In today’s 10 Questions, I present The Frug! Enjoy!
Hello, My name is Brad, a.k.a. “The Frug.” I was given this nickname by my wife Kelly. The nickname Frug, as in frugal guy, was largely in response to my frugal ways. I’ve been frugal for a long time, pretty much since I started a lawn cutting business in eighth grade. So, after many dates in dive bars and very affordable restaurants, sometimes with actual coupons, Kelly knew what she was getting into. The Frug nickname stuck so I grabbed the URL.
Why did I start my blog?
I started my blog thefrug.com back in 2013 before I discovered the FIRE movement. I wanted to get my thoughts down and simply share my frugal ways. I was inspired by bloggers like The Minimalists, Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Nonconformity), and Tim Ferriss. What all of these writers have in common is approaching life from a different perspective, abandoning the 9 to 5, and discovering real freedom. My writing is focused on three areas inspired by their books and blogs; Living Lean, Working Lean, and Traveling Lean. I feel that writing and sharing new ideas is a way I can serve the community and pass on some knowledge to my kids. I auto-subscribed both boys to my email list, and we have occasional Frugal quizzes, especially with the college student. Well, It’s more like me just blabbing the answers at him.
What has surprised me about blogging?
I’d been working in marketing and advertising for nearly 30 years, but still felt like I’d never created anything unique. Blogging has given me the opportunity to share my thoughts through writing and photography. Writing anything longer than a tagline has always been difficult for me, so blogging has really helped me more from a creative perspective than I originally intended. The coolest thing about blogging is discovering like-minded people. I found the financial independence movement through writing about life, work and, travel. It continues to open up a whole world of possibilities.
Is your goal financial independence? If so, where are you on the journey?
I was lucky enough to stumble upon Vicki Robbins’ book, Your Money or Your Life in 1994. The concept of freedom from traditional work inspired me so much that I started my own company in 1995. I continued to work and save, taking advantage of tax deductions available to S-Corps to turbocharge my savings. After an amazing 10 years I reluctantly accepted a buyout offer from my business partner in 2005 and took a year off.
After reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss in 2006, I decided to start my own one person,
Where do you live? Do you love it, hate it, or just meh.
I live with my wife and two sons in Arlington Virginia. We love it here. We were fortunate enough to purchase our home in 1998 before the housing bubble. The public schools are some of the best in the nation and we are just two and a half hours from the Atlantic Ocean or the Blue Ridge Mountains. In fact, there’s a bike trail just outside our back door that was converted from an old railroad line that runs nearly uninterrupted all the way from Washington, DC to the Shenandoah River. Many other local trails link to the historic C&O Canal, a 185-mile epic bike trail.
Arlington is one of the most walkable and bike-friendly cities in the country and we take advantage of the many trails, national parks, and monuments in this area. We have three major airports within a one hour drive, which is great for travel hacking. Of course, the big drawback is the cost of living. One thing I’ve noticed about every cost-of-living calculator is that they weigh very heavily towards housing costs. What’s not accounted for in many of these calculators are folks who bought their house, paid down their mortgage, and were able to house hack along the way. If you can solve the housing cost issue than things like transportation (stop commuting), groceries, entertainment (sans fanciness), and other expenses are within a few percentage points of less expensive cities like Raleigh NC. In fact, with a little bit of grocery hacking at Costco and Trader Joe’s, we can keep our food costs in line with other areas.
Rent or Own?
Own. Between 1988 and 1998, I owned, lived in, and house hacked homes in Frederick, MD, Raleigh, NC, Annapolis, MD, and Washington, DC. I was being relocated to these cities for my job so all of the closing costs for these homes were covered, as well as selling costs, including agents commission. In each property I’d have at least one roommate and then generally sold the house when I moved on. My only regret was not hanging onto some of these properties. Some have now quadrupled in value. I never really enjoyed managing tenants, especially from a distance, also all of the corporate relocation benefits, designed for families, were a pretty strong incentive to buy and sell. They even gave me a month salary bonus for “decorating.” I was single at the time, so no new curtains for this guy. I invested it. I think those days are over in corporate America. House hacking and real estate were definitely a big part of my FIRE journey. Through my first startup, I was able to invest in a 13,000 sq. ft. office building creating an separate LLC of which I’m currently a 41% owner. Over the years real estate has helped me smooth out the bumps in our FI journey. Even during the 2008 financial crisis, I remember looking at my home and being very happy that I owned it.
Are you leanFIRE or fatFIRE or fartFIRE?
I am definitely going to go with FART FIRE. At first glance you see the words live lean, work lean and travel lean and you think The Frug must be some super frugal lean fire guy. Unfortunately, living in Arlington, VA and having a family, including a son in college, sort of knocked me out of that category immediately. I look at some of the other bloggers spending $28,000 a year and I say “Damn, that’s less than my self-employed health care plan and HSA account spending.” I’m also going with Fart Fire because I still like to drink oddball craft beers, eat Mexican food, and barbecue, mostly in dive bars. My wife and I still do date nights on Saturdays and I have a group of friends that I meet up with about once a week on Thursdays. The time with my family and friends is extremely important to me and worth a little bit of gas. Not the kind you buy at Exxon.
Our other big spending category is travel. Our family travels about four weeks a year and our boys have been on an international journey just about every year of their lives. Except that one year we had to go to Disney. I’ve been into travel hacking since the get-go and at one point had hundreds of thousands of points being generated every few months using multiple corporate cards from Chase and American Express. We are still big into the travel points hacking and only need to add a new Chase card every two or three years when the really big 80K+ point offers come around. Mexico is our favorite destination. Again, Fart Fire.
How do you stay fit?
I have to say that fitness (not farting) is one of the biggest reasons I pursued FIRE before I even knew the term. While successful, my old company was a pressure cooker, battles with my business partner were common and really took their toll on my mental health and blood pressure. I knew that I was done at age 44. I also knew that I wanted to live my life differently, running my own company from home with a focus on at least one hour a day of exercise. When I worked in an office, I was lucky if I got to the gym two or three times a week, with maybe a long bike ride on the weekends. Now I bike frequently and do a one-hour hike, combined with a 20-minute workout on weekdays. My workout includes eight minutes of high-intensity interval training a.k.a. Tabata training using weights, a heavy bag and a pull-up bar in my basement. I also get to blast 80s post-punk for the entire workout. I have Tim Ferris to thank for my low-carb diet and high-intensity fitness routine (4 Hour Body) and my business strategy, The 4 Hour Workday (never quite made it to the 4 hour work week, but someday)
What is your investing strategy? Stocks? Index funds?? Real estate??? Crypto????
I like to say I’m a lean investor. Lean investing is a minimalist approach to creating an investment portfolio that reduces taxes, increases returns, eliminates excessive fees and most importantly is basically hands-free. In the 90s, I used to subscribe to a no-load, low fee, mutual fund newsletter. I understood the low fee part but it took me a while to stumble upon an even simpler strategy, primarily made up of very low fee index funds. Around 2014 I started reading Jim Collins’ Stock Series and started applying his simple Vanguard index fund strategy. In my case, I was able to find Fidelity Spartan index funds which, at the time, had equal or lower fees than Vanguard. Over the years, Fidelity has continued to lower fees, changing the name of the funds several times in the process. We invest in four index funds: total stock market, total bond market, REIT Index,
Do you track your spending? If so, how?
A few months after reading Your Money or Your Life for the second time in 1995, I started using Quicken to track my spending, automatically downloading all of my banking and investment transactions. I remember buying the Quicken for Dummies book because there were a lot of bells and whistles with Quicken. Back then it wasn’t that easy to download investment transactions. It had about a 70% success rate. Over the years the software has definitely gotten better. It’s great to have over 20 years of financial transactions available at my fingertips. I can compare my current spending to 10 years ago or 20 years ago. I can look at the growth of my investments and net worth over decades and how they performed versus major market corrections. No spreadsheets required. I also use Personal Capital but I’ve stuck with Quicken primarily for the free integrated bill pay. Once a month I can quickly reconcile all my accounts and pay any bill directly from Quicken. This is essential for FIRE because we are selling off a small number of shares each month and moving cash from Fidelity to our checking account via free transfers. We can see all of the brokerage account, HSA transfers, and scheduled payments so we can have a forward look at our spending and account balances. In doing this, the budgets are created automatically. For budgeting, I like to use the philosophy of beat last year and we’ve been doing that since 2008, measuring our progress against the previous years spending and beating it.
What appeals to me most about the FIRE movement is the independence element. My sister once told me that my dad had a dream of moving to Mexico and spending his days painting in a small town. He never got that chance, he passed away at age 58 about the same age as both of my grandfathers, three of my uncles, my wife’s father and two brothers in law. At some point, many owned their own businesses and worked till the day they died. Not a great longevity track record, although many of the women in the family lived into their 90s. They were doing something right. Even though I’m hardwired as an entrepreneur, I want to make sure that it doesn’t take over my life, take time away from my family, and our adventures. When I became financially independent in 2013, I felt like I needed a big audacious guest, something I could master, something I was willing to invest 10,000 hours to learn. I also looked for something that I was passionate about in high school but never pursued: photography. After some crazy calculations on the back of a napkin, here’s what I wanted to get from those 10,000 hours. My 10-year quest looks like this: 10,000 photographs published online 1,000 places explored 100 cities 10 years in the making 1 amazing journey to share I am five years in and over halfway there. Warning: this is not traditional travel photography. I like to think of it as if our dog was taking the pictures with a
Thanks for the questions. If you want to follow me or get updates on our journey, here’s where you can find us.
- Blog: TheFrug.com
- Twitter: @The_Frug
- Flickr: flickr.com/photos/bradbeckstrom
- 500PX 500px.com/bradbeckstrom
Thanks so much for your answers Brad! See you again at FinCon 2019?
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