Momentum Series: Finance Stoic – Wealth and Health
This marks feature #2 in the Momentum Series – an interview series to share the stories of bloggers from across the personal finance community.
The goal is to showcase their story, the wins, the losses and the actionable advice and tips that others can take value from. Whether that be conquering debt, maximizing their career earnings, their own road to financial independence or health & wellness strategies that keep them on the right path.
Our blogger today in this Momentum Series feature is Finance Stoic.
Many thanks to him for taking the time to open the vault on his story, financial journey, health & wellness strategies and so much more. I got a lot out of value from this interview personally and I hope you will as well.
Lots of tips, recommendations and first-hand stories on accruing wealth and also taking control of your body and mind’s well-being.
If you want to connect with Finance Stoic:
Well let’s get the interview rolling, here is Momentum Series: Finance Stoic – Wealth & Health.
Thanks for having me on your blog Scott. My pen name is Finance Stoic and I am a husband and father to two wonderful young boys and we live in Vancouver, BC, which is a reasonably HCOL city.
For work, I am a CFO at a private company here in Vancouver and have spent most of my career in accounting / finance.
Outside of work, I love spending time with my wife and boys. I’ve been focusing on getting more fit over the past two years and have picked up a passion for running. I’ve now run for more than 450 days straight and am working my way up to ultramarathon distances 80km, 112km and more.
My website is financestoic.com, and I blog about the intersection of finance and Stoicism.
As it relates to FIRE, my focus is on increasing readers earnings. I found that most blogs in the FIRE realm focused on saving money and I wanted to take a different approach. While saving money is integral to FIRE, it’s easier to save 70% of your salary if you’ve managed to get your earnings to $300k, or more, versus $50k.
For my education, I started out in College with a goal of being an English and Psychology major.
After two years my wife, girlfriend at the time, strongly suggested that I pursue a major that would ‘get me a job’. While I wanted to be a PhD, I don’t believe she had faith I could achieve it. Trutfully, that’s why it’s one of my career pivot ideas later in life 🙂
I left College and took night classes while working for a bank as a teller. Eventually, I made the decision to attain a CA designation and returned to University to get a Bachelors in Business Administration, before being hired at a Big 4 accounting firm. For my accounting studies, I also obtained a Masters degree in accounting.
My wife is also a CA and we have had a reasonably good career progression. I worked for + / – ten years at a Big 4 accounting firm before moving into industry as a corporate controller.
Once in industry, my career has progressed relatively quickly, or slowly [in my mind], from controller → Director of Finance → VP Finance → CFO and I hope that isn’t the end.
My wife took a more stable government job, which allowed her to be a solid support network at home for our family and two young boys. As she said tonight, “when you get up until you go to bed, you’re able to focus on you and your career, I have to focus on work, family, our boys, etc. It’s exhausting”. She’s right, it’s not great and it is why I want her to be able to retire, or go to reduced work weeks, sooner than later.
Our salary progressions over the last seven years have been:
Current Financial Situation
Note 1 – Primary Residence
In 2010, there was a downturn in a specific area of Vancouver, which was the Athlete’s Village. At that time, a presale campaign was launching for a concrete project with townhomes at the base. Because of the developer’s market fears, he blew out his units and we purchased a 1,700 sq ft townhouse [3 bedrooms and a den] for $700,000, which was the greatest investment we ever made.
You should understand, when we made this purchase, we were going against the common view. People were calling the Athlete’s Village a ghost town and my friends told me they were worried I would lose all the money we had made to that date. In 2013 we took possession and moved into the townhouse. After significant price appreciation, we sold the townhouse in 2016 for $1.6 million when our mortgage was down to $560,000.
We purchased a single family home [our worst investment ever] at that time and our dream home is currently under construction. Unfortunately, it is behind schedule and over budget, significantly in both categories. The current value is the costs that have been incurred to date for the purchase and build.
Note 2 – Investment Property 1
We purchased this investment property in 2014 as another presale project and took possession in 2016. Over that time, the property more than doubled in value.
One of my biggest regrets was calling my wife when she was on the way to purchase two of these units to say, I think we are quite leveraged. Let’s be sensible and only purchase one unit…D’oh…
Note 3 – Investment Property 2
We purchased this property in the fall of 2017. Since acquisition, I believe the unit has increased in value by approximately $50,000; which is a 100% ROI; however, I will not accrue a return until it is appraised.
Note 4 – Corporate Cash
This cash is the development profits from a real estate project that are within my personal holding company. We are keeping them aside to fund the construction of our home, as needed. The development project returned a 60% IRR over a 2-1/2 year period, which was much more than anticipated when underwritten.
Note 5 – RESPs
RESPs are a Canadian method for saving for your child’s future tuition. The Government matches your contributions up to a certain amount and the investments grow tax free until the funds are removed for school. At that time, the funds removed are taxed in the hands of your children, which is at a low tax rate.
Note 6 – Cash
While we have our house under construction, we will be sitting on large cash balances to fund the construction. We believe the total cost of construction will be $3 million and we will have to fund a significant portion of the remaining construction costs.
What are your short-term financial goals? Are you doing anything specific or making any changes to achieve these?
In the short-term, two things are important to me:
- Finish building our house at a reasonable all-in cost
- Reduce my expenditures to less than $125,000 per year, excluding housing costs
What are your long-term financial goals? How are you going to achieve these goals?
In the next six years, I would like to reach financial independence, and be in a position to either retire, or pivot to a different career. For me, it’s less about early retirement and more about options.
Currently, my wife and I are in Europe for a couple weeks without our boys. While being here, I realize that I would love to be able to slow travel for long periods of time with my wife and children before they’re done high-school.
I am going to start thinking about how to achieve that.
What was your biggest “financial win” or moment of clarity in the early stages of your money journey?
The biggest financial win we had was owning three properties in Vancouver over the past three to four years, as the market really heated up. As a result, we had substantial increases to our net worth.
While it taught me the importance of being invested in markets to earn returns, it also made me realize how negative a real estate market downturn would be on our net worth.
Have you made any major financial mistakes? If so, what was the outcome and what did you learn from these mistakes?
I’ve not made too many ‘major’ financial mistakes, but I have made some that I learned from.
The biggest downside was selling our home in Vancouver to move abroad for four years, that hurt our net worth; fortunately, we made it back with the townhouse, discussed above. As I have discussed elsewhere, the decision was made from a poor mental state, which I realized a couple years to late when diagnosed with depression and ADHD. While I never fully addressed the ADHD, I have been on a specific medication for the depression for the past eleven years and have not had any material relapses, other than times I tried to wean myself off the medication.
About six years ago, I was doing some self-directed trading and I lost $10,000 being long on Blackberry. It hurt at the time [it was 50% of my discretionary cash], and it taught me a valuable lesson. I no longer self-direct any of my investments; instead, I leave that to trusted professionals.
As I say to young people at work who are looking at the cryptocurrency and cannabis markets throughout the day, “if you have to continuously monitor your investments, you’re in the wrong investments.”
As you’ve progressed in your financial life, what have you changed or implemented to set yourself up for success?
As noted, I don’t self-direct any of my equity investment funds. That’s been big for my financial life.
The biggest benefit to my financial life and career has been my wife saying she’d like to take a back-seat role in the process to allow me to focus on my career and maximizing earnings. It’s really helped drive up our household income.
Something I discuss a fair bit over on my website is the importance of incremental learning (Kaizen) and the importance of reading. I have never stopped investing in my education and self-improvement and it’s had a significant impact on my career and earnings.
If you could give one or two pieces of advice to someone at the start of their financial path, what would it be?
There are a couple very important things for people new in their career to know, if they want to advance rapidly.
First, take on as much as you can, as quickly as you can, and never look at the clock. If you are willing to work longer, harder and smarter than your peers [all three are relevant, not one or two], then your career should advance much quicker than any of them. By putting in sufficient hours, making them productive hours, and adding value during those hours, you are setting yourself up for future promotions and opportunities.
Second, seek to put yourself in as many sink or swim situations as you can and swim, baby swim. Never be afraid to say yes to a hard project, even if you don’t know how to do it. You are smart enough, and based on the first note, should be willing to work hard enough and long enough to make the project a reality. Believe in yourself, and accept any challenge that is put in front of you.
What are some of the most influential resources that have shaped your money mindset or financial situation?
Like your site highlights Scott, I am always looking for ways to make momentum with my personal, professional and financial abilities. At my blog, I also discuss that I’m a constant learner. Like J.D. Roth, I tend to consume a lot of reading material when I am learning new topics. For example, when I first started reading about FIRE back in 2014 / 2015, I read every single Mr. Money Mustache post published to that point in time.
Over the last fifteen years, the most impactful learning I have done has come from:
- Books: Fierce Conversations, Fierce Leadership, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Good To Great, Built To Last, & Great By Choice
- Blogs: I have read a fair amount of finance blogs, with the biggest impact coming from Mr. Money Mustache
- Podcasts: The Tim Ferriss Show is revolutionary. If you haven’t listened to it, I cannot recommend it enough. Lately, I have been listening to our very own Pete and his podcast Do You Even Blog?
- Courses: I have also taken courses that further my knowledge at work [Corporate Finance and Valuations] and my mental health [Shambhalla courses online]
What is your current health & wellness routine or program?
My fitness plan is simple, but possibly silly. I run. In fact, I have run every single day for the past fifteen months. I am now training for ultra-marathon trail races, with an 80km event coming up late April and a 112km event coming up in August.
I keep my diet pretty reasonable. I am now working on intermittent fasting [except while on this vacation], whereby, I do the following:
- No breakfast each day
- No food after 8:00 at night
- No food from Sunday evening until Monday evening
- The first Sunday in a month, no food from Sunday evening until either Tuesday evening or Wednesday evening
My goal is to meditate every day.
I have also started reading and seriously studying Stoicism and I am doing daily Stoic journal sessions. Finally, I am trying to be more balanced at work and make it home for my children’s bedtime each night to spend more time with them and stay connected to my family.
Did you ever hit “rock bottom” or have a health issue(s) that caused a turnaround in your lifestyle?
Yes, this was bad and was the first time that I really started to explore FIRE.
I was working very long, stressful, unsustainable hours at work and it was killing me, literally. My whole life, I have been able to work longer and harder than people around me and it’s been one of the greatest drivers of my career success.
Generally, I would work until I felt burned out and I would recharge for one weekend or one week. This time, I could not rebound. I couldn’t recharge. The tank was completely empty. I sought out a Doctor and eventually a Naturopath and we did a lot of blood and hormone testing. My adrenal glands were effectively shot, my testosterone was as low as someone twenty or thirty years older than me, and my estrogen was up.
I was a mess. It was affecting me personally, professionally, and financially.
Addressing the issues was something that had to happen before I could get back on track and I worked with the Naturopath for one year before I eventually felt good again.
What are the current fitness goals you’re working towards?
At the end of this month, I will run 80km in a trail race [50 miles] and in August I will run 112km on a course with a lot of elevation [70 miles]. Those are my short-term goals. To train for them, I run every day and have a coach programming my workouts. An example week might be 3km, 3km, 8km, 10km, 5km, 25km, 15km.
Next year, I would like to do a specific race that is 120 miles [192km] and has elevation gains that are just shy of climbing Mt. Everest.
What advice would you give somewhere who knows they need to start taking their fitness & health more seriously? What’s that first step?
The first step is the hardest step, but you have to take it. Nothing is more important than your body and your brain. Once your house is in order, your personal, professional and financial goals will more readily fall in line.
Generally, when I discuss with people, I suggest it’s 80% diet and 20% exercise. For diet, some simple rules I recommend:
- Don’t eat after 7:00pm
- Minimize, or eliminate, calories from fluids
- Reduce refined sugars and processed foods
- Reduce carbohydrates
- Have one cheat day
- Fast for 24 hours 1x per week
You will surprise yourself at what you are actually able to achieve.
How long have you been practicing meditation?
I started meditating six years ago.
In the NHL, there was a season where three young players all died within a very short time frame of each other. In each case, there was some linkage made to CTE, which is generally more widely discussed with NFL Players.
I had suffered quite a few concussions growing up and had a lot of issues that someone with a history of concussions might be expected to have [depression and ADHD discussed above are two of them], and I realized I needed help.
First, I called my mother and wife and told them both I was giving up recreational hockey for the rest of my life and that my wife could burn my gear. There were some tears shed during the call with my mother because she’d been following the three hockey players and she was worried for me.
Second, I sought professional help from a concussion specialist and there were two things we focused in on:
The lens therapy was quite helpful and I felt a lot of improvement. The heart rate variability training is something I continue today, with the portable device that links into my iPhone. Effectively, it is meditation with a visible measure of success or failure. When I am focusing properly on my mind and breath, I have a green light. When I am not, the light is blue, or red.
In addition, I have read a fair amount on Shambhalla and Buddhism for a couple reasons:
- I am interested in meditation and becoming a calmer, better person
- I am writing a Fantasy novel series with my sister, and Buddhism plays strongly in it
Finally, I also took a few courses in Shambhalla Buddhism from the Shambhalla institute, including Meditation in Daily Life.
What are the benefits you receive from meditation?
The biggest benefit is the calmness that surrounds me when I am practicing meditation regularly.
I talk less and I listen more. I am less apt to get frustrated by what someone is telling me. In my calm state, I am better able to process information and make better decisions. I have the foresight to practice empathy and listening skills that wouldn’t normally be prevalent in my Spock like INTP behavior.
In essence, I am a calmer, more centered, and emotionally aware leader when I am meditating.
What is one thing anyone can do to start improving their general health and wellness?
What interested me is Tim Ferriss’ comment that the number one thing he changes with people is to get them to eat a healthy breakfast. If I tell you to either (a) start meditating, (b) start lifting weights, or (c) eat a better breakfast each day, (c) is going to be the one that sticks.
The rationale he provides is that (a) and (b) are both additive in that you might not already be doing those activities. With breakfast, though, most people are already eating it. They’re just eating poorly to fuel the rest of their day.
Thus, all he’s suggesting is changing something you are already doing and changing it in a way that isn’t too challenging so you will maintain it. Tim probably has a much better write-up somewhere or podcast explaining this theory.
Regardless, final answer is I would get them to eat a better breakfast.
What are some of the most influential resources that have shaped your health & wellness mindset and situation?
My naturopath has been pretty influential, I have enjoyed growing that relationship.
I have read some good books on diet and nutrition in the past, but I don’t know how much the’ve influenced me.
For podcasts, Tim Ferriss has had some great guests on his site and I have really enjoyed learning from them. His podcast has taught me so much across such a diverse range of topics. Seriously, I cannot say enough about it.
If you could do it all over, what would you change or do differently to live a happier and healthier life?
I would probably realize the importance of my wife and children sooner, as well as my physical health.
There were a few dark years there that were hard to deal with. For a period of time, my oldest son stopped looking me in the eye, he stopped telling me I Love You each night and we’d said it every night we saw each other his whole life. Finally, I had an honest conversation with him and he admitted the work hours were getting to him. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t the Dad he remembered.
A lot of people reading this may be parents. That hurt…nothing’s torn me up more than that…I wish it had never gotten there and I am glad I had the opportunity to repair it and work for someone that allowed me to re-balance my life.
What 3 blog posts would you recommend Making Momentum readers check out on Finance Stoic?
Any final pieces of advice or recommendations?
I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to be on your blog to speak about health and wellness.
Regardless of my love for FIRE and for where each and every one of us are on our FIRE journey, I would rather talk to you about physical, mental or spiritual health than FIRE any day, they’re so much more important and I encourage anyone reading to not lose track of that.
If anyone is ever suffering from mental health issues, physical health issues, and you need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to message me on Twitter and I am always there to listen to anyone who needs it. I likely won’t provide you answers, but I can listen and ask questions.
Too many people feel alone when they’re dealing with issues and I want them to know they are never alone, there are so many of us willing to listen.