Sustainability is a trending term. Whether it’s human, social, economic or environmental, sustainability refers to the capacity to endure in a relatively ongoing way. In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, host Marc Bautis is joined by Myles Wakeham, a multi-millionaire who lives a 100% free and unconstrained life. Myles practices financial sustainability, growing his wealth through Bitcoin and rental real estate investing, without working a 9-5. Together, Marc and Myles discuss the concept of financial sustainability and how those as young as 18-year-old can begin creating an unconstrained life for themselves.
In this episode, you will learn:
- What financial sustainability is, and how to adopt it from an early age.
- The importance of adopting a debt-free lifestyle.
- How Wakeham used rental real estate to propel his financially sustainable lifestyle.
- Key differences between financial sustainability and FIRE (financially independent, retire early).
- And more!
Welcome back to Agent of Wealth Podcast. This is your host, Marc Bautis. On today’s show, I have a special guest, Myles Wakeham. Myles is an Australian who migrated to the United States in 1989 and has since become a multi-millionaire. He lives a 100% free and unconstrained life (with no job). Yet, he’s never graduated from high school, let alone went to college. He’s a self-made business-focused technologist who was one of the early members of biotech company Amgen. He’s a Bitcoin and rental real estate investor who spends 50% of his time in Arizona and 50% of his time roaming the world, seeking out new opportunities. He hosts The Unconstrained Podcast, in which he teaches the art of financial sustainability to his audience. He also has a book coming out on the subject very soon. Myles, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me.
I’m looking forward to today’s topic. With the COVID-19 pandemic and resurgences that have followed, many people are more motivated than ever to take account of their financial situation. So, I think financial sustainability has a lot of people’s interest right now. Can you start off giving us some background on what that is?
Debt and Financial Mistakes in Early Life
There’s a lot of people trying to find a way to quit the workforce right now. The unfortunate reality, I think, is that most people who accepted a job in the last two years did it under duress. For example, when people decide what they want to major in college, most are only 18-years-old. At that time, parents are trying to make sure their kids don’t end up homeless, but they don’t know what’s in their child’s heart… or their passion… or what they were born to be. That’s the child’s job to figure out. In the United States, you are not even able to buy beer at that age. Yet, somebody puts a $100,000 student loan contract in front of you and says, “Sign this off, kid. And, by the way, you can’t discharge this in bankruptcy — so you better know what you’re doing.”
If we, as adults, look back and realize who we were at 18, we’d realize how crazy that is. There’s nobody I know who could say, “I knew exactly what I wanted to be in life.” You might have some inklings, a few little ideas. But if a business person was to come to me and say, “Here’s a business plan. We don’t know what we are going to be, but we know we need $100,000. Will you invest in us?” I would say no. Of course I’m not going to do that, right?
But that’s what the 18-year-old is being asked to do. As somebody who came from another country, it was such a foreign concept to me. I probably went through 20 years thinking, ‘I’m wrong. The United States has the biggest economy in the world. Surely they know what they’re doing.’ But I’m not convinced that’s true.
Now, people who want to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, architect, or engineer need to learn actual tertiary skills in a university environment. For those people, it makes absolute sense to project themselves through that and into a career. But most people aren’t doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, and engineers. They’re the average Joe… working in customer service, for example.
These average people are still being given that same debt contract when they decide to go to college. Why is this important? Well, what I learned in my background is you have to invest in yourself to create the future you want. What do the Canadians say? You skate where the puck is going.
When I was living in Australia, and working in the business world (in the 80s), it was a free market. You had a skill, you sold it to somebody who needed it and they paid you the asking price — which was determined by how much they needed the service and how well they valued what you brought to the table. That’s how we made money.
What I learned as a kid was to hold onto any money I made, because it can disappear real fast. I grew up in a time when taxation was at 50%, and interest rates were 15%. So nobody had debt. If you bought a car, it was a used car that you learned to fix up yourself. We all took on personal responsibility.
I get a feeling that we were happier back then, because nobody was stressed. You didn’t reach to buy things you couldn’t afford yet — you build wealth.
Most of the friends I grew up with bought houses and paid them off in 10 years. That was the mantra back then. When I came to the United States, 30-year mortgages were standard. 30 years! That’s a long time.
It certainly is.
Do you know what the French literal translation of the word mortgage is?
Death contract. Mort means death. People don’t know that they’re entering into death contracts every single day. We forget these things.
We live in a world where people are burdened with more debt than they can handle — their debt-to-income ratio is ridiculous. They can’t ever pay this stuff off. Yet, at the same time, they want to have their cake and eat it too… and that is those who say, “I don’t want to have a job. I want to retire early. I want to get out of the rat race.” Well, you bought that house, or you took on that student loan. You have to pay off those debts.
Myles Wakeham’s Financially Sustainable Mindset
I started from the pretest… I was very lucky. I arrived in the United States with nothing, just a bag of clothes. I became a millionaire, multiple times over, because I don’t take on debt unless the debt is going to serve me, by allowing me to purchase assets. My entire goal, and the entire purpose of financial sustainability, is to own assets which you live off of through dividends.
It’s as simple as looking at your burn rate: How much money it costs you to live. Then, rather than taking all the remaining money and saving it, putting it into capital markets or into bonds, I deploy it. Go and buy something that generates you a dividend — income — and live on that. Once that the dividend, or the income, exceeds your burn rate, you are financially free.
That makes sense. Going back to that 18-year-old making a decision on what to do with their future… how do they get started in the journey to financial sustainability? Like you said, no one knows what they want to do at 18. Well, what do you suggest for them, specifically?
The first thing is to flush out all of the societal norms put in place by the government, tax authorities, banks, economists, the media and even your parents to some degree. You have to realize the basic things in the universe which will always be true: and that is entropy. You came from nothing. You will go to nothing. We all turn to dust, eventually. That’s the way the universe works.
What I realized, and it took me decades and decades to work this out, was that you can understand life a little easier by breaking it up into quarters.
The First Quarter (Age: 1-20): You’re under the umbrella of your parents, who provide food, shelter, clothing and other basic necessities. They look after your best interests while your job is to work out who you are.
The Second Quarter (Age: 21-50): This is the building phase. You’re building a career, building a family, building a home and building wealth.
The thing about building, if you talk to anybody in business, is that you need capital — you need to be able to fund your venture. Most people at this stage don’t yet have the capital, so what do they do? They borrow it. So they go into their building phase completely bogged down with debt.
The Third Quarter (Age: 51-70): This is the consolidation and optimization phase. At this point, you’ve hit the midpoint of your life and you realize you don’t want to leave a burden on anybody else when you pass on, so you start investing.
Investing is important, but it’s very hard to do when you’ve got a 30 year mortgage, student loans, credit card debt and car payments. Somehow, you’ve got to manage all of that before you can start effectively investing.
The Fourth Quarter (Age: 71+): This is the waning phase. By now, you know that your teeth are going to fall out and your eyes are going to go bad. You just hope that the end won’t be all that painful…
Here’s the problem. Most people live their life working until they reach 65- or 67-years-old. By then, they’re entering the last quarter of their life, where they no longer have their health. They can’t enjoy the fruits of their labor.
So if that 18-year-old has wisdom — and let’s face it, at that age few of us do — and decides to defer the partying and good times to invest in themselves, there will be such a payoff later in life.
While they’re underneath the umbrella of their parents, go out and work, make money, sock it away and save, save, save. Eventually, they’ll hit a point where they can invest in assets that will benefit over time without having to spend more than, say, 5-10% of their waking hours managing.
The thing that turned it around for me was rental real estate. Once I started buying real estate — and tenants paid me rent on 15 year mortgages — I paid off debt and became rich through those tenants. If I had started at the age of 18, I would own the properties by 33. Then, the entire amount of rental income, less taxes and insurance, goes to me. If you have enough of those properties, you don’t have to work another day in your life. That’s sustainability.
There’s a movement out there called FIRE (financially independent, retire early). How does financial sustainability compare to it? Is it the same thing?
Key Differences Between Financial Sustainability and FIRE
We’re on the same road, but we only travel together for the first 20% of the journey. At that point, financial sustainability splits off one direction and FIRE splits off the other.
I have criticism of FIRE. The first problem with it is that it’s never been tested in a recession. This movement came about sometime in 2012-2014. And there are very famous people in the community that created a kind of cult-like following — which is not a bad thing.
FIRE requires you to adopt some level of extreme frugality. And then, at some point, using the additional money that you’ve got coming in from work, you invest.
I agree with FIRE as a starting point. For that 18 year old kid, being frugal is smart. It means living with your parents — rent free — earning money and saving it. The problem (with FIRE) comes down to understanding of how markets and cycles work.
Since the dawn of the FIRE movement, we’ve lived in a world in which equities — the stock market — is driven more by federal reserve intervention than it is by company performance. If it was driven by company performance, that market would have tanked years ago, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was because we had favorable support from the Reserve that assets appreciated in value. This is basic economic theory.
So those who support the FIRE movement are high fiving themselves, because their Vanguard VTSAX fund went up another 10-15% this year. They’re banking on that being the case for the next 10 years. They say, “Surely at my ripe age of, say, 35, I can predict with the life expectancy of, say, 80, that for the next 45 years, it’s going to be the same.” They continue to assume that they can quit their job and live off the proceeds of their investments based on, say, a 4% drawdown. They think they will be just fine.
That’s where I call BS.
If you embraced extreme frugality in the early stage of life, that’s fine. But do you want to do that for the rest of your life? Maybe, eventually, you want to buy a Lamborghini. Maybe you want to buy a vacation property.
Life is also unpredictable. I’ve been through hell and high water — I’ve almost been killed in a car accident, I’ve made millions and lost millions, I’ve had deaths in the family, I’ve had a divorce — I’ve gone through it all, and I’m not an outlier.
Most people will have similar experiences, but the FIRE movement is naive to that.
They may be able to save millions of dollars, quit their job and live with friends in The Bahamas. That sounds good, until you get divorced and half of your money disappears. Or, until you have some major health crises and realize that you need to pay out of pocket because you don’t have health insurance.
I’ve spent a lifetime mitigating risk. Every day, when you wake up, there is risk. You could be hit by a car. A plane could fly into your house. I mean, this stuff doesn’t happen every day. But look at the absolute patterns and what exacerbates risk.
What works for me, is acknowledging that time is a finite resource, but if you spend your time wisely and understand who you are and what motivates you, you can take that knowledge and do whatever it is in earnest. Do it with passion. Do it with power. Do it to the best of your abilities. You will get better the more you do something. Then, one day, you’ll be paid to do whatever that is. To me, that’s a rich life.
I’m not saying I’m completely against FIRE, but I think it’s a cop out.
We’ve been talking about that younger person. But what about someone who’s not so young. Maybe they don’t have student loan debt, but they don’t have capital or assets. Are they just not able to be financially sustainable?
I can give you the nice answer that everyone would love to hear, but I’m not going to lie to your audience. If you’re 50-years-old and have nothing saved for retirement, you’re screwed.
If there’s anything that you can learn from life, it’s that you don’t want to live with regret. You don’t want to squander an opportunity. Time is a dimension you cannot manipulate — you have a finite number of years.
It’s hard to begin doing real estate at age 50, so I recommend… which is going to be weird… Move to a foreign country that’s cheap. I bought land in central Mexico based on the asset appreciation and proceeds from some of my rental properties. My rental properties paid my own home off, and now I have a Plan B that allows me to straddle the border.
The main reason I wanted to do that was because I don’t trust the medical industry in the United States. So having had major surgery in Mexico, and understanding the way the private health system works there, it was a preference for me to be able to become a resident.
I now have an Australian passport, a United States passport and a permanent residence in Mexico. I’m off to Antigua next year to do it there too. At the end of the day, I want to live a life where I can travel around the world and take advantage of the opportunities that are there.
So the approach that you mentioned earlier, that people should figure out their burn rate, what their expenses are, and then as long as their assets are generating positive over that, they’re financially sustainable?
Yes. Although I would say that life isn’t all about money.
You can’t squander the opportunities of life: travel, family, important memorable moments — the things that make us human. We’re not banking machines. We’re not stocks. We are human beings. And if we embrace that, and we try to maximize our passion and our enjoyment, everything else falls into place.
Definitely. Well, we’re just about out of time. Myles, thank you for being on the show. You gave us some great information on how to achieve financial sustainability, as well as some inspiration and motivation. How can a listener reach out to you, to find more information about you?
Everything that I do can be found over on my website, beunconstrained.com. We have a community behind this stuff now, which is crazy. But my website is the one-stop shopping experience for everything I do, from the podcast to my articles and teachings.
Perfect, we’ll link to that in the show notes. Thanks again for being on the show. And thank you to everyone for tuning in.