More than a decade of hosting the Money Matters radio show and two years of the Retire Sooner podcast has given me the wisdom to spot talented voices when I hear them. Joel Larsgaard fits that bill.
Since 2017, he has hosted the popular How To Money podcast with his cohost and best friend, Matt Altmix. In a saturated market, their show manages to shine. The premise is as ingenious as it is simple: two friends talk about money while sipping a cold beer. Financial advice on tap! Is there anything more quintessentially American? In the topsy-turvy investing world, it’s nice to see the pint glass half full.
In other words, they know when to finance and when to fun. Now that the debt ceiling crisis is over and summer is here, it felt like the right time to imbibe a little of both.
Joel spent fifteen years working for the legendary radio host and podcaster Clark Howard. The opportunity to spend all those hours watching a master of his craft was not wasted on him. “To get to be a part of that and help him in that endeavor firsthand was the best learning experience I could think of.”
Joel’s fascination with money stems partly from the troubles his family had when he was growing up. “When I was twelve years old, our family car was silently repossessed from the carport in the middle of the night. As the financial difficulties compounded, bankruptcy became the only option.”
He said those years of financial strife left an enduring impression on him, and it took some time to gain a new perspective. “Working with Clark, it was like this positive spin on something that I’d always had so much trepidation about.” Specifically, Joel wants to shift the mindset that personal finance has to be humdrum. That’s one of the reasons he cracks a cold one in front of the microphone. “There is this belief in the personal finance community, or at least the way people perceive the personal finance community, that personal finance has to be boring. And so we say, no, no, no.”
Joel believes the stale reputation of personal finance stems partly from experts distorting the objective of budget making. Rather than being restrictive, he thinks a budget can set you free. He wants you to see it as a yes document rather than a no document. With the right outlook, the budgeting tedium won’t overwhelm the joy of living.
Joel asserts it’s essential to have some guilt-free indulgences. Of course, saving and investing for retirement is non-negotiable. But once all your ducks are in a row, he insists that spending time and money in the areas that bring you joy is just as critical. Otherwise, what’s the point of all the hard work? Just because you’re planning for the future doesn’t mean you can’t live life in the present.
I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’ve written extensively about the subject. In my book, What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits for a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life, I specifically make the case that as long as you’re pound-wise, you can be penny-foolish.
Along with all the fun Joel and Matt want their listeners to have, the ultimate mission of How To Money is to reach people in need of practical money-saving advice. That involves hard work — debt payoff, DIY investing, and even a few money tricks.
As someone dedicated to helping folks retire sooner and happier than they ever thought possible, I’m always looking for new ideas, so I asked him to share some of his methods.
One way to balance the good life with reality is real estate. Joel loves that folks are now more free to live where they want in this post-COVID world. “If you’re going to hold onto it for a long period of time, it’s not an unreasonable thing to take out a thirty-year mortgage and pay a little more than you were hoping to.”
All that said, Joel wants to cure people of the notion that homeownership is an absolute must. “I own a home myself. But I think it’s oversold to people. And in many cases, too, rents can be cheaper in lots of cities than buying, and then you can invest more of your income. I want people to think about homeownership differently, too. Not just homeownership good, renting bad, renting throwing away money. That’s way too simple of a dynamic. It’s just not true.”
Threading the YOLO Needle
Whether it’s Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, or Millennials, Joel does see some generational differences in the attitudes and behavior involved in personal finance. Having lived through the lack of opportunity and job security brought about by the Great Recession, many of the younger folks have adopted the YOLO mentality. An acronym for You Only Live Once, Joel thinks YOLO can be used for good or bad. “You do only live once. And so the idea of working in a job that you hate for the next thirty-five or forty years for a pension — that’s gone away in a lot of ways, and I think that’s good.”
But the flip side of the YOLO coin, he says, is people making the mistake of spending their earnings rather than saving and investing for future retirement happiness. “There’s a good middle ground when it comes to YOLO,” he says. “And people are missing on both sides oftentimes.”
What’s the best YOLO-to-not-YOLO ratio for those amidst their prime earning years? Joel thinks saving at least 15 percent of what you make is vital. “It seems like the traditional advice is to save 10 percent,” he told me. “And I think that doesn’t quite cut it if you want the flexibility that I think is important in life.”
Peace Out Money
Joel maintains that the basic tenet of “saving more” creates the flexibility and independence required to stop working. He and Matt dub this “peace out money,” referring to the “Peace Out” colloquialism that translates to “I’m outta here!” “Having that peace out money,” he asserts, “gives you the ability to then say, ‘I can leave anytime I want to because I have some runway to be able to pay the bills for six months or nine months.’”
When the job love goes down, make sure the savings go up—get some peace out money. Great advice.
It’s Your Life
Joels argues that one of the biggest mistakes people make with money is measuring their spending against the spending of others. In other words, if your neighbor has a new BMW, you feel like you should, too. “Really, it’s that comparison game that leads us to a lot of the mistakes that we make. And it leads us also to unfulfilled lives. We haven’t done the hard work to figure out what is it that I want my life to look like.” Instead, he urges folks to decide what they really want and then do whatever it takes to make that happen, even if it means marching to the beat of their own drum.
Joel created an outstanding balance in his life. For him, that means being able to take a two-week family vacation and then returning refreshed and ready to record podcasts. Of course, that balance will look different for everyone. The key is to figure out what yours looks like.
Joel doesn’t have a specific age in mind for his own retirement. Why worry about that when you love your job? That said, he’s putting the right pieces in place for when he does get the itch. “I want to get to the point where I am completely financially free. It allows you to make more decisions that you want to make, not based on what you have to do to be able to generate another paycheck.”
Learn from Joel Larsgaard. Planning responsibly and enjoying your life are not mutually exclusive activities. You can do both. You can even drink a beer while doing it.
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