Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Where are you and where are you going?
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Sat Feb 03, 2018 5:04 am

Thank you all for your well-thought-out replies.

@Wannabe: "A representative, weithted study of the correlation between dumpster-eating and high net worth" would be a great thesis for social studies ;) Although from my personal experience, my fellow container-munchers are rather of the anti-capitalist type, unlikely to build portfolios. But time will tell, perhaps in a few decades they'll all be millionares!

I read a subchapter in the ERE book last week relating to the topic of social isolation, about finding different circles to connect to: not mentioning to your simple living friends that you also happen to manage a six-figure portfolio, and not mentioning to your investment friends that you only have one bedroom. (quoting off the top of my head, don't have the book with me right now to look it up)

I get that. Struggling with the implementation. Most of my current friends belong to neither camp, we are mostly friends over common interests (Metal, sicence, bikes). Plus I have the annoying habit of being fiercely honest when directly asked about income/wealth - I can't lie, but I don't want to tell the truth, but deflecting feels bad because I'm usually very direct. Also, meeting a new person out of context, I have to gauge which camp they belong to, meanwhile guarding all my bases. Tricky.

I have a good friend who is very into simple living - he bikes everywhere, even with two small kids, freecycles household items and always brings lunch from home. We sneak into random events when there's a free buffet. He's also a bit of a polymath and has great baltic humor. I'll miss him when he moves away in the summer. I've been thinking he could be open to ERE philosophy, maybe I'll get the book for him as a present.

I have this other friend who is a banker and I like to discuss investment strategy with. He lives in a loft, drives a BMW and wears expensive suits. He recently sprung 1,5k for a ski weekend in the alps with his wife. He asked me why I hoard all my money, instead of enjoying what life has to offer. He sais if I drop dead tomorrow, all my pennypinching was in vein, and the state will inherit my wealth. I wonder, is the prospect of death really the reason why people don't save?

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Fri Feb 09, 2018 10:24 am

(Beware, another mega-post incomming!)

The original polymath

My grandfather was a jack of all trades and my greatest influence when it comes to lifestyle and philosophy. My grandfather's choices were influenced by his path through life, and although he never talked much, his story tells some valuable lessons.

He was born in the early 1930ies as the youngest of 7 brothers on a farm close to a lake. His father died when he was still young, but his mother fought fiercely to keep all her kids and the farm under her care – which was quite a feat for a woman back then. The war and economy made times rough, all boys learned to work the fields and tend to the animals from a very young age, and help raise their younger brothers. When the older brothers went off to apprenticeships and the military, they kept in touch with frequent postcards and letters home (which I still have in a box). My grandfather got an apprenticeship as a machinist, which presented a leg up from rural society and the chance to work in towns. A popular choice was to spend a year abroad to learn French, which my grandfather spent working at a confectioner and learned baking. He also spent some time in French Switzerland, where his oldest brother oversaw an apple orchard and learned to prune trees, harvest fruit and process apples.

He found a machinist job close to home and rented a small attic room, from where he walked to the factory every day. He met and fell in love with my grandmother (working as a nurse at the time). Him being from a Protestant family and her from a Catholic one, they married secret at a small chapel with nobody present but another couple, serving as their mutual witnesses. They drove off together a small Vespa, spending their honeymoon on the French Cote d’Azur with nothing but a tent, the clothes on their back and some cooking gear. They lived in a tiny town apartment, both continuing to work until the birth of their 3 kids. Being a savvy saver, my grandfather managed to get a plot of land in a nearby village and a small bank loan. He started planning and building his house: building materials were sourced from sales, scrap yards or renovations, equipment rented or lent from small businesses, help employed from friends on weekends and holidays. He taught himself how to design building plans, set up heating or install sanitation from technical handbooks. The only thing he didn’t do was the electrical wiring: a friend from work came and installed it on a few weekends. As soon as the shell of the building was up, the family moved in, their youngest son was still a toddler. Our family pictures show the tree kids playing on gravel heaps and in wheelbarrows. My grandfather was able to design a home perfectly suited for their life and for the future. While I’m not sure this would still be possible today due to all the regulations, I am still in awe of the man that built his family house with his own hands.

He continued to work as a machinist in a watch factory until retirement (the regular kind). Along the way, he picked up watchmaking and beekeeping as a hobby. He was the guy who could salvage three broken radios from the dump and make one working one. He was the guy who drove his car for 20 years, never bringing it to a garage for service. He was the guy waiting besides uprooted trees after a storm, waiting to take the firewood off the cleanup crew’s hands. He cultivated the land around his house with veggies and fruit trees, providing his family with food throughout the year (there was even a greenhouse made entirely from old windows). Retirement was simply a transition from salaried work to more work around the home, in the garden, in the workshop and with the bees.

I spent my weekends with my grandparents and was even allowed to live with them for some time. As a kid, I had unsupervised adventures in the forest or drove to the dump with my grandpa to hunt treasures. I worked on little projects with him in the ever-growing workshop. I rummaged the massive collections of material in the attic and the sheds. I learned cooking and sewing from my grandma, and welding, beekeeping and handiwork from my grandpa. When I got older, we collaborated on different projects, house-sitted a farm together or he asked for my help on tasks he could not do himself. Being with him was enjoyable because we did not have to talk much. We could easily spend hours without verbal communication, just being at peace in each other’s presence. He never told me “I love you”, or any of his children. But when I had to move to University, he went to the attic and brought me an entire apartment’s worth of kitchen equipment (complete with a 30-year old pressure cooker I still use today), desk and study lamp. And he was so proud when I finished High School as the first person in my family. So he cared about me a lot.

I never talked much about finances with my grandpa. He obviously was a saver, and from I young age I emulated his behavior, saving my allowance and money gifts in a candy box. Still he must have had some knack for investing, and he always did his own taxes. He also bought my grandma’s parents’ house when they died, restored it and rented it out. But most of his money was in stocks and bonds. I remember talking investment once, during the market crash of 2008. He said he barely lost anything, because he never invested in things he did not understand (=subprime American real estate hedge funds). I guess he could have retired early if he wanted, but being from the post-war generation, that was just not something you’d consider. Perhaps he also enjoyed his work, it was at a very friendly company – they sent him a deli food basket every Christmas, even after he retired. On the other hand he obviously had enough projects to keep himself busy without the work.

My grandma was in some respect the polar opposite of him. She was a lively, loud woman, liked to phone everybody she knew and had a global network of friends from traveling and working as a nurse for Doctors without borders. She traveled to America, Australia and all over Europe. She was open to new technology, learned to text and e-mail and surf the internet. A weaker woman would have suffered under my grandfather’s penny-pinching miserliness, but my grandma went along with it, taking the liberty to splurge on the luxuries she didn’t want to miss (clothes and shoes, coffee and cake, holidays). It helped that she had her own money.

After a full life, my grandpa died in the summer of 2011. He suffered a brain hemorrhage while working in the summer heat with his bees. He was flown to the hospital, but there was little to be done and he never woke up. While his sudden death – especially in light of his great health – was a shock to us all, it was good for him to go quickly and with little suffering while still active and doing the things he loved. Being bedridden and frail for a long time before his death would have been terrible for him. My grandma followed him soon after.

My grandfather was by childhood hero, but having grown up and having seen how other people live, I can see his lifestyle in a more critical light too. While it was nice to have a stash of random stuff for fixing houses, electronics, cars, etc around, the yard, attic and shed really looked like something out of “Hoarders” – to the constant annoyance of my grandma and the neighbors. Someone’s trash may be another ones treasure, but perhaps my grandfather took it a bit far. He apparently also did some semi-legal stuff with his taxes, which only came out after his death. He never went on holiday except for once, when my grandma enforced a family vacation on the Balearic Isles: he went along, but his luggage was filled with 2 weeks’ worth of homemade granola. He never adopted the internet or even the use of a simple cellphone. He barely had any friends, never went to community events, rarely traveled out of his county. His main contacts were his brothers and sons, who have adopted very similar lifestyles, and a few guys he met over common interests.

TLDR version: My grandfather chose to live a simple, self-reliant life, away from consumerism. I try to keep the downsides in mind and not put my him on a pedestal, however I still think there are many positive lessons to be learned from the lives of my grandfather and grandmother. Here are a few:

Lessons to be learned from my grandpa
  • Live significantly below your means, save and invest in what you understand
  • Learn to DIY as much as possible, never outsource services you could possibly learn yourself
  • Continue to learn new skills and challenge yourself
  • Think critically about advertised products
  • Don't spend a fortune on your wedding and honeymoon - all you need is love!
  • Reach out to likeminded people for help and expertise (instead of “buying” a solution)
  • Travel light while working and see the world when you’re young, then settle down where you feel most comfortable and build a self-reliant life
  • Don’t give a F about appearances (clothes, car, house), but do what serves you and is practical
  • Only spend time with people that appreciate you (for being a penny-pinching polymath)
  • Master the 30s phone call
  • Show your love by providing actual help (with projects, supplies, moving)
  • Cultivate your hobbies until they provide a side income (repair, beekeeping)
  • Be humble

Lessons to be learned from my grandma
  • What you have in abundance, give freely (veggies + fruit, flowers, time, sage advice…)
  • Don’t forget to enjoy life, and spend money on the things that are important to you
  • Establish and uphold good relationships with your neighbors and friends, and you will never lack a helpful hand or ear
  • Show your love by home cooked meals and personal talks
  • Have friends all over the globe, so you can travel!
  • Learn to preserve by pickling, freezing, pasteurizing, storing
  • Embrace new things (technology, innovations, cuisine)

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Sat Feb 10, 2018 6:44 am

Something interesting happened yesterday. My BF and I were in the kitchen cooking dinner and he suddenly said he would very much like to leave his job, buy a plot of land somewhere and live a simple life. This took me a bit by surprise – he never showed any interest in FI matters. We took some time elaborating on this dream of his. Then I sprung the “this is not impossible, you know”, and gave him a brief rundown of the Frugalwoods journey (dream of a homestead in the woods, living frugal and saving up to make it happen). I fear ERE might be a bit too high-concept for him. He does not think FIRE is possible for him though – common arguments include 1) salary to low and 2) is afraid of missing out on life while he saves up. He has a health condition, which might make it very difficult to enjoy retirement after some point (but then again also working life). We argued a bit about what’s the point of saving and being miserly when you could drop dead tomorrow (never a fruitful discussion, it inevitably leads to bleak nihilism). He is convinced both home/land ownership and not needing a job are unattainable for him, and even if so it would take 20+ years of saving, so there is no point in trying.

I’ve been thinking – and also reading the thread here on the forum – about how to introduce him to ERE concepts to him. I’ve gotten really into it over the past few months, but kept myself covered. With some topics we are very much on the same page since we met: consumerism, needing a new phone/car/gadget every few years, TV, sustainable living, quality over quantity, reducing waste, buying secondhand, homemaking and cooking. Other topics he is fairly disinclined to: he loathes all things related to budget, spreadsheets, investing, tax reports or numbers in general. He sometimes also gets into the famous “I deserve this because I work hard” mindset – especially when it comes to food items. He has no budget or tracking spending, his salary just kinda vanishes somewhere, and he’s always struggling to keep up with bills - even though he earns more than me. At least he has a strong aversion to getting in dept. As opposed to me, he really does not like his job. He really suffers having to work sometimes. Thinking about the will to change pyramid (ERE book Figure 1.1), his dissatisfaction with the current situation is very high, and while he has the vision but the practicality to get there is very low. So what he needs is a plan to get to that future and a lower perceived cost of that plan.

Please don't judge him - he's just a wonderful guy who was cast into a shitty job and was never shown any alternative to the cookie cutter plan of work, sleep, eat, shit, pay taxes. He asked me a few times: is this it? Is this all life has to offer? I think he's more ready for FIRE concepts that anyone I know.

As I mentioned before, I am probably the worst ambassador for ERE, having already accumulated a large stash without much of a plan or vision of the future. I’m pondering what I can do to help him along his mental journey to FI, without scaring him off. Here are a few thoughts:
  • Get him to read a book or blog. This is my solution to everything, but he's a different person. Unfortunately reading in general and English too is not his strongest suit. Most literature on ER is in English. The ERE book might be too “academic” for his taste. Frugalwoods and MMM might hit the right tone, but again both in English. YMYL I’m not really familiar with. I think something with a low language barrier might help until he gets “hooked”. Any of the German speakers here know of resources in German?
  • Live by example by saving a part of my paycheck and showing him how I budget. He loathes numbers, but maybe I can show him how I basically get free money by DIY, forgoing unimportant luxuries and investing. I can show off the cool stuff I get for free or cheap and perhaps convince him not everything has to cost a fortune.
  • Encourage free or cheap activities and entertainment. I’m already sort of on this, planning some game nights, visiting free theater shows or getting new movies through the swap network. Metal concerts don’t come cheap though, and we like to go to the cinema every 2 months. Perhaps we can reduce these.
  • Generally encouraging thrifty behavior and frugality. This sorta goes into dangerous territory of “conditioning your SO to change his behavior to your liking”. On the other hand, he always says he wants to save.
I think I’ll just ask him tonight what I can do to help him with his journey.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by wolf » Sat Feb 10, 2018 12:36 pm

Astra wrote:
Sat Feb 10, 2018 6:44 am
I’m pondering what I can do to help him along his mental journey to FI, without scaring him off.
German speaker here :) What I would consider is his personality, e.g. motivation, personality type, virtues, beliefs, etc. IMO, it is important that he establishes an intrinsic motivation about FIRE / ERE. Each person is different and therefore has different motivational factors. I therefore would consider some questions about money. How does he think about money overall? In addition to that, knowing what his interests, hobbies, etc. are is a huge help. Is he more introvert or extravert? What are his dreams? What would he do / work, if money is no hindrance? I would consider the context and his personality and try to understand his view. Try to build connections btw his current lifestyle and FIRE /ERE, in order give him ideas about possible future lifestyles. You said it already very good, that you wanted to ask him how you could help him on this journey.

And here some book ideas:
"Der Weg zur finanziellen Freiheit: Die erste Million" by Bodo Schäfer (a bit too money centred, but it teaches some good principles)
"Der reichste Mann von Babylon: Erfolgsgeheimnisse der Antike - Der erste Schritt in die finanzielle Freiheit" (it teaches also really good principles)
Well, but neither of those two books teach motivation.

Try it like this quote says:
Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote:If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Good luck, take care and be patient.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Family father » Mon Feb 12, 2018 5:52 am

@Astra: I like how you summarized those "lessons": I'll steal some, if you don't mind.. :) (I find your journal very interesting!!)

@Wolf: very wise and relevant quote: I'll steal that too.. :D

I just had a conversation with my SO this weekend about the criteria to dismiss clothes..

Isn't it in the end a matter of priorities: we must accept the decissions of priority nº1, and adapt/adjust the rest of priorities to it.. ?? (being SO and ERE two of those priorities)

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Fri Apr 13, 2018 10:20 am

G’day maties, despite my prolonged silence, I’m still alive. Here’s what’s been going on.

Free fun: Found out I can get free tickets from my Uni to various events. Now I go to concerts and theater plays for free about twice a month (some of the tickets are 40+ Euros…). Enjoying my love of live theater productions. More outside, taking walks etc. Haven’t played a computer game since November. Been to a few game nights – lots of fun, wish this was more regular. Also swapping DVDs and CDs with friends and internet-strangers for free entertainment, and visiting the library every 2 weeks. I found that you can request books (they hide this option very well, lol). Should I request the ERE book, so others can get access? I will ask if they take donations. I never thought I could get over my addiction to buying books, but I haven’t paid for a book since ordering the ERE book from Amazon. Mild success, but room for improvement. Still have a pile of books I bought and still want to read, can’t get rid of them until I’m through. Everything else is currently for sale/swap!

Science: Exploring some new-to-me sub-fields, including (in no particular order) extremely radiation-resistant organisms (and the mechanisms behind), principles of mass spectroscopy, ribosome modification, in vitro evolution (SELEX) and oxidative stress, as it is naturally generated by oxidative phosphorylation. While these may seemingly have little to do with each other, I’m forming connections here and there. Currently just absorbing information, spending whole days immersed in papers and databases. Things pop out. I’m starting to enjoy this aspect of science: literature research, thinking about how to test things, planning experiments, writing to experts in the field for their advice. I may become a principal investigator yet.

Life and Career: Good news everyone! I’m going to the United States of America! I was invited to work in a lab there while still in my PhD – six months plus, all expenses and living cost sponsored. Of course, incredible opportunity in terms of the experiments I can do. The prof is great and the group seems very competent. But also, I’m excited to experience life in the USA first-hand. I’ve never lived abroad, not even an exchange semester (was too expensive then). We Europeans have our stereotypes about Americans – let’s see if they hold true. I’m going to a larger city in the Midwest, so it should be middle of the spectrum in terms of left/right, urban/country, I guess? Maybe I’ll even be able to understand how the current President got elected… ehem. I’m excited!

Simple living: I’m taking this opportunity to further reduce my possessions – revisited Jacob’s “Living out of a suitcase” article and that’s my ideal for this half-year in the USA (I’m still far from it). I’ll try to get a room in a shared flat with a kitchen, within biking distance of the lab. Get a cheap secondhand bike for the time. Not accumulate more than necessary stuff while there. Live simply, so I have enough time for work, my new colleagues and to experience the culture. My hope is once I survive 6 months on barebones possessions (and reap the benefits), it will help me get rid of all the clutter which I’m leaving behind at home (my partner stays behind and keeps the apartment full of stuff).
Unfortunately it also means some restructuring in my banking. My current banks do not allow customers with US-ties. So I’ll have to move everything (checking, 401-K, stocks) to a bank/broker that will. Not so dramatic, I’d have done this anyway in a few years, now it just moved up earlier. Also, a good opportunity for a little “spring cleaning” in my finances: automating payments, cancelling services and superfluous accounts, insurance, getting rid of some stocks/bonds and buying others. Let’s just hope my government doesn’t think I’m trying to evade taxes by moving all my money to a foreign bank ;)

Possible purchase: I’ve been thinking for 2+ months whether I should get a laptop. I currently work from a desktop PC at my lab. Going abroad it would be nice to have a laptop with all my work on it, so I can write/research/keep records in a mobile way. I could also use it privately, for movies, skyping, paying bills… but I am conflicted about buying something. Not that I can’t afford it. Recently saw a documentary about how quickly electronics get trashed, and “planned obsolescence” in these products. Perhaps I can get a secondhand one? But I can’t really judge how well a secondhand unit is preserved and what a fair price is. Decisions, decisions.

Reading: Made it through the ERE book. Far less un-agreeable than anticipated. I’m glad I haven’t made it to the hyper-consumerist, outsourcing-everything, drive-giant-car-to-my-eternally-miserable-job, consolidate-myself-with-spending state yet, which Jacob aptly describes. I’ll give it some time, then return to the book again. Or should I pass it on? Other reads: Satanic Bible (Anton LaVey), Mind Over Money: the psychology of money and how to use it better (Claudia Hammond), How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie), Powder mage trilogy (Brian McClellan), Southern Reach Trilogy (Jeff VanderMeer), Haunted (Chuck Palaniuk), Cosmétique de l’ennemi (Amelie Nothomb), Walk in the woods (Bill Bryson).

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Chris » Fri Apr 13, 2018 12:31 pm

Astra wrote:
Fri Apr 13, 2018 10:20 am
Good news everyone! I’m going to the United States of America!
I’m excited to experience life in the USA first-hand. I’ve never lived abroad, not even an exchange semester (was too expensive then). We Europeans have our stereotypes about Americans – let’s see if they hold true.
Congratulations! That is excellent news. Prepare to be surrounded by fat, dumb people who are constantly shooting each other (-;

Traveling somewhere with a mission -- especially when someone else pays for it -- is a great opportunity. At least in my own experience, trips with a mission have often been more meaningful than straight vacations. And not only will you learn about Americans, but you will also be an ambassador of your homeland. Are you prepared for such a duty?

You should plan an ERE meetup while you're over here too.
Astra wrote:
Fri Apr 13, 2018 10:20 am
My current banks do not allow customers with US-ties. So I’ll have to move everything (checking, 401-K, stocks) to a bank/broker that will.
Would it be less bothersome to maintain your original accounts and open additional new accounts?

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