Smartly – Halfway There!

As some of you know, I’ve been pursuing an online “MBA” from an educational startup called Smartly, which provides students with the tools to succeed in business over the course of 6 months or so.  It’s been a great change from my usual day job, and given I’m about halfway through the course it’s definitely time for some feedback.

The Smartly MBA is structured in a way which makes it really easy to learn, and hits the majority of concepts which an actual MBA program would go into as well.  Broader lessons are separated out into 5 minute bite-sized concepts which makes it easy to get through a couple on a coffee break or on your commute to the office.  They’ve made a real effort to keep the learning interactive and fun, so while online classes typically have lectures which you’re required to watch, Smartly has eliminated lectures completely.

The module on Stocks above shows how the syllabus typically progresses through the lessons.  Smartly has made it easy enough for anyone to go from no knowledge of the product material whatsoever to feeling fairly confident in only a few lessons.  As someone with a background in finance, many of the core concepts were relatively easy for me, but regardless it was a great refresher.

The lessons are separated out into the basics (Business Foundations), Accounting, Markets/Economies, Data & Decisions, Leading Organizations, Marketing, Finance, Supply Chain & Operations, and finally Strategy & Innovation.  Everything is online, and Smartly has created a great mobile app as well for iPhone users to get a couple lessons in on the go.  I’ve personally completed the majority of the courses on my phone, and have gotten into the habit of knocking out a few lessons during my commute and at lunch.

The Pros

You really can’t top how it easy it is to get through the Smartly lessons.  I’ve taken a number of Coursera and EDX courses in the past, and my rate of completion is easily in the 10% range.  Smartly does a great job keeping things interesting and fun, and the fact that it’s structured as an “MBA” gives it a sticky factor which other online courses lack. The course creators are definitely marketing this to the millennial generation, and have made a real effort to keep lessons fun and engaging. The app experience is very fluid, and the fact that it’s available on the iPhone really doesn’t give you too many excuses to slack at any point in time.

The Cons

As much as I’ve enjoyed the course so far, there are definitely a few issues.  Firstly, and perhaps this will change at some point, the value of an MBA seems to come mainly from the perception of the school’s brand and the connections you make along the way.  Smartly has a long way to go to receive a similar level of recognition to accredited MBA programs. Secondly, the depth of learning in the material is lacking at times, which may be balanced out by the fact that it does keep students engaged throughout the course.  Finally, the Smartly team provide us with “case studies,” but given many of us are spread out across the globe, coordinating with teams of people you’ve never met (and rarely engaged with) typically ends up falling flat.

The Sum-Up

Overall, if you’re looking for the opportunity to learn more about business concepts and become a more well-rounded candidate, then there’s very little downside to pursuing a Smartly MBA.  Regardless of the fact that it still lacks the recognition of accredited MBA programs, I am quite positive that prospective employers will still value the fact that students are putting the effort into something beyond their day jobs.  Smartly appears to be running the MBA program every 3-6 months, so get out there, apply, and see what happens.  What do you have to lose?

This review is not solicited by Smartly, but feel free to check out their website regardless!

July/August Passive Income Update: Lakes, Birthdays, and Putting Around

Welcome to my monthly passive income update! For those new to the blog – I own 3 properties, an apartment, a townhome, and an apartment building with five 3-bedroom units.  The apartment is now owned completely in cash, while the townhome and 5-plex have mortgages which I’m trying to knock down as quickly as possible!  Now let’s get to the good stuff!


A big apology for the extended hiatus – between traveling back to the US to see family for a couple weeks, applying to business school, and some stressful times at the office, the blog definitely took a back seat.  We are back with another passive income update!

I got to head back to Minnesota to see family for a couple weeks – which meant long days on the lake, heated games of cornhole, and a few off tune sing-alongs around the fire at night.  If only the weather there would stay like that all year round….

Awesome nights on the lake

I flew back to Tokyo just in time for my birthday, which we celebrated at a great steakhouse downtown.  Once in awhile it’s definitely worth the splurge!

Happy Birthday “Jhon”

My birthday present to myself this year was a new Odyssey putter – after the head nearly fell off of the putter I’d been using for the last 10+ years I decided it was time for an upgrade.  I took it out for the first time this past weekend and drained two 20 footers.  I think “The Claw” will be in my bag for many years to come.


Now onto the passive income!

Net Income for July 2017: $878

Including Principal: $3,193

The specifics: 

Apartment: $1,200

Townhome: $1,995

5-Plex: $5,760

Total Revenue: $8,955

Expenses by Property:

Apartment: $518

$30 maintenance, $434 association fees, $54 management fees

Townhome: $871

$387 maintenance, $70 rental license renewal, $335 association fees, $79 management fees

5-Plex: $2,145

$270 repairs for inspection, $347 rental license renewal, $105 electric, $57 gas, $971 water/gas, $395 management

Mortgages (including tax):

Townhome: $1,750

5-Plex: $2,833

Total Expenses: $8,117


After another high water bill in July we decided to give one of our problem renters notice (they’d cost me over $1000 the previous month as well), and unfortunately they were putting quite a strain on the overall building.  Despite being on a month-to-month contract, we gave them 2 months to find new lodgings, and they have since left amicably.  The tenants were renters from when I originally bought the building, and while you can never fully vet prospective tenants on your own, generally issues like this are accompanied by other warning signs.

Now that the tenants have left, I’ve repainted the unit completely and done a fairly decent amount of repairs considering the family was only in the unit for about a year.  Onwards and upwards!

Net Income for August 2017: $2,305

Including Principal: $4,596

The specifics: 

Apartment: $1,200

Townhome: $1,995

5-Plex: $5,760

Total Revenue: $8,955

Expenses by Property:

Apartment: $488

$0 maintenance, $434 association fees, $54 management fees

Townhome: $436

$22 maintenance, $335 association fees, $79 management fees

5-Plex: $1,143

$26 maintenance, $113 electric, $48 gas, $561 water, $395 management

Mortgages (including tax):

Townhome: $1,750

5-Plex: $2,833

Total Expenses: $6,650

Finally back to a low expense month – and once we get a new tenant in the 5-plex we should be back to chugging along just fine.  What I am quickly figuring out owning an entire building is that there is considerable volatility in expenses which I just didn’t encounter when owning the townhome and the apartment.  The 5-plex continues to be a good investment, but it’s certainly taken some time to get used to the cash-flows.

Even with a few tougher months, I’m still hoping to end the year at around $36-40k including principal paydown.  My personal goal is closer to $100k per year, but even at $50k a year I am fairly comfortable covering my current expenses.


To read more about my story and more about the properties, check out my original passive income post or read more about me here!



The Smartly MBA

I’ve worked in the banking industry for the past 7 years, and while I still believe it’s one of the quickest way to make decent money in your 20’s, I also don’t think it’s a very sustainable career for most people.  The long hours, the stress, and unfortunately the greed tend to take a toll on workers after awhile.  I’ve been considering transitioning out of the industry for quite some time into something more fulfilling, but for the time being I wanted to have the benefit of a stable job while still expanding on my skill set.

I must have been looking up MBA programs online, because I came across an ad (on Instagram of all places) for a free MBA program called Smartly.  Obviously I was a little skeptical at first, but I did some research and discovered that the program is legitimate and completely free, with the company funding the program by placing applicants upon graduation and collecting a recruitment fee.  All of the learning is done online, and while I’ve done courses on Coursera and EDX before, I liked the learning style of the courses in Smartly and ultimately it seemed like something I would be able to stick with longer.

I applied to the program and was lucky enough to be accepted a couple of weeks ago! Considering they claim to only accept 7% of applicants, I’m definitely excited to be a part of the class and think it’ll be a great way to expand beyond what I’ve learned in banking.

Given the company is still extremely new to the education scene (I believe I’m in the 2nd or 3rd class of MBA students) it still doesn’t come anywhere close to getting an MBA from a top school.  However – as more and more people pursue alternative learning options, it’s not crazy to think that someday online degrees will be the norm and will no longer be considered inferior.  Smartly claims that their students performed better than students from HBS, Stanford, and Wharton in an independent academic study testing accounting skills, so the online vs traditional battle already appears to have begun.

I’ll be writing updates on the course semi-regularly to provide as unbiased of a review of the program as possible, but ultimately I’m just excited to be doing something separate from my usual day job.  Who knows – it may even guide me towards my next adventure!

This review is not solicited by Smartly, but feel free to check out their website regardless!


Becoming a better man

Many of us in the personal finance community like to focus on money. Our goals revolve around saving more, spending less, and investing better so that we can build up our nest egg over time.  While financial independence is certainly a laudable goal (and a goal of my own), it is equally important to pursue improvement in all areas of our lives.

If I had any advice to give my 18 year old self, it would be to always strive to be the best man I could be.  That can mean different things to different people, but in my mind it requires us to focus on four different facets of ourselves: mind, body, soul, and money.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.’  — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love[


As Robert Heinlein tells us in his sci-fi work, Time Enough for Love, humans have the ability to do all sorts of things.  And yet, so few of us actually take advantage of our abilities, and as a result we’re forced to rely on others for tasks we could quite easily do on our own.

The internet has provided us with numerous resources to help us improve our lives, from learning basic accounting to reflooring our home.  With so much useful information at our fingertips, I like to spend some time every week learning something new.  Whether I’m taking a course online (Coursera and EDX are great) or just reading a good book, there’s something really fulfilling about continuing the learning process beyond school.  I personally like to mix things up, and lately I’ve been reading everything from books on meditation, psychology, and even good old spy novels every once in awhile. And don’t worry, I guarantee you’ll still have plenty of time to watch your favorite shows on Netflix.

“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park.  Enjoy the ride.’ – Anthony Bourdain


There was a guy on my trading desk who ate nothing but chicken breast, salad, and oatmeal every day for the 3.5 years we worked together.  He spent hours in the gym, and was easily at 6% body fat.  Whenever anyone would ask how he could eat such a bland diet, his response was always the same – “my body is a temple.”

I’ve included the quote from Anthony Bourdain above because people are generally in one of the extremes.  There’s always one person in the dining hall in college with a plate full of fried food, pizza, and finishes it all off with ice cream. And then you get the person who eats nothing but salad who is always on a diet.

I’d like to think we can be somewhere in between.  We only get one shot at this life, and unless you’ve got some sort of time machine, you’re likely stuck with the body you’ve got.  Just being cognisant of what you’re eating and generally sticking to healthy meals means that you can still eat burgers and pizza and all sorts of fried goodies from time to time.

Once you’re eating relatively well, spending a few hours a week being active doing something you love will be the difference between going up a pants size every year and staying lean and mean.  The way I see it – age is just a number, and we can easily stay fit well into our later years.  I have a feeling your significant other will appreciate it as well!

“Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold.’ – Bob Marley


A few years back, I was working fairly long hours, tired of my job, and overall just feeling burnt out.  My days consisted of waking up at 5am, taking an hour train ride to the office, working until 630pm, an hour train ride back, and basically leaving me just enough time to eat and head to bed.  Work was such a huge part of my life that I forgot to really take care of myself.  After a few months I was feeling so burnt out that I knew I had to make a change.  I needed the job to pay off my student loans, but I made sure to include time for myself every day.

Call it what you will – reflection, meditation, whatever – but giving myself a time every day away from the distractions of “real life” was just what I needed to cope with the tough work schedule.  For me my soul food came in the form of playing acoustic guitar.  I realized that while I was playing guitar the problems of the day seemed to disappear (probably helped by the fact that I wasn’t very good initially and really had to concentrate).

Your soul food may be something different.  Spending time with friends and family, music, watching the sunset, yoga/meditation – all great ways to get yourself out of the monotony of “real life” and back to feeling like there’s more out there.


Finally that leaves us with the one we’ve all been waiting for – money! We all know money is important – we need it to survive, we want more of it to live better, and yet many of us feel like we’re on a human-sized hamster wheel just trying to keep up.  We like to write a lot about money here, but it really isn’t that hard, and it just comes down to a few key principles.

Spend less.  Work hard.  Make your money work for you.

And that’s it! The more balanced you can be across all facets of your life, the easier it’ll be overall.  This is The Millennial Plan, so focus on whatever works for you, come up with a plan, and I guarantee you’ll be happier, healthier, and richer before you know it!

The Maserati Gran Turismo

I always loved cars as a kid. So much so that at the bright age of 17 I enrolled in school as a mechanical engineer, before quickly figuring out that there were a number of things you had to learn to get an engineering degree that I had zero interest in.  Statics, linear algebra, engineering chemistry…are just a few of the things I decided I had no interest in pursuing.  While I originally thought that I wanted to design and be involved in the car manufacturing process, really all I wanted to do was drive cars.  This coincided with my first summer trading stocks for my personal account, where (through dumb luck) I was able to make 20% in the span of about a month.  Ultimately this helped me decide to switch to a degree in economics, and shifted my focus to getting a job in the world of finance.

I was lucky enough to get internships both my sophomore and junior years, which were widely believed to be necessary in order to secure a full time job at graduation.  I received offers from two investment banks, and ended up taking a position as a foreign exchange trader.  When they sent over the contract and I saw that my salary alone was nearly $90k a year, I quickly started dreaming about all the things I’d be able to buy once my student loans were paid off.

My dream car was the Maserati GranTurismo.  First off – well look at the thing.  I’d never seen a car that sexy before and it was about as close to love at first sight as I’d ever get (that’s including a brief crush on Jessica Alba back in the 11th grade after watching Into the Blue.)  If looks weren’t enough, you could hear the car roar from nearly a mile away, with a Ferrari-built engine that made sure to let everyone know you were coming.  After looking at that contract I decided that this was the car for me by the time I turned 25.

Now unfortunately I never bought the Maserati.  I didn’t even buy a car until I turned 27 and ended up with a much more economical 4 door BMW.  Where did I go wrong? Well I grew up a little bit, and realized that I should really put all those savings of mine to work.  So – I bought an apartment, rented it out, and have earned roughly 7% in cash flow since buying the property in 2012.

I haven’t fully given up on my dream of owning the GranTurismo or an equally beautiful car someday.  But for now I have a new dream.  Financial independence.  Not working for the man.  Deciding my own hours.  While I’m certainly not there yet, I’m happy to put in more time working hard and building my passive income stream to the point where I no longer have to work anymore.  At that point it’s up to me to work an extra year to buy a Maserati or a Porsche or whatever I want at that point in time!

The importance of mentorship

I’ve been very lucky over the years to have a number of people I could call my mentor.  Both formally and informally through work and school, I’ve found people who I could rely on to guide me in the right direction.  I honestly believe that without this team of people, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.

I haven’t always recognized the value of mentorship in my life.  Growing up in an international environment, I was surrounded by successful expats who were leaders in their industry (my friends’ parents), and yet, initially failed to make the connection that these people could help me out.  I wanted to do things on my own, and often felt that asking for help was seen as a sign of weakness.

As I was applying to different schools trying to figure out where I wanted to go, my mom proposed that I sit down with one of the more business-minded people in our church, a consultant at Deloitte who we affectionately call Big Joe to this day.  Big Joe gave me the no BS talk of what it actually meant to be in consulting, and helped me to see that I could do well with a degree in engineering.  With his advice, I applied to Cornell as an engineer, got in early decision, and had pretty smooth sailing for my last semester of high school.  Halfway through my time at Cornell, I did end up switching over to economics (a decision which I do regret to some extent), but ultimately his advice still set me on the right path.

When I was in the process of applying for full-time work as a senior, I ended up getting offers from two of the larger investment banks.  I was in Mexico at the time the offers came through, and was told that I had to make a decision within a few days.  Not knowing who else to speak to, I called up the head of equities at the bank I had interned with during the previous summer.  He guided me into taking the job which was slightly riskier, but ultimately offered me more upside, and looking back it proved to be the better decision for me in the end.

At every stage of my career, there have been people I can point to as being influential in the decisions that I’ve made. With that in mind, I’ve followed this basic blueprint of finding other mentors.

Find someone who is currently where you’d like to be in 5,10, 20 years time

My dad told me once that it helps to know people who are decades older than you, because they’ve likely gone through all of the same things you’re going through now.  If you’re looking to start-up a company, seek out people in your community who have successfully started companies.  If you’re trying to transition into another industry, look for people who are in that industry and willing to give you some guidance.  As great as the internet is as a source of information, nothing beats the wisdom gained from years of experience.

Let it happen naturally

I’d like to think that good mentors fall into place much in the same way that you meet a significant other.  Sure it can be structured by the company or by the school that you’re in, but for the relationship to stick it needs to “feel right.”  Just as in dating, you can’t force the relationship, and often the best thing to do is simply to sit down for a cup of coffee and get to know each other.  Over time, you’ll get a sense of whether there’s a mutual interest, and eventually they may start coming to you directly to see how things are going.

Be realistic

As great as it would be to have Warren Buffett or Mark Zuckerberg as a mentor, realistically we have to work with what we’ve got.  When you start putting yourself out there you’ll realize that your network is much stronger than you think, and you’ll quickly find people who are willing to help you out.  Studies have shown that people not only like to give advice, but they view people who seek advice in a better light.

Develop your team

There’s no reason why you have to stop at just one mentor.  Over the years I’ve developed what I like to think of as my “team” – people I can go to for specific issues, guidance, and perspective.  I have someone I can speak to on my real estate business, and when I’m in a slump at work, I have a number of people who I know can help me to see the bigger picture.  This extends well beyond my business pursuits, and even for personal issues I have people I can trust to give me clarity.

Finding a good mentor isn’t something that happens overnight.  It’s often said that good things take time, but once you have your team in place, the journey gets that much easier.  Take their advice to heart, work hard, and you’ll be guiding someone else before you know it.

So you wanna be a millionaire?

That’s basically how my first conversation with a financial planner started.  I was sitting in some swanky office saying how I’d like to make a million dollars by the time I turned 30 years old.  I don’t think I’d even started to think about how I was going to reach that goal, and unfortunately the best answer the financial planner could give me was “well you might get there with dividend stocks.”

I talk a lot about planning on the site, and this is definitely not the last time you’re going to hear about it.  I could throw out some cheesy motivational quote about how having a plan helps you reach for the stars or makes your dreams come true…but let’s just stick with this: planning works.  Having a plan may not get you exactly where you think it will, but it will push you in the right direction.

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what your plan is or what your end goal is.   What matters most is creating a domino effect to get you there.  Like we’ve talked about before, starting small can mean the difference between sticking to your plan and falling massively short.  We need little wins in life to keep us motivated, and once those little wins snowball into bigger wins, the momentum can really pick up.  This can apply to money, to losing weight, to getting the job you want after graduation.  Breaking it down into little wins, giving yourself a plan for today, next week, next month, and next year, makes the entire process that much easier to go after.

Now barring winning the lottery or finding a pot of gold, I don’t think I’ll be a millionaire by 30.  I made a number of big mistakes early on in my investing career, but that’s not to say I completely failed.  Part of the problem was not adequately mapping out what I needed to do to get there.  I was earning enough money, and I knew I had to save consistently, but I was so worried about another equity market correction that I ended up missing out on a lot of gains early on in my career.  As difficult a lesson as that has been to learn, I still got around to coming up with a plan to get myself on the right track 3 years ago (when I was 25).  I started by pushing my budget and saving just that little bit extra each month.  I put that money directly into the market, and have learned to use leverage (carefully) in order to get closer to my goals.

Take the time to sit down and think about where you’d like to be in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years.  Think about what steps you can take to set you in the right direction, to the point where you have a plan down to the day.  That plan may change, but I have no doubt that you’ll be moving forward.  As for me, every month my number ticks up a little bit more, and even if I’m not at a million by 30, I’ll still know that I’m well on my way.

Automate your life

Life can get pretty crazy sometimes.  Whether it’s school, work, romantic relationships, or family, there always seems to be something out there which consumes us completely.  No matter how hard we try and balance everything out, as soon as it feels like we’ve figured it all out, it all comes crashing back down.  We only have so much brain power to focus on everything going on in our lives, so anything we can do to take things off our plate can help.  So what can we do? Automate our lives!

I was always a big fan of the Calvin and Hobbes series growing up.  Even to this day I always have a few of the collections lying around my apartment to page through from time to time.  As avid readers of the series will know, Calvin hated school, and figured the answer to all of his problems was to “duplicate” himself and send the clone to school.  Obviously it didn’t work out too well…and given we don’t have a high-tech cardboard duplicator machine at our disposal, we’ll have to be content with the tools out there right now.


The biggest mistake I made in my career was not having my savings on autopilot from the beginning.  It was easy to think that I was saving as much as possible every month, but without a goal or plan in mind, I definitely didn’t save nearly what I could’ve.  Once I had built up 3 months worth of expenses in an emergency fund and paid off my student loans, I realized that I could be pretty aggressive in my savings goals.  Once I figured out a realistic budget, I made sure to automate the process as much as possible.  On payday, I move money directly from my bank account over to my brokerage account or targeted savings account (for future real estate purchases), which means that I never feel like the money is there to spend.  I leave myself a very small buffer, but by cutting my liquid spending money it forces me to stick to my budget every single month.  I then have automatic investments set up in my brokerage account so that the money is constantly put to work.  I used to obsess over my investments and my savings, but now that everything is automated I can focus on what’s really important, doing well in my primary job and in my side hustles.  With the automatic process in place I can really sit back and let the money work for me.

Paying Bills

It’s 2017, and I still know people who pay their bills by check.  There is absolutely no reason to not have everything from your utilities to your credit card paid automatically every month.  The less you have to think about the better off you’ll be, and the more time you’ll have to think about the things that really matter.

Having the Right Routines

As I wrote about in Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick, having the right habits in place can make all the difference.  Anyone who has a good morning routine in place can get out of the house quickly ready to start the day, when others get flustered and ruin their day before it even gets started. Once something becomes habitual, it takes all of the stress out of it, and it leaves you free to focus on other things.

They say Einstein came up with his theory of relativity while working as a patent clerk, which was a menial enough task that it gave him the chance to think about all sorts of other things on the job.  While I can’t imagine any of us are going to be on that level any time soon, having as many things automated as possible can lower our stress levels and give us the chance to focus on the things that really matter to us. Spending time with family, friends, staying healthy, taking up a new hobby, you name it – it’s all within reach with just a little bit of upfront effort.

How important is location to your job choice?

We all want to make lots of money. Once we’re out in the real world and no longer have grades or teachers to tell us how we’re doing, money is the easiest yardstick to measure our level of success in the world.  With that in mind, most of us tend to gravitate towards jobs that pay the most, often without considering other factors, especially location.

Cost of Living

This is really the biggest and most unappreciated factor when most people apply for a job, especially right out of college.  We’re so used to living in dorms or apartments near campus that we rarely research fully ahead of time, and often end up quite surprised when it comes time to actually signing a lease.  Many of my friends got jobs in New York and Silicon Valley after graduating, and ended up having to spend upwards of $3000 a month.  This is fairly close to the median rent of the two cities, while Washington D.C., L.A., and Seattle are all around or just under $2000.  Over the course of the year that adds up to nearly $12,000, which on a pre-tax basis would be roughly $16k, all for choosing to live in a 1 bedroom outside of the two most expensive cities in the US.

It doesn’t just end there.  School, local taxes, food, transportation, all add into the equation as well.  Especially when looking at staying in a city long-term, the expenses start to add up and can outweigh the benefits of a higher salary.  Ahead of any big decision it’s well worth researching a loose budget to see if it’s really worth taking the higher paying job.

Earning Potential

Earning potential is the one area where cities like NYC and SF come out way ahead. Using jobs in banking as an example, it’s not uncommon for a 2nd year associate to make $200k, with managing directors making upwards of $500k.  Without being based in a big metropolis it’s extremely tough to make that sort of money, and if you’re able to live simply then it can be worth it.  This is where lifestyle inflation comes into play, and it becomes extremely important to stay away from a “keeping up with the Jones’s” mentality.

For anyone looking at job prospects, it’s worth doing research around what their trajectory is going forward.  What sort of money could I be making in two years? In five years? In 10 years?  Glassdoor offers a good ballpark estimate to see what you can expect as you move through the ranks at the company, and would be a good starting point to figure out where you’ll be going forward.

Quality of Life

Quality of life can mean different things to different people.  If you’re an avid surfer and love getting to the beach every day, then you’re going to have a pretty tough time living in downtown Manhattan.  Conversely, if you live off the energy of the city and love to go out and make lots of connections, then Manhattan may be perfect for you.  Beyond just geographic differences, it’s worth having an idea of what sort of quality of life you’ll be facing in the company that you choose as well.

In my experience, banking typically requires an average of 11-12 hours a day of most employees depending on the division, with some divisions as bad as 14+ hours a day.  It’s up to you to decide what sort of hours you’re comfortable working, and only you can know what’s best for you.

What did I do?

I chose a city that is typically thought of as one of the most expensive in the world (Tokyo), but was also able to join an industry where my starting salary was higher than most.  I lived with my parents for two years while paying off school loans, and since then I’ve been careful to limit my lifestyle inflation while still allowing myself some luxuries like a car and a trainer at the gym.  While I wouldn’t say my quality of life is as good as someone living in say, San Diego, I will say that the balance of high starting salary, earning potential, and overall cost of living were enough to balance that out.

Ultimately, it all comes down to you weighing the options and fully figuring out what the best job is for you going forward.  Worst case, there are always other jobs out there as well, but here on the Millennial Plan we like to go into things eyes wide open, fully prepared for what is to come.


The earnings side of the equation

When most people look at what it takes to be financially independent, they’ll generally look at it in two ways.  First – earn as much money as possible and eventually generate enough returns from your investments to cover your costs.  Second – focus on lowering your costs to the point where the returns generated from your current savings are enough to sustain your lifestyle for the foreseeable future.  While there’s no right or wrong answer, the online community generally focuses a good amount of time on the cost end of the equation, which in my situation, initially ended up doing more harm than good.

Typically in these scenarios, the “4% rule”** is brought up, and without getting into too many of the details just yet, the basic rule is this: if you spend $40,000 per year, then once you have $40,000/0.04 (or 40,000 x 25 to make it easier), or $1 million dollars, you no longer have to work anymore.  As soon as you hit a million dollars, you can (in theory) walk right out of the office and never look back.  Why are costs seen as so important?  Let’s say you’re suddenly able to cut out $10,000 per year in spending – now you no longer have to save $1 million dollars, and you can walk out of that office the minute you reach $750,000.  Cut out another $10k of spending? You can call it quits at $500k.  But at some point is this really realistic? 

I went through a similar exercise myself when I was planning out exactly what I needed to be financially independent.  I created a spreadsheet, monitored all of my transactions through online tools like Mint and Personal Capital, and tried to figure out exactly how to optimize all of my expenses.  In doing all of this, I honestly became a little obsessed. I became so enamoured with my budget and limiting my spending that I started to feel like I couldn’t spend at all.  I had reached a point where even saving 50% of my income didn’t seem like enough, and at times I’d forgo seeing friends or participating in activities simply because I felt like it was outside of my budget. I had gotten caught in a cycle where I was so driven to save that I was missing out on things in life I really shouldn’t have been.  

Finally, I had an epiphany. I could make more money.  It sounds stupid calling that an epiphany, but I was in a funk where it felt like no matter what I did I would be stuck getting paid the same amount for some time to come.  At that point I decided to give myself a reality check, and tried to think of other things I could do to improve my earnings.  I picked up a side hustle translating websites and in 2 hours of work I was able to cover my week’s food budget (I told you I wasn’t spending much).  I started hustling more in my actual job, pushing myself to really capitalise on as many opportunities as possible in the workplace and focused on improving the earnings side of the equation.  

With this shift in mindset, I decided to relax a little bit on the budget and made sure that I was living my life fully.  In the end, I probably added an extra $5k a year in spending, which according to our equation means I’ll need an extra $125k before I’m able to retire.  As a result of my hustle at work, I was actually able to get myself a raise which more than covered the extra spending, and now I feel like my head is in the right place to keep hustling and stay positive.  

Costs are definitely important to focus on, but I’d argue that focusing too much on the cost side limits our potential. Take the time to look through your budget and eliminate areas which aren’t absolutely necessary, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you are capable of pursuing the quality of life you deserve.  You can always lower your costs later on, but now is the time to hit the pavement, hustle hard, and focus on the prize. 

**For those of you interested in learning more about the 4% rule, check out what my friend The Mad Fientist has to say about it.