Updated: May 9
Kriti: [00:00:00] Hey guys! Welcome to WhyFI Matters!
If you're like me, you might feel a bit caught up in this rat race conforming to, you know, a single path in life. And I think this is a mentality that a lot of American have in general. So, I've been interested in breaking off of this path, trying to forge my own path as Henry David Thoreau would say.
And today I'm super excited to speak to social entrepreneur, digital nomad, philanthropist, and investor. Derek Baker. Derek is on a mission to help people fulfill and pursued their dreams while maintaining an independent and financially free life. What's really, really cool is while most people graduate college with like a lot, a lot of student loan debt; Derek was able to achieve financial independence and retire early in 2014, which guess what was the year he graduated college. I'm super interested in how he was. Able to do this, and also what he does now, you know, leading a nomadic lifestyle as a young retired person, and also how we can kind of do that too. I'm also interested in how he stays on his own path. I hope you enjoyed the interview.
Hi, Derek. Thank you so much for coming on WhyFI Matters today. I'm super excited and really intrigued about your lifestyle. And I can't wait to learn more about frugal living and also being a digital nomad. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Derek: [00:01:56] You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
Kriti: [00:01:59] Can you tell the listeners about your life as a teenager and also your perspective on the world when you were this age?
Derek: [00:02:09] Sure. Yeah. So I'm 32 today. So that was about half of my life ago when I was a teenager. I'm in the United States.
I grew up in Michigan in a suburb of Detroit and I went through the same school system for elementary, middle school, high school. So, during my teenage years, that was kind of late middle school, you know, high school, I was focused more so on things outside of school. So that's not necessarily so traditional. I went to a very, what I would call a very more prestigious school system , where everybody was very focused on going to college and getting good grades and being involved in extracurricular activities and those sorts of things.
I was not focused on that so much. I'm more focused on , some things I started doing with video games and with business. So kind of stuff that I did outside of school more so and that was kind of what ended up leading to my path as a young adult.
Kriti: [00:03:14] I feel like for me and a lot of teenagers nowadays especially, we're caught up in a kind of rat race and it's like, you have to check all the boxes, but you weren't very much like that when you were teen.
Derek: [00:03:27] I was an early adopter of the internet, was very much interested in how I could connect with people through the internet. Find entertainment online and be able to make income from it. Being a teenager there wasn't a whole lot of ways to make money. So, I did have a job in my earliest teen years as a caddy at a golf course. There's very few jobs do at a really young age. And then I sell lemonade in the summertime and I had some allows money from family.
But I would spend most of my money on video games and I'm just a little bit that I was saved. So I had very few things I spending my money on, but they brought me happiness.
Kriti: [00:04:14] That's a great point. And I think I've done a few episodes where we're talking about investing in yourself and making sure that what you're spending will align with your values, make you happy and not really like what your friends or the rest of the world, says that should make you happy. Really interesting to see how you were thinking about that at such a young age.
Derek: [00:04:40] Yeah. You brought something to mind there that there was not necessarily supportive of my habits outside of school. They didn't like me playing the video games.
I think it's more maybe accepted nowadays, but they thought it was a just a waste of time and that I could be doing other things. But I was involved in that activity to the point where I gained leadership skills, communication skills, entrepreneurial skills. There's a lot of things that I was able to learn from it. I guess that somebody that's not doing it with you or doesn't really view it the same way can't really understand. So, I kept doing that up until my early years in college. The playing the video games and it was just a hobby in my free time, but I also gained a lot from it.
Kriti: [00:05:29] So it's interesting because you said that you were in college and you knew you were still playing video games. And, most people graduate from college when they're around like 23, 24. So you were 25 when you were able to achieve financial independence. So, can you tell us about your FIRE journey and was this intentional?
Derek: [00:05:55] Yeah. So I guess it gives good context that I already told you about the teenage years.
So, I was finding some successes in making money online toward the later years of my teens. Once I got to the end of high school, parents said that I had to find a job that summer for my transition between high school and college. I did. I made about $5,000. It was a door to door sales job. Wasn't easy. Instead of just spending it on things. I invested it. And, I invested it in the stock market and in internet business, which was my main entrepreneurial activity .
So, I just went from there and made some good investments. And got some income coming in from those investments and just kept reinvesting it. Selling some of the things that I bought and it kind of just snowballed from there , to the point where when I was around 22, 23, I moved just full time into investing in stocks and bonds. And then that money doubled. And I ended up reaching my FIRE number, which was 500 K, right about when I was graduating college. It's 26, 25 I'm 26. So it took me about seven years from 19 to 25 to reach fire. And, I ended up getting a double major when I was in college. I added another major, so that added some more time to my whole college experience. So I graduated, I think, around 148, 150 credits. Let's say I think 128 was, it was the number for just one major.
Kriti: [00:07:29] That's really interesting. So I'm 16. I don't have like $5,000 I could invest right now. But it's just crazy. Do you think that if teenagers nowadays, if we put $5,000 in the stock market, would we still be able to get 500,000 in stocks by the end of the seven years? It's really amazing how the numbers worked out in your favor.
Derek: [00:07:53] No, no, I don't. I go put 5,000 and turn it into 500 K unless you were doing, you're taking a lot of risks. So what I did is I invested. I just bought one stock with the money over the summer. If I had held that Apple stock, it would have been worth, I looked it up last year, about $40,000. I didn't know how to invest. I learned from just investing. I didn't know what an earnings report was. I didn't know what a dividend was. I just thought it was a good thing to do. And that's why I didn't hold the stock because I didn't really know what I was doing. So I made a little bit of money and I'm like, okay, I'm happy with that. I'll sell it. And, I didn't know, you have to pay taxes on your gains.
So that's a great takeaway is that. Uh, no, I didn't have 5,000 thousand. I was 16. I had maybe around $500. And that was just pocket money only. After I graduated high school and I worked that summer job, that's where I got the income. So, I made the income through traditional means and then I invested it into assets that produce more money. But, I had high income from the internet businesses. That's where I made about half of the 500 K and then the other half, you could kind of think of it like I had invested that money. Into the stock market, the stock market went up in value doubled, and that ended up 250 to 500. So that's roughly how it worked. Obviously I actually need more than that, but you have to pay taxes on earnings. So, and I didn't have a FIRE goal. I didn't post a lot about my FIRE journey. This is just the number of to me that I thought, okay, I think this is, this feels like enough money to me. I felt like I could continue to live frugally. I felt like I could go out and earn more income if I needed to this felt like no, that it was like, do I need to earn millions of dollars? I didn't think I did. So that felt to me like a time in my life when I could say, well, potentially I could focus on other things because this is the only thing that I knew is is that the money was buying the time. My friends from college graduated, they're all getting jobs, they're all pursuing a traditional path in life. And I had this opportunity to, you know, I didn't have to necessarily get a job, but I didn't have to necessarily finish college.
I did finish college because I thought it was a good thing to do and to have a fallback plan and to meet other people my age. I've had a lot of trouble fitting in, in society being so associated. It's your peers are working jobs, they have families, they don't have time to travel.
So , that's why I've gravitated more toward more of like a digital nomad, nomadic more flexible lifestyle. Meet people that are trying to live a similar life to me, even if they haven't reached their financial independence number. They have flexible job and they're interested in working remotely living in other places and stuff.
Kriti: [00:10:52] So you're not conforming to like traditional paths into society but ,what was your why behind doing all this?
Derek: [00:11:02] The why for me was not to use the money that I had to buy a bunch of stuff. The why for me was to use the money that I had to, have more choices in my life. That I didn't have to work. That I could work for some company that might not be all about what they're paying you. It might be more because I like doing that. So I wanted to have the options. Every dollar that I was earning was providing me potentially with some months that I could take off from work if I wanted to do that. That was my viewpoint when I started out. I didn't know I was going to make a lot of money or if what I was doing was going to end up not working out. I remember when I had about 25,000 in my bank account, I felt so good at that point. Cause I said, this is enough savings that I could potentially maybe take a year off after I graduate and see the world. And it felt like it made it worth the sacrifice. Because while my friends were going to parties , doing it more traditional college experience, I was more working and wasn't getting paid a regular salary for the job or hourly wage for what I was doing. So, my view now in FIRE is that I can or do things just to kind of better the world and being able to just help people, just get my time, give my knowledge, that sort of thing.
Kriti: [00:12:17] That's really, really interesting. And you brought up digital nomad. How do you define a digital nomad? So can you tell us what this is?
Derek: [00:12:26] I'm a digital nomad in the sense that I have the freedom to go wherever I want, not really constrained or held back by my possessions or my lifestyle. So, I'm able to hop on a plane and go to Asia, if I wanted to. Or go visit friends in Michigan or go stay for a month in LA or just do what I want. It's similar to FIRE. It's just more of a flexible and very free lifestyle.
One of the key points, typically when people say digital nomad more, the digital part of it, instead of not just a nomad, I guess, should be more that you have income sources that are maybe passive or that are from virtual employment. So that might be the digital part. I don't consider myself, I guess, you know, traditional digital nomad might be working out of the space that you're living and you're still traditionally employed. I'm a little different having reached FIRE and I have more income sources right now from investments. And if I'm going somewhere, I can literally just be there and just be more of a traveler and not have to spend some schedule that I'm on working. So there is a little bit of a difference. But if you haven't heard of what a nomad is, definitely you gotta look into it. There's lots of podcasts on it. Lots of YouTube content. Lots of Instagram accounts you could follow. It's becoming a bigger and bigger thing with COVID and the transition to more of a flexible remote lifestyle.
Kriti: [00:13:56] Yeah. So do you see like a trend, like an increase in the amount of people who are shifting to this nomadic or specifically digital nomadic lifestyle? But also like, I feel like my generation, it's not like we want the like white picket fence house. And like, like it's not, that's not what we want. And we really crave flexibility and being able to do things that we want. So do think that this compounded with the COVID and the effects of that on work, on like the workplace. Do you think that we'll see more people shifting to this lifestyle?
Derek: [00:14:34] Oh yeah. I see that as more the future of housing is that people don't view themselves as just living in one city, work in one place. That they view themselves as more of potentially a global citizen and might consider even moving abroad or living abroad. It's just, I think the millennials and gen Z's are more potentially in touch with, because of technology, you can have friends in India, you could have friends in Australia, you can have friends all around the world. And this is what I learned playing video games from that young age. That I don't think that my parents understood is that I had people playing the video game from Canada, from Europe. There's more to the world than just the place that I live in, what I've seen. So, I was always looking forward to having more of a life where I could travel and be flexible.
Nowadays there's gig economy. That's more flexible. You don't just get a car and you just pay for all these expenses. Like I did. Now you can get a car and you can drive it and pick people up and make money from it. So, there's more ways now to make money then and the accessibility of investing the money that you have. And just the sheer amount of information that's out there. And, young people such as yourself making a podcast, there's so many creative things you can do , to share the knowledge that you have. I just writing eBooks when I was 13 years old and I didn't have to wait until some age and somebody to tell me to do things.
I just tried to do them and if they didn't work well, I would try again, or I would try something different. So it was a lot of experimenting and a lot of failing. But in a lot of not having the people around me that necessarily might've supported me in such a way. If you're 15 years old and you spent 10, 15 years, focused on one thing, you're going to make it into something. I mean, just online social media for about six months since late middle, late September. I had never had an Instagram account prior to that. And I've been able to grow this account too almost 8,000 followers, all natural. I just had an idea one day and decided about their FIRE journey of posted on Instagram and I wanted a way to share my journey with people. So I was the first interview and it kind of just built from there. It didn't cost me any money. It just it takes my time. So there's really nothing holding people back from starting things and, you know, building some sort of business, it might not be big right away, but you stick to it for a number of years, it will be worth something and it will add the minimum, provide you, you know, it might be able to use it to help you get into the college.
They're going to look at those types of things. What is, what are you doing that makes you different than everyone else? So, you know, those types of things I think are important.
Kriti: [00:17:28] So, I wanted to talk about the logistics of nomadic lifestyle specifically when it comes to housing. Like I said, I do think there's a shift in our culture. We don't really want a typical, you know, buy a house and settle down. So, what can we talk about like alternate housing options?
Derek: [00:17:51] Yeah. House hacking is simply sharing the space that you all with other people. Hey, I'm thinking of maybe going to college and going to live with roommates. It's the same idea. You're either buying a rental unit, that has multiple separated units called a multifamily. You're living in one of those units, turning out the other. Or you're buying a traditional home, living in one bedroom, renting out the other bedrooms, or you're in a more of an apartment or a condominium and you're just sharing your space for some other people to bring down the rent. I'm doing the ladder. I own a condo in Austin and I'm running out my space to roommate.
Kriti: [00:18:33] I feel like a difference in college. You don't really own the, you don't own the dorm or whatever you're living and oftentimes you're sharing, but here it's like an investment because you're getting money from it too.
Derek: [00:18:45] Yeah. So I own property, and if I'm out there traveling, not only is my property vacant, but I have affordable housing I can provide to other people . So one of my goals was to rent out that room more affordably to somebody that I thought was a good fit for someone that I want to live with.
My twist on house hacking is that I rented out so that I could still visit my property and stay in it when I choose. So I'm still able to get the benefits of the ownership and also get the investment return from it. And I'm also able to provide affordable housing is somebody by charging them, a little bit lower, but also more of an all-inclusive rental rates. I include utilities, furnish, those sorts of things. So it made it pretty easy of a transition. And then we split the internet. There's people that are buying properties and doing this in their early twenties. They're buying a home and renting out the bedrooms and secure some of their financial freedom.
So the largest expense is housing. I moved to Las Vegas, lived there for five years. I was looking for a place to rent. I couldn't find a safe place for under $500. I went to Craigslist, found some shared rooms in people's houses, and I lived in the master bedrooms around 500. You have to be really creative about housing cause that's going to be a big expense for you. In my opinion, don't just go to the dorms and pay the dorm rates. Look at the other options that you might have.
Kriti: [00:20:10] Do you think that the COVID 19 pandemic will have a negative effect on this? Because people are more wary about living in being in the same spaces.
Derek: [00:20:24] Yeah, it did. It did have a negative impact. So the sharing part was viewed as not as attractive as having privacy, you having your own space. So, they went from say having a room that was shared by a larger group of people to reducing it to a smaller group. So we haven't had on co-living, it's more of a newer form of share living. Co-living is something that's popping up in bigger cities around the U S and around the world, where you could flexibly rent a furnished apartment . So it's targeted towards students, young professionals. At the price point that a student might want to consider that versus living in a regular dorm room or something like that. So it's just, it's a month to month lease. Very flexible. It's furnished, includes utilities, it's more sociable or there's, different events that they have. That's one of the trends that I view as a positive trend in the world to provide me and other people with flexibility, wherever they go. Because their traditional form of signing a 12 month lease , paying a lot of other fees on top of that and not having any flexibility to move around is limiting. And as you mentioned, I think that the younger generation craves having this flexibility and options and choices.
Kriti: [00:21:41] Do you think that the, that you're going to continue this lifestyle where you do, you are able to move around houses and do you think that as you get older, you're going to want to drift towards settling down or do you think that a nomadic lifestyle can, um, can be your lifestyle forever?
Or do you see, like there comes a point where it's just hard to sort of continue?
Derek: [00:22:11] That. Yeah. I've been thinking a lot about that question lately. COVID made me obviously reflect on that more so than anything, because I've had to take time off from doing any traveling. I'd just more gone and seen family friends in the U S. I was supposed to start by more nomadic journey, having some more traveling abroad and more moving between US cities. I suppose to start that this year I been waiting for like COVID vaccine and wait for the world, open up some more. So it's been delaying those things for me, causing me to maybe focus on other things. Focus more on the business, more fine tuning the plan that I have for the future years in my life. It instead of evolving thing I can say today in five years where I'll be. But I don't like being in one place for a long period of time. I found that when I started doing the traveling and I like some sort of community that I could come back to for some sort of familiar area that I could come back to, that I have put down some roots in. That's what I've already done by buying a place in Austin.
You can do that as my home base. Right. Always come back there for a few months a year. And then my plan will be more to move around and see other places , live in other places say a month to two months. And, that's how I've been fine tuning my life.
I would like to provide that What I've called the alternate path, the kind of the path that I've taken. But if you're going to try to go a traditional, work family, save till you're 60, then you're probably not listening to this podcast. You're more interested in how can I reach financial independence at potentially a younger age, or , having some savings, what are my options?
What can I do for me? So , I'm hoping that I can provide a few places around the U S or maybe a cluster of properties or one place that people could live affordably and have this community of people that are doing the same thing. So, I've done a lot of things virtually with FIRE, but I like to have a place in person where people could connect with the same values, hopefully with being frugal, wanting to live on less, have more flexibility, and then wanting to potentially view that they're working toward FIRE, paying down their debt, or focused on giving back to the world in some way and having just a positive encouraging environment to live in. I found it hard to find that at least in America. What I've been searching for is I feel like I should try to create something myself.
Kriti: [00:24:46] That's interesting. I can just see and observe the environment in America. And it's like I was saying in the beginning, it's like, you're in a hamster wheel and it's just kind of hard to do anything off the track, but yeah. And I don't really like that, but I feel like hopefully it will change in the future.
Derek: [00:25:07] Sure. Well, I can tell you, I mean, seven years since I reached FIRE. I am struggling with living in alternative life of having close friends and other people that have chosen, more of the traditional path and don't necessarily understand the path that I that I've taken at.
One of the things that was hard for me was to even talk about money when I was in my late teens, early twenties, because I didn't feel comfortable doing that. And I didn't feel that other people could relate to it. So I was going through my financial journey without sharing those experiences or being able to talk about the problems or the hardships, or just the negative emotions that come. Money can be positive, but it can also weigh you down. It can hurt you too. You can make mistakes with money that don't feel good. And you can do things with money that, end up maybe not progressing in a positive direction. So, I've tried to view the alternate life to the point where I viewed a vehicle as I could just share a vehicle. Do I really need to own a vehicle? And this is what I have enough money to buy a car with cash , an expensive car and , do I really need a vehicle? Do I want it? What value is it providing me? So, I've questioned everything in my life and everything that I've done, to the point where I'm very free. I have a lot of wealth, but I don't express that wealth. I don't have a lot of possessions that would lead you to believe that I am wealthy.
In fact, I do a lot of things that will lead people to believe that i don't I have a lot of money. That I must low end come. I'm taking the bus, public transportation. I'm flying spirit frontier, the low cost airlines, Southwest. I'm not flying first class. I'm not eating out at fancy restaurants. I'm eating out at fast food or fast casual. I'm not living a lifestyle that you would think somebody who has made that money at a young age would be doing.
Kriti: [00:27:08] I feel like it's hard because it's, uh, because of the consumerism and materialistic culture in America. So how do you not fall prey to this? It's just so hard to train your mind to do something when the world is telling you.
Derek: [00:27:23] baby steps. I guess that would look different for every person, but that's where personal finance.
Right. So important because if you don't have an idea where your money's going, it's going to be hard for you to have any money at the end of the day. But if you actually sit down and look at how you're spending your money and determine, am I spending too much here? Is this providing me value to my life? Should I spend more in this category? How much you're saving or where you're putting the money that you're getting. You can really empower yourself or you can really make it hard on yourself. And, I guess the easiest way to live frugally is just surround yourself with other people that do the same thing. If you living around other people that are going out and that are dreaming of owning a Tesla, that are working toward buying luxury items or going on very expensive trips or just view money as something like where they're not serious about it. They view that there's trap, and there's no way to get out of the system. Well you might be able to look online and find other people that are, that are similar to you. And this is all ages all around the world, all the incomes. The FIRE is a global thing. People are trying to empower themselves financially. In most developing, poor countries. It's not like you need to have American goals develop is going to save millions of dollars. Save, what you think is enough for you come up with goals that are important to you. Everybody's in their own journey of. You might not even determine that you even view money as all that important. That's what I did. And money's just something that's there for me. It provides me potentially with security and maybe a sense of peace. The biggest takeaway that I try to give for people is stuff isn't going to make you happy.
If you're aspiring to live in a data neighborhood and have, two luxury cars in the driveway and all of these possessions that you own. Your life is just going to be working to pay off those items and it's not going to be good. It's not going to be flexible. You're going to miss out on time with your family, other experiences that you could have had.
So, I would view it more, look at life for you want to live as authentic to yourself as possible and not what other people are trying to tell you to do, including your family, your friends, your teachers. You know anybody else, because this is your life and. You're empowered to be able to learn anything you want and do anything you want with it.
So there's so many good resources out there nowadays that, you don't have to wait for the educational system to teach you things. You could just dive in and learn it. It's amazing.
Kriti: [00:30:05] Yeah. I feel like that's a pattern between a lot of the guests that I interviewed. They use internet, they use books to their advantage and they're able to invest in their knowledge and they're able to build themselves up. They're not like at the mercy of someone else to teach them something.
Derek: [00:30:22] The best way to learn is just to do it. As I mentioned, I didn't know how I didn't spend two or three years reading, investing books or waiting to start my finance degree, to be able to say, okay, I can put some money in the market. I just started doing it. And it was uncomfortable and it was hard. But I learned as I went.
Kriti: [00:30:41] Yeah, I think that was really powerful and a great advice that you just gave.
So but I do have another question relating to housing, which I found interesting, which was geo arbitrage. it sounds pretty interesting. So can you tell us what it is?
Derek: [00:30:59] Okay. I know expert on this. I've interviewed some people on my Instagram account on F I community, and I've learned a little bit through them. Geo arbitrage is more, say the cost of living is really high in the country. You live in, you go to another country, that's a lower cost of living and you're able to save more. That's kind of the basic of it.
Kriti: [00:31:22] then would you go back to the country that you want to live in?
Derek: [00:31:26] Well, in some cases, people are more permanently relocating. As some cases they're more temporarily relocating. In some cases it's more of a digital nomad. I could work anywhere. So why stay in the country that I'm in.
Well, I could go live on the beach in a lower cost of living country or have just a nicer lifestyle, and potentially not pay as much for that. So that's what people are doing. And it's kind of a cross, it's just part of more digital nomad. I, at least I view it. To me, the exciting part of geo arbitrage is more that , I could live in the U S for say, six months a year. my expenses on average might be, let's say 1200 a month and I could move to another country within the visa limits.
And let's say, I go to Mexico, I have a six month visa there. I could stay for six months done in Mexico. And my housing costs might be half that they might be $600 a month. So , extra money that I, less money that I have to have saved to do what I want and to do it that way. Or if you're just looking at the income part, less money that I have to make to to be able to survive.
But also that lower cost of living might also be a higher standard of living in some cases, because. You're able to get some of the same products and services that we have in America, in Mexico for, a cheaper price.
Kriti: [00:32:44] Yeah. And I think also what it would relate to being more of a digital nomad nomad is you would just have the same job, right? Like you'll still be getting paid the same then.
Derek: [00:32:54] Yeah. So some employers are allowing people to work from anywhere. Some employers might want you to come into the office a few months, a year or a few weeks, a month , or a few days a week. I don't know. It depend up that you have choice when you're looking for a job now that you can look for those certain opportunities that give you flexibility.
Kriti: [00:33:12] Right. So I want to talk a little bit about other ways to have flexible lifestyle options. Can you give us some examples?
Derek: [00:33:21] Yeah. So like the one that we haven't covered, that I view as the lowest most affordable way to live flexibly, it would be to live in a car van or an RV.
And that's now becoming one of the higher trends of being a nomad. You might have a place that you store your stuff, or you might have a place that You call home for your residency. But if you're living in an RV you're able to go anywhere and your home might be in one place one day and you move it to another place the next day.
So people are able to have more of an outdoors lifestyle, see America. It's more potentially, it might be more of a COVID thing for some people. For me, it's an escape for me that I could escape into nature.
I could have this community of other people that are doing the same thing around me. So it's just another way of living flexibly and finding a community of like-minded people. Oh, that would be called like van life or living out of a vehicle.
Kriti: [00:34:20] So finally, what would be your advice for your 16 year old self?
Derek: [00:34:26] My advice would be to enjoy my journey a little more. I worked very hard to get to where I got really quickly and I could have