Financial Independence Traveling

Family Trip to Guatemala Living with the Locals

Back in 2014, I went on a 1 month-long trip to Guatemala with my family. This trip really changed my views on life and on the meaning of happiness in general. Seeing and learning about this amazing culture helped me realize how little we need. I was strolling through life without knowing how to be happy but the answer was right in front of me all along.

It is possible to live on a lower budget while living a fulfilling, happy, life. Their culture and beliefs were an eye-opener and a true pleasure to discover.

Travel on a budget

Experiences over things

The main takeaway from my travels was to value experiences over materialistic things. This has its limitations but for most things, the total happiness derived from an experience will be greater and last longer than from materialistic things.

Of course, this statement has certain limitations. I am sure that a minimum-wage earner would prefer having a roof over his head than spending on travels. Technically, as long as all our basic needs are covered, this usually holds.

For my example, let’s use a new study from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School that states that happiness increases with higher wages up to about $75,000 a year (TIME). I have experienced the same results when saving 50% of my income, the extra happiness that spending more could bring me is minimal since I can still live a plentiful life on half of what I make.


Sometimes more is less

With this in mind, we can now compare common middle-class expenses such as spending $20,000 on a brand new car versus spending $10,000 on a used car and spending the extra $10,000 on an amazing trip with your family. The new knowledge, memories, and bonding you will get from a family trip will greatly outlast the new car smell. That will wear off after a few months anyway. Vacations and travels are a great source of experiences but there is plenty of activities you can do locally like sports, shows, museums, foods.

It is also important to discover the things that can bring great experiences in life. For example, buying a camera, a new bike, or new skis are materialistic purchases but can provide great experiences. You should especially focus on your hobbies and plan them in your budget even if they might be expensive. You can always find great stuff on Craigslist or Kijiji at a fraction of the original price.


How to be happy?

Traveling to lower-income countries really opened my eyes to the relativity of standard of living. Some might think it is impossible to be happy without having 350+ channels on your TV but do you think everyone in the world needs HBO to be happy? I don’t. Your happiness level is something you can control.

We went hiking up the mountains of Guatemala and saw farmers work in the mountains, on a terrain so steep that we found challenging after a single day.  They were working with the land that was available to them, every day, all year long. The conditions are less than perfect. Yet, those farmers are only earning an average annual income of $1,619 US dollars (World Bank) and they seemed happier than some stressed-out Americans making that amount per week!


Once the basics are covered, we don’t need much more

As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that your physiological needs such as food, clothing, shelter are the most important. The second tier is safety; this includes insurance, utilities, and so on. Anything after those can be reduced, cut, or accepted as guilt-free spending.

Once you attain this mindset and choose your luxuries, you will enjoy them even more. In terms of happiness, I think that one can choose to be happy in life once his needs are covered and anything above a livable wage will not change happiness levels much.


Money cannot buy happiness


money happinessNominal GDP Per Capital. Source: U.N. World Happiness Report


does money equal happinessNational Happiness Rankings according to respondents. Source: The Washington Post


Above is an overlay of the world’s nominal GDP per capita followed by the world’s happiness rankings (U.N. World Happiness Report) (The Washington Post). Looking at both overlays, it is interesting to see how lower happiness levels seem to correlate with nominal GDP under $6,000 per capita.

Coming back to my concept that happiness level will not be greatly affected once basic needs are met. We can see that most of the Americas are happy even if there are income discrepancies. In ranking, the US ranks 17th of the 156 ranked countries, behind Mexico (16) and Panama (15) even if the US comes ahead in GDP and average income.


Happiness also correlates to things like life expectancy and GDP per capita, though perhaps not quite how you’d expect. While longer lives and more money do correlate to national happiness, they’re not nearly as important as social support, which researchers define as “having someone to count on in times of trouble.” The report also found that perceptions of corruption and generosity (the latter measured by donations to charity in the past month) are better indicators than GDP per capita.  – The Washington Post


I can relate to this quote, “having someone to count on in times of trouble”. It is a great factor in happiness levels. I can clearly see this on my path to financial independence. Having an emergency fund and building a strong nest egg brings great security to my finances and that makes me happy. I can sleep at night knowing that the bills will be paid and I will not lose my house if I lose my job.


Traveling to Guatemala

In Guatemala, we stayed a week with hosting families to learn Spanish. It was an immersion program where you would get Spanish lessons every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then stayed with a host family every night for a week. You were given a room and meals throughout your day by your host family as part of the school’s package. What I liked about this program is that it was from a non-profit that gave back a lot back to the community. They do projects in the region to help the farmers, children, and families in need. It is nice to know that the host families would get fair compensation for their work and hospitality.

Living with the locals helps you learn their culture and really see how they live their daily lives. As a guest, we did not choose which family we stayed with nor did they have enough room for all of us with one single host family. My sister, for example, was placed in little bungalow/shack with a tiny room. She was served a variation of rice and beans every day.

Me, on the other hand, was placed with my mom and my other sister in a large, two-story house where three of us had a whole floor as living quarters. We were served different meals every day and even had hot water showers!


how to spend your moneyTypical Guatemalan Multi-Generational Houses


Not much but enough

It was still clear that my host family was struggling. The house was slowly breaking down since its construction in 1954 and they could not afford to maintain it. They had inherited it from their grandfather who was a wealthy dentist back in the 50s. However, the outside of the house still looked clean and the grass well trimmed. They ate very simple meals but always had enough.

Comparing the two host families from the outside, one might think they lived completely different lifestyles. One was struggling while the other was well off.

However, getting to know these families, it was clear that they were both on tight budgets. Both still living happy lives. Once you realize that at least 80% of humankind lives on less than $10 a day and experience it for yourself in your travels, you will change your views on consumption.


how to lower consumption


The American Consumerist Dream

Most of the world’s private consumption is consumed by the wealthier countries but do we really need all this stuff? The world’s richest 20% consume over 76% of the world’s private consumption and, for the most part, we waste it! All that stuff that we accumulate, throw away and buy again makes you think about the real priorities in life.

To come back to my travels, I was fortunate enough to stay with the local community and learn about their culture and way of life. Contributing and helping in that community was a great way to give back a little to the world.


how to lower consumption


We are lucky to live where we live. Always remember that happiness is not about money but is about your choices. I will continue to talk about my travels in future posts, stay tuned. Be happy, Xyz.





Financial Independence

6 Books to Reach Financial Independence and Retire Early

So here is the thing, knowledge is power. If you want to reach financial independence, you will need all the power you can get. There are a ton of blogs out there but if you are like me and prefer the paperbacks, here are 6 amazing financial independence books. With these in hand, you will be set for success.

To get ahead in the game, I found that a cheap, easy way, to gain knowledge was reading regularly. Make it a habit of reading a lot and often.

Books are cheap entertainment and it can teach you a bunch of things that you might not have thought of otherwise.

I have recently started reading a book per week and it transformed the way I see books. I used to stray away from books, now I devour them. If it will get you off Netflix a bit, it cannot be that bad! 🙂

For all of you out there aiming for financial independence, you need to grow and explore a new mindset that will prioritize your wealth and wellbeing.

I wanted to share with you some books that I really enjoyed so far and changed me a bit along the way. These are, for me, the best books on financial independence and the tools to get there.


Early Retirement Extreme

Early Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial Independence The first book on my list is not for everyone but definitively an eye-opener. Early Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial Independence by Jacob Lund Fisker is about retiring on a very small budget, very early!

Jacob runs a blog over at that is pretty instructive and offers a ton of free content. I enjoyed his take on early retirement since it makes it available to the lower and middle-class and anyone starting out his career.

I could easily relate to Jacob’s book since he puts up a very achievable goal. He retired on a tiny budget and follows traditional values to maximize his life. It is an excellent read for anyone, whether you make $20 an hour or $200, the principals shared are always relevant.

If you are earning under $50,000 a year, it can be hard to save up a million dollars and you might get demotivated before the first decade but fortunately, we do not all need $1M to retire. 🙂


The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing

Best book for financial independenceOn the investment side, I really liked The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, and Michael LeBoeuf. This book was written by John C. Bogle (Founder of Vanguard) fanboys (Bogleheads) and covers great strategies to invest properly with Vanguard.



The Little Book of Common Sense Investing

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market ReturnsIn addition, I would also recommend The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns by John C. Bogle.

Those two complement themselves as the base to index fund investing. John C. Bogle is the founder and CEO of Vanguard and literally changed Wall Street by giving the chance to everyday retail investors to participate in the markets at a very low cost. I use this approach to investing in my own portfolio and believe that low-cost index fund strategies are one of the best ways to accumulate wealth.


Owning a diversified portfolio of stocks and holding it for the long term is a winner’s game. Trying to beat the stock market is theoretically a zero-sum game (for every winner, there must be a loser), but after the substantial costs of investing are deducted, it becomes a loser’s game. Common sense tells us – and history confirms – that the simplest and most efficient investment strategy is to buy and hold all of the nation’s publicly held businesses at very low cost. – John C. Bogle.


Many books can change the way you see and perceive wealth. It is often overlooked but most wealth creation comes from simply having and following the right behaviours.


The Millionaire Next Door

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's WealthyA real eye-opener for me was The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley and Dr. William D. Danko. This covers a 20 year-long research that the authors performed interviewing millionaires across the country.

The findings show the common traits that most millionaires share and their path to amass such wealth. I found it very interesting to compare with my own behaviors and spending/saving habits.

This is a quick read that can help you improve your financial habits or general views on life. It is always so fascinating to see how normal wage earners like plumbers and teachers can reach financial freedom and retire early.


Nearly anybody with a steady job can amass a tidy fortune. – Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko


Millionaire Teacher

Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School Another good inspiration for me was the Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School by Andrew Hallam. This book shows how simple index fund investing and a proper investment methodology can help any middle-wage individual become a millionaire.

The author was a schoolteacher who has accumulated great wealth simply by sticking to the plan. Like Jacob’s book, this helps any middle-class investors to relate. A very inspiring book that shows a clear step-by-step to wealth building. It shows the very principles I teach here; younger investors should invest steadily, automatically, stop looking at stock market news, ignore the “professionals”, and, invest in low-cost index fund investing.


The Wealthy Barber

The Wealthy BarberFinally, for the folks like me from Canada, a good start is The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton.

This is a comprehensive, step-by-step book that offers the Canadian’s perspective on the basics of personal finance. Explained in Lehman’s terms, this is a great start for anyone just starting off.

David Chilton goes through the basics of personal finance but he does not directly aim towards financial independence or early retirement like the other books discussed here. He rather guides ordinary people to comprehend, adapt, and keep a healthier financial picture.


To conclude, I hope you get your bedside table ready and get reading!

Take your time, read one at the time of the next 6 months if you need. Just like investing and reaching financial independence; reading is not a race. Go at your pace and remember that consistency is key.

If you do not feel like reading whole books, you can always subscribe to our mailing list to receive our articles every week!



Financial Independence

How to Reach Early Retirement and be Happy

Way before even thinking about early retirement, we all have that moment when we sit down and think; what do I want out of my life? You can have a great job, great family, health and all but still do not know what you want out of life.

For me, this was at 23. I was working full-time, one year in a great relationship and thinking about getting a house. Few goals in mind but I was not thinking of early retirement quite yet.

Extreme early retirement

Each pay, I was investing a large part of my income simply because I wanted to buy stocks. I saw the appeal of owning companies I liked such as Apple, Tesla, Facebook but I did not have any long-term plan or vision.

It took me a while but I finally took the decision to minimize my spending and increase my savings in the hopes of buying a house. With a concise plan in mind, I started cutting on anything that did not give me joy-for-the-value.

how to cut the cord

Slowly, cable was replaced with Netflix. Bar nights replaced with house parties. Soon enough, it all added up to good savings. After a year of investing, I sold all my stocks and we bought our first house.

I saw what others were splurging on but came to realize that it was not things I needed to be happy.

In my field of finance, for example, almost everyone drives to work in a brand new BMW or Mercedes. I was walking to work, living downtown, so I did not have a car. Once we needed one we got a used, 2007 SUV with low mileage and paid cash.

Here is the thing about cars, they are monetary sinkholes. On average, a car will lose 40% of its value in the first three years. So I thought to myself; what do I want to spend my money on?


Learn more about us


Older cars can still look nice and still run great! The other advantage of spending less on the purchase of a car is the incredible savings you will make paying cash rather than taking out a loan. Car loans can go up into the double digits of interest. You will end up paying almost double the price for that fancy new toy. You can see my calculations behind my car purchase if you want to see the reasoning of my purchase.


We live well, eat well, travel a lot… but always live under our means.


It is all about the lifestyle.

I really wanted to save enough for a down payment in one single year. That was not an easy feat but I achieved that.

As I continued to earn, I continued to save and invest. Had to think about the next goal, the next thing to save for… For me it was; early retirement.

If that is what you want to, you are at the right place. The very first steps are to cut the small things since they are the easiest to stop and often add up to a good chunk of your spending. Restaurants, bars, snacks, and outings can really add up.

You should really take the time to make a budget and track your expenses or use platforms such as Personal Capital to do it automatically. Once you have paid off any high-interest debt you have, you can start saving and investing.


Pay yourself first

Besides budgeting, you can set up automatic savings and invest a portion of each paycheck. Then, live on what is left to drastically increase your savings rate.

You do not need to be born in wealth or make a million dollars a year to be wealthy. Fortunes build themselves but you need to steer it in the right direction.

If there is one thing to keep in mind is that as a young saver, you have every chance in front of you. With dedication and perseverance, anyone making an average salary and living below their means can retire early.

Life is meant to be lived. If a slight change in lifestyle can get you to save and reach financial freedom, go for it!


Living on half our salaries

The basic goal I have given myself is to live on half my income and invest the rest. If you can live below your means and save a good chunk of your income, your dollars will work for you.

Your savings rate is a cornerstone to the number of years you will need to stay in the workforce.  The more you save, the less you actually live on and therefore, afford that lifestyle in early retirement.


Your personal savings rate =

Annual savings including any employer match (or any debt repayments) x 100

Total income less taxes, plus any employer match


For example, if you end up saving about 75% of your income, you are buying yourself three years of retirement for each year at work. With the magic of compounding, you will be able to generate enough passive income to pay for your lifestyle after a few years of hard work.

From previous research, we can assume that withdrawing 4% of our portfolio, adjusted for inflation, is safe to last and survive major market crashes. If one would want to retire on a  4% withdrawal rate, it would only take 7 years of work to save up enough money to safely retire solely on investments.


Use every advantage you get

Personally, I am currently saving 50% of my income each year and I am hoping to save up to 70% soon. When used in the proper tax-advantage accounts (401k / RSP), your savings will actually lower your taxes and you will barely feel the hit.

For example, I am currently at a 45% marginal tax rate, this means that for every dollar I invest in my tax-advantaged accounts, I actually feel a hit of only 55¢ (I got this figure since earning $1 working would only give me 55¢ to spend). This figure is even lower if you get an employer match!

I have included below a chart to illustrate the power of your savings rate. Feel free to play around with it in this interactive version. If you want to either pay off debts quickly or start saving for early retirement, you should learn to boss around your finances and build a strong budget. Bringing yourself closer to the 50% savings rate, or more can make any goal achievable relatively quickly.


saving rateSource:


Change your mindset

Savings are only a mindset. If you are thinking about it as something easy, it will be easy. To increase your savings rate, you need to start thinking:

How much can I save by doing this?

rather than

How much can I spend on this?


I am not saying you should not shop around and look for the best prices. However, you should definitively think about how much you will save by not buying that thing.

To put it in perspective, someone that makes 50,000$ a year, for example, would be left with about 35,000$ (depending on the state but we are assuming here).

Now assume he is Mr. Average American saving only 6% of his salary like the majority of Americans do today. This means he could retire after only 62 years of work (so at about 80 years old!). Basically working until the government or a private pension pays for his retirement.

10 frugal tips to save money

If he is so average, Mr. Average probably pays 100$ a month for the newest iPhone with a nice big data plan that he probably does not need. He probably never thought about it but if he just saved that 100$ a month instead of spending it on a phone, it still adds up to 1200$ a year.

This small saving alone could actually decrease his working years to only 51.4 years and just like that, he can retire 10 years earlier by skipping the data plan. (Assuming 5% market returns. and that your current annual expenses are equal to your annual expenses in retirement)

Now, instead of following the average, if you choose to save half you are income like me, you can relax and enjoy the security of having a safety net and become financially independent after a few working years. Your future self will thank you when your safety net will grow enough to become your retirement nest egg!

Then, you can work (or not) on whatever you want to. You will have the leisure to live your life at your own pace, doing whatever you want.


Saving does not need to be a burden

It cannot be said enough; if you can live on less, you need to accumulate less wealth to support your future self. The basic idea is to hold 25x your annual expenses in investments to sustain yourself in whether or not you generate more income.

This comes from the assumption that a 4% withdrawal rate per year can sustain you with a very high rate of success. I suggest you play around yourself with cFIREsim or Personal Capital’s free tools to test out scenarios to really get the grips of it.

.Welcome to my blog and best of luck. Stay happy! Xyz.