The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Ramit Sethi — Automating Finances, Negotiating Prenups, Disagreeing with Tim, and More (#371)

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Ramit Sethi (@ramit), author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, who has become a financial guru to millions of readers in their twenties, thirties, and forties. He started his website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, as a Stanford undergraduate in 2004, and he now hosts over a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

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#371: Ramit Sethi — Automating Finances, Negotiating Prenups, Disagreeing with Tim, and More
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Tim Ferriss: Why, hello, boys and girls. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show where it is my job to interview and dissect world class performers and all around funny people, like my guest today. And I’m going to butcher his name even though I’ve known him for a thousand years: Ramit Sethi. That’s R-A-M-I-T S-E-T-H-I. Author of The New York Times Best Seller, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has become a financial guru to millions of readers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Got to make sure I don’t disqualify myself soon. He started his website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, as a Stanford undergrad in 2004. And he now hosts more than a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. Ramit and his team of dozens of employees build premium digital products about personal finance, entrepreneurship, psychology, careers, and personal development for top performers. The IWT community includes one million monthly readers, 400,000 plus newsletter subscribers, and 35,000 premium customers. He has written about personal finance for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and has been interviewed on dozens of media outlets including MPR, ABC News, CNBC, and The Tim Ferriss Show. Welcome back to the show, Ramit.

Ramit Sethi: Thanks a lot. It’s great to be here.

Tim Ferriss: And you can find Ramit if you want to say hello, ask a question, or yell at him on Twitter at Ramit, R-A-M-I-T, and Instagram at Ramit. So I thought we could start with the floor mats. Maybe you could tell me about your dad and the floor mats.

Ramit Sethi: You want to start there?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: All right. So you know how you grow up and you discover that your parents did things a little differently and you just thought it was normal? I thought it was normal to take five days to buy a car. Because that’s what my dad would do. My mom would stay home. My dad would take us. He would take a couple of the kids in my family, including me, and we would go to the dealer. It was always Honda or Toyota. You know that. And we would start looking around. And my dad would play very innocent. He didn’t know anything about cars. My dad knew everything. He knew how much the dealer was paying, how much the hold back was, everything. So we’d go, we’d test drive it, he wouldn’t be sure, da, da, da. And then we’d stay there for four or five hours and he’d say, “Okay, I’m going to think about it.” The car dealer spent five hours with my dad. He goes, “No thanks, this price isn’t good. I’m going to go.” They’re like, “What?” So we literally left.

Then we go back the next day. We’re basically having breakfast at the dealership. And I remember one time we were buying a car for our family. And it was the fourth day. Okay, again, I thought this was normal. And we’re down to the last bit. We’re at the part where the dealer’s drawing the numbers and telling you, “Well, it’s actually a really good deal.” And my dad, he knows the math. He’s an engineer, of course. And finally, we’ve closed the deal and my dad goes, “You’re going to throw in free floor mats, right?” These are $50. And the guy’s like, “Sir, we’re losing money on this car. How can we throw in these floor mats?” And my dad says, “I’m out of here.” And we just walked up and left.

Ramit Sethi: And I was like a Vietnam vet. I’m just shell shocked walking out. My eyes are just glazed over. And I’m like, “We just spent a week buying this car and we walked out of here over $50 floor mats.” So that’s where I learned to negotiate in the most elite negotiation of all.

Tim Ferriss: Now where are your parents from?

Ramit Sethi: They’re from India.

Tim Ferriss: And are they first generation? They immigrated to the US.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, they came here in the ’70s. My dad came here actually to study. He went back to India. And it was known that he was coming back. He was a bachelor. And they sort of arranged things so that he meets people when he comes back. And it passed around the community that this bachelor’s coming back. And he ended up meeting my mom. They met by both families coming together in a living room and talking. And they met each other. The families decided it was a good thing. Seven days later, they were married. My mom got on a plane and flew to the US for the first time. And they’ve been married for about 40 years now.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: We have so much to talk about. And so much to catch up on. And so many questions that I want to ask. But I thought we could start and certainly we’ll bounce all over the place. But you said before we start recording, because you have a new edition of your book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, noticeably lacking a photograph of you barefoot on the cover. And you have some incredible quotes and testimonials, I should say, including from Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street. But you said to me, because I haven’t read the introduction, that you either should have started it or you did start it with, “I was right.” Could you explain? Please explain.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. So this book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, originally came out in March 2009. And let’s just dispense with the idea the name sounds like a scam. We both know we write books that sound like scams, but they’re not. I mean, it’s like a running … And I’ve just learned to embrace it. Guys, it’s the weird sounding book, but it’s actually good advice. And in the first edition, I talked about long-term investing, low-cost investing, thinking about really automating your money, and using psychology against yourself for positive results.

Now if you had followed that advice, it turns out that when the book came out in March 2009, that was the absolute bottom of the recession. Crazy enough. Now I don’t believe in market timing, but if you had used the advice in the book, this $10 book, you would be set for life. So I started the book off by saying, “Well, I was right. Let me tell you all the things that would’ve happened if you’d use this book.” I did get a couple of things wrong and I had to change. One of them … Man, the biggest mistake in my life was putting in interest rates in the book. Like the … Okay, do you remember what —

Tim Ferriss: Sounds like me putting … Doing market testing with magazines.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, so I put in … Back then, savings rates were five percent. Remember these banks were paying five percent? So I was like, “Oh, it’s five percent. Da, da, da. Here’s the math.” And then the minute the book came out, they dropped to four, three, two, and then point five percent. Now the point of it is you don’t make money on your savings account anyway. We’re talking about $21 a year or a month versus $4. It’s irrelevant. It’s tiny details. Every day for the last decade, I’ve gotten 10 emails a day that are like, “Fuck you. Where’s the five percent you talked about, you liar?” And so I’m like, “Never again. I’m never putting interest rates in this book again.” So I took them out, I clarified it, I corrected a couple of things that I wanted to update, and I added 80 new pages of material. So things have changed a bit, but good advice really shouldn’t change that much.

Tim Ferriss: Now I’ve had a chance to observe you as sort of an animal in the wild for 10 plus years. And part of the reason I enjoy having our conversations, but also sharing your tactics, and scripts, and so on, is that I’ve seen you use them and walk the walk, which is more than I could say for a lot of financial pundits or commentators out there in the world. And I wanted to perhaps just mention a … And not really an upsell. Maybe a side sell, which is if somebody wants to be either greatly informed on the arts of negotiating or if you’re just looking for outrage porn to get really angry if that’s your current sport of choice, you can find a guest post that you’ve put on my blog quite a few years ago called, How to Negotiate Like an Indian, which I can only imagine the response to that title if I were to publish it.

Ramit Sethi: Probably not a good idea.

Tim Ferriss: But now, it’s staying the way it is, folks. So there you have it. If you want to Google that on Tim.Blog, you can find it. But let’s talk about some of the perhaps counterintuitive things that you do. Because we talk about all sorts of aspects of finance, and investing, and life in general on the phone just the two of us. But I’m looking at a number of different bullets that I was hoping to explore. And one is you’ve mentioned that you’ve lived in the same apartment for 10 years. Why do you still rent?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. I get this question a lot because in America, real estate is religion. And if you’re successful, then you’re supposed to buy, right? And the old tax deduction, and they’re not making any more land, and all these things that we say that we don’t really understand. I rent intentionally. I could go buy a place in Manhattan tomorrow with cash, but I don’t want to. It doesn’t make sense for me financially. And also, I enjoy the flexibility.

Just to give you an example, I love that the building that I live in has awesome services. I love that anything that goes wrong, I make a phone call. It started raining last winter and water started coming through my window sill. So made a phone call, and they came up, and they took a look, and they were like, “We actually have to replace this part of the roof because it connects. And we have to send someone to the outside of the building.” I said, “Sounds good to me. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to be out of town for the next few days. So have a blast.” I would estimate that that repair probably costs in Manhattan on a weekend probably $25,000, maybe $35,000. I didn’t pay it. Right? So that’s financial. Also a flexibility issue, which is I don’t know where I’m going to be five years from now. And if you’re going to buy and you run the numbers, it makes sense to plan on being there at least seven to 10 years minimum so that you can sort of eat the cost of the transaction fees.

But I think the biggest thing that really surprises people is that in America, we have been told so many times, real estate is the best investment. And in my opinion, that’s just not true a lot of the time. Now I don’t think it’s a bad investment always. But I always say you should run the numbers. And when I run the numbers in Manhattan, it just makes no sense. I would rather take that money, and I would put it in the stock market. And I know consistently what that outcome is going to be over the long term. I don’t have to do any repairs. And as we may talk about, I really hate anything that affects my convenience. So I think for a lot of people, I just want people to think, “Hey, is it really true that real estate is the best investment?” For me, it’s not. It’s a cost. And I’m happy to pay the cost just like I’m happy to pay the cost of a basket of strawberries that I’m going to eat. I don’t think I’m throwing money away on strawberries. I don’t think I’m throwing money away on rent.

Tim Ferriss: So you said real estate is religion or it can be. And I think this is worth taking into for a second because there are a lot of statements that in certain circumstances can be conditionally true. Right? Like real estate is the best investment asterisk, fine print, if A, B, C, D, E.

Ramit Sethi: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Right? And there are things that are just patently, I think, untrue, right? Like you need money to make money. False. It’s who you know, not what you know. False dichotomy. Not mutually exclusive.

Ramit Sethi: Investing is only for the rich.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Ramit Sethi: Ironically, the way you get rich is by investing.

Tim Ferriss: And there are a lot of different ways to invest, right? So the one perhaps undertone or portion of context that I think is worth talking about, because I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself in the last 10 years, is that there are investments that you make to optimize for financial ROI. And then there are investments that you make which are decisions about allocating resources for optimizing other things. Right? So I’ll give just a perfectly seemingly opposite example, which is I have bought real estate. I’ve also had my ass handed to me a year and a half before your book came out, in fact. Hello, adjustable rate mortgage first home buyer.

Ramit Sethi: Oh.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that was ugly. But I have bought real estate. Typically I have used mortgages of various types. And I had a friend of mine, a different Indian, who was also first generation.

Ramit Sethi: Who is this guy? We all know each other.

Tim Ferriss: Navin Thukkaram

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so thank you, Navin, for this advice, by the way. Who I’ve known for ages, also an engineer. Brilliant guy. And we were looking through different financial decisions. Because … And I want to talk about kind of “what got you here won’t get you where you want to go” type changes, right? Because I imagine you do things very differently from your parents.

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss:  Even though their behavior makes perfect sense based on their conditioning and their experience. What he said to me looking at my balance sheet, there’s a small amount of principal left to pay on a mortgage. And he said, “Just for your peace of mind, for this primary residence, it doesn’t make financial sense. You should pay this off so that you feel as though no matter what, you have that and it’s almost like a homestead.” Right? You have something that on many levels cannot be taken away. That’s how you feel. And I did that. Not saying this is the advice that everybody should take by the way. But for me in that moment, there was so much uncertainty and uncertainty in my life, to make a decision that seemingly did not let the numbers line up was, in fact, the right thing to do.

Ramit Sethi: I completely agree. I’m so glad we’re talking about the nuance because I believe there’s a few underlying beliefs when it comes to money. And I believe that number one, most people are mostly the same. And that’s profoundly different than a lot of people who believe that we’re all individual and we have different situations. No, I believe that most of us are mostly the same. And if we can optimize … If we can basically just follow good advice for 90, 95 percent of the way, then we earn the right to take advantage of our individual specialties and differences. So for most people, that means saving a certain percentage, investing a certain percentage, et cetera. But I do think once you do the basics, then you earn the right to say, “Hey, what are the nuances here? Where do the rules not necessarily apply to me?” So for you, yeah, you have the principal. Maybe financially it didn’t make sense, but it just felt good. Or it provided safety in an uncertain world at that moment.

I’ve got examples in my own life where I pay for stuff that makes no rational sense. I hired a personal trainer for the last many years. That doesn’t make any sense. I could theoretically find the same workouts on YouTube. And they’re all printed out. Or I could just stop going with my trainer. Why? He’s giving me all the workouts. But there’s something more that I get out of it. And when I was starting out, when I was 22, I wish I could go back and shake myself. Because I was very utilitarian and really judgmental about how other people spent their money. And I would scoff. I would say, “Flying business class is so stupid. We’re all getting to the same place. I’m just paying 20 percent of what that person’s paying.” And what I really should’ve done is say, “Why do they do that?” If we’re listening to you right now saying you paid off a principal where you really didn’t have to, you could’ve just dripped it out. You’re not paying much in interest. Why? And for you, that safety was meaningful. For me, I like the flexibility and convenience.

So I’m not saying “Don’t ever buy real estate” and you’re not saying “Buy or pay it off tomorrow.” But what are the circumstances in which people who are otherwise probably pretty thoughtful make certain decisions?

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the mistake that I’ve, in retrospect, made a lot when I was younger — And I think that’s also in part because I grew up with, by necessity, very, very frugal parents, is — sounds like much like yourself, I would scoff at and sort of look down upon a lot of behaviors that had I actually looked closer and said, “What am I missing? All right, a bunch of wealthy people are doing X.”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, well they must know something.

Tim Ferriss: Now, I’m like, “Holy shit. I can’t believe I’ve missed it for 20 or 30 years.” It actually makes a whole lot of sense.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, so let’s talk about what are some examples. What are some things that you scoffed at in your early, let’s say, teens or 20s that now you’re like, “Oh, I get it.”

Tim Ferriss: Well, and I don’t want this to sound obnoxious to folks because we’re going to start to … We’ve gone through many kind of checkpoints. Right? We’ve … You and I have been very fortunate and we’ve made some good decisions, had a healthy dose of luck. But I’ll give you an example because you just mentioned business class. My assistant I have today, my primary full-time assistant, still remembers when Tim, this is not that long ago, would get a middle seat economy class ticket.

Because I remember when I first had people reach out to me about paid speaking engagements, which seemed completely absurd at the time. Number one, I said “Yes” to everything. So I was like, “What? People are going to pay me to speak? Yeah, sure. Yes.” To everything. All of the above. And one of the options that I realized was available at one point was they could buy the tickets for me, which was, if negotiated by a speaking agent or something, usually business or first class. Or they could give me the cash expected for a first class ticket. And then I could just pocket it and buy a middle class economy seat, which I did once to Australia for a speaking gig that was, I mean, at the time, kind of my high watermark. Right? It was a very important gig. It was critical that I do well at the speaking engagement. And I sat hinged at 90 degrees at the hip in a middle seat with my arms thrusted in front of me like a cadaver, like a Dracula, for whatever, right? Like 18 hours. And got there and I was just pounded hamburger meat for three days. And I said, “Okay, that was very penny wise and extremely pound foolish.”

So that would be one example and I think that’s the broader category of protecting the physical asset.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. What I like about these examples, I don’t find them shallow to discuss. I think that each of us, no matter what level of your success, has gone from a certain place in life when you’re in your early 20s to a different place. Right? I used to read PC Mag and think about what parts to build my own computer. Now I just go buy a Mac. It’s as simple as that. And I haven’t kept up and it’s just not a good use of my time. I just want someone else to make the decision for me. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re buying first class tickets internationally or you’re going to a restaurant instead of cooking food for yourself one night. One night a week or a month. We all intuitively know that as you change in life, your spending is going to change. So I actually don’t think anyone should listen to your example of a middle seat and say, “Oh my God, must be nice to be Tim.” Or for me, “I have an assistant as well. Must be nice.” It is nice. But you might have money and you don’t choose to spend it like that. You choose to spend it on something else.

I have a student of mine in this book who used the book. He told me he retired at 35. And his wife retired. They’re 35 and 36. And they drive around in an RV. That’s their rich life. That is not my rich life. But to him, that’s his rich life. So when I was back in my 20s, what I wish I would’ve done was to look at people who had succeeded in the ways that I could conceive myself succeeding. I would’ve never seen myself in an RV. So maybe I didn’t have something to learn from that person. But if I was really introspective and if I were really curious, I would’ve said to him, “How’d you do it? What’d you? And why did you choose, of all the things, to travel in an RV?”

If I’d done that, I would’ve put myself aside. And all these things that we love to define ourselves are, which by the way, is interesting. People love to define themselves by what they’re not as opposed to what they want. So you see it on dating profiles everywhere. “Don’t message me if…” Or people say, “I would never do that if I had $1 million.” Well, you don’t have to worry about having $1 million. Because when you define yourself by what you’re not, you won’t get there. When you choose what you would want to do, now it becomes, “Okay, cool. I want this. I want that. How can I work to get it?” So I wish I would’ve reframed the way that I thought about money and psychology earlier on.

Tim Ferriss: How do the frameworks or rules, guidelines, anything that you use for financial decisions differ from those you absorbed from your parents or other people when you were younger? And there are a number of different ways to approach that, right? We could look at sort of the approaches you used to … You mentioned, $1 million. To get to your first million versus what you used after that point. Right? Because if it’s anything like my experience, very different.

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss: But I’ll let you tackle that any way you like because I think what’s … If people could take one thing from this conversation, it would be test your assumptions and try to be aware and it takes a lot of effort and practice of what rules you’re following or biases you have that you arrived at through logic and reasoning versus having simply absorbed over the course of bouncing around like a pinball in a pinball machine in this thing we call life for the last 20, 30, 40 years. Because those are not your rules. They’re somebody else’s.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, I call them invisible scripts. These are the scripts that run our lives. And they’re so deeply embedded in us that they are invisible to us. And you see it. One invisible script that I grew up with was “Education is always good.” And I believe that. I believe that’s a positive invisible script. I think that’s a really good one. I’m all for education, self-development. That’s what I do for my business and in my life. I also grew up with things like “You shouldn’t pay for that. We could do it ourselves.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, me too.

Ramit Sethi: Right? Yeah. And so and it really trickles down in lots of peculiar ways. So there are some ways that I really love. When we used to take vacations, our vacation was mostly driving from where we lived in Northern California to L.A. We would visit family. My mom would pack lunches and we would stop on the way and eat. And what I love about that is we didn’t need any fancy food. We were a family. We spent time together. That was vacation for us. I didn’t know what it was like to stay at a fancy hotel. In fact, I never ordered room service until I was 20 years old on an interviewing trip for Microsoft. So I like that. I like knowing that I grew up a little hungry. Not physically, but just knowing, “Oh, cool. We’re happy. We’re good. There’s another level. We can’t quite do it right now, but we’re happy.”

But I think I also grew up with some beliefs that I’ve shed or changed. Some of them would be being really conservative with my job. If I had followed all the paths in life, I’d be sitting here wearing a very oversized Cisco engineer t-shirt and just I’d be telling you about my sales engineering stuff. It’s a conservative, go get a good job, et cetera. And as I got older and I started making different choices, my parents were supportive but they were a little surprised. I think on the financial side, I didn’t really understand why people would pay more. Why pay more when you can pay less? But there’s a famous quote from Dan Kennedy. He says, “If you can …” Dan Kennedy says, “Why pay less when you can pay more?” Total flip of the equation. So whether that applies —

Tim Ferriss: Who’s Dan Kennedy?

Ramit Sethi: Dan Kennedy is a famous marketing consultant. And he has a great book out about marketing to the affluent, which if you read it, it can be a bit abrasive, but it’s also like a very eye opening, shocking book. Because what he points out … See, most people go through life with a lens. I call it a money lens. They put a pair of glasses on and they look at the world through a frugality lens. “How can I save money?” And you see this in lots of ways. If you say, “Oh, that’s a really nice jacket, where’d you get it?” They’ll tell you and they’ll say, “I got it on sale.” Or, “I got it for 50 percent off.” Oh, that’s interesting. But if you talk to somebody who bought an absolute … It’s something they love. This, they went to Italy and got this perfect jacket that was handcrafted. They would never say, “I got it for 50 percent off.” They have a different lens. Maybe craftsmanship. I grew up with a frugality lens. Everything was about cost. Growing up now, it’s also about value. So as Dan Kennedy says, “Why pay less when you can pay more?” If you’re going to have an amazing anniversary dinner, perhaps that’s the place you don’t need to save 50 percent. Perhaps you actually want to spend more to create a memory you will never forget.

Tim Ferriss: Dan Kennedy, interesting guy. I’ve never met him. But one of his books, I’m blanking on the name. We’ll put it in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast. But it’s something like Million Dollar Ideas. Or How to Make the Most. Or Find Your Own Million Dollar Ideas. [Ed. Note: How to Make Millions with Your Ideas: An Entrepreneur’s Guide] And it was, as I recall it, a collection of different business ideas and examples, which was really useful for also removing the financial lens that I would’ve had on at the time, which was you make money doing A, B, or C, which happened to be whatever three things I had seen, maybe around me. And to show just how flexible the approaches can be. And I’d love to hear a bit … Since you have such a great sample set of students, right? What are some of the psychological blind spots or rules that most prevent people from reaching their financial goals?

And I want to touch on … So think about that. I want to touch on one thing you said, which was frugality and having grown up with a definite frugality lens. I think this is worth commenting on. That is frugality has its place. You don’t want to just be flying blind because … What is it? A fool and his money are soon separated? I mean, it’s like no matter how much money you have, you can spend it all. Right? And I’ve seen this a lot. It’s not hard. So you have to have a means of assessing what is worth spending money on and what is not. However, if you make, let’s just say, 20, 30, 40, $50,000 a year, fill in the number. But let’s just say, $50,000 a year. If you want to reach all of your financial goals by cutting costs, the maximum amount that you can cut is $50,000. At which point you are … You’ve got a t-shirt and you’re a wandering ascetic begging for food and so on.

So there is, by definition, a limit to the delta you can create between the money you spend and the money you have. Whereas if you have an equal focus on income generation, or you’re in a disproportionate focus on income generation, sky’s the limit in a sense. Right? So that would be one where I was trained to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. But if you’re not simultaneously looking at income generation or increasing income, it can be really problematic.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent. That’s why most of America and most of the world has the frugality lens on, right? There’s a limit to how much you can cut, but no limit to how much you can earn. And if you think about the typical financial advice, it’s a very pointed question to ask, “Why don’t any of these so called financial experts in the newspapers talk about how to earn more money?” And the answer is they don’t know how. That’s not their job. They’re writers. So to be able to understand that you do need the manage your costs, for example, there are a lot of things I do in my life that are highly frugal. Highly. Especially for the income that I have. And I just … It’s not of interest to me. But I also —

Tim Ferriss: Like what?

Ramit Sethi: Like my wife makes fun of me because I run my entire business on a MacBook Air, and you know, I put my feet up on the table, I’ve got my thing on my lap, and she’s like, “Why don’t you get a new computer? That fan is so loud and I had to have –”

Tim Ferriss: How long have you had it?

Ramit Sethi: So that’s what I wanted to find out, I went to the Apple thing in the top left corner and it shows you when you bought it. It’s seven years old. But like, it still works. So I don’t want another one. And I also, when I grew up, this comes from my childhood. We didn’t buy a new computer unless the other one did not turn on. So I’ve kept that with me and I like having little places in my life where I intentionally impose scarcity. I think it’s healthy, I think it’s healthy to have restraint.

Ramit Sethi: I think it’s healthy to build that discipline. If you just go out and buy everything you can, I think you’re on a quick path to a bad place.

Tim Ferriss: You’re also aware that you’re doing it.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Yes, exactly. So exactly. Another example is I hardly ever eat out at all, and that’s a big change from 10 … Well, I was single and I was … Seamless. My Seamless receipts were just through the roof. Seamless is an online delivery service in New York. Everybody there uses it.

Ramit Sethi: And now for health reasons and also just for cost reasons as well, we like to cut back on that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: But I spend more on things. So I always like to spend extravagantly on the things I love but cut costs mercilessly on the things I don’t. Mercilessly. So I liked that. I actually would, I think a lot of people kind of try to cut back a little bit here and a little bit there and they just end up generally unhappy about it.

I would actually encourage people to pick the area, I call it a money dial. Pick the area of your life that you truly love spending money on. Like let’s do a quick exercise. What’s the area of life that you love? It gives you joy to spend money on?

Tim Ferriss: Travel. Travel and food.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect.

Tim Ferriss: Whether I cook at home or I go out, I would say. And now, you had a Veracruz breakfast taco this morning.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Which was amazing. Not expensive —

Ramit Sethi: No, I loved it.

Tim Ferriss: … but delicious.

At the same time, I could go to say, San Francisco to like, Saison —

Ramit Sethi: There you go.

Tim Ferriss: — and enjoy that as an experience. So those would be two areas. Travel and food.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect. So let’s do this now. A lot of people say travel. It’s one of the most common ones. Mine is convenience. I like my life to be super convenient. So I’ve spent a lot of money and time engineering that.

Now let’s take your money dial, travel, and like a stereo dial, let’s turn it up. Let’s say just for easy math that you spend $100 a month on travel. Again, easy math. What if you 10x that or let’s say you 100-x that. What would travel look like for you, different than what you do now?

Tim Ferriss: Let’s see. Well, it would probably mean that I have, which quite honestly I’ve thought about because given some of the gnarly, crazy places I go, I’ve had some catastrophes and near catastrophes. I would probably have a fixer on the ground each place I went. I would have somebody who is on call and available to effectively fix any problem or tackle any challenge or want that came up.

Ramit Sethi: I love that. Anything else?

Tim Ferriss: That’s the one that comes to mind.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Because it’s, yeah. That’s the one that comes to mind.

Ramit Sethi: All right. Now, what’s something in your life that you spend money on but you don’t really care? It doesn’t make that much of a meaningful difference to you.

Tim Ferriss: Clothing.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect. Okay, so this is, you’ll find this —

Tim Ferriss: My fans have given me unending grief for it.

Ramit Sethi: You know, my wife is a personal stylist.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, man. All right. Well —

Tim Ferriss: She won’t like my budget.

Ramit Sethi: You talk about this … Okay, so I love this exercise. There are about 10 money dials that I’ve identified. Travel is a big one. Convenience is very rare. There’s health and fitness. There’s relationships. There’s a few more. What I like to see people doing is actually spending more on the thing they love.

Tim Ferriss: Health and fitness is the one where I would ratchet it up.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: That’s where I would turn the dial.

Ramit Sethi: What would you do?

Tim Ferriss: I would actually get a trainer, which I do not have currently. I have different trainers for different things, but it’s all a la carte. Nothing has been prepaid or pre-scheduled yet, which is an issue, right? I suspect that part of the reason, tell me if I’m wrong, that you like having a trainer, is the accountability and the regularity.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent.

Tim Ferriss: And I would like to do that.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. I love this. By the way, whenever you ask someone about their money dial, you can just see their face light up, right? Cause they love it. I loved, I love, I’m obsessed talking about how I have built my life around convenience. I’ll take you through every last detail. You can see the joy in my eyes. So what I love to do is for people to dream big. If it’s travel, it’s not just like adding an extra 10 percent, it’s like 10x-ing it. What would that look like?

And then in order to get there, whether it’s twox, fivex, 10x, what would you be willing to cut back on? And suddenly people start to realize that money actually should be bifurcated. It should be highly bifurcated. It’s spending very little on the things you don’t like and going extravagant on the things you do. And when you start to think this way, now your rich life becomes way more specific and meaningful to you as opposed to me.

I don’t need a fixer, because I don’t travel at those kinds of places and I don’t do the kind of traveling you do.

But for me, I want even more convenience. And now you know, I want a different type of travel now that I’m married. So these are things that I want everyone to think about. What’s your money dial and what if you could 10x it?

Tim Ferriss: This is valuable also just for people who may be listening and going, “Ugh, waste of time. I don’t have the money to spend 10x on it, whatever.” Whatever the pushback might be as a thought exercise, this is very, very valuable. In the same way that if, like when I wrote my last book, I asked myself “If I only had a month…” Actually, for the last two books. “If I only had a month to write this book, how would I do it?”

Ramit Sethi: Oh, really?

Tim Ferriss: What would it look like? And, 90 percent of the ideas were terrible. But then there were 10 that made the process I was planning on already two, three, four, five times more efficient. And so the question itself might seem absurd, but many of the ideas end up being extremely practical.

And let’s talk about convenience. So what are some of the —

Ramit Sethi: Oh, my God.

Tim Ferriss: … things that you do or have found disproportionately rewarding? Gratifying from a convenience standpoint?

Ramit Sethi: Well, okay, I’ll tell you, but it’s going to sound weird because to me, this is truly joyful and to other people, I’m going to sound like a lunatic. But this is my rich life, so I’m going to break it down.

I wake up in the morning and by the time, I wake up early. We started waking up at six after we went on our honeymoon. We were waking up early for safari and then we both kind of looked at each other and we’re like, “Do you want to keep doing this?” And so we do. We sleep around 9:30, 10, wake up at six, and by the time I start working, I just open up my calendar and I double click on whatever’s in the morning; it’s usually writing in the morning. And everything is perfectly organized.

The link is there. I click the link, the document is ready to go with exactly the right information. It’s all organized, like there’s nothing left to chance, there’s no documents over here, there’s no files over there. It’s all in its place.

Tim Ferriss: You’ve prepared this in advance?

Ramit Sethi: My assistant has and my team has, so that has all been engineered.

And I do believe that the best morning routine is decided the day before, the week before, even the year before. So by the time I get there, it’s just ready to go. It’s like a chef walking in —

Tim Ferriss: Mise en place.

Ramit Sethi: Exactly. And everything’s in its place, so I love that. Then on a day-to-day basis, things like scheduling. My assistant, Jill, handles it. She’s fantastic. And even when I was coming here, I walked outside to get an Uber or taxi and I didn’t even know what airport I was going to. I just knew that when I double clicked my calendar, it would tell me, so it’s all taken care of.

Finally, a couple of other examples. When I travel, especially for an extended period of time, we have something called the travel protocol, and Jill activates the travel protocol. That means my plants get watered if they need to be. That means that she handles email in a different way. That means that all these details that I normally attend to when I’m in the office are now attended to by somebody else.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s get super boring. Not For me, not for you, but maybe for some people. Is this a checklist that lives in a Google document? Where does that protocol, once you click on go go gadget travel —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Where do the instructions live? ‘Cause let’s say Jill is sick —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: — and somebody needs to fill in. We don’t have to get into that complexity if necessary. But the instructions.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, they’re in a Google Doc. There’s a Google Doc that’s roughly 25 or so pages of preferences, like when I travel, if I’m traveling over five hours, I want to sit in this type of seat. It all lives there and it’s updated. So it’s a live, living document.

One recent thing that I updated was when I travel for a longer period of time, I want to have food delivered to my hotel so I can try to stay generally on diet. So I’ll get to the hotel and they’ll have a Whole Foods bag there delivered with food that I know that I can kind of eat on the go. And it’s got a spoon too, because the first time we did it, there was no spoon and there are no spoons in a hotel room, which I had to learn myself.

So it’s like a lot of iteration. But to me I don’t find it annoying. I actually love it cause I’m like, cracking the code of what it takes for me to be really efficient.

So it lives in a Google Doc. If my assistant were sick for some reason, she would transition it to someone else. And so it’s accessible to anyone at the company, and we just go from there.

Tim Ferriss: I want to mention something ’cause I’m extremely particular about preferences for travel. So hotel room, not near an ice machine, not near the elevators. I have very particular thoughts on if it’s a hip, cool hotel with a really loud lobby, certain max heights, but take into account fire escapes, and so on. I mean I’ve a whole set of preferences.

Ramit Sethi: I love this.

Tim Ferriss: But let’s just say that somebody listening as a thought exercise had dialed up their travel money dial. What you realize is that in some cases, the things you would expect to be expensive, or problems you would expect to be expensive to fix, are not expensive. Like the Whole Foods example.

Ramit Sethi: It’s so cheap.

Tim Ferriss: So you could do … Whole Foods may do its own delivery. If not, perhaps Instacart, if not, in a place like Austin, you could use Favor. There are really inexpensive ways to do this.

To give you an example: So I used to, I still do ice baths. And I didn’t have what I have now, which is this somewhat risky MacGyver cold plunge that I’ve engineered, which you have to make sure you’ve unplugged before you get in. But before that, when I was living in San Francisco, I had ice delivered or I would have ice picked up. I would usually stop at a gas station after the gym and like pack my trunk full of ice, which was a huge pain in the ass. And then I realized, wait a second. At the time, Instacart will deliver 60 pounds of ice for five bucks. And I was like, “I am that asshole.” I’m the guy who was like, “Can I order kettlebells on Amazon Prime and get them shipped for free so I don’t have to pay twice the cost?”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And lo and behold, I was able to do it.

So the solutions, even if you brainstorm them in a wealth exercise, do not always end up being expensive.

Ramit Sethi: Hundred percent. That’s why I’m so glad you said a few minutes ago: don’t scoff at the mental exercise like, “Oh, I don’t have enough money.” Dream big. Dream the dream of what your money dial is at 10x. But the solutions are often so simple.

Every time I travel, I will post a video on Instagram of the food that was delivered and it’s like classic stuff. It’s like, yogurt. It’s stuff that we all eat. It’s yogurt, it’s some almonds, maybe a peanut butter thing. And people are like, “What service did you use?” That’s the question. “What service?” And I’m like, “The service doesn’t matter.” You could find somebody on Craigslist; this is like a $20 purchase. $20 that can change your life. And in order to get there, you just have to start with the dream. It’s the money is like really the last of it.

Tim Ferriss: So this $20. This is my … I have a very good assistant and it’s taken a quite a bit of time and it’s not something you necessarily get right off the bat, and you don’t need an assistant for this. But she said to me at one point, she was like, “Tim…” I don’t know when this was, it was not that long ago. She’s like, “Tim, just travel with a roll of 20s and you can solve almost any problem.” And I was like, that’s a good idea.

And I’ll give you another example of a lifestyle upgrade that does not cost a lot of money. If you go out to restaurants, choose a restaurant you think you’re really going to like. Go to that restaurant, not on the weekend, so say between Monday and Thursday. Go either early, preferably like right when they start for dinner service. Sit by yourself, and again, this is kind of a one-time investment. Go there for a week.

This is also stuff I picked up when I was writing The 4-Hour Chef, because I would go in with a little notebook and I would order a bunch of stuff, and I would take little notes and they’re like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” Right? Number one, the chef typically at that point is not going to be as loaded, not on booze, although that happens too. But on a like, 52 menus open at once, that’s not going to happen at 5:00 or 5:30, so they might take an interest in — the maitre d’ might take an interest in — you. Order all sorts of stuff to try and then tip like 40 percent.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm.

Tim Ferriss: And do that three days in a row, and you are forever a VIP at that restaurant.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, wow. So I liked that little insight. The 40 percent’s not that surprising, but the three days in a row.

Tim Ferriss: Do a couple of days in a row, so people get to know you, you get to know them.

Ramit Sethi: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: And like, you’re VIP for life.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: And sit at the pass if you can. So if there’s a chef’s table or a counter where you can see the kitchen, sit there, because most people will never ask for that.

Ramit Sethi: I love this. Okay. I love how to take a mundane experience like a restaurant and turn it into something special. So thank you for sharing that. Let me share a couple of my own. I had two experiences. One where we, I think we got something magical, and the second where we didn’t do it, but we got an idea.

We were on our honeymoon and we were just having the most amazing time. We went to four different countries and we started in Italy, then Kenya, India, and then Thailand. And the hospitality was just like, on another level, right? We’re on a different planet. And I said to my wife, “If there’s anything you think of or you want, just ask,” because at these hotels they really, really, really want to say yes. And we were at one hotel in Thailand and my wife loved the spring rolls.

And so the manager comes out and he said, “hello, how’s your meal?” Dah, Dah, Dah. And she said, “You know, I was wondering…” she was kind of nervous. “I was wondering if we could have the recipe for these spring rolls because these are the best I’ve ever tasted?” He goes, “You know what, give me just a minute.” He goes to the back, he comes out with the chef. Chef in his hat, and the chef says, “I heard that you’re interested in the recipe.” And he goes, “I would actually love to arrange a cooking class for you.”

Tim Ferriss: Amazing.

Ramit Sethi: “What time are you available tomorrow?” She’s like, “I can come any time.” So she goes to this cooking class, private. In the back in the kitchen. Not only did they make four different dishes, they even said, “Okay, you know, your stove doesn’t have as much flame as ours, so you want to adjust the recipe,” et cetera.

So she sends me these photos, I’m just sitting in the room. I was doing some writing and she sends me these photos of four full dishes and then they were like, “Here you go. Compliments of the kitchen.” She will never forget that. Never. And it was just about asking, “How do you do this?” She didn’t even ask for the class. So I learned from that, and I thought that was magical.

The second experience is a new thing that I’ve added to my playbook, which is, my buddy Nick took me. He’s like, “Hey, do you want to go to a tea tasting in New York?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s go, green tea.” I thought it would be a typical tea tasting. You know, you go —

Tim Ferriss: A typical tea tasting?

Ramit Sethi: I don’t know —

Tim Ferriss: Just one, ah just another tea tasting.

Ramit Sethi: People in New York who like tea, they do it. We go there, there’s like six people from Japan, there’s a translator, and there’s a photographer. We’re like, “What is going on right now?” We’re like, “There’s something happening, but we don’t understand what’s going on.”

So we’re sitting there and then this person comes and starts speaking and the translator’s translating and they basically say, this is the best tea in Japan and it’s being brought to the US for the first time. And we’re like, “Okay, how good can good be? It’s tea.” We didn’t understand quality at this level. Okay. So the way that we truly understood it, they told us, “You know, they only grow it on a certain part of the mountain and they use these types of things,” and we’re like, “Okay, okay.” The way that we truly understood it was when they put the tea leaves in and they said, “Okay, steep it for a second,” and they said, “Drink one drop.” One drop.

And we’re like, “What?” And so we drink one drop. It was amazing, it was really good. I’ve never tasted anything like it. And then there was a little thing that said the prices. We looked at each other, my friend Nick and I, and we said, “Ounce for ounce, this is the most expensive thing we’ve ever had to drink,” if we were to buy it. It was like $70 per sip. Crazy, right? And we didn’t pay that much for the tasting. But what we learned from that was number one, sometimes quality you can only tell it by certain attributes. Two, I wasn’t at the level of being able to appreciate it. And three, and this was the real key: what we should have done, and what I’m going to do from now on, is whenever I go to a cool, whether it’s a tea tasting or any kind of interesting restaurant, I have a little playbook now.

I asked my assistant Jill to put it together. We’re going to make the reservation. Of course I’m going to pay, I’m not asking for anything free, but she’s going to send a note ahead of time that says, you know, “Hey. Ramit’s coming in. He would love to be able to take a kitchen tour if you have –”

Tim Ferriss: I was just going to say this.

Ramit Sethi: “– If you have 15 minutes ahead of time. He would love to be able to take it and if possible, he’d love to post it on Instagram or whatever.” Again, not asking for anything free, but what I’ve learned is people who are the best love to share it. So there’s this phrase, you know, “Those who can’t do, teach.” That’s totally incorrect. Never believe that. The very best love —

Tim Ferriss: Those who can’t, wait. Those who can do, those who can’t teach.

Ramit Sethi: Or they say those who can’t do, comma, teach.

Tim Ferriss: Oh I got it.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. And that’s a total misnomer. Let the very best people, like here you are, you’re the best in the world at what you do and you love to teach. Everyone who is the best, whether it’s a chef or a tea master, they love it. So I’m going to try to do that when I go to these places. And I’m just like, every one of us can do that. So anyway, that was my exciting experience.

Tim Ferriss: So you said that one, oh, that’s the one that gave you the idea.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. I didn’t execute that yet.

Tim Ferriss: And the, well. There are many things that one could take from what you just said. One I want to underscore is the importance of asking. And I think that what I would hope for myself, because I’m still developing my thinking and priorities will change and worldviews will change as it relates to money.

Ramit Sethi: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Money is an interesting thing. We can talk about like, what the fuck money is to begin with, but that’s a separate thing. It’s part of the reason why I have a $100 trillion note from Zimbabwe framed that I put up on a wall because it’s important to remember just how conceptual a lot of this is. But my thinking will change. But to stress-test your own assumptions, it’s very valuable to not just do thought exercises, but certain real life exercises. So one could be asking for a kitchen tour and don’t, by the way, don’t do it unless you’re interested. And if you’re not interested, go watch Chef’s Table, like Francis Mallmann or one of those. Like, get excited about it and have some basic vocabulary so you can appreciate what the hell is being shown to you. If you’re going to do it, don’t do it just to do it.

But that is a question.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Right? And we know someone who lives here in Austin, also. Noah Kagan, who has his coffee challenge, right? So walk into a coffee shop, ask for 10 percent off. And you can’t tell them you’re doing an experiment. You can’t tell them that “So-and-so told” you to do it. It doesn’t matter what they say. So it could be a Starbucks, it could be an indie. Doesn’t matter. And if, like, “What if I bought, what if I don’t like coffee?” It’s like fuck, I don’t care. Get a water, get a, you know, order a Pellegrino, and well, order a tea. But ask for 10 percent off.

Cultivating the muscle used for asking for things is so incredible. And you were talking about, you know, those who can’t, teach and how there are these common sayings that are taken as true. I do … there is one that I like, which I do think is generally true and that is: in life, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.

Ramit Sethi: I agree.

Tim Ferriss: And sometimes negotiating is just asking for what you want, right? So are there any exercises that you would suggest, or practices, phone calls, questions to people who are listening that might help them kind of stress-test some of the things they have accepted?

Ramit Sethi: Yes. I love this. So I’m going to give you a small one and I’m going to give you a big one. The small one is, if you have any sort of late fee, you should just use the scripts in my book. Or you can Google for them, and you should call up your financial institution. Usually it’s a credit card, and negotiate the late fee.

Tim Ferriss: What should they Google specifically?

Ramit Sethi: If you don’t … well, get the book, But if you don’t get the book —

Tim Ferriss: Get the book.

Ramit Sethi: … but you can just Google “Ramit Sethi negotiation scripts.”

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: And you’re going to see there, this is how it’s going to go. You call up the credit card and you say, “Hi. I just wanted to confirm that I’ve been a member for the last four years,” and they’re going to say, “Yes, I see that 2000-whatever year.” “Okay, great. I noticed that there’s a late fee here of $37 from last month. I’d like to get that waived, please.” And they’re going to, by the way, notice my tonality. “I’d like to get that waived, please.” Why sir? “Well, I made a mistake, but I sent the payment in the next day and I’d like to confirm that it can be removed and it won’t affect my credit.”

80 percent of the time right there, you’re going to get it removed and there’s a reason I put that in chapter one of my book, as well as with bank fees, overdrafts, et cetera. It’s that most people have never proactively taken control of their money. They just accept the world the way it is. “Ah, the credit card screwed me again.” No, you can get that back and once you get that late fee back you’re like, “Oh, my God, I can actually have control over this. These companies work for me.” So that’s the first thing I would say.

The second exercise is a little bigger and it’s more conceptual. Right now I’m doing a small coaching program with like 150 people, I’m walking them through my book. And it’s like this private group and I’m just walking them through every chapter, and I asked them a thought exercise a couple of days ago. I said, “If I gave you $10,000 tomorrow or if you just found it, no obligation, no strings, what would you do with it?”

Okay. Tim, what do you think they said they would do with this $10,000?

Tim Ferriss: $10,000. This is just like right off the cuff. Pay down mortgage or invest in an index fund, but I’m guessing closer to the former than the latter. I don’t know.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. You’re pretty, pretty close. So it turns out that according to these answers that they’re all saints. We have a bunch of Mother Teresas in the group. They’re like, “I would pay off my debt,” “I would give 10 percent to charity.” “I would do this and that.”

I’m like, “You got $25,000 of credit card debt. You’re telling me that you would magically take this money and just pay it off?” What they were doing was they were having a very optimistic sense of their future selves. I would rather they say, “I actually don’t know what I would do with this money. Based on my past behavior, I’d probably just spend a lot of it.” Or “I have no system or way of thinking about what to do with my money.” That would have been more honest.

Tim Ferriss: Yup.

Ramit Sethi: Instead, when faced with what we’re going to do in the future, we’re really optimistic. “Oh, I’d work out four times a week.” “I’d pay this off.” “I’d pay for my parents’ retirement.” What I would really like to see, people, is go through this exercise to start with your optimistic self and then try your realistic self.

If you say you’re going to pay off all your debt, why are you even in debt in the first place? Clearly you didn’t have a system that would keep you out of it. So I think for people, whether it’s a $100 a $1,000, $10,000, whether it’s, you know, you could even go as big as somebody just gives you a house, what are you going to do with it? I haven’t even done that myself. But you could play with the concept.

And then remember if you don’t have a system, like for me the answer is, “I would put it straight into my system, put in the checking account and money would be withdrawn to certain places. 20 percent would go here, 10 percent would go there. Some money would be spit out for guilt-free spending.” And I’d probably go buy a beautiful sweater.

Tim Ferriss: Where did they …

Ramit Sethi: That’s where it always ends up.

Tim Ferriss: You and your sweater.

Ramit Sethi: I know. I love them.

Tim Ferriss: So where do those funds go? If you’re comfortable talking about some of the places?

Ramit Sethi: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: So you get 10 grand, you put into the checking account, and then it gets kind of put into this process.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, it’s a process map, basically like an email inbox, and it gets filtered and shunted where it needs to go.

So day to day, my spending is very consistent except for two areas. Rent is the same, food is basically the same. Everything is pretty stable. I like to put, my target is I start by saying I want to save and invest at least 20 to 30 percent, and I think that’s a good, healthy number. If you’re doing that, the rest of your life is generally in control. It’s 20 to 30 percent and because we don’t have kids right now, my wife and I’ve been talking about our numbers. We want that number to be towards the higher end.

Tim Ferriss: 20 to 30 percent, just technical question: is this pretax, or is this taking into account taxes?

Ramit Sethi: That’s a great question. It can be either. I always like to be more conservative. Always. So post-tax is really good if you can do that because you’re, you know, you’re going to be putting more in. But really for any of these numbers, if it’s post or pre, you’re generally in a good place anyway.

So then that money is getting saved and invested, and investing is like, I tried to go more aggressive on investing. Because we’re young, so I put that into things like a target date fund and you know I love Vanguard and I recommend them. I don’t have any deals with them, but I think they’re the best. That’s where I put —

Tim Ferriss: What is a target date fund?

Ramit Sethi: A target date —

Tim Ferriss: I understand all the separate words, but I don’t actually know what that is.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, so very quickly everybody thinks investing is about picking stocks and like sitting here and looking at the screen that looks like Minority Report. That’s not investing. Investing is very simple, low-cost funds, and these cost you almost nothing these days. We’re talking about 0.1 percent expense ratio. It’s very, very low cost.

What you do is something like a target date fund is you pick a target date that you’re going to retire. So if you’re 30 and you’re going to presumably retire at 65? That’s 35 years from now. So there’s a target date fund called Vanguard 2060 Fund, okay? And what that does is it’s like a pie chart. It’s pretty aggressive in your 30s because you’re young and as you get older it gets a little more conservative. Basically what it means for you is that you don’t need to do anything except put money into it automatically every month.

I love this as a great simple, low-cost way to invest, and the bulk of my portfolio is either in target date funds or individual index funds, so that money would go in there. I have some money in sub-savings accounts. I’ve got some targets like, you know, I saved up for my wedding before I was, before I even met my wife, saved up for an engagement ring. I like to plan ahead, so I have those numbers. Same for a down payment on a house, which eventually I will buy even though it doesn’t make sense for me right now, but I still plan for it. Also vacation, like midterm goals, you’re talking about roughly one to five or so years.

Tim Ferriss: How do you keep these things separate, or are they only separate in a spreadsheet where you’re keeping track? How do you not commingle —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, I like keeping them separate because I think it’s like —

Tim Ferriss: Separate meaning separate bank accounts.

Ramit Sethi: Well you can have sub-savings account —

Tim Ferriss: I see, sub-saving accounts.

Ramit Sethi: So Capital One 360.

Tim Ferriss: Kind of like an authorized employee on a credit card account or something like that.

Ramit Sethi: Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: Just for tracking purposes.

Ramit Sethi: For tracking purposes. I also think it’s nice if you have one big old commingled account, you don’t really know what’s for what. What I would encourage everyone to do is, think about what do you want to save for between one to five years and for one year there are things like Christmas gifts, like you know, that’s a known irregular expense, or it’s a known regular expense. It’s coming every December. If it’s 500 bucks, you might as well start saving now.

Then there are things like an anniversary dinner. There’s also mistakes. I used to have a stupid mistakes account because I used to get a lot of parking tickets. I don’t do that anymore. Thank God. I don’t need to plan to for that, but then there are things like a down payment, maybe getting married, things like that. Above and beyond five or so seven years, I just put it in the market because I don’t need it and it just grows, then —

Tim Ferriss: You’re putting it in the market with a target-date fund?

Ramit Sethi: Target-date fund. Yes. Those over the long-term over history have returned about eight percent. If you do the math and you go to one of these calculators like Bankrate or something, you can plug in the numbers and you’ll see that your money doubles roughly every… it’s the rule of 72. 72 divided by 10, it’ll double about every seven years. That’s why compounding is so powerful.

If you start now and you put even a hundred bucks a month in, that number gets very large, very fast. That’s the power of investing. The rest of the money pays my fixed expenses like rent, things like that. Finally out pops guilt-free spending. This is my favorite part —

Tim Ferriss: The sweater account.

Ramit Sethi: The sweater account. That brings me to my two things that are variable. Travel, I tend to overspend on travel a bit and clothing and I’ve set up this system, because now I’ve sort of advanced my financial system where a lot of it is automated. I have a meeting once a month, I have a personal CFO, we kind of look at it and I basically told them I want my document prepared in this way.

I want an executive summary. I want the expenses categorized as such and I only want you to flag the following ones because these are the ones I’m variable on. I don’t really care if I spend 20 bucks more on deodorant. That doesn’t move the needle, but like too much on travel, I got to know about it so I can kind of correct over time. That’s how I think about the spending.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. To next topics, I thought we would discuss prenups. This is a topic that is shied away from a lot. It seems to be an important topic at least in the US and it’s something that came up in conversation recently and you joked that you might be willing to talk about it on the podcast.

This is one of those subject areas that is I think neglected. I’ve seen a lot of difficulty and angst and pain and discomfort faced as a result of I think an unwillingness to make it more of an open conversation. Where should we start with prenups?

Ramit Sethi: I’m an open book man, I’ll tell you anything.

Tim Ferriss: All right.

Ramit Sethi: This is one of those things that when I walked into it, I didn’t know anything and I only knew what I had heard on TV, that prenups are bad or they’re for people who have generational wealth that’s been inherited. I didn’t know anything. Then I discovered when I talked to friends, there was so many people who have thought about this or gone through it, but none of it is online. It’s all behind closed doors.

Tim Ferriss: Prenup, prenuptial agreement. What is a prenup, what’s the purpose of a prenup?

Ramit Sethi: Prenup, sets the terms of what you are coming into a marriage with. It is acknowledgement that certain people might have certain assets or interests, like a business or cash or investments, whatever the case may be. It also sets the terms for if the marriage ends for whatever reason, what is to be done with those assets, specifically the pre-marital assets. That’s what a prenup is about.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. How did you think about this? Because I’ve heard some disaster stories of this process being handled poorly or terms not being perhaps reviewed as carefully. I should point out also that this is not a male/female thing.

I’ve seen this in same sex couples. I’ve seen this in cases where the woman is coming in with significantly greater assets than the husband to be. How did you think about this, and what’s one of the smarter ways to go about thinking about this?

Ramit Sethi: Well, I’ll tell you what I did and I’ll tell you some mistakes I made too. The reason I want to talk about this is that I want to shine the light on money topics that people don’t talk about. I want people to be informed.

You can make your own decision, but I walked into thinking about getting married with a lot of preconceived notions about what a prenup was, who it was for, and just to give you a sense, like nobody around me ever signed a prenup growing up. It just was not a part of my culture. I started thinking about getting engaged a few years ago and my girlfriend at the time, we were discussing it and —

Tim Ferriss: Discussing what? The engagement? Possible engagement.

Ramit Sethi: What’s going to happen eventually and we’re together for the long term, things like that. I started looking into it and if you Google how to sign a prenup, you’re going to find a lot of really generic and borderline bad advice. It’s from disgruntled redditors and it’s from like AskMen or these magazines where they have these things, this advice, like you should blame it on your lawyer or you should blame it on your parents, or how do you get away with not making your fiance mad?

I just thought this is not the way I want to start this relationship — and this financial relationship as well — because that’s what marriage is. It’s legal, it’s financial, it’s also love. You’re a team in every way. I sat down, I did a lot of research, I talked to a lot of my friends and the thing that shocked me was when I started bringing it up with friends, so many of them, especially entrepreneurs, had lots to say. Lots.

I’ll fast forward to what happened with me and my girlfriend at the time, we sat down, we had a really serious meeting. We actually had a Google agenda. We came with our bullet points and we had a very adult meeting where we talked about —

Tim Ferriss: This is just the two of you.

Ramit Sethi: Just the two of us.

Tim Ferriss: No legal counsel or anything like that?

Ramit Sethi: No, no, no. We were just the two of us. We talked about, when would we like to be engaged and married? Where would we live? Do we want to have kids?

Tim Ferriss: Just to be clear, this is a life logistics meeting and not a prenup meeting. Maybe part of it, but it’s a broader conversation.

Ramit Sethi: I hadn’t even brought the prenup up.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. We go through kids and I told her, I even mentioned to my wife, I said, “Let’s talk about the names of our kids, because I never saw myself having some kid named Mike. I don’t want a Mike running around in my house.” And she’s like, “What the hell? Where’s this coming from?” I’m like, “I just feel particular about this.”

“Then it’s Thor or nothing! Thor or nothing.” We go through the list and the good news is we were generally on the same page. It’s a funny thing, she goes, “I’d really like to be engaged by Q1 of next year.” I’m like, “Oh, my God, this is the girl of my dreams. She’s talking –”

Tim Ferriss: Q1.

Ramit Sethi: In financial quarters. I’m like, “I love you, babe.” Then at the end of that conversation I said, “There’s something else that’s important. It’s really important to me that we discuss a prenup,” and she was surprised, kind of taken aback. She’s like, “Okay, what do you mean?” I said, “Look, you and I grew up very similar. We both grew up in California. Our parents have similar jobs.” And I said, “Because of certain decisions I’ve made, because of my business and because of a lot of luck, I’ve been put in this fortunate position where I have a business and I’ve accumulated a certain amount of assets.”

I said, “It’s really important for me that we talk about what that means before we get married and that we sign an agreement, in the worst case if something bad happened.” I was nervous, very nervous because, what is someone’s reaction going to be? I have no idea, but I thought if anything, is going to be bad, but I was nervous, but I also felt confident because it was something that I knew that I wanted to do. It was really important to me. To her credit, she said, “You know what, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect it, but I’m open to it. Let me get educated about it and we can talk.”

Okay, great. That was as good of a response as I could have hoped. She goes off and she does her own research. She talks to her friends and we start discussing more and more, right. We’ve got about four, five months until I propose to her. We start talking, the next step is to get lawyers.

Now, interestingly, you have to retain counsel. Each side has to retain counsel. Oftentimes what happens is, the person who has more assets will actually pay for the other person’s lawyer, which I did. These lawyers are very expensive. I said, “You know what? I’ll take care of that. I’m happy to do it.”

She found her own lawyer and we start to go through hammering these basic terms out. Now, the basic structure of a prenup is… Most people don’t need a prenup because most people are coming into a marriage with relatively similar assets.

The places where it starts to make sense, or if you have some major amount of assets, whether it be a house, whether it be an inheritance, a business, those kinds of things, it starts to make sense to think about. I had to get —

Tim Ferriss: Intellectual property.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, absolutely. I had to get comfortable with the idea that this wasn’t a bad thing. I wasn’t planning for us to fail. That’s the most common objection people have to prenups, which is you’re planning for it to go wrong. I’m not planning for it to go wrong. I intend to be married forever. I want to, I always emphasize that with my wife and I made it clear that we’re a team, but I also mentioned that I’ve for whatever reasons, I’ve accumulated these things and it’s really important for me to plan for what might happen.

As we talked more and more about it, it became even more and more clear that in every other part of life, top performers plan, they plan ahead, they plan for good, they plan for bad, they plan. It’s like just in this one situation of life that society has told everyone, “No, that’s wrong. You shouldn’t plan at all. You should go into it like a doe with these doe eyes and you shouldn’t really think even for a moment about what would happen if something goes wrong.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I mean, you get on an airplane, they give you a safety briefing. They don’t stop because they expect the plane to crash into the water.

Ramit Sethi: That’s a great example.

Tim Ferriss: It’s also a place just to jump in where because I’ve thought a good amount about this, just relationships and marriage in general is that when you get married in official capacity, you are involving the state in your affairs.

You are signing up for surety and contractual agreements and so in any well planned agreement, you’re going to have contingencies for what happens if things do not work out.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: There’s going to be a termination clause. You’re going to have that in a publishing agreement. You’re going to have that in any number of dozens or hundreds of other contracts you will sign, will always have a separation clause.

Ramit Sethi: The reason why this is such a heated topic for people, I think there’s two reasons. One, there’s just a general ignorance of prenups because it is inherently a private affair. Inherently, when you have assets being discussed, it happens behind closed doors, specifically lawyers’ closed doors. It’s not public. There’re no good guides or no e-books on how to do a prenup.

There’s nothing, there’s not even any sample prenups out there. They’re very, very poor quality. The second thing is it attacks our belief that in America, a marriage is purely about love. I believe a marriage is absolutely about love, but go look at any parents or any couple that has, let’s say kids. Go look at them and look at their day to day. Yes, there’s love, but there’s also teamwork. This person’s doing dinner, this person’s taking the trash out, this person’s changing the diapers. It’s an arrangement. It’s a team.

On any team, you have to have a set of rules. I got comfortable with that saying, “You know what? This is a love marriage. We found each other, we met each other, we love each other, but it’s also we want to make sure that this is a team and we’re setting expectations.” We went through the process and we talked to our lawyers and the lawyers are hammering it out.

This is where it started to get really tough. Everything was going great, but then once you… everything’s great in concept and then you talk about real numbers.

Tim Ferriss: If I may, what are the basic terms that you’re agreeing upon in a prenup?

Ramit Sethi: The first thing is you’re laying out all the assets that each person has. Those could be assets, liabilities. You kind of put those all out on the table. By the way, that was a good conversation that we had. I forgot to take my own advice about when to talk about money with your partner. My wife had asked me years ago to help her with some 401k thing and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll help you, but first read my book.”

She reads my book and then she was like, “Okay, I still have this one question.” We went through it and I got to understand her pay and all that stuff. It was great, like we worked through it. A year or two later, she said, “I feel a little unbalanced because you know everything about my finances, but I don’t know anything about yours.”

That was when I realized I had made a huge mistake. By not telling her, I had put myself in a very unbal… she had been placed in an unbalanced position. She’s not fair. That afternoon we talked about it and we talked about my net worth, we talked about what it means for us. That was, I would say one of my most pleasant conversations.

Tim Ferriss: Most pleasant?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Because we talked about what does it mean for us. Like our rich life now, what does it mean and it means that when we travel, we can take our parents with us and we can spend extra for them to stretch their legs out. We can travel to places or we can make certain investments or take risks that we might not normally be able to do again as a team.

That was actually one of my favorite memories of talking about money in the early days. Now, we had listed out all our assets and liabilities and now the basic structure of a prenup is: What happens in the case of the marriage ending?

There are so many ways to cut it. No two prenups are alike. What happens if the marriage ends in three months at an extreme? In many cases a cheque is written. Can you believe that? If a marriage ends in three months, somebody might write a cheque to the other person. Why? Just like pure goodwill.

Tim Ferriss: Severance pay.

Ramit Sethi: You could call it that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Both partners might still have a job, et cetera. What happens if the marriage now ends, 30 years later, let’s say there’s two or three kids, let’s say that one partner has stopped their jobs so that he or she can take care of the kids.

Well, it’s kind of fair that that person should be compensated in some way because it would be unfair for somebody to walk out of the marriage with just this large amount of relative assets and the other person left with nothing. That’s just not fair. It’s not fair in my eyes personally, and it’s not fair in the state’s eyes either.

Tim Ferriss: In each of these cases or in most prenups, is it a lump one time payment or is it like an ongoing annuity that gets paid each year —

Ramit Sethi: That’s a great question.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. What does it look like?

Ramit Sethi: It can be decided however you like, but each lawyer is going to argue for their side. The person who would be receiving the payments is going to want it all upfront.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Ramit Sethi: Right. There are also other questions about what if you’re living in a house with kids and the marriage ends, who leaves. How soon, that has to be dictated, and then there are other questions about, is there a cap on how much can be paid out? And that’s important too.

Understand, though, a couple of things. The money that… I’m going to speak generally now, the money that is earned when you are together is generally community property. When you are married, generally the money that is earned is together. It’s yours.

There are certain exceptions like if you have a business, there’s this and that and you can kind of carve those out ahead of time. In general, we’re talking about money that was accumulated before the marriage. That’s really important to understand. Kids are definitely a complicating factor, but you are not really dictating the terms of child, of what’s it called?

Tim Ferriss: Custody.

Ramit Sethi: Custody and also payments. The state will determine that. That’s really important to know as well. You can’t come up with a rule right now that says, “If we have three kids and this marriage ends, I’m going to write you a cheque for $1 or $1 million a month.” That can’t work. The state will decide based on lifestyle.

Tim Ferriss: Can I ask you a question, just from my perspective?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Why get married at all? What is the reason?

Ramit Sethi: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: Because I do really dislike, and this is something that I talk about it usually in the first few dates. I mean, I have a great girlfriend right now, but once we’ve covered “What do you want for your main course?” Pretty quickly the subject comes up, it’s like, yeah, marriage, not keen on having some bureaucracy involved in my relationship.

Ramit Sethi: It’s a great question.

Tim Ferriss: Also it’s like if you’re coming into a relationship where the current trajectory of earnings is vastly disproportionate, the idea of having a bureaucracy involved and having sort of everything past a certain day become community property, doesn’t have a whole lot of appeal to me.

Tim Ferriss: Were your reasons for getting married, your desire, your partner’s desire, your families, multiple families expectations, or are there other reasons?

Ramit Sethi: It’s a great question and I think only in this day and age can this question really be asked, because as recently as 25 years ago, this question would have never been asked. It would be like, “Yeah, of course you’re going to get married.” Now you and I both know plenty of people who are either single or in cohabiting relationships or casual or whatever the case may be and they’re perfectly happy not being married.

I think for me the answer is probably all of the above. It was a desire on my part, a desire on my wife’s part, and also our families. This might be an invisible script from my childhood that I always saw myself as married. There’s a lot there. The way I thought about it was, “I love my wife, I love when we’re together, she makes me a better person, and I think I do the same. Together as a team, we are amazing. I love laughing with her. I love how she challenges me and I want to deepen that relationship.”

The financial part of it for me was a part that I wanted to address, but I also felt confident knowing that we could solve it, that we could come to an agreement. I didn’t see it as adversarial at least until the middle part, which I want to tell you about.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: I approached it like very much like can do. It’s like hiring someone, like I’m going to make him an offer, I want to make him a great offer, and I expect that we’re going to have some back and forth, but overall it’s about coming to an agreement that we can both work in a capacity together.

Now I know that sounds a bit unromantic for a marriage, but I’m talking about the financial part of a marriage. There’s so many different layers and we… in America only talk about love. What I’m trying to share is like, there are lots of other parts like be aware of it, don’t put your head in the sand.

Tim Ferriss: You’re not talking about marriage as a concept. You’re talking about the contract of marriage. If you get married —

Ramit Sethi: It’s a contract.

Tim Ferriss: Whether you go down to, the whatever it might be, I’m blanking on the term, but like some office downtown to get rubber stamped, like you’re entering into a contract with multiple parties.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: You can enter into a very nebulous contract, or you can enter into very clear contract.

Ramit Sethi: I always say for every major purchase in your life, every major purchase and every major decision, spend the time. Most of us should spend less time on most decisions and we should spend a lot more time on a few key decisions.

I want to take this seriously, so did my wife, so we did. We spent months, right? Now here we are, the lawyers are going back and forth and it’s starting to get a bit slow. They’re arguing and now we’re talking about it. It became stressful and at some points like pretty heated. Okay. I was like… I mean there are so many things that happened during this time.

One, we would just stop talking about it for weeks at a time because it was just too stressful. We had never had these kinds of conversations before about money. My perspective was, “I’ve thought about money for 15 or 20 years every day. This is my business and I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished financially and I always love to come…I made a very fair, very fair offer bending over backwards.”

That was my perspective. My wife’s perspective was very different and I think that I didn’t listen as much as I should. I was like, “I, I, I. I came out, I did this, I made this offer.” She would say something and I would say like, “Look at this spreadsheet, look at the numbers.”

She was like, “Yeah, but,” and she was talking about something else in a completely different language and I was so preoccupied with like Mr. Spreadsheet Guy. Finally, she said, “We got to go talk to somebody about this. We should go see a therapist.” I was like, “Yeah, we really should.”

I totally agreed with her. You might wonder, where do you go to find a therapist? For us the answer was Yelp. We literally opened up Yelp and typed “therapists” and we found one two blocks away. That’s how it’s done, guys. We walked over there and we sat down in this room and we had a conversation like we’ve never had before.

This therapist was very good. She asked us about how we grew up with money, what it meant, and it turns out it meant totally different things to us. For me it meant being proud of what I’ve accomplished. It meant all the work and for anyone who’s built anything, you know, the sacrifices it took to build that. You look back, you can remember Friday nights where you didn’t go out or you can remember x or y or risks you took.

I was seeing that, and what my wife was seeing was something different. Money meant something different to her. This therapist helped us kind of bring that up and we find ourselves… we went one, two, three sessions. We find ourselves talking about our childhood and it’s kind of like a caricature, like a joke of what you talk about in therapy session, but we walked out of each of those sessions like “Wow, that was pretty good. That was pretty helpful.”

We still were having the lawyers go back and forth, but now we were connecting more with each other financially and we were reminded by this therapist, like, “We’re a team. This is just an agreement we need to come to,” but remember why you are together. Remember why you’re getting married.

We finally came to an agreement and we signed it. It’s funny because one of my buddies, he held an event called Should You Sign a Prenup? He invited like 20 or 25 people, right. One of his friends who was married and had done a prenup, sent him a note and said, “I’d rather be dead than come to this event.”

He was like, “Whoa why?” He’s like, “Dude, that was the worst six months of my life. Imagine you have someone you love and you’re arguing about money with lawyers for six months.” I didn’t get that until I’d gone through it. I would say that in retrospect, I learned a couple of things. Number one, I should have talked about money with my wife way earlier, like way earlier. I violated my own advice and that was horrible. I should have talked about it earlier.

Two, I should’ve stopped being Mr. Spreadsheet Dude and actually listened and said like, “Let’s put the numbers aside and talk about what money means.” For me, like I told you, I’m proud of it. My wife wanted to feel safe. She wanted to know that if anything went wrong that she would be taken care of and I didn’t really internalize what that meant to her.

What does that mean? I should have listened, should have gone to see a therapist earlier, and we should have not let it stretch out for as long as it did. That was really torturous for both of us.

Tim Ferriss: How would you have expedited it?

Ramit Sethi: Well —

Tim Ferriss: Therapy earlier, I mean.

Ramit Sethi: I mean, that’s why I’m here. I want to share with people. Don’t just hope that it will kind of work itself out over time. Everybody involved in the process wants it to stretch out. The lawyers, they’re not trying to just bill you more, but their incentive is to get you the best deal and the other lawyers to get the other one.

You have to take control and manage the process, but both of you have to be aligned on that. I would have definitely talked to a therapist ahead of time with my wife. We would have gone there together faster and we kind of would have … I would’ve started off not talking about money, but rather about meaning.

That’s something that I’m hoping to be able to talk more about, but I hope people listening to this, if you go in and you’ve got a spreadsheet that you want to discuss, you’ve taken a wrong turn. That’s what I did. I should have talked about meaning and fears and hopes about money as opposed to like, let’s go through the numbers. The numbers are the last part of —

Tim Ferriss: I was going to say it’s not either/or, right?

Ramit Sethi: It’s sequencing.

Tim Ferriss: Both ends.

Ramit Sethi: You got to talk about the numbers, but once you get meaning aligned, the numbers work themselves out.

Tim Ferriss: When we’ve chatted about this sort of in passing in the past, because I wanted it to make sure we did it on the podcast. A couple of stories have come up that, I’m not sure how to grapple with. Now, I’m at a point also where I haven’t had conversations with attorneys about this type of thing, although, I mean, it makes sense to think about estate planning, whether your estate is small, medium, or large.

It makes a lot of sense to think about that. Things can be really messy speaking as someone who had grandparents who didn’t think about anything and we’re not rolling … doing backstroke in a pool full of coins like Scrooge McDuck, but nonetheless, when emotions are heated, kids can fight over anything, even if it’s just table scraps, and that was a mess. I don’t want that to ever affect, if I have kids, to affect my kids. So you should think about it earlier, but the point I was going to make, because I haven’t gone through the actual drafting of say a prenup, but I’ve seen marriages implode. And the numbers, if you just like let’s try to coldly, objectively look at the numbers in the U.S., they’re not that hot.

So it makes sense to plan whether it’s driving with a seatbelt in your car, you’re not planning on getting in an accident, but you want to be covered if you do. I’ve heard horrible stories, right. So I’ve heard stories of a friend who had a prenup, went through all of the same process. And then I think it was a week after he got married or just before he got married, his wife to be or wife said, “I signed the prenup under duress.”

Ramit Sethi: Oh, my God.

Tim Ferriss: “I don’t … I don’t feel good about it.” And it was back to the table. Now under duress for people who don’t know, is … this is not a legal definition, but under extreme stress. Therefore, the position of the person who’s claiming duress is that the contract is invalid because they were pressured into it and this can apply to quite a few contracts, it turns out. And he was in a position where he had to go back and it was renegotiated and the numbers changed, so the lump payments and so on were changed, and so that’s fear-inducing.

Ramit Sethi: That’s scary.

Tim Ferriss: That you could have an agreement and then end up in a situation like that. And point number one, whether it’s legally forced upon you or just practically day-to-day, you’re like, “Well, where the fuck do we go from here?” And have to then step back into negotiation mode. And I’ve also heard of approaches … I’m not saying maybe this is getting too much into the dark arts or something, but where friends have thought, “All right, if I’m going to … if I’m trying to defend against the worst case scenario, would it make sense for me to go engage x number of very high caliber divorce attorneys so that they are conflicted out if we ended up having a divorce later?” That’s a little Voldemort, but I can also see the practicality of it. So how do you think about what landmines you might need to avoid, if there are any?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s a big question, but it’s like this shit gets messy.

Ramit Sethi: I would say that I’ve spoken to a lot of different attorneys both in getting married, but also as a CEO, and one of them told me something really interesting. They said that the people with … the lawyers with the most interesting stories are criminal lawyers, of course. The second most interesting lawyer stories are workplace attorneys. I would be willing to bet that the third is divorce attorneys, because the stories are just out of this world. I didn’t really approach it like that, to tell you the truth. I didn’t plan on the marriage ending. I simply wanted to account for what might happen financially. So let me put it this way, if at the point where you’re sort of already thinking about “Let me engage all these divorce attorneys,” which I don’t even know if that works or not. I’ve heard it’s a rumor, but I feel like there’s a larger problem going on there, a much larger problem. These lawyers are not stupid. They’re all very good.

They’ve seen it at all and the thing is to negotiate in good faith. You have to remember, you’re not trying to get one over on your partner, you’re … If you were just trying to get one over like a car dealer, you’re trying to maximize it because it’s a one-time transaction. This is the partner you’re going to be with for the rest of your life, so that actually necessitates a different way of negotiating. When I was discussing with my attorney and that attorney was negotiating with my wife’s attorney, I had to compromise on things that I normally would not compromise on and that, just to put it bluntly, I haven’t had to compromise financially in the last 25 years, at all. So suddenly I’m like, “What? What is this taste in my mouth? I haven’t tasted this taste of compromise.”

Tim Ferriss: This bile.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. But that’s why I think it’s really important. A couple principles came up for me. One is, go slow to go fast. I should have done a better job of this, of let’s talk about —

Tim Ferriss: The meaning.

Ramit Sethi: The meaning, go slow to go fast, and the second one was, “Always remember the North Star.” The North Star here is not getting an extra dollar or protecting the extra $2. It’s “We’re going to be married day-to-day for the rest of our lives.” That’s the North Star and putting that in perspective, as the lawyer’s saying this or that, I had to constantly remind myself, so did my wife. And by the way, I just want to say she was excited for me to come here and talk about this. She actually encouraged me because I wrote about it in my book. I wrote some more details and I asked her, I said, “Are you okay if I share this?” And we talked about it.

We both realized going through this that both of us were pretty alone. No one was talking about this publicly and we’re both big fans. She’s a stylist. I do what I do. We love shining the light on things that people are not really talking about publicly because we’re both very curious and we both want to get better. So if she had said “No,” I would have never written this stuff. I would’ve never come on here and talked about this, but she actually said “Yes, go on there and tell them our experience, because other people should know this, whether you do it or not, you should know.”

Tim Ferriss: All right, I’ve questions. So this is going to be a super awkward one, maybe for me to ask more than for you to answer because you’re being put on the spot, but I’m the one who has the option of asking whatever I want. So this is something I’ve seen so many people struggle with, what I’m about to bring up and I want to hear if it affected you and if so, how you used mental Jiu Jitsu or contortionism to get through it. And that is, if you’re coming into a negotiation, say for a prenup, and you are the person who’s bringing in disproportionately the assets and income — and that could be not necessarily a 51, 49 split, right?

I mean this could be a 90, 10 split, 99, one split and it very often is, I mean it can very often be. When you’re looking at the settlement and the amount … So it’s very hard for someone, let’s just say, who’s made $10,000 a year to ever imagine what it really means and what it takes to make $100,000. Ditto if someone’s making like 50 grand a year, what does it mean in terms of sacrifice and planning and Fridays missed and weekends worked and holidays skipped to make $1 million. And so all of a sudden then, you’re going through a negotiation where someone who has perhaps not made a decade or two decades of sacrifice, is asking for an amount that is more than you made in the first 30 years of your life.

How do you navigate that, because there’s … viscerally, I know a lot of people, and I’m one of them, who’s just like, “That makes no sense.” And it also brings up, “Well, wait a second. If that’s the amount that gets paid out, I would start questioning the sort of motives of the other person.” It’s like, “Okay, well, they were able to kind of do whatever they want for x period of time, but now if we get divorced three years from now, they’re set for life if they don’t screw it up.” How do you … I would … that would make me feel very uncomfortable.

Ramit Sethi: Me too. I mean I think … remember when I said that I was proud of what I had accomplished and you go through so many emotions in this process? And the funny thing is when it comes to money, I’m not emotional at all. Day to day, I’m super … I call it hot to cool. I think most people or some people particularly those in debt, money is like a phantom or a gremlin. It’s a beast that they’re fighting. They need to break the shackles of this debt. I’ve overcome those things; to me it’s a tool and I use it for convenience, things like that. So to find myself going from nervousness in bringing this up to pride that I wanted to talk about the numbers and I was very proud of what I had accomplished and what it meant for us, and then resentment.

I definitely felt resentful because to me I’m like, “Look at the spreadsheet. I have gone above and beyond, and how can you not acknowledge that?” I found myself experiencing these emotions I hadn’t honestly ever felt about money and I think that’s where a therapist helped me, but I should’ve done it sooner because it really was not healthy to just sort of soak in them for literally months. And remember, we’re seeing each other day to day and so that definitely affects you as you’re planning a wedding with your partner. It’s not … it’s like the worst opportune time. If you could sequence it out, you’re like, “Don’t do that.”

I think that it’s a question that I don’t have a good answer to. I think that the basic … There are certain things in life that are just not fair, okay, and one of them might be this, but really that’s not the point. The point is not for me to win — that’s what I learned along the way. At least this is my lesson. Some people might think differently. My point in retrospect was not to win this negotiation. It was to win our marriage, meaning both of us get there together as a team and if I have to compromise a few things, which in business, I would never have made a couple of the compromises I made. But this is more important than my business, this is the person that I’m going to spend my last days with. So that actually really put things in perspective for me.

It’s like, oh shit. Sometimes you learn about yourself just by observing what you, yourself, do. And I was like, “Did I really just agree to that? That one term we’ve been discussing for a month? Yes, I did. Wow, my wife is that important to me,” and I realize, “Yes, she is.” So I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer for you on that, but I’ll tell you, I really swung emotions. I felt resentful and I hate feeling resentful. It’s one of the most toxic emotions, but I think there’s something larger than being right in this. Maybe that’s just what I tell myself.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, no. I mean that’s … I think cutting off your nose to spite your face to be right doesn’t make sense. I also think that the opposite of … I think it’s possible to play not to lose or set yourself up for blind spots while not at all costs trying to win.

Ramit Sethi: A hundred percent, a hundred percent.

Tim Ferriss: Don’t be an asshole and make a bunch of insistent demands based on principle that don’t practically make sense is fair, but walking into something blind and just offering yourself as a pinata doesn’t make sense either.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. You know what’s crazy about this whole thing now? So once you sign it, it’s done. In fact, at least in our case, we were like, “All right, thank God. We don’t want to look at this now. File it away. Good.” The real challenge actually, since we got married just about a year ago, has been day-to-day spending and that now using the tools we learned from this therapist and also going slow to go fast. My dream, okay, my fantasy was to have this just beautiful financial model, okay, that’s what I wanted, like this model that we’d look at and everything’s going from side to side. We’ve built that. It’s taken eight or nine months. What I realize now is, emotions first. What does it mean? Who’s cooking dinner? Who’s taking the trash out? Let’s get all that stuff done. The model part is the last part of it and because we had these tough conversations earlier on, now we’re like, “Okay, let’s start with the emotions.”

We have buffer, so if we overspend a little bit on eating out right now, that’s okay. We’ll dial in the numbers later. What I’ve realized is the numbers really come last and so we are both really thankful we went through the process, although I wish we could have been … I wish we could’ve had some guidance, really. But funny enough though, once you sign it, it’s not like you’re reviewing it every single day. It’s gone. Yeah, it’s the day to day, now. It’s literally the littlest things like “Who’s picking up x at the store?” That’s where day-to-day financial stuff comes in and that’s another area where I think you use the I Will Teach You To Be Rich stuff. The systems, the idea that you don’t really want to be spending your valuable cognition on who’s buying deodorant or rice, have a system, automate it, boom.

Tim Ferriss: We were talking about … we won’t spend a lot of time on it, but your relative who you thought was 65, you and your wife thought was 65 or something, ended up being 87.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, my uncle.

Tim Ferriss: And how regimented … regimented is the wrong word, how much of his life is routinized. He wakes up at the same time and we were describing coffee earlier and I said, “I wonder how much of his longevity is that lifetime accumulation of avoiding decision fatigue on shit that just shouldn’t consume your brain every day?”

Ramit Sethi: At all. So I believe, just like you have a playbook, I believe in a playbook for life. Here’s a couple playbook rules that I have. One, I call it Ramit’s Book-Buying Rule. If you ever see a book you’re even remotely interested in, buy it, don’t debate it, don’t ask if it’s the second best … just buy it. It’s $10, it’s the best money you ever spent. Have a year of cash, have it available, liquid and if you don’t have it, build up to it. Save up for big expenses, engagement ring, wedding, honeymoon, all that stuff. House —

Tim Ferriss: Sub-accounts.

Ramit Sethi: Sub-accounts, boom. When I eat at a restaurant now, my joy is if I see anything that looks good, I just order it. And I also tell the people eating with me, do the same, don’t even think about it. And so my coworkers love eating out with me because I’m like “Just order it all, I got the bill.”

Tim Ferriss: Just a quick side note for anyone who has not seen it, it came out not long ago from the time of this recording, but there’s an incredible ESPN article on coach Gregg Popovich and the dinners and the wine for the Spurs. It is phenomenal.

Ramit Sethi: It’s fantastic.

Tim Ferriss: People can look that up, anyway.

Ramit Sethi: Have a couple of areas in your life where you have absolutely no budget. Doesn’t matter how much you spend, you just love it.

Tim Ferriss: Unlimited.

Ramit Sethi: Unlimited. There is no … if you love strawberries, like when I grew up, I loved strawberries, but we had a big family and strawberries were expensive. There is no amount of strawberries that will ever cause me any material difference in my life. It’s three bucks, four bucks, five bucks, six bucks, doesn’t matter, buy it. Have something … it could be as small as strawberries, it could be as big as whatever. Eat the … this is for me personally, a lot of people don’t agree, but eat the same thing, mostly the same thing, every single day. I do it. It’s just easy decision fatigue.

Tim Ferriss: I do the same thing.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. And then also … So this is what my wife and I have been talking about recently is, “Let’s come up with some rules for our relationship too.” These are guidelines. We can change them, but we were planning a vacation. We’re going to stay with a friend for their birthday in Mexico City and we’re looking at flights and I find that we’re deciding which flight, should it be economy, should it be business, what hotel, this or that. And I said, “Hey, let’s get into it. Let’s kind of figure out where we like to travel together in what style, but over the course of the next few months, let’s kind of come up with some basic rules.”

For example, if you’re traveling over five hours … for example, if you’re traveling over five hours, business class, or if we’re staying just the two of us, we don’t need a fancy hotel. Whatever the case, make a basic guideline so that we don’t have to think about it all the time. And even down to like who’s taken out the trash, let’s just kind of articulate that and be explicit so that it’s all on the table and that way it clears up any misconceptions. So I love this general playbook for life, especially —

Tim Ferriss: So wait, what’s this … what was your conclusion on the trash?

Ramit Sethi: Oh, dude, I take the trash out.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: And it just got revealed, because I would notice the trash filling up and then she would take it out once in a while, but really she would say, “Would you mind taking the trash out?” And it just became very clear in any relationship, there are certain things that one person does or doesn’t like to do, and like the same thing’s true for cooking, ironing clothes: Cass cooks, I iron.

Tim Ferriss: Quick note on that. One thing that I’ve found really helpful is whether it’s with friends or your significant other, but especially significant other, is agreeing in advance from a scale of one to 10, 10 being absolutely heartfelt must have or must not have. You can’t use a lot of 10s. So you only really get a couple of 10s in your pocket, so don’t spend them on nonsense, but asking someone zero to … one to 10, how much do you like doing this, or one to 10, how much do you hate doing this? And it’s like, all right, if to you it’s like you don’t love taking out the garbage, but if it’s like, “Eh, I’m a five out of 10, six out of 10, who cares?” It doesn’t really matter. And she’s like, “I grew up in such a way, I hate taking out the garbage,” like, “Okay, fine, I’ll take out the garbage.”

Ramit Sethi: Wait, so what’s your 10?

Tim Ferriss: On liking or not liking?

Ramit Sethi: Ah, let’s go both.

Tim Ferriss: So I, for instance, very fond of cooking, very unfond of cleanup.

Ramit Sethi: Love it, classic.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: And what about something you hate?

Tim Ferriss: Well something I hate would be the cleanup.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Other things I hate would be, for instance, I am much happier to pay for things if I can avoid decisions. So if my partner’s willing to handle logistics … We went to Burning Man, it was her first time and I knew what I was signing up for. And I told her, I was like, “I will go, but only if you handle the logistics. I will pay for everything, but in terms of getting costumes and getting everything there and the bikes and the lights and the … You need to be the COO of this operation and I’m happy to be the controller who approves the checks.”

Ramit Sethi: Love it.

Tim Ferriss: But that’s it.

Ramit Sethi: Got it. So I love that you’re explicit and I love that one to 10. I have to think about that. I’ve overheard my wife talking to her parents and I grew up with my mom cooking food for us every night. Every night, right off the stove, she would be giving us rotis or whatever she was making and we all ate together as a family and I really loved that. So every night, my wife will either make food or it’ll … she’ll have cooked it a couple times and then she’ll bring it to me and that is so meaningful to me because it reminds me of my childhood. And by the way, the food that we eat is extremely inexpensive. We’re not getting the fanciest cuts of meat. We don’t care about that, but it’s … we track all of our macros and all that stuff, so we care about that, but really it’s about the meaning behind it.

Tim Ferriss: Macros for people who don’t know, fat, protein, carbohydrate.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Percentages of each. What does the pie chart look like?

Ramit Sethi: I don’t know the math off the top of my head, but it’s like every week it changes depending on whatever my goals are. And I think the meaning there is really important and then there’s certain things for Cass that she likes or she doesn’t like and I’ll do — trash is a perfect example. I just kind of discovered she really doesn’t like taking the trash out. No problem. It’s easy for me to take it out. So getting those on the same page and developing this just life playbook of general rules of thumb you’re going to use, especially for stuff that’s not important, man, that really frees you up to really get into the stuff that is important.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure. So I know we don’t have too much time left, but I want to jump into one of these because I’m curious what you will say in response to some of these questions and we may only have time for one or two, but these are from people on the interwebs. Always a risky proposition, but they were voted on or upvoted and one, this is from Scott, no last name here indicated. Where does Ramit disagree with what Tim teaches or preaches or … and I’ll just rephrase that, but what do you think we disagree on?

Ramit Sethi: This is a … this is one of my favorite questions.

Tim Ferriss: And it could be anything, but fire away.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, my God, I love this. I think that we disagree on morning routines. I think they’re overrated. I think that the best morning routine is decided a year ago. It’s about your psychology. It’s about how much you sleep. It’s about what have you outlined in your calendar. It’s all those softer details. And I think that … I get people asking me every day what’s my morning routine? And I’m like, “Who gives a shit?” You think if I asked Michael … I’m not saying I’m Michael Jordan at all, but if I ask Michael Jordan what shoes he wears or what his morning routine is, am I going to be like Mike? No. And similarly, if you find out what kind of coffee I drink, you’re not going to be doing what I do either, but I know that you’re not saying that, but that’s what people are taking away and it drives me insane.

Tim Ferriss: Well, yeah. I mean what —

Ramit Sethi: Can you please correct the record Tim?

Tim Ferriss: What one person tries to impart and what people hear are sometimes very different.

Ramit Sethi: The 4-Hour Workweek. Tim, you work more than four hours.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah. I’m just like, okay, thanks for … yeah, right. The gift that keeps on giving. So morning routines I think are number one, for me, coming back to what we just said, morning routines are one example of removing decisions, that’s it. There’s a little bit more to it for me in the sense that as someone who had onset insomnia and slept very poorly for several decades, I would wake up and be nonfunctional generally speaking, so having a boot up sequence which didn’t require any thought. I’m not deciding what to eat for breakfast. I’m not deciding what step number one is. Do I do A, B, C, D, or E first? No. I’m always going to be doing B or A, whatever it might be, has been very helpful. I also know equally or far more successful people who have your answer. They’re like, “I wake up, I drink a fucking cup of coffee and then –”

Ramit Sethi: I scroll Instagram first, literally the first thing I do is I get on Instagram while I’m in bed. It’s the worst possible thing, but I’m like, I like it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah and —

Ramit Sethi: Is that unhealthy?

Tim Ferriss: Wonder what accounts? Anyways, it’s all cabins. It’s all cabins, I swear to God. The question I think that is also just a macro questions worth asking is, is this person you’re looking at succeeding because of or despite what you’re looking at? This is really important. It’s especially important if you’re studying people who have already reached escape velocity in some type of success or financial freedom and you’re still working your way up because hindsight is not 20/20. A lot of folks who are on top of the world and are just crafting billion dollar deals every day, do not remember very clearly what helped them when they were working in the office on Thanksgiving or whatever it might’ve been.

Ramit Sethi: This is a great point and so powerful. By the way, this is why I love your podcast because here we are, two people who seemingly disagree on something, but now we’re getting into the nuances and we can really crack the code of what’s the differences and similarities. I will totally agree with what you just said about the more successful you get or the more time you get away from something, the less details you remember. I’ll give you an example. My wife started … she used to be a senior buyer at Equinox. She left to start her own styling business about 18 months ago. I would hear her doing sales calls in our living room and I would see her sometimes closing a client and sometimes going weeks without closing a client.

And I’ve got a business now, I’ve got amazing employees, we’ve got traffic that’s coming, we’ve got people coming and regular customers and all that stuff, but when I started off, that shit was not easy. I would go weeks without getting one person joining any of my programs and I forgot how emotional it is. The highs are so high and the lows are so low and half the game in this is just living to fight another day. It’s just not giving up and improving just a tiny bit every day. And I watched it and I heard her and I saw her go through the ups and the lows and it’s amazing. Now, this month she told me how many clients she’s done. She’s totally booked up for two or three more months. It’s amazing what she’s accomplished in 18 months.

She never would have believed it, but you forget and you forget fast, the tiniest details of what it means to wake up in the morning and say, “Wow, the last four weeks I haven’t gotten one client. Am I going to do it different today?” So I just … big shout out to every entrepreneur who’s starting out out there. It’s tough and you should always put in context the advice that you hear, and thanks for bringing it up because people need to know it’s not all roses. Shit is hard when you start. It’s hard for everyone. It actually should be hard, but if you stick with it, hopefully you’re doing the right thing. You can get escape velocity.

Tim Ferriss: So morning routines, one thing we have somewhat differing approaches to, what else?

Ramit Sethi: Tools. I think that tools are super valuable. People love to talk about tools, but you give Andre Agassi a wooden racket, he’s going to kick my ass. So I think when you ask … if somebody asks me like, what apps do I use? My apps are horrible. I don’t use … I use TripIt, that’s it. It’s … but I think the more powerful things are the psychology, are the systems which are run through a Google Doc. That’s my take on tools and so that’s … those are my two areas of disagreement. Curious to hear what you think about the tools and also if you disagree with me on anything.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I provide a lot of tools because I think the specifics are helpful, but it’s the reasoning behind it I would imagine, we’re probably on the same page with and that is, the tools are by-products of principles or strategies. For instance, I use TripIt too. I think it’s underrated, but people are like, “Okay, great, I’m going to go use TripIt and life’s going to be grand.” It’s like, “Yes, but, maybe but, what are the principles behind it? It’s so that I can avoid manual checking of things like gate updates. It’s so that I’m avoiding a certain decision, certain manual activities that are being automated. It’s so that I don’t have to go … I don’t have to go to Google or wherever on my phone and search fill in the blank airline check-in, because I can click a button and TripIt will do it automatically whether it’s Delta, United, American, whatever.”

And that principle, if you were to pull it back, will be … will then allow you to deduce which tools to use or at least ask people for the right tools. But it’s very easy to believe that, “Oh, wow, so-and-so’s a great player.” “So-and-so’s a great business person.” “So-and-so’s a great artist because they use watercolors.” It’s like “No, whether it’s watercolors, oil, conte crayons, doesn’t matter, charcoal, graphite, you need to know the technique and the principles behind it and the process, then you can choose your tools.” I think it’s easy to become a tool fetishist without understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing. And then you become kind of like, where is it, Solomon Islands where they have the cargo cult, where they have the fake runways and the fake towers and it’s like, “Okay, great. You have a phone full of the greatest apps. You’ve got 79 different rules for email filtering and guess what? You didn’t do one fucking important thing today.”

Tim Ferriss: There you go.

Ramit Sethi: So —

Tim Ferriss: Okay, I agree with you on that. I think that’s really good and I think the way you articulated … Deduce what TripIt … What the principles behind you using TripIt are is critical. I do the same thing. We use it for the same reasons, but I also take that same principle and apply it to what I do in the morning and how I decide what place to meet someone for coffee. All that stuff has been automated so I don’t have to think about it ever again. So that’s a good point.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah and I would say also that I think there is a … It is possible, very possible and actually very common to procrastinate by searching for incrementally better and better tools.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I do that all the time.

Ramit Sethi: And I could do the vast majority of what I do with a day planner.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: And in fact, I think the finite nature, this is why I still use paper, I still use note cards or small pieces of paper for to do lists and things like that, because it is by its very nature finite. I cannot have a list of 37 things I need to do.

In some respects, I think applying constraints to the tools that you use in the same way that … And I had Neil Gaiman actually sitting right where you are on this podcast not too long ago and he uses, very often, a fountain pen and pads of paper for drafting. And it sounds very romantic — and it is in some respects — but it also has a number of psychological and practical benefits. But it seems very primitive. It’s not the latest cutting edge tool.

Tim Ferriss: All right. I love it. That’s a great explanation of the nuances behind tools.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So yeah, I appreciate that. Let’s see. Where else? And it’s also easy I think for us … We could disagree on tools all day long. We could disagree on the implementation of various things, but here’s I think one observation that is important and that is you and I are not the same person, meaning you like fancy sweaters; I’m wearing an $8 t-shirt that my mom got me. Right?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And these pants and these shoes were both given to me and I’m not wearing socks. So we have different desires. Your vacation may look differently from mine. Your family in India is different from my family on the East Coast of this country and that’s all fine. That’s great. And it also means that the way we approach problem solving is going to be different.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. That’s a really good point.

Tim Ferriss: But a lot of the principles I do think are very similar.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: The values and the principles are similar, otherwise I don’t think we would have been friends for as long as we have.

Ramit Sethi: Totally agree and I think there’s value in the diversity of how we think. There’s also value in knowing that those will change over time, right? So as I’ve gotten married, I’m like, “Oh wow, there’s this whole world I didn’t understand before and now I’m learning that and I’m growing with my wife.”

I think as we’ve gotten in relationships, we’ve talked about how that’s changed us. Wow. And that’s a pretty interesting topic. And then you know, if we had anybody else here who maybe didn’t look like us or if they weren’t our gender, we had all different kinds of diversity opinions, we would have even more ways of thinking about how we approach problems.

And I think what I have learned along the way … When I wrote the book for example, I was a bit judgmental about what the rich life was in the first edition. I was like, “This is how you should invest, follow the principles, and this is where you end up.”

Now, 10 years later, There’s a lot of people in the FIRE community for example, that’s Financial Independence Retire Early, and many people are happy to acquire enough to basically be able to live on 30k a year, live a very simple life, and if they want to have a fun afternoon, maybe they’ll go to the park. And they’re like, “We don’t need materialistic stuff. We’re happy.”

And back then, I think I would’ve been pretty judgmental about it. Now I’ve realized there’s lean FIRE, there’s fat FIRE, there’s all kinds of different FIRE, and some people don’t want to fire. In fact, most Americans will never FIRE. They will work until they’re of retirement age. But rich life looks different to different people, and part of that comes from how are we raised. What do our parents tell us? And then part of it is, do we want to change that story, or do we want to just go with that?

Tim Ferriss: Question about retirement. I was going to ask this earlier. So this … I’ve read about this as far back as my equally scammy-sounding book, 4-Hour Workweek, a thousand years ago. But there’s this concept of retirement, right. Let’s replace that with financial freedom, ’cause I want to ask you what that means or how you think people should think about it, because a lot of thinking about retirement I find to be extremely porous at best. It’s very faulty.

Ramit Sethi: Well in your book, you got a great example of mini retirements and “You want to buy a Ferrari, why don’t you just rent it for a week?”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Great example.

Tim Ferriss: Or you think, “Okay, 20 years from now, everything I’m doing is predicated on being able to buy a boat and I’m going to live on my boat and sail around the Mediterranean for 20 years after that.” It’s like, “Maybe you should get on a boat first.”

Ramit Sethi: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And try that for a weekend. Go take a sailing course. You might come out of it being like, “That fucking sucks and I felt sick the entire time.”

Okay, good to know that now and not when you’ve kind of slaved away and done something that you find distasteful for 20 years. And people mess up the math too, right? They often miscalculate and end up having a very tough time in retirement, per se.

So with your students, how do you encourage them to think about the objective?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Well I don’t believe that most people are automatons that sit down and say, “Here’s my 50-year goal, and let me break it down and reverse engineer it to what I’m going to do this week.” I know about two people like that and they’re special on their own, but most people don’t do that. Most people are very simple. They want to wake up. They want to have a good day at work. Maybe they want to have a little bit of fun or watch Netflix or have a good conversation with their partner or their friends. And that’s a good day. And that’s okay.

Now, to kind of push people out of that and make them think a little bit bigger, it might be taking a vacation they may not have done. It might be going to a tea event that they may have never thought of going to. It’s these experiences that people remember. I would say that your comment about retirement is really true for people our age. I don’t hear anyone saying like, “When I retire, this that, my pension…”

Those conversations are not happening with our generation. So there’s more of, “What do I want to do?”

There’s more spending on things like wellness and vacations and experiences. And we’re seeing that in the economy as well. What I tell people is a couple of things. Number one, “You may not think right now that you want to retire, but when you look at everybody else who reaches a certain age does, if everyone does something, it might be true.”

And so plan for it. I don’t want to buy a house, but almost everybody else does, so I saved enough for a down payment. I don’t need to use it, but it’s there if I need to. Similarly, don’t wait, right? And think bigger. So don’t wait means go take a trip for three days, and think bigger is like, your retirement doesn’t have to just be sitting around.

It can actually be much bigger. That money dial, turn it to 10. And it could be traveling with a fixer. It could be going for a month a year, or two months. But in order to do that, you need to build a muscle now of thinking bigger. People have this linear belief that “Once this bifurcation of retirement happens, then the curtain opens and I get to do all this cool stuff.” Dude, if you haven’t been doing it until you’re 60 years old, you’re not going to magically do it at 60 years old in one day.

So I would encourage people to start building the muscle just like you’ve told ’em and realize that doing creative things, trying different things, is a muscle. I found myself getting lazy with this in New York. I looked at where I’d gone to in the city over the course of the last six months and I was like, “I live in this amazing city and I’m not even taking advantage of it.”

So I put it into my calendar, once a quarter minimum, I’m going to do a cultural event like a show or a tea tasting, whatever the case may be. Something that I could only do in New York. And so now it’s on the calendar. And you can say it sounds unromantic but I’m like, “That’s what I needed to do that to keep building my muscle of trying new things.”

So whatever works for people, do it, but I would say don’t wait until you are retirement age.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and I feel like so much in our conversation has come back to making one decision that removes 1,000 decisions. In the sense that you put it in your calendar.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And for me, if it’s not in the calendar, it’s just not real, right? So even what we call batching conversations, with me and my girlfriend for discussing certain constant, not issues in the sense of problems, but we have regularly scheduled times to talk about certain things.

Ramit Sethi: We do the same thing.

Tim Ferriss: And it’s in the calendar.

Ramit Sethi: Same.

Tim Ferriss: And that’s true with certain types of date nights. If we’re talking about relationships, right? It’s true for taking trips together.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s true for visiting my family, visiting her family and by making that decision and putting it in the calendar, you preserve your brain power and emotional resilience and so on for other stuff that is less predictable.

Ramit Sethi: Do you have a consistent thing you talk about on your check-ins?

Tim Ferriss: We do, yeah. We have a whole format and everything.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Okay, so this is amazing. I love meeting smart people who apply their intelligence to a different part of life. For example, there’s a book out by Gretchen Rubin, who we both know, and she’s just so smart and she decided to write a book about keeping her house and workspace organized. And I’m like, “Yep, bought it.”

Ramit Sethi: And the stuff she writes about in there is clever, interesting, it’s exactly what you would think a smart person applying themselves to something for a year, would come up with. And the fact that you and your girlfriend have … We call it a touch base or a check in and you have a consistency, it’s on the calendar, I love that. And —

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: I want to know what’s on that? What surprised you? ‘Cause we’re going through building our own one and we’re tweaking it and I’m like, “This is awesome.”

Tim Ferriss: She’s much smarter about anything involving emotions.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, God. That’s funny. My wife is the one who suggested it for us too.

Tim Ferriss: Much more observant than I am.

Ramit Sethi: It’s like two cavemen talking to each other.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: “Hey, how do you feel, Tim?”

Tim Ferriss: So she’s much —

Are we good?” “We’re good.” “Okay, great.” That would be our check in. “We good? We fucking good? ‘Cause I don’t really feel like having this conversation.” “Yeah we’re good.” “Okay, great.”

Tim Ferriss: Maybe this will be helpful for folks. We’ll spend a few minutes on this. We have a number of rituals and things in the calendar that I think are important for the care and nurturing of the relationship. And one epiphany that I think we both had at one point was that a, I have a tendency to emotionally shut off or get defensive with a lot of questions involving emotion or emotional vulnerability.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: It’s just not something I was fully exposed to growing up.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: There was … Or in school or with coaches. Really the feeling was and I’m not going to say in my family as a whole, but I come from a pretty … What’s the right word here? Stoic, and not in the cool, hip Marcus Aurelius sense, but a fairly stoic, Protestant-like environment where in school for instance and in coaching, the general feeling was like, “Don’t tell me the good stuff ’cause the good stuff takes care of itself. Tell me what needs to be fixed.”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Turns out that’s not, I’ve come to realize, the best approach for longevity in the relationship that I want to have with my girlfriend, which had to be pointed out to me.

Ramit Sethi: This is amazing, because just think about this. What got you here?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Something got you here to a very elite level and it would be easy to just be like, “Oh my God, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing ’cause I won that game.”

You’re playing a different game now.

Tim Ferriss: Well I think that the question I didn’t ask for a very long time is: “What did it cost?”

Ramit Sethi: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And what was the collateral damage?

Ramit Sethi: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: Right. ‘Cause it’s like, “Yeah, The Hulk’s a great fucking superhero. He also makes a fucking mess.”

Ramit Sethi: That’s a good one.

Tim Ferriss: And I think that there’s a lot of collateral damage that I probably didn’t notice.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And certainly didn’t weigh very heavily because I was like, “Yeah, but look what I did.”

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss: Or “Yeah, but look what happened!”

Tim Ferriss: And it excused a lot of mess.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent.

Tim Ferriss: So what we realized after that was pointed out to me was … Or what I then said to my girlfriend because she was curious about how to better word things so that I wouldn’t have a disproportionate emotional response.

Ramit Sethi: That’s cool that she was curious about that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. She’s very good at asking questions and probing because if … I think I have a sensitivity as someone who’s effectively worked as a freelancer for decades, that if I have my headphones on and I’m in the middle of a project, I don’t want to stop and have a five-minute conversation about something extraneous. I get unnecessarily spun out over stuff like that. And she says, “Well, how should I phrase things so that it’s easier and less distracting for you?”

Tim Ferriss: And I remember saying, I said, “It has nothing to do with the content. It’s all timing.”

And that was a real breakthrough for our relationship, not because we had the conversation. This is really fucking important ’cause like, “Yeah you can go to fill-in-the blank seminar. You can read fill-in-the-blank book. You can take fill-in-the-blank drug and have this amazing epiphany and do nothing with it.”

What we did from that point was then set up what we call these batching times, once a week or once every two weeks, where we sit down and she has a chance to talk to me when I am prepared to talk about things that are going to make me uncomfortable. And she can handle it whenever ’cause she’s more adaptable and resilient in that way but … I can blame it on my upbringing, I can blame it on being just a weirdo, who knows? Or just a heteronormative male who doesn’t like talking about shit, who knows? Having that time blocked out where I can steel myself and warm myself up psychologically to talk about things that are going to make me uncomfortable is very valuable in the format that we currently have.

So we couldn’t find any real great advice on this.

Ramit Sethi: Same.

Tim Ferriss: And the format we have is we will take notes, we have meeting notes after every one.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: And it’s where we capture in bullet points what was said. So we start with … One person will start and they’ll say what they think they’ve been doing well.

Ramit Sethi: Nice.

Tim Ferriss: And it didn’t start out this way but it’s ended up … They start with what they think they have been doing well or doing better. Then they talk about, if they want, where they think they’ve dropped the ball or could focus more, which is very helpful for diffusing things.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, ’cause they bring it up themselves.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Then they will tell the other person what they’re doing well and then they will tell the other person … “We started off with shit you need to fix,” or that was part of my phrasing. And then it was growth opportunities. And now it’s what I would love to see more of.

Ramit Sethi: Nice.

Tim Ferriss: And the phrasing turns out to be really important, right. So it’s what I think I’m doing well since we last checked in, what I think I could do better, what you’re doing well, and then what I’d like to see more of.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And then we take notes and we forward it to the other person and we can take a look at it. And that’s it.

Ramit Sethi: Amazing.

Tim Ferriss: It usually takes an hour. Maybe two hours and —

Ramit Sethi: Is this in the morning or in the evening?

Tim Ferriss: Usually in the afternoon or evening on a weekend.

Ramit Sethi: Oh okay. Interesting.

Tim Ferriss: That’s most common.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: So the note part is also interesting. So you take notes.

Tim Ferriss: I take notes.

Ramit Sethi: For what she’s saying.

Tim Ferriss: No, one of us will take notes on the whole thing.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, okay got it.

Tim Ferriss: There’s kind of one secretary or minute keeper for that session.

Ramit Sethi: That’s cool.

Tim Ferriss: And so it could be me. I take notes in notebooks a lot so I’d take notes in a notebook then take a photo and send it to her.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: Or she’ll take it in notepad on her phone and then send it to me.

Ramit Sethi: That’s an interesting part of it too, is each person will have some skin in the game in terms of recording it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: That’s powerful.

Tim Ferriss: And then I have an Evernote where I out all of our check ins in reverse chronological order. So the most recent is at the top.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So I can go back and look and see did we … And this is not as a gotcha, it’s just to like, “All right, did I keep up my end of the bargain? Did I say I was going to work on something three weeks ago and then I kind of forgot about it?”

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss: Two weeks later.

Ramit Sethi: But also, not just from the avoiding bad but doing —

Tim Ferriss: More of the good.

Ramit Sethi: More of the good, yeah. Like imagine after a year —

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: You go and you’re like, “Oh my God, we have been super consistent and look at the things we used to talk about and look at the things we’re talking about now.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the highlighting what is being done well is really important.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And it’s so against every behavior and habit that I’ve built over my entire life.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: But I have come to realize that without that —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It can really, really be tough.

Ramit Sethi: So one of the things that I love about this … First of all, thanks for sharing those things.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Super helpful, as we are starting this ritual on our own. And I think this is a great example …

Tim Ferriss: And by the way, my girlfriend did 90 percent of that so I’m along for the ride but —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: I want to give her proper credit.

Ramit Sethi: Totally. I think that’s an example where the ritual itself may be even more important than the content.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: The ritual of having the time, having it on the calendar, respecting it, always showing up, being mentally present and tracking it, that is like 90 percent of the ball game.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: And that just shows this awesome mutual respect you both have for each other. And the fact that you take it seriously and it’s not weird to write down an agenda, I think so many people are … They think about things as weird.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: “Oh, it would be weird to have a Google agenda. Or be weird to save for an engagement ring. I’m not even dating anyone.”

Well, I think it’s weird to live life as most people.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: I think that’s weird. I would rather plan ahead. I would pick some things I want to do differently and just be unapologetic about it. So I think it’s really cool that you’re sharing that, including down to what are the questions. ‘Cause I’m going to take some of those and take it back to my wife and we’re going to do this.

Tim Ferriss: It’s really been a big deal for us. And like you said, I think the intention and the act of calendaring it is of great value, aside from the implementation.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent.

Tim Ferriss: The fact that you are both setting aside time to keep the relationship on the rails and to improve it is in and of itself going to have an impact on the relationship and there are times also when we’ll out these batching sessions out … We’ll schedule them out and she’s better at this than I am. I could actually find Enneagram pretty helpful even though I’m not convinced it’s more than business acceptable astrology basically, but in any case, Enneagram can kind of be interesting as something to fit in to this. We can talk about that another podcast, but very important to her to schedule things out.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: And if we schedule it out for say, four or five weeks, there are times when we’ll look at it, we’ll know it’s coming, it’s like, “Okay, are we going to do this?”

Tim Ferriss: And it’s like, “No, we’re good.”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: There are times when we don’t have a critical mass of stuff to talk about and it’s like, “No it can wait.”

Tim Ferriss: We’ll just do it, we can push it a week.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And so for my experience this far, better to have it on the calendar.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And then say, “Hey, we can play hooky.”

Ramit Sethi: Make it an opt out instead of opt in.

Tim Ferriss: Exactly, than to not have it on the calendar and have to hit DEFCON 5 when things boil over.

Ramit Sethi: Dude, everything that’s important in life should be opt out. Everything. It should be by default, it’s going to happen. It’s on the calendar and whether that is call your mom every Sunday evening, whether that is go train at the gym three, four, five times a week, whatever it is. Just that intentionality of writing it down and putting it on the calendar, even the intentionality of everyone listening and saying, “What are the four things that I want to accomplish every week? I want to call my mom or dad. I want to train. I want to, whatever. I want to read a book for 10 minutes.”

Ramit Sethi: And then putting those down on your calendar. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning or night, whatever works for you. That instantly separates you from being opt in, from being buffeted by the winds left and right and just going wherever the world takes you. You decide. Don’t let the world decide for you.

Tim Ferriss: Hear, hear. Ramit Sethi, Sethi. How do you say your name correctly?

Ramit Sethi: Ramit Sethi.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. So you have second edition of I Will Teach You to Be Rich available. And I’m sure by the time people hear this, it may be available … It should be available and has 80 new pages of material.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Tools, insights about money, and psychology. Stories of readers who’ve used the book. The scripts that we were talking about.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And oh, yeah, look at that.

Ramit Sethi: Look at those.

Tim Ferriss: Real reader results.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And we’re looking at a copy of the book right now.

Ramit Sethi: I wanted to show people that rich … A lot of people think rich looks a certain way. But I wanted to put photos of these readers. Men, women, black, white, young, old. Every one of us has someone we want to see ourselves represented.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ramit Sethi: You know, I saw an ad on the train for an Indian dad in Hindi. And I was like, “You know what? 10 years ago, that wouldn’t have been meaningful to me, but now I’m actually appreciating being represented.”

So that’s what I wanted in this book.

Tim Ferriss: And you’ve tabbed a couple of things for me to check out later, which I will check out. I’m just going to read the tabs. We don’t have to go through all of them. Stories, next. Victim culture, which I’m sure you’re a huge fan of. I’m kidding. Word for word scripts. Ignore Reddit. Invisible scripts. Crypto love and money.

Tim Ferriss: So you got a lot here.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And as I mentioned earlier, I’m just going to read the first paragraph on the back of the book ’cause I haven’t seen this in ages. Just quick, quick backstory note, I remember when you were writing this.

Ramit Sethi: Dude, I came to you for advice.

Tim Ferriss: And I gave you … Do you remember the book I gave you?

Ramit Sethi: Bird by Bird.

Tim Ferriss: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: But here’s the first paragraph of the back copy, “Buy as many lattes as you want.”

That’s a reference to people who recommend you cut back on all these things like —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: A latte. “Spend extravagantly on the things you love. Live your rich life instead of tracking every last expense.”

And what I’ve always enjoyed observing and learning from, are the tests that you do. You experiment.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: You actually implement these things and you provide scripts and actual algorithms for achieving very specific results.

So, awesome to see you.

Ramit Sethi: Thank you dude. It’s been a pleasure. I love catching up and thanks for having me on.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. People can find you on Twitter @Ramit, Instagram @Ramit and website iwt.com. Are there any other places where people can check you out? See what you’re up to or anything else that you would like to say before we wrap up this episode?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Get the book. It’s on Amazon and come visit me in any of these social places and the site and the newsletter and I would love to talk more with everyone about their rich life.

Tim Ferriss: Ramit, thanks so much for coming on.

Ramit Sethi: Thanks a lot.

Tim Ferriss: And to everyone who is listening, thank you for joining in. You can find the show notes, links to everything we’ve discussed at Tim.blog/podcast along with every other episode and until next time, track wisely, calendar the important shit. Plan your batching sessions and thanks for tuning in and I will be in touch very soon.

Posted on: May 23, 2019.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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