Welcome to the Route 2 FI interview series. I’m starting this series to get inside the heads of people that inspire me on my way to Financial Independence.
Today’s guest is Graham from Reverse The Crush !
He’s a young FIRE-seeker at age 33. He worked with investments at a large bank before he decided to quit the 9 – 5 to take a year off! He’s now back at work to save & invest some more in dividends, before he escapes one more time!
The blog “Reverse The Crush” was started November 2015, and has produced a lot of quality content. Graham really loves to blog an has produced an impressive 159 blog posts! (There’s another 146 in draft mode. Many posts were taken down after he went back to work.)
I definitely know you’ll find this interview interesting and might learn some things that you can put into action in your own life.
I am a 33 year old from Toronto, Canada who was raised an hour outside the city. I moved to Toronto for work in late 2012.
Aside from blogging and investing, I’m interested in business marketing, social media, new technology, basketball and I’m beginning to enjoy photography a lot.
I’ve been blogging in the FI-community for over 3 years now and plan to be here for a long time to come… I like the idea of documenting and I’m intrigued when I think about how much content I could end up producing over the years.
Also, I’m not sure if it counts because it was just a mention, but it was still a big deal to me… I was featured on one of Think Save Retire’s roundups a few years ago. That was really cool!
I studied Business Marketing at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. Admittedly, the only reason I studied Business Marketing was because I wanted to start my own business.
Although I would probably be closer to financial independence if I avoided student loan debt, I value my education now that I’m older. First, I have many amazing memories and it was a lot of fun.
And second, I realize I understand marketing a bit. I really did learn something. This was not clear at first, because many of the marketing concepts I learned in school seemed outdated.
The teachers didn’t seem to value social media and the future of marketing. But now that I’m older and have been in the workforce, I do recognize that I benefitted from my education.
The other thing is—there’s no way to know if I would have reached FI sooner. Technically I could’ve saved more and had more years of earning income if I never went to school.
However, there is no way to know for certain I’d find financial independence and dividend investing. So I’d say my education was worth it overall.
In addition to Business Marketing, I completed two certificates as a requirement to work in the investment industry. I completed the Canadian Securities Course and Conduct Practices Handbook.
I work in digital communications for a publicly traded Canadian company. I respond to e-mails and chats currently, and I previously responded to social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook.
Essentially, it’s a customer service role. I am salaried to work 37.5 hours per week. But with the commute and lunch, I probably lose an extra 15 hours per week.
As for using skills obtained in the role, the answer is yes. Similar to how I am with blogging, I pursue my career with the same focus on trying to learn more about topics I’m interested in.
My current role is beneficial to learn about how to communicate on digital platforms. I gain experience that could be beneficial for work from home roles in the future, and I will eventually leverage the experience gained to sell services.
For example, answering social media for a publicly traded company, and building a social media community on Reverse The Crush can eventually be leveraged to sell social media strategies.
This is just one idea, though. I will likely start a side creative business eventually to leverage my experience.
I benefited from the knowledge gained during my time working in the investment industry as well. It helped me learn about margin for trading, which led me to day trading for 4 months of my year off.
The year off
As for the year off, it actually wasn’t planned and was out of line with my normal behaviour. I will elaborate more on this below…
Anyways, shortly before I quit and eluded the 9-to-5 for a year, I was paper trading crude oil ETF’s for practice on my way to work. I would typically earn more trading than I would while at work all day. That experience definitely got me thinking.
I wasn’t happy with the long commute and I was feeling directionless in the role, which was an investment representative for a stock broker. On top of that, there was some other shit going on in my life making matters worse.
Then it just happened. One day I woke up and decided I wasn’t going back.
It was really not a smart decision financially, but it led me to blogging and the concept of financial independence.
Let’s get on to it, Reverse The Crush!
One of the first posts I read some years ago was your great guest post where you described why you quit 9 – 5. Can you tell Route 2 FI’s readers more about your decision to quit back in 2016? What did you learn and would you do it again?
Damn. Yes…I can elaborate on this.
I remember the exact day I wrote that post and where I wrote it like it was yesterday. It was at a coffee shop in the West end of Toronto.
And frankly, I never actually mentioned the real reason I quit in that post. I alluded to it but never mentioned it specifically.
The truth is that I was going through anxiety and depression. I was diagnosed and was instructed to take depression medication. I never did, though. I decided to take a year off and deal with it face to face instead.
I knew myself enough to know I needed time to think, and that I needed to spend time on what I enjoy to help myself. I needed better health and a happier lifestyle. Not medication.
There was a number of different factors that caused the depression and anxiety: unhappiness with work, personal relationship issues, poor health, poor diet, failed business attempt and a loss of an identity. Then it got extended when my grandparents passed away. In truth, it was a rough couple of years.
Anyways, I’m not trying to make you feel sorry for me. Please don’t. I’m fine now.
But at the end of the day, my year off taught me about what matters most in life: time, family, friends and doing what you love.
I alluded to it in my guest post for Apathy Ends—all the superficial shit stops mattering when shit hits the fan.
On the bright side, my year off pointed me in the right direction. It made me realize that I want to spend my days blogging, investing and on my own small business.
I loved your post “The Race against Time” and it made me feel like I met my twin brother. You wrote that you rather would work 7 days a week with something you love than living for the weekends which really resonated with me. Can you tell us more about your personality and how it has shaped your life to who you are today?
Thank you! It’s always cool when others can relate to a post like this.
To be honest, I wrote this post during a time when I needed solitude and escape.
From time to time, city life can become overwhelming. Between commuting, work and all the time demands we have as adults, I almost require a day to myself once per week.
This includes people that I’m really close with. There’s almost nothing more refreshing than having a day to myself to recharge. I listen to music, blog, review my portfolio and just spend a lot of time thinking. It’s energizing.
With that said, I must admit that I wasn’t always like this. I used to be with friends all the time during school. Quiet and introverted was my main traits, but I also liked being out.
I also realized that I became more social again during my year off work. Frankly, I think the key to me wanting to be social is fulfilling work.
For example, if I spent my week blogging and feel accomplished because I published 3 new posts, all of a sudden I want to be social.
But when I’m drained from work and still have my own work on my mind, I never feel satisfied enough to want to be social. This is where the race against time concept comes in.
Your plan is to retire in 10 – 15 years. In this post you explain why you don’t have other choices than FIRE. Could you explain this for Route 2 FI’s readers? Could you also tell us about your investing strategy? And your FIRE-number?
To sum up why I don’t have a choice, I couldn’t make it to 65 working a typical career. I just can’t identify with it. The only way I’ll find fulfilling work is to work for myself, or by accomplishing a masterplan that I created.
I’ve been trying to focus on the positive side of things instead of the negative lately. Instead of the reasons why I don’t like it, I’ve accepted that the problem is myself. I’m the one that has a different perspective on life, so I don’t have expectations for others to understand or accommodate me.
Basically, I don’t have a choice because I want to control everything about my work without interruption. I want to do work I’m proud of. And I want to avoid wasting time. This is the only way I’ll achieve happiness with the work I’m doing.
In regards to my investing strategy, I am a value investor that prioritizes dividend investing. I buy blue chip stocks on dips and at a discount when possible.
My strategy is based on investing books I’ve read: The Intelligent Investor, One Up on Wall Street, and Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits. I look for companies with a history of paying and increasing dividends, low p/e ratios, increasing EPS, and solid ROE.
Also, Ifind a lot of stock picks through stock screeners, and by going through mutual funds and ETF’s. I only invest in businesses I understand.
As for my FIRE number, it does depend on a lot of factors. Like you said, a lot of things can change.
If I’m not planning to work at all, I will need a minimum of $500,000 plus to comfortably live off dividends. Probably closer to $800,000.
However, it’s more likely a combination of investing and more fulfilling work will help me reach my goal faster. Financial independence is about options at the end of the day.
Independent means is not about avoiding work to me—it’s about spending time in a way that brings the most value.
In my case, spending time in a valuable way means blogging, photography and continuing to build my investment portfolio. Furthermore, I will likely start a side business on top of the blog.
The business would offer creative services such as freelance writing, social media strategies, product photography and more. And I’d still have the blog to earn advertising and affiliate income. Those two businesses would become my new challenge.
With those 2 businesses in mind, it may be possible to elude the traditional day job sooner. Perhaps with $250,000 to $350,000, as $350,000 would generate $17,500 per year in dividend income.
With all that said, the most likely scenario now is that a part time job will allow me to do all these things while still earning income.
Most people in the world don’t have this inner drive to pursue FIRE. Where does your motivation for reaching FIRE come from? Do you think your personality type is somehow related to you being good with delayed gratification?
Great question! Yes, I definitely think my personality type is related to my pursuit of FIRE.
More than anything else, my pursuit stems on a need to create and achieve a masterplan.
I think this is because I am an INTJ, which is the personality type commonly referred to as the Mastermind or Architect.
To sum it up, I am the type of person that always asks why. I don’t just blindly believe shit because someone told me.
Since I am an independent thinker, naturally, I questioned what I wanted from life. The more I looked into it, the more FIRE and owning my time made sense.
Do you have other life goals than FIRE?
I want to accomplish something creatively.
I feel like reaching FIRE is just the beginning.
Aside from blogging and building an investment portfolio, I would say that one of my main goals is entrepreneurship. I would like to start a small creative company that helps other businesses. I like the small business vibe.
As for the meaning of life, I think it’s different for everyone, but it involves some form of purpose and responsibility.
Could you please tell us about how much you earn, spend and save a regular month? What do you think is most important in your journey to FIRE?
Damn, I don’t really share this in detail because I don’t make a lot lol.
But I guess I knew what I was getting myself into…
I realize that I will need to increase my income to reach FIRE sooner. The amount I can afford to save is the biggest factor.
In total, I made just under 47k in 2018. I have been saving approximately $500 per month after tax so far this year. My goal is to save at least $6,000. Again, I know this is not a lot for someone seeking FIRE. I should be saving 50%. However, my plan is to save more every single year.
The two most important factors on my journey to FIRE are paying myself first and being consistent with my plan. I know that this will work out if I stick to the plan.
What has been your biggest challenge in life, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge has been the situations that happened that led up to my year off work and the challenge of going back.
In fact, I even have a draft in the works about what going back to work was like. It was surprisingly difficult to adjust to. I may never fully adjust to who I was before, to tell you the truth.
I’m not as naive and not as mouldable now. That year off made me too sure of what I want and who I am. Not that I’m a bad employee or disrespectful or anything.
It’s just hard to forget the comfort and level of freedom I experienced during my year off. It makes the fake part of work that much more of a mental challenge.
But overall, I was able to persevere by taking it one day at a time, and by making time for what I cared about. I had to maintain my own identity and I required the reassurance of a long term goal like financial independence. Having a goal to work towards helps.
What are some of the most influential resources (books, blogs, podcast..) that have shaped your money mindset or financial situation? When did your interest for FI start?
My interest in money started after I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad in 2012. I was always interested in entrepreneurship and wealth, but I never understood wealth before that.
Shortly after reading that book, I became interested in investing because I didn’t have enough money saved for real estate.
I read Intelligent Investor, which is the number 1 book I would recommend if you’re going to try to select your own stocks.
In addition, I would recommend reading books by Peter Lynch and Philip Fisher to learn about investing.
Otherwise, I enjoy Dave Ramsey and Radical Personal Finance for podcasts.
And I would credit Jason Fieber from Mrfreeat33 for my interest in Dividend Investing.
There are too many other great blogs to name that I read all the time to learn and for inspiration. Here is a link to my favorite blogs.
Sidenote: I also listen to a lot of Gary Vaynerchuck for motivation, marketing and to learn about social media.
Is there an area or area(s) of your own personal finances that you’re still looking to better master and improve?
Oh for sure! I’m actually not that great with money. I’m good at allocating it and paying myself first when I get it. But I’m garbage with the rest at times lol.
I could stand to improve at taking lunches to work and cutting back on some other expenses.
As always, I am trying to improve in small steps.
You started blogging in November 2015. Was there a specific launching off point or what influenced you to go down that path?
Yeah, there was a specific launching point. I created RTC shortly after a trip to Mexico in late 2015.
In hindsight, I wish I took more time to brand and think about what I wanted to accomplish, but blogging ended up being one of the most important components of my year off.
To truly understand why, though, you would need to know that I was part of another blog in 2010 to 2012. I started another website that no longer exists with a few friends that was a borderline success until we stopped.
After that blog shut down, I began my career in the finance industry and stopped being creative altogether. I really let it go.
Though I didn’t realize it at first, I am the type that has a create or die mentality. It really seems like I don’t have a choice. Because after a few years of not being creative, I became extremely dull and like a shell of my former self.
Seeing that I was experiencing depression and about to take a year off work, blogging came back naturally.
Is there a mission statement or underlying purpose to what you intend to accomplish with “Reverse The Crush”?
The mission of RTC is to document the journey to financial independence through investing.
But I view the blog as a modern magazine that aims to honour financial independence by capturing the feeling of freedom.
My interest in having it as a creative outlet and trying to capture the essence of freedom is why I have an emphasis on photography and blogging over only the numbers. It represents how I want to spend my time.
Ultimately, I am documenting my entire journey to financial independence. I want to have the entire journey in the records so that anyone can view how I did it. I want to have snapshots of every single month until I’m there.
And to an extent, I am realizing that my goal is to prove that it’s possible for anyone on an average income to achieve FI.
Are there specific short-term and long-term goals you’re working towards with “Reverse the Crush”? Do you think you will continue writing on this blog until you’re FI?
Yes, I definitely plan to continue writing on this blog until I’m FI and beyond. I hope I never stop.
On a personal level, I am interested to see how many blog posts I can publish over my lifetime. I want to see how far I can take this and what I can do full-time.
I always want to maintain the blog as a creative outlet. However, I do plan to monetize it long term through advertising and sponsored posts.
Since I enjoy branding, I may eventually create branded products or an eBook, but I don’t think I’m there yet.
Of course, it’s possible that the blog never becomes a major cash flow stream and that’s ok. I already know it could generate income if I put in the work.
And as I mentioned earlier, I may start a creative business on the side and use the blog as a referral generator. If I do this it’s not because I’m greedy—it’s because I enjoy the work.
If you could recommend 3 of your blog posts for Route 2 FI’s readers to check out, what would those be and why?
This might be your toughest question yet. I’m torn between posts that featured the most comments, posts that share my message and personal favourites.
First, I’d say whatever my most recent dividend income update is, because that will help you understand the main purpose of the blog. Plus those posts usually get the most comments.
Second, Elite Scheming to Live Off Dividends & Blog Full-time because it explains my plan.
Thirdly, The Appalling Disrespect Towards Money because it received a lot of feedback and was featured on Camp Fire Finance.
What is your net worth and what does it consist of? Do you currently have any debt?
I am not currently sharing my net worth but it is something I will probably reveal in the future.
I guess I can tell you this, it would require a $13,000 portfolio earning a 5% yield to generate $650 in dividends annually. I’m around that mark in dividends so it gives you an idea of my portfolio size.
I also have separate cash for emergencies and I am saving for a house (maybe), so I have a little bit more than what’s in my stock portfolio.
Unfortunately, I do still have some debt. I have roughly $5,650 left on my Student loan now.
I know this doesn’t sound like the most ideal situation for a 33 year old, and I feel bad about it, but I know that consistency will pay off down the road. I will save more every year and have less debt very soon. I’ll be able to save a significant amount more once that loan is gone.
In addition, I do want to mention that taking a year off set me back a few years. I would have a lot more. My year off cost me a good chunk of money—I should have another 20k to 30k at the very least right now.
But all I can do is keep moving forward. To put it bluntly, I must get rid of debt and save the difference, reinvest all investment income and I need to earn more to achieve my FI number.
Can we make this an annual feature so I can prove that my strategy and plan works?
What is your biggest passions in life?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
Even though I love investing and business, I have always been attracted to creativity and art.
It just seems to open up another dimension of life that makes you forget about all of the more difficult times.
I get a lot of fulfillment out of the photography and design aspects of my site. I realize I’m not a professional yet, but I have a passion for improving at subjects I am naturally interested in.
Do you celebrate the milestones along the road to FIRE? How?
Yes, I celebrate by publishing blog posts every month. (Route2FI edit: Me too!)
I publish a dividend income update and a forward income projection each month to acknowledge that the portfolio is moving forward. I have also been known to celebrate how many years I’ve been blogging.
What has been the average rate of return on your investments? Do you have a strategy you will follow if the market suddenly would drop 50 %?
From 2012 to 2016 my average rate of return was 8.75%. The highest year earned more than 13%, there were 2 more double digit years, and 2 years around 4%.
Then I wasn’t really investing until the middle of 2017 again when I went back to work. Last year was my worst return year to date. It was my first down year overall.
I got smoked on ENB and a number of holdings at the end of December. But that just made me buy more. I took advantage of the dips and am up close to 14% this year so far.
If the market was to suddenly drop, I would keep buying stocks and try to average down on my existing positions. I realize that I don’t need the money for long term, and I’d be able to get higher dividend yields.
I chose this investment strategy because cashflow makes me comfortable. It’s predictable and there are dividend raises. In fact, dividend raises are one of the main reasons I chose my strategy.
Simply put, my income will increase faster than inflation each year because of raises. This will also help my returns and make it easier to achieve higher returns down the road.
Do you think anyone can become a financial independent today?
Indeed, I definitely do!
Even if you take investing out of the equation, you could save enough to be financially independent. It just comes down to values.
Technically, if you are able to save 50% of your income, you can take a year off for every year you work. It’s pretty simple when you think of it like that.
My intention is to increase my savings rate every year to eventually save 50% of my income or more.
Hopefully what I’m doing on RTC inspires others to realize they do have options, and I want people who earn an average salary to know they can reach FI too.