Today’s edition of 10 Questions comes from Freddy Smidlap. I’ve met a lot of bloggers, but not Freddy. However, I want to. This past summer when we were in NYC, I even reached out to him. While Freddy is in the state of New York, he resides nowhere near NYC, so the meeting was not to be. It will happen though at some point.
I want to meet him for two reasons:
- Freddy sounds like the type of guy who has a million interesting stories. He’s lived an unconventional life and that’s how people build interesting memories (and also acquire unusual wisdom). I really want to hear this one:
That time I drove 15 hours to Nashville and almost got killed by an angry husband.
- Freddy is a no bullsh*t kind of person. I have a feeling that if I did something stupid, Freddy would call me out. I appreciate that. You don’t get better by surrounding yourself with yes-people.
Enjoy Freddy’s answers.
Duke’s mayo goes great with fish. I ate the whole thing in one bite like in the cartoons1. About me
I’m 50 years old in 2018. I am adopted American who was adopted at birth (no orphanage even if that would make a better story) who had a normal, two-parent extremely rural upbringing in Upstate, NY. I was one of those top 1% students on all the standardized tests but didn’t have much savvy guidance on how to harness that. I went to a good school on a full scholarship and got bored and transferred and got bored with that and quit for a while to go and find out stuff about the world and life. I bummed around between Buffalo, Boston, and my hometown until I got hired as a chemical technician who paid for the rest of my Chemistry degree from a fancy northeast liberal arts school. I quit that job after I was promoted to research chemist and moved to New Orleans for a couple of years, where I mistakenly slipped and fell into a misguided and ill-fated “starter marriage.” That sh*t show lasted just a couple of years and I’ll tell anyone who will listen it’s best to get divorced when you’re dirt poor.
All that didn’t wreck my life or spirit and I met, married, and moved to Buffalo where Mrs. Smidlap had recently bought a big-ass old house. We still live in Buffalo 15 years later and I don’t love it but it has grown on me. We have a nice life here but it doesn’t really feel like home. We don’t have any kids and that’s by choice, but we have always had boxer dogs in our house. We had two good paying jobs for a long time until last year. Mrs. Smidlap was label manager for a famous independent record label for 22 years until 2017 and I’ve been a chemist for a huge thankless corporation for 14 years now. We’re in a trial period glide path to retirement trying out life on only one income. I think that covers about 7 questions but I didn’t want to do it question-and-answer bullet point style.
2. Why make a blog?
My work situation got markedly better last year when I finally rid myself of the dreaded swing shift job. I found myself with more energy and free time as a result and was already reading a lot of personal finance blogs after i finished Your Money or Your Life and went through all the exercises within that tome. I was particularly drawn to blogs like 1500days.com and our next life because they went way beyond the usual nuts and bolts of strategy and account types and tax considerations. The psychology of how it feels to take these steps I was contemplating was intriguing to me. I thought to myself, “Self, you’ve taken an unusual path to financial independence. Maybe you should chronicle your wacky story.” The point is that outwardly we just might look like your average irreverent rock’n’roll couple who drink more wine than medically recommended, but have the backstop of being savvy savers and investors. The other reason I started my website was to learn something useful with my newfound free time. I hadn’t learned a new skill in some time and was a little stagnant in that regard. I figured “hell, I know I can put a humorous and interesting spin on some of this material so that folks might learn something while being slightly entertained.” It’s like sneaking healthy foods into your kids’ dinner in a stealth way. That was broccoli and those rubes didn’t even know!
I also wanted to learn so eventually I could write about all the crazy times I had in life. Most of the people I’ve met have told me they enjoyed these tales like That time I drove 15 hours to Nashville and almost got killed by an angry husband, or A wannabe poet came and knocked on my door at 3 a.m. and stayed for the week. I didn’t want to waste those bullets without knowing what the hell I was doing somewhat, so I thought that 100 bucks for 3 years of hosting was a good chance to work out the kinks and make those mistakes on a finance blog. It’s like a preseason football game for blogging. Along the way I’ve found that I really enjoy the connections from this endeavor. It was easy to separate the genuine folks from the purely selfish blogs trying to sell me something or write for search engine optimization. I would love to make a few dollars off this but I don’t have high hopes if I would have to change my style to do it. Here it is: take it or leave it. I already have a job and don’t need another one.
3. Money/ Investing/ FIRE
I would say we’ve hit a FIRE number for our basic needs and could right now comfortably spend 35k or so per year and not worry about money. We’re also not that young so social security isn’t too far off as Mrs. Smidlap is a few years older than me. Our dough really only needs to last about 10 years and that’s comforting. We kind of did the whole thing backwards in that the first 35 years of our lives was kind of like retirement and then we spent 15 lucky market years getting it straight. We weren’t straight up pimpin’ during those years but living without regard to the future. It’s a very liberating way to live but maybe not the best for career achievement because the carrot and stick don’t work in the usual way on you.
I didn’t even know our net worth until I did the exercises in YMOYL. That was about 2 years ago and I sort of went “holy crap! I think we’re about there!” A funny thing happened when I found that out. My job got better and if we lost an income, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I’m now still working for two main reasons. 1. I don’t know how I’ll spend my time in retirement. I don’t have the same passion for hobbies as my artist wife and I don’t mind coming to work at this point. It’s a pretty low-stress gig and even lower stress knowing that if they closed the place we would be fine. 2. We like good wine in our house and spend a lot of money on it. Some people have big travel dreams. I have dreams of good wine on the table at home. I guess that means we’re aiming for FartFIRE so we can have wine with our burritos. I’ll teach you how to make those for cheap in Good Eats for Cheap #3 – Black Beans. It’s a series that includes proper Dutch Oven technique.
As far as investing I invest in individual stocks. The Motley Fool helps me with finding sound investments that make up nearly half of our assets. The 401k at work is limited to funds or the whole egg would be in individual shares. If I could only own 2 stocks for the next 10 years they would be Mastercard (MA) and Rollins (ROL). I think they have lots of room to run and limited downside, but we shall see. My favorite tracking tool is a binder with a calendar and a calculator. I look at our stock holdings most days on a ticker for entertainment but only add up the whole thing every few months. With being so close to retirement (I’m writing this in August 2018) I have been moving some cheddar more towards preferred stock ETF’s and trying to raise some cash too. I wouldn’t mind having a 10% cash allocation this time next year up from 3% right now.
4. Purchases and Travel
The best splurge purchase ever in our house was a Tempur-pedic mattress about 10 years ago. We went all-in and got the real one when Mrs. Me sold a bunch of paintings all at once and a lot of little aches and pains went away. Good sleep is a glorious thing if you’ve ever been on the opposite side of that one. We travel to New Orleans about once a year and the one overseas trip I want to take is an extended stay in the Rhone River Valley of France. I love the wines from that region and I just love the simplicity of life in general in rural France.
5. Big questions – How is the world a better place because you lived?
I can say that I might be perceived as having a hard shell because I don’t take any crap or act in a certain way because it’s expected or the average or normal. To me this is independence of thought and doesn’t mean I don’t have compassion or empathy. I just prefer a discussion in a certain tone of give and take. Otherwise it’s a soliloquy.
I’ll tell you a story from 26 years ago. I was dating a single mom named Katie at the time in my little hometown. It was fun but not very serious in that neither of us saw some super-big future. I was in-between colleges at the time and she was working for her father’s small business as a receptionist and staying along with her daughter at her folks’ place. We were sitting in a parking lot in the car on a rainy day and I asked her if the plan for the future was to stay at that job in perpetuity or if she had any bigger life plans at age 30? She just started crying (not my intent) and said she never really thought about it and I guess it sunk in that settling for auto-pilot complacency might not be ideal. She enrolled in nursing school a few months later and we parted ways soon after. Fast forward about 12 years and I was living in Buffalo and married or soon to be married to Mrs. Smidlap. I got a call from Katie completely out of the blue as we hadn’t been in touch at all for about 10 years. She told me she got her nursing degree and owned a home in Vermont and was buying a rental property soon. Her daughter was starting college and a good school and she thanked me for that little conversation in the parking lot that lit a little fire towards independence. I am proud of that one and some other people have said the same thing. “Smidlap has the ability to cut through the BS and distill something down to its core in a way that is not condescending or sanctimonious. It’s just two people having a conversation.”
Bonus: My favorite business leader today is Tobi Lutke of Shopify (SHOP). He started the company because he couldn’t find a good online retail platform to sell his snowboards. Instead he saw a problem and solved it with a retail solution that is growing by leaps and bounds. I’ll stick with him unless something changes and might reach FartFIRE quicker than I thought if it all works out.
Thanks Freddy for the fun post.
And Freddy, I look forward to drinking wine and eating pizza (sans anchovies) with you in the near future.
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