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In 2016, Katie and I travelled to Ecuador to learn about financial independence and investing. Before we got to Chautauqua (the retreat) with JL Collins, the Mad Fientist and Mr Money Mustache, we stopped at the beach a few days beforehand to relax. Mompiche, a small fishing village in North Western Ecaudor, is stunning! We were staying right on the beach and each night we sat there drinking hot chocolate, watching the waves roll in as the sun set over the bay.
Interestingly, one of the most important lessons we learned on this trip was from a surfer who was staying at the same surf shack as us. But how, exactly, did a surfing binman (garbage man) from Italy end up 50% financially independent?
What type of life do you want to live?
We got chatting to this guy one morning when we got back from a run along the beach and a swim.
Alan & Katie (A&K): "Where are you from?"
Surfer: "I'm from Italy."
(A&K): "Cool! How long are you here for?"
Surfer: "6 months, surfing and chilling."
(A&K): "Wow! That is so cool. How can you afford to live here for 6 months without working?"
Surfer: "I earn enough in Italy working as a binman to live here on the beach for 6 months without working."
Katie and I were blown away. We had never considered that as an option. There we were, working hard to save and invest and he had bypassed all of that and was living his dream life for 6 months a year!
With that in mind, what type of life do you really want to live? It might not be as far off as you think it is! This is the beach in Ecuador we stayed on and ran along every day!
Truly financially independent?
Was he truly financially independent? No, he wasn't. He hadn't invested and built up assets that could support him without ever having to work again. However, he had created enough income in his life to buy back 6 months of his life every single year to do what he loved - surfing.
He still had to return to Italy every 6 months to earn more money and top up the coffers (funds), but that afforded him the freedom to live life on his terms for 6 months of the year. It's the sort of life some people dream of, but he was actually living it.
It's not f***ing binary
Katie loves to shout, "It's not f***ing binary, Alan!!"
What does binary mean? Binary is the language computers use, and everything is converted to 1 or 0.
As humans, we tend to think like this. We think... Should I take job A or job B? Should I go to restaurant A or restaurant B? Should I work to become financially independent or not bother at all? Should I work full time or quit my job?
We like to create these false dichotomies where we're forced to choose one thing or another, but it doesn't have to be like that.
This thinking is useful at times because it allows us to make decisions. If we had to analyse EVERY single option available to us before making a decision, we would never do anything. There are infinite options. However, this kind of thinking quite often traps us. On our finance course, Rebel Finance School, people ask us:
You don't have to work full-time in the UK or the USA until you hit your exact financial independence number. You don't have to either work full-time or not at all. You don't have to either have a job or build a business.
You get to choose what percentage of each you do!
My question to you is, "Where are you trapped in binary thinking? Where have you made things an either/or choice and trapped yourself?"
These kinds of questions can free you to experience life in a completely different way.
Geoarbitrage - the power of your currency
The Italian binman we met had one major thing on his side - geoarbitrage (geographic arbitrage). He was paid in Euros and spent his money in US dollars in Ecuador (which uses the US dollar after crazy inflation), where dollars go a lot further. Katie and I were amazed at how cheap it was when we were there. We could have a 3 course lunch for $1.50 and if we went to the fanciest restaurant in town, it was $2 a meal!
We may have splashed out regular for the expensive one!
Because you can live there so cheaply, if our Italian friend decided to live full-time on the beach at Mompiche, he would not have to save and invest that much. If he provided a few surf lessons for tourists, he could even end up in profit very quickly.
Honestly, it's amazing how far your money goes in different locations around the world. In LA, you might struggle to live for $100,000 a year, but in Mompiche you could live like a king for $15,000 a year.
With more people working from home - way more than ever before - geoarbitrage is now a realistic proposition for many more people. Do you have to stay in the city or country you live in? Could you move somewhere else, possibly to another country, and save money? Could you improve your quality of life and reduce your expenditure at the same time by doing so? You may even find that you're already a millionaire in a different country!
We used geo-arbitrage and financial independence together to create the life of our dreams travelling round the world, experiencing different places and having fun.
The essence of financial independence is the freedom to spend your time as you wish whether that's reading, playing board games, travelling the world, or spending time with your kids; whenever you want.
Most people think that this freedom comes from earning more money and investing more. It can. However, as this Italian binman demonstrated, it can also come from living an alternative/different lifestyle. You don't have to follow the standard path that everyone else has set out for you. If binary thinking is constraining you, it's time to break free of it and start thinking about how you want to live your life.
Why am I writing this article?
To inspire you to start thinking about how you want to live life and how you might achieve it. Your dream life might not be as far off as you think! If you haven't done so already, you should calculate your net worth. You might find that you need to reorganise things, increase your earnings, spend less (possibly by living in a different country) and think differently to most people but...........
"The extraordinary belongs to those that create it. "
By any measure, our Italian friend had an extraordinary life - surfing in Ecuador on the beautiful pacific coastline for 6 months of the year.
So, my question to you is: What life would you like to build?
Katie and I would love to know how this article inspired you or what it made you think. Please put in the comments below your thoughts on reflections.
PS a big THANK YOU to Teresa for editing and helping me finish the article. I started writing this a LONG time ago and it wouldn't have gotten finished with out you!