In this episode of the Fiscally Savage Podcast, Dylan talks about his journey to financial independence, the reality of the American job market, and the ways in which we can break free and live with intentionality.
- [00:00:56] The incident that led Dylan to take over the approved and civilized path
- [00:07:44] The reality for 60% of American workers
- [00:09:16] Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how it affect our lives
- [00:13:41] How dependence on various agents in our lives can undermine our financial independence
- [00:14:56] The social contract and what it sells us
- [00:17:56] The six steps to breaking free and living with more intentionality
- [00:26:13] Closing statements
[00:00:00] Intro: Forget get the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage podcast.
[00:00:15] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. I’m your host, Dylan Bain. And today I am so grateful you’re joining me for the relaunch of the Fiscally Savage podcast. It’s been a wild ride so far. And today, I wanted to bring you back to where I started on my journey to financial independence. It’s been a journey that’s had the highest of highs and lowest of lows and it’s certainly not at all complete. But I’m here to share with you the tips and the tricks and the strategies that can help you go from a person who’s completely unaware of their finances to somebody who is financially independent, completely sovereign over their life in a financial fashion.
[00:00:56] For me, this started almost seven and a half years ago. At the time, I had been a math teacher and I had been teaching for eight years when my principal at the time called me into her office. And while I was sitting there wondering whether or not she was gonna make me late for my third job, she said something that was gonna change my life. She said, “Dylan, I need you to change these grades.”
[00:01:18] Now, you see, in my math classes, it was very easy to pass and very difficult to fail. And yet some of my students had managed defeat. And here my principal was explaining to me that because of graduation rates and funding, I needed to change their grades to passing grades. This, in my mind, constituted educational fraud. Different universities and institutions would rely on the GPAs that I helped create with signing the grades that my students had earned. And I didn’t find it in my heart that this was true for me to do. And so I turned her down and said, “I’m sorry, but my students earned those grades and I would not be respecting them if I changed them just because you asked me to.” It was at that point she looked at me and she said, “Dylan, contracts for next year have not come out. And I would like to invite you to go home and spend time with your daughter and ask yourself what the right thing to do here might be.”
[00:02:18] And ladies and gentlemen, that was a dark day. That was really hard for me because I did go home. I called in sick to my third job and I played with my daughter and I read her a book and I put her down to sleep for the night. And sat at the kitchen table in our small apartment, two doors down from the meth house, and reflected on what I was gonna do.
[00:02:41] You see, ladies and gentlemen, at the time, my wife and I had moved back to the United States so that my wife could go to graduate school. That was a commitment that I had made to her. And to be able to support her and my daughter was the utmost importance to me. And my teaching salary didn’t cover the bills anywhere close. My wife, thankfully, had a full-ride scholarship and was doing very well in graduate school and getting good funding. But my job didn’t provide health insurance for her or for my daughter. And I found myself having to work not one but two extra jobs on top of my teaching salary. I had no savings. I was going further into debt every single month, and I didn’t know what to do.
[00:03:30] It was in those moments in that dark place where I started to really understand that I had done everything right, that I had followed the approved path, the civilized path, the path society had laid out. I had gone to school. I had gotten good grades. I had even gotten a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership. I was top of my game as a teacher. I did extraordinarily good things in the classroom. I had founded programs, founded a wrestling program for the school, taught ACT/SAT prep and summer school. I was doing everything right. And yet I could not afford to just stay out of debt and pay my bills.
[00:04:12] And that was at the point where I started to realize that the approved, civilized path that had been laid out before me was complete and utter bullshit. It was never gonna pay the bills. I was never gonna be able to afford a house. That path was never going to get me to where I wanted to be as a husband, as a father, and as a community leader. And so I resolved in that moment, at that time, that I was done living the approved, civilized path. I was done being a good member of society. I was done having all of my production, my gifts into this world, used by somebody else for somebody else’s gain. And I was gonna start living for me and for my family with intentionality.
[00:05:01] And so the next day, I went back in and I saw my principal and I cordially invited her to do something extraordinarily uncomfortable with her suggestion that I change the grades. And when she looked me in the eye and said, “Dylan, you’re making a really bad decision,” I further invited her to do something that’s physically impossible.
[00:05:20] Ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to report that here, sitting here talking to you seven and a half years later, the income that I make is three times my teacher’s salary. The health insurance provided by my job covers me, my wife, my daughter at the time, and the daughter who came after that time. I now have a house with a yard and I can consider myself to have financial stability as I work in a career that is in high demand. I can move jobs very easily. And when people ask me to do something against my ethics, it is no sweat for me to tell them where they can stick that idea.
[00:05:56] Ladies and gentlemen, this is a path and this is a feeling that I want every single one of you listening to be able to enjoy, to know that you can live with sovereignty and integrity at every moment in your life in every way. I want you to be able to build a future for yourself where you live in sovereignty, with intentionality, in alignment with your values, with your ethics, building a life that you see when you close your eyes at night.
[00:06:26] And so you might be asking me, “Dylan, I got two questions for you: what did you do, and how did you do it?” And that today, ladies and gentlemen, is what we’re gonna focus on for the rest of the episode because we’re gonna break this down on a molecular level because I know that you want to know what did I do and how did I do it. But first, we gotta ask the question, “What did the principal do in this story?”
[00:06:49] You see, the principal was threatening me. And this is a thing that plays out in so many hidden and unhidden ways in our society. The principal was coercing me by threatening my family’s basic needs. How was she doing that? Well, it was the reminder that contracts hadn’t come out. You see, she knows the financial score. She knows that the salary the school provides me doesn’t provide a living. She knows that I have to work multiple jobs. She knows that I can’t say no to teaching SAT prep on the weekends. And she knows that I can’t say no to picking up whatever other work I can get around town. And so she believes that she can threaten my job, my livelihood, my ability to put food on the table, keep a roof over my head, and continue supporting my wife’s path towards her dreams, which required her to not only get a master’s degree but a PhD on top of that.
[00:07:44] My principal is coercing me by threatening the basic needs of my family, which is provided for by my job. And this is important because this is no different than 60% of Americans. As I record this, and I’ve looked up the statistics and this is about where it comes down, 60% of Americans, if they lost their job, would be completely bankrupt and destitute within six months. And if you stop and think about it, the average amount of time that it takes an American to find a new job is anywhere from six to nine months — beyond the threshold I’m using for this example in this podcast.
[00:08:20] So my question to you is, if you’re one of those 60% of the Americans, how long could you go if your income was turned off before you are out in the street and completely destitute? A large part of our economic system, for better or for ill, depends on constant coercion to threaten you with homelessness and destitution in order to get you to continue to do things for someone else and not to live intentionally for you.
[00:08:49] And my principal at that time was no different than any of the other bosses I’ve had. She just was a little bit more overt about it than others. And that’s not to say that we should fault our bosses. And that’s not to say that we should go on some sort of anti-capitalist rant because I’m not an anti-capitalist. I am very much a capitalist. But I do need to acknowledge reality. And the reality for 60% of Americans is that if they lost their jobs, they would be destitute.
[00:09:16] So why does this work so well? And we all can come up with examples of where this has happened. And it has to do with something called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a way of understanding the primal needs of a human. And it starts off at the bottom of the pyramid with physiological needs: food, shelter, water, warmth. Physiological needs. Step two up that is safety and security. Am I free from predators? Can I get a good night’s sleep? Do I feel secure in my surroundings? Step three up that hierarchy is relationships. Can I have good relationships that nourish me on a psychological and emotional level? Step four is esteem. Do I have the respect of the people in my community? And step five is self-actualization. Do I live for myself? Am I able to create and bring my gifts to the world forward?
[00:10:12] Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is important in this money story because those physiological needs for 60% of Americans are entirely dependent on their jobs. You lose your job, you lose your physiological needs. And if you think about how that pyramid looks, with self-actualization on top and physiological needs on the bottom, you lose that bottom tier of this pyramid and everything comes crashing down. It doesn’t matter if I have great relationships, it doesn’t matter if I feel really safe and secure. If I lose those physiological needs, the rest of it no longer functions. The pyramid is a hierarchy for a reason.
[00:10:50] And so what my principal, whether wittingly or unwittingly, attacks is that bottom level of the pyramid. She has coercive power over me and everything else that I’ve built on top of it. My relationship with my wife and kids — that’s tier three — is a good example of that. It’s no wonder that most divorces happen in the United States when one or both partners is experiencing an economic hardship. That’s part of the game here, ladies and gentlemen. And by threatening that, we also destabilize families. We destabilize parenting. We destabilize all of that type of thing. And this is part of what I realized in that time. This works so well because it’s attacking something on a primal level that some part of my less-evolved brain understands that if I lose my job, I lose everything else because my physiological needs couldn’t happen. And remember, for me at the time, I was working not one, not two, but three different jobs. I was taking money wherever I could.
[00:11:55] But there’s another tier on Maslow’s hierarchy that isn’t necessarily explicit. And that’s the tier zero — below physiological needs. And I call these the “tier zero people” or “the unaware.” These are the people who are unaware that their job is linked to their sense of physical security, unaware that their physiological needs are entirely dependent on that job. They’re unaware that the relationships and the good relationships they’re able to foster with their partners, with their children, with their friends, is dependent on those physiological needs, which is dependent on that job. They’re unaware of their dependencies and their lack of sovereignty.
[00:12:32] And until this day when my principal pulled me into her office and asked me to do something that was absolutely and utterly against my ethics and my values, I was unaware as well. I didn’t understand just how much power this person could have over me. And you can bet your bottom dollar, ladies and gentlemen, that once I became aware, everything else changed.
[00:12:59] So what did the principal do? She tried to coerce me by threatening my family’s basic needs and it works because it’s part of a hierarchy of needs that is just primal to human existence. And so many of us, I would say almost 60% of us, are completely unaware of our dependencies. So then what happened? Well, in that moment, I became aware. I became aware that I lacked sovereignty, that I couldn’t make the decisions that I wanted, that my daughter needed me as her father to step up as a man of ethics and values. I needed to be able to look her in the eye and be able to tell her that when push came to shove, her papa stood for something.
[00:13:41] And what was worse is that my sovereignty was undermined by my dependence on my job, my dependence on my landlord; on my wife’s side, with her relationship with the university she was studying at, the politics of the state we lived in at the time, whether they cut university funding, whether the federal government decided not to, that science endeavor was not something that they wanted to pursue. My neighbors. I was dependent on my neighbors. Yes, we lived in a smaller community and my neighbors, for the most part, looked out for me. But I was also dependent on them to help shovel the snow so I could get to work on time. And I was dependent on them to salt the walk. And I was dependent on them to continue to look out for me.
[00:14:20] There are so many different places of dependency where our sovereignty has been relegated as a something we’ve pushed off, whether it’s on the government, whether it’s on somebody else, whether it’s on a job. It doesn’t matter. When I became aware, I was completely aware of my lack of sovereignty. And I was also aware that the coercion of this situation was really deeper than just my principal at that time. It was the coercion of the quote unquote “approved and civilized path.” It’s the coercion that our society sets up for us that is at play here.
[00:14:56] See, we have a social contract and part of that social contract is if you study hard and you work hard and you’re willing to put in the time, then you too can be a productive member of the middle class and enjoy the good life. Maybe not the great life, maybe not surf and turf every night, but you’ll be able to pay your bills, and you’ll be able to save for retirement, and your kids will be able to go to good schools. That’s part of the social contract.
[00:15:20] And so, so many of us have completely bought into this idea that that social contract’s still in force. And I quickly learned right then and there that no, it’s not. The social contract is something different. And what’s advertised to us early on, in my case, being told, “Just go to school.” Just go to college and there’ll be a job waiting for you and that job will pay all of your bills and then some left over so you can save for things like retirement, vacations, maybe a second home and a cabin on a lake somewhere. Who knows? But the point is that that fairytale that we’re told is not 100% correct.
[00:15:55] I’m living proof that being smart and working hard can get you pretty far because, like I said, at the top of the show, I’m making three times what I used to. And I didn’t get there on wishes and unicorns. I got there on hard work and smart action. I got there on taking over the approved, civilized path for my own needs and living my life with intentionality, which is part of what I hope to teach you in this podcast.
[00:16:22] But we need to be aware that what we’re advertised in society is not necessarily what’s going to happen. And this example with my principal ties right into that. There is coercion at that level of the idea that there’s somehow a set path that was purposely designed to benefit you. Well, it wasn’t there to benefit you. The story was created to benefit somebody else, and we were just sold it.
[00:16:48] And I like to, at this point, kind of quote a movie called The Newsroom. I love this movie for a variety of different reasons, but there’s one quote in particular that I really applied when I started coming to this realization that I lacked sovereignty, that I didn’t have the control in my life, that I was being coerced by this idea of an approved and civilized path, that if I just walked it, I could be part of the middle class and save. And that phrase is “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.” And ladies and gentlemen, when I started to understand and become aware that I was being coerced, not by my principal particularly, but by this approved, civilized path, by this idea that “No, no, you don’t need your sovereignty, other people will take care of it. You’ve got a quote unquote ‘steady job.'” I’m not taking that anymore. I’m not relying on that anymore. I’m gonna take control of my life and I’m gonna live free. I’m gonna live with intentionality. Like the barbarians coming for Rome, I’m gonna use the roads. I’m gonna use the path to my own ends. And with that, I’m gonna break free.
[00:17:56] And you, ladies and gentlemen listening to me, you’re worth breaking free. You’re worth getting out of the rat race. You’re worth the good things in life. And we just need to find the path to get there. So here’s what I did. And these are steps you can use.
[00:18:12] Step number one: resolve to accept reality quickly. This is a phrase I’ve heard from a lot of people, Jocko Willink, who has a wonderful podcast. You should totally go listen to it. He uses it a lot. Resolve to accept reality quickly. I had to be able to look at my situation with a sobering eye and just accept where I’m at. Don’t negotiate. Don’t beg. Don’t bargain. Accept it. Maybe it’s depressive, maybe it’s time to pour yourself a stiff drink, but accept it. And what I had to accept in the moment was my dream of being a great teacher and working with kids was over. And that my job as a teacher was never gonna pay the bills. It was never going to give my kids the life that they deserved. It was never gonna support my wife in the way that she deserved to be supported. I had to accept that reality. And I had to accept the feelings of shame and doubt and all the self-worth issues that came with accepting that reality. And it was hard. It wasn’t easy. It was just worth it.
[00:19:16] Step number two: figure out your actual income. How much money are you actually bringing in? This is a question that should be easy, especially if you’re salaried, right? But it’s not because there’s all sorts of other little things that come in there. Taxes fluctuate, maybe the state has mandated they have to take 10% of your pay for a pension you’re never gonna get to enjoy, social security, and all this other good jazz. What is your actual income that’s coming in the door? How much money do you actually have? In my case, working two extra jobs, that wasn’t consistent so I had to start looking at it and going, “Okay, well, how much am I actually bringing in the door? And how much can I actually count on my other two jobs?” Is it steady? Is it not? Taking a look around, what is my actual income?
[00:19:57] Step number three is figuring out what are your actual expenses. Remember, we gotta accept reality. That was step number one. Resolve to accept reality quickly. Well, the reality of your financial situation is that if you don’t know your income and you don’t know your expenses, you have no idea how you’re going to plot your way out of this. So you gotta get a good handle on what those two things even look like.
[00:20:18] Step number four. This is the step I think a lot of people have a hard time with because when they figure out their actual income and they figure out the actual expenses, the next thing they do is they take income minus expenses and typically that’s a negative number. If it’s a negative number, it means you’re going further into debt every single month. If it’s a positive number, go back and check your math because a lot of people will be way overly optimistic. And note I didn’t say what you think you’re spending on things like groceries or dining out or mortgages or anything else like that. I said the actual expenses. This is gonna require time with bank statements and credit card statements and all that other good jazz.
[00:20:55] But step number four, after you’ve done that, is you need to just stop and take a breath and remember that you, as a human, are born with the ability to learn, grow, and evolve. I’m gonna say that again. You take a breath and remember that you as a human were born with the ability to grow, learn, and evolve. Because ladies and gentlemen, this is probably a dire situation. Or if not dire, you’re on the edge. If you are like 60% of Americans, you’re probably close to the edge than is comfortable. And it’s gonna take time and energy to get out of this, to change your life.
[00:21:39] It took me seven and a half years to get to where I’m at talking to you tonight as I’m recording this. Seven and a half years of work, of the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. But whenever I found it hard, I took a breath. I remembered that I can learn, grow, and evolve. And boy howdy, have I ever learned, grew, and evolved.
[00:21:58] Step five: you gotta start doing triage and figure out how much you actually need. You might go through your expenses. That’s the place where we really need to start. And at least temporarily at first, you’re gonna have to make choices. There’s not a whole lot way out of that. And some people, when they do this, they realize they actually don’t have to make a whole lot of choices. They just need to make different choices and they can continue living the life that they want and that they’re living right now without any reductions. This is gonna be heavily dependent on where you are in life and how well you did step two and step three, which was figure out your actual income and figure out your actual expenses. But you need to figure out how much money you actually need to survive because that becomes your target.
[00:22:39] In my case, I realized that I needed at least two times what I was actually bringing in. And so I had to realize that I was never gonna get that as a teacher and so it is now time for me to change jobs. My triage was to reduce my expenses down so that I could get back to school so I could go get my MBA so I could get my CPA and so that I could get and make the money that I knew I deserve.
[00:23:03] Which brings us to the next step: craft a vision of what your life can be. Understand that you need to have a vision, understand that there’s a vision out there for you that you can look at and say, “That — I’m worth that. I’m worthy of that. I deserve that, and I am willing to work for that.” And then you sit down and make a plan.
[00:23:22] There you go. Resolve to accept reality quickly; figure out your actual income and expenses; take a breath and remember that you, as a human, were born with the ability to learn, grow, and evolve; triage and figure out how much you need; craft a vision of what your life can be and then make a plan.
[00:23:39] And if that sounds like a lot, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that I know exactly how you feel because I felt that way before sitting at my kitchen table in my crappy apartment, two doors down from meth house, after my principal had just asked me to commit fraud. So I had sat down and I’d figured out my actual income and my actual expenses and tried to figure out how much I actually need. And then the inevitable conclusion I had was that expenses were greater than income, and there was nothing that I could actually cut that would make any real difference. And I had to sit there and face the idea that in my current circumstances, in my life in the way that it is right this moment, that I was never going to be able to be the husband, father, and community leader that I longed in my heart to be. How was I going to do it? It was not mathematically possible.
[00:24:36] And so I asked myself, “What could my life look like? What could it be?” And I had a vision for myself of where I wanted to be. And it was a house that I owned with a yard, with kids playing in the backyard laughing while I grilled ribeyes on the grill — meat that I could not afford at the time — while my wife walked up behind me and gave me a hug and told me “I love what we built.”
[00:25:05] And I thought to myself in that moment that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. And then I realized, I hate lemonade. That when life gives me lemons, I was no longer gonna try to make lemonade because that’s what everyone else told me I was supposed to do, because that was the approved civilized path for when life gives you lemon, make lemonade, something that someone else could enjoy. No. From this point forward, I was no longer gonna make lemonade. I was gonna freeze the lemons. I was gonna build a cannon and I was gonna return fire because if I bombard life hard enough with its own lemons, it will eventually stop giving me ammunition.
[00:25:47] And over the last seven and a half years, ladies and gentlemen, I have fired my lemon cannon until the barrel glowed red and lit my way home. Because I have the house with the yard, with two beautiful daughters who laugh and giggle while they play in that yard, and a grill where I grill ribeyes and my wife marvels at what we built. My results speak for themselves.
[00:26:13] My mission with this podcast, ladies and gentlemen, is to help each and every single one of you to become fiscal savages who live from your hearts on your own terms for your own lives by providing you the pathways to financial sovereignty. Hit that like and subscribe button, share with a friend, ladies and gentlemen, because this is just the beginning of Fiscally Savage.
[00:26:43] Outro: Thanks for listening. If you like what we do here, please hit that subscribe button. Leave us a rating and review. And share the content with somebody who would benefit from the message. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all @fiscallysavage. And head over to fiscallysavage.com to get our free tools, suggested reading, and everything else you need to take control of your financial life and live free.