Today’s 10 Questions comes all the way from Serbia! Please welcome HALT CATCH FIRE!
There are approximately 476,492,292,928 personal finance blogs last time I checked. Why should we read yours?
Oh, this is easy, I am a white male software engineer and I heard you can get very successful with such a background in this corner of the internet. Just kidding. What makes my blog a little bit different is my perspective on life and the lessons I had to learn. As far as I know, I am the only one who blogs in English from Serbia. As a resident of a country which has seen some very tough decades in recent history, I have lived through some pretty weird economic and financial situations and I try to present them to the world.
What is one post that you’ve written that you wish would have gone viral?
There are two posts which I have put the most effort into researching and writing. One of them, The Pirates of the Cryptobbean, is a fun experiment to explain some basic concepts of the crypto world with pirate analogies but this post got featured on RockstarFinance so it had its 15 minutes of fame. My true candidate for “going viral” was the Three financial lessons I had to learn early on but it never really did so. I don’t know if it is not that as good as I think or I just published it too early when literally no one was reading my blog. In this post, I invite you for a little walk down the memory lane, back to the long-forgotten land of Yugoslavia.
Is there anything else you’d like to promote?
Yes, definitely. It is a project which is only in its brainstorming phase but I think it could be the biggest thing in the European FIRE scene and I am proud that I could be part of it. The great Mr. RIP called us to action to bring the European Early Retirement Guide into existence. It will be the collection of all the data and information a FIRE seeker would be interested in about any European country. I cannot wait to see this becoming a reality.
Where do you live? Do you love it, hate it or just meh.
I was born and raised in Serbia but I am a member of the Hungarian minority over here. After studying in Hungary for ten years, I moved back and currently living in the northern area called Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. I neither hate nor love living here; meh is a perfect description. Living in this area has its perks, but also has its problems (mostly political/economic/financial). Many folks are leaving the country these days in search of a higher standard of life and financial stability. According to the latest statistics, the average take-home salary in Serbia is around 400€/month and the minimum wage is roughly half of that amount. It is true that the cost of living is lower than in western countries but not that much lower. Because of this, Serbia is not a very good choice for someone who wants to build wealth and reach FIRE. However, it could be a viable living or traveling choice for early retirees as you can get quality service (accommodation, food) here for much less than in the western world and you can find wonderful places all over the country.
Do you rent or own? What are your thoughts on home ownership?
We entered the homeowners club three years ago. My feelings are contradictory. While I like the feeling of owning our home, sometimes it is hard to find sense in it financially. It is a middle range family home (both in terms of size and price) and we assumed it was perfect and fully functional. Then through these three years, we had to invest another 25% of the purchase price to eliminate deficiencies (adding insulation, proper water supply, kitchen remodeling, landscaping, etc) and we are still only on halfway to what I would consider as the perfect state. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret it and don’t shy away from some healthy DIY work, but most of the time it requires more investment in terms of both money and time than I expected. I think I have to get better in making estimations 🙂 Why did we choose this path then?
Well, basically this was our only option as the real estate market is not so hot over here and acceptable rentals are very rare. By the time we were moving out of our apartment, there was exactly one ad of a house for rent in our city and even that was crappy. It is a very weird situation taking into account that how many houses are left empty because of emigration. It seems that people don’t want to risk or don’t want to bother renting out their homes for pennies. If the situation would be different we would probably be renting happily.
What do you do for a living?
I am a programmer; a web application developer to be specific. The company I work for provides software solutions for the pharma industry all over the world. Not the most interesting area you can work in but we have a great team of devs and an office with a friendly atmosphere. The job is stable and while the salary is not stellar by western standards it is fair compared to other companies in the area. I consider myself lucky as I found a profession I love and at the same time it is well compensated and in huge demand globally. If I would retire tomorrow, I would probably still code, but just work on my pet projects on my own terms.
How old are you and do you have a family?
In a couple of weeks, I will turn 34, so by definition, I am a crossover of gen X and Y (this reflects in my genes also) which is the best mixture I can imagine. We got the best of both eras. We are old enough to remember the days when our childhood wasn’t pervaded by technology but we grew into the digital age and became (almost) as fluent as millennials. We are adapting to the latest technologies perfectly (ok, maybe except social media; I will never get that totally) but will always remember how does it sound when you listen to your first program on a cassette tape (spoiler alert, it sounds horrible).
I am happily married to a wonderful woman for more than five years now (but we started dating at my 18th birthday) and we have two awesome daughters, 5 and 1.5 years old. We have very different mindsets which makes us a good team. I am both the big dreamer and the logical thinker who does the analyzing and planning (sometimes in an infinite loop) while my wife is the realist who points out the bugs and errors in my thinking. She is also the multitasker who can keep in sight everything around the house (including the kids) while cooking lunch, watching a movie and talking on the phone. Also when she gets in the mood she is frightfully efficient in getting sh*t done and even sometimes making me get sh*t done. Our daughters are also totally different. Our older one is more calm, emotional and sensible. She can spend tens of minutes playing with her dolls or drawing flowers. Our younger one is a little rocket fuel driven Duracell bunny who cannot focus on anything longer than a couple of minutes. She is headstrong and determined, a cute little tank basically. We also have a dog.
Mr. 1500 note: I LOVE the cute little tank description!
Transportation (how do you get around): car, train, bus, bike or VTOL.
All of them, except VTOL. That would be pretty unmustachian. We are a one car household by owning an eight-year-old Seat Ibiza hatchback, called Bizzy. Bought her last year for roughly $5k when we had to replace our previous one, a twenty-year-old Fiat Punto which was my wife’s car for the last thirteen years. Its consumption is pretty good, around 35 MPG but we only use it for carrying around the kids when biking is not an option and for family visits at weekends. It adds up to roughly 6-7k miles a year.
I would really like to travel by train often but our railways are crappy and unreliable. Back (I guess) in the 70’s it was pretty modern, the problem is that nothing has changed since then…
Sometimes we go by bus but just locally. For longer distances, it is cheaper and more convenient to just go by car. Most of the time we aim for walking or riding our bikes. When the weather lets me, I do my 3km (one way) commute to work by bike. On the way, I drop off my daughter at the kindergarten. In winter, I either walk or carpool. One of my coworkers, who lives in the same area, commutes by car so he gives me a lift and I pay for his lunch in exchange every now and then (not that he ever asked for it but I feel that it is a fair way of compensation).
How do you stay fit? (If you’re one of those crazy Crossfit people, please don’t tell me that I suck because I don’t do it. This has happened.)
I know, I know, this only depends on your priorities but I feel that these days I don’t really have time/inspiration/willpower for workouts. What I do is only dad fitness, carrying the girls around and running after them (hey, this could be pretty tiring).
Besides biking I try to stick to healthy eating as much as possible. One of the biggest perks of living in this area is that you have access to good quality homegrown fruits, vegetables and meat directly from the producers. We also do some gardening and around the house tasks also requires some healthy body movement.
I have a crush on kettlebells and own a smaller one, however, we have not deepened our relationship yet (my wife always tells me I should play more with my balls). This is a field I really want to have improvement in the following years. I have a dream turning into an athletically muscular guy with noticeable abs, a six-pack, some tattoos, a buzz cut (or a mohawk) and a badass beard by the time our daughters start dating because you never know…
Mr. 1500 note: There’s no time like the present to start improving your relationship with your kettlebell!
Is your goal financial independence? If so, where are you on the journey?
It definitely is, but we are just at the beginning of our journey. We are at the debt elimination and figuring out phase. I really want to kill our mortgage (our only debt) in the next two years. Along with that, we are in the process of fixing our insurance situation, dumping a whole life policy and getting appropriate term life insurance which covers the needs of the family. I wrote about my investment experience (or more precisely the lack of it) already but this has to change once the mortgage is gone and we will have a healthy amount to throw towards the market.
What is your FI number? How close are you?
I can accept the 25x multiplier concept. The only thing we have to figure out is the expected annual spending part for the future. According to our historical spending, we can live comfortably on €15k but that will probably rise as the kids grow. In a very scientific (back of a napkin) calculation, I set it for €24k which I think is a more-than-realistic scenario. So this brings us to the magic number which would be €600k. As I put in the previous answer we are on our way to reaching the zero level. Starting from there and throwing my numbers into an early retirement calc (with my current salary and savings rate) it tells me it would take 20+ years to get there. Which is kind of fine as I would be 55 by then which is still 10 years earlier than the regular retirement age. Still, I am working on accelerating this journey.
Do you tell others of your FIRE plans or are you in the closet?
As I don’t have a rock solid plan in place I don’t really talk about it but I try to spread the word about the concept of FIRE for everyone who doesn’t cover his/her ears. However, living in a lower salary area would not help to get people to buy into the idea. When most folks are focusing on financial survival. The idea of financial independence (let alone early retirement) sounds unrealistic for them and I cannot blame them. It is true that reaching FIRE is not only possible for folks with big salaries and it all boils down to percentages (spending vs savings rate) but there is a certain level where getting to a higher salary is the first necessary step.
You rub a magic lamp and an evil genie pops out and says this: “You must pick one, specific investment to have all your money in for the next decade!” What do you pick?
If I have to play the genies game I would go with the good old (and boring) index fund investing. I was reading enough about investment strategies to know that constantly beating the market is a fool’s game and if I have to pick only one investment for such a long term as a decade without any possible intermediate changes that would be the only one I would dare to drop all my money into it. The second best guess would be precious metals and/or tulip bulbs (they say that history constantly repeats itself, right?).
Evil genies aside, what is your investing strategy? Stocks? Index funds?? Real estate??? Crypto????
Frankly, I think you should have to own at least a little bit of all of them for total diversification. Probably I will start with index fund investing because that is the simplest and safest way for testing the waters. Then I want to dive into dividend growth investing by following the system of a fellow Hungarian, David Solyomi. Learning about P2P lending and real estate investing is also on my list. I like the idea of cryptocurrencies but the underlying technology and the potential usage possibilities are more appealing to me than the investment part.
What is your favorite money management tool? (Yes, you can include your affiliate link.)
I have to disappoint the app fans, but I don’t have any. I have been experimenting with budgeting tools and some expense trackers but didn’t fell in love with any of them. Maybe Thrifty (not an affiliate link) by our fellow blogger, Chris Durheim was the closest shot but it turned out that I am too lazy and forgetful to properly add every transaction by hand. A couple of months earlier I discovered that under an outlying menu option you can get to an expense tracker in my banking software but it is so buggy that I don’t know how were they able to push it into production. Tried to contact them about fixing it, no results yet but I will keep trying. Until that we have to rely on the good old pen and paper + excel combination.
What is the best thing you ever bought? The worst?
The best thing I bought was my first PC. I bought it around 1997 and I was saving for it for years. It had an AMD K6 200MHz processor, 96 Mbyte of SDRAM, a 2.1 Gbyte HDD and an S3 Virge 4Mbyte VGA under the hood. I loved that machine. It kickstarted my journey into the world of IT. I have learned how to install operating systems, drivers to get the system to use the hardware properly, how to grab CDs and convert audio files into MP3s. We were gaming a lot but that also improved many skills like installing the games themselves (and learn how to apply those nasty cracks…), transport them from one machine to another, zipping and splitting the files to fit onto a floppy disk, then merging them on the other machine. Oh, and we played mostly strategy games so we developed our tactics skills and logical thinking alongside with the English language. So that could count as not just the best but the most important purchase of my life also. The worst thing I can remember was a pair of shoes which literally fell apart the first time they got wet.
If your 18-year-old child told you this: “Parents, I want to go to a $250,000 school and study doorknob design,” what would you tell him or her?
Ok, sweetheart, the stage is yours, you have five minutes to convince me that this is a wonderful career choice, you will make the world a better place using the knowledge you will get there and you will be able to fulfill your basic financial needs working in the field. If you succeed we can start thinking about how to get that metric shitload of money 🙂 Otherwise I would try to offer her alternative options, like computer programming or underwater basket weaving.
What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?
Many years ago we visited the mountains of Transylvania with a group of friends. There was a stop which is called “Gods’ throne”. It lies around 1300 meters above the sea level and it took four hours to climb up to the top. It was a tough journey with no marked trails at some parts. Then we reached a huge flat glade where we had some rest while the tour guide was explaining that this area was an important spiritual gathering point for the chieftains and shamans of the ancient Hungarian tribes. Then I was stepping on the edge of the abyss and was staring down on the forests and mountains and the massive beauty of mother nature filled my soul with joy. It was beautiful and somehow I felt like if time has stopped there. That was a special moment in my life.
What is one thing you believe that most others do not?
I had some “serious” fights after some beers with friends about the future of the human-machine symbiosis. In my opinion, immortality could be achievable through scientific evolution. As we can see in many movies, almost all of our organs can be replaced except our brains. That is where our soul lives (yes, even your heart can be replaced). If we could find a way to enclose the human brain into a proper container, provide it with all the nutrients it needs for keeping well and alive (and even to keep it regenerating) then connect it to an artificial body (or just to the internet?) the task is done. Yeah, I know that this is the story from the movie, “Ghost in the shell” but I swear I had fights about the viability and rationality of this idea before I have seen any related movies. They explained to me that I am crazy. Am I?
Mr. 1500 note: This isn’t so far from the truth and maybe not so far in the future.
If you have a magical power that allowed you to change one set of beliefs in others, what would you choose?
I would change the attitude towards overconsumption, wastefulness, and sustainable usage of natural resources. I think these days (alongside with the last century) the biggest danger for the future of humankind is humankind itself. There is so much every Average Joe could do to lower his carbon footprint and many of these improvements do not require any special skill or money just a little bit of effort and a proper mindset.
What is something you read that changed your life?
Somehow a book found a way to me back while I was in secondary school. It was the My Way: The Way of the White Clouds by Osho. I am not a follower of any eastern religions and interestingly, the content of the book wasn’t what brought me an epiphany. It was the foreword. Unfortunately, I did not find it in English but I will try to sum it up.
The author explains that he comes from a small town in Canada where most of the folks work in the milk producing industry. Cows are kept in barns during the winter months. They don’t have any straw under them but a rubber sheet. Their heads are enclosed in a frame. They can move their heads, but can’t stand up or lay down. They can only move one step back. Cows raise their backs when they are pooping and there is also a low voltage electric wire hanging an inch above their backs. So when they try to poop, they get a small electric shock. The only way to avoid this is to step back but if they do so the dump falls directly on a conveyor belt which brings it outside. They get food two times a day and if they push a button with their nose their bowl fills up with fresh water.
Then comes the spring and the farmer decides to let the cows out of the barn. He pushes a button and the metal frames open up. The cows have no clue about what happened and just stay still. Then the farmer starts shouting at them so the cow moves one step back. They realize that nothing is keeping them back. So they take another step backward. Slowly they start to finally leave the building. The world is totally new out. There is green grass, fresh air, and sunshine. At first, it is strange but as they get used to the new situation, they get happier and happier. This is pretty similar to how society, our peers, and our own ingrained beliefs about how things should be in the world traps us in voluntary slavery. That was the start of me seeking freedom.
Elon Musk: Crazy megalomaniac or a brilliant guy who is changing the world?
He is definitely both in my opinion. I think those are right who are saying that he is the real-life Tony Stark. He has the ego, the balls alongside with good intentions. Craziness and genius walk hand in hand. Show me a great inventor, an innovator or a revolutionist who was not crazy or weird in a way. As I see there are three kinds of companies. The first type is the small one, which has all the freedom to pursue whatever it wants but is are short on resources. The second type is the huge corporation which is rich in resources but the level of freedom is very low because of the size, the bureaucracy, and strict rules. The third type is the sweet spot somewhere in between; that is where the magic happens. Then add a crazy, brilliant megalomaniac who has the balls to achieve whatever goal he desires and you have the recipe for revolutionary innovation. Of course, his creations are not perfect (just like him), but if he will achieve only half of the things he is dreaming of he will be still light years ahead of most other human beings.
Thanks again HALT CATCH FIRE!
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