The X-ray Beam: Accidental FIRE
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Welcome to another installment of the X-ray Beam series.
I came across Accidental FIRE’s website quite accidentally (how apropos) and have been hooked ever since.
Mixing personal life experiences with comedic gold (his Turnip FIRE satirical take on the FIRE community will be loved especially by those who are fans of The Onion) and personal finance topics creates a great medium that will likely convert you to a fan as well if you not already are.
If you can please give a brief introduction of yourself (age, occupation, and marital status):
I’m Dave, a late 40’s single guy who works for the federal government.
You run a very popular website, Accidental FIRE, which also happens to be a personal favorite of mine. Describe your journey to FIRE and why you consider it “accidental” that you reached it?
I’m delighted that you like my site!
In a nutshell, I was always a saver and very disciplined about money.
I’ve made lots of mistakes in life, but not too many were financial.
So after working hard for 20+ years and living below my means, I suddenly realized I might have enough to live on for a long long time without working.
And one day in my mid-40’s I discovered the FIRE community and the 4% rule, and I realized I was already financially independent!
It was accidental, thus the name.
What were some of the other names that you considered for your blog before going with this one?
I didn’t really consider any others.
The whole time I was considering starting a blog, which was a good long time, I had the name in my head.
One day I checked to see if the domain was available and it was.
So that’s what kicked me over the edge, I figured “I better grab it!”
What inspired you to start a blog? Were there any surprises along the way? Do you have any advice to individuals who may be contemplating starting a blog of their own?
My inspiration is to help others, plain and simple.
Included in that is to help people become physically healthier.
If people could get financially healthy enough to scale back on work, they’d have more time to pay attention to their physical health.
The obesity epidemic in America is only getting worse and as a person who was formerly very overweight it saddens me.
I’m convinced a big part of the problem is that folks don’t have time to exercise because of their jobs.
So I post often about exercise and fitness.
I can’t say there were any major surprises, but posting twice a week for me has been a bit more work that I thought it would be.
I also do some complex data analysis posts that take way longer, so some of that is self-inflicted.
My advice to those considering a blog has always been to just go.
I hear people say “there’s already too many FIRE blogs” or “my story is boring”, but we’re all individuals, and there’s a massive audience out there.
Everyone has a story that can resonate with others.
When did you develop an interest in personal finance and was there an event that brought personal finance to the forefront of your consciousness?
I got interested in money and investing around 1995 after going through an issue of Money magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office.
I was young in my career then and saving money, but didn’t know the world of mutual funds and stocks.
There was no single event that put it in the forefront, but 1995 was in the early days of the dotcom madness, so it exploded over the next 5 years and I was in the thick of it.
Looking back, do you feel like you have made any financial mistakes or have any regrets?
My biggest mistake was probably not being aggressive enough in my allocations.
I’ve never been above 86% stocks, and looking back I should have gone higher in my 20’s and most of my 30’s.
I’ve been through two market crashes now and things just keep going up.
In the grand scheme of things I’m still young and will weather more.
So in hindsight I should have been all stocks when I was younger.
Is there a book (or books) that has made a major impact in your financial well-being?
The first book that got me thinking about dialing back at work and not wanting to spend so much time sitting in front of a computer with fluorescent lighting over my head was “Take Back Your Time” by John de Graaf.
He introduced the concept of “time famine” and it just clicked with me.
I have tons of hobbies that are not my job, and no time to do them.
Can you name 5 things that had the greatest financial impact on you?
Growing up in Baltimore City lower middle class.
My Dad leaving the house every morning at 6:00am and getting home at 6:30pm.
My first savings account as a kid and seeing the interest accrue.
The first time I saw my money going up after investing in a mutual fund.
For a reader unfamiliar to your website, what are three posts you are most proud of that they can gain an insight about you and your philosophies?
Can you share with us a hidden talent that most people would be shocked to find out about you?
I can juggle pretty well.
You get to pick one person who is dead and one person who is currently alive to answer any questions you may have. Who would you choose and why?
I’d probably pick Ernest Shackleton as my dead guy and ask him how the heck he pulled off what he did, especially the climbing on South Georgia Island.
As for alive, probably Paul McCartney.
I’m not into celebrities or celebrity culture but I am a massive Beatles fan and they solidified my love of music at an early age.
I’d love to just hang out with the guy and chew the rag.
If you had a time machine and could go back to any point in time and change just one thing, what would it be?
These are tough questions!
I guess I’d go back to 1939 and stop the Nazis.
That would probably help the future world.
I loved the background you provided about being overweight as an adolescent and then transforming yourself into quite the athlete.
On top of being an avid biker you also have shared your experiences with mountain climbing.
What do you feel was the impetus for this physical transformation and how did you choose biking and mountain climbing as your preferred activities?
The impetus to get healthy was kind of two-fold.
First I got sick of being hungover on weekends and my sizable beer gut.
I used to drink a lot and did a post about how I was basically a functional alcoholic.
The second reason is because I was blessed with overall good health genetically, and most others in my family were not.
My Dad died of cancer a long time ago, and most others in my family have major ailments.
I started feeling guilty about abusing my health and being so overweight.
I was gifted with good genes, and I came to the realization that it’s my responsibility to not squander that.
As for bikes and mountains…
I grew up on a BMX bike in the 1980’s.
It was freedom.
A way to get away from the parents and have fun.
Bikes still make me feel like a kid, they’re like time machines.
And I grew up in Baltimore City, a huge concrete jungle of what was then almost 800K people.
Nature was rare.
I think I grew to love natural places so much because I lacked them growing up.
One of the ultimate goals an avid mountain climber can achieve is to complete the Seven Summits challenge, essentially ascending to the summit of the highest mountain in each of the 7 continents.
How many of these summits have you climbed?
Are there future plans to climb the remaining ones?
So far I’ve climbed three, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, and Vinson Massif in Antarctica.
I do wish to climb 3 more but I have no desire to climb Mt. Everest.
I’m plenty skilled and fit to do it but it has become a circus over the years.
Too many climbers and too much bureaucracy, which makes it more dangerous than it should be.
I have been to Mt. Everest Base Camp and that was a beautiful trip, so I already climbed up to 18,000 feet there.
But I do plan to climb Denali, Aconcagua, and Kosciuszko.
Come to think of that, I need to get on it!
It is no easy task undertaking an expedition climb to any of these summits.
Many people are aware of the huge physical and emotional toll.
However few realize how expensive these expeditions can be (I read somewhere that it is around $65k just for having a guide when ascending Mount Everest).
What was your most expensive expedition to date?
By far my most expensive expedition was Vinson Massif in Antarctica.
Taking a boat to Antarctica has become relatively cheaper over the years, but to get to Vinson you have to fly far inland and land on a glacier.
The flight alone costs about $28,000!
I did a post about it and your readers can check it out here if they want to learn more and the full cost.
Can you share some insight on the similarities between what it takes to prepare for a journey to climb one of the highest summits in the world and that of the journey to financial independence?
Wow, that’s a big one, there are many.
Don’t over-plan on a climb or on the journey to FI, things will go wrong and you’ll need to adjust.
Also both journeys require you to take breaks and assess where you are to see if you need to readjust.
On a mountain that means stopping to check the skies to see if weather is coming, or if avalanche conditions are getting worse.
In the FI journey that means maybe changing asset allocation or even changing jobs based on your current situation.
The main thing I’d say is to not focus too much on the end state.
When climbing there’s a natural tendency to keep looking at the summit (if it can be seen) or just thinking about it.
That can be demoralizing.
It’s waaaay up there.
Just take one step at a time.
It’s the same with FI.
Don’t keep focusing on that end-state number, it might depress you and seem unattainable.
Take it slow and steady and focus on doing the right thing now.
One good decision at a time.
I believe it is safe to assume that most readers will never experience what it is like to be on the top of the world with the ultimate vantage point.
So that we may live vicariously through you, can you describe how it feels the moment you reach the summit?
It’s obviously a joyous moment and you feel a rush of emotion.
But at the same time you’re only halfway done.
Most deaths and accidents happen on the descent since you’re tired and going down can be trickier.
So you can’t let your guard down on a summit.
You celebrate and enjoy it for sure, but you have to get right back in “serious mode” because a successful climb requires you to be alive at the bottom.
Have you experienced any close calls during these treacherous climbs?
Mostly from rockfall.
Mountains are constantly being eroded by wind and water and rocks come down all the time.
You have zero control over it and just hope you don’t get hit.
I also had a bit of a harrowing climb last year in the Adirondacks that I posted about.
It’s a great read if any of your readers want to get away to the cold icy winter for a while!
After climbing a summit how long does it take you to recover and get back into your daily routine? Do you experience any withdrawals going back to everyday life?
That depends on the difficulty of the climb.
Most climbs don’t require more than a day or two but I’m often somewhere around the world so the daily routine doesn’t come back till I get home.
Part of the fun of climbing is the travel.
Seeing Russia, Chile, the Alps, and Peru and of course the amazing peaks in America has been incredible.
As for withdrawals, if I go right back to work I get nature withdrawal very quickly and it sucks – I like being outside!
Again thank you so much for your time answering these questions and being placed under the “X-ray beam.” I look forward to your continued posts and wish you much success.
If you are interested in checking out previous individuals that were brave enough to expose themselves to the beams of the X-ray, please check them out here.
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