I’m Captain FI and I am flying my way to Financial Independence. I currently live in Sydney, Australia and I am passionate about Personal Finance, Financial Independence and the freedom it provides. I wasn’t always an investor, but through studying, earning, side hustling and living frugally so that I could save and aggressively invest, I was able to build a seven figure investment portfolio and build passive income to cover my cost of living. I currently invest in Real Estate, Low cost (low management fee) total stock market index fund ETFs and LICs, Superannuation (the Australian ‘official’ retirement account similar to an IRA or 401K) and online businesses.
Despite living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I manage an average savings rate around 80% through practicing mindfulness, minimalism, self-sufficiency and sometimes just good old fashioned discipline! I’ve hit my ‘lean’ FIRE number, which is the amount of investments I needed to allow me to reach Financial Independence Retire and Early on a bit of a ‘tight budget’ while living the single life. However, I want to raise a big family, and my current estimate is I am only about a third of the way to reaching ‘Family’ FIRE where I can devote my time to raising a family on a farm of my own.
I’m continuing to fly, save, invest and diversify my investments in order to increase my passive income toward ‘Family’ FIRE and decrease my overall portfolio risk. I am on track to achieve this updated work optional ‘Family FIRE’ lifestyle and financial goal by 30 – but like anything – I am trying to focus on enjoying the journey rather than obsess on the destination
How I became great with money
I have been able to do this through working hard, being mindful with my spending and investing smartly. This was initially borne from necessity, as I wasn’t always a pilot. I started my working career when I left home at 17 to become an Engineer (which thankfully I won a scholarship for) but I then had to cover the cost of my flight training which added up to over $300,000 over 4 years. I have since spent about another $40K on further aviation and postgraduate university education.
This is on the high side for pilot training – I hesitated a lot and it took me a while to get the confidence to take the ‘risk’ to transition from my secure desk job into the flight deck. I procrastinated by undertaking a lot of flight training I probably didn’t need: getting qualifications and endorsements such as aerobatics flying, low level flying, formation and instructor training on weekends while I worked the desk job. The training was expensive but I am proud to say I never resorted to debt or student loans to fund it – I lived on a shoe-string budget and found as many different ways of making money as possible to make it happen.
I really loved instructing on the weekends, and it let me gain the experience to enter my current flying job, and earn a little bit of beer money to offset the cost of all the training. Since my flight training expenses have dropped and my income has now increased, I haven’t allowed my lifestyle to inflate with it – instead I chose to invest the difference in my future.
My income streams
The Income streams and side hustles I currently use or have had along the way have included;
- Full time cargo flight operations
- An aviation freelance and contracting business
- Casual flying instructing
- Warbird adventure and scenic flights
- Index fund investing (Australia, US, and Total world markets)
- Peer to Peer lending
- Property investing and real estate developments (Australia)
- Online arbitrage using eBay, Gumtree (craigslist) and Facebook marketplace: flipping vehicles, appliances, furniture and other items
- Maintenance of a shopping center – i.e. cleaning graffiti, rubbish, gardening and general caretaker duties
- Small ‘Cashies’ – payments for landscaping, fixing / repairing / maintaining vehicles, cleaning cars and houses, mowing lawns
- A small website portfolio that earns income from Advertising, Affiliate marketing and selling Digital Products.
- Matched Betting
- Gardening – growing plants and food to both supplement my groceries and also for sale or barter
- Tutoring students in Science and Maths (HSC and University level) as well as ‘helping’ them with their assignments
- E-commerce (such as selling Print on Demand T-shirts)
I am also a part time student and always learning. I’ve managed to use workplace educational grants to get a Bachelors and Masters degrees in Engineering for pennies on the dollar – Over $150,000 worth of Undergrad and Post Graduate scholarships at a total cost to me so far of around $28,000. I am a life long learner and after reaching my FI goals I am interested in doing a doctorate in the Space / Cyber industry. I also have a variety of other hobbies including Gardening and Permaculture, Cooking, Music and learning other languages.
Whilst I love flying, doing it professionally takes an extreme level of commitment; it is a constant learning environment where you grow and develop as an aviator, and it can be stressful at times. Ultimately it is a high stakes environment, especially considering you can regularly have over 100 souls on board, and are often flying in challenging conditions in all weather by day or night.
You are flying all over the world to new (and some tricky) destinations, which can be complicated by foreign Air Traffic Controllers for whom English is a second language. You also have to accept a wide variety of cargo, some of which can be dangerous and needs to be expertly managed to be transported safely. As a pilot I am away from home a lot, and exploring the world has been fun and exciting in my 20’s.
Realistically, I know sometime in my 30’s I want to have the stability to raise a family, so a focus on Financial Independence will allow me more control over my life, my choices and my working conditions.
My main goal is to cover my cost of living with passive investments. The primary objective is to grow the passive ‘FI Portfolio!’ of index fund ETFs and LICs, and the secondary objective is to diversify this income stream through real estate developments, rental properties, web portfolios and online businesses. I want to reach my ‘Single’ FI goal of about $25K per year in passive income, and eventually my ‘Family’ FI goal of about $70K per year in passive income.
This isn’t because I want to stop flying; I will never stop flying. Fair warning, aviation is a disease and on your first flight you will be hooked you can never stop. I just want flexible work options in the future (potentially fly a reduced schedule / roster), so I can do whatever I want, whenever I want – including being the best Dad I can possibly be!
Why I started CaptainFI.com
From my time in aviation, especially instructing, I learned the value of teamwork. When you can help people to get what they need, you can often work together and get what you need, too. I also want to keep myself accountable to my goals. This is why I started CaptainFI.com.
Hopefully you can use the tips and tricks here to help you on your journey to Financial Independence – even if that only means being able to save a few bucks here or there, or questioning what I have said and sparking a fire in you to delve into some deeper research. Whilst its not financial advice (which I am certainly not qualified or licensed to give), this is just the experiences of an Aussie bloke trying to make a better life through financial independence.
For more details on my journey towards FI, check out my dedicated post here: My journey towards Financial Independence.
Captain FI on Social Media
I do hang out on social media a bit, so feel free to follow me on the socials if you want to join the community
An Interview with Captain FI
The following is a recent interview profile I completed, and what better place to post it than of course in the ‘about me’ page
Can I use your name or are you anonymous? Anonymous
Where can people find you on the internet? Www.captainfi.com or on social media – Instagram: captain_fi and Facebook @theCaptainFI
How old are you (and spouse if applicable, plus how long you’ve been married)?
29, single and ready to mingle
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
No kids, but want a big family (6 boys would just about do it I reckon, and justify that minivan I have been wanting)
What area of the country do you live in (can be as specific as you like)?
What is your current net worth?
Just over (AUD) $1M (check out my Net Worth updates here)
What are the main assets that make up your net worth (stocks, ETFs, real estate, business, home, superannuation, etc.) and any debt that offsets part of these?
Super (ETFs and annuity), ETFs in a conventional brokerage account, investment property equity, websites
Did you pursue tertiary education (Uni, TAFE, post-grad etc) and if yes, what are they?
A few certs and Diplomas, a Bachelor degree, Honours degree, Masters degree and aviation vocational qualifications. Think ‘project management, aerospace, systems, engineering, pilot and space’ stuff
What is your current job?
Pilot is my main income
What is your annual income?
Can’t disclose due to work contract – but you can probably figure it out if you get creative looking at the AFAP pilot award, pilot job openings advertised online and maybe if you get creative looking at my saving rates and spending.
How has your income performed over time. What was the starting salary of your first job, how did you grow your income (and what you did to make it grow), and where are you now?
First job in a shop $10 per hour, Have worked over 20 different jobs (many simultaneously) My total take home Income has grown by (at best guess) between 10-20% every year since I was 16
Would you recommend people to pursue the same career path? Would you choose a different job if you could go back?
No, Aviation is not for everyone. I spent about $340,000 on specific training courses between engineering and flight school and I have to work incredibly hard – you need a passion for flying otherwise you’ll give up or quit. You don’t do this job for the money
What tips do you have for others who want to grow their career-related income?
Specialise in your job role, study, professionals development, understand your worth and negotiate a raise. Expand your income streams – you should have at least 5 or 6 income streams that are not correlated to your job such as investing or side hustles like flipping items, dog walking or rental income.
What’s your work-life balance look like?
What work life balance? I work 60 to 80 hour weeks depending on what crops up at work, and then spend far too much time at home working on my side hustles and businesses
Do you have any sources of income besides your career? If so, can you list them, how much you earn with each, and how you developed them?
Yes, I go into these in detail on CaptainFI.com and during the monthly financial check ins. Income sources include flying wage, part time flying contracts, instructing work, consulting, dividend income, web portfolio income, flipping items (outsourced now thankfully), gardening / growing food / bartering, working on and flipping vehicles, Peer to Peer lending, Matched betting, and when I get a tenant, rental income on the IP1
What is your (your family’s) annual spending?
Currently about $30-35K (roughly)
Can you break-down the main categories this spending relates to?
The bulk of this is rent for my apartment in Sydney (this includes all utilities and internet). otherwise I spend very little, ~$40 a week on food, about a thousand per year on the car (insurance, rego and some petrol) since I cycle most places now, and $150 per year on my cell phone. I don’t really buy ‘stuff’ and to be honest, I still have MORE than I should so continue to de clutter and sell things I have. I receive an allowance for meals etc when away for work, and this usually works out to be a spend of about $20 per meal and I can pocket the rest. I probably spend under $2000 per year on ‘going out’ / misc social things, about $1000 per year on Gifts and about $1000 per year on travel.
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it?
I used to have a budget and went overboard with it all, but found a zero sum budget where I spent the left over was inefficient, and stressed me out. I switched to ‘paying myself first’ (aka buying investments at the start of the month rather than the end) and tracking my expenses and this works much better for me
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
I have an average savings rate above 80% and target 85%, however it has been a bit extreme so I am deliberately not tracking this as thoroughly any more on the advise of a psychologist. I’d be happy anywhere above 70% to be honest! My savings rate has steadily increased from zero as my income has increased – I’ve always been frugal – initially out of necessity, and now because I want to reach FI.
What is your favourite thing to splurge on?
FOOD! Awesome delicious fresh produce like mangoes, avocados and other yummy fruits. I try to eat mainly whole food plant based, so I usually don’t limit myself when it comes to fresh fruits.
What has been your investment strategy/philosophy?
Try to buy and hold assets for the long term that provide a good return on investment with ongoing and increasing dividends, below market value and good upside for capital growth – otherwise known as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of investing. Stocks = a broad index / dividend yield investing buy and hold property = cash on cash return, interest only loan, cash flow positive, new builds business = low overhead and good cash flow, systemisable and outsourceable
What has been your best investment?
Manufactured equity in a duplex build returned a cash on cash yield (pending) of about 30% annualised – although this is paper money and won’t be realised unless I ever sell. Otherwise I just get the market returns from my stocks – whatever the index gives me! When I was foolishly stock picking, It was a while ago but I think I might have made about 70% profit gambling on an almond company and Woodside petroleum recommended by the barefoot investor blueprint subscription
What has been your worst investment?
I lost probably 60% on one stock recommended by the barefoot investor blueprint, so this kind of all equaled out to roughly underperform the index. My other worst investment was in a property management / Air BNB business which crumpled in COVID-19 and cost me about a fair bit of cash and a lot of my time
What’s been your overall return?
Honestly, I don’t know. Probably the Index, most of my investments are in the index, so whatever the stock market gives me that’s my return. It’s not healthy for me to obsess over returns and something I’ve spoken at length with a psychologist about.
How often do you monitor/review your portfolio?
Once a month I do the net worth update (that’s probably too frequent! But I do it for the blog)
How did you accumulate your net worth?
Working as a pilot and side hustles, slowly snowballing it – check out my Net Worth updates here to see the process.
What has been the biggest contributor to your net wealth?
Biggest contributor has been my man PAY-G wages for sure, previously an office role and currently my flying wage. I do earn a decent side hustle from other jobs etc, but this is much less than my working income.
What has been the biggest detractor to your net wealth?
$340,000 worth of student / training costs for aviation and out of pocket uni expenses (uni was a scholarship though)
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
Continuing to invest the majority of my flying pay, reinvest dividends, invest in property with leverage and create good cash flow businesses
What money mistakes did you make that we can learn from?
- 9/10 businesses will fail but keep trying and eventually you will make one that works extremely well.
- Don’t inflate your lifestyle and flex your money muscles just because your earning like a boss.
- Don’t be an idiot like me and invest in very high MER managed funds through ‘investment professionals’
- Don’t be an idiot like me and make offers of “investment properties” you knew nothing about!
- Don’t be an idiot like me and try and stock pick like I did – I underperformed the index!
If you have a spouse, how have they contributed to your net worth?
I do not have a spouse but I would like one who could bring something to the table financially to aid in child raising, although it’s not a deal breaker and I will be able to cover it myself
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain for FIRE, will you quit working when you reach this?
Not a target net worth, a target passive income. At the moment it’s about $25K for ‘single FI’ which I’ve almost reached, but if I am honest, my dream goal is closer to a combined family income or ‘fatFIRE’ of about $70K for the ‘dream future’ with 6 kids on a homestead. Ideally there would be some contribution from the wife from her investments / assets. It’s difficult to equate this to a NW number, but I’ve got retirement estimations all planned out on the blog
What are your retirement plans?
Writing, Slow Travel, Raising a family and homesteading, regenerating local bushland, and potential casual contract or specialist work in aerospace programs.
Are there any issues in retirement that concern you? If so, how are you planning to address them?
Not really, it all sounds pretty good really. Probably just a bit of a fear of the unknown but will only know when we get there. Potentially leaving employment and my company’s stable paycheck and benefits like the health plan is a worry, but I’ll look into what level of healthcare I need for myself and my future family when I cross that bridge – I’m pretty healthy and Medicare is pretty good [ https://captainfi.com/private-public-healthcare-insurance/ ]
How was your childhood? Was your family wealthy, middle class or low-income?
Low-income. I had an amazing childhood, it didn’t really matter that we were poor. Our family was below the poverty line for Australian household income, because my parents divorced (my Dad was an addict and abusive towards my Mum) and Mum had to do it all on her own.
She ended up managing to raise a big family on her, own whilst juggling work and some serious health issues within the family (such as my disabled sister, my ADHD and behavioral issues at school, my ageing grandmother who needed ‘high care’ for years and of course her own struggles with years of physio and rehab due to being hit by a car, as well as her battle with cancer). To this day I am still incredibly amazed at just how capable of a person and Mother she is.
If you want to read more about my upbringing specifically, I wrote about it in Reflections on an amazing childhood.
How did you learn about finances and at what age did you “get it”?
I was always great at stretching the budget out of necessity, so was always fairly good with money – but I would always spend it – I spent $340,000 ‘investing’ in myself (which was probably the best investment now I think of it!). When I was 25 I had completed my education and training per se, and was able to redirect that spending into investments – it took me another two years for the penny to drop and actually become a smart investor – so I’d say I ‘got it’ at age 27 (two years ago).
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?Straight up it’s my Mum. She did some down right incredible single mum magic to keep our family going and has done an incredible job despite numerous horrendous set backs like being hit by a car whilst cycling and having cancer. She is an incredible person and a fantastic teacher and I can only hope to be half of the parent she was. Secondly Well, despite all of my mixed emotions about my father, second is my Dad. He is one of the smartest, most capable, confident and charming people I know – he has also struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and being a smoker with a poor diet his lifestyle is now catching up with him health wise … for all his negatives he is still an amazing and very inspirational person.
Thirdly, Commander Chris Hatfield – read the book ‘an astronauts guide to life on Earth’ and you’ll see why!
How do you think differently than the average person when it comes to money?
To me one dollar is not one dollar. I see everything in annualised yield, so that $1 gas station coffee is actually $25 – that is to say, it ties up $25 worth of investments for one whole year to cash flow that coffee from investment yield. Try it – it will surely cut down your spending and make you super appreciative of side hustle income.
Do you give to charity? Why or why not? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
I participate in raising money for charities every now and then for example Movember, food drives and other programs. My family and I have personally worked with a few charities and have had bad experiences – we were shocked and horrified to see just how little gets to where it needs to be. Not all charities are bad though, and its unfortunate that a few bad ones can undermine trust in the not-for-profit sector.
Rather than blindly handing over cash, I think a much better way is doing things yourself. That way you can trust that the people who need it are getting it, which is why I prefer to volunteer my time in person. I participate in youth career and aviation mentoring, as well as coaching young and single parents with their careers and finance (CaptainFI has been a great platform to facilitate this). All in all, this probably averages out to about 3 hours per week.
If you Google ‘Aus Aid’ which is our national aid program, you can see there is a structured government program aimed at helping out fellow nations too, which is a really good thing. I have personally helped fly Australian Aid to some third world countries. Having lived and worked in Asia and the Middle East, and flown into many developing countries I have seen how valuable Australian Aid and some NGO’s can be when it actually gets to where it needs to be. Unfortunately, I have also had the misfortune to see aid programs have horrible inefficiencies and be caught up in red tape. I have seen truckloads of aid being confiscated or ‘impounded’, and diverted away from those who need it.
I know charity is about giving not receiving, but both of my parents have battled with cancer and when reaching out to charity organisations for help and support they got nowhere – like for the financial planning advice my mum desperately needed when she nearly lost the house. My family could have been considered ‘at risk’ with my mum fleeing DV with literally zero possessions and all us kids, as well as with family members struggling with disabilities as well as mental illness and suicide attempts – again, zero help from ‘charities’ – all of our support came from the government through the public health system Medicare.
I prefer to donate my time and money where I can directly see the effects, so a lot of us pilots will physically take things with us to developing countries, or buy stuff to give out when we get there – that way we can try to donate directly to the people in need. I understand this might come across as a bit controlling and that not everyone will understand my views.
Do you have any favourite money tools and resources you recommend (books, podcasts, apps etc)?
Mr Money Moustache, JL Collins simple path to wealth, the Madfientist, Aussie Firebug, Pat the Shuffler and Strong Money Australia are my hardcore OG list of FIRE bloggers and podcasters. These guys will change your life! There are more incredible bloggers on the scene now creating great content, but as a starting point visit these blogs. Tools wise, I have a resources page on my blog which explains exactly who and what I use, and I have detailed review articles on all of them to save you time.