Podcast: Scott Rieckens — Playing with FIRE

Scott RieckensEpisode 34 of the NewRetirement podcast is an interview with Scott Rieckens — two-time Emmy-nominated filmmaker and F.I.R.E. (Financial Independence, Retire Early) enthusiast. Steve and Scott discuss Riecken’s new documentary: Playing with FIRE. Scott and his family have made huge changes in their lives in order to get on track for FIRE. This is their story.

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Full Transcript of Steve Chen’s Interview with Scott Rieckens

Steve: Welcome to The NewRetirement Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Scott Rieckens, a two-time Emmy-nominated filmmaker and F.I.R.E. enthusiast about his new documentary, Playing with FIRE. Scott got inspired to pursue F.I.R.E., Financial Independence/Retirement Early, after listening to Mr. Money Mustache on Tim Ferriss, but then he got a little crazy and decided to upend his family’s life in sunny San Diego and make a movie about what it actually takes to pursue F.I.R.E. He’s coming to us from Bend, Oregon. Scott, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you join us.

Scott: Thanks Steven. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Steve: Yeah. Appreciate your time. It’s been great getting to know you over the past year and kind of hearing your story. For our listeners, I actually have seen the movie and met up with Scott face to face a few months ago when he was out touring. We’ll talk more about his movie in a second, but before we do that, Scott, I was wondering if you could kind of share your background, a little bit about how you grew up and kind of what your life was like leading up until you learned about F.I.R.E.

Scott: Yeah. I was born and raised a Navy brat, so I traveled around quite a bit. I think I moved something like 12 times by the time I got to high school, but my entire family’s actually from a small town in Iowa. So, we would go back there often and then we ended up moving back there after stents on the East Coast, West Coast, Hawaii, Puerto Rico. I ended up moving to a small town in Iowa for high school. So, of all the culture shocks, that was probably the biggest, but I loved it back there and ended up going to college at the University of Iowa. Then, found my way back out west where I started my career and ended up meeting my wife out there. We settled in San Diego, where I was born and where my dad worked for many, many years. That was my life leading up to F.I.R.E.

Steve: Nice. How old were you when you moved back out to California?

Scott: It was right out of college, so 22, 23, something like that.

Steve: Got it. So then you spent 10 plus years living in California and-

Scott: Actually, I ended up moving up to Reno for four, five years living with my now wife, Taylor, who went to college there. We had met through work and I ended up moving out there and enjoyed the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. Yeah. Then, we ended up getting out of Reno when the crash happened. It really affected Nevada hard. We were looking for better job opportunities, so we decided to relocate to San Diego.

Steve: Nice. Well, Reno’s having a little bit of a resurgence right now. I know that it’s becoming a little bit of a hotter city as people bounce out of California. I think some companies are going there too because of the tax arbitrage that’s available with no state income taxes in Nevada.

Steve: Now, you live in Bend, right?

Scott: Correct. Yes. In the Cascades now.

Steve: Awesome. Yeah. So, can you kind of share a little bit how much your life has changed in the past couple years leading up to F.I.R.E. and now what it’s like having made all these changes?

Scott: Yeah. My life is 180 from two years ago. Living in San Diego, there was a lot of stress and it was a lot of gears grinding trying to figure out how to live with this increasing cost of living and all the traffic and everything we were dealing with. It just didn’t feel like the life we wanted to live. Then, when I found this F.I.R.E. thing, my entire life changed.

Scott: Now, living in Bend, we have completely redesigned our life where we’re spending a lot more time thinking about how we can focus on that which makes us the happiest. It used to be if you’re working, and Taylor’s a commission-based worker, and everything that I do on a daily basis directly affects my ability to earn. So, if there’s no end in sight, then we’re just working as hard as we can, as often as we can.

Scott: Now that we have these measurements that we can put into place, if Taylor’s feeling really stressed and there’s a lot going on outside of work, she can take a look, pause at that and say, “Do I really need to keep grinding out right this minute or can I take a quick break for myself and be a little more balanced?”

Scott: So, we’re finding more balance on a work front, on a social front. Because of that, it’s just kind of expanded our purview to self-care and focusing on the things that matter the most as opposed to just constantly grinding, working and feeling stressed. We’ve opened ourselves up to have the space to think about our friends, think about our family, think about ourselves and correct course a bit.

Steve: Yeah. It’s interesting listening to you, and just as a quick aside on this, I think this is a problem that’s … I don’t know. It’s not entirely unique to California, but you see it in these high cost of living areas where it does start to feel unattainable for certain people. It’s a semi-generational problem. I just posted this on our Facebook group, where it was a story about there’s going to be 21 million baby boomers selling their houses over the next 10, 15 years and what’s that going to look like? How’s that going to affect the market? The boomers have a ton of money, especially in California in their houses. And then, on the other hand, you’ve got kind of Millennials that are up-and-coming or younger folks that are like, “I can’t afford this. I can’t spend in San Diego, what, a million and a half bucks to buy a house or something like that. It’s just …” Or, “I can do it, but I’m completely chained to my house. I’ll have to be grinding for 30 years to pay it off.”

Steve: But, it does feel like there’s a disconnect. It doesn’t feel like it’s sustainable. Either housing prices are going to have to come down or people are going to do what you’re doing, which is move to different places, which will bring housing prices down because there’ll be less demand. But, I feel your pain because I see it out here with folks. If they aren’t able to buy a house in a certain kind of window, I guess, then it feels like they can’t do it and then they leave.

Scott: Yeah. It’s not like home ownership is the end-all be-all, but rent prices are also extremely high. Then, it starts to feel like the equation’s off, right?

Steve: Right. Yeah.

Scott: Regardless of if home ownership is the pinnacle. Trying to get away from that discussion is just saying like, “As a signifier, I can’t afford to live here, because I can’t even buy a modest two-bedroom house as a 30 something with a promising career.” Something’s wrong.

Steve: Right. Well, you’re seeing this geoarbitrage, relocating for a much better cost happening inside the US and also around the world. You’ve got countries like Italy and Japan, where they have declining populations because they have low birth rates. In Italy, you can buy a house in some of these nice places that you go on vacation for like a dollar. You have to commit to spending part of the year there and commit to rehabbing a little bit, but you can get that kind of asset somewhere else too if you’re willing to think more widely about where you’re going to go.

Scott: Yeah. And that’s ultimately what I think where the beauty of F.I.R.E. really exists is the more you dive into it, the more you understand it’s really a system of optimization and opening up your mind to all possibilities with this goal in mind of reaching financial independence.

Scott: So, all of a sudden, you can look and say, “Well, I don’t have to follow the status that,” and then you research it and it’s with the remote. We’re all more connected than ever. So, things are changing before our eyes. Technological advancement curve is going strong right now. So, I think it’s time for all of us to take a look at that and say, “What does the next 5, 10, 15 years look like?” And if, in that range, you’re also implementing really sound financial decisions where you’re getting your costs down as far as your happiness levels will allow, that’s kind of a suit of armor heading into an uncertain future.

Steve: Right. Yeah. One of the things I really like about F.I.R.E. and the way it’s positioned and I read this. This is on the ChooseFI site. If you can buy into a 10 to 15-year window, then a lot becomes doable. 15 years sounds like a long time. 10 years. I mean, it’s a chunk of time, but if you knew what they’ve earned it at, that, hey, you would have complete control of your life or really a high degree of control of your life, you might be willing to start methodically making the changes that are required to let you achieve financial independence. If you’re 50 and you want to retire at 65, even if you’re not ready yet or even if you’re at zero, people who are 30 want to retire at 45 are showing that it’s doable. You could do it, too, because you’ll have the advantage of social security and Medicare and things like that, which should materially help traditional retirement folks.

Steve: So, before I move on to, we’ve got a couple of other questions. So, what would you say is the best and worst parts are of your new super F.I.R.E. life or focus on F.I.R.E. life?

Scott: Yeah. I mean, the best part is the sense of freedom that washed over us pretty quickly. That was due to the fact that we finally had an emergency fund set up for the first time in our lives. We felt like we had a great plan that was thoroughly vetted that may not be the most optimized plan in the entire universe, but it seems like a very low-risk, high-reward, low-stress investment strategy. All of a sudden, we have financial literacy. All of a sudden, money’s not driving us. We see money as a tool. That is so empowering. After living for decades under this stress and this fear of am I making enough? Am I doing the right things? What’s all this for? That veil has lifted. It’s allowed us to think more about our relationships and our health and all these other things I mentioned earlier. That’s by far been the most rewarding and the best part of all of this.

Scott: That doesn’t come without a lot of work. I don’t know if I have the worst. I don’t know if that’s the right framing, but some of these decisions that we’ve made have been challenging to work through. A lot of it’s about unpacking what we had already learned or created habits around. That’s been difficult at times and I think there are still times where Taylor and I don’t necessarily see eye to eye on a purchasing decision or any kind of financial decision. We have to work through that and that can be difficult sometimes when …

Scott: One of the things about F.I.R.E. is it kind of makes the future path a lot clearer. It can actually, in a weird way, inversely make it even more frustrating when you’re not on the same page because if you have such a clear vision that, all of a sudden if there is a disagreement, it’s like, “Well, what do you mean? Of course, we’re doing this because of this.” Sometimes, let’s say Taylor’s like, “Yeah. I just don’t care about that today.” That can be frustrating for me, let’s say. Or vice versa with her. I’m sure she can you tell you a lot of stories around that same vein with me, but yeah, I think it’s just becoming accustomed and a little more comfortable with the new norm, with the new status quo.

Steve: Yeah. I think that idea of a clear vision’s great. I definitely see that in the F.I.R.E. community. I think one thing to be thoughtful about as you get closer to financial independence is making sure that you have those things thought through about what you’ll do after you achieve that because I do think there’s some people that are like, they’re so focused on the journey and what the goal and they having kind of fun on the journey because it’s measurable and you’re like, “Okay. I’m making progress. My money’s piling up. My costs are going down. I can see I’m on my way.” But then when they get there, they’re like, “Okay. I’m financially independent. I don’t have to do anything anymore.” Like, “What do we do next?” It’s good to think-

Scott: I think that’s really important point to make. I was a really fortunate. One of the first people that we interviewed with the movie was Vicki Robin. I asked her, “You’ve been watching people take this sort of challenge on and achieving this. What’s something we want to be considerate of? What should we avoid? What’s your one piece of advice you can give us?”

Scott: She didn’t even think about it. She said, “You need to start living your FI lifestyle now.” And what she’s saying is start practicing in what you’re planning for the future today, because otherwise, how she put it was, “FI is like a cliff and if you don’t learn to fly, then you’ll never jump.”

Scott: I do see that in the forums where people go and not just in the forums, but in real life, where people get closer and closer to that FI date and then, they start scrutinizing whether they’ve really made it to FI or not. “Should I work a couple more years? Am I ready yet?”

Scott: Yeah. I empathize with that. I can imagine that being somewhat of an existential crisis. You’ve got your entire adult life as you’ve known it has been around the security of having a job and having income coming in that you feel like you’re in control of, and suddenly you’re going to just stop all of that and trust the system. I can appreciate where that would be worrisome, but I think it might even, from what I can tell, it’s sort of the wrong focus. What you should be focusing on is how are you going to spend your time afterwards? The likelihood of you not earning another dime for the rest of your life is typically really low if you have the discipline, tenacity, ambition and intelligence to pursue a F.I.R.E. lifestyle. There’s a good chance you’ve got a lot more to give. Out of that, you can probably become compensated at some point.

Scott: I love the idea of reaching a FI goal as a way to frame decisions around money over the next decade or however long it takes us to reach that, but I’m less concerned about reaching the FI date and more concerned about how am I planning to spend really the rest of my life? What’s important to me? What should my personal mission statement be, and why am I here, and what am I going to work on? That’s the kind of stuff that we think about now. It’s not like we’re perfect or we have all those answers and that can constantly change and shift. There’s still days where we have doubt and fear and all these other things. But I just feel really blessed that I was able to go through this sort of boot camp of F.I.R.E. through this project and learn those types of valuable lessons that I’m assuming will really pay dividends for us in the long run.

Scott: By design, those lessons, thank goodness we had the cameras rolling. We’re able to share those lessons with other people who may not even be considering some of those big pieces, already pursuing a F.I.R.E. lifestyle, but also, even more importantly, trying to use a medium that’s really easy to digest and getting it out to people who haven’t even heard of this yet. That’s been something that’s been driving me for a few years.

Scott: I found this accidentally. Anything I can do to help serve, paying it forward and find other ways to hit people across the face like I was punched by Mr. Money Mustache.

Scott: Anyway, we try to … Sorry, editor. Scratch that in.

Steve: But, I think for so many people … I mean, there’s a world, so and you do see that with people that are either FI or on their way, that they’re really confronting these questions now, which is a great and a very different way of thinking about your life.

Scott: Yeah and when you’re getting started in your career and you’re making 30, $40,000 a year, below the average salary and you’re trying to get going. These things you’re talking about right now probably aren’t necessary. There’s a chance that they’re not hitting home, that they’re not connecting because it’s difficult to see that future when you are still within that veil of financial insecurity, but I think what’s beautiful about F.I.R.E. is these principles are really going to serve anyone. If you can really scrutinize what makes you happy, scrutinize what you really need to sustain your life and be diligent about that and then have the discipline to stick with that. Eventually, you can work hard enough. There’s so many ways to earn money now that you don’t even really need qualification for.

Scott: Increasing your income just to the point when you can get to a situation where you can earn more than you need to live, then all of a sudden that F.I.R.E. lifestyle starts implementing and that compound interest takes over. Then, that security we’re talking about can take hold. The minute that takes hold, you don’t have to wait until you reach FI. That can happen pretty quickly and all of a sudden you do have that mental space to consider what you really want to do with your time and obviously you may still have a decade’s worth of work ahead of you to reach FI and some people may not connect with this idea of, “Oh, right. We’re just supposed to live our FI lifestyle. I’m just supposed to go volunteer things. What about continuing to earn money?” The idea is that you just try to design your life so that you’re focusing on the things that are bringing you happiness. You’re focusing on the things that you wish you were spending your time on. Make sure you start spending your time on those things now with any spare time you might have and that will improve your life, whether it’s a 10-year journey for you, whether it’s a 20-year journey. Small changes that improve your life are worthwhile.

Steve: Yeah. Totally. It’s about, I think, finding your calling. There’s people that have jobs and some people are doing … I forget the exact kind of levels here but there’s working for money and there’s working for things that you think have some meaning and then there’s working on the idea that you have a calling in your life, that there’s a purpose for what you’re doing that resonates with you and you see helps as well, so it’s cool that FI is helping more people hook up with that and think about it.

Scott: I agree.

Steve: All right. So, I want to dive into your movie but before we get going, just for our listeners. I did see this movie live in San Francisco with an audience when Scott was touring it and then heard him talk afterwards and afterwards, he was nice enough to join me for a beer, which was good.

Steve: And one, the movie is really good. It’s entertaining. It’s very educational. It’s totally worth watching and you can find it on lots of different streaming services now, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and things like that.

Scott: Not Netflix, of course.

Steve: Not Netflix. Sorry. Maybe one day.

Steve: And then if you’ll see some of the changes that Scott goes through and his family take on when they do this, which I’ll start listing off but then, Scott, I would love to hear you kind of elaborate on what those big things like mechanical things that you do are so I know you’ve decided to pursue this. You decided to leave your regular job and move and dump some of the expenses, but can you kind of take our listeners through? Is there a kind of a high-level checklist to think about when you’re going after this?

Scott: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, the movie’s kind of predicated around the big three, housing, cars, and food. Those are the three things that, if you press hard on trying to decrease those costs in your life, you can have the biggest effects.

Scott: So, that’s kind of what we … When we designed our F.I.R.E. journey, it was actually prior to the idea of creating a documentary and following our specific journey, so this was not made for the movie. This was just what we had planned to do. We knew that living in San Diego, it would still be possible to pursue F.I.R.E. but it would most likely take a lot longer and we’d have a lot more vying for our attention. It would be more difficult because there’s so many amazing things to discover and enjoy and partake in in a place like San Diego that it feels like you constantly have these temptations.

Scott: So, for us, it was like, “Okay. We do love it here. This is a great place. But there are other places that are great and it cost a lot less. And if we can redesign our work situation to be able to live in a different place, then that might make sense for us.” After a lot of scrutinizing on that decision, we decided to go check out some places and see what fit because we figured, if those places don’t fit and we don’t enjoy that, we can always come back and it’ll still be there. And so that was housing.

Scott: And then vehicles. If we were going to make that big move, well, why not try to design a new life where we would spend a lot less time in a car? That was something we were really sort of passionate about, to be honest, not only from an environmental standpoint and a cost savings standpoint but from just a stress level standpoint. I’m so tired of being in traffic and defensive driving every morning. Honestly, our life expectancy is lowered, too, by being in that vehicle because they’re dangerous.

Scott: So, I liked the idea of being a one-car family, if possible and using that car as minimally as we possibly could. So that’s another piece of the journey that you watch through the film. Then, our food habits were out of control. We were spending a lot of money eating out because we felt so stressed and we felt like we didn’t have the time and we really liked really good food which is everywhere in San Diego. That was a trifecta of issues for us. So, we were spending, I think something like $2,000 a month on food-

Steve: Wow!

Scott: … on average and that’s just outrageous but it was so easy a couple times a week to say, “Let’s go out to eat.” I think we just kind of kept our heads in the sand that every time we went out to eat, a couple drinks, an appetizer, and two … We really needed to scrutinize that and we knew that would be something that we would need to change our habits on significantly and find ways to enjoy eating in a little more.

Scott: So, those are some tactical things that you watch through the film that really significantly decreased our costs. We felt like if we could pay more attention to self-care and spend more time with our daughter and our family and our friends that we’d be significantly happier just by doing that. If we stop spending money on these things that don’t actually bring us that much happiness, the byproduct of that is having a lot more security which will then, in turn, increase our happiness even more.

Scott: So, it was a proposition to tailor that she really couldn’t say, “No,” to. While I was going through that, I felt the same way. I had my doubts and concerns, too but there are so many pieces to this that I could not argue with. The logic was so strong and sound. Through that logic, it actually challenges us to think more about our own happiness and what we’re doing here and all that stuff that we were talking about earlier.

Scott: We ended up doing personal mission statements. We write in a book every year for our anniversary and we’ve included new questions to answer on an annual basis to stay in check with what’s most important to us and to share that information with Jovie down the road. These things are invaluable to our long-term sustaining potential for happiness.

Steve: Right. Wow! I think your movie does a great job of making it very real for people. So, there was a scene I think when you’re getting rid of the BMW and you’re buying this used Honda or something. I think Taylor’s like, “Do I really want … God! This is a big change.” But it’s not that big a deal. You kind of get over this stuff and then, “Hey, a car’s a car,” and you want to drive less and, by the way, it costs a kajillion dollars less not to have this big debt hanging over your head that you’re making payments on. You’re not really thinking about how …

Scott: Yeah. I tell you what. Taylor, she really didn’t want to get that Honda. She really didn’t want to get rid of her BMW. To this day, she still kind of looks at that car and just looks at me and blinks real slow and then gets in it. I mean, it has not changed. It’s so funny but at the end of the day, I can get her to admit that she realizes that that’s silly and that it really doesn’t matter but those things still, they have power over us. They don’t just go away overnight.

Scott: So yeah, I hope that comes across in the movie but she also … She’s like the reluctant buyer person. She understands all the merits, the logic makes sense. She knows it’s the right decision but that doesn’t make it super fun or something she would tell everyone to go do right off the bat but that said, like I said, I can get her to admit that this is all worth it and she’s happy we’re doing it.

Steve: I think it makes it much more real because you’re a total enthusiast. You’re like, “Yeah. Let’s do this.” She’s like, “Yeah, all right.” I mean, it’s a huge step to say, “Hey, let’s leave our community. Let’s leave sunny San Diego. Let’s drop the expensive car.” There are so many things in our lives that … I mean, we’re all raised watching these car ads and being told, “Here’s what success looks like.” It’s hard to, for many of you folks to kind of get outside of that because we’ve been kind of raised in this framework.

Scott: Yeah. We’re sucked into 10,000 ads a day or something like that on average. I mean, we have no hope. It’s not even our fault.

Scott: So, I think it’s so important for us to unplug from that for a minute and really think about what’s really important to you and ask those questions. I had never asked myself what are the top five things that make me happy on a weekly basis? I’ve never even asked myself that. I just intuitively assumed that I knew what those things were but if you really asked me, I’d have to sit there and think about it. That’s not something we do every day. That’s not something that we have implemented into our daily society. We don’t wake up and think about gratitude. We don’t wake up and think about what are the few things that I can accomplish today that will make me say, “Today was a good day”? Instead, we just get up and we continue with the grind. We go from A to B and we come back from B to A. The whole process is there and it’s very easy to get caught up in that machine. That’s the rat race, right?

Steve: Yeah. Yeah. No, I remember being a consultant in my 20s. Sometimes we would ask ourselves this question because there’s a bunch of us who are kind of coming through the same age and we’re traveling around the world, which is cool but we’re working really long hours, which is just grind and, “Why are we doing this?”

Steve: And then, as soon as I became an entrepreneur and kind of started doing my own stuff, I never asked myself this question anymore. I see the same thing in the F.I.R.E. community. It’s like people get this vision of what they’re going to do and they think about it and they get very into it. As long as they have that clear vision, they are not spending cycles, wondering what the point is anymore.

Scott: Yeah. I think, when you start the whole journey out, the construct is such that it’s focused on money and that’s such an easy answer. “What are you doing this for?” “Well, I’m trying to earn more money. I need money to live. I need money to …” It starts off with, “I need money to live.” Then, it becomes, “Well, now I have money to live so now I need money to do fancier things.”

Scott: Now, what if I can make so much money that I can buy that fancy house or get that yacht or fly a private jet? There’s always that thing that you could potentially have that you don’t have and that can be a really great easy excuse to convince yourself that you’re doing X, Y, Z for these reasons. I think after a while, you kind of get tired of those reasons. You don’t care about that stuff as much. That’s kind of where I found myself when I found this F.I.R.E. movement, which is like, “No. None of that stuff really matters to me but what am I doing and how do I fix this?” I didn’t know and it was …

Scott: Thank goodness I found this framework because, all of a sudden, it’s like, if you can get your fiscal health in order, then you have the time and space to figure that out for yourself.

Steve: Yeah. So far, the whole F.I.R.E. thing has been blogs first. Then, podcasts. A shout out to the guys at ChooseFI, have been probably done the best job there but it’s become a big thing that way. But you’re the first that I know of. Person that’s definitely the first to make a whole movie about it but kind of doing it, making it much more real and that in this medium. Do you think it’s going to have a huge or are you seeing it have a big impact? I mean, I know you are just getting rolling with kind of a wider release, but any thoughts on what you’re hearing back?

Scott: Yeah. I mean, first of all, a huge shout out to all the bloggers and podcasters who came before this film. I mean, this film wouldn’t have happened without that. Their influence and expertise, the ChooseFI guys, Vicki Robin, Pete, Mr. Money Mustache, Mad Fientist, Paula Pant. I mean, the list goes on and on. These people are heroes in my book. Steven, the work that you guys are doing at NewRetirement.com, all these amazing tools. I think J.D. Roth wrote that you have the best tools on the market right now.

Scott: There’s a lot of great work happening around this community. I don’t suppose that we’ve done something that’s more impactful than that work that’s come before us. All I know is that I came out of a world of video production. I knew how to orchestrate a huge production like this. I had done one before and done countless TV shows and commercials and whatnot. It’s all kind of the same, just at varying scales. I was so fortunate to have connected with all the people I have through this journey. Our director Travis Shakespeare had this idea a year prior to me and fortunately for me, he had to shelf the idea for a while because his job had taken over for a while. He was just taking it back off the shelf and dusting it off when he heard me on the ChooseFI podcast talking about doing this documentary. Thank goodness he reached out and we partnered up.

Scott: So many of those podcasters and bloggers have been incredibly generous with their time and have come to the table to share their ideas with us and this movie. Honestly, they’re shared so much sense, too. I mean, they’ve shown up to the screens that we did across the country. They’ve helped promote the film.

Scott: Now that we have a digital, we’re just starting to see how this could potentially become … It helped facilitate F.I.R.E. to become even more a part of the zeitgeist, get it out there even more and possibly, as Travis says often, we’re trying to start a financial revolution here. This film is, from what we can tell and please, if anyone knows different, please let us know but we’re pretty sure we just made the first and only documentary about personal finance. Hopefully, we did so in a way that’s fairly entertaining and not as dry as that might sound. And the feedback so far has been resoundingly positive thank goodness. Not thank goodness for our egos but thank goodness for that effort that’s been put out by so many.

Scott: And also thank goodness because to have something like this, I think of it like I was scratching my own itch with this thing. I remember early on in my journey was so dogmatic about F.I.R.E. and this whole thing. I wanted to share it with everyone, especially people I knew who were stressed with money or having any kind of issues with money but it’s not easy to talk about. It’s not easy to just level with people. It’s kind of like religion, politics, money, right?

Steve: Yeah.

Scott: These are things you avoid in conversation. So, our hope was that we could make something that would make the F.I.R.E. community proud but that it would really open people’s eyes who haven’t heard about F.I.R.E. yet and make it feel like something they would be challenged to consider and to be intrigued enough to look into it further. Then, there’s this treasure trove of resources out there beyond this film that can help facilitate a better life. So that’s our hope with it.

Scott: I can’t be more pleased with the current reception. We hit number two on the documentary charts on iTunes. We need to continue a sustained successful run on digital because that will really get the attention of the streaming sites. I think that’s where we might actually see a big shift in people’s awareness of this and hopefully their inception of this framework.

Steve: Yeah. Well, it feels like anything is possible. I mean, the story is good. I think the characters are good. It’s interesting and it’s also very approachable. It was great to just see, from your family’s perspective, not just your immediate family. I mean your wife and daughter and stuff but like your parents and stuff like that, the people that you’re traveling around meeting. They’re like regular people but you’re doing some pretty interesting stuff and you’re taking on this topic that few people talk about. So, that was great.

Scott: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah. It’s been a true joy of our life to spend the last two years with everyone in this F.I.R.E. community and also with our family and getting closer with them and understanding what makes them tick and what makes them happy and learning more about where our values came from and how those values were driving our money decisions just wildly eye opening.

Scott: I kind of had this sense when I learned that we would be in front of the camera a lot more than we had originally planned. Obviously, I was nervous but also, I’d been behind the camera for so long that I kind of felt like, “Well, there’s probably going to be a level of acting involved in this and this will be really interesting.” It turns out as soon as the cameras would roll, I don’t know what this is about but it had this really interesting effect, especially on my family but it would just get super honest. I had a conversation with my dad in the film. That is the most we’ve ever talked about money. That was the most … I felt so incredibly supported by him with doing all this. I didn’t even think to ask him about that prior.

Scott: So, we had a just really wonderful valuable conversation. I remember going into that conversation being nervous, like, “What’s he going to say? How’s this going to go?” It ended up being incredible and that happened so many times. So, yeah, we felt really lucky that we felt like we were kind of putting some magic in the bottle quite a bit when we were filming. I’m really proud of the team and effort that was put in and it feels good. The movie seems to be relating to people and being received well, so we’re very blessed.

Steve: Awesome. Any cast fan favorites?

Scott: What do you mean?

Steve: Well, are there any people where one member of your cast is getting more fan support than others?

Scott: Oh, I see. I think it’s … I am hearing a lot that people are really stoked on Brandon’s line early on in the film where he says, “Isn’t it better to be rich than to look rich?” I’m seeing that one getting reposted a lot. I see a lot of people really resonating with Kristy Shen. She’s got some great one-liners in the film but yeah, those are a couple that have been kind of trickling in but we’ve only been live now for six days. So yeah. So, I’m sure those things will continue to trickle in.

Scott: One other thing that I tend to see a lot is people are really fascinated by the age at which our buyer heroes actually hit financial independence because we put that in their subtitles or, I’m sorry, in their lower thirds, just to kind of continue to reiterate and reinforce how potent this framework can be but it is pretty stark when Vicki looking young and spry at, I think she’s in her late 60s, early 70s and she retired somewhere around 30.

Steve: Wow!

Scott: That’s sustained now for four decades. That’s pretty incredible.

Steve: Yeah. I was talking with Doug Nordman from The Military Guide. He retired in his early 40s and he’s been retired for 17 years. I just did a podcast with Retirement Manifesto, Fritz Gilbert and Early Retirement Now, Karsten and Chris Mamula of Can I Retire Yet? They’ve all hit FI about a year ago and have different flavors, fat F.I.R.E., lean F.I.R.E., all those different things but they’ve learned a lot in their first year but then I was like, “Oh, yeah. Well, Doug Nordman. He’s been going 17 years and Vicki’s been going for 40 years.”

Scott: Yeah. Doug is awesome. We met in Hawaii and filmed for the movie together. He’s just a wonderful human. It’s so unfortunate we weren’t able to fit that interview into the film. It just didn’t quite fit with that whole section but he’s so generous and I’ve been so fortunate to spend a lot of time with him. That guy is truly living, he’s living that retired lifestyle in a great way. I definitely admire him and look up to him so yeah.

Steve: Yeah. He’s living in Hawaii surfing every day so I don’t think-

Scott: Exactly.

Steve: He’s fine. Yeah, so by the way, I thought your father did a great job. It was interesting. I don’t know if this is in the movie but I think you told me separately or I don’t know or not but he was in charge of training all the Navy SEALs or something like that, that was his job.

Scott: Yeah. He was the head of training for SpecWar towards the end of his career, yeah, for quite a while. So, yeah.

Steve: That seems like a super intense job but he seemed like a pretty relaxed person, not … Was there anything special about, I mean, besides traveling all over the place but do you feel like he did things in a different way when you were growing up?

Scott: Well, that’s a big question. He was certainly insanely stressed when he was at that job. I remember he was coming home with migraines and whatnot towards the end. Retirement was really critical for his health. What you see now in the film is a guy who’s retired back to his roots and where he grew up back in this small town in Iowa. He absolutely loves it there. So, you see that calm guy that’s working on a fence line and keeping the brush clear. That’s his best life. That’s what he wants to do. He loves it. You can see how fulfilling it is for him. It’s a joy for me to go back and participate in that when I get to go home. It wasn’t always like that. He found that financial security through 30 years of hard work in the Navy and securing one of the only solid pensions left in this world.

Scott: But I remember growing up, my dad had a healthy fear of money. He would be much more comfortable keeping his head in the sand and letting mom run that side of the house. He kind of looked at it like he would go out. He would go get it. He’d bring it home and expect her to put it away and be careful with it.

Scott: So, I grew up with that same sort of healthy fear of money. That manifested itself a little differently for me where I didn’t join the military and I didn’t have that sense of security and guarantee of a consistent paycheck and a pension. So, I took the entrepreneur route and said, “You know, that’s not the way I want to live. I want to secure myself hard and fast because I don’t want what I grew up with, with that fear.”

Scott: So that definitely drove my decision-making early on. The problem was I didn’t have any foundation behind that. That was just a feeling. It wasn’t until I found F.I.R.E. that I was able to really live that out.

Scott: But yeah, I mean, I was so blessed to live in a strong household with parents who loved me. They raised me well and I learned a lot of fantastic values from my dad in discipline and respect and all these things that they hold very, very dear.

Steve: Yeah. It’s awesome. I think it’s interesting when you dig into people and learn about their history. It does, these things do echo through the generations so I think people that do make good choices and take the time to get educated and hopefully raise kids that are thoughtful about money and the environment and all that stuff. It’ll pay dividends, not just in the very near future but also in future generations.

Scott: Yeah. That’s the driver for Taylor and I is second generations FI and the ChooseFI guys talk about that all the time. I love that they focus on that but that’s a huge driver for Taylor and I is knowing that we have this precious life in our hands, our little daughter and we want to make sure that we can provide as much opportunity as we can for her to have her be able to focus on living her best life and her happiest life and not having to necessarily worry about money but to know it and understand it and respect it, so we feel like this is giving, yeah, future generations that opportunity.

Steve: Right. That’s cool.

Steve: All right. So, any huge lessons from the experience that you would kind of hit in terms of … Just learning about FI but also making the movie and this changing your life. Any kind of top few things that you would call out to folks?

Scott: I would say that some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that balance is really important. We went all out when we started. I actually would recommend considering that framework. We had so much to shed, we had so many bad habits to reverse, that it was good for us to sort of take this thing to the extreme and see how it felt because then, we are able to pull back from the extreme and to land in a place that was, for all intents and purposes, still extreme. To save 50% of our income was an extreme shift but coming back from 70, I think we hit 76 or 78% at our best and that was … He pushed it too far. We were unhappy pushing it that far and so to come back to 50 felt we landed in a good spot, whereas if we had never tried to hit 50, if we just tried to implement small changes to continue to increase our savings rate, we may never have hit 50.

Scott: So, I do appreciate that strategy. I would recommend to people kind of just pull the Band-Aid off, knowing that you can always fall back to bad habits if it gets too hard but I do recommend that but I also recommend trying to keep balance in mind because we’ve gotten off balance many, many times over the last couple of years, going way too far with this thing. This project is sort of taking on a life of its own. It’s been a true joy to work on this but it’s also been a really, really extensive drain on our time and our health and our relationship and everything. My family’s been so involved with all this. I mean, we did that screening tour for four months on the road. We need to lean on my mom and Taylor’s parents to really come through and watch our child and travel around with us so that we can still see her and still do this.

Scott: So, it’s great that it’s important work and it’s feeding us on that front but we’ve been out of bounds many times so I think balance is a big lesson we’ve learned is I think people need to keep that in focus, especially when deciding to pursue FI.

Steve: Yeah. That’s awesome. Those are great.

Steve: Quick personal aside. I was visiting my son at his first year in college. He’s like, “Hey, I’m trying keto.” I’m like, “All right. That sounds unhealthy.” Then, I was hanging out with him and then, by the end of the week, and I’m like, “All right. I’m going to try keto,” which is a way of basically eating zero carbs. So, I was like, “All right. Here we go.” We go shopping and there’s all these strips that you can pee on to see if you’re in keto.

Steve: Anyway, so he’s like, “All right. No carbs. That means like absolutely nothing.” So, you can’t even eat fruits and … I mean, most kinds of fruit, you can’t eat. You’re basically eating meat, cheese, and then certain leafy vegetables. I made it 48 hours and then I got, I started, I couldn’t sleep, I’m getting headaches. I’m getting sick. Then, I dialed it back but it was interesting to try going all in on something like that.

Steve: Anyway, I think the idea of experimentation in your life is important and to keep doing it. So, this is this huge experiment you run in your life but whatever it is, if it’s diet, if it’s exercise, if it’s changing your money habits, try these things and see what happens. Yeah, it can be cool to kind of go all in on something, even if it’s going to be painful because you can back off of that change, if you need to.

Scott: In that example, you don’t technically know what the keto diet could do for you, right? You haven’t really gone through it but you went extreme to start and it didn’t quite fit but it’s good that you tried it. I think there’s a lot of parallels there with financial independence. I mean, you could start dipping your toes in this. Something might stick, something might not but if you don’t get that instant gratification or if it hurts in the beginning, you may not continue with it.

Scott: So, I think it’s more about shifting your mentality. I think if you had to implement keto for health reasons, it might be a lot different than if you hear it casually and then just decide to go along with the flow to see what it’s like, right?

Steve: Yeah, exactly. I think a low carb like I kind of dialed back to kind of like semi-less carbohydrates, which I think is better for people longer term.

Scott: I would recommend there’s a new documentary out called Game Changers on Netflix. A couple of my friends are actually scientific advisors on this film, been deeply involved in it. It’s about this plant-based diet movement that’s happening. It centers around elite athletes breaking records at crazy ages because they’ve changed their diets. It’s really fascinating. I would highly recommend that if you’re interested in looking at your diet choices but yeah, we watched that. I committed myself to a plant-based diet just recently after watching that, at least through 2020 but after doing this for about three weeks, I can pretty confidently say that this is now a new norm for me because of the positive effects that I’ve had.

Scott: So yeah. Anyway, I would check that out, Game Changers. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s in it. I think James Cameron was a producer on it. It’s a quality film.

Steve: Oh, I’ll definitely check it out. I’ll also send my 15 year old to check it out because he’s been talking about a plant-based diet and he’s an athlete.

Steve: So, okay. As we wrap up, I just wanted to kind of get … I know that, now that you’ve done the movie, you’re also thinking about other things in TV and stuff like that and podcast. Kind of what’s next for you? What are the next big things you’re going to be working on in the next year or two?

Scott: Yeah. Well, first and foremost for supporting the film. There’s a lot of work yet to do, continue to grow that. I am in the early stages of producing a podcast. We’ve got a couple episodes in the bank and we’re continuing to build that a bit, figure that out, but I’m really excited about that. I’m doing that along with a friend of mine here in Bend who has reached FI and is sort of living that life that we’re talking about. He’s facilitating communities, giving back. He’s thinking about others. He’s got a lot of balance in his life so he’s someone who’s been there, done that. Yeah, and I think we just enjoy. We’re having fun doing it, so that’s going to be cool. I’m excited about the podcast.

Scott: Then yeah, we might have an opportunity to produce a TV show. We’re working on that now and pitching that around. TV’s difficult. You never know but I’m excited to see what happens there. Then, I’m leaving myself open to opportunities, hopefully within this framework. I’m so excited about F.I.R.E. and its potential. We’ve talked a lot about its potential today. Yeah, I’ve just been ideating and thinking about that. We’re talking about building a framework that maybe we can take out to corporations as sort of a benefits package, teaching your employees about financial independence and building research and frameworks around the idea that this could actually improve output and efficiency and ideas and everything around a business, empowering your workforce to basically live their best life. Those things are … I think that you can find glimmers of those in things like Google. Doesn’t Google have … They have a certain percentage of their time that they’re allowed to use projects that they care about.

Steve: Well, they had a 20% time. I don’t know if they’re still doing that but that used to be a thing where one in five days, they can do whatever the heck they wanted.

Scott: Right, right, and use the company’s resources to do so?

Steve: Yeah.

Scott: Yeah, and then I’ve seen a lot of research out there now about going to a four-day work week. Yeah, engagement and productivity is improving when you do that. So, these ideas of finding more balance for people, they’re very exciting so yeah, that’s kind of what’s next.

Steve: That’s awesome. That’s good to hear about. Well, and are you looking at YouTube at all?

Scott: Yeah, yeah. We’ve taken a lot of the footage that we got through the process of filming. We had something like 36 terabytes of footage, something like 100 hours, so we’ve taken some of the best hits out of there and edited them down and we’ll be releasing that over the next year on YouTube and yeah, potentially creating a series. If we can find the right feel and fit, I can totally see that being a part of our strategy to get the message out.

Steve: Yeah. YouTube’s a pretty … I mean, we’re not doing it but I’ve heard from folks in the FI community that it’s a really powerful medium for them today but that’s super fat.

Scott: You can even want more creative on this framework. I think that would be wonderful.

Steve: Yeah. That would be awesome.

Steve: All right. Well, look, Scott, this has been great. Just as we wrap up, any kind of … I know we called out a lot of the FI folks that are in your movie but any great resources or communities that you want to call out?

Scott: Well, of course NewRetirement.com, right? We can’t overlook that.

Steve: Yeah. Thank you.

Scott: Yeah, of course. I mean, yeah. I would say anyone on our cast page, I would highly recommend checking them out. There’s kind of something for everyone. You’ve got Doug Nordman’s The Military Guide. If you have any experience in the military, he’s a great resource. Go Curry Cracker, those guys are awesome for geoarbitrage and tax optimization. Kristy Shen over at Millennial Revolution. Her and Bryce are doing great work. J.D. Roth, he’s just such a consistent writer who just puts out the … I love his writing. I love his work. P.T. over at FinCon, those guys are just running one heck of a conference. It’s a great place to meet people.

Scott: Speaking of that, Camp FI with Steven. Those guys are putting together meetups all over the country, Chautauqua, Ian Bryce and J.L. Collins and Alan and Katie Donegan are running just an excellent retreat on an international level with Chautauqua. I love Carl, Mr. 1500. That guy just puts a smile on my face every day. He’s got his little dinosaurs. He’s quirky and awesome. I love him. rich & REGULAR, Julien and Kiersten, they are incredible thinkers and talking about really important things around race and social economic issues. They’re somebody to watch. ChooseFI, of course. J.L. Collins, The Simple Path to Wealth is my bible. Paula, Brandon. I can go on. Come on.

Steve: Yeah. I know. It’s a pretty big … It’s a definitely very interesting community and with a lot of different perspectives. I’m hoping to get J.L. Collins on the podcast. I talked to him a few years ago. Then, we’re starting to reconnect right now so hopefully, he’ll come on because he’s done his simple path to wealth is so core to what a lot of people are doing in terms of investing and just keeping it basic and low cost. Does not have to be complicated. All right.

Scott: Absolutely.

Steve: Okay. Cool. Well, so Scott, thanks for being on our show and Davorin Robison, thanks for being our sound engineer. 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. If you made it this far, I hope that you check out the site playingwithfire.co, or you can just Google Playing with FIRE, the documentary and you can see what Scott’s got out there and all the resources that he’s playing to.

Steve: Also, you’re welcome to check out our site at NewRetirement.com, where you can build your own plan for free or take advantage of some of our advanced tools. We also run a private Facebook group, which is growing pretty quickly where you can follow us @NewRetirement on Twitter.

Steve: Then, finally, we are trying to build the audience for this podcast and I know Scott is doing the same thing for his movie, so if you check out either, please leave a review on iTunes or whichever streaming service. I would really appreciate it, and we read them all. I’m sure Scott does, too, and we’re working on improving everything. Okay, so thanks again and have a great day.


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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