Q&A with Mr Clipping Chains

I started regularly rock climbing at my campus gym about 3 years ago, about a year after I arrived at my current job. Why did it take me a year to join my climbing gym? Because I’m slowly graduating from “cheap/stingy/idiotic” to “frugal.” Despite the hefty $41/month price tag, I think my gym membership is some of the best money I spend all year. Climbing has played an integral part in my physical and mental wellbeing over the past several years. It’s certainly cheaper than therapy.

During a climbing session last month, I overheard a recent college grad eloquently discussing life’s big questions with another climber. I shamelessly eavesdropped for a minute and was impressed with the conversation. I don’t remember much of it, but I remember that the conversation covered a range of topics including financial independence. Being the arrogant person I am, I inserted myself into the conversation and disclosed that I kind-of-sort-of-have-a-blog-where-I-write-anonymously-about-some-money-stuff. The guy responded by asking if I’d heard of Mr Clipping Chains. I hadn’t.

I reached out to Mr Clipping Chains via email and we hit it off pretty well, which isn’t terribly surprising given that we have the same combination of obscure hobbies: climbing and personal finance. I did a Q&A over at his site a few days back. Mr Clipping Chains graciously returned the favor and allowed me to interview him on this site.

In the interview, we cover a range of topics including how he reached financial independence, why/how he relocated, and what his post-FI life is looking like (budget, activities, etc). I hope you find the interview as entertaining/inspiring as I did.

(While the whole interview is great, I underlined the portions that really reasoned with me.)

 

Obligatory pics


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Clockwise from top left: Blowing Rock NC, Ceuse France, Three Sisters CO, Bend OR.

Can you give me a brief biography?

I’m a mid-30s former professional cook and former corporate geologist for independent oil and gas companies. I’m especially a rock climber. In 2020, my wife and I achieved our suitable level of financial independence. I left the corporate world right before the Covid meltdown began, in early 2020. Content with her work-from-home lifestyle during the lockdowns, my wife continued working until late 2020. At this point, she became fed up with some of her employer’s actions and put in her resignation. It wasn’t the celebration that it was for me, but she’s very happy with her decision now.

For over two years I’ve been running a website, Clipping Chains: Financial Independence for the Rock Climbing Community, specifically aimed at linking two seemingly disparate worlds: personal finance and rock climbing.

I’ve been a die-hard climber since 2010 and fell hard for personal finance (FIRE specifically) in the following years. Because climbers so frequently shape their lives around climbing — careers, children, location, etc. — I thought basic messages of financial literacy were completely absent from the outdoors community in general, and the climbing community in particular. So many young outdoor enthusiasts yearn for freedom, but far too often place the emphasis on now over later. I wanted to help folks understand that there is a sweet spot of adventure, careers, and financial stability. If we play our cards right, we may never need to work a traditional job again.

 

How did you discover “FIRE”? What were your biggest sources of inspiration along the way? What specific behaviors did you change as a result of finding “FIRE”?

I discovered FIRE at the beginning stages of a prolonged period of job instability around 2014-2015. My wife and I were about five years into our careers in oil and gas—an industry notorious for boom-and-bust cycles—when oil prices collapsed and companies began shedding off employees like those early heady pounds of a new diet plan. I described this scene in Job Security: Our Catalyst to Financial Independence.

During those early rumors and whisperings of layoffs and forced rankings, I was like, screw this. I already didn’t really love my job, and I definitely didn’t enjoy corporate life or office politics. Two years earlier I made the move from Houston to Denver, but I still wasn’t loving my work life. Frankly, I felt that I had busted ass and fought to stand out for six years of education, only to be stuck in nice, pleated pants under incandescent lights doing work that was mostly uninspiring. That said, that uninspiring work paid really well. But seeing all the backstabbing, stress, and disgusting behaviors of colleagues who feared losing their (mostly) very ample salaries was just gross. I resolved to do better with my life and my money.

Anyway, during this time a fellow like-minded friend and coworker discovered Mr. Money Mustache, and he showed it to me. All the pieces fell into place immediately. I was already investing in index funds, but I was essentially playing with a tiny portion of our savings. We were mostly piling our savings in a traditional checking or savings account, falling victim to inflation. This guy on the internet (MMM) quickly showed me that investing was for anyone, and his frugal sensibilities and anti-consumerism sentiments jived with me completely. I was sold.

I immediately went into over-zealous-psyched-mode, and worked to convince my wife to eliminate all unnecessary spending and go all-in on index fund investing. We bumped our savings up aggressively, from about 30% to 75% within a couple of months. Honestly, I think we went too hard, something I discuss in this post: But I Don’t Want to Be Frugal.

Specifically, our biggest line of attack on spending was on dining out. We were spending about $5,000 per year in dining out alone. We shaved that down to hundreds of dollars over the next calendar year, all the while enjoying cooking from home and dusting off my old cooking skills from my life in professional kitchens. It was refreshing.

We also did a lot to optimize recurring expenses typical of the FIRE doctrine: we drastically cut our cell phone bills, shopped around for new insurance, raised our deductibles, and we took the bold move of selling my beloved 17-year-old Toyota Tacoma to become a one-car household. We got low-down-and-dirty on travel rewards credit cards to travel for free. We are big believers in tracking. If you write it down, optimization happens almost naturally.

 

How old were you when you retired? How did your colleagues respond when you handed in your resignation? Was your wife on board? How did your extended family respond?

I was 35 years old when I left my corporate job, but I don’t consider myself retired. My story is a bit atypical. I was set and ready to quit around March of 2020, when prior-year bonuses are paid. However, in late 2019 we were informed that our company was being acquired by a competitor and that most employees would not be offered a job. We were to receive a generous severance and sent on our way. I think my jaw bounced off the floor. Through a wonderfully serendipitous event of market and industry forces, I was paid to quit. I describe this experience in more detail here: BREAKING: I (Sort of) Quit My Job.

Because I didn’t get the privilege/terror of shuffling around the office announcing some sort of “retirement,” I didn’t have to do much explaining. Almost everyone at my company was going to be leaving on or around the same day, so I could just mumble stuff about “traveling” or “taking some time off.” Because of my numerous murky conversations on maxing out a 401(k), setting up an HSA, and “do-you-really-want-to-buy-bitcoin?” conversations, I think a few trusted coworkers sniffed out my ambitions. More have probably put 2+2 together by now, but I never thought it appropriate to go throwing around the “R” word (retired). I don’t believe in that for someone my age. I think the early retirement “badge of honor” or “look at me” mentality turns people off from the greater good of the movement.

My wife and I are basically mirror images of each other when it comes to finances, which is an incredible blessing. She’s much more security focused though. I have to credit her: I would have probably left the corporate world a year or two earlier, with “enough” money. But she was insistent on shoring up our finances like Fort Knox, and we did. We stuck at it and paid down our mortgage. Under her guidance, we greatly lowered our safe withdrawal rate. We now enjoy a great pillow of financial comfort, something I recognize as a fantastic privilege. Even when the market nose-dived in the winter and spring of 2020, we were fine. I credit her for that. But in general, she’s more of a fiscal conservative than me.

I started my website in 2018 primarily as a way to more eloquently describe our financial journey to friends and family. I always struggled to discuss it in person, and I feel I’m a better writer than talker (I’m from North Carolina J). I was generally very surprised at the support from my family in particular. I suspect there are some friends and family members out there who harbor feelings of “you are just lucky,” or “don’t rub this in my nose,” and I try to be mindful of that. I’m just trying to teach a man to fish, as they say. But in doing so, you might make the man hate fishing and just eat pork instead. Anyway, I think my family is very proud of us, but they probably hope we quit bumming around and get a real job again! 😉

 

Did you ever experience burnout in your career?

I did experience burnout, but who doesn’t?

I think “burnout” is perhaps an overemphasized word. I often wonder if we as a society are increasingly falling short on adequate coping mechanisms or grit, blaming our frustrations on the workplace. I get it: some jobs or responsibilities are certainly over the top, and in those cases, burnout is real. But for many of us, maybe we are slowly losing our ability to fight through tough times.

Frankly, I don’t believe burnout is any worse than 20, 30, 60, or 80 years ago. I mean, seriously, how did it feel to work a meatpacking job in Chicago from sun-up to sun-down in 1926? Probably horrible. But they didn’t have hashtags then.

I understand that there is more of a gray area between work and relaxation (due to our connectiveness with phones and computers), but I also believe that we are getting less and less adaptive to grinding it out when the going gets tough. It seems that way too many people want to give at-or-below ordinary levels of effort and expect extraordinary lives. We want to work less and play more, but we still can’t figure out why we’re not happy. I know my happiness is rooted in working and trying really hard, sometimes mentally and sometimes physically.

I didn’t leave my job because I didn’t want to work. Not at all. Nor did I leave to escape burnout. I experience burnout working on my own website, a project I adore. I saved and invested and achieved financial independence so I could beat my head against the wall doing work that mattered more to me. I like to believe that something like financial literacy is fundamentally good and incredibly important, so I enjoy this struggle of teaching it to a world with largely closed ears. That’s not easy.

The key is not to avoid burnout, but to get burned out on things that matter. To do that, however, you probably need to spend some time getting burned out on things you don’t care about, assigned by bosses that piss you off. These are important skills to develop. Very few of us will ever walk into a dream job. Take your time, hone your craft, and build it. Meanwhile, save enough money so you don’t have to worry about it.

 

What advice would you give readers who are hoping to pursue FIRE? What do you feel made the biggest impact for you?

Oh man, where do I start?! At the end of the day, I feel that some sustainable level of frugality is essential. Frankly, it’s just good for the world too, no? I mean, if we can get by consuming less stuff, there’s fundamental goodness there.

We made the mistake of overanalyzing every dollar we spent, failing to recognize that 20% of the inputs account for 80% of the results (the Pareto Principle). The lesson is to spend your time focusing on what matters most, which for most people is (1) housing, (2) transportation, and (3) food, usually in that order. If you can make step-changes there in saving, all of a sudden maxing out a 401(k) or finding funds to fill a Roth IRA feels a lot easier.

Otherwise, I like your hierarchy of saving post!

 

What kind of withdrawal rate are you budgeting for? How did you arrive at this number?

We are budgeting for a withdrawal rate in the <3% – 3.25% range, based on current net worth. How did we arrive at this number? My wife kindly insisted that I work longer than I wanted 😉

We knew from the work of Karsten over at Early Retirement Now (and others), that a much “safer” withdrawal rate for a potentially long retirement is 3.25% – 3.5%, as opposed to the often-quoted 4% Rule. So, that was our target. We hit those numbers and my wife continued working. Plus, my unexpected severance helped to pad the figures as well. We’ve also lowered our expenses by moving to a lower cost of living location.

 

What is your current asset allocation (domestic stocks vs international stocks vs domestic bonds vs international bonds vs other)? What fraction is tax deferred (e.g. Trad) vs tax-exempt (e.g. HSA or Roth) vs taxable?

As of a few weeks ago, we are 80%/13%/7% stocks/bonds/cash, which does not include the equity in our home (we are homeowners and have no mortgage). I’m not exactly sure on domestic vs international, but I’d say less than 10% of our equities is in international, and perhaps 100% domestic on bonds.

We have 44% of our net worth in traditional tax-deferred accounts and 56% in our brokerage account.

My wife wanted to set aside a year of cash for 2021 so that we could stumble through a new home town (and state), healthcare, Roth conversions, and everything else without accidentally selling too many shares. Clever girl. Also, she wants to keep a “rolling two-year cash bucket.” We’ll back-fill this bucket as we fund our life, and if the market tanks hard, we’ll lean harder on the cash to avoid selling depleted shares.

This bucket also serves as our “Oh shit” bucket, in the event that we have a costly one-time expense, again being mindful to avoid sequence of return risk. There are different schools of thought on the cash buckets (I myself prefer more money in the market), but she always proves me wrong.

 

What does your post-FI budget look like? How much are you budgeting for taxes (federal & state) each year?

I’d say it’s fair to assume that we’ll spend between $30,000 – $50,000 per year. That’s not me being vague—we just really don’t know! There’s a lot that changes when you leave traditional income and move to a new state all at once.

We’ve given ourselves very healthy budgets for healthcare, travel, and even grocery spending. We didn’t want to leave our jobs and ever feel like we can’t enjoy life.

Without a mortgage, spending $30-$50k should provide ample “luxury,” as we define it.

For taxes, we might get hit with a bomb from 2020. I had a good chunk of income hit in early 2020, which included company shares that vested and my severance. I tried to do as much as I could to level the field, but we might owe. I’m not sure, hence the cash buffer for 2021.

Going forward, our goal is aim for $0 Federal (or perhaps slightly higher) and minor state taxes. Off the cuff, I’d hope to keep taxes in the $1,000 – $2,000 range, but I’m still learning. That’s why we need more people like you in our lives!

 

What are you doing for healthcare? If ACA, what are your subsidized and unsubsidized premiums? What is the deductible? On average, what do you expect to pay in healthcare (subsidized premiums + deductibles + coinsurance) each year?

For 2021, we are on an ACA Silver Plan. We pay or budget as follows:

  •   $256 per month (subsidized, what we pay) and $728 per month (unsubsidized, what we hope to never pay)
  •   $2500 deductible
  •   Budgeted yearly healthcare spending = $4,000 (not expecting to actually spend this)

I’m already kicking myself for not getting the Bronze Plan, which would have allowed us to record a much higher expected 2021 income with very low healthcare costs, thereby allowing us to make more Roth conversions or Capital Gains Harvesting.

I have a minor autoimmune dysfunction, so I thought it would be a great idea to get a better plan for some specialty visits I wanted to have this year. I think it’s going to end up costing us more, so you live and you learn.

 

Post FIRE, I understand you sold your home and convinced your wife to live nomadically for an extended period of time. Can you describe this experience? What prompted you to do so? If the purpose of the trip was to help you decide where to relocate, did it help you accomplish this objective? Is it something you’d recommend to others who are considering relocating?

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Yes indeed. I’ve written a lot about this subject, so I’d first encourage readers to check out the following post (with all the links to posts I wrote while on the road): The Simple and Complicated Life on the Road.

We originally knew we wanted to sell our house in Denver and relocate to a small city or town. After much debate, we really couldn’t decide where to go (the problem of too many choices). So, instead of planning a bunch of separate trips to visit various towns and cities, we resolved to sell our house, travel the country in search of adventure and our next home, and then make a competitive all-cash offer in a new, more affordable location.

At a glance, this sounds like a great plan. In practice, we were immediately met with many complications. First, my wife wanted to continue working remotely (30 hours/week) from the road. That really sucked for both of us. As you can imagine, it’s hard to get reliable internet out in the sticks. Plus, we were living completely different life modes. I wanted to go climb and explore, and she was sweating inside a camper cursing our LTE signal. I really only recommend working in this environment if you can keep your hours low or if your job requires minimal internet connection.

Plus, we were faced with the constant dilemma of how to balance our desired activities. My wife is not a climber, and she (understandably) didn’t want to sit around and watch me climb three to four days per week. She also (understandably) didn’t feel comfortable sitting at a campsite in the woods by herself, without a vehicle. Without a home, minor fundamental differences are amplified.

We also failed to consider the feeling of not having an exit plan. With the restricted home supply, competition was very high in every town we considered. With prices surging and outdoor temperatures falling (heading into winter), we sometimes resented that we had ever sold our house.

In early November we rolled into one of my all-time favorite climbing towns, St. George, Utah. I’d been eyeing homes in the area off and on for five years, but for various cultural reasons, I never thought we’d end up here. As we grew more tired of life on the road, we started looking at some houses with a realtor. Astonished with the value, we made an offer on the second house we viewed. We barely got the contract, beating two other all-cash offers by only $1,000.

In the end, although life on the road was difficult for us at times, the silver lining is that we’ve landed in a great home in a town we are (so far) really loving. With the gift of hindsight, we have a lot of great memories, tons of new places to add to the travel piggy bank, and some new road life travel chops for shorter trips in the future.

Would I recommend this to others? I’m not sure. If you and your significant other are on the same page with how you live your life, this can be a phenomenal experience. For us and our differences in recreational pursuits, I probably wouldn’t do it again. On the other hand, we ended up in a town I love, which probably wouldn’t have happened. I’m conflicted!

 

I’m a huge fan of your brilliant relocation spreadsheet in which you collected a host of parameters (cost of living, weather, economics, taxation, etc) for a couple dozen cities. It reminded me a lot of BigERN’s similar analysis. Did you ever assign weights to each of the categories (home prices vs weather vs taxation vs etc)? Did the spreadsheet bring you much clarity to your relocation process?

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Kudos mostly goes to Mrs. CC on that spreadsheet. I added a few columns, jazzed it up with some color, and put it on the internet. Here’s the original post: Relocation: A Guide to Moving and Housing Affordability.

We definitely assigned mental weights, but only qualitatively. I really wanted to live somewhere with great climbing and outdoor activities, so that obviously carried more weight than say total tax burden. I also wanted a place with at least seven months of weather “I like.” Home price was another big factor. If we could save $100,000 or more and make a few sacrifices on other quantitative categories, that was huge.

A lot of folks were surprised we picked St. George, as it wasn’t a stand-out win on the spreadsheet. Well, in the end, we’re really not all that left-brain with our decisions. Spreadsheets can’t solve all of life’s dilemmas!

That said, we were very happy to have that guide. It can be easy to fall for a place without considering the full range of costs in doing so. With some quantitative guidance, we felt we made a more balanced decision instead of being pulled with our heart strings. 

 

What tipped the scales in favor of St George? Were there any other cities that came close?

Well, what mostly tipped the scales in favor of St. George was the fact that we were camped in St. George and we were sick of camping! But, we certainly aren’t that impulsive. Like I said, we’d been eyeing this place for a while.

As an outdoors enthusiast, this place is a mecca, particularly for climbing, mountain biking, and just phenomenal desert terrain. The winter weather is unbelievably pleasant, and when it gets hot, we have the flexibility to travel. I also wanted a place with fantastic climbing and short commutes to do so.

Also, at least for now, housing is both (1) higher quality and (2) considerably cheaper than homes in good neighborhoods in Denver. The value piece was a big motivator. By choosing to buy here instead of other towns we were considering, we paid ourselves over $150,000 when we signed the papers (delta between Denver home sale and STG purchase).

We always thought we’d end up back in Flagstaff, Arizona, where we previously lived. In the end, we couldn’t justify the cost of housing. For the same price, we would have to sacrifice a lot in quality to live there. It was a value decision.

 

I noticed that one of the columns in your spreadsheet was the unsubsidized ACA premium price for each city. Given that you are currently benefiting from the ACA subsidy, do you wish you had done a more sophisticated analysis to understand the different ACA subsidy phase-out rates across states (since the phase-out of a subsidy has the same effect of taxation)?

No, not really. This was a risk hedge. In the event that ACA subsidies are phased out (not likely at this time, but who the hell knows?), we didn’t want to get caught with our pants down with the high costs of unsubsidized healthcare. Some of the states we considered had many financial benefits, but great risk for high healthcare costs. Take Wyoming, for example. Wyoming is a no-income-tax state, but if healthcare subsidies are removed, we’d be paying way more than our income tax savings. Maybe we still don’t get it (?).

 

Many people have a difficult time relocating. It’s hard leaving behind networks of friends to start fresh. What gave you the courage to take this step? How has it worked out so far?

Certainly, this is the worst part of relocating. Luckily, my wife and I have made many cross-country relocations, so we know what to expect. We know that we might feel lonely or not included at first, but that’s typical. Utah is my sixth state and St. George is my seventh city or town I’ve called home.

I feel everyone should move away from wherever they call home at least once in their life. The further, the better. The more different the people, the better. We all benefit from understanding how people live their lives in different places, how local cultures influence behaviors, and at the end of the day, how similar we all are. We tend to stay too comfortable. So, whenever I feel my life starting to feel too routine, I get itchy. We were getting itchy in Denver and with urban life in general. Without a big city job, we didn’t want the big city life.

The good thing about St. George is that it’s a day’s drive from Denver. Many of my old friends and climbing partners come down here for trips already. We might have more visitors than we’ve ever had!

In terms of social interaction, the pandemic makes it hard for all of us. We aren’t going out for many activities. I fortunately have an outdoor pursuit, which is largely Covid-friendly. I’m on the board of a local non-profit organization, which both gives me purpose and helps me integrate into the community. I’d say given the times, things are going fairly well so far!

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m really big on schedules, and I generally start each day with a rough outline of what I’d like to achieve and when I’ll do it. Without that, I find myself far less productive and potentially prone to boredom. 

I get up at 7am, every day. I usually write or work on the website until about 9:30 or 10:00 am, while eating breakfast and overdosing on coffee. I go on a long walk with my wife and dog, and then we come home and make lunch.

The afternoons depend on whether I’m climbing or not. If I am, lately I’ve been spending 2-4 hours either training on my home climbing wall or bouldering outside. Some days are more involved, and I might be gone all day climbing. In warmer weather, I’ll shift to an earlier start to avoid the heat.

On rest days I do small home projects, work on the website, go on hikes, do other associated core or strength workouts, or cook.

We usually go on another long walk or hike at around 4:30 pm. From there we cook dinner and often watch an hour or so of Netflix. I do some meditation, stretching, read, and typically fall asleep around 10:00-10:30 pm.

I think if there’s any silver bullet in life, it’s a healthy sleep pattern. I’m super (super) anal about my sleep routine, mainly because I’ve always struggled with sleep. I make sure to get up and go to sleep at almost the exact same time of day. I use blue light blocking glasses when I’m on a computer or my phone at night. I try not to touch my phone after dinner. My routine is most “routine” the hour before bed and the hour after I wake up each day. The rest is more fluid and open to inspiration or whatever wrench gets thrown my way.

All this said, I try not to fall victim to too much routine. I think those who are overly routine about things stop traveling or being more spontaneous in fear of anxiety associated with loss of control. It’s a balance, for sure.

 

Given that you no longer have full-time employment, do you ever struggle with boredom or purpose? If not, what is your secret?

I rarely struggle with boredom anymore, a “success” I attribute to scheduling. Like I said above, I really flourish when I can have a list of tasks, assign a time to work on them, and then work (without distractions) on those tasks. If I have a problem, it’s scheduling too much!

However, as all Type-A as that sounds, I schedule blocks of time that are more spontaneous. It’s easy to view boredom in a negative light, which is a mistake. Negative feelings lead to quick-fixes on social media or television, which I find makes us angrier and dumber. There, we find more negative emotions, and we enter into a vicious negative feedback loop. Bored>bad>social media>someone has better life>envy>turn off phone>bored.

I think it’s very important to be alone with our thoughts often. I have directionless days like everyone else. I try and focus on what’s causing certain feelings, simply recognize those feelings as such, and then ask myself what I can do to change whatever about my life is causing these feelings. Sometimes I just have to marinate in some funk. Things suck for everyone once in a while. 

 

Is there anything else I forgot to ask you that I should have?

If there’s one piece of advice I’d give, I think it’s essential to always take accountability for everything in one’s life. We all get thrown turd sandwiches from time to time, and some of us get really big sandwiches. But no matter what, we should be accountable and avoid, at all costs, the caustic mentality of the cynic.

We never need to accept blame or responsibility for the bad things that happen in life, but we should be accountable. It might not be our fault if we lost a job, got dumped, or got elbowed by that RUDE JERK! However, we should take a point-forward outlook and focus only on the things we can control.

I’m constantly learning to look for ways to take action to improve any situation. Stewing on misfortune only makes it suck more.

 

How can we learn more about your journey?

Instagram: @clippingchains
Twitter: @ChainsClipping

 

Post-Interview FP Monologue

I’m continually amazed at the secretive nature of money in our society. We don’t talk about it, because “talking about money is icky.” Consequently, we don’t learn from each other’s money successes or money failures. Rather, we stumble through our one shot at life completely oblivious to how money works and how optimizing on this dimension might dramatically open up opportunities down the road.

Our schools don’t teach us about money. Our parents seldom teach us about money. The media doesn’t teach us about money. What I’ve learned about money has come almost exclusively from forums (like the Bogleheads), some good books (like Bogle’s), and a few transparent blogs devoid of conflicts of interest.

I’m grateful to Mr Clipping Chains for engaging in such a candid discussion about money and life. I feel that conversations like these are too rare. Here are the key points I took away from it:

  • I feel everyone should move away from wherever they call home at least once in their life. The further, the better. The more different the people, the better. We all benefit from understanding how people live their lives in different places, how local cultures influence behaviors, and at the end of the day, how similar we all are. We tend to stay too comfortable.
    • Amen! I’m up to 7 states and 2 countries personally. I’ve grown with each move.
  • Spreadsheets can’t solve all of life’s dilemmas.
    • I disagree! Who to marry? => Spreadsheet. How many kids to have? => Spreadsheet.
  • We are big believers in tracking. If you write it down, optimization happens almost naturally.
    • Amen!
  • The key is not to avoid burnout, but to get burned out on things that matter. To do that, however, you probably need to spend some time getting burned out on things you don’t care about, assigned by bosses that piss you off. These are important skills to develop. Very few of us will ever walk into a dream job. Take your time, hone your craft, and build it. Meanwhile, save enough money so you don’t have to worry about it.
    • This was probably my favorite paragraph of the entire interview.
  • The lesson is to spend your time focusing on what matters most, which for most people is (1) housing, (2) transportation, and (3) food, usually in that order. If you can make step-changes there in saving, all of a sudden maxing out a 401(k) or finding funds to fill a Roth IRA feels a lot easier.
    • Amen!
  • I think if there’s any silver bullet in life, it’s a healthy sleep pattern. I make sure to get up and go to sleep at almost the exact same time of day. I use blue light blocking glasses when I’m on a computer or my phone at night. I try not to touch my phone after dinner. My routine is most “routine” the hour before bed and the hour after I wake up each day.
    • Awkwardly averts eyes as I write this sentence at midnight…..
  • It’s easy to view boredom in a negative light, which is a mistake. Negative feelings lead to quick-fixes on social media or television, which I find makes us angrier and dumber. There, we find more negative emotions, and we enter into a vicious negative feedback loop. Bored>bad>social media>someone has better life>envy>turn off phone>bored.
    • Amen!
  • However, we should take a point-forward outlook and focus only on the things we can control.
    • Amen!

     

    Thanks again to Mr Clipping Chains for your generosity!!!! I look forward to meeting up in St George to climb in the not-too-distant future to show off my wicked 5.6 climbing ability.

23 thoughts on “Q&A with Mr Clipping Chains”

  1. Really like the burnout thought as well and importance of sleep which, ironically, is our best tool to minimize the likelihood of burn out. I really dislike the thought about eating cheap food, though, as that can quickly lead one to consume an abundance of highly processed food like substances causing acute-chronic malnutrition accelerating diseases of aging…

    Reply
    • I was betting that JD would chime in with a comment about sleep. Glad you didn’t disappoint!

      However, I think the attack on consuming food in a cost-conscious manner is unwarranted. Healthy food needn’t be expensive, particularly when preparing at home. When you go out to eat, much of the price is labor, so you save that by simply cooking at home. While I’m not a nutrition expert, I understand that plants are of the best foods people can consume. Plants are cheap(ish), particularly when purchased in bulk at Costco. Conditional on wanting to eat healthy, why not optimize on price? That’s what I do.

      Reply
      • I try to not disappoint. =) I do think a lot of times in Life (earmuffs Mr. Bogle) you get what you pay for and worry/wonder what the consequence of cheap food may be (if you are what you eat; cheap food = cheap body?!)

        In modernity, mass produce may include residue from a few different -cides that, personally, I prefer to avoid or at least minimize as much as possible for my wife and I as well as our kids. Imagine all the second-third level effects to the environment resulting from the crop runoff from those same -cides plus the negative consequences of extended monocropping and I believe mass produced food also likely has a lessor micronutrient profile than those grown with more natural farming practices.

        New for 2021 I included a line in my budget system for “hippie food” alongside grocery store and non-grocery store food and am sort of scared to see how much and what percent I spend there but will continue trying to rationalize it with the above thoughts and joy that comes from regularly eating amazing tasting food (when I don’t mess it up in the kitchen) as a family.

        If your ever bored, google Joel Salatin and check out some of his natural farming stuff on the internets and/or Dr. Mark Hyman (The Doctors Farmacy) for a more academic perspective.

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        • Are you implying that Costco organic vegetables are inferior to the organic stuff you’d buy at a farmer’s market? If so, does this imply that there are varying degrees of organic-ness?

          I’m all for healthy eating, of course. I really liked the book “How to Not Die”, but that book mostly discussed eating plants and focused less on the evils of pesticides.

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          • I don’t think I’ve ever been in a costco and didn’t know you meant organic from costco. I was talking more along the lines of the cheapest of the cheap foods.

            For better or worse, I’m sure there are a variety of shades within the organic food world and often wonder what some of the labels even mean (Ex: how big of a structure is required for a chickens egg to be labelled cage free? or how long do they need to be outside of said structure to be labelled cage free?)

            I followed Dr. Greger some back when before deciding to quit reading so much junk from the internet (I used to print pages and pages of website articles every week or so) in favor of books. Studying his book is on my list though I am not sure I will get to it before I die.

            I’m a meat head to the core (former collegiate strength coach) but with age have come to realize the world would be a better place if we ate more plants, especially cruciferous vegetables (and salmon/sardines! )

        • I second the Joel Salatin recommendation! Food Inc and Fresh are good films that include him. In my unsolicited opinion, you should just unleash your inner-foodie. I’ve turned to hunting, gardening and foraging as means to procure the highest quality food. It turns out these can also be incredibly cheap for the DIY oriented.

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          • I realized that last winter that joel salatin’s farm is ~2hours from me and was planning to make it there sometime (we try to hike/camp in Shenandoah a few times a year) but the world had other plans. Everytime I see him in a show or on the world wide web I can’t stop thinking about how great WIll Ferrell could play him in a random low budget comedy…

            Looks like the closest costco is ~45 minutes but I have been wanting to head to the big city to buy everything to start making my own sushi – maybe I could knock both out at once?! Working at the moment to get in the habit of making my own lox (Omega 3 fats are A++) after learning hot smoked salmon = cancer and not being able to confirm if the packaged stuff we were buying was cold smoked or not

          • On the joint recommendation, I’ll check out this Joel Salatin character. I’ve been really into Rob Greenfield lately, whose a big environmentalist / forager / minimalist. I like him a lot.

            @JD, I think you’ll like Costco, though a 45min drive is a bit of a hurdle. Be prepared to be carded upon entry. You can join for $60/year for the basic membership level. If you’re not satisfied, you can return your membership 11 months later for a full refund. In fact, you can return pretty much anything there. It is my favorite store on the planet by a large margin.

    • Hey JD, thanks for the comment. Allow me to clarify on food: we definitely don’t short-change ourselves on nutrition. We’ve just cut out a lot of eating out, which has the double impact of hitting you at your wallet and your waistline. We spend largely freely at the grocery store, and I’d say our spending is quite high compared to most FIRE enthusiasts. We routinely spend over $500 per month for two people, so we eat well! No processed foods, but we’re not cutting out on what makes life worth living. I think we’re on the same page.

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  2. I really enjoyed this interview and the recommendation for a new blog! I would love to see more interviews with folks passionate about the outdoors and financial independence.

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    • Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview as much as I did!

      I agree that it’s inspiring learning from folks who are deeply passionate about FI and, more importantly, something else. Once you have “the money problem” solved, it opens up the mental bandwidth to ask yourself the more important questions like “what’s next?” and “how can I best utilize my remaining time on Earth?”

      I’ve been reading up a bit more on Musk lately. He follows this pattern quite well. Once the money problem is solved, he’s moved on to more important objectives like how to save the human race.

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  3. I really enjoyed this interview with Mr CC. I personally find that I enjoy reading blogs that are both well written, and touch on the “how to live.” His comments on having a crappy job, working through funks, tracking things to optimize, and the big three expenses all resonated with me. I also appreciate his honesty about the differences between him and his wife, and how they try to address it.

    Well done, and thanks, FP, for the introduction.

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  4. Great interview – looking forward to digging into some of the CC content, especially that spreadsheet! For outdoor enthusiasts in their 20’s-30’s I think there’s a balance between flexible/seasonal work and saving hard to hit financial independence early. Compared to corporate careers, we chose work that may have been more interesting and flexible and came with perks like significant time off. The pay didn’t compare, but it was enough to avoid debt and put some savings away. With higher salaries we may have hit FI in our 30’s. Instead we delayed FI by 5 or 10 years, but had the time/freedom for more travel and longer/higher risk adventures. Now we’re prepping for FI and that’s forcing us to answer some of the big questions – if money doesn’t matter where should we live and how should we spend our time? what drives “happiness”? Definitely a privilege!

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    • Glad you liked the interview as well!

      I agree about the tradeoff of flexible/seasonal work vs the corporate grind for outdoor enthusiasts. My 12 years in college certainly didn’t optimize on many dimensions, especially time outdoors doing what I love.

      When you figure out the answers to the big questions, please let me know. The answers seem pretty elusive to me.

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  5. HI – great interview here. So happy to be introduced to a new blog that I will enjoy – similar to how I found Frugal Professor on Go Curry Cracker.

    I was thinking about your comment about having a rolling 2-year cash bucket (which to me sounds similar but slightly different than a “cash cushion” – which is a concept you see on other blogs.

    I had been thinking to use a cash cushion strategy when I stopped working. ERN kind of changed my thought process on cash cushion – primarily through arguments of: (a) relying on a lower withdrawal rate (like the 3%-3.5% that CC mentions in his interview) and (b) when the cash cushion is depleted by a market downturn – you have to replenish – which could be when stocks have rebounded, or could be when stocks are priced even lower. A cash cushion could help during the first SWR event – but we will always have SWR for portfolio and future events would require additional cash cushions, etc.

    So – I had been thinking to simply utilize a 3.5% withdrawal rate (or lower) – without a necessarily “discrete” cash cushion. Was curious about what other people are thinking?

    Sounds like CC is straddling the best of both worlds with very low withdrawal rate and ample cash – which agreed is also a great strategy.

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    • Glad to hear that you enjoyed the interview!

      In this post, I discuss why I hold close to $0 cash: https://frugalprofessor.com/cash-management/

      A BigERN article is linked in that post which shows he feels similarly.

      In my opinion, the way to combat sequence of returns risk, particularly in the early stages of retirement, is with an appropriate asset allocation — not by holding hordes of cash. I think BigERN has written extensively about this.

      Granted, in today’s interest rate environment, the yields for holding cash vs bonds is basically identical: ~0%, so I guess it’s not that big of a deal to hold cash now. In less unusual times, I think it would be a mistake.

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      • FWIW, I agree with the low cash sentiment, ala ERN. Mrs. CC sleeps better at night with a store of cash, so that’s what we do. Like you said Doug, we went with the best of both worlds (cash + low SWR + proper asset allocation). Overkill? Almost certainly. But hey, better than cutting it too close. I appreciate your comment!

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  6. I stumbles upon this blog from BogleHeads site. I am glad I did. Great information. Thank you for tsharing the interview with Clipping Chains. Now I have one more blog to read which I enjoy reading. Keep up the good work, FP and CC.

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