First off thank you for taking the time to get involved in this interview for our readers.
I have been fascinated by the whole FIRE movement for a few years now (FIRE stands for Financial Independence and Retire Early) and have been looking to build sufficient net wealth to live completely off passive income.
Whilst I am not quite there yet, searching online I came across a number of FIRE bloggers I came across your website Mr. Free at 33. Recently I met an ex-finance guy who moved from Hong Kong with his family to Malaysia with the aim of living off passively invested savings.
You’re very transparent on your blog with what stocks make up your FIRE Fund, so literally anyone could replicate what you do. I am keen to understand more about your fund and your life in Chiang Mai.
So, thanks again Jason – let’s jump straight into this with my first question.
1. Can you give us a little background information on you? For example, where you’re from and how you ended up moving and living in Thailand.
Hi. Thanks for having me.
Sure. I can give you some background.
I’m originally from the United States. I was born and raised in Detroit. It’s a rough town.
Struggled most of my life, really. That culminated in getting fired from my job during the depths of the financial crisis (in 2009). I found myself below broke and unemployed at 27 years old. Deciding that I could no longer allow an employer to have so much control over my life, I started down the path to financial independence and retiring early (FIRE).
I moved to Florida, got a job, and started living very frugally. I sold my car. I began investing my savings. And I also started blogging, because I thought others would be interested in what a journey from $0 to FIRE looked like for a very regular guy like myself.
I achieved FIRE in 2016. That was six years after I set out toward it (in early 2010).
But living in the States is not really optimal from a cost of living and quality of life perspective. So I decided to move abroad in 2017. I chose Thailand because it offers me a lot of what I like from a quality of life (QOL) angle, and the cost of living (COL) here is very low. You get a very high QOL for a very low COL.
2. You are now based in Chiang Mai, a city I am very familiar with having lived there for a year in 2004, what made you choose to live here? Do you see yourself living there indefinitely? Do you ever miss the USA?
I chose Chiang Mai because I thought it offered a unique blend of attributes.
First, its Thailand, which is a country I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. The weather is a little cooler here than the rest of Thailand due to the latitude and altitude. And the people have a very relaxed attitude. Even more so than Thais in other places. It’s a laid-back place.
And the COL is much lower than most other cities in the world, even though it’s a pretty developed area. The value is incredible.
Also, Chiang Mai used to be a bit of a mecca for the digital nomad movement. As someone who’s been working online since 2011, I figured I’d meet some like-minded people here.
I came here single. So moving somewhere that offered a dynamic dating environment was appealing to me. Thailand doesn’t disappoint.
The US doesn’t really do much for me, so I don’t miss it. I mean, I could go back. I wasn’t running away from anything. Being objective about it, though, I don’t find it a terribly attractive place to live once you’re financially and geographically independent.
3. I am a huge fan of uprooting and living in another country (I have done so 3 times). The opportunity to meet new people, experience new things, and most of all taking advantage of geo arbitrage.
The Thai Baht has strengthened significantly over the last 10 years, and I notice the cost of living has increased comparatively too. This I know is an issue with British retires living in Thailand. How much has this affected your lifestyle
I can’t say that any of this has been a problem for me.
I’ve actually written a couple of articles about inflation in Thailand. I track and publish my expenses every month. Nothing has markedly gone up in price for me here. My rent is unchanged over the course of two years. Some of the markets might charge five baht more for food, but it’s nothing more than a rounding error after converting to dollars. The gym costs the same as it did two years ago. So does my mobile phone. So does most everything else. I think inflation was a bigger problem in the States.
As for the currency exchange rate, the US dollar has held up pretty well against the baht over the last 10 or so years. Other Western currencies haven’t done so well. A dollar bought about 30 baht in 2007. It now buys about 30 baht. Unchanged. If you’re coming here with the AUD, that’s a different story. But I earn in dollars.
4. You have been featured in many popular online publications, such as Business Insider, Market Watch, Seeking Alpha, Virgin Money, Life hacker, and the USA today. (and now LifeHacker Guy!). How has such exposure affected or changed your life anyway? From giving your new opportunities and making you popular in Chiang Mai.
Yeah, I’ve been super fortunate. I’m always happy to reach out to new people. If I can inspire a few more individuals out there, that’s great for me. In the end, I write so that I can motivate and inspire others to make their dreams come true. Any mainstream media attention I might get simply amplifies my efforts.
I wouldn’t say any of this exposure has drastically changed my life. Not negatively, anyway. I think it’s given me a few extra long-term readers, which is wonderful. The bigger the community, the better.
5. You manage to live passively in Chiang Mai through investing in dividend producing stocks. How did you go about selecting the stocks that looked good enough to be part of your portfolio? Do you adjust your portfolio and on the lookout for new potential stocks?
Investing is pretty simple for me.
I’m a long-term dividend growth investor. I invest in high-quality stocks that pay rising dividends. And I only invest in a business after it passes a certain threshold regarding fundamentals, competitive advantages, risks, and valuation.
I like high-quality companies that have durable competitive advantages.
I expect my fair share of growing profit. And I don’t like to pay too much. It’s not complicated.
As for “adjusting” the portfolio, I don’t ever sell stocks. I hold for the long haul. I collect my growing dividends and go about enjoying my life. It’s a very nice setup. And it’s one I’ve been enjoying for years.
6. You publish your FIRE Fund on your blog along with the current value and dividend yield. Doing a simple calculation from your dividend yield and it looks like your income is 3.5% per annum. The yield seems low considering other dividend stocks generating 5-8% yields.
Well, the yield is generally a proxy for risk.
You could just load up a portfolio with high-yield stocks. But, as I just mentioned, I like investing in high-quality companies. And the high-quality dividend growth stocks out there usually do not offer sky-high yields.
I do have a few higher-yielding stocks in the portfolio. But I’m pretty careful about which stocks I buy and how much exposure I have to higher-yielding securities.
Overall, I sleep like a baby. That’s priceless for me. If others want to buy stocks yielding 8%+ and worry about their holdings, that’s on them.
7. Your FIRE Fund contains a LOT of companies (125 in total). I assume you buy and hold such a large diversified holding to minimize the risk of only holding a few stocks and see large drawdowns.
Every stock is like a golden goose that lays ever-more golden eggs for me. The geese tend to get fatter every year, and they tend to lay more eggs every year.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket.
Likewise, I don’t want to rely on just a small handful of geese. There are a lot of wonderful businesses out there. I see no reason to artificially constrain or limit oneself.
8. As well as writing your online blog you also have written two books that are currently available on Amazon .
Yes. I have the two books out there. I did my best to provide valuable information in a concise way. And I’ve purposely kept the books cheap so that they’re accessible to everyone.
9. You also offer coaching services to help people live their own life by design. What sort of people do you see contacting you about this and are you able to share experiences from coaching?
People who contact me for coaching are usually pretty serious about achieving FIRE quickly. They’re ready to radically change their life. In my opinion, that’s the only way anyone achieves FIRE.
In life, you usually get out what you put in. It’s input and output. If you want extraordinary output, you need extraordinary input. For anyone who really wants this kind of amazing and free lifestyle, you have to be prepared to give it an incredible amount of dedication and focus.
Thanks for your time again Jason. Wish you all the best on your global travels.
Disclaimer: Jason wanted to highlight that he is not a licensed professional of any kind, he is not a financial advisor, tax professional, or doctor. And so any information in this interview should be viewed as entertainment purposes only. Before you invest any of your money, exercise, or undergo any financial, business, or personal changes at all, please consult an appropriate professional.