Europeans on FIRE – Wojtek

In our Europeans on FIRE series, we interview people living in Europe who don’t blog to find out what makes them tick. Our aim is to give non-bloggers a voice and hear what they have to say. We hope you enjoy hearing from people you’ve never heard of before!

If you’d like to take part in Europeans on FIRE, contact us at hello[at]firehub[dot]eu and we’ll send you the details.

You can find a full list of our Europeans on FIRE interviews here.

Europeans on FIRE Profile Card Wojtek exp

Please briefly introduce yourself to readers

Hi! I’m a 29 year old guy from Poland. When I was 14, I started freelancing as a web developer. This has transitioned into working remotely full-time, mostly with clients from the U.S.

Eventually, after getting my bachelor’s degree at uni, I’ve sold a big part of my stuff, left Poland, and started traveling with mostly one-way tickets. So far, I’ve visited over 50 countries and lived in places such as Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Koh Phangan, the Canary Islands, and others, for a couple of months each.

What is your backstory?

I think the time when I became more conscious about pursuing financial independence was after reading Tony Robbin’s Money: Master the Money book. It opened my eyes about how much one does really need to retire. Also, it made me realise the true importance of diversification across both geographic locations and asset classes. Soon after, I was learning more about low cost, passively managed funds – and it must have been how I first learnt about FIRE.

Why do you want to reach Financial Independence?

To me, reaching FI means being able to fully focus on things that align with one’s core values and mission. I’ve discovered that in my case, it’s sharing the knowledge about things I’m experienced in. This is why I mentor young programmers, I’m writing a book about becoming a digital nomad, and also started a Facebook group about financial intelligence for the Polish community, for example. Helping others makes me happy, and if I didn’t have to worry about my expenses, I’d be able to spend even more time on that – so it’s worthwhile for me. Of course, I also have a few other strong interests that I’d really like to pursue.

How much is your “enough”?

My initial plan is to reach a cash flow level with passive income that would let me sustain my current lifestyle without having to do client work, and then be able to spend more time on other endeavors.

Where are you on the road to Financial Independence?

At my current pace, I should reach FI in 15 years, so I’m halfway through. This is not ideal, but I feel that I have a lot of potential in optimising my cash flow. During the past few years, I’ve been leading quite an active lifestyle which involved many experiences that I could perceive as “once in a lifetime”. I’ve been living in an eclectic mix of environments on six continents, and tasted all flavors of remote work. I spent extended time in large cities, on hippie islands, in small towns with no tourists, and in destinations popular among digital nomads. I’ve met lots of people, tried new sports and learnt a lot about myself in my 20s. Even though it definitely pushed back my FI goal, I would never want to do things differently.

What is your strategy for reaching FI?

I think the key for me was utilising geo-arbitrage: as a teenager in 2004, despite living in a small town in Poland, I realised that in order to maximise my potential, I needed to focus on English-speaking markets (so… regardless where you come from, make sure you’re able to jump on better opportunities). Secondly, I think it makes sense to – as early as possible – work on skills that compound: whether it’s investing, time management or career growth in general. As for my current portfolio, it’s a mix of low cost funds, real estate, and crypto. I rely on deferred CIT in Estonia and reinvest all profits to leverage compound interest long term. I also have been trying to follow the flag theory to diversify different areas of my life as much as possible.

What will be your financial strategy after reaching FI?

Once I reach FI, I envisage following a hybrid strategy where I would try to stay to close to a certain percentage of withdrawal, around 4%, but taking more in strong markets and less in weak ones.

What was your biggest financial mistake?

I remember getting into BTC relatively early, but neglecting buying more until it became significantly more popular… Otherwise, I try to be very reasonable when it comes to finances, and also my nature makes me always do a lot of research before investing a bigger part of my portfolio, so I don’t have any bigger regrets so far.

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

I love books, street photography, and spending quality time with my family and friends. When I travel, I usually opt for unique experiences, and I try to get to know people wherever I am as these connections are super inspiring to me.

What are you currently struggling with, or what would you like some advice on from the European FI community?

Poland is an example of a very small market for financial products – both because of the unique language and currency. This is unfortunate and makes rookie investors very underprivileged.

Firstly, I’ve always envied my American friends access to FinTech tools integrating with their bank accounts – Mint being one of the earliest ones. I love automation and being able to programmatically analyse my expenses would be a life saver for me. If not analysing, even tracking different accounts would be great. I wish banks wanted to expose their APIs so that developers could freely build tools based on data from all the various fragmented services. Until then, I need to improvise.

Secondly, due to the small scale, operating costs of various financial offerings in Poland are relatively high. For instance, I recently saw a big promotion of a product through which you could invest money using tax-optimised retirement accounts via one of the leading banks. Excited, I took a look at the fees – it turns out they charge 2.9% annually. Quite depressing, to say the least.

Thirdly, financial education in Poland is in a bad shape. The local stock exchange has been doing quite poorly during recent years (for various reasons). Most people invest using actively managed funds, which rarely beat the market. ETFs are still exotic. Others invest all their spare funds in a single asset class – in whatever they feel comfortable with – which is usually real estate. This drives prices up, and it already made the short term rental market extremely saturated. Because of the currency, local people suffer from home bias more than in most other countries in the EU. Thankfully, in the past two to three years more banks started offering access to foreign markets, so I hope this will improve.

Fourthly, people don’t really trust the government in Poland when it comes to retirement accounts. This is due to a few bigger reforms in the past couple of years which greatly affected how capital already invested is being managed. Moreover, it’s way more difficult to invest abroad, as obviously the government is trying to drive people to invest domestically. This made a lot of people, including myself, stop investing using state-promoted programs (IRA-equivalent) whatsoever.

All that said, as a post-communist country, I think we’re still doing really well! 🙂 And all of the above make me very excited about the times to come. We have multiple opportunities to grow and I’m grateful to be able to help contribute to it 🙂 For now, because of these disparities, I’ve decided to start a Facebook group targeted at people in Poland where I try to spread the word about FIRE. Everyone is welcome!