Introducing the FI Designer
My name is Matt, a 40-something civil-structural engineer by trade on the path to achieving Financial Independence, i.e. FI. My wife, Elizabeth, is a stay-at-home mother of 2 and homeschool teacher.
Designing FI was created as an outlet to discuss personal finance and life optimization strategies. Personal finance is one of my favorite topics to research. I would much rather read about tax optimization than an engineering publication, and nine times out of ten I could not tell you who played in the World Series this year. But for the most part, nobody in my circle of friends or family shares my excitement about personal finance or frugality. And on the occasion when the topic comes up in conversation, I have to resist the urge to unleash a FIREhose of information.
Personal finance is just that, personal, and you cannot reach people with ideas until they are ready to hear them. 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 the time I thought it was a good place to start considering most of my friends were engineers like myself. That turned out to be an unfruitful endeavor because they were either not interested or not asking the questions I was. Some friends that came from greater family wealth even had “a guy” that their parents had turned them to for investing. But that did not appeal to me because they could not tell me how their advisors were getting paid.
Eventually I found the resources I was looking for in podcasts like Clark Howard. The podcasts greatly improved my literacy on topics like retirement savings, insurance, and most importantly avoiding rip-offs that could potentially strip away my resources.
Real Estate & Conventional Wisdom
In 2006 I purchased my first home, which was a condominium 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 in 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 at face value again.
My wife and I both grew up in middle-class blue-collar households. Neither of our parents taught us much about personal finance, but they did instill in us the values of hard work and frugality. My family was in the construction trades and Elizabeth came from a military family. We have always been savers and frugal by nature. That alone 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.
My wife 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. In other words, it is a backup plan for the backup plan. I am drawn to the idea of having a large enough net worth to be able to support our lifestyle and make a life’s work out of our passions. I am 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 career as an engineer, but every year I find it becoming more and more tedious. And if I extrapolate the trend out there may be a point at which 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 towards, 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 specialize 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 bars. I am equally fascinated by personal finance and projecting the growth of our assets. Engineers are problem solvers to the core. That trait, which cannot easily be shut off, can sometimes be a detriment in our marriage. Therefore, I attempt to focus my efforts on problems and goals that will provide financial security for our family.
Excel Geek with a New Mission
Excel was one of my passions as an engineer. I love to create spreadsheets that resemble hand calculations and are readily verifiable. However, I have reached the point in my career where my billing rate is no longer conducive to developing spreadsheets. So I figured if my employer does not want to pay me to develop Kick-Ass spreadsheets anymore I might as well do it for 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 long before engineering. I began bodybuilding at age 16 and competed in 4 shows between the ages of 19 and 23. My short competitive career fizzled out during engineering graduate school. Although I no longer compete, I continue the lifestyle of nutrition and training to the greatest extent possible. It would not be inaccurate to say Financial Independence means I can live my lifelong dream of being a professional bodybuilder. Not because I have any chance of earning a pro card, but because bodybuilding will be an integral part of 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 hard his whole 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 of weathering whatever life throws at us.
I invite you to follow us on the path of Designing FI.