In my musings about living the dream another question came to my mind. I wondered, what if you want to disconnect from what people think of as the rat race entirely? I immediately thought of people who make a living panhandling or playing musical instruments in public for donations. I knew most professionals don’t want to do this, but that got me thinking, what if you wanted to disengage as much as possible yet keep some of the benefits. There are lots of systems that make up the modern world and I thought that maybe a variant of beating the system is simply not taking part. I really started thinking about what that would look like. I came up with six crazy lifestyle ideas for professionals.
After writing it all out I realized that these crazy lifestyle ideas are mostly connected through the themes of increasing flexibility and limiting liabilities. If you have no bills, no responsibilities, then there is much more flexibility. To make this happen you have to get really extreme. When I say extreme I mostly mean ways that may put up social and professional barriers between the people living these lifestyles and their friends, families and colleagues. So I put together the list and tried to come up with Pro’s and Con’s to each lifestyle option. This is what I came up with:
1) Cash flow your house.
This is one of those things that’s pretty easy to hide if you don’t want people to know. It also is easier to achieve in rural environments. The way this process works is to buy property, pay it off, build a garage or put a used trailer home/camper on it and live in that. Pay that off very quickly if you weren’t able to buy it for cash. Then build a house slowly over a decade or so as you can cash flow it. A variant of this for more suburban and urban environments is buying an extreme fixer-upper although admittedly there are huge issues with starting with an old and beat up structure versus the blank canvas of an empty lot.
There are some real positives to this approach as housing is more constrained when the kids don’t exist or are smaller. It’s easy to hide, even if you have to be a bit anti-social to do it. Let’s face it, it’s hard to have a dinner party with co-workers if you are inviting them to your re-purposed shed. Ditto with having family members visit. It also works really well in helping deal with the ups and downs of our modern careers and economies. There is a ton of sweat equity that is realized as well. It’s realistic to cash flow 80 to 100K over 10 years and have a home that’s worth three to four times that when the Certificate of Occupancy is finally granted. Another major benefit is that it affords the owner/builder to get really familiar with the costs of the materials and needed labor and snag deals when they see them.
Like most of the things on this list, this is one that has a measure of associating the person doing it with ‘weirdness’. As I said if a coworker ever comes over or wants to talk housing, they will think your insane when they hear of the cashflow process. Remember, it’s normal to have a mortgage or live in an apartment if you are part of the working professional class. The only way to avoid this perception is to talk up the idea of never having a mortgage. That is something that many people will actually envy. Obviously this process works best if the person doing the building is a handyman. They don’t have to be a general contractor, but they do need to be able to learn and have the discipline to work on the house every single weekend when there is money to buy materials. Another con is severely reduced mobility. Homeowners have a much easier time selling a complete move in ready house vs. one that is half built.
Best Time to Do It: At the beginning of one’s life. It’s hard to do something like this after you already have a house and a family.
2) Don’t have a house.
An alternative to the first option of cash flowing your house is to simply not own one. I’m not talking about renting. I’m thinking about options like living in an RV or working for an organization that pays for your housing. These types of organizations are more common than you would think. The military is a great example but there are private sector options that include a 24/7 job at a storage facility as a property manager or working on a cruise ship. I remember seeing an example of this when watching deadliest catch. One of the Captains on the show spent so much time on the ship that for the few months a year he was off of it he lived in a nice RV. The modern equivalent is the folks in silicon valley who can’t afford housing so they live in little RV’s parked in the company parking lot and use all the facilities provided by the company.
This option offers a life of extreme mobility and a chance to see the world. You can climb up the corporate or organizational ladder in part by being more competitive because of your minimal financial needs and greater mobility.
The biggest negative’s I can see is not having room for a family and not building any equity. RV’s go down in value. The flip side of the argument for being more competitive by being able to do the job for less money is that the need for more money to pay family bills does have a tendency to motivate someone to go out and ask for more.
Best Time to Do It:
The best time for this is any time as long as the person doing it is either single and/or not responsible for children. Some allowances can be made with military jobs, but even then it’s still difficult to raise a family when Uncle Sam is uprooting everyone and moving them around the world every three years.
3) Don’t have kids.
This one has traditionally been highly controversial. To most professionals, indeed to almost all of humanity, this is insane thinking. Everyone has kids. It’s one of those things that is absolutely expected. It’s also driven by some pretty intense biological imperatives and socialization. Yet, like many things, what was once heresy is now considered reasonable and accepted. More and more I’m hearing of young couples choosing not to have children to maintain their own quality of life.
I don’t think many of them can quantify the trends that are influencing their decision making but there is some easily identifiable reasons why this is occurring. Part of it is increased accessibility and convenience of birth control which we have known for years has a strong downward impact on birth rates whenever it becomes available to the general population. The other part is eye opening data on inflation. This isn’t an economic article but every report I have seen has said inflation is flat but individual categories have changed dramatically. Things like durable goods have dropped in price significantly. As an example 15 years ago you couldn’t buy a personal computer for under $3,000 and today you can pick them up for $95 at Walmart. It’s costs for things like housing, education, and healthcare that have shot through the roof. From an economic perspective it balances out. The challenge with kids is that when you have them you can’t avoid consuming housing, education, and health care. I.e. your forced to spend your life slavishly paying for the most expensive things our society has to offer. This means there is intense economic pressure to not have children and the population numbers show many are choosing this option.
Any parent will tell you that not having children is the single most empowering thing you can do for enhancing freedom and flexibility in your life. This freedom and flexibility is both financial and logistical. It’s that simple. You can pretty much go where you want, get what you want, and live the lifestyle you want as a working professional without kids.
Having children is still very much a rite of passage and something the vast majority of people do. Not having the child-rearing experience creates a sort of social barrier between those who are or have been parents and those who are not. What do people talk about when they get together? They talk about shared experiences. Often times at professional events I’ve connected with my colleagues I would otherwise have nothing in common with through the shared experiences of parenting. It’s not just through the child rearing years, It never ends throughout life. Go to any assisted living facility and all the old folks talk about their grand kids 24/7. Children are truly one of humanities great connectors.
Best Time to Do It:
The only time to pull this off is BEFORE you have children. If you have them, your pretty much stuck for the rest of your life unless you are complete deadbeat. Sadly this is happening more and more in some levels of the socio-economic spectrum.
4) Live off the grid.
Yes, I am not discussing not being hooked up to power and just using local generators that you pay to fuel, i’m talking granola country. Not having to pay for much of your groceries because of your farm sized garden and not having to pay for most utilities is a big deal over time. Windmills, solar panels, and even water wheels connected to turbines, assuming you live on a creek, can all not just be a source of power, they can become a source of income in certain areas where the power company is forced to purchase the power. If you combine this with the first option of cash flowing your house and all of a sudden, things get really interesting. It’s also argued that if you grow the majority of your own food it’s healthier than the food with preservatives. Let’s not forget that this variant of a family farm structure can also provide income via crop production and sales.
The biggest pro’s are that few realize utilities and groceries are as expensive as they are. It’s just one of those things that’s expected in life and the idea of not having these bills, or minimizing them seems an alien concept. The savings between generating your own power and subsidizing your groceries can be substantial. This is especially true in a situation with children. They will be less likely to throw out the water mellon if they had to spend six months nurturing it to get it to grow. I suspect they will also be less likely to want the crust cut off of their all-natural PB&J if they were the ones who baked the bread.
One major negative is in the needed time to pull it off. Time vs. money is a real thing. It takes lots of time to plant and harvest the garden. It takes time to manage the power plant. It takes time to develop the expertise needed to live this lifestyle. There is also the issue of reliability. The power company is pretty good but the person who lives off the grid is their own power company. Also unless you want to get extreme and live without things like power, then there is an initial investment cost that can be pretty substantial. Even though solar panels have gone down dramatically in costs, they are still very expensive and most people can’t afford to put in enough to meet all their needs, at least not initially.
Best Time to Do It:
This one can potentially be done anytime and with any type of property that can support the power generating and gardening infrastructure. The best time is as soon as it’s feasible and makes economic sense to do so.
5) Eschew traditional employment for craft / contract jobs.
There are a few things on this list which are becoming less radical as the economy and workforce continues to evolve into new models better suited for the information age. This type of independent contractor lifestyle is one of those. In the same way the next generation doesn’t really see social traditions as marriage before children or even having children as valuable, they don’t see traditional employment the same way as previous generations. The growing numbers of workers and employers who prefer this model means the infrastructure for contract jobs is maturing where it’s a viable alternative. It’s grow to the point where supportive organizations are starting to develop. There is now a job called ‘gig agent’ which is, as you would think, a person or organization who places workers into very short term ‘gig’ positions. You’ll have to maintain huge financial buffers and great financial discipline to make this lifestyle work and still have a something that doesn’t lose the benefits that come from traditional employment. On the spectrum between traditional employment and owning a traditional business, this is much closer to, but not quite, owning a small business.
Like many of the things on this list, enhanced lifestyle flexibility is a huge benefit. There is the added benefit that while times are good and the reputation or the niche of the gigger grows, income has the potential to go up dramatically. Depending on how much the individual grows their network of customers, this type of lifestyle can actually become much more stable than traditional employment where a single companies fortunes or a single managers attitude or plan can completely eliminate 100% of your income.
The negative of going 100% gig for your income is the need for building big buffers for business cycles, personal time off, retirement savings, and many other life needs sits is squarely on the shoulders of the person who is gigging for a living. Another negative is that by competing in more generic offerings means most gig positions are going to be decided on who is offering the lowest cost. Without a connection to the employer the value of things like institutional knowledge goes out the door.
Best Time to Do It:
The best time to do this is when you have built up a huge professional network that can reasonably sustain a gigger. Additionally you need to know enough about your specialty where your skills are highly valued. It doesn’t have to be creative, it could be something like a CAD / CAM gigger or a programming gigger who specializes in customizing ERP systems.
6) Extreme / Zero Debt.
I’ve touched on this one before. It’s really a variant of financial defense. I like to think I play this game well, but until I can convince my wife to sell the house and move into something that has no mortgage attached to it, then I don’t feel like i’m really engaged in the financial defensive lifestyle to the extent that I would like. That being said, when I compare myself to others around me I definitely have a financial defensive sensibility. The Extreme / Zero Debt lifestyle is not quite, no mortgage, but it is living in a house that may only cost 1-2x your annual household income. It means paying double on a 15 year mortgage so the house is paid for in 6-7 years. When it’s paid off then it’s all about savings to move up in house. It means paying ahead for cars, toys, etc.. When I say paying ahead, I mean saving on a regular savings plan like you are paying the car via an old school car payment.
This is another situation that affords more flexibility in life coupled with less stress. Also, this particular lifestyle can be adopted at nearly any point in one’s life. If you have kids already you can’t decide to not have them.
You will never, ever, have the really nice things that life has to offer. You won’t have the Lexus or BMW with the butt cheek seat warmers. Unless your putting 15-25K a month in savings, costs on those types of luxury items are untenable. You won’t have the nice boat or the shed filled with toys at least not for many many years.
Best Time to Do It:
Anytime you don’t want debt more than you want nicer things in life that you can’t afford with cash.
Weirdness Has its Benefits
The universal negative of all of these lifestyles is that you’ll be considered weird by everyone. The professional class generally does the exact opposite of everything listed here and won’t comprehend the value of the oddball lifestyle. Your friends, family, and co-workers will have every canned argument against these lifestyles at the ready and they will throw them at you relentlessly. I always remember an early lesson from my organizational communication classes back in college. The teacher asked us to complete the phrase Familiarity breeds… and we all said in unison ‘contempt’. That makes sense as the phrase has been in popular use since the 1300’s. According to Dictionary.com:
Long experience of someone or something can make one so aware of the faults as to be scornful. For example, Ten years at the same job and now he hates it—familiarity breeds contempt. The idea is much older, but the first recorded use of this expression was in Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee (c. 1386).,
My instructor went on to tell us that the reality of psychology and communication is exactly the opposite. According to the professor the phrase really should be Familiarity Breeds Comfort.. The more familiar we are with a thing the more comfortable we are around that thing. Being a professional and living an alternative lifestyle like the ones I have outlined definitely will make everyone around you feel a little less comfortable because they aren’t familiar with most of them.
As I said the universal positive of all of these is that you get a unique freedom that few have in the world. The question becomes is it worth it? For some, it is. For most it’s not, but the older I get the more value I see in these types of crazy lifestyle decisions. Unfortunately we don’t live in a vacuum. Even if you don’t have kids, It’s even more complicated when spouses are involved. I guess ‘don’t get married’ could be an option but it should be ‘don’t get married to someone who isn’t equally as wacky as you’ actually a good spouse could accelerate your wackiness in the way mine accelerates some of my wackiness.
The best part about many of these options is that you can try them out. If you don’t like living on your own power grid,you can always call the power company and ask to be hooked up. As long as you don’t screw up your credit you will always have a bank that wants you to sign up for a credit card, a car loan or 30 years in payments. Even if it’s too late to biologically have children there are surprisingly large numbers of opportunities to adopt. So I guess if you want to try it you have nothing to lose, except maybe for some friends, but if you do succeed, you may be surprised at how many new ones you get. Lots of people like to hang around someone who is interesting enough to do something that seems crazy but that turns out amazing. I know these lifestyle options definitely qualify!
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