Lacking Ambition – Three Months After Financial Independence

Lacking Ambition – Three Months After Financial Independence

Mike from was kind enough to stop by for an episode of the Financial Independence Podcast!

After working for just over three years, Mike was able to amass enough savings to purchase (with cash) three single-family houses. By living in one of the houses and renting out the other two, he now has enough rental income to completely cover his living expenses.

During the interview, Mike discusses how he was able to buy three properties, each for under $25,000, in a region that is typically considered to be an expensive market (New England).

In addition to real estate investing, I also talk to him about his time living in a tent in the New Mexico desert, discuss how he too was able to obtain a Free Ivy League Degree while working full time, and find out what life is like three months after achieving financial independence.

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Mad Fientist: Hey! Welcome everyone to the fifth episode of the Mad Fientist Financial Independence Podcast. My guest today is Mike from Not only is Lacking Ambition one of my favorite blog names, but it’s also one of my favorite blogs as well.

Mike has been writing for over five years now I think and I have been an avid reader for at least the last couple. So I’ve been very excited to get them on the show to talk to him.

Lacking Ambition is actually a little bit of a misnomer because he has done some pretty incredible things in a very short amount of time in his life. So not only did he build up a real estate portfolio that is now producing enough income to sustain his lifestyle completely, he did it very early in life after quite a short working career and he was also able to pick up a law degree along the way.

There’s a lot to talk about. I’m excited to have him on the show. Hey, Mike! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.

Mike: No problem. Thanks for inviting me.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. For those out there that aren’t familiar with, you’ve been writing there since I think about 2007.

Mike: Yup.

Mad Fientist: But your pursuit of FI started long before that. Is that right?

Mike: Yeah. I’d say if I had to pick a time when it really started – I mean, I knew in high school that I didn’t want to do the 40-year career typical trajectory that most people take because just everything about it didn’t appeal to me at all. The moment when I finally decided that I can actually pursue financial independence and live a low cost lifestyle and then just do whatever I want with my time, I think I was probably about 22 at the time.

After high school, I went to college to study classics, classical studies and philosophy. I had a good time with it for about two and a half to three years, but then I just got – I was an idealist. I didn’t think students around me were – it seemed like everyone was worried about grad school and their marks and the passion for the actual subjects that we were studying just seemed to fizzle out. I thought, “Why am I paying all this money?” I was at private school, liberal arts school. I thought, “Why am I paying all this money to be here when if all I wanted is a degree, I could be somewhere way cheaper?”

So I decided to take some time off. That’s when I actually bought some land in New Mexico out in just the middle of dessert about 60 to 70 miles south of Albuquerque along the Rio Grande. I bought an acre for $500 and I put up a big tent on it. I moved out there with my motorcycle with a couple of solar panels, my laptop, a cell phone and some books.

I just spent about almost a year out there. It was about nine and a half months I think that I was out there.

Mad Fientist: Wow!

Mike: I mean I wasn’t like this mountain man living totally up the land. I mean, I did hunt a little bit, but that was more for fun than sustenance. I would get big bags of rice from the town in my motorcycle. The nearest town is about six miles away, so I’d ride into town all the time, talk to people. So, I wasn’t bare out there surviving off of rattlesnakes and all that stuff. But I was doing a lot of hiking and a lot of reading and just a lot of reflecting a lot.

That’s when I started to decide that I really like having that time to myself, to be able to just go for a hike for several days up in the rockies or to just take my bike, my motorcycle and go exploring. I wanted to continue being free like that, but I also had this desire to live a more typical lifestyle. Not so much that I wanted the comforts and everything, but I just wanted the social aspects of it, to be just a normal guy rather than a crazy guy living in a tent.

Mad Fientist: Right! Now, before that, were you quite a minimalist and not really concerned with everything else that a 20 year old, that age, would probably be wanting? Or did that then change you even more and make you realize that you didn’t actually need a lot to be happy?

Mike: I think Thoreau is a real big influence on me. I was probably about only 15 years old when I read the Walden Pond. It really resonated with me. That’s why I studied philosophy instead of something that may be a higher return on investment.

I was also a pretty successful freelance programmer when I was a teenager. I taught myself PHP and Perl, doing back end web development for these web developers. I was making pretty good money. I was like a 15, 16, 17-year old. I was just blowing it all on junk – or what I call junk, fancy cars and computers that were out of date in two years and surround sound systems and just ridiculous stuff that I realized just doesn’t make me happy.

It was a very organic process, getting to the point where I realized just having a bunch of stuff just isn’t enough. It’s not that it isn’t enough, but it doesn’t really contribute to an overall level of happiness.

Mad Fientist: Recently, I’ve never been wont to spend a lot of money growing up or anything. If somebody came to my house, they would not think I was living a sparse in existence or anything. But over the last five years, I’d say I’ve been just whittling down what I have and just getting rid of more things and just canceling more things.

The more and more I do it, the happier I get. That makes me think. Rather than just keep whittling down until I find the sweet spot, I guess, maybe it makes more sense to just completely get rid of everything and then slowly build up and get the things that I’m really missing and really actually did make me happy.

And yeah, I guess living out in the New Mexican desert, I guess you can bring too much stuff out there with you.

Mike: No! I moved a lot too as I was working and going to school. So every time I move, you have to bring everything with you. It’s tough at first, but once you do it once or twice, it’s pretty easy to take stuff and just give it away or throw it away. If you don’t, you just end up logging the stuff all around.

I was living across the country from New Mexico. I’m originally from New England. I always come back here and you can only bring your two check bags. I’m not going to spend $1000 shipping all this junk.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, absolutely. After your stint in the desert, then what did you end up doing after that?

Mike: I did have internet out there and I was reading a lot. I also had a pretty well used library card in the local town that I was near. I was reading a lot of financial books at that point towards the end.

I remember I was researching early retirement because I thought that’s the closest thing that I could figure out for a lifestyle that I wanted to live. And everything I found was how to retire at 60 or 55. I thought, “Okay, that’s not what I’m talking about.”

And then one day, I just punched in “extremely early retirement” and then of course Jacob’s website, the Early Retirement Extreme popped up and I was already out there in the desert. I thought, “That’s what I’m doing.”

Mad Fientist: Exactly!

Mike: So reading his stuff resonated with me that maybe it’s not that hard to save up a couple of hundred grand in a relatively short amount of time. I could just continue a very low key lifestyle. It’s actually possible. So I decided I was just going to need a job for 5 or 10 years, I figured at that point.

Originally, at that point, I thought I wanted to be a cop. I thought that would be fun. So I was applying around. I was going through the application process, but then I just fell into – well, there was this ad and they were looking for utility workers at the local phone company here in New England.

I’d come back home. I applied and I got it. They even gave me a pay bump and experience credit because of my programming experience. So I started out a really high pay. It was a union job and one of the last ones around. I was making great money.

They also would pay for my education to finish school, whatever you wanted. That was one of the benefits of our bargaining agreement. So, I finished college when I was up here in New England and then I ended up going to law school for free too although I was working, making a pretty good income.

I just kept a real minimalist lifestyle. Like you said, I had studio apartments the whole time. No car if I could or just a cheap junk that I would fix up and keep running. I walked to work and then I would take the train to class. And I’d collapse in the bed at the end in the night and I’d do it again the next day for a couple of years.

I started writing about six months after I got that job on my blog. So that’s where the writing picks up.

Mad Fientist: Right! I want to come back to the fact that you were going to school full time, working full time and writing your blog. That reminds me of something. Our mutual friend, Jimmy Collins I think left a comment on one of your posts and he’s like, “It’s good to finally see some ambition lacking going on around here because it does seem like you do quite a bit.”

I’m currently working full time and going to school part time and even that is crazy. And I work on the campus, so I don’t have any commute between the two. I don’t know how you are able to do full time both and commute between them.

Mike: Yeah, it was tough. Sometimes, I go back. A couple of times, I’ll go back and look at my writing and I’ll be, “Oh my God! I can’t believe I did that.” I mean, you could see this guy is in pain sometimes. It’s just so difficult to keep up especially around towards the end of the semesters when exams are coming and papers are due. I had just to be a wizard.

I remember I used the calendar program. In every time slot, something is scheduled. If there was an opening, I would be like, “Oh, next Thursday from 2:00 to 5:00, that’s when I can write that paper,” so I would pencil it in. Just every moment had to be micromanaged like that just in order to get the minimal things done.

Mad Fientist: Right. That actually brings me to one of your earlier posts actually. You’re in this time period where you’re doing all of these stuff and you talk about these business ideas that you have or hobbies that you want to start looking into and stuff. If you didn’t have school and work, you would be able to do it.

But then, in one of the later paragraphs, you’re talking about, “If I’m being honest with myself, if I did have all that free time, would I really be tackling all of this stuff?”

That really resonated with me because I find that is what’s happening with me a bit. Any time school breaks, I’m like, “All right, I’m going to get all this stuff done.” But then, I’m not urgently doing things. I’m not as focused and time just slips by.

That’s something I actually worry about happening after financial independence. I have all these big plans. Then it’s like, “When I have all the time in the world, am I still as driven and focused?”

I was wondering how it has changed for you pre and post financial independence and if you are still getting a lot of stuff done that you have thought you’re going to get done after FI?

Mike: Yeah. I mean I haven’t really – I feel I’m just getting started on the financially independent part of my life because I just graduated in school about a year ago. And then I quit this part time job I had back in September. I just purchased a house, so I was fixing up the house. I didn’t really have it finished until about February of this year. I’ve only had it February, March and April, so about three months. For a month of that, I was traveling too.

Right now, I feel like a high school or like in graduation where there are all these possibilities. I can just do whatever I want and it feels really good.

But as far as what I find myself doing with my time, I certainly haven’t picked up a ton of projects yet. But I’m not holding my feet to the fire too much. I’m not going to worry about it that much. Right now I do plan on getting some more temp work in the future because while I’m financially independent, I do want my income to be a little bit higher. So I do plan on working maybe another year or two and get into some more real estate investments.

So right now, I haven’t really been worried about if I waste a day. You’re right, there is this temptation to say – when you work and you only have Saturday and Sunday to get everything done, you have to do it. But when you don’t have anything to do Monday or for the rest of the week, you can say, “Oh, I will do that Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday.”

Mad Fientist: Right.

Mike: I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Retired Syd. She blogs. I link to her through my website. She actually had a post early this year saying that don’t worry if you can’t get it done. That’s what retirement is for. You always have the next day.

This is the mindset that – I guess I’ve come to peace with myself that I’m not going to worry too much about trying to just get all the stuff done. I’m really going to try to enjoy as much as I can. If that means I’m going to hang out with my friends all day long or watch a movie in the afternoon or just spend five to six hours going for a hike when really I should be maybe mowing the lawn, then maybe the lawn can wait another day.

Mad Fientist: Right. That’s a great point. As you’re speaking, I just came to the realization that I’m still in the working mindset. All of these things that I’m excited to try out, most of them are business ideas and stuff. I guess after I finally achieved financial independence, some business ideas could be fun and rewarding on a non-monetary level. I guess the biggest driver is money, but by then, I won’t need it. So yeah, does it matter if I put off a little bit of programming until the weekend or something?

Mike: Sometimes I think it would be fun to take on a big project. But then I stopped myself. Actually, Jim Collins came over to visit last summer to see the place that I fixed up. While he was talking, he made the point like you said, the comment he made on my blog. “What are you talking about lacking ambition? I mean, look at what you’ve done.”

I said, “Well, it’s not so much that I lacked ambition. It’s more that I actively suppressed it.” I do have the urgency to do these, “We’re going to be starting this organization or start that company or maybe build a big addition in there or something to the house or have a giant garden” or something like that. But then I stop myself because I know things are more easily forgotten than finished. And oftentimes when you’re in the middle of those projects, it’s not nearly as fun as you thought it’s going to be at the beginning.

So I allow myself to go slowly into things. But we’ll see, maybe after a year or two of being idle, maybe then I want to do something and that’s fine. If that’s the course it takes, then that’s the course it takes.

Last September, I met this older couple from Australia. They were traveling over here and they had retired in their late 30s. We were all together and I offered them a bottle of wine that I had. It was only about 3:00 in the afternoon. They said no. They don’t drink until 5:00. I said, “Okay.”

They said they made that rule because when they first retired, they found themselves about a year into it, he said he was just sitting on the couch, it was 12:30 in the afternoon and he was drinking some wine and watching children’s television. He said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

I don’t know if you have to really worry that you’re just going to turn into this slob or this blob. It doesn’t do anything because if it gets to the point where you’re not enjoying yourself, then you will do something. You’ll reignite those passions and start a project and say, “Okay, I need to do something now.” And you’ll start doing it.

Mad Fientist: That’s a great point. I like the fact that you said that you’re going to pick up some part time work and things. That’s been my mindset as well.

The few friends and family that I actually told my plan to, they’re always like, “Well, what if you want to have kids? What if you want to do this? What if this happens?” Well, I could continue working for the next decade and have enough in the bank that will completely cover anything that could come up or I could stop next year and then if I do want to have kids, then I can decide if I want to spend six months working so that I can build up enough money to have kids.

I think a lot of people just think that once you’re retired, that’s it, you can’t go back especially in today’s world with all the opportunities on the internet and things like that and remote work and all of that. It’s not impossible.

Mike: I mean, people worry about having a big gap in the resume. True, that is a detriment when you’re looking for work, but it can be overcome.

Mad Fientist: Sure.

Mike: It’s not that hard either. And when you are retired, you have a lot of capital at your expense, at your disposal, so it’s not that hard to start a small business. You can have a long ramp up time to build up a client base because you have that cushion there where you don’t really need the income. You’re just looking to enhance it.

Mad Fientist: Right, absolutely. Okay, so you’re a utility lineman, you’re going back to school. This is back when you were 21 or something like that.

Mike: I was probably about 23 at that point.

Mad Fientist: Twenty-three. So how long do you end up sticking around with the utility company?

Mike: I was only there about three years and then the big crash came. I think it was 2009 or whenever it was. The utility company had a massive layoff. They let thousands of people go. Of course, I was one of the junior people, so I was one of the first to go.

The nice thing was since I had already done a year at law school, they’d already paid for a year of law school at that point, there was a part of the layoff policy was if you were already in a degree program, they would finish paying for the next two years. That was just what I needed to finish my degree. So it was perfect.

I got some severance pay and I had a lot of money saved up because like I said, that whole time, I barely spent any money.

Mad Fientist: That is good. And then you had more free time to do other things in addition to your law degree.

Mike: Mostly at that point, it was just nice to have a break. I’m trying to think back exactly what I did. I picked up some more classes and I did some internships. I enjoyed living in Boston for a while and explored the city. It was a nice time.

I mean, I like school. I like going to class. I like learning. I like engaging with the students, professors and the subjects. For me, it was nice to be able to just focus on that.

Mad Fientist: I have to ask you because I’m in a similar situation. I’m getting a free master’s degree right now and that was the primary reason I took the job.

Mike: It’s like getting away with murder. Those tuitions are so high. It’s just so good if you can get that.

Mad Fientist: It’s ridiculous! Yeah, there’s absolutely no way I would be paying for it, but it’s great when it’s free.

Sometimes, when a big paper is due or something, I find myself – I’m not going to use this degree. I’m going to be hanging up my work clothes next year. So a few months after I graduate, it’s like, “Why am I putting myself through all this additional work?” Did you go through the same struggles?

Mike: Not really because for me, it was intrinsically – I mean, I actually booked in classes that I was interested in rather than the ones that were most likely to land a job or whatever. So it’s nice to be able to explore that kind of stuff. I always liked school.

It takes away a lot of pressure too. I didn’t have to worry about being at the top of the class. It’s much easier to walk into an exam and know that all I really have to do is pass this thing.

Mad Fientist: That’s a good point.

Mike: You don’t sweat at all. When you’re not under pressure like that or when I’m not under pressure like that, I just tend to do a lot better because I’m more confident.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s true. That’s a good point. The master’s degree I’m doing is a liberal studies because that’s what I can do part time and the classes that I’m taking – my program director must just think I’m absolutely crazy just because I’m picking and choosing all these random things that I’m interested in. I actually have absolutely no structure, whatsoever.

Mike: That’s great! I think I wrote a post once about how I viewed college and higher education. I had the luxury to do this. It was a luxury item rather than just looking at it purely as an investment because as an investment vehicle for me, it hasn’t been that great. All my money has nothing to do with my degree so far, any of my education.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike: So I just see it as something that I enjoy. I think it makes it easier for me to understand myself and the world. I don’t know. I think it just makes it easier to live with less too.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I think I would agree. Do you plan on ever going back in PhD or anything?

Mike: When I was still at the utility company, they had the – I mean, there’s free tuition for as long as you want. By the way, I was the only guy I knew. I worked with about 80 other guys, I was the only guy who actually took advantage of it. So, it was a pretty cheap program for the company to run. I couldn’t believe it. I was telling to all the guys they should be doing it, but you know how people are.

So when it was free, I thought, “Oh, maybe I’ll get a master’s in physics or theology. Wouldn’t that be fun? Or economics.”

Mad Fientist: Yeah.

Mike: Now, I’m at the point where I think – I wouldn’t say never. Maybe in 5 to 10 years, I could see myself wanting to do something like that. But right now, I’m 99% sure now I think I’m done. If I want to look into something or learn about something, I’ll just do it on my own.

Mad Fientist: To be clear, you weren’t just at a couple of thousand dollar community college down the road. You were at Harvard, weren’t you?

Mike: Yeah, I was at the Harvard Extension School, which is a part of the university they started up little over a hundred years ago. It was geared towards local people in the city to take advantage of the university.

They’ve grown it up. I think about 50 or 60 years ago – I’m not exactly sure, but they started offering degrees at that point to people. So now they grant a few hundred degrees every year to people who just go through the whole the course schedule.

It was a great time. You get a lot of the same professors who teach the Harvard College courses teaching extension courses. A lot of times, you’re with the college kids in class in the same classes.

And you’re on the Harvard campus and it was a great experience. I loved the students. I loved the teachers. Even the administration was good to work with. Yeah, it was a really good time. It made it a lot easier to go to class and actually enjoy it even though it was stressful.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, definitely, that’s a huge benefit from the utility company. It couldn’t have been cheap.

Mike: No.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. I actually read a post a while ago after I’ve started this degree. It seems to be such a good way of getting a graduate degree because I had always thought I’d want to go back to school, but the thought of paying all that money was just crazy.

Mike: If I had to pay for it, I might have finished my undergrad degree, but I never certainly would have gone to grad school if I had to pay full price. It just doesn’t make sense.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, definitely. So you worked there for three years and you’re able to pretty much go from zero to nearly being financially independent in just that time.

Mike: Pretty much. I mean, I still had to put a lot of labor into this real estate I bought.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, let’s get into the real estate if you don’t mind. When did you pick up your first rental property?

Mike: I think that was 2009. It’s on my blog. It was about three or four years ago in October. And I bought this little house in Massachusetts. I think paid $22,000 or $23,000 for that one.

I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had the cash and my uncle buys old houses, knocks them down, he builds these big mansions and sells them in high cost-of-living areas.

He knew a realtor and he gave me her number and she was really happy to help me even though her commission was not high in the $23,000 house. She was just excited to see me get started. She helped me out. She made it really easy. I had to look at a ton of houses and I found this one. I paid cash for it. It’s a small two bedroom house.

I pretty much tell myself a whole bunch of stuff. I didn’t know how to do hardly anything. I had to learn how to put windows in, do drywall trim work, plaster, paint, install flooring, do a little bit of electrical work, a little bit of plumbing work, whatever else, siding work, roofing, all that stuff. I just had to teach myself. I would read a book, go to the internet, watch a video and I figured out. It took me about six months to fix that place up and then I rented it out for $900 a month.

Mad Fientist: Wow!

Mike: Yeah. And then I started looking for another one as soon as it was ready. So, I did it twice over again. So now, I have three places. One of which I live in and the other two I rent out for $1900 a month altogether.

I was able to do it without any mortgages or anything. I was able to pay cash. All the houses, I paid less than 25 grand for all of them.

Mad Fientist: That’s really interesting. I was speaking to Paula from in the last episode. She also buys around that price point up here in Vermont.

I’m not looking, so maybe that’s the problem. But wow, I can’t imagine house going on sale for that much. But you live in Massachusetts and that’s probably even more expensive generally.

Mike: Right! People think in New England that they can never afford a house here, but I bought three of them for less than the price of a lot of cars.

Mad Fientist: Are these rural houses?

Mike: The one I live in is just outside of the center of a small town. One of them that I rent is only a couple of miles away from where I live in. And then the other one is about 15 miles away and it’s in a small city in Central Mass. I mean, there’s a mix of city houses available and rural houses available.

Basically, there are these foreclosures and they fall into disrepair. The copper pipes are all stolen. Who knows if the furnaces work? Oftentimes, the roofs have leaks and there’s water damage inside. So you go inside and it’s just frightening.

But then my attitude is the scarier it looks the better because that means the cheaper it’s going to be.

I know what to look for now, to see what problems are with scary-looking, but easy to fix and what problems are actually scary. Maybe I should run away from them.

There’s no secret to it. They’re just MLS listings. They’re regular real estate listings that the bank lists after the foreclosure process has been done. I mean, you go to any MLS searching website and you could see them.

They don’t last long at all. I mean, when there’s a house, once it hits below about 40 grand, as long as it’s not a complete tear-down, it’s gone within maybe 5 to 10 days. So you have to watch the listings like a hawk.

What I do when I’m ready to buy, I just watch the listings like a hawk. And anytime there’s something listed, I look at it that day or the next day. You can’t hem and haw.

I have one friend who says he wants to do this, but every time he looks at the house, it takes him two weeks to decide whether or not he wants to make an offer. You can’t do that. You have to go in and make an evaluation and say, “Okay, I’m going to offer this much.” I write the offer and send it in.

So from the moment I see the listing to when my offer ends, it’s probably less than 48 hours. It’s definitely less than 48 hours, often less than 24.

Mad Fientist: Wow!

Mike: And you got to have the cash ready to go and they’ll say, “We accept your offer.” And then, a week later, they’ll do the closing. It’s just like that.

I do my own house inspections. There’s a lot less paperwork when it is cash involved.

The first one, I had a friend of a friend who was a house inspector go through with me. He showed me how to do it. So then the next two, I just did it myself. That’s what I do now.

Mad Fientist: How about the timeframe when you’re doing this? Are you still in law school and working at the utility company at this point? Or did you buy your first house after that?

Mike: I believe my first house, I had been laid off for about a year at that point, but I was still finishing up my last year at law school. So I would go up and work on the house and then go to class. I split my time between them. But I wasn’t working at that point.

Mad Fientist: How about before you started investing in real estate, were you mainly a stock investor or…?

Mike: Yeah, that’s pretty boring though. All I was doing was buying index funds. I was a passive index asset allocation investor.

Mad Fientist: That’s the best way to do it.

Mike: I think so. It’s the lazy, easy way. I think that’s the best way. It might be the best way despite the lack of effort that you need because it seems to have pretty good returns. So it’s just asset allocation, passive index funds, regular rebalancing.

Mad Fientist: Excellent! So then you just started shifting that over and using that to buy the properties. So you have three properties now?

Mike: I’m up to three right now, yeah.

Mad Fientist: That’s your main source for all of your passive income to sustain you after financial independence?

Mike: Yeah. So right now, my gross rents are $1900 a month with no mortgages. Rule of thumb is to take your gross rents and cut them in half and that will be your net rent usually.

I figure though I’m a little higher than that because I have no mortgage to pay and I do all my managing myself, I fix everything myself. So I think rule of thumb for me might be closer to 60%, maybe even 70% returns. So I’m probably looking at $1200 to $1300 a month or about $1200 a month. That’s enough because my personal expenses are less than that.

Mad Fientist: That’s great! I know on your blog, you’ve been saying you may be in the market to pick up another couple of more properties possibly. What do you think the current environment is like in – I know it’s all local, so obviously these ones are going to be in Mass. Are there still opportunities out there?

Mike: Yeah. I live in fear that it’s all just going to turn around tomorrow and there won’t be any deals left. So I’m going as fast as I can to get together the funds and to buy the next. I definitely want at least two more at this point is what I’m thinking.

I’m thinking just by looking at the foreclosure rates and the number of foreclosures that have been happening over the past year – and that will probably continue to happen over the next few months at least (you can see numbers of distressed properties, they publish those or people who are behind on insurance) – I’m thinking it’s going to be at least another year where these properties will be available. I’m hoping maybe at least two years. Beyond that, who knows?

Mad Fientist: That’s good to know at least. It sounds great, the way you went about it. It’s really inspiring as well. That’s something I was really inspired by Paula in the last episode. I tend to overthink things so much, but she just saw a good deal on a house and ran the numbers (which the numbers aren’t that difficult to run. It is not calculus or anything).

Mike: It can be a little scary for the first one because you don’t really know what the numbers are. I don’t really know how much it costs to fix a place up when I first started, so you’re really ballparking it.

Mad Fientist: That’s true.

Mike: My father would tell me, “Oh, if it was a good deal, somebody already would have bought it.” That’s what he always says. So it’s like, “Everyone gets a good deal but me. Is that how it works?”

Mad Fientist: All right.

Mike: Someone was telling me, “Don’t do it. For $20,000, there’s going to be something wrong with it, a house that cheap.” So you got to go against what everyone is telling you and you got to trust the research you’ve done and just do it and hope for the best. It worked out for me.

It was definitely risky. I definitely could have missed something and it could have been a $25,000 mistake for me.

Mad Fientist: So far, not enough to put you under. You don’t have a bank breathing down your neck or anything.

Mike: That’s what I figured. Worst case, whatever. I thought I can recover from them, yeah.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! That’s great. I’ve always wanted to pick up more skills like that. My wife and I have talked about when we’re – we’re going to head abroad probably at the end of next year. We may be doing some volunteering or something like that, Habitat for Humanity stuff.

Mike: I think that’s a great way to learn some skills.

Mad Fientist: You think? Okay, cool because we’ve just been talking about that recently. What you did as well. It’s such a good idea. Like I said, you don’t have the bank breathing down your neck. So it’s not like you need to hurry up and get everything ready, get a tenant in your house or you’re not going to be able to pay your mortgage. Just get a fixer upper that’s paying cash. Get a fixer upper and then fix it up yourself and run everything as you go along. That’s an awesome way of doing it.

Mike: Yeah, it’s nice if you have the cash, the time and the stomach for it and the willingness to do the work. Yeah. If you have all that, then it’s great.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s awesome. We’re getting near the end of the podcast. Usually, I ask all of my guests if there’s one piece of advice you’d give to somebody that’s just starting on the path of financial independence, what would that be?

Mike: I think one of the biggest things for me when I was just working every day going to school was I was wondering with all this effort, with all this work, putting all this money away, I didn’t even know if it’s going to work, my plan. I had a self-doubt and I wasn’t sure.

For most people, this is an unusual way to live your financial life. It’s not a common thing. You don’t see a lot of examples of it. If you share your plans with other people (as you were just talking about), you’ll get all these negative criticisms and feedback about how it can’t work, it won’t work and it will never work.

I would just like to say to those people who have thought it through and are working on a plan and are working towards their goals that they shouldn’t listen to those people and they should just be confident. They will succeed if they keep at it. Do not worry about those.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s excellent advice. I’ve just stopped telling people. I think it will be more fun at the end of next year when they’re like…

Mike: If someone really probes and is really interested and wants to know, I’ll talk about it, but I don’t advertise it. So that’s why I keep my blog semi-anonymous because I just don’t want to have to deal with nay-sayers all the time.

Mad Fientist: Yeah, I know. Mr. Money Mustache just got on the Washington Post cover page on the online edition. I think he’s been having to deal with a lot of garbage.

Mike: He’s a braver man, way braver than I am.

Mad Fientist: Absolutely! But that’s great advice. If anyone does want to get in touch with you, should they just go over to Where can they get in touch with you?

Mike: Go on the blog. I did have a contact form up. I’ll probably have it up by the time you air this again. Or you can leave a comment on one of my articles and get in touch with me that way. I’m happy to talk to anybody who wants to get in touch with me.

Mad Fientist: Excellent! Thank you so much, Mike. It was great talking to you. I’m sure everybody out there had a really good time listening. I spoke to Jim last night, Jim Collins from JL Collins NH and he was really, really excited to hear the interview. And he said to say hello.

Mike: All right, great. Thanks a lot. It was fun.

Mad Fientist: Yeah. I appreciate it. Take care.

Mike: All right, you too. Bye.

Mad Fientist: Well, I hope you agree that that was a pretty amazing story. Mike’s path to financial independence really highlights the importance of cash flow over everything else.

It’s easy to get caught up with, “I need x amount of dollars to achieve financial independence.” But really, at the end of the day, you just need to be concerned with x amount of steady reliable passive income per month instead because if you got steady income in every month that exceeds your bills, then that’s pretty much the definition of being financially independent.

I’d like to touch on Mike’s numbers again just because it’s really inspiring. He said he bought three properties for less than $25,000 each. Assuming that he had to put another maybe 10 grand or so into each of them to get them into a livable condition, we’re still only talking about just over $100,000 invested. So he’s bringing in $1200 a month in consumable cash flow and it only took him just over $100,000 and a lot of hard work to get there. The lower number is definitely very inspiring and that’s one of the reasons that real estate is an exciting topic for me.

Cash flow is actually something I’m probably going to focus a bit more on on the Mad Fientist in the coming months. There are so many different ways to create cash flow. There are many interesting strategies to pursue financial independence that are worth exploring. So, I think I’ll touch on that a bit more on the site in the months to come.

I thought it was a great interview and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I was actually not planning on releasing this episode for another month or so, but I had such a good time speaking with Mike and enjoyed listening to the interviews so much that I just couldn’t wait to get it published. So I figured I’d put it out there earlier than planned.

I’m also starting to think about maybe kicking the podcast up a notch. I have a lot of exciting ideas in the pipeline. I’m thinking I may start releasing more episodes in quicker successions. This is hopefully the start of that.

If you guys enjoyed the podcast and wouldn’t mind taking a minute to leave a review in iTunes about it, I’d really appreciate it. I put a link on the show notes to make this easy for you if you’re up for it.

I was actually listening to a podcast about podcasting last week and I realized I had absolutely nothing to promote the show. So, I figured if I want to start releasing more episodes, I should also try to do better on the promotion side of things as well. But don’t worry, I hate doing any self-promotions. So you don’t have to worry about this podcast turning into a big self-promotion machine or anything like that.

What I’d love to do however is promote other people’s great things that they’re doing. So if you haven’t been to yet, definitely take a look because as I said in my intro, it’s one of my favorite personal finance blogs. I’m sure it could be one of yours as well if you haven’t checked it out yet.

Thank you very much again, Mike for taking the time to speak with me and thank you, guys for listening.

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34 comments for “Lacking Ambition – Three Months After Financial Independence

  1. arebelspy
    June 3, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Awesome. LackingAmbition is one of my favorite blogs; looking forward to listening to this!

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 3, 2013 at 11:01 am

      Lacking Ambition is one of my favorite blogs as well so I was really pumped to get the chance to speak with Mike. Hopefully you enjoy the interview as much as I did!

  2. jlcollinsnh
    June 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Just finished listening and what a treat.

    Mike is a very interesting guy on a unique path: From living in the desert, to his Ivy league law degree to real estate mogul. Yikes!

    As you referenced in the interview, and as I commented on his blog, it’s nice to finally see some ambition lacking going on!

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it, Jim. I hope you liked your numerous mentions throughout the show ;)

      As far as ambition lacking…you’ll have to read the post Mike posted today before you get too excited

    • jlcollinsnh
      June 30, 2017 at 2:23 pm

      just re-listened.

      Still a treat.

      Too bad Mike has stopped blogging….

      We miss you, buddy!

      • Robert Hunt
        July 20, 2017 at 11:09 pm

        I agree. I would pay to read his stuff.

      • financialfreedomsloth
        July 21, 2017 at 7:36 am

        I also recently re-listened this podcast. I also loved his blog (actually only discovered it after he had already stopped updating it).Does anybody know how Mike is doing? People are free to spend their time however they want (even if that means stop writing great blogposts ;-). But i would love to know he is enjoying the heck out of his early retirment

  3. Kraig - Young Cheap Living
    June 3, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Great episode. This ranks right up there with your MMM and JLCOLLINSNH interviews.

    Lacking Ambition is one of my favorites as well. I wish he would post more often. I also am intrigued by his return on investment numbers. It’s inspiring.

    Keep at it. These podcasts are awesome!

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 3, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it, Kraig!

      I actually like the fact that Mike doesn’t post very often because then I don’t feel as bad going a few weeks in between my posts! It’s also always a nice surprise when one does pop up in my RSS reader.

      Thanks a lot for the positive feedback and thanks for stopping by!

  4. chris
    June 4, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Hi Mad!!

    Another great podcast!! Thank you so much for doing those! I love those things. It looks like another great blog up there with Early Retirement Extreme, JLcollinsh, Sparten Student, and MMM!! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!


    • The Mad Fientist
      June 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

      My pleasure, Chris! I’m very happy to be the one to introduce you to Lacking Ambition. You’re definitely going to enjoy Mike’s writing if you’re a fan of the other blogs you mentioned.

  5. Eric Johnson
    June 4, 2013 at 2:51 am

    Wow! Great interview. I just discovered this podcast. I have always been a huge fan of Lacking Ambition. I like his philosophical approach to writing and FI ideas.

    I will definitely be going back through and listening to the older shows.

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 4, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Thanks a lot, Eric, and welcome! You can click on the “Interviews” category on the sidebar to check out some of the previous episodes of the podcast or you can also listen to them all on iTunes.

      I look forward to hearing from you again soon!

  6. Nick
    June 6, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Great podcast! Thanks for sharing!

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 6, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it, Nick!

  7. Jon @MrMIlitaryMoney
    June 7, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Awesome podcast. I can never seem to find real estate deals like this in my area. I guess I need to do some more looking.

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 9, 2013 at 4:44 am

      I’ve not seen deals like that either, Joe, but as I said during the interview, I’m not really looking so that’s probably why. It sounds like Mike watches the MLS like a hawk when he’s in the market to buy another property and then pounces as soon as something good comes up.

  8. Jeff
    June 11, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Really enjoyed the podcast. Looking forward to the next one. My wife loves real estate and has her rental in Mexico. I like having our house to live in but not sure I want to take on tenant challenges at this stage of life so I will probably stick to mutual funds. Though if I stumbled into a $25,000 deal I might be tempted.

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 21, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Hey Jeff, great to hear from you again. Sorry for the delayed reply; I just got back online after being abroad without an internet connection.

      I’m not ready to take on tenant challenges at this point in my life either but I imagine I will be someday. Until then, I’ll keep living vicariously through people like Mike (and Paula from the last episode of the podcast).

  9. nomoreuntdebt
    June 15, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Great interview, I’ve followed his blog and love the story. You mentioned at the end that you were thinking of ramping up these podcasts, and I think you should definitely do it.

    For someone like me who has read all the blogs on FI and has the knowledge, but is just getting started with it, I think that hearing these people actually speak about it is motivation to me to keep actively pursuing FI. In the “real world” I know of no one that is doing this, and it’s easy to get sucked back into the lifestyle of everyone else if you’re not careful.

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 22, 2013 at 3:54 am

      Thanks a lot for the comment! Hearing from people who find the podcast valuable definitely motivates me to produce more episodes so thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  10. GamingYourFinances
    June 19, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Fantastic! Thanks for posting. Mike is such an interesting guy, that was great to listen to.

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 25, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for stopping by!

  11. Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa
    June 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Great listen. I will now be spending the rest of my day looking for a comparable deal in my area.

    • The Mad Fientist
      June 29, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks a lot, Michael. Let me know how your search goes.

  12. W B
    August 11, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I just found this interview. GREAT interview! Do you know how to contact Mike? His website is no longer available. Do you know if he has a new website out there?

    Thank you

    W B

    • The Mad Fientist
      August 12, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Hey WB, I just sent Mike an email to tell him his site is down so I’ll let you know when he gets it back up again.

      Glad you enjoyed the interview!

    • The Mad Fientist
      August 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Hey WB, I just got an email from Mike saying the site’s back up (and it is)!

      • Charlie
        July 31, 2015 at 11:00 pm

        Hi Mad,

        It seems that the site is gone again. Do you know what the deal is?


  13. snowcanyon
    October 25, 2015 at 12:19 am

    Is he OK? Blog silent for well over a year, would love an update.

    • nillawafers
      November 13, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      I would like one too. It’s been too long since I read a new post from him.

  14. dave
    April 15, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Great interview. The opposite of lacking ambition. Such a brilliant way to get way to get an education. I too took advantage of tuition reimbursement. My former employer paid for 85% of my MS degree. However, It was not from Harvard.

  15. Dough
    September 18, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    Anyone know if Mike is still alive? Just not on the internet?

  16. Chenda
    November 7, 2021 at 1:30 pm

    Re-listening to this podcast, such a great interview with an inspiring guy. Would love to know how Mike is doing – @Mad are you still in contact with him ?

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