TJE 44: The major lesson I learned late (and why I frequently bike now)

Biking. It’s a leisure activity that many of us learn as kids. Well I don’t know about Gen Z, but looking back 3 decades ago, it’s sort of a staple of one’s childhood.  

Every time I bike, there’s a thrill in feeling free.  It’s in the way one can move faster than running while exerting less effort, but not encapsulated so you still feel the air and be sensitive to the surroundings. 

To those who get serious, this can turn into their sport. I am not one of them. I had other sports as a teen and adult. Plus I didn’t want to spend on an expensive bike for a hobby.  But that’s where I got it wrong. Hmm, where is this heading? Let me explain.

As an adult, I had this thinking that if I were to own a bike, it should be of good quality – branded.  And since I wasn’t serious in it, I didn’t bother owning one.  It didn’t fit into my lifestyle. But here’s the thing, I have always enjoyed any biking experience. The days when I had a bike as a child, and as an adult: biking along the Han River in Seoul, using rented classic-looking bikes on some weekends.  So I could just as well enjoy the experience with a cheap bike.  What was stopping me from getting one? It’s the wrong mentality of a status-seeking self.

Throwback to almost 5.5 years ago!

Realizations almost a decade apart

I had my first financial awakening in 2010 when a friend of mine gifted me with the classic book: Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. That got me started studying about investments, mostly about stocks. I read several other books about the topic and practiced in real life since.

In spite of my knowledge, what I didn’t get was the discipline of consistently investing.  I would have bouts where I would invest in stocks, bonds, etc.  But the practice was not regular.  I found it difficult to always have the budget to do so.  Why? Because I was living an expensive lifestyle. I was traveling a lot and embracing the social media-centric life. But apart from that, I was also kind of materialistic.  Though I didn’t hoard stuff, I would be brand-conscious.  At least I was sane enough to not get luxury brands – but still.  And I would spend a lot in dining out.  I liked looking good and enjoying the finer things in life.

I don’t regret the experiences and most purchases, as I was still practical by choosing long-lasting items.  However, with a bit of creativity, my enjoyment in life could just be the same or even better with much less spending.  So what’s the major lesson I was missing? FRUGALITY

Until 2019, it just didn’t make sense to me. So here’s how it finally did:

From forced to voluntary

I was forced into spending less when my liquidity was disappearing for the first 2 years of my entrepreneurial and freelancing life. But the value of frugality was still not in me. Sure, I drastically reduced my dining out and shopping.  But I treated them as a necessary lessening of joy for the bigger dream.  Also, with a credit card and a car, I was using optimism against me.  I was optimistic of success that I would use credit card to bet on returns (that didn’t come). I would still buy nice Christmas gifts for nephews and nieces and pay by credit card.  I would still use my car all the time, even in short commutes.  And how do I pay for fuel? By credit card. I was blind to the true cost of commuting. 

There were other decisions that made me free fall into credit card debt. But I’ll illustrate the point I’m missing by focusing on the use of a car.

A car was this status symbol I yearned for, the moment I joined the workforce. And when I got one, I almost didn’t use public transportation in the Philippines since. The transportation system in the Philippines is still quite inefficient.  But it is possible to redesign life to avoid the transportation problem.

So how did it all make sense to me? By coming across the blog of Mr. Money Mustache (MMM).  It was only in March 2019 when I landed on it for the first time that I had the frugality lightbulb moment.  MMM covered a lot of topics in his long-running and successful blog. I started from the very first article, and still have several years to catch up!  Heck, I didn’t even know he was already divorced until a week ago, when I was browsing thru his more recent posts.  

The big MMM message that I had not realized about the practice of frugality, is the approach to life where majority of your happiness comes from producing something instead of consuming.  That’s it! Pooof! Mind. Blown. Why had I not realized that soon?

It came at a really good time though.  It was only in 2019, when my shift in the entrepreneurial attitude of focusing on building, and not thinking about oneself but others, was kicking in.  So MMM’s messages, DIY attitude, and engineering way of thinking really resonated in me. Looking back, it’s really this attitude of chasing status that’s stopping me from gaining real wealth (This description is something I would get at a later date, thanks to the influence of Naval Ravikant). 

I got it wrong.  I looked at frugality as deprivation. But it can actually be a practice of one’s creativity.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be about being cheap.  Not to mention, it goes well with taking care of the environment, which I’m kinda into.

Why I frequently bike now

Finally, let’s go back to biking.  Mr. Money Mustache’s first subject for a “Get Rich With…” post was the bicycle. In summary, if you design your life in such a way where your basic needs are met within a few miles away, you can stop using a car and just bike your way to most places!  This has tremendous impact on your savings.  Not to mention, you get fit while doing so!  

When I started reading his blog, I already moved back to my hometown fully, where my main workplace is nearby. I thought I was already saving a lot. But I was still using a car! So inspired by the Mustachian idea, I got this cheap vintage style bike in June 2019:

(Actually this was just lent to me, while I still look for another similarly designed 2nd hand affordable bike)

It’s fixed-gear, so the biking gives me real exercise in spite of the short distance.  It also goes well with my existing clothes, so I don’t have to think about looking out of place. Oh actually, I don’t really care what others say! I sometimes look like a hipster with that bike, because of the beard and man-bun I sport these days, and I honestly love it. LOL.

So most of the time, I just bike to work.  From the first week I already felt the benefits.  I am saving PHP 300.00 to PHP 400.00 a week on fuel alone. It prolongs the life of the car, so this new lifestyle will have more savings down the line. (Visit this blog post for a more impressive case study of how you benefit from using a bike!)

FRUGALITY – it is the missing piece to my dream of Financial Independence (FI).  It took me almost a decade since my first financial awakening to finally get this!  It may sound stupid to you.  But I’m quite certain there are many like me who need to be slapped in the face! 

I shared this financial journey, as I think it can help any status-seeking middle class stuck in a rat race.  But I’m stopping here, as I cannot give financial advise till I personally reach FI. (Maybe in a few years 😉 ). For now, I’ll silently work on it, with the help of a simple bike.

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