The Story of becoming a Financial Gladiator
Here is my story on how I became financially independent and semi-retired during my mid-thirties. Today I choose to work rather than having to do so to pay for my lifestyle. Whilst I choose to continue to work I am not forced to. A steady income stream pays for my bills, my travel addiction, and my continuous savings are covered. These days I am my own boss and focusing on projects that improve peoples’ lives significantly while growing and generating new passive income streams. Even after a year an a half of being ‘unemployed’ I don’t dismiss going back to the corporate world to work a little more should the right opportunity present itself and should I have the time to commit to a full time job again. I didn’t mind working in the corporate world, though I minded how restricting it could be depending on the boss u had.
Over my lifetime I was lucky enough to have met quite a few exceptional people that truly inspired me including artists, corporate top executives, business owners, philanthropists, sports people, and of course my family who love doing what they do and each in their own style found a way to escape the established ‘system’. They all in one way or another inspired me, willingly or unwillingly, to eventually put my career on hold and follow my heart to try succeeding a different way. It took me a well over a decade though to save up enough of a nest egg to feel comfortable enough and to pull the trigger on getting out.
Our Modern System of Life sucks and We All Feel It
At age 34, I had a spent 13 years in a very demanding information technology job working my way up to the senior management level in one of the largest software houses on the planet. I regularly worked 12hrs a day, often 16hrs and even 20hrs. I slept on planes and hotels more often than I can count rather than my comfortable bed at home, regularly spending well over half a year on the road, mostly internationally. During my corporate career, working at a great company with amazing colleagues and customers, with a jet-setter lifestyle (and spend), and working with some of the most influential businesses and their leaders around the world, there wasn’t much time to reflect on the meaning of life. It was convenient to follow the masses, keep consuming and keep spinning wheels – but something was off. I started to feel a growing void and uncertainty within me. My belief system started to slowly crumble and I told myself “This can’t be it” – I started feeling a desire to get out, to get out of the only system that I have known and that kept me so busy for almost 30 years: Work hard for somebody and a lot, play a little occasionally, sleep trying to recover – do it again – forever. All around me I saw most of my friends and colleagues living at the edge of their means thanks to lifestyle inflation, taking huge bank loans, tying themselves to a need to work to service their loans for decades. If that wasn’t enough our political leaders are putting our countries in huge debt, year over year, and ever increasing taxes to service central banking loans all around the world.
I started questioning everything. Was I supposed to buy a home and take a loan, too? Everybody else did. Should I keep working this hard till I die? I have seen colleagues die at work because of heart attacks and cancer. Would I even make it to retirement age to see my forced retirement contributions paid out? What will the retirement age be in 30 years? Life expectancy is on the rise. Why am I forced to participate in a retirement scheme set up by my government which usually generates below market returns? How much money do I need to have to be happy and what is it actually that makes me happy? Why do people make suboptimal financial decisions and why do bankers, insurers and their agents ‘fool’ people over and over again with hoax financial products while regularly getting away with it? Wait a second, why the hell wasn’t I taught how to manage my finances and investments at high school? Shouldn’t this be part of the standard curriculum? Are we all made to be modern slaves under the direction of central bankers that control banks, corporations, and governments today?
There a times I regret I didn’t live more frugally earlier on as I only learnt to appreciate each dollar earned once I quit my high paying job. I was so used to the conveniently arriving pay check every month, I even forgot what day pay day was. I could have semi-retired five years earlier if I had known what I do today then. For 13 years I was mostly spending, never budgeting, never tracking my expenses, actively saving or investing. I didn’t see the right opportunities also, but I could have done a lot better, had I taken the time to try. Instead of being frugal I did quite the opposite – I threw my money at quick weekend getaways to tropical places, luxurious travel, fast cars, distracting and fun activities, bars, and recovery activities such as massages, various sports, and scuba diving. I justified the high spend to myself as a necessary counterbalance to the fast paced highly stressful corporate life I was having.
We are all comparing our lives with our colleagues, friends, family, and neighbours based on what we see. We often are forgetting however that most of what we see is really owned by banks and the people that claim they purchased it forgot to mention that they now work to service their debt with their master – the bank. I, for one, did not want to participate in enriching banks even further especially after what they caused during the global financial crisis in 2008. I felt so disappointed by the banking industry, that I would even refuse the work for them out of principle – no way I was going to optimise their costs and profits during my IT days. For me integrity, freedom, health, and happiness took priority over material consumerism and serving banks.
Fight for your Freedom
The last few years of my career I truly focused on finding a way to get out of the rat race and started crunching the numbers for the first time. Before I even heard of the “4% rule”, or the FIRE community (financially independent and retired early), I calculated that if I would invest my savings at an effective 3,5% return I would be fine living a very good life in a developing country or a simple but good one in a developed country – it didn’t matter to me to reduce my living standards but be fully free – to be honest it did do me well to get down from my high horse when it came to my previous spend. Additionally there would be all the time in the world to focus on building additional revenue streams slowly to bolster the nest egg and give me purpose. I didn’t have the one million dollars saved up most other financial independence bloggers aim for with a 4% return but I also didn’t believe that 4% would be enough to cover my needs wanting to start a family in the near future with my partner. I was aiming for higher returns with less capital and I definitely didn’t want to invest in the stock market at an all time high. Another way had to be devised.
I looked for opportunities across several countries on where to invest my cash holdings – Poland would be my best bet, I assessed in 2015. Then, a newly elected nationalistic government prompted a plummeting in Foreign Direct Investments and business confidence for a short period of time and consequently the exchange rate for the Polish Zloty dropped significantly. Since I studied my bachelor’s degree in Poland I knew the market well and when the exchange rate hit a 10 year low I decided to exchange my dollars and invest into the local real estate market in a second-tier city with huge growth potential. Because I factored the exchange rate in I had an almost instant gain of 20% on my exchange savings plus I bought at the end of a seven year stagnating real estate market post the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) which I was counting on commencing to grow again. Now I was ready and risked leaving behind everything I knew, a stellar career, and a big pay cheque to become a real estate investor purchasing a number of high-end apartments with aim to rent them out long-term to an affluent clientele. I admit that I was on the edge not knowing anything about real estate and quitting my corporate safety net. In retro perspective, however, it was one of the best decisions in my life. It was not the first time I threw myself into the deep end having to learn to swim on the fly so I was confident I could pull this one off to. On the other side I threw my life savings into the mix and that was truly new to me. Today my assets appreciated well over 20% in two years (all funny money until it’s sold though) and I’m living off a generous 6.5% return that will very unlikely drop in the future generating some 3,500USD a month after applicable taxes and all maintenance fees for my properties. In comparison the same amount of cash lying around in a well managed savings account generated a mediocre 300USD a month – now you know why I consider the debt orientated banking industry as one of the biggest obstacles to financial freedom. Just like you should steer away from hospitals and doctors if you want to enjoy a healthy life, you should steer away from banks to enjoy a healthy financial life.
Once I had set-up my passive income stream from the real estate operation I decided it was time to really focus on my health – I was overweight at the time and battled with psoriasis for over 10 years especially in times of stress. It was high time to change this. I have been loving scuba diving so much that I dreamt for years to become a diving instructor and teach my passion to others living at the sea and being in the water every day. Within a few months of training and working across dive shops in Indonesia I did manage to become an instructor, lose all excess kilograms and my skin recovered fully for the first time since the problems occurred during my past career.
Today I’m living a simpler and slower life on a beautiful island in Spain in an employer paid for accommodation and my effective absolute monthly savings equate pretty much the savings generated in my high paying but stressful IT job with the difference that I feel healthy, fit, relaxed, time-rich and do what I love the most: helping, teaching people, and scuba diving.
For Freedom and to Live Your Dreams,
Your Financial Gladiator
About: This Financial Gladiator retired early at age 34 by investing most of his savings in a small real estate portfolio in Eastern Europe. Today he saves approximately 75% of his income while roaming the world and occasionally teaching as a Scuba Instructor on tropical islands. It helps him to keep fit while doing what he loves – teaching, traveling, and scuba diving. He called quits following a successful 13 year career in Information Technology throughout which he saved between 30-40% of his net income annually. Before he quit he positioned himself in a role he suspected was going to be made redundant eventually. The day arrived quickly and he ensured not to leave without a retrenchment package reducing the need to work and save 3 more years. His real estate portfolio draws a return high enough to pay him twice his annual expenses, allowing him to continue to build up his retirement portfolio while enjoying 100% freedom today.
Disclaimer: All information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional financial advice.