How important is putting down roots in a community to your life objectives? The question was underscored on reading a recent guest post by Jacob Lund Fisker (of the legendary Early Retirement Extreme blog) on Get Rich Slowly.
Jacob is a theoretical astrophysicist who studied at Berkeley and achieved FI before eschewing academics for a life pursuing interests independent of the need for income.
He established a rational philosophical framework that complemented the mathematical underpinnings of FIRE, answering the why in addition to the how.
Jacob detailed how he has lived on about $7,000 a year starting in the costly San Francisco Bay Area (trailer home) to his current house, paid for in cash, in the Chicago suburbs.
His update was a list of new skills he has mastered, new problems he has solved, and new opportunities he has availed himself of thanks to not needing money. They have ranged from racing sailboats, learning Japanese sword fighting, working as a quant in finance, self-taught bicycle repair, woodworking, gardening and manufacturing his own tools.
I am one of many who regard Jacob as a thought leader of anti-consumerist FI, yet I'll be the first to acknowledge his off the grid problem-solving has always appealed more in theory than in practice.
He walks the walk; I still drive it.
One of the other striking aspects of Jacob's life is the peripatetic nature implied in his preferred form of living. He and his wife have "itchy feet" and relocate every few years so that one or the other can pursue a passion project that requires a new geography.
This implies a deep understanding of what makes him tick and what makes him happy. He is an introvert who reads 100 books a year, and it would seem that he feels comfortable building community through his projects du jour. This led me to reflect on how I proceed building community.
It turns out my community building moves very slowly. After relocating every few years for my education, we settled into our home only to experience the isolation of being in a family cocoon with small children.
Our emergence from that cocoon was gradual, for a number of reasons.
First, there was an understandable wariness of others' motives for befriending a dual ER doc couple - we want to be friendly enough to invite to your party or confide your struggles, but not so accessible you come over uninvited late at night expecting free medical advice or drop our names (and our standing) at our workplace due to a bizarre sense of entitlement.
Second, as a middle aged guy who does not follow sports, it's hard to meet like-minded souls. Men don't go up to others they don't know and say, "Want to grab a coffee and discuss that new Jonathan Franzen book?" or "Does your work leave you feeling empty inside some days?"
Instead, those friendships developed over years, organically:
- Taking a hike with someone else who gets random weekdays off and likes to stretch his legs.
- Geeking out over personal finance at a kid party with someone whose interest is piqued so much that they ask me to coffee to continue the discussion of DIY portfolio management.
- Answering a friend's questions over how we keep summer family travel affordable.
- Being comfortable enough in my skin (using earplugs at concerts, letting it be known I bought my clothes at thrift stores) that it got the attention of other eccentrics who invited me into their circles.
I take pleasure in the roots we've put down and how we've managed to weave ourselves into the fabric of our community.
The danger, in returning to Jacob's "itchy feet," is that our connections have been created slowly. Since we forged them in a high cost of living (HCOL) area, we are bound to this community and would not easily depart it.
Is there a way we can use geographic arbitrage or cut costs in some other manner? I have a few fantasies I enjoy exploring, and I try to plant seeds in my wife's brain to give her time to consider them well in advance. All of them commence when we become empty nesters in ~8 years.
First we would rent our home as a furnished high end rental (goal being to save on storage costs by leaving furniture in place) with the hope that a high ranking corporate employee on a year's assignment in LA would rent it out. The rent we could command would likely cover our remaining mortgage and then some.
In the meantime, we'd move a few choice pieces of furniture to a nearby apartment that would serve as our base of operations for the year.
If we felt comfortable with the plan, I'd be fine renting. If my wife feels strongly, we could look for a good deal on a smaller, right-sized home to downsize into that remains in the area.
We'd then proceed to spend 3-6 months slow traveling through different domestic and international destinations that remain on our bucket list, which off the top of my head include but are not limited to:
- New York City
- Southeast Asia
- Mexico City
- the Balkans
- the Camino de Santiago in Spain
- the Southeastern US
- canyon country in the American Southwest
- US national parks
The remaining 6 months (fall and spring, our favorite seasons in the area) we'd return to reside in our small local apartment. Most of these destinations would likely be associated with an expected reduction in expenses.
Like most travel-heavy fantasies, I fully expect we'll tire of constant movement after a while and figure out what balance of routine and novelty works best for us.
Depending on our tolerance for hassle, we could hire a service to remotely sublet the rental apartment on airbnb provided it was in compliance with local regulations to generate more income to support our travels.
This would satisfy the competing interests of keeping a foothold in a HCOL community we've come to love, yet also channeling our wanderlust while we have time and health to enjoy doing so.
Our roots have been slow to grow but have held fast once set down. Although it's expensive, we'd like to remain in this community until we leave it horizontally. Let's hope that day is in the distant future.