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This Former Engineer Retired At 33 With Zero Passive Income Streams And His Net Worth Nearly Doubled In Six Years

Justin McCurry doesn’t like much on his schedule. At most, he sets one thing to do a day. On Monday, that might be volunteering. On Wednesday, it’s likely grocery shopping. On Friday, there’s a good chance he’ll be playing tennis with his wife.

The rest of the time? It’s up to him. Pursuing a hobby, playing video games, doing yard work. It’s not the typical schedule for a 39 year-old with three kids. But that’s what McCurry has done since officially retiring as a transportation engineer in 2013.

In about a decade, he and his wife, Kaisorn, saw their portfolio balloon from a few thousand dollars to $1.3 million, yet neither of them had a job that paid close to six figures. And what’s particularly unusual about McCurry’s journey: He never had a passive income stream – other than his investment portfolio – that helped buffer his paycheck, boosting his ability to save. Instead, he did it all through cutting back and finding intelligent ways to squeeze savings, without sacrificing his lifestyle.

“I realized I had more paycheck than expenses,” said McCurry. “I just knew that saving money was probably a good thing,” as he tried to figure out what to do with the leftover funds each month.

When bloggers and FIRE (financially independent, retire early) voices talk about stepping away from the day job in their 30s and 40s, it’s also often coupled with side gigs that bring in dough, such as real estate or businesses that they built. It serves as a much-welcomed security blanket when managing a retirement that could stretch 50 years or more. For McCurry, though, it wasn’t about passive income streams or growing a sizable real estate portfolio. From 2004 to 2013, he and his wife lived on one income while essentially stashing away the other.

In the meantime, they had three kids, bought a house and have traveled the world.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed by the Size of It All

When McCurry first started saving, he looked at how long he would need to retire, and came up with a number that would let him step away from the job 20 years later. Even though he never was a big spender, the number seemed daunting.

“Knowing I would have to chug away for a decade or two,” said McCurry, “it’s almost like a pie in the sky.”

It made it difficult for him to see the benefits at first because that number was so large and the timeframe so long. This isn’t much different than when people set out for retirement on 40-year timeframes.

Researchers have found that the more someone connects with their future-self, meaning can view their future self with the same empathy and concern as their current self, the more they will save.

This ability to connect with the future self may be easier on this shortened timeframe. But it’s not guaranteed.

For McCurry, it became easier to handle as he continued to refine his plan, saving more than he and his wife ever expected they could. Then, after a few years, he started seeing the impact of compound interest.

He would place around $60,000 in the portfolio in a year, while the investments would return $100,000. McCurry soon realized that his 20-year plan had shrunk in half.

Cut Your Taxes

One of the most important ways McCurry saved was on taxes. At one point, he took the family’s joint income of $150,000, and managed to realize a tax hit of just $150.

His wife maxed out her 401k as well, while also doing the same in a health savings account and a flexible spending account. He then used a series of deductions, from the standard one to exemptions to child credits to reduce that income line to $28,950, leaving just a $150 tax liability.

McCurry took the approach that the tax breaks providing a discount to his savings. At the time, he would invest around $60,000 a year in tax-advantaged accounts. With that money, he locked in about $15,000 in tax breaks. That $60,000 investment, in actuality, only cost him around $45,000 if you count the tax break.

“It’s a little easier to save $45,000 versus $60,000,” McCurry said.

Design For the Worst Case Scenarios

One reason that McCurry’s timeframe shifted from 20 years to 10, despite lacking an additional income source, was simply because of the amount of buying he did when times looked bleak in 2007 through 2009.

He’s not like many in the FIRE world, constantly checking the portfolio, feeling the joy as the dollars increased, bringing him one step closer to quitting the day job. Instead, he mostly checks the accounts once a quarter, figuring out where he stands and if he needs any adjustments to his contributions.

“The last quarter in 2007, I noticed huge drops in our net worth,” remembered McCurry.

It didn’t deter him.

“I put as much as I could into the stock market each month, knowing I’m buying these shares at half or a third from where they were,” he added. “It was a buying opportunity of a lifetime.”

When the stocks began to turn in 2009, then his net worth went into hyper-drive. Since stepping away with $1.3 million, he’s now worth over $2.1 million, largely due to the fact that he now earns a little income from his blog, RootofGood.com (which means he doesn’t have to tap as much investment income) and the performance of his investments through a decade-long bull run.

But McCurry is savvy enough to realize the market will pull back at some point.

That’s where he taps his engineering muscle. As an engineer, you always prepare for the worst-case scenario. If what you’re building works under that scenario, then it will work, theoretically, in all other cases. When he looks at his portfolio, if the market drops 40%, then it would reach the levels he started with when he first retired.

He might spend a little less, but with a 3.25% rate of withdrawal from his investments, his family would be “totally fine,” he said.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I’ve written about personal finance for Fortune, MONEY, CNBC and many others. I also authored The Everything Guide to Investing in Cryptocurrencies.

Source: This Former Engineer Retired At 33 With Zero Passive Income Streams And His Net Worth Nearly Doubled In Six Years

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How This Therapist-Entrepreneur Is Starting A Global Movement Talking To Strangers – Melody Wilding

How much of your day do you spend listening to other people? I don’t mean half-heartedly nodding along while you mentally multi-task. I mean actively being present with another human being. These opportunities for connection are becoming increasingly rare in our hyper-connected world where distractions abound.

It’s difficult to stay focused long enough to listen to the people you love, let alone engage thoughtfully with someone you disagree with, whether that be your boss, a difficult colleague or someone whose political affiliations differ from yours.

Yet we’re facing a loneliness epidemic spurred on by disconnection. Being heard, feeling seen and getting validation are not only crucial components of good communication, but they are also essential for mental health.

Sidewalk Talk is an initiative that attempts to bridge the gaps we face today and give voice to marginalized emotions, people and communities. A team of volunteers take to city streets across the globe, simply sitting outside in chairs, eager to listen to any stranger who comes along wanting to chat. In these high-conflict times, Sidewalk Talk is attempting to use listening to heal, which is why when I first heard about the project, I knew I had to get inside the mind of the woman who started it, Traci Ruble.

In this interview, she discusses her inspiration for starting Sidewalk Talk along with the powerful ways the initiative is serving diverse, marginalized communities. Traci, a seasoned psychotherapist, also breaks down practical tips you can use to become a better listener, even in stressful situations.

Melody Wilding: You’ve been a psychotherapist for 14 years. What inspired you to start Sidewalk Talk?

Traci Ruble: Sidewalk Talk was not a heady decision.  It was inspired.  The inspiration was Psychological, Social and Spiritual all wrapped up in one.  Presidential elections were getting vitriolic in 2003.  In response, I had a profound call that we needed more love and equanimity in our political conversations.  Years later, gun violence (the Sandy Hook Shooting and the Charleston shooting), knocked me over.

All I wanted to do was hear directly from people why we were shooting each other.  Finally, the results of the Trayvon Martin case pushed me to finally sit and offer free listening on the sidewalk. I wanted to step out of “preach or teach” mode and wanted to hear directly from folks we frequently don’t listen to.  It felt like the right way for me to be in community to perhaps create some connection and justice.

Ruble: We call Sidewalk Talk a community listening project because it is everyone’s project. We pull this project off for very little money per year and it has grown because members in various communities across the world have taken our street listening guidelines and launched their own Sidewalk Talk chapters.  It is also a community listening project because when we sit on public sidewalks we become community glue.

We take over a sidewalk and next think you know, you will have every member of the community represented, sitting side by side, being heard.  A few months ago, in San Francisco, we had two young black women (who didn’t know each other but became friends after), a homeless vet, a gay activist, an older female Asian executive, and a young white male ‘tech bro’ all sitting shoulder to shoulder, being listened to.

 The whole community was included and had a place to belong in the same space, as equals.  Now that, that was profound.  That is the dream vision.  But along the way, the community inside Sidewalk Talk, as an organization, is one powerful place of belonging, growth and inclusion , as well.

Wilding: You talk a lot about the power of human connection. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from listening to strangers on the street?

Ruble: Most important lesson hands down: listening non-defensively is way easier than reacting or avoiding and it is pleasurable.  Who wouldn’t want to change their behavior in the direction of ease and pleasure? But it isn’t easy and it takes practice.  So often when we listen, we don’t know how to have boundaries so we can feel “emotionally contaminated” by people.

 We react or avoid altogether. We need to practice “being with” people while also holding neutrality and lenses on possibility.  I don’t mean phony “mantra type” positive thinking but the hearing the whole person under this story where possibility exists.  When people feel the best parts of them seen in troubled times, they often rise to the occasion.  But it is delicate.

Too much lightness can feel patronizing and not helpful so listening for the whole person and leading with curiosity, not the need for this person to feel differently than they do is quite a muscle to flex.  If we don’t learn better listening, we don’t develop the capacity to face the problems the world is facing today. Moreover, we can remember, from this practice of listening on the sidewalk, how much we need to also take the time to really connect to those closest to us.

Wilding: What are the qualities of a good listener? Why is it so important that we learn how to listen more effectively?

Ruble: Good listeners first and foremost know how to hear someone’s story while remaining calm and objective.  If we don’t stay boundaried and calm we go into black and white thinking where one person is right and one person is wrong and now the conversation is one of power and might rather than human connection.  But, if you grow the capacity to remain calm and prevent your body and brain from  going into “danger” mode when someone disagrees with you, you will be able to lead with curiosity and inquisitiveness.

I don’t think I have to tell you why that is important.  I remember one of our listeners had someone say the person they admired most in the world was Adolf Hitler.  She was Jewish and her parents were gay.  She stayed listening and was able to really understand why he admired Hitler and she felt liberated through the understanding, not angry.  What she discovered was fascinating. First, he was young and had never heard of the holocaust.  Second what he admired about Hitler was his charisma.

This young man was living on the street and in his mind, someone like Hitler could keep him safe from the harms he had been facing on the street and the abuses he suffered in his past.  So she reflected back to him “You really admire people who you believe could make you feel safer in your life?” and just like that this young man and this listener have a connection.

Wilding: How can someone become a better listener with difficult people, especially if that’s their boss, clients, or colleagues?

Ruble: As adults, our brains have the capacity to hold nuance but so often we take differences personally and our nervous systems get hijacked.  Work adds another layer of complexity because our livelihood is felt to be on the line.  This is the place where I earn the money to feed and clothe myself so the link to a potential threat response in the nervous system is heightened. What to do about all this?  First,practice calming your nerves before entering into any difficult dialogue. It is why mindfulness practice is such a zeitgeist right now.

When you are ready to engage, First, label the behavior that doesn’t work for you not the person.  When you get an “ick” feeling from a boss, client or colleague ask yourself,  “What do I want to feel when I am around this person?” Write it out.  Next, only interact with them when you are prepared to be a steward for the feelings you want to be having.

Don’t forget, people are usually difficult for us because they trigger our own material.  Even the jerkiest of colleagues provide us with opportunities to grow.  So see if you can actively practice finding attributes about them you do like.  Our negativity bias and triggers from the past may have us zeroing in on the thing that we are annoyed by.  You just cannot trust everything your mind tells you.  Stretch yourself out of the black and white thinking of “all good” “all bad” and actively see the whole person in this colleague of yours.

Finally, when you do sit down to talk (not on text message or email please) take absolutely nothing personal.  Easier said than done but seriously, such an invaluable life skill. That sharp tone of voice, that one-upmanship in a meeting, that broken agreement….it is data, not death. There is possibility if we can listen with objectivity combined with kindness.  There is virtually no possibility when we listen with reactivity and anger.

Wilding: What’s your vision for the future of Sidewalk Talk?

Ruble:  Some exciting and big changes.  We have gone in and done some one-off corporate trainings.  Now we are doing corporate listening trainings combined with events on the sidewalk with the hope of leaving behind an intact Sidewalk Talk chapter put on regularly by that company.

It is great team building.  We are also starting a couples listening project where couples come out and do some listening training with each other and then we hit the streets together.  Novelty is really good for couples relationships.  So is purpose and meaning. Finally, we are getting help doing some real data-driven impact studies.  We see our impact on health, community, workplace productivity, and implicit bias. We are very excited to begin applying for larger grants to expand and start doing cross cultural listening tours through different cities around the globe.

 

If everyone who reads our articles, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can donate us – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

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