Introducing the FI Designer
A civil-structural engineer by trade on the path to achieve Financial Independence.
Designing FI was created as an outlet to discuss personal finance and life optimization. There aren’t many topics I enjoy more than finance. I would much rather read through Kiplinger than an engineering publication, and nine times out of ten I couldn’t tell you who played in the World Series this year. But for the most part nobody in my close circle of friends or family shares my excitement about finance or frugality. And on the occasion when someone shows interest I have to resist the urge to unleash a FIREhose of information.
Personal finance is just that, personal, and you can’t reach people with ideas until they are ready to hear it. So to reach those who are seeking discussions on these topics I created this blog.
My Financial Past
Eager to accumulate wealth as a newly graduated engineer, I initially turned to my friends in an attempt to form a mastermind of financial information. At that time I figured it was a good place to start considering most of them were engineers like myself. That turned out to be a dead end because they were either not interested or not asking the questions I was. Some friends of greater family means even had “a guy” that their parents had turned them to, but that didn’t appeal to me because they could not tell me how the advisors were getting paid for the investments.
Eventually I found the resources I was looking for in podcasts like Clark Howard. That greatly improved my literacy on topics like retirement savings, insurance and most of all avoiding rip offs that could strip resources from our family.
Real Estate & Conventional Wisdom
In 2006 I purchased my first home, which was a condo in a large suburban market. At that time people were getting mortgages with zero down and the conventional wisdom was that property values would do nothing but go up. Disaster struck when the bubble popped and property values tanked. Even with a 20% down initial purchase I was underwater by $45k during 2011 when I needed to sell due to a job relocation. That was a formative experience for me because I vowed to arm myself with knowledge and not accept conventional wisdom on face value alone.
My wife and I both grew up in middle-class blue collar households. Neither of our parents really taught us about personal finance but they did instill in us the values of hard work and frugality. My family was in the construction trades and Mrs. FI Designer came from a military family. I jokingly say I have to thank her father for raising a woman to be compatible with an engineer and all of their obsessive compulsive character traits. We have always been savers and frugal by nature which would have set us up for a comfortable normal retirement at age 65 plus. But in 2019 we both became interested in the concept of Financial Independence thanks to the Choose FI podcast.
Mrs. FI Designer and I both have different reasons for being drawn to the concept of Financial Independence. She is drawn to the security that financial independence provides. A backup plan for the backup plan if you will. I am drawn to the idea of having enough in net worth to be able to support our lifestyle and make a life’s work out of our passions. I’m not wholly committed to retiring early but I want to have the confidence of knowing I am not beholden to an employer that does not align with my passions. Right now I find fulfillment in my job as an engineer, but every year I find it becoming more and more tedious. And if I extrapolate this out there may be a point at which point I no longer get fulfillment out of it. When that day comes, I would like the piece of mind knowing I have options. I am grateful that we both have a common goal we can work on, even though we are attracted to it for different reasons.
What Can an Engineer Offer the Financial Independence Community?
In my career as a structural engineer I specialized in bridge design. Engineers use math and physics to represent the behaviors of the physical world. I am fascinated by the use of equations to reliably predict the behavior of a concrete beam which is a heterogeneous mix of aggregate (stone & sand), cement, water and steel reinforcing bar. I am equally fascinated by personal finance and projecting the growth of our assets. Engineers are problem solvers to the core. And my wife would argue, to the detriment of our marriage, it’s a trait that I can’t shut off even when I come home. So I focus my efforts on problems and goals that will provide financial security for our family.
Excel Geek with a New Mission
Excel is one of my passions. I love to create spreadsheets that resemble hand calculations and are readily verifiable. To me personally that means no VBA or black box trickery. In my profession spreadsheets must be hand verified. But I have unfortunately reached the point in my career where my billing rate is no longer conducive for developing spreadsheets. So I figured if my employer doesn’t want to pay me to develop Kick-Ass spreadsheets anymore I might as well do it for the benefit of myself and my family’s financial future.
The same obsessive character traits that draw me to engineering also draw me to fitness. Truthfully fitness came first. I started bodybuilding at age 16 and competed in 4 shows between the ages of 19 and 23. My short competitive career fizzled out during engineering grad school. Although I no longer compete, I still continue the lifestyle of nutrition and training to the greatest extent possible. Sarcastically I told my wife that when I retire I would like to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a professional bodybuilder. Not because I have any chance of getting a pro card, but because bodybuilding will be my life’s work. I suppose my bodybuilding past has made me accustomed to the Financial Independence tenants of delayed gratification and the sum of marginal gains.
Wellness by Necessity
Originally I expected to continue my career as an engineer well into normal retirement age and possibly even longer if I was enjoying it. That perspective was forever altered when my father retired at age 60 and was diagnosed with cancer at roughly the same time. It seemed brutal to me that a man who had worked his life as a tradesman had to live with cancer in his retirement. Furthermore, his father had died at 49 and the men on my grandmother’s side had an average lifespan of even lower. So there is a real possibility that my golden years might not be long or in good health. I say this not to be depressing, but to be optimistic and motivated to buck the trend. Health and wellness are a fundamental component of my Financial Independence plan. Even the act of writing this down reinforces and reminds me of the importance of that goal.
There are critics of the Financial Independence Retire Early (F.I.R.E.) community who say there is no way to save enough to account for all of life’s uncertainties. I suppose every day we are all one catastrophe, be it health or natural disaster, away from our financial plans unraveling. But this financial goal is still worth working for when you think of the alternative which is to live your life with no plan and no greater goal. I firmly believe that our pursuit of FI makes us far more capable to weather whatever life throws at us.
I invite you to follow us on the path of Designing FI.