Phew its 30 degrees today and I am conscious I have so many Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) interviews building up for release, and I am publishing this one with the fan on full blast in my office whilst sipping on a strawberry smoothie to cool me down… yeah baby! 😉
I bring you the next FIRE interview guest Hermy Gao who contacted me to discuss collaborating on an interesting project together and after digging around a bit I found out that Hermy’s blog is on the biggest social media platform (Wechat) so I managed to do a translation and read through some interesting posts.
Knowing how I operate it wasn’t long before I offered up the guest interview invite and Hermy accepted.
A really interesting interview..
Who are you, and how did you discover FIRE?
I am an expat in Dublin for 7 years, happily married, and I’ve been a life coach for 3 years and a financial coach for 1 year. I have also been writing for the Chinese community in Europe for 2 years under the name of “Miaotoujun” (scan the QR code if you happen to use WeChat). Besides my life passions, I work at a tech company full time, helping users get support from where they want to be.
Although I have a finance bachelor degree and three masters degrees, they didn’t really help much with FIRE. In fact, the word FIRE in Chinese has a negative connotation associated with it, which sounds more or less like a scam, and certainly do not sound like something that would belong to me.
However, after 2018, where I bought my first apartment in Ireland and also had my wedding, I decided to switch my focus from wedding planning to finance planning. Things quickly snowballed from there as one book led to another, and one article led to another, until a few months later I came across the concept of FIRE. I immediately knew that this stuff is for me – someone who values freedom and independence more than anything else. It also didn’t take long to convince my partner, so we have been on this journey together for 2 years. Hopefully in 8 years time at least one of us will be fully FIRE 🙂
What is the backbone of your FIRE strategy?
FIRE for me is not about money, it’s about happiness. There’s a Chinese philosophy called “the golden mean”, which means finding the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For us it means earning a reasonable salary, spending within a reasonable limit, and investing with an average expectation. No extremes. The only thing we try to optimise for is happiness, so I would like to call our FIRE journey “a happy FIRE”.
For earnings, we each have a full time job in the tech industry which we are happy about, and I have a few clients which are more for my growth and enjoyment than earning a living out of it. Although we keep an eye on the start up scene, we have no rush to become one ourselves, so this part is uneventful.
For spending, we have always been good savers, and we strive for the balance between monetary and un-monetary happiness.
– For everyday essentials, we generally go for the discount products or non-branded products, and also focus on preventing waste, such as replacing plastic wraps with beeswax wraps, paying attention to food expirations and don’t let them go bad, etc. When we are outside, we always bring our own water and snacks, and we never need to buy anything from the convenience stores.
– For holidays, we tend to look for cheap locations during off seasons, and stay in comfortable but not luxurious places. We like to spend money on experiences rather than physical things.
– For big purchases, we delay the purchase until sale time and make sure they are aligned with our values. We both meditate and try to savour what we have, and while we are nowhere near extreme minimalism, we try to adopt as many principles as possible, such as throwing away a few things every other week, buying only when we need to replace something, etc.
– For the un-monetary side, I’ve completed the “Science of wellbeing” and many other courses and books focusing on how to obtain authentic happiness, which is usually not related to spending money.
For investing, I have come to the realisation that we don’t need to beat the market to reach FIRE, and I don’t actually enjoy picking stocks even though I thought I did for a few months. Therefore we are just doing the usual index fund investing. The only adventurous side left is I don’t religiously follow the world index, while being fully aware that doing so might make my final returns higher or lower, which I’ll happily accept anyways.
Finally, a bit of FIRE related actions: I have a spreadsheet which I use to track our monthly saving rate and FIRE ratio. It is particularly useful to see if we are getting closer to our goals, especially since we don’t set a rigorous budget. I also occasionally check our numbers against some FIRE calculators for the visual effects.
What do you plan to do once you reach FI?
Let me use the “start stop continue” framework to answer this question:
Start: I’ll spend more time in China and travel the country – it’s a shame that although I spent 20+ years in my home country, I haven’t even seen a small portion of it yet. Of course I’ll travel more in other places too. I’ll also start engaging in different types of projects and connect with different groups of people that are outside of my current circles.
Stop: I will not necessarily stop working, but I’ll stop a large portion of that traditional office work, and stop any work that requires me to be somewhere physically.
Continue: I will definitely increase my time and energy spent on my financial coaching project, whether it’s writing, doing 1:1 client coachings, or increasing my network with other financial coaches to do something with more scale. I’ll continue to learn and read about FIRE and investing, and about positive psychology and mindfulness. I’ll also continue to live a healthy lifestyle with regular sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
What are some books, podcasts or YouTube channels you recommend?
– Psychology of Money – Morgan Housel: this is a book for the people who are not so passionate about FIRE or financial anything.
– Unshakeable – Tony Robbins: this is a book for the people who are curious about how to invest.
– Informed decisions: an Irish-based podcast from a reputable financial planner.
– Small things often: it’s about building a healthy relationship, and we all know how important this is to get FIRE.
– Bogleheads wikipedia: it’s probably the best place to check out details for FIRE investing.
– “The Science of Wellbeing” Coursera course: it’s not about FIRE, but it will help you get faster to FIRE.
To view Hermy’s blog click here