Money vs. Fun
The other day I was at w*rk, and my coworker said something that stuck with me. He said, "In life, there's stuff you do for money, and there's stuff you like to do." This is fairly obvious, but it made something click.
My entire life, I have just wanted to read my damn book and play outside with my friends. Unfortunately, I was put through the American factory-farm education system, and my learning was systematically impeded for 12 years. I somehow managed to escape without being stuffed into a box and coming out as an obedient cookie-cutter professional.
One of the common themes in my life is that extrinsic motivation virtually never functions to help me to do something. This is the problem with both work and school—they are built primarily for achievers. I don't care about achieving; my "player types" are those of the socializer and explorer, not achiever. The money:fun ratio that my coworker mentioned can be rephrased in an interesting way—there are things that you are extrinsically motivated to do, and things you are intrinsically motivated to do.
The key principle of ERE is that low expenses allow you to swing that ratio way
more towards intrinsic motivation. Frugality allows you to do things purely for the sake of doing them, and lets you dedicate your life to things that are worth doing, regardless of whether they return a financial yield.
Customizing an ERE System
Jacob's story is somewhat deceptive. At first glance, it does not look too much different from the more mainstream FIRE "software engineer" path. Maybe more extreme. Though upon deeper investigation one realizes that his path isn't just quantitatively different, it's qualitatively different. It's this qualitative difference that allows us to connect the dots between people like Mister Money Mustache and Rob Greenfield.
At first glance, these figures couldn't be more different. Mister Money Mustache is a wealthy, financially independent software engineer. Rob Greenfield is a hobo who has vowed never to accumulate more than $15,000. But digging a little deeper, an understanding of the Renaissance ideal and ERE philosophy reveals that these two figures are actually quite similar. If we created a systems diagram of Mister Money Mustache, Rob Greenfield, and Jacob, and mapped out all of the capital (financial and otherwise) inflows and outflows, we would come up with a similar result.
However, when each of these figures started building their ERE system they had an advantage I don't have—an established career and efficient income stream.
Pre-pandemic, I had been planning to go through a nursing program and reach FI through a fairly conventional route. But damn it, life is short and I have non-paying projects I want to retire to.
I want to spend as little of my life as humanly possible under fluorescent lighting; I need to find a way to minimize my extrinsic:intrinsic ratio now.
Sacrificing 5-10 years to the Man to reach FI just isn't my style.
There are several other issues with the accumulation phase. It leads to increased loss aversion, and, due to the inherent volatility in capitalism, exacerbated by resource depletion and climate change, I am wary of placing my trust in the market. I also have little intrinsic interest in working for money or learning to invest; that's time I could use to do more interesting things. Furthermore, as @AxelHeyst has pointed out, there seems to be a local minimum of people who reach FI but never progress to WL7+. One way to avoid this is to flip the model on its head—focus on Renaissance skills first, FI second. I believe @G+J has pointed out that it is a lot more fun to reach ERE as a natural byproduct of living an interesting life, as opposed to the traditional FIRE accumulation model.
Every ERE system requires maintenance of some sort; a mark of a mature system is that the maintenance requirement is relatively low. In Jacob's case, his maintenance costs are spending a couple hours each year managing his investments. In Rob Greenfield's case, he spends a couple hours each year doing public speaking, which provides him with sufficient income for a year or two.
Even though Rob is not FI (he's quite the opposite), his system requires the same amount of maintenance as Jacob's.
Despite all the conversations about how the Wheaton Scale is a teaching tool and not a belt system, I propose that one useful way of determining an individual's Wheaton Level is by measuring their system's maintenance requirements.
Systems that require lots of maintenance are low Wheaton; systems that require little are howlie. This is why Rob, Mark Boyle, etc are considered howlies even though they are closer to hobos than they are to traditional FIRE people like MMM.
All of this leads me to some a new idea with regards to how I will structure my ERE planning.
The SHIT Plan: Suckiness Halved, Independence of Time
The SHIT Plan, loosely modeled after Paul Wheaton's BEER Plan, takes a couple things into consideration:
- I'm unlikely to ever be satisfied in a conventional career
- I lack intrinsic interest in investing
- I want to accelerate the five years to freedom of Jacob's ERE path
- I lack confidence in the market being stable or growing throughout my lifetime
- I don't have much of a pre-existing career
- Low system maintenance is more important than a big stash
- Life is short and I want to fill it doing weird fun things
- Renaissance skills are more important than FI in order to reach WL7+; I have to be careful about avoiding the local minima.
Given all of this, it seems illogical to continue with traditional FIRE. Hence the need for the SHIT Plan. I will use some permaculture principles to develop this further.
Design from Patterns to Details
The SHIT Plan can be described as low maintenance, low yield (LMLY) entrepreneurship. Though I'm a bit too much of an anarchist to be a huge fan of any for-profit venture, I don't see anything wrong with small-scale socially and ecologically responsible entrepreneurship. The patterns that I would like to mimic here are the low maintenance and low yield income streams of people like Jacob and Rob.
Instead of the typical capitalist game of growing an enterprise infinitely, I can play a different game. Instead of asking how to make a million dollars, I can ask "How can I build a business that returns $7-15k per year, with as little effort and maintenance as possible? How can I figure out how to generate relatively small sums within that range at will, with the flexibility to pick up and put down w*rk projects as I deem necessary?"
I suspect having low yields as a specific goal will be much easier than trying to make a lot of money, and I furthermore suspect a breadth of skills and income streams would be useful in creating this scenario, and think that taking time off to develop Renaissance skills and lower my cost of living could create a positive feedback loop that creates tensegrity in my income generating system.
Getting good at LMLY business seems to be the best step forward in terms of optimizing my ERE system, free time, personal autonomy, resilience, etc. I furthermore suspect that this strategy will be more robust in the context of energy descent and climate change. I would rather depend on flexible income streams than stored capital.
Observe and Interact
Another permaculture principle is to start with the resources right in front of you. Now that I have identified the pattern I wish to mimic, I have to figure out which details of my own life fit best within this pattern. Let's start by taking an inventory of my skills and income.
- Proficiency in English, Spanish, German. Varying degrees of fluency in Portuguese, French, Arabic, Russian, Esperanto, and Potawatomi
- People skills. I'm fairly agreeable.
- Mindfulness / Contemplative Practice
- ERE and strategic thinking
- Some technical knowledge of roofs and insurance policies
- Some knowledge of grantwriting
Current income streams:
- Translation and grantwriting at immigration law office
- Possibility of getting involved in a for-profit plant nursery at the local permaculture site. This is still in the "might happen" zone.
I have an idea of what sort of niche in life
I want to occupy, but I first have to find a LMLY business niche that will give me the time
to work on my projects that are unlikely to return a financial yield. Therefore, I must ask what skills must I strategically improve in order to be capable of occupying that niche. I must furthermore figure out how the hell market research works and learn what the unoccupied niches in my area are.
For now, I will continue generating income from my gigs and try to use them primarily as career gyms where I learn useful new skills. I'll do some digging to see if there are any other examples of LMLY business structure that I can learn from. Wishing you all the best.