Bloggers on FIRE – Financial Gladiator

In our Bloggers on FIRE series, we interview European FI bloggers to find out what makes them tick. Our aim is to build up a “who’s who” directory for the European FI blogging world. We hope you enjoy the series and discover some new blogs to follow. You can find a full list of our Bloggers on FIRE interviews here.

Bloggers on FIRE Profile Card Financial Gladiator exp

Please briefly introduce yourself to readers

Hello everyone. My name is the Financial Gladiator. I am male, aged 37, lived across and traveled much over the world, have a temporary base in Poland, have a girlfriend, and semi-retired almost three years ago reaching FI.

What is your backstory?

I have a background working in the Information Technology industry, specifically technology sales and management consulting. I come from an immigrant family, was born and raised in Germany, lived, worked, and studied across Germany, Poland, United States, Australia, Singapore, Spain, Indonesia, Japan, and England. I moved over 40 times in my life, so change and adaptation is an integral part of my lifestyle.

At 34 years I took a break from my professional career with the goal to fulfill some of my dreams. You know, all the things you dream about when sitting through another one of those ever repeating conference calls. Consequently I became a real estate investor in Poland, a scuba diving instructor, and traveler spending between 220-320 days overseas.

I didn’t know if my plans would work out financially before putting my career on hold and I never heard of FIRE before quitting my job. It was a chance google search for something like “what to do in retirement” that introduced me to FIRE. I came across the Mad Fientist, Afford Anything, and MMM. None of these amazing bloggers/podcasters truly focused on FIRE in Europe so I decided to start blogging about my personal experience with the hope to encourage more Europeans. Given my life in Australia and across Asia I do also cover topics relevant to these regions. Never did I envision that people as far as Antarctica would read my blog but here you go. I take a lot of joy from coaching others and bouncing ideas on their FIRE plans.

As attractive as the ‘retire early’ bit sounds to folks in the office, I don’t believe for a second that anybody driven enough to reach FIRE would actually ever stop working. Usually I keep busy by blogging, running a small real estate business, traveling, spending time with loved ones. None of these activities take too much time. In addition I am working on a second real estate related online platform business. It will help apartment owners extract more value from their investments.

I probably had less than a handful of hours of boredom in my +2.5 years of being away from the office. Once my second real estate business is fully operational, I plan to return to my corporate career and work towards FatFIRE next.

Why did you want to reach Financial Independence?

My dad leanFIREed at 45 years of age. He picked real estate as his investment vehicle and subconsciously this has always inspired me. Retiring early, however, was never a true goal of mine. I wasn’t a saver, or focused on growing investments much. Generally, I was way too busy developing my career and grow a solid income stream.

A few years ago a very close friend of mine who reached FatFIRE in his late 40’s suddenly died of cancer. He shared his biggest regrets with me over a few last beers one month before he passed. He owned over 30 properties outright in very high cost of living locations producing a high 6 figure income annually. He told me he wished to have traveled and lived more when he was younger, because all this money simply can’t buy more time, youth, or health.

Consequently I decided to take a break from my busy career and recover mentally and physically from thirteen very intense years working at a global technology leader. My main motivation for FIRE today was to have more time with my family and loved ones and not worry about any financial commitments associated with a good life.
Further, I don’t want to pay strangers to educate my planned kids, but rather invest my time and energy to bring them up. I feel our careers have gotten so busy, and financial commitments have grown so much that good old family values and our societies are suffering as a consequence.

How much is your “enough”?

I generate a fairly passive monthly net income around 3,500 USD from renting out apartments longterm and about 2,200 USD from providing diving lessons. Having said this I only teach for a few months a year however and I mainly do it to keep fit and be socially active. My blogging and new real estate platform business which I am building run at negative returns at present, but my ambition is to at least break even over time. The main reason for my blogging and real estate platform is to motivate, support, and help others; breaking even would be nice, but is not a necessity. When I don’t travel I actually save most of my income. The current cashflow is more than enough to have a fantastic life in Europe, especially when based in Poland.

A few months ago I decided to return to my professional career and start a family in Singapore. Singapore is not a cheap place, so I need to add a little more to my passive investment returns. Continuing my professional career is the fastest way to grow that nest egg, I figured. I plan to work another 3-5 years to increase my passive income to just over 100,000USD per year. This way I can support a family, become a homestay dad, and keep investing the anticipated savings regularly.

I think in monthly net cashflows only. Net worth and withdrawal rates are of no real concern to me as I am 87% invested in real estate. I prefer this method of investing as I believe it is safer, much more profitable, and hedges well against fiat currency inflation. The last time I calculated my Net worth was about a year ago. I think it was around 1.2m USD. But let’s face it, unless I sell my properties I don’t really know and I have no plans to sell anything in the next 30 years at least (if ever).

Where are you on the road to Financial Independence?

Like I mentioned before, I reached leanFIRE at age 34. I consider myself at a FIRE level now in international (developed country) terms, or FatFIRE in Eastern Europe.
My goal is to reach “international FatFIRE” by age 42 at the latest, but I see a path to make it by 40.

What do you do all day now that you’re FI?

I do various things to occupy my time. I dive at least 3 months a year, I aim to blog once a week, although I haven’t done anything in months. My excuse? Being robbed in Colombia and losing my laptop. On average I visit between 15-20 countries annually or travel about 750,000 km to +1,000,000 km a year. Besides that I work about 1-2 hours a month on my existing real estate rentals, about 5hrs a month on my real estate platform portal. The rest is kept free to catch up with family and loved ones, doing sports, and plan the next international excursions.

What was your strategy for reaching Financial Independence?

I saved up cash from my corporate job over the years. I never invested it in equities, rather I held it in high interest savings accounts. On average I received between 3.5- 5% after tax for the longest time, and when interest rates started dropping towards 2- 3% I decided to move my savings into real estate purchasing five apartments in Poland outright.

Throughout my career I also used classic geo-arbitraging techniques to maximize my net income. I moved from Australia to Singapore to increase my saving rate by 400%.

Contrary to many other FIRE bloggers, I am a strong believer in identifying conservative investment opportunities and timing the market while staying away from all paper assets, including index funds.

I saved up cash in dollars over the years. Later I timed buying my investment properties without financing and for cash. I waited for a high in the exchange rate making an instant 20% gain in the process. Basically rather than buying 4 properties earlier I was able to buy five then. Further my timing couldn’t have been better investing in Poland – one of a few markets I had observed for a few years before buying in. The real estate market started booming 3 months after my purchases reaching annual gains of 27% at the peak to date. Typically my investment strategy is extremely risk adverse and I prefer lower but steady returns.

What is your financial strategy after reaching FI?

 After returning to work, later this year, and work towards my FatFIRE goals I plan to continue investing in real estate. However, I will diversify my asset base to include real estate in Australia, Singapore, and Indonesia next. Australia will be incredibly interesting once the market bottoms out and the Australian Dollar loses further value following the recent interest rate cuts. I anticipate lower returns through this diversification strategy, but I will reduce my risk exposure significantly in the process.

For me it is more important to maintain and steadily grow wealth rather than trying to find a shortcut and aiming for higher returns.

What was your biggest financial mistake?

My biggest financial mistake was to let my equity investments be managed by a high cost fund manager for many years and spend a ton on insurances that were not worth a cent to me. I corrected this mistake since, but I still have some retirement funds tied up in equities in Australia. Unfortunately it’s the law and I cannot extract these funds until I reach my government prescribed retirement age – whatever that will be in three decades or so. The above mentioned mistake probably cost me half a million dollars compounded up till my retirement age.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Learn about FIRE earlier, learn what brings true value to my life, and spend more consciously.

What’s your wildest dream?

To be honest I fulfilled many of my wildest dreams over the past 2.5 years of not working in the office. I learnt basic Spanish, travelled through South and Central America with my girlfriend for over 8 months, learnt kite surfing in Thailand, traveled Europe and Asia, became a diving instructor in Indonesia, built one successful business, and work on two more at present. The later businesses have a real life impact on people and I extract a lot of joy from helping others.

What’s your favourite just-for-fun activity that brings you joy?

I love to teach people how to dive and spend my days on the boat/ beach. It is the most enjoyable activity I can think of at present. Having said that I am really looking forward to becoming a father in the future and watch my kids grow, spend an abundance of quality time with them, and teach them everything I know (plus learn from them!).