My next big decision dealt with my broker, who had sold me the expensive mutual fund. I walked into his office and politely told him to redeem my shares in the fund that made him more money than me. The life insurance agent was next. I told him to cancel the whole-life policy that I didn’t need.After that was debt. I cut out unnecessary spending, and paid off my car loan and credit card debt. This was a big moment in my life, not just my finances. My mindset was changing quickly. As best I could, I tried to do what was smart.
I ramped up my savings rate and focused on stock index funds with their low fees and high returns over time. There were times I was saving more than 30% of my paycheck and in some years 50% was the norm. Fast forward to age 45. That was the year I left one world and entered another. I had reached financial freedom, thanks to years of diligent saving coupled with . Financial literacy, followed by action, took me to a place where I no longer needed to work. I’m not sure I even understood what the term financial freedom meant.
I just kind of realized that I could let go of the urge to make more money and begin doing other things with my time. This is when I started focusing more on something bigger. I read Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. I started to realize there was more to this issue than just money and spreadsheets. The book taught me about the importance of enough and the fulfillment curve, and how it all worked. It also taught me the importance of giving.
About five years prior, I had found $100 on the ground and, instead of banking it as I usually did, I gave it to a woman who had her house broken into. The thief had stolen Christmas presents from under her tree. It was sad, so I dropped by and gave her the $100. She cried and so did I. That changed me. That moment came rushing back to me as I read Your Money or Your Life. I had found the missing piece of this journey. It was in giving back that I found my soul, and the meaning and purpose in my life. It was time to pay it forward.
A few years later, I would learn about Joseph Campbell and “the hero’s journey.” I found it fascinating how we could lead a well-lived life by following our bliss. I committed to following my bliss as I circled back to help others, so they too could be the hero of their own journey. I went back to school and picked up a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, focusing on understanding people and their emotions around this thing called money. While I was there, I decided to start helping young people with their finances.
I wrote four books, attempting to help people better understand the connection between their finances and a purpose-driven life. These books were my way of helping others see a world that I didn’t know existed prior to my true beginning. In the process, I became “the crazy man in the pink wig.”Where did that come from? One day, I put on my three-year-old great niece’s pink wig to make her laugh. It worked. Her mom took my picture and I made it my Facebook profile page. Soon, people were calling me that crazy guy in the pink wig.
The proverbial light bulb went on: It was my future identity.I had been leading a “crazy” life for a long time—rejecting materialism, and the debt and stress that goes with it, saving a good chunk of my money, investing in index funds and basically charting my own course. To many people, I appeared crazy. I now had a visual image that folks couldn’t forget. I encourage people to be as crazy as I am. To wear the pink wig—metaphorically or literally—is to think for yourself and, ultimately, live the life you were meant to live instead one selected by others.
All the while, I began consuming books at an accelerated rate. I starting learning from the right teachers: Warren Buffett, John Bogle, Burton Malkiel, Charles Ellis, William Bernstein, Jane Bryant Quinn, Rick Ferri, David Swensen, Daniel Solin and a guy by the name of Jonathan Clements.Through some self-reflection, I realized I had learned something that went far beyond finances. I learned about how to find meaning in my life, and that involved giving. I designed my future life around helping others with the talents I’d acquired over the last few decades.
I’m approaching 60 and have spent the past 14 years helping individuals and organizations improve their financial situation. I do it for free because I can and because it feels so very good to help others. My next venture is The Giving Solution. The Giving Solution is an opportunity to help folks who have little to no money, those who are relegated to the end of the line when receiving financial help. The organization officially kicks off in January 2024. Crazy? I don’t think so. TheGivingSolution.org website is currently being built. Stay tuned!