My Investments: Skills

Education has been my primary business over the last twenty years, but it's been far from my only scheme in the works: I've made a huge effort to use every spare minute to develop a wide-ranging collection of hobbies and skills.  While I'm counting on leveraging my formal education to finance this Project (i.e. life), it's these other hobbies and skills that will make the process of achieving financial independence (and the Golden Age that will proceed it) a hell of a lot of fun.

Some of these thing save my money directly; others have the potential to actually make me money.  Nearly all of them save me money indirectly by allowing me to have fun at little or no direct cost.

Transportation Is Fun

The Average American spends 17.5% of their income on transportation.  What's worse, most of what this money buys them is misery: long, stressful commutes in bad traffic, burning up dollars, burning up time, and starting the day off on the wrong foot before they're even at work.  (We've already discussed how living further from work to buy a bigger house in the suburbs is a tragically common mistake)

In contrast, my commute is 15 minutes of pure fresh-air, wind-in-my-hair joy. It's pretty much stress-free, the only fuel I'm burning is the breakfast I just had, and it's just enough exertion to wake me up in the morning.  Bicycles are amazing, and they'll save your wallet, your health, and your sanity if you're smart enough to live within bike commuting distance of your work.

When I interned in South San Francisco as an undergraduate, my bike commute was eight miles each way; it was hard the first few times, but within a few weeks I wasn't even thinking about the difficulty.  I thought I was pretty badass, until I bragged about it to an older coworker... who was doing eighteen.

Contrary to popular belief, bikes can haul all manner of things and work just fine in the dark and in almost any weather.  Unlike a car, most of the things that can go wrong with a bike can be fixed for only a few dollars with basic tools and a few minutes of your time.

Seriously, get yourself a nice bike.

Food Is Fun

The Average American spends 12.8% of their income on food.  This doesn't seem so bad, until you notice that nearly half of this money is spend on restaurants and fast food.  I'm sure some of that restaurant food is great, but most of it is overpriced, overprocessed, nutrient-poor garbage.  Sadness!

Learn to cook.  Find a few simple dishes that you enjoy and really master them—it doesn't take two hours and twenty ingredients to make something delicious.  Take leftovers to work.  Make some exceptional chocolate chip cookies or a tasty omelet of some home-made homefries.  Impress your friends, impress potential mates, impress yourself, save big piles of money, and take control of what you consume.  After all: you are what you eat.

If you want to try something really crazy, consider some at-home gardening, food fermentation, or even grow your own mushrooms.  If you want to try some alcoholic beverages you'll never find anywhere else, give homebrewing a shot—the topic of a future article!

Building And Fixing Things Is Fun

When something electrical or mechanical device stops performing its intended task, most people will throw said device directly into the trash without a second thought.  They'll then get on Amazon and spend their hard-earned cash on a new one.

Meanwhile, I will dig said device out of the trash, open it up, replace a blown fuse, unstick a mechanism, repair a broken contact, and have my very own brand new device for nothing.  I have come upon a decent fraction of my belongings in this fashion.

Consumer products are not magic: they have components inside that obey the usual laws of physics.  If you learn enough about the practical aspects of these laws—an inevitable side-effect of an engineering degree and an incessant need to take things apart and put them back together again—and acquire a few basic tools, it's rather rare that something will be broken beyond repair in your hands.  As a side-benefit, your friends and coworkers will think you're a wizard, news of your feats will spread, and people will journey to you to lay their downed devices at your feet.  If you're clever, you can make all kinds of connections (and even dollars) this way.

Some enterprising folks develop these skills to the point of building furniture or serious metal things or houses or mad scientist tools.  Last time I checked, Instructables and WikiHow had about a hundred liftimes' worth of ideas.  Become a Maker, and you're no longer restricted by what other people want to sell you.  The sky's the limit:

Electricity And Silicon Are Fun

In tenth grade, I built my first desktop computer.  Later that year I built my first website, and not long after I began learning to program (in C++, if you must know!).  Inevitably I became a hardcore overclocker, dedicated to running computer hardware as far past its design specifications as physically possible.  I eventually replaced my computer's stock components with a custom-built liquid cooling system and became a regular contributor to several online overclocking forums, where my 'watercooling basics' guide received over 80,000 views.  I helped several friends design and install similar systems.  In college, I built over fifty computers for friends, family, and businesses.

These weren't things that my parents did or that I was originally exposed to in school—I decided on my own that these were skills that I would like to possess.

I made the up-front investment of time and effort, and now all kinds of really cool technology stuff is pretty trivial: I can register a domain name and have a website up and running in a few minutes; I can configure a computer to boot Windows, Mac OS, and Linux on the same machine; I can throw together a bit of Javascript and make that neat little time counter in the right sidebar; I can run this website and reach thousands of people all over the world with just a few minutes of typing per day.  This sort of knowledge takes the resources you already have—which probably include a computing device and an Internet connection, if you're reading this—and vastly increases their value by opening up the realm of possibility.

The Outdoors Are Fun

The whole world is outside.  It's amazing what you can find out there, if you spend some time really looking.

Walking through the woods and silently soaking it all in is the one thing I don't make nearly enough time for.

Invest In Yourself

The financial aspect is a crucial piece of this Project, and it's something that's not often talked about in regular conversation—that's why this blog has, thus far, focused on the technical aspects of the investment process.

But don't forget about the bigger picture.  Don't just pay to have everything done for you—invest in your own capabilities with the same fervor you invest the money you save.  What's the point of financial independence if you have nothing of interest to fill the time with?