5 lessons fro 2019

5 lessons 2019 taught us

Ahh, it’s the end of another glorious year. Well, it’s actually the end of a decade and as tempted as we are to roll all the lessons from the last ten years into one single-serving blog post, it’s just not realistic. Ok, to be honest, we don’t feel like doing all that work. So, since 2019 was such an amazing year for us, we’ll just focus on the lessons learned in the last 365 days.

Some of these lessons are completely new to us and others have been brewing for a while now. But, in as few letters and words as possible…2019 was dope AF.

No, not just because of the amazing press run we’ve been on and the business wins we’ve racked up. This year was amazing because years of sacrifice, relationship building, deliberate action and discipline have truly started to take form and support the life we’ve envisioned for ourselves.

We now have the privilege of earning money doing something we would do for free. This must be what professional athletes owners of professional sports teams feel like? Technically, we have done it for free for the last few years but now that we’ve sharpened our focus, we’re now able to earn a decent living doing this, talking to you, as our authentic selves, in our own unique way. It’s hard work, but it’s a dream come true.

To think, the little idea we conjured up on our honeymoon and launched in 2017 while our son was only a few months old is now a growing business with an unlimited upside. We know there is much room for improvement in all areas but as we look back on the trajectory we’re on, we’re walking into 2020 knowing that we’ve made our Mommas and ‘nem proud.

So here’s our best attempt to nail down a handful of lessons this year taught us.


1.Entrepreneurs deserve all the credit and accolade in the world

We knew starting a business was hard, but we had no idea just how hard it would be. The list of things to do never stops, especially if you’re pretty good at what you do. We learned very quickly that our time and energy was precious and needed to be protected at all costs. The hardest part wasn’t the technical aspect of content creation, managing social media or the financials. No, the most difficult part of entrepreneurship was managing the people in our lives, including each other.

Building a business with your spouse is like having another baby. Except the baby isn't nearly as loved by your family and friends. Click To Tweet

They see it, they’ve heard of it, they’re proud…but they just don’t get it. This makes our decision to press forward a bit more difficult because in the moments you’re expecting a certain kind of support or understanding, you may not get it. To be clear, this is not an indictment on our family or friends. Rather, this is a cautionary message to those of you who are aspiring entrepreneurs and/or seeking to achieve debt freedom while maintaining close relationships with the people in your lives.

You should know that while they love you very much, they may not share your vision for the future. And guess what…they’re entitled to their feelings. You shouldn’t hold it against them or take it personal. Rather, we advise you to focus your energy on building your business and finding a community outside of your family and friends to support you.

With that said, the entrepreneurs that have put their health, capital and personal relationships on the line while continuing to build successful businesses are superheroes in our eyes and deserve every ounce of accolade, press and earnings they receive. We see ya’ll out there, we salute you and we look forward to building with you over the coming years.


2.Personal finance has a marketing problem

We’ve felt this for a while now but hadn’t really given it much thought until this year. But the more we did, the more we grew convinced that personal finance has a serious marketing problem.

If [we] content creators want as many people as possible make better decisions with their money, we need to do a better job of meeting them where they are. Click To Tweet

This means we have to avoid beating dead horses, recycling canned language, and resisting new platforms to spread our message. We need to hop down from our thrones of judgment and have more honest and nuanced conversations with people about money. We have to stop talking to everybody and get really specific with the people we want to reach. In short, we need to be more difficult to ignore.

These days, it’s way too easy to to scroll past the “typical” financial quote or educational tidbit because honestly, that $hit is just boring. The people we need to reach don’t roll over in their beds and check their phones for an update on whether or not Congress passed the biggest retirement bill in a decade.

They’re not standing outside of libraries waiting to be introduced to an old school financial guru’s latest edition of a classic paperback with updated charts. They’re not all scrolling the internet, sitting in a church pew and they’re certainly not all dressed in attire deemed acceptable by corporate America.

This is one of the reasons we absolutely loved the way the a recent video about us came out. It’s a story of our relationship, parenting, our journey as landlords, cooking at home and our commitment to shining the light on an issue that is deeply important to us [Black wealth].

If you’re new to FIRE, it introduces you to the movement without overwhelming you with numbers. It respects the social taboo about money and presents this alternative to the norm [a FI lifestyle] by focusing on a handful of universal themes [family, food, laughter, purpose] in a format that is both easy and fun to watch.

That’s what more of us [content creators] need to do. We should spend less time talking to people and more time meeting them where they are. We need to make people care about their money before they can be moved to take action with it.

We’re not immune to this critique either which is why we’ve been spending so much time lately thinking about what’s next.


3. A movement isn’t a movement without a clear call to action

This thought was first introduced to us by the Director of Playing with FIRE, Travis Shakespeare. Author Vicki Robin, also probed our brains a few months ago on the subject as we sat down for a quick dinner with her and our friend, author of Financial Freedom, Grant Sabatier. It impacted us so much, Mrs r&R made it the central them of her talk at Cents Positive in Chicago.

The idea is a simple but provocative one. Is the FIRE movement really a movement?

Movements, like the struggle for civil rights or womens rights all have a clear purpose and goal that if achieved, serve to help a broader set of people. By that standard, FIRE doesn’t fit the bill. It feels more like a lifestyle or subculture than a group of people taking a stand for something.

Furthermore, as much as we appreciate the community, we’re not certain that everyone in it wants the message to spread. There have certainly been days where it feels like the overwhelming mood is to keep it small, hidden and away from the spotlight where other people can see it.

Our son is two years old so at least ten times a day we have things grabbed out of our hands as he yells “mine”. In those moments, it’s our job as parents to teach him that sharing is a good thing. He typically concedes, apologizes and rewards us with a kiss leaving behind cookie spit residue on our cheeks and shirts.

We’re not parents to the FIRE community but as leaders in the space, our recommendation to others who have platforms is to pay closer attention to how we measure growth and the resonance of our message. Lighten up a little bit, let that frugal hair down and eat a fu**ing cookie every now and then.

On a more serious note, there are a few questions we should all be asking ourselves. Nameley, how are we bringing in new people to this movement? Are we even trying or are we comfortable having the conversation with and about the same groups of people? Are we just celebrating diversity or are we championing it? And perhaps the largest question of them all, what does success outside of your own personal gain look like?

Honestly, it’s okay if some of us ultimately decide that we have no interest in helping the movement grow. But don’t hinder progress of those who are actively making an effort to do so.


4. We shouldn’t feel guilty for our success

First, we should clarify that the challenge of “guilt” is much more of an issue for [me] Mr. r&R than it is for my wife. I’ve always struggled with knowing that my success and financial health is wildly better than many of the people I know and grew up with. I often wonder how different my life would’ve been if I’d stayed in Brooklyn another year, stayed out just a tad later that one night or made a slight tweak to any number of seemingly minor decisions throughout my life.

Because of this, I suffer from a form of survivors guilt and have for a large part of my adult life. But some recent events have caused me to re-evaluate this self-imposed haunting.

In some cases, rather than view the issue as me leaving others behind, I've realized that in many cases, others decided to stand still and that's simply not my fault. Click To Tweet
Follow us on Instagram

Having said that, it’s our hope to act as role models, to inspire and lead others to making better financial decisions. It’s a challenge we’ve accepted and we hope over time it contributes to a more financially empowered community. If in the process, we earn a living spreading that message, we won’t feel guilty about it so long as we’ve maintained alignment with our values and are helping others.

It’s taken some time to get here but I’m grateful I did with plenty of gas in the tank. Heading into 2020, we’re more focused than we’ve ever been on executing our business and creative ideas and we can’t wait to share them with a larger audience.


5. Focus, focus, focus on income

2019 was the absolute worst year for budgeting since we’ve been together. Since we started our journey to financial independence in 2013, we’ve gone from being obsessive about ordering another round of drinks, sending bi-weekly payments to payoff a mortgage on our former home to now having 2-3 casual discussions about our budget a year. Even today, we have a general idea of how much we spend, but that’s about it. The time and energy we used to spend on managing a budget is now squarely focused on growing income.

Given we are in the latter phase of our journey this makes sense because our spending habits are so deeply ingrained we don’t really have to rely so heavily on systems or apps to keep us in check as we used to. Sure, we have bouts of overspending every now and then but we’re not nearly as strict as we used to be.

If by chance we have an extra hour in the day, we believe it would be best spent resting, learning a skill we can use to strengthen our business or building a relationship with someone who can help us drive more income into our household. In other words, we’ve stepped deeper into a mindset that recognizes and reflects our beliefs in abundance and we’re starting to see some eye-opening results from it.

At the end of the day, there is only so much you can save by cutting cable, cooking at home, driving an old car and travel hacking. Conversely, driving revenue or earning income is infinite so we’re locked into that and seeing where it leads us.

The incomparable Quincy Jones sat down with the phenom Lil Nas X over a popsicle the other day. In the interview, while sharing his perspective on the music business and longevity, Quincy said “you’ve gotta master the rules before you can break ’em”.

That’s the energy we’re on headed into 2020.


Closing thoughts

As we write this, we have a handful of business dealings on the table that have the potential to shift the trajectory of our business and our lives. We won’t pop a bottle until the deals are closed but we’re over the moon excited about them.

What makes this interesting is that we’re most excited about the unknown. Years ago, the unknown would’ve scared us to death. But today, we’ve come to learn that it gives birth to several other things and the more you embrace them, the more they come your way. We know it sounds really woo-woo but that has been our experience and until the universe tells us otherwise, we’re walking into 2020 fully prepared to catch whatever comes our way.

8 comments

  1. What a heck of a year and culmination of years’ worth of work you’ve had together.

    I can relate to that survivor’s guilt! I’m on a more traditional path than you right now but I’m a world away from where I came from too. My immigrant parents took the entrepreneurial route and it was a punishing path with few rewards for them, and that’s partly why I refused to ever consider entrepreneurship myself. But because I took the traditional path and ground out steady and reliable income for year, from that position of guilt/matching sense of duty, my father was able to manipulate me into supporting him far longer (and far sooner) than he ever should have. I’m truly grateful for my success financially but equally grateful to be leaving behind that guilt as we move forward emotionally.

    Like you, I’m here because of luck and a heck of a lot of hard work. Some folks chose not to move forward for themselves and some folks weren’t ready to choose to move forward and some yet chose to take crappy paths of using others instead of moving themselves. Whatever the reason, we’re not being successful at them, we’re just living our lives the best way we know and there shouldn’t be guilt attached to that any longer. We live, we thrive, and most importantly to me, we give back.

    We won’t be crabs in a bucket holding people back, thinking of a Terry Pratchett book I’ve just reread, we’ll be helping people out of their buckets when they’re ready to reach up.

    Cheers to a wonderful 2020!

  2. Hello! I’m a new reader and I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. I’m trying to catch up on older posts while also taking in the new and it’s been so fun and interesting getting to “know” you two. I was moved to comment today because what you wrote about survivor’s guilt really resonated with me. My husband and I retired last year when we were 40 & 44 and it’s been so strange to talk to people about it. We moved to a new area and the question of what we do for a living comes up a lot with new acquaintances. I also have old friends who are a bit funny about my new freedom from traditional work. I’ve had so many challenging reactions to “retiring” that I’ve felt a weird amount of guilt/awkwardness about it and concern that I was somehow unintentionally bragging or rubbing it in somehow? I don’t know… I’m going to give a lot of thought to your point about moving forward vs. standing still and not holding onto the guilt. I really appreciate this perspective – thank you! Congratulations to you both for all your 2019 accomplishments and I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2020 has in store for you!

  3. I’m loving your mission and your message. I think I may know only one wealthy black person and he definitely has a frugal mindset and doesn’t flaunt it. I am 100% debt-free and now I’m taking on the challenge of FIRE. But not to retire early, more so that I can have the options to do the work that I enjoy on my terms. It is definitely scary! Especially since I don’t have a mentor or anyone in the black community to reach out to. So I’m pretty much trying to figure things out on my own — while still working full-time and taking care of a family. It has been a challenge for sure. But I’m up for the task. I love how easy flowing and relatable your writing is, and it definitely resonates with me. This has become my new favorite blog!

Leave a Reply