Podcast: Fritz Gilbert and His Fat FIRE Approach to Retirement

Fritz Gilbert
Episode 13 of the NewRetirement podcast is an interview with Fritz Gilbert — founder of The Retirement Manifesto. Fritz discusses a “Fat FIRE” approach to retirement. Listen in for some great tips on using a bucket strategy, safe withdrawal rates, managing longevity risk, and more.

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Full Transcript of Steve Chen’s Interview with Fritz Gilbert

Steve: Welcome to the NewRetirement podcast. Today we’re going to be talking with Fritz Gilbert, founder of The Retirement Manifesto, about what he’s learned preparing for, and then making the transition to retirement. Fritz is a former executive in the aluminum manufacturing business, who specialized in global supply chain management, where he traveled extensively. He just retired last month and relocated to a cabin in the North Georgia mountains, as part of his downsizing strategy for retirement. I met Fritz last year face to face in Dallas at a FinCon event. And he’s a great person with a ton of energy and passion for life, and is someone who successfully achieved financial independence at the relatively young age of 55 after a long and traditional career. I thought that he’d have some useful lesson for our audience. So Fritz, welcome to our show. Thanks for making the drive down from the mountaintop to join us today.

Fritz: Yeah, thank you Steve. It’s a real honor. You know it’s funny, one of the downsides of living in the mountains is internet is absolutely horrible. So I was like I can get good internet but I got to go into town. So I came down to the library and hopefully they don’t throw me out for talking in the library. I found a little room in the back here so I think we’re good. So thank you for the honor, I’m very excited to be on your show.

Steve: Yeah, no, it’s super great to have you join us. So I wanted to jump in a little bit about your background. But before we do that, I just saw this stat yesterday that I thought was pretty interesting, which said that 5% of people that are 85 or older have worked in the past 12 months. And that was 255,000 Americans. That was pretty surprising to me. And I was just wondering if you had a take, and if you thought that was by choice or by need?

Fritz: Yeah, that’s a startling statistic. Ironically, I wrote a post about that. It’s called UnRetired -The Facts. And I had read a similar article, I think it was in the New York Times, this was maybe a month or two ago. And it struck me, so I did some research on the topic ironically and wrote a post about it. It’s clearly, the unretirement phenomenon is real. And they said that 40% of workers that are over the age of 65, had previously retired. So a lot of people do go back to work. A couple other stats out of article, I think close to 20% of people that are over 65 are currently employed. So it’s a staggering number if you think about it.

What was interesting as I did research though … You asked about do I think it’s by choice or by need? According to the New York Times article, the majority of people who decide to go back to work, ironically don’t do it primarily for money. There’s three primary reasons that they listed, one was a sense of purpose. And a lot of these are things that I’ve written about. Things to ensure you have a great retirement, and these three hit exactly those three. So the first is, having a sense of purpose. The second is for the mental stimulation of the work environment. And the third is for social interaction. And those three reasons are actually bigger drivers for people unretiring than a shortage of money. So those are important lessons for us to learn as we think about, how do we set ourselves up to have a great retirement.

Steve: Yeah, well, it’s good that they’re going back for all the right reasons. I totally agree with you that, kind of purpose and the social interaction, and the stimulation, it’s super important. I will say that like in our business, where we’re helping people with retirement planning, we’re seeing people, kind of 45 plus, but more recently I’ve been talking to users of our site. I had one guy that was 77, one woman that was 80, who are raising their hand. So it’s interesting, they’re just staying active and being thoughtful about it. The woman who was 80 was like, “Look you know the reality is my mother lived until 96, and I’m healthy, I might live even longer. I need to stay on this.” It puts everything in perspective when you’re talking to 80 year olds that are still actively thinking about this.

Fritz: Yeah. And the final thought on that and then we can move on. I think if people choose to go back for those reasons, that’s okay. What breaks my heart is when people have to go back because of financial reasons or they can’t retire because of financial reasons. The one thing that I would challenge people before, and this was my takeaway in my article that I wrote, was if those are the reasons that you’re thinking about going back to work, don’t just jump back into work. There’s a lot of other ways in retirement that you can meet those three needs without necessarily having to go back to work. So that’s kind of my conclusion I guess I on the topic.

Steve: Yeah, totally. There’s a lot of different ways to solve this problem. Alright so, I kind of just wanted to get just a little bit more about your background. Because I always think it’s interesting to hear where people came from. So can you just share quickly, kind of where you grew up, went to school, and kind of how you got into your career?

Fritz: Sure, absolutely. Midwestern boy, grew up in a small town in Michigan. I went to a liberal arts college in Ohio, Wittenberg University. Basic business administration, marketing emphasis, traditional major. I actually interviewed in the aluminum industry as kind of a play interview. I wasn’t really even taking it seriously and low and behold, they made me a job offer, and I was like well, I’ll go check it out for a couple of years, why not right? So, jumped into the business in Ohio in 1985 and met my wonderful wife there and moved around quite a bit over the years, but that’s how I got into the corporate world. Nice traditional family, my parents were both teachers. So I had good memories of summers on a lake in Michigan, and strong family values growing up. I still have a great relationship with my day, my mother has passed away unfortunately. But I still stay in close touch dad, and I savor that relationship.

Steve: Nice. Wow, that’s great to get that background. From reading your writing and talking with you, I know that you’re a pretty thoughtful person. Have you had kind of like a vision for what you wanted to get accomplished with your life? I know you’ve kind of been pretty thoughtful about what you’re doing at The Retirement Manifesto. Do you think you kind of came at life like, “Okay listen, this is how it’s going unfold, and this is what I want to get done” or has that been evolving?

Fritz: I would say it’s been more evolving. I would say I’ve taken more of a … I love the word serendipity. Just kind of that wander down a path and you see where it leads. And a lot of my career progression has been more serendipitous than planned. I think the mindset that I’ve always taken is, be open to opportunities, you never really know where opportunities are going to develop. My focus is, I would say from a vision for life. Some of the guiding principles have been more around, we’re not materialistic, we’ve always lived below our means, we’ve always been good savers.
We’re not frugal to the point of not enjoying today. I’ve always has a lot of frequent flyer miles. We have a daughter as well, she’s 25 now and up in Seattle. As she was growing up, we always took vacations, we cashed in miles, we traveled all around the world, we enjoyed life as we lived it, but we were always careful to, as our salaries went up, save more every year as your salary goes up. Maintain a frugal lifestyle and don’t let lifestyle inflation … Don’t get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses and spending all your pay raises. That’s probably been the guiding principle that I would say, financially that we’ve lived by.

Steve: Yeah, I think that’s important. I think there’s more push back too against this kind of lifestyle inflation and people kind of flaunting their wealth, we see that out here. You’re run into people out here in Silicon Valley that have tons of money but you would never know it from how they dress or what they drive. Maybe sometimes from where they live but it’s a lot less that way here. Versus, I was actually recently in Southern California and I was like wow, look at all these Ferraris. I went to this conference that was at a hotel, and it was like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, I was like wow, that’s crazy. I just can’t imagine spending money that way.

Fritz: No. I’m a big fan on stealth wealth. And the thing is, you look at those people driving the Ferraris, a lot of them are living paycheck to paycheck. They’re absolutely strapped out. They’re not saving anything for retirement. And you know I would argue a lot of them aren’t truly happy, because the material things typically aren’t what really bring you happiness in life. Hey, we’ll get philosophical here, but I don’t think that’s the right path. And not to mention, you mess up your retirement opportunities. So we’ve taken a different approach.

Steve: Yeah, for sure. I think hedonic adaptation is a real thing, and it’s worth it to understand that term early in your life. So you started The Retirement Manifesto in April, 2015. What made you start it? Why’d you get so into this topic and what did you hope to learn?

Fritz: Yeah, that’s a good question. I started it almost on a whim. I’m one of these guys who, I’ll try a lot of things, and some things just click and you realize you love it. And some things are just a dog and you discontinue it. Fortunately for me, The Retirement Manifesto has turned into a real passion project. I love to write, I love to teach, and I’ve really enjoyed it. My reason for starting it, I was three years away from retirement at the time and I recognized that I’m in this wave of baby boomers and there’s a lot of people going through the same transition.

At the same time, there weren’t really a lot of people writing about it. Most bloggers are younger, they’re in the FIRE community, et cetera. And I just felt like it could be a good means to share some of the things that we were doing, as we were in our final years of working and preparing for retirement. Not so much a story of me, me, me, but more, these are the things we’re thinking about, and here’s how you might want to think about it in your own life so we’re using the examples of decisions we’re making and kind of using those as guidelines for thoughts that people should have as they go through the retirement planning process.

Steve: Well it’s obviously resonated. Because I know you’ve been picked up in a number of channels and your podcasting and everything else. I know you were recently in the Washington Post on the front page the business section or the personal finance section, which is pretty cool to have that.

Fritz: Yeah. I’ve been really blessed and honored by … I think if you produce good content and you’re saying things that matter and things that people can learn from, that visibility and those people approaching me has been pretty much, they’re coming at me. I’m not out there promoting myself. I’m just focusing on creating the good content and I think people recognize that and at the end it pays off.

Steve: Right. What’s been the most rewarding part of this project for you?

Fritz: You know, unexpectedly, I would say the relationships that I’ve built. You and I met at FinCon. We had a great evening that night at the place with the band and everything, it was fun. And I’ve met a lot of really, really great people. We all have a common interest. There’s so few places left in our society where people are kind of non-judgemental, and this is kind of one of those places. You could be a liberal, a conservative, fat FIRE, lean FIRE, whatever. We can get into all that stuff later if you’d like. But you can have a different approach to life, but everybody is accepting of it. Because we have a common interest around personal finance, and it’s personal finance right? You can do it however you want because it is personal, and other people don’t tend to judge. So I would say the relationships and the acceptance of that community, I never expected that, and it’s one of the things that I’ve certainly enjoyed the most.

We talked early about those three reasons people go back to work and one of them was social interaction. Well here I am three years later. I’m a month into retirement and I’ve built this wonderful community of social interactions, that all came through my blog. So, that’s been the number one pleasant surprise that I’ve had from starting the blog.

Steve: Yeah. I definitely have to agree with you on that one. It is amazing to kind of connect with all these people all over the world. Being thoughtful, not just about personal finance and the money side, but the life side, what they’re doing, what they’re leaning, and having these wildly different experiences. Whether it’s living abroad while managing real estate properties here, or creating blogs and content, or building digital content businesses. Whatever it is, it’s pretty interesting seeing what everyone’s doing and how quickly they’re learning.

Fritz: Exactly. We’re creating incredible retirement calculators and starting a podcast, right Steve? I mean there’s a lot of different ways that people are going about this, and we’re all kind of addressing that same need. And it seems to be genuine relationships, which is really nice. So it’s a fun community to be a part of.

Steve: Yeah, that’s for sure. Okay, real quick before I move on. Do you consider yourself a FIRE person, you know, Financially Independent, Retirement Early, or kind of a more traditional person? You’re kind of like in between I think on the age side.

Fritz: I am. And I think the way I view that, I would say yes I do. Because if you think about it from a cultural perspective, retiring at 55 is still young. If you think about it from the FIRE community, I’m and old guy, right. A lot of the FIRE people are retiring in their 30s and 40s. Hey good for them, again we’re accepting, this is great. But I think looking at it from a cultural perspective, nobody would say that age 55 is not retiring early. So I do consider myself a FIRE person.

But I think more importantly, what I’m trying to do is share some of the FIRE lessons. How does somebody retire at age 35, right? That’s insane. But you know what, if you sit back and think about it, there are millions of Americans, and Canadians, and Europeans, that are age 50 that don’t have anything saved for retirement. Well guess what, you can use those same FIRE principles, and you can still retire in 15 years. So there’s a natural bridge between the boomers and the more traditional approach, especially for those that haven’t been as diligent in saving for retirement. There’s a natural overlap between those communities.

So I am kind of a hybrid. I’m a little bit in between but I consider myself on the FIRE side.

Steve: Yeah, I totally agree with that. I wrote a post called Hacking Retirement recently. I was thinking kind of along these lines. There are all these tips and things that you can learn from other folks that you can apply. And people aren’t always aware of all the levers that are out there. The FIRE people definitely have to be the most clever, because one, they have a long time horizon. And the second thing I think is healthcare. That’s like a huge question. I’ll ask you more about that in a second. Alright last question before we dive in a little bit more on the numbers stuff. I saw you have this giant fifth wheel, which looks really sweet. I saw some of your pictures, like a house on wheels. Have you caught any flack from the FIRE people? Like the frugal guys on like, oh, look at that thing.
Fritz’s Fifth Wheel

Fritz: Yeah, like Dave Ramsey, look at his house right? I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Again we go back to this acceptance, the community. And I think for those that aren’t into the details of this FIRE community, there’s kind of a lean FIRE approach, Which is, you cut everything to the bone and you get out really young and you live on $40,000 a year or less. And then there’s kind of this developing fat FIRE community, which they spend a little bit more, and they tend to enjoy a little bit more of the … I wouldn’t call it materialistic things in life. But yeah, you’ll get a big fifth wheel instead of going in a popup. So I think the response has been very supportive. Nobody’s really slammed me about it.

I think most people recognize that I’m kind of in the fat FIRE camp. I could have retired at age 45 or 50 probably, and lived a leaner lifestyle. We made a conscious choice to work a little bit longer and be able to do a little bit more financially in retirement. Hey good for you, no problem, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to get out earlier, but good for you if that’s the choice that you made. I would say it’s been supportive, and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve always loved traveling and we’ve got four dogs, we do dog rescue. And when you’re out camping with four dogs, I can’t imagine doing it in a popup. So we kind of made some conscious choices along the way that led us in that direction.

Steve: Nice, that’s awesome. Well If you drive out west you’ll have to come by Mill Valley, California and we’ll check it out, get a tour.

Fritz: We’ll definitely do that. Our daughter, as I said, is up in Seattle so I’m sure we’ll be doing a loop and coming down the coast. So we’ll stop by and see you.

Steve: Nice, appreciate that. Alright so, moving on to kind of like what you learned along the way. How did you decide you were ready for retirement? You’ve written about kind of like being both financially but also mentally ready for this transition. So I’m just curious how you decided that for yourself?

Fritz: Yeah. That’s an interesting process. I think the initial thought that I had and I think most people have is purely focused on the numbers, and probably five years out. I never really was obsessed with retirement as I was working. We were just diligently saving, and going along the path. When I was in my late 40s I started having some of my friends that were retiring in their mid to upper 50s. And I sort of “You know, I think we can do this.” So I started running the calculators and things like that. Started looking at the financial side. At that point, five years out, I started saying “Hey, I think this is possible.” And I started getting more serious about it. I did a cash flow analysis all the way out to age 95 and I really focused on the financial side. And as I got closer and closer to the retirement date, the numbers have to support your decision. And I got to the point where I was comfortable. “Hey, I can do a safe withdrawal rate of three to three and a quarter percent. I’m comfortable that we’re okay.”

And then an interesting thing happens where you start focusing less on the financial, and you start focusing more on the softer sides of retirement, like we talked about earlier. Purpose, social interactions, mental stimulation, you’ve also got to be ready for retirement on those sides of it. So the last year, 18 months before I retired, you’ll notice if you went through the chronology of my blog, the early writings were almost exclusively on the money and the latter writings have been almost exclusively on the softer side. So there’s been a natural shift in our mindset as we’ve recognized that the financial’s good, “Hey, we better start thinking about this other stuff.” Because it’s equally, or I would argue, almost more important than the financial side.

So we got to the point where we were comfortable with both, and we pulled the plug a month ago.

Steve: Yeah, well that’s awesome. That’s great to have that kind of confidence and feel like you’ve fully thought it through. We talked to Karsten Jeske a lot about this. He came out at the same place, which was like kind of a three and a half percent safe withdrawal rate. Once you know, when you’re managing your assets yourself. Okay, so that’s awesome. I know that you wrote about the bucket strategy, that was the approach that you’ve taken, right. So having kind of less risky, near term money and then more risky longer term money. And I know Karsten, when I talked with him, he was like “Look, I’m just going to manage one portfolio.” And so I was just kind of curious to get your take, if you have a strong opinion about why he chose the bucket versus all of the other approaches?

Fritz: Karsten’s great by the way. His work on the Safe Withdrawal Rate, you know that incredible series he wrote did influence us on our targeted withdrawal rate. So I’ve got a lot of respect for him. And I would argue that his managing one portfolio approach, isn’t really that much different than the bucket strategy. It’s just that the bucket strategy takes the one portfolio and it just breaks it down into subsets. So you take your liquid portion of it, Karsten’s got that. He’s got his liquid portion in his one portfolio. Well we’ve got that too, we just call it bucket one, right, so it’s not that different, I don’t think, fundamentally or strategically.

What I like about the bucket approach, is we’ve got a net worth statement. We’ve got all the different accounts that we’ve got. And I’ve built a link between, lets just say a money market fund. The value that’s in that money market fund automatically feeds into this bucket one on a separate tab. And you can just visualize to make sure you’ve got enough liquidity set aside to cover a three to four year time period. So you don’t get caught in a sequence of return risk, and trying to sell your stocks during a bear market. So to me they’re not that different. It’s just a way that I could visualize it a little bit easier. And it just kind of naturally fit with the way my mind worked.

Steve: Got it, that makes sense. Have you ever thought about annuitizing any part of your savings?

Fritz: I have, and I’ll tell you what I like is the deferred annuities, kind of a longevity risk. I’m in this timeframe where I’m retiring at 55, obviously your retirement assets, you don’t really have access to those until your 59 and a half. So I think that’s something I’ve continued to look at. And as we free up a lot of the liquidity in our retirement portfolio, we may annuitize some of it. But primarily as a longevity risk. We’d probably do it a deferred annuity.

Steve: Alright. At like 80 or something like that?

Fritz: Yeah, something like that. Put in a hundred grand now, and it’s worth so many thousand dollars a month at 85. Something along those lines. I think that the two biggest risks that we have, well healthcare obviously we’ll talk about that as well. But I think from a running out of money perspective, you just don’t know how long you’re going to live. So I think anything you can do to hedge against the longevity risk is wise. And we’re going to delay our social security until we’re age 70 and a half. We’re looking at those levers, that protect against longevity risk. And I think a deferred annuity is one of those levers. We haven’t made a decision yet, but that’s clearly a risk that you need to look at. The second one, obviously, is inflation. So you need to have a lot of your funds still invested in the stock markets to be able to keep up with inflation. And so there’s always that trade off between the risk of a bear market versus inflation destroying your portfolio if you keep everything in cash. So there’s a balancing act in all of this.

Steve: Yeah, totally. And that’s what we’re trying to do in our tool is kind of make it easy for people to understand what these levers are. Because I think a lot people don’t even know, I could buy a deferred annuity that is relatively low cost, because the odds are … Well according to the mortality tables, you’re not supposed to be alive at 85 or whatever age, right?

Fritz: Right.

Steve: So it’s cheap but if you happen to be alive, guess what? You’ve kind of created an endpoint from a planning perspective, which today no one has this endpoint. And when you look at the the data on people that have planned and saved money is, many of the people that have saved significantly, they continue to save and build up assets through retirement. And they end up retiring with huge piles of money, or sorry, passing away with huge piles of money. And they obviously haven’t gotten the utility of that. So anyway.

Fritz: Ironically, a little bit of a sidebar on this but I think it’s relevant. I just wrote a post like last week about it’s time to live like no one else, and I investigated that exact topic. And if you’ve been a lifelong saver, it’s really hard to change that habit in retirement and become a retirement spender. You’re just naturally frugal, you naturally don’t spend. But you know what? Look at the Monte Carlo simulations, in the vast majority of cases your wealth is going to continue to grow. So don’t be afraid to spend your money in retirement. Set a safe withdrawal rate, and then be comfortable spending at least what you’ve identified as your safe withdrawal rate because that’s safe. You can spend it, you can buy a fifth wheel if your numbers say you can. Because if you don’t you’re just going to die and that money’s going to be sitting in the account and go to your heirs, which, if that’s what you want, that’s fine, but make sure it’s a conscious choice.

Steve: Yeah. I think it’s really important for people to understand that. The true scarce resource that we all have is our time and our health. You’re definitely like, from 45 to 55 you’re a certain level of health, 55 to 65 you’re another level of health, 65 to 75 you know like … When you start pushing 75, 85 years old, you’re not going to be necessarily doing the same things you were doing at 55 years old.

Fritz: Exactly.

Steve: You’re not going to like necessarily say, “Oh okay, you know what, I’m going to go to Europe” and trekking around or backpack around or something like that. So you do have to decide like, “Okay I want to use this time, along with my money” to achieve whatever you want to get accomplished.

Fritz: I agree.

Steve: Okay, awesome, appreciate that. So healthcare, right? So you’re 55. You’re 10 years out from Medicare. How are you guys solving for that cost?

Fritz: Yeah. It’s not an easy one Steve and you know that obviously by asking the question. And I would be lying if I said we’ve got it totally solved. I think there’s so many unknowns in terms of what’s going to be available, what’s going to happen legislatively wise? Is there a risk of … You get cancer and you end up having a problem getting insurance later, whatever.

So what we’re doing right now, is I went ahead and bought the Cobra from my employer. Again I just retired a month ago, so I’ve got Cobra for 18 months and then we’ve actually got a retiree medical thing that I can buy into that expires in 2020, so I get an extra year out of that. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than going in the open market. So basically I’ve got until, what is it? 18 months plus 12 so, I’ve got 30 months of insurance booked and done. And my hope is between now and then, the market kind of gets sorted out.

In the event that it doesn’t, obviously from a planning perspective, we kind of have to assume that things are going to be pretty ugly. And we’re planning on like $25,000 a year just for the insurance costs. And we’re inflating it like 5% a year. We’re not going to go be eligible for any of the subsidies or anything like that. So we’re saying, “Let’s make sure, that we built enough cash in or projection here, that if we have to go out and do full cost private pay medical insurance, we can cover that before we retire.”
So that was built into our model. And we’re just assuming at this point, we’ll probably just go out and have to pay into private pay. You know, we’re watching the Health Sharing Ministries and we’re watching what some of the other bloggers and podcasters are doing that are in a similar stage. I’ll write an article at some point about it, but I think we’ll probably lean towards private pay just because I’ve got some concerns around the health sharing in terms of things that they potentially won’t cover, limitations on coverage, but we’ll see. We’ve got 30 months to let the market kind of sort itself out, and hopefully by then we’ll have little bit better picture.

Steve: Right. Or you can go work part-time at Starbucks or something like that?

Fritz: Yeah, I hope not.

Steve: You hear about people doing that.

Fritz: Oh yeah.

Steve: Especially younger people. Well no, great to get the color on that. I think it’s going to become this much bigger issue, definitely for people that are under 65. But even with Medicare and social security under funding, how that unfolds over the next 10, 20 years. One stat I’ve heard is that the average person pays $140,000 into Medicare over their life, and they claim $410,000. That’s a few years old but, I’ve seen in my family. Not everyone takes full advantage of Medicare, but some people are just like, they’re all over Medicare. And it’s like their sucking down a huge amount of resources. We can do a whole separate podcast on healthcare.

Fritz: We sure could.

Steve: So as kind of a personal finance blogger, I saw that you do what a lot of them do which is, you just kind of publish your personal financial situation online. How do you feel about that? And why do you think everyone does that?

Fritz: Yeah. We’ve kind of taken a hybrid approach. There’s actually a website out there and I think Rockstar Finance runs it, where they actually have the published net worth of all these different personal finance bloggers. We’ve not actually published hard net worth numbers, but we have shared quite a bit around asset allocation and withdrawal rates, and rough spending numbers. So people can do the math and figure out what our net worth is, so I’m a little bit mixed on it. To me, unless you’re bringing value to the readers by publishing something … That to me is the number one criteria. Maybe there’s a curiosity factor in all that. But in terms of really helping people make their decisions for retirement, I don’t think it’s that relevant what my personal net worth is. It’s healthy, it’s seven figures and we’re pretty comfortable. Beyond that I don’t think that they need to know exactly what the number is to benefit them as they try to figure out, can they retire or not with their situation.

Steve: Yeah, totally agree. We just did this podcast with Bob Merton and-

Fritz: Yeah, congratulations by the way. That’s huge.

Steve: Thanks. Yeah, it was great to kind of get his perspective. His perspective is basically, the whole wealth management industry has got it wrong around retirement, because they’re totally focused on asset accumulation. They need to be focused on income and people shouldn’t even be paying attention to their assets, at least their retirement assets. They just should be focused on how much lifetime income do I get? And how confident am I that that’s going to be delivered? He’s also thinking a lot about, how can I financially engineer that stuff, that income stream for people? I think you’re right, with regard to retirement it’s really just about, can you get done what you need to get done around the income side to make sure that you have the quality of life that you want to have.

Fritz: Exactly.

Steve: Okay, a couple other questions just because I’m curious. Any kind of like smartest money moves that you feel like you made along the way here?

Fritz: Probably the single biggest thing I did right, and it was more by chance than by being brilliant. When I first started working out of college, I was 22 years old and they had this thing called the 401k. I wasn’t really even sure what it was but my boss said “Yeah, you should sign up for that.” So I signed up for it and I got started with contributions at age 22 that have compounded for 30 plus years now. So putting the power of compounding to use was by far the biggest single thing that I did, and I was just fortunate. It’s one of those things where if you don’t do it at the time, and you realize 10 years later it’s kind of too late. I’ve since become much more educated about the power of compounding. But at the time, it was just sheer luck. Thanks to my boss who said, “Hey, you should sign up for this.” Starting young was smart.
The second piece probably is, I started getting smarter about this was, forcing yourself to not get into lifestyle inflation. And if I got a 3% raise let’s say, I would automatically put 2% more into the 401k and we’d get 1% more in our paycheck, so we felt like we had a little bit more money, but it didn’t inflate our lifestyle. It all went in to savings instead. I think the combination of those two were probably the smartest moves we’ve made.

Steve: Yeah, I think that’s great insight. One thing that kind of surprised me that I’ve learned recently, is I went to this conference from Next Generation Personal Finance. And it’s basically a movement to try and bring personal financial education into high schools and middle schools.

Fritz: Yep.

Steve: It’s not required education in our country. And so you get these kids coming … It’s like an opportunity. If everyone knew, not just how to balance a checkbook, like in home-ec, but like hey, here’s how the power of compounding works, and here’s how you need to save, here’s how this can play out. And if you start early, it doesn’t have to be that painful. I think that’s a big thing that the FinCon and personal finance bloggers can get behind. It’s like let’s just educate more people so that they have these lessons that you lucked into, but most people obviously don’t luck into it. Because you look at the outcomes and you look at the savings rates in this country and they’re super low. It’s a huge opportunity to help a lot of people.

Fritz: I agree and I support that cause. I think it’s a wonderful message. You know you can save $100 a month if your 18 and you can be a millionaire at 60, or whatever the numbers are. If you wait until you’re 30 you got to save 500 a month. Whatever the numbers are. They’re staggering when you see those examples laid out. And they do make an impact, I think, on those younger kids, but not enough people are preaching it. There is a movement right now I think to try to get that instilled in the school systems and I hope it gets some traction. Because it’s really important that people understand this, and they understand it at a young enough age that they can still impact it.

Steve: Yep, totally. So another question. Have you ever used a financial advisor or have you always been kind of a DIY kind of person?

Fritz: I have been DIY my whole life. I call myself a personal finance hobbyist. I’ve studied this stuff since I kind of started making money. In my mid 20s probably got Money Magazine and started reading the magazines on it and really started studying it. So up until I was 52 or so, I never talked to a personal finance advisor at all. I did everything myself. I did the Vanguard check ups, we got those at work through the 401k. So they would kind of, do a look at it and say, “Yep you’re in good shape.” But it was pretty high level. Three years ago I actually did kind of a retirement readiness check with a CFB just to make sure that I didn’t have any blind spots, there wasn’t anything that I was missing. And I was like, “You know what, that’s probably an appropriate use.” In my case where I’m pretty knowledgeable about this stuff. For people that aren’t knowledgeable or don’t have an interest, by all means, use a CFP, use a professional. Because it’s too important to get it wrong.
In my case, I thought I was in pretty good shape, I thought I knew what I was doing. But doesn’t hurt to have a second set of eyes. So we did a one shot deal and he pretty much confirmed everything that I had been thinking about. So we’ve been do it yourself since.

Steve: Nice, yeah it makes sense. By the way we’re looking at rolling out packaged services around our planning tool. So to do this kind of on a flat fee or hourly basis, because we do think that many people need some support. But we want to do it in a completely aligned and transparent way. One of the issues we have with financial services is that almost all of it is paid indirectly. People don’t know how much they’re paying. You know, there’s fees on everything and you can’t see it. There’s transaction fees or fund fees or whatever, you’re not really paying attention. Our average user has a million bucks and so if they’re paying 1% a year, I think 1.3% is the average fee. That’s 10 to 13 grand a year. Right, I mean we’re kind of like yeah, that’s like half your healthcare costs right there.

Fritz: Exactly, exactly. The other thing that I think that … I support that by the way. I think that’s a great thing that you should roll out. Because I think there are people that need it. And I think the other thing it serves is those people that don’t necessarily have a large enough net worth that they’re attractive to the traditional financial service industry, because their all about assets under management and working on the fees. If you can do … whatever your pricing’s going to be. Let’s just say X thousands of dollars to do an assessment. You’re going to open yourself up to where the people that don’t have that much wealth yet can still afford to have an expert look at it and give them some guidance, which right now is a lacking side of the industry where people that don’t have the wealth don’t really have good means to get the expertise to help them out. So I think that’s brilliant that you would do that.

Steve: Thanks. Well, hopefully it works out. I’ll let you know when it’s up and running. It should be, actually, pretty soon.

Fritz: Yeah, please do. Yeah.

Steve: Okay. So last thing here. I saw you did this kind of Dilbert principles of personal finance where you kind of did your one page, or the plan on the note card, which I thought was a really nice summary. Kind of keeping it simple and low fee. Any quick color that you have on that one? Why you put that together?

Fritz: Yeah, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, he had put this guide to personal finance together. It was kind of a one little paragraph thing with a couple of bullets and I was like “You know, he’s spot on.” It’s kind of the one index card logic that you talked about. And so I basically turned that into an infographic and just kind prettied it up a little bit, but used, basically, his content. But basically, I think the takeaway is that this stuff doesn’t have to be that complicated. You save X percent, 15%, 20% you should target. Keep an emergency fund. Keep diversified portfolio and low cost mutual funds. The basics are not that complicated and if you get those basics right, that you could see in a one page Dilbert slide, if you get those basics right you’re 95% of the way to being where you need to be.
So don’t over complicate it. Keep it simple and start moving down this path, because it’s more important to start moving down the path than it is to get every single technical detail correct. It’s just follow the basics and you’ll be fine.

Steve: Nice. Yeah, I totally agree with that. So, as you’ve been writing this, what is your audience asking you for? What are they most interested in as you build The Retirement Manifesto?

Fritz: I think my main audience is primarily, let’s say late 40s to maybe early 60s, and I think the biggest thing on their minds is really this when can I retire, do I have enough, and everybody faces that decision at some point in your life. That’s clearly the most common thing that I hear in terms of feedback and I’ve written quite a few posts around that and kind of did a whole series on can I retire yet, and how you walk through that process to determine when, realistically, you can think about retirement. That’s probably the number one thing that people look at financially. Once you get past that, similar to my journey, once you’ve kind of evolved past the financial side there’s a gaining momentum on this topic of kind of purpose in retirement and having a fulfilling retirement and the softer side. Maybe it’s because I’m writing about it more now, but I’m hearing a lot more about that from readers. That seems to be really striking a nerve right now with people as well. So I would say those two topics are the most common.

Steve: Yeah, I think that there’s this giant, untapped resource, or this growing untapped resource, or underutilized resource of kind of human capital of these boomers and people that are like “Okay, I’m stepping out of my main career. I’m doing something next.” But look at yourself. You’ve got a ton of energy and intelligence and passion. You could make a huge difference in a lot of things, so it’s like how do you apply yourself, where are you going to apply yourself in a way that’s in balance with everything else you want to get done in your life.

Fritz: Exactly. Exactly.

Steve: Okay. Awesome. Moving on to today, I’m really curious what has changed and what is life like now versus before you made this move a month ago to retire?

Fritz: Yeah. It’s funny. As I’ve thought about retirement pretty seriously for the last five years I’ve thought a lot about what’s life really going to be like? Because it’s one of those things, until you actually get there you can never experience it. You don’t know what it is. You go on vacation, but you know that’s not the same. So that one question that you just asked, what’s a day in the life like know, that’s been a question that’s been burning in my head for a couple of years. What’s it really going to be like?
And all I can say Steve … I’m only a month in. I’m not naïve. I know I’m still in the honeymoon period, but man I am floating on the ceiling. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s so liberating and one of the things I’ve read is the people that have the most successful retirements, typically the number one thing you can do is spend time before you get there thinking about what you want your retirement to be. And obviously I’ve been writing about it for three years. I’ve spent an exhaustive amount of time thinking about this and I think it’s starting to pay off now in terms of how motivated and satisfied I am in this retirement.

So a day in the life, I guess, what’s so nice about it is the restrictions of a structured workday are gone. I had a friend of mine who said “Every day is a Saturday.” And that’s a really good analogy, because you think about how you live your Saturday, but think about having the rest of your life as Saturdays and every day is unstructured, every day is just whatever you want it to be. You don’t have to hurry. You can put off something til tomorrow, if you want to you can go ahead and decide to do it today. I might lay in bed 15 more minutes in the morning and love on the dogs.
So I would say the typical day is a nice, slow wake up. We live, as I said, in the mountains and we’ve got a lot of woods and there’s a really nice hiking trail back behind our cabin. It’s about a mile and a half, pristine woods, nobody back there. It’s just a private woods owned by a bank. I’ve met the guy that owns it. He said “Yeah, you can hike your dogs back there.” So I get out and hike the dogs in the morning, and then typically at some point during the day we’ll … My wife and I are both pretty into physical fitness, so we’ll work out in one way, shape, or form or another and we do a lot of different things around that.

So there’s normally some kind of physical activity. And then a little bit of online stuff, keeping my social interactions with people in this community that I’ve developed and a lot of reading, a lot of relaxing, and something around, normally, my blog, because that’s where I get the mental stimulation of creating. It’s kind of just a random combination of all those things at a very relaxed pace. It’s really, really nice.

Steve: Nice. That sounds awesome. Yeah, I’ve definitely heard a lot of people say, that have retired, that they’re really happy and not worried. And it wasn’t as stress inducing once they kind of retired versus they were all worried about it beforehand. And then they’re like “Okay. It wasn’t as bad as I thought.” This happens, I think, in all things. People freak out about stuff and there’s a lot of anxiety about some big event that’s coming, it then comes, it’s never as bad as you thought.

Fritz: Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Mountains out of mole hills. I would say right now that’s definitely the situation. Now, I don’t know how things evolve. I’ve read some stuff about the six stages of retirement and what not and we’ll see how things evolve over time, but we’re pretty well grounded and we’ve put a pretty good plan together so I think we’re going to be fine, but hey, I’ll keep you posted as the years evolve here. But right now, all systems are go and things are pretty good.

Steve: Yeah, sounds good. There is one stat I have. You can start the clock on this one. That knowledge workers, or you know, whatever, white collar workers, after they retire, two and a half years later they’re back to either consulting or nonprofit work, or they’re somehow partially engaged back in the workforce.

Fritz: Well, it’s interesting that you mention that, because I actually got a call from a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for 25 years in the industry and this was like a week before I was retiring. I was like “Oh, great, he’s trying to offer me a job.” Actually, i thought he was calling to congratulate me on retirement. We had a nice chat. And then he said “Actually, I did have a reason for calling.” I was like “Oh, man, the guy wants to have me come consult for him.” And I do not want to do consulting work. I don’t. If I still had to work I’d stay in my job and why would I have quit if I … you know. But, he approached me and said “Actually we’re restructuring our board. We’ve got a board position open and the chairman of the board would like to talk to you.” So my wife and I talked about it and I said “Look, our whole purpose in retirement was to have the freedom and to not commit to something that’s going to be invasive.”
And I was very transparent with the chairman about that. I said “Look, it really sounds intriguing to me and I’m very interested, but I don’t want to have to do a lot basically.” So he said “No.” He said “You got my word.” He said “It’s once a quarter. We have a face to face meeting.” And there’s a bit of a kicker with it, so that didn’t hurt, but the decision was not driven by the financials at all. It was purely driven by hey, here’s a way that I can kind of stay strategically engaged with my industry with a very minimal time commitment that still lets me utilize my expertise to the value of a company. So I went ahead and took advantage of it and we’ve had one board meeting and it was a blast. So yeah, I’m only a month in, but I’ve already been to a board meeting. So yeah, you’re right. That does happen. That’s okay.

Steve: Got it. Yeah, I was going to ask you if you could consult with us and do a little PR, but I guess the answer’s going to be no.

Fritz: Probably not.

Steve: Bummer. One of the things that i think is hopeful about what’s happening here is that people like yourself that are thoughtful about this is that the things they do choose to do, they’re really purposeful about and the outcomes are much better, because they’re totally into whatever they’re doing. They’re only going to do things they really like and are passionate about and therefore they’re going to bring their best effort and they’ll probably have a much bigger impact in those things.

Fritz: Yeah, and I’ll tell you something else, Steve, that I think is really important. You’re absolutely right. But I think the bigger point is the decisions you’re making are no longer driven by the financial implications of the decision. Okay, the board pays me a little stipend. Fine. Don’t tell them. I would have done it for free. To me, the thing that drove me to say yes was it was mentally stimulating. It was like, this is going to be interesting, to look at a business at a totally different strategic level, that sounds interesting. So the decisions you can make on what you engage in are now driven purely by what interests you and what motivates you and that is so rewarding.
To be at a stage in life where you’re no longer dependent on having to earn money and “Oh, I gotta get that job, because I got to pay the mortgage” or whatever. That’s totally off the table and the decisions you’re making now are purely based on your personal interests and whether this is something that intrigues you or not. And you can say yes or no. There’s no skin in the game if you say no. It’s really a blessing to be at that point in your life where you can make decisions without having the financial considerations being a factor.

Steve: By the way, I hope someone fires up this podcast in your next board meeting and says “Hey, don’t tell anybody. I might have done this for free.” No, I totally get that. And in fact I think that’s one thing that I’m definitely seeing in our business. We’ve had people like JD Roth and folks like yourself that are willing to put their time in and energy in and to share what they’re learning. Actually I did write a post about this. Anyone who’s financially independent, if they’re spending time with you it’s because they think that they’re going to be helping the world. It’s not because they’re trying to make money. You immediately get past that like “Oh, is there some ulterior motive?” Or “What’s their angle?” And I think that makes all the communications so much better.

Fritz: Yeah. And genuine. They’re genuine. There’s not an ulterior … And that’s really what my blog is to me. The blog has never been designed to make money. I mean, it’s really been designed as a way for me to share the things that I’m learning and hope that other people benefit from it. You’re making the world a better place. And it really is that. You really feel like you’re putting energy into something that is going to benefit other people and one of the most rewarding things you can do is find a way that the things that you exert energy into are benefiting others, because that’s where you get your rewards later in life is seeing the benefit that other people have from your work, more so than getting paid for it. It really is around helping others. That’s a very rewarding pursuit.

Steve: Yep. That’s awesome. Okay, so I’ve got a couple more questions for you and then we can wrap this up. It sound like you’re kind of in the honeymoon period here, but have you had any kind of thoughts of like “Oh, in the next two or three years this is what I see happening.” Or are you kind of taking a more shorter term approach and kind of settling into your situation?

Fritz: Yeah, at this point it’s shorter term. I wrote a post called The 10 Commandments of Retirement and I kind of did it for myself, to kind of set some guidelines. And one was to basically be open to opportunities, but don’t commit to a lot of things. Be careful. I’ve seen a lot of guys that I’ve worked with that have jumped in and become consultants right away and they’re kind of stuck right back on the same hamster wheel. So we’ve kind of intentionally said “Let’s just kind of go with it for a while. Let’s make the adjustment. Let’s get fully absorbed into this new retirement lifestyle and see where things go.”

I would say over the next three years our plans are, spend quite a bit of time traveling with the camper, seeing a lot of the country, nice slow travel, doing things like that. And beyond that we’re going to kind of do a wait and see attitude and be open to opportunities and again, the intention is to never have to go back to work. So things that we do will be things that intrigue us as opportunities present themselves.

Steve: Yep. I think that’s a great perspective to have. Okay, this last question kind of a weird one. I threw it in last night I think at like 11:30. So maybe we’ll edit this out, but I was running with a friend of mine yesterday. We were talking about universal basic income and structural changes in the economy. I was at this conference where the Vanguard Chief Economist was like “Look, I think that the most disruptive thing that we’re going to see is automation of jobs.” And he’s like “There’s some stats that 77% of Chinese jobs and 50% of U.S. jobs may be automated in the next eight years.”

Fritz: Wow.

Steve: But, this kind of plays into my question, which was say you’re 55, you’re healthy, and hopefully science is extending lifespans and health spans at a pretty good clip. If you could live for a really long time … Say that your lifespan was going to be 125. Seventy more years. Would that change your perspective on your life?

Fritz: I shouldn’t have retired yet because I’ll run out of money. No, that’s an interesting question Steve. We all think about how long are we going to live and what are our later years going to be like, and I think the way I look at that is I think there’s a natural flow to life and I don’t want to get to the point where you’re … My mother-in-law’s got Alzheimer’s and she lives here in a nursing home in the town we live in and to see people go through that type of thing later in their life is a horrible thing to witness.
If I knew that I could be absolutely healthy and I could still go kayaking and that I could still do my cold water swimming and mountain biking, all the activities, yeah sure, why not. But the reality of it is there’s a natural transition and that’s not realistic. So my feeling is no, I would rather live kind of a normal lifespan and hopefully not have too many years at the tail end of it where you’re not able to do the things that you really love to do. And at that point check out and live forever in heaven, which is going to be a lot nicer than here anyways. So I think there’s a natural timeframe and I’m fine with that. That’s what I’m planning.

Steve: Awesome. I think that’s a great answer. I don’t want to take us too deep down this thing, but I think that this will become a larger discussion. It’s becoming a larger discussion in Europe where people are really thoughtful. They want to live a long time, but they’re seeing as they care for parents or people that are older like oh, wow. There’s also these scenarios where people are living a really long time but in a unhealthy and kind of half present state and it’s not a great situation and you incinerate all money, or a lot of money in those kind of situations. So thinking about it a little bit is probably worthwhile.

Alright. Well look, Fritz this was great. I appreciate your time. Before I close this up do you have any questions for me?

Fritz: One thing. I was thinking about this. Congratulations by the way. The caliber of your content and the people that you’ve had on are … You talked about earlier about Bob Merton, a Nobel Prize winner, and Ben Carlson, I mean, that guy’s incredible. Bill Bernstein, I mean, right out of the chute you’re hitting some of these really top names in the industry, so kudos and congratulations to you and I wish you the best of luck, but the question around that is it’s been a relatively short period of time here that you’ve been doing this. I guess, I’ve always been intrigued by podcasts. I’ve never done one. I don’t think I’m going to commit myself to it now just because of the time commitment, but what would you say is the number one kind of life lesson that you’ve picked up since you started this podcast? What’s the thing you think about that has been the biggest benefit to you?

Steve: Yeah. It’s a great question. First I want to say, one, we got pretty lucky. So JD Roth was our first guest and he was a very legitimate guy and he helped promote it and then we got Jonathan Clements, who also introduced me to some of these … Like Bill Bernstein, he’s like “Hey, you should have him.” And then it happened to be they were in a conference, that Next Generation Personal Finance conference in San Francisco, so I went there and I met him and Alan Roth. So part of it’s serendipity. It’s just luck that we kind of got these folks. So I think a couple things. So one is for sure this message of it can be simple and it should be low fee and there’s kind of like a … When I think about what we’re doing I feel like we want to help as many people as we can. That’s why we’re doing online and software and free to low cost.

So free tools forever, low cost software, to kind of transparent hourly advice. We want it to have a very low structure that helps as many people as possible and do it in a scalable way. But I also want to take kind of an evidence based approach. So there’s a set of best practices about how to do this and think about it. I want to be able to look back and I want to tell someone “Hey, you should do this or that.” Without being able to say “Hey look, here’s all the evidence that supports this is kind of the best way to do it.” No one can guarantee outcomes, but we can tell you that … It’s like if you want to lose weight here’s what you need to do in general. Eat less food or eat healthy food and exercise and try to manage your stress level and all those good things.

So same thing with personal finance. You got to save money. You’ve got to invest in a diversified way. You’ve got to manage your costs, your investment costs. You got to try to think about taxes efficiently. And then you want to manage those external risks like inflation, market volatility, longevity. And how do you put all those pieces together? I do feel like I’m learning a ton from talking to all these folks about, one, there really is a best way to do this and, two, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. We’ve just got to boil it down for people and kind of make it simpler and much more accessible to folks. So that’s a huge thing and I will say it is amazing to record this stuff. We just crossed 100,000 downloads. I can’t imagine speaking in front of 100,000 people, but, you know, boom. It’s like a couple stadiums of people hearing your message about what you’re doing and we’re all learning together. So we’re getting feedback from our listeners and we’re learning from our guests like you that have great stuff to say and can really help us help as many people as possible.

Fritz: That’s excellent. And I’ll tell you what, you’ve got to love the culture, the society, the time that we live in to be able to just set up a podcast, talk to these amazing people, present company excluded of course, but talk to some really brilliant people and learn from it and then adapt that into the product that you’re trying to build. What a great society that that’s all available. Same with the blogging. We are in such a fortunate time to be able to do these kind of things and create this kind of content and at the same time have a lot of fun. This is really enjoyable stuff and I applaud you, seriously, on doing a great job with this and I wish you the best of luck with the business as well and we’ll definitely keep in touch. I consider you one of my friends and I look forward to seeing you down the road. I’m sure we’ll keep in touch.

Steve: Yeah, for sure. No, Fritz the feeling’s mutual and this has been a super good podcast and I totally agree it’s like 20 years ago or 10 years ago the aluminum executive wasn’t sitting down and saying “Okay, I’m going to create something and then become this thought leader in retirement planning and be on the Washington Post.” But now it happens. Like you got something to say, you know your stuff, and it’s amazing how the world’s changed. And people can discover you and engage with you and share your stuff virally and organically and it works out.

Alright, well look, Fritz thanks for being on our show. Davorin Robison, thanks for being our sound engineer and anyone listening, thanks for listening, hopefully you found this useful. Our goal at NewRetirement is to help anyone plan and manage their retirement so they can make the most of their money and time. We offer a powerful retirement planning tool and educational content that you can access at newretirement.com. We also just rolled out Planner Plus, a premium version of that and we’re encouraging our free users to upgrade and kind of support our mission here and then we will also be rolling out an advisor solution in the coming month or two here. So that’s it. Thanks everyone for listening. Appreciate it.

NewRetirement Planner

Do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable

NewRetirement Planner

Take financial wellness into your own hands and do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable.

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