I recently got a hot tip from a friend I trust and respect. Gasem mentioned that he'd enrolled in an online video course on creating a Financial Independence spreadsheet taught by blogger and math whiz Actuary on Fire (henceforth "AoF," which I imagine to be the sound of a sucker punch to your cerebral cortex). He'd found it to be outstanding.
Explanatory Digression Break
I'm a math guy, but not a spreadsheet guy. I was a former mathlete in high school. You'll be relieved to learn, dear reader, that dating with a stethoscope in later life more than made up for the challenges of dating with a calculator watch in early life.
Some on my math team were recognized as innately gifted. I was the "hard worker" of the group, which is what the faculty advisor calls the kid who isn't a native speaker of equations but demonstrates an admirable work ethic. If you believe in growth mindset, however, work ethic and practice are ultimately the qualities that matter most.
Spreadsheets Intimidate Me
The last time I'd used a spreadsheet, the dominant software was Lotus 1-2-3. Consequently, Excel and its free google equivalent left me exclaiming "Holy Sheets!," and seemed far too sophisticated for my cave-man level skills. Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to learn something designed for students who need their hands held.
AoF joined the Rockstar Finance Forum shortly after I did, and I recalled his jovial and generous personality from a few discussion threads we both partook of. So I thought nothing of reaching out to my old compadre, who was kind enough to let me test drive his video course on Udemy for free.
The course consists of bite-sized videos ranging from 1 to 14 minutes in length, each with a discrete spreadsheet skill set or concept that is covered.
Let's Look Under The Hood
AoF starts gently, introducing you to the concept of cashflow modeling as a secret actuarial tool of the trade. His spreadsheet allows for multiple sources of income (and expenses) that may vary over time. Some remain predictable over years, like a salary or social security. Others reflect one-time windfalls or expenses like property sales, a child's college education or major home repairs.
Since many docs on the road to FI have side hustles and additional streams of income, this is a great way of accounting for a multi-income household.
Accounts are grouped into pre-tax and post-tax, with the ability to use different predictions for their respective returns. One can also designate different withdrawal rates for pre-tax and post-tax accounts. The effect is a very customizable prediction tool with an extremely granular level of detail.
This naturally lends itself to bouts of prolonged experimentation - you can now see what happens if you work a couple of additional years, if your spouse retires earlier, or how finances might be affected if you opt to have that third kid.
I spent two hours in the blink of an eye playing with the customized spreadsheet I created, but it left me reconsidering the best strategy for our glide path toward retirement.
I love having the video lectures to refer back to if I forget a particular command or lose track of how to perform a function.
I also enjoyed having the spreadsheet ready to download in the identical format used in the lecture series, so that I could take a functional version and simply change the numbers to reflect my situation.
The ability to change individual variables and immediately see the impact this has on predicted retirement income makes abstract concepts far easier to grasp.
AoF is an outstanding lecturer, and he used simple language that steered clear of jargon. I never felt condescended to or less than for my ignorance of the subject matter. The icing on the cake was AoF's charming British accent (it reminded me of Mike Myers' old SNL skits as Simon, the British child who likes to make "drawrings").
I found little to dislike about the course.
While the spreadsheet does not account for the effects of taxation, this is announced at the outset as being beyond the scope of the course. There is intimation that an advanced course will follow. I look forward to enrolling, and hope that taxation will be included in the next version.
There was liberal use of anthropomorphic animals, perhaps intended to add levity and make a challenging topic seem approachable. While this felt distracting during a couple of lectures, it fortunately never reached the fiasco of 1997's release of Microsoft Word with Clippy, the animated paperclip.
I'd recommend this course for anyone who seeks to factor in complexity when they model their financial future, for example:
- Dual-income households where one partner may have variable income over time as they ramp down work to care for children, then ramp up as kids grow independent.
- Persons who plan for a "mushy" retirement; instead of going from salary to no salary, these folks plan to continue earning fluctuating income in some capacity.
- Persons with multiple income streams such as rental real estate investments.
- Dual-income households where retirement dates and post-retirement income is likely to vary.
- Partners of different ages and different career stages who would like to model how staggered retirements will affect household cashflow.
- Control freaks (you know who you are) who enjoy futzing with variables to model their effects on cashflow in retirement.
AoF reminds me of that buddy in college who allowed you to knock on his door whenever you had trouble with a problem set, and was never too busy to answer a question.
His passion is obviously in teaching others, as reflected in the course's modest pricing ($49 at time of this post). At one and half hours total, it's a small time investment for a high-impact educational supplement.
I make no commission if you buy the course - but if you are seeking to reach Financial Independence and want to add a powerful tool to your tool belt, I was extremely impressed and would recommend this course without reservation.
Click here to purchase Actuary on Fire's online course, Create A Kickass Financial Independence Spreadsheet.