within my furnishings figure was enough money to set up an Airbnb at my house, too. While I had no great confidence in the accuracy of any of my estimates, what I did have was a starting point.
Assuming I could pull off the above I still had to think about my ongoing monthly expenses after getting settled. Here’s the way I thought about it. How much would I need to cover all my basics- housing, transportation, healthcare, food, and some modest extras like eating out occasionally? I called this the I Want What I Want- Basic, and started out estimating $2K per month. The thought was that if I were able to afford the Basic without working, this meant every extra dollar I might earn from a job would go towards I Want What I Want- Premium. Meaning, I would be able to afford some “splurges” like extra travel or perhaps even a car. When I talked to Tim about breaking it down like this, he equated the Basic to a paycheck and the Premium to a “playcheck.” With this scheme I would be incentivized to work, but –knowing that all my basics are covered—free to pursue whatever type of work floats my boat; it would all be gravy at that point.
I started out with an estimate of $2K per month for the Basic. This figure assumed my monthly housing expense would net down to about $600/month after considering my plan to have both a roommate and income from the Airbnb. However, by the time all the numbers were crunched, I found there was room for me to bump my monthly living expense budget up to $2,500.
So, here’s the high-level summary of my working plan: If I can walk away with $360K (or more) from the sale of my house in Austin I will set aside $110K for a down payment on a future house. (I’ll tell you why this figure is so big in the next post.) Another $125K will be placed into a 10-year investment, with the remaining $125K plus the roughly $75K I already have in savings put into a more liquid investment vehicle for me to live on (or use for contingencies). I am currently 55 years old so my challenge is to bridge the gap between now and when I can begin drawing on social security. I will rely on Tim’s expertise to handle all “investment vehicle” details, but if he says, “Can do,” imma doin’.
After the night of the avalanche I was excited and hopeful my plan to leave the US and begin a new life elsewhere was indeed possible, but I was not confident. By the time I had developed my estimates and talked to Tim several more times over the span of a few months, my blind hope grew into wishful confidence. Quite a while back I told my workplace I had plans to resign. I am still working my job at Sunrun today- training the new guy that was hired to replace me. My last day will be next week.
It’s happening, folks. I have a lot to feel good about right now.
Next up, I’ll tell you where I’m going.