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Make smart choices about your money, time and productivity

Oct 29, 2018

#158: Clark Howard loves the FIRE movement. That's because he's one of us.

Clark began investing in real estate at age 22, started a travel agency at age 25, and retired at age 31.

He sold his travel agency, moved to the beach and relaxed for four years; then he started a second career as the host of The Clark Howard Show, a popular radio show that's syndicated nationwide.

Today, he's a personal finance celebrity. His website receives more than 50 million views per year. He has more than 1.1 million followers on Facebook.

He's the former co-host of Evening Express on CNN Headline News, now called HLN, and he also hosted a weekend show on HLN.

He's published 10 books, many of which became mega-bestsellers. His book Living Large in Lean Times reached the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

Clark is a consumer advocate and personal finance voice who walks the talk. He doesn't accept sponsorships that conflict with his values. He loves frugality and efficiency. Last week, he was traveling in New York on a company expense account, yet he still rode the subway, because he didn't like the idea of wasting money on a taxi ... *even if it wasn't his own money.*

He's a philanthropist who leads with a service-first framework. During Hurricane Katrina, he volunteered with a team that handled medical evacuations. After September 11th, he joined the Georgia State Defense Force, which is an unpaid, unarmed volunteer component of the state Department of Defense.
He sponsored the construction of 74 houses through Habitat for Humanity. He's provided toys for more than 150,000 foster children at Christmas.

He's a multimillionaire and he flies in coach.

When the now-infamous Suze Orman episode came out, Clark immediately issued a response on his own syndicated radio show. He came out in strong support of the FIRE movement. He said that he couldn't imagine how anyone could criticize the notion of saving half of your income.

When I heard his remarks, I invited him on this show to elaborate. What does he think about the FIRE movement? Why does he like it? How would he respond to the objections?

Here are four takeaways from our conversation.

#1: We are social creatures. Our idea of a "normal" savings rate, as compared to an "extreme" savings rate, is a cultural construct.

Many Asian cultures encourage and normalize a higher savings rate. The household savings rate in China, Singapore and India is significantly higher than the savings rate in the U.S.

This is why it's important to fuel the FIRE subculture. By surrounding yourself with voices that normalize a high savings rate, enthusiasm for investing, and a frugal lifestyle, you can encourage yourself to save more.

#2: A bull market is irrelevant if you're not saving and investing.

Sure, we've experienced an incredible bull market run in the past nine years. Guess who benefitted from this? The people who lived on less than what they earned and invested their savings.

If you have investments, you can benefit from a bull market. If you don't, then the best markets in the world won't have any effect on your net worth. That's why saving and investing is the cornerstone to growth.

It's easy to dismiss your own accomplishments by saying, "Well, I got lucky because the markets were good."

That's like playing soccer, scoring the game-winning goal, and saying, "Well, I got lucky because my teammate passed me the ball at the right moment, when I was positioned to kick the ball into the net."

Sure, there may be luck on the field. But you would never experience this if you didn't train, practice, and play the game.

#3: Retire early AND often. Don't get so caught up in the goal that you miss the journey.

If you're not financially independent yet, don't let this stop you from enjoying life. Take a vacation with your family, or enroll in a wine tasting class, or fly across the country to spend Thanksgiving with awesome people whom you love. Don't defer your happiness and experiences to a later date.

All the compound interest in the world can't bring back this era of your life. Enjoy your life, no matter what your financial situation. The most sustainable financial plans are balanced.

#4: Don't allow your fear of black swan events to convince you to revert to the status quo. Yes, catastrophes happen, but the normalized American pattern of going into consumer debt, saving less than 5 percent of your income and woefully underpreparing for a traditional retirement is not the solution to the possibility of a future calamity.

If you reach financial independence, you'll be in a stronger position to handle most major disasters that come your way. If you're a few paychecks away from disaster, you'll be in a much more financially precarious position.

Listen to this interview for more insights from Clark Howard. Enjoy!