10 Questions with the Mad FIentist

Today is the 26th edition of our periodic guest post series called 10 Questions and a Pizza Place. (The 1500′s are pizza fanatics.) We have a list of 17 questions we pose to fellow financial bloggers, and they are free to pick and choose 10 or answer all 17. Let us know if you would like to be featured in a future edition of 10 Questions.

Today’s 10 Questions features the Mad FIentist. The Mad FIentist is one of the most intriguing people in the financial independence blogging realm. He is wrapping up a free Master’s degree from an Ivy League institution. After he completes that, you may think he’s going to work at a Silicon Valley startup or even launch his own company. Wrong! He’s going to retire and travel the world. Go Mad FIentist!

When you visit the Mad FIentist, there are two things I want you to pay special attention to:

  • Financial wizardry: The Mad FIentist has all kinds of creative and smart ideas for hacking your finances. Here is one of my favorites where he discusses hacking your health savings account. Who knew?
  • Podcasts: The Mad FIentist interviews some of the biggest fish in the Financial Independence world. On your next road-trip, turn off the music for a bit and tune into some of the Mad FIentist’s interviews.

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Tell me about your blog and why it’s great.

My blog is focused on the pursuit of financial independence (which is what the FI stands for in fientist) and explores ways to achieve FI as quickly as possible.

Most personal finance advice is geared towards people on the standard work-until-65 track and therefore isn’t optimal for those pursuing early financial independence. I research and write about a variety of topics (e.g. tax avoidance, travel hacking, geographical arbitrage) to help people achieve financial independence as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I also produce a podcast, the Mad Fientist Financial Independence podcast, where I interview others who have achieved early financial independence to find out how they did it. I’ve had the privilege of speaking with incredible people like Mr. Money Mustache, Jim Collins from JLCollinsNH.com, and Mike from LackingAmbition.com and have picked up some great friends and excellent advice in the process (look out for an interview with the 1500’s soon)!

Like Mr. 1500, I’m a professional software developer so in addition to the blog and the podcast, I also write software for people to use on the journey to financial independence. I actually just released a new web application (The FI Laboratory) that allows you to easily track your progress to financial independence and early retirement!

As far as why my site is great, I’ll just link to a very kind article Mr. 1500 wrote about my site a couple of months ago (thanks!): Blogs I Dig – Mad Fientist

What’s your favorite tip for saving money?

I still owe the Mad FIentist


Have a goal that’s so big and exciting that it makes you not want to spend money on anything that doesn’t contribute to that goal.

Over the years, as I’ve pursued financial independence, I’ve been so focused on my goal to achieve FI as quickly as possible that I really haven’t bought anything. I’ve instead used all of my excess money to get closer to that goal.

When you get out of the habit of buying things, you actually find that you no longer want things. I’m a terrible person to buy gifts for these days because there really isn’t anything I want.

What is the worst financial mistake you made?

I’ve actually made a few in my day.

After graduating from college, my wife (then girlfriend) and I wanted to buy a house but we didn’t have any money so we got a 95% mortgage and then borrowed the rest from her parents. Luckily, we did it during the housing boom and we were able to sell the house less than three years later (right at the peak) for over 50% more than we bought it for. Had all of that taken place a few years later though, it would have been a much different story.

The money we got from selling the house went into our second mistake. I was so excited to invest that money into the market that we decided to use an investment manager to invest the money for us. I can’t remember the specifics but I’m pretty sure he just picked the funds that paid him the biggest commissions and had performed best over the last few years. The fees were insane and the market tanked shortly after we invested so it wasn’t a good situation.

We rode out the crash, even though we were getting killed by all the fees, and then sold after the prices almost fully recovered. We lost a bit from that mistake but we learned an important lesson: never trust anyone else with your money.

What kind of car do you drive?

I hate cars. If I never had to own one again, I wouldn’t (I plan to design the next stage of my life so that I don’t have to).

My current car is a failed car-buying experiment. In an effort to figure out the optimal used-car price range, I decided to start at the low end first so I bought a 1997 Toyota Rav4 for less than $5,000.

While it has lasted over 3 years, been driven over 30,000 miles, and has been great for the snowy conditions here in Vermont, it is very close to completely falling apart now. The entire underside is rusting away, gas pours out when I try to fill the tank too fast, and exhaust comes out of places it shouldn’t.

My wife’s car (i.e. the second car in the experiment) has worked out far better. We bought a 2008 Toyota Matrix for under $8,000 and that has been running great for years and still looks like new.

What is your favorite movie?

I don’t have a favorite but I’ll give you my top three.

In Bruges – This dark comedy has it all: hilarious Irish humor, great music, superb acting, and it’s all set in a beautiful city (Bruges) in one of my favorite countries to visit (Belgium).

Good Will Hunting – I’m fascinated by extreme intelligence and love interacting with people who are smarter than I am. One day, I hope to study at MIT so that I can hang around some of the brightest people in the country. Good Will Hunting is about a guy I’d like to hang out with.

Star Wars – I’d hate to come off as geeky but this is one of my childhood favorites and really, what is cooler than a light saber?

Mac or PC?

Mac*, all the way. I actually used to be anti-Mac because I couldn’t understand why anyone would spend double on a Mac when you could buy a PC.

I got a MacBook Pro when I started at my current job though and I have to say, I’ll never go back. I actually feel sad inside when I see other people using PCs because I know how much better their lives could be if they made the switch.

Dogs or Cats?

Dogs. The unwavering love and devotion you get from a dog is unmatched.

I recently overheard a conversation between two of my friends who own both dogs and cats. They said that while they have no doubt both their dogs and cats would eventually eat them should they die in their homes, at least the dogs would exhaust all other food supplies in the house first. The cats, they feel, are actually hoping for death and are just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

My wife and I actually don’t have any dogs or cats at the moment; we have a pet snake (a Rosy Boa) named Arthur.

What are your biggest goals in life?

My biggest goal is that I would like to write and release an album. My brother is a semi-professional musician so I’d love to write an album with him at some point. After I achieve financial independence and quit my job, I imagine most of my free time with be spent playing around with synthesizers, guitars, pianos, and drum machines.

By the time I finish the album though, I’ll probably be a bit old and uncool so I’ll probably have to dress up like the Daft Punk robots or something so that nobody knows.

What was your favorite job?

In high school, I worked in a bar/restaurant on a lake. A lot of my friends worked there so it didn’t really feel like work and it had pool tables, arcade games, etc. so it was a fun spot to hang out at after getting off of work.

The best part though was that I had a few friends with boats that lived close by so most nights after work, I’d go down to the dock, get picked up by my friends, and we’d go hang out and drink beer on the lake.

It was a lot more fun than the computer programming I do now.

What is your favorite pizza place (I am a pizza nut)?

My favorite pizza place of all time is a small villa in southern Portugal that my wife’s family and I stayed in last summer. It had its own outdoor pizza oven and my brother-in-law used it to make the most amazing pizza I have ever had in my life.

I don’t know if it was the homemade sauce, the homemade dough, the fresh, locally-bought chorizo and basil we used to top it, or the fact that the pizza was slightly smoked from the wood-fired oven but it was by far the best pizza I’ve ever had.

Since that pizza isn’t really something that can be recreated, I’ll give you another.

When my wife and I visited New York, our friends took us to Grimaldi’s in DUMBO and it was amazing. Not only were the pizzas topped with a lot of basil (my favorite pizza topping), the restaurant had a mafia vibe (the owner even came over and patted me on the back of the neck, Godfather-style), which definitely enhanced the entire experience.

I had a lot of fun answering these questions so thank you very much for having me, Mr. and Mrs. 1500!

The pleasure was all ours. Be sure to visit the Mad FIentist at his blog, on Twitter and throw him a Like over on facebook.

*Virtual high five! I had the same thought about Macs until I got one. Seven years later, my Macbook is still chugging along and is barely showing its old age.

**The Mad FIentist has very good taste in fermented beverages***.

***I still owe you Mad FIentist. I’m not sure when or where, but I will even it up.

Join the 10s who have signed up already!

Subscribing will improve your life in incredible ways*.

*Only if your life is pretty bad to begin with.

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19 Responses to 10 Questions with the Mad FIentist

  1. Lucas says:

    Thanks for the interview. Always learn something interesting!

    Totally random comment, but if you need a cheap exhaust fix I have found that
    “custom exhaust” shops are the way to go. Most of the leaks happen at the flanges connecting the different pieces of the system. The mechanic quoted me $2400 to replace the exhaust on my used 99 subaru (250k miles) because they couldn’t remove the flanges on only one piece at a time (too rusted out), and the custom exhaust shop charged me $200 to replace the exhaust joints with some straight pipe and weld them back on. Will probably outlast the car at this point 😉

    • Mad Fientist says:

      Thanks for the tip, Lucas! We’re actually in the process of selling all of our things before moving abroad so I’m just hoping the car keeps running for another month or so before we get rid of it. Good to know for future cars though, if for some reason I’m forced to get another one 🙂
      Mad Fientist recently posted…JD Roth – Get Rich SlowlyMy Profile

  2. Eric says:

    I’d just like to say that I’m not sure I’ve seen a more appropriate name for Mad FIentist’s blog. I picture him laughing evilly surrounded by beakers and collanders as he concocts his articles.
    Eric recently posted…Daddy, How Do Banks Make Money???My Profile

  3. “Have a goal that’s so big and exciting that it makes you not want to spend money on anything that doesn’t contribute to that goal.”

    Do you know how long I’ve been trying to come up with a perfectly succinct way of saying this? People don’t understand why I would give up certain luxuries (new cars / fancy big houses, the newest phone, etc) for this goal I have of early retirement. But Mad FIentist says it perfectly. Our goal of early retirement is so awesome and tingle-inducing, it makes spending money on anything else seem anti-climactic.
    Laura aka Mrs Nickels recently posted…Moment of the Week: A Case of Mistaken IdentityMy Profile

  4. It’s generally tough to go to Mad FIentist’s website for the first time and NOT learn something that will end up saving you a decent chunk of change, and generally without huge amounts of effort. For that, we still owe him a beer, and he’ll have to come to FL to collect since we won’t be able to make FinCon this year. =)
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted…He Said She Said: 2014 Berkshire Hathaway Annual MeetingMy Profile

    • Mad Fientist says:

      Oh no, I’m sad to hear you’re not going to be there this year. Last time I spoke to you, it sounded like you would possibly make it but I guess not now.

      We’ll be visiting some family down in Florida this summer/fall before we head abroad so I look forward to having a beer or two with you then 🙂
      Mad Fientist recently posted…JD Roth – Get Rich SlowlyMy Profile

  5. Jon says:

    MF’s Roth IRA Conversion Ladder strategy should earn him a Nobel Peace Prize! 🙂 Great interview…his podcasts are good ( time to interview 1500 Daze ) and he seems like a fine fellow.

    • Mad Fientist says:

      Thanks a lot, Jon! I agree that it’s time to interview Mr. and Mrs. 1500 so hopefully we’ll be able to arrange something for when I see them in person later this year (it’d be great to enjoy a nice beer or two together while we record it)!
      Mad Fientist recently posted…JD Roth – Get Rich SlowlyMy Profile

  6. Grimaldi’s is a great experience. Didn’t quite crack my top list, but definitely high up there!
    Dave @ The New York Budget recently posted…Volunteering Accomplished: NYC Park CleanupMy Profile

  7. Great interview. It helps to see what other people are doing.
    No Nonsense Landlord recently posted…Renter Horror Story – Bernard the Strangler My Profile

  8. Even Steven says:

    Many people churn out the same personal finance advice(Save more, spend less, earn more), but I definetly have learned a few things from the MadFI, always making me think. Thank you both for the post/interview.
    Even Steven recently posted…Only 12,000 Days till I RetireMy Profile

  9. Jacob says:

    Great interview! I am totally on the level with setting big, awesome goals. That is how I help my financial coaching clients STOP wasting money. Everything else disappears into the rearview when you have some SUPER COOL thing you are working toward.

    And I hear you on buying too much house. We’re there, and working on a plan to get out and use the equity to work toward our own financial independence.

    Look forward to meeting you at FinCon this year!
    Jacob recently posted…Man Risks His Life Everyday Driving A Used CarMy Profile

    • Mad Fientist says:

      Hey, thanks a lot, Jacob!

      Good luck with selling your house when you eventually get around to it. Our current house has been just the right amount of house for us but we’re now in the process of selling because we’ll be moving abroad soon. I’m so sick of dealing with real estate transactions that I think we’ll just rent furnished places from now on!

      I look forward to meeting you in New Orleans as well!
      Mad Fientist recently posted…JD Roth – Get Rich SlowlyMy Profile

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