What is Your Financial Superpower?

What is Your Financial Superpower?Have you heard about this thought experiment? Which superpower would you choose if you can pick one – flight or invisibility? John Hodgman has been asking this question for a long time. This American Life did an episode on it back in 2001. It was a fun episode and I enjoyed it. Psychologists read quite a bit into the choice you make, but I think it’s just for fun. There is no need to treat everything like an academic paper. Don’t think about it too much, just pick one.

  • Flight – You can fly up to 1,000 mph and up to 100,000 feet.
  • Invisibility – You can turn invisible, but anything you pick up is still visible.

For me, I picked flight right away. I used to snowboard and we had a BMW Z3 convertible at one point. It is awesome to go fast and feel the wind in your face. I think it’d be a blast to fly around. That’s the primary reason why I chose flight. I didn’t dwell on it much because it’s a fantasy. Those superpowers are not real. Mrs. RB40 would love to be invisible. She doesn’t really like to be seen.

Financial Superpower

However, there are some superpowers that are real and very applicable to FIRE (financial independence, retire early.) I’m talking about these two rare superpowers.

  • Making more. The Census Bureau considers those making over $150,000 to be high income. Let’s go with that. If your household made more than $150,000 last year, congratulations. You are part of the top 15% and have this very real superpower. We’ll include passive income here to give retirees a boost.
  • Being frugal. This one is tougher to define. It’s really subjective depending on many factors. For this post, we’ll go with an arbitrary $40,000 (not including taxes.) That’s about double the poverty level for a family of three. Also, it’s below the average household expenditure, $60,000. If you’re single, use $30,000.

Interestingly, these two real powers correspond to the fantastic superpowers above. Making more is kind of like flight. You have to be aggressive and push yourself to make more money. You have to be noticed and surpass your coworkers to get more raises. On the other hand, spending less is stealthier. You can become invisible by dressing down, driving a regular car, and living in a smaller home. That’s stealth wealth.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have either of these real world powers. That’s why many households have debt and no savings. Even being good at one of these isn’t really enough. Some households make $150,000 per year and they spend it all. Conversely, you aren’t going to be able to save much if you make $40,000 per year. You need to be moderately good on both of these things to build wealth.

Focusing on your weak point

If you want to FIRE in a reasonable time frame, you need to save 50% of your income. This is very difficult for anyone. To achieve a 50% saving rate, you need to focus on your weak point. If you don’t have a good income, then you need to figure out how to make more. If you already make six figures and don’t have much savings, it means you’re spending too much. You need to find a way to spend less and save more.

One of our readers has been saving 50% of his income and he’s having a really hard time doing so with his $50,000/year income. I think it’s amazing he could save 50% with that income. It means his family is living almost at the poverty line level. That seems really tough unless you live in a low cost of living area. They need to work on their weak point and earn more. Living on $25,000 per year for a family of three will probably create a lot of conflicts over the long haul. I think it’s better to spend a bit more now and live an acceptable lifestyle. FIRE shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice.

Anyway, you need to be good at both making more and being frugal to save 50%. Also, 50% is just a target. You’ll be way ahead of everyone else even if you save 30%. You have to do what’s right for your family.

Some real-life examples

The RB40 household – Last year, we had an extraordinary income year and made over $200,000. That includes Mrs. RB40 full-time income, my blog income, and our passive income. Wow, it feels good to have a high income again. On the spending side, I thought we were frugal, but we spent around $60,000 last year. The big problem was housing. We spent almost $30,000 on that alone. It’ll be better this year because we moved to our duplex. We might even meet the $40,000 per year threshold. You’ll have to wait and see how it goes.

The Root of Good household – Justin’s family spent under $30,000 in 2018 and they lived an amazing lifestyle. I’m jealous every time I read his monthly report. How the heck can their expense be so low? Well, they live in a low cost of living area and their house is paid off. That’s how. I hope to get to that point someday.

Jason Fieber of Mr. Free at 33 – Jason lives in Chiang Mai Thailand and normally spends about $1,500 per month. He is single so it’s easy to prioritize spending. Chiang Mai is much cheaper than most urban locations in the US. He gets to live the lifestyle he wants while spending very little.

Physician on FIRE, Xrayvn, Doc G, and other doctors – Holy moly, physicians make a lot of money. They don’t have to be super frugal to save 50% of their income.

See, it’s not impossible to have these real-life superpowers.

What’s your superpower?

The great thing about the real world is that you can make more and be frugal at the same time. Both of these are quite difficult, but you should be competent at both to achieve financial independence and retire early.

What about you? Do you have these real-life superpowers? Do you excel at making more, being frugal, or both? 

Image by Colton Jones

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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55 thoughts on “What is Your Financial Superpower?”

  1. For me it’s definitely frugality. I’m definitely lacking in making more money category. I’m working on it though right now trying to start a business. Income tends to be low or nonexistent sometimes when you’re first starting out though. Our family spends around $30,000 a year but $20,000 is housing costs alone! Try living on $10,000 a year after housing! Any challengers??

  2. Hi Joe, very interesting analogy. I might like to fly high, as that would be cool. In terms of financial superpower, I’m mainly using the second strategy: spending less. To me, it’s not hard to do, as I’m living in a low cost of living city. Most of the time, I don’t enjoy spending money, and don’t care how others live the life. Luckily, I got the decent income as an engineer, and that helped me a lot as well.

  3. Hi Joe!

    Interesting post!
    I agree that these are superpowers to help (yourself) on the way to FI.

    But usual superpowers are used to do other things, make a difference, help the weak/poor etc. For me FI is the actual superpower. In fact I think there are 4 components to the FI superpower:

    – Time Freedom: fairly obvious to the FI community, the power to chose what you do with your time
    – Abilities Freedom: the power to apply your abilities to any project, whether there is money involved or not. And to learn any skill that you’re interested in or need (e.g. to do good)
    – Money Freedom: most people in the FI community end up accumulating more than they need, so this is about having passive income to cover expenses, but also about what we can do with the money that is beyond what we need!
    – Thinking Freedom: this is the ability to think more freely, to be true to youself, authentic and critical. It becomes really good once your actions and opinions are not related to money anymore (think about what people do (or don’t do) or say (or don’t say) for the sake of keeping their jobs). With FI we go past that. And we can think more clearly and say what we believe is true beyond money.

    What do you think?

    I believe the FI community can use this FI superpower (and many already do) to do good, to have an impact and make the world a better place.

  4. I would’ve picked invisibility or mind reading in the past, but now that we’re world travellers I definitely pick flight. As much as I like accumulating credit card points and looking for budget airline deals, there’s someone super attractive about being able to just fly to where you want to go.

    Interesting take on the FIRE super powers! For people who can make it fit their lifestyle, I’d say geo-arbitrage is a superpower that you can use to get to FIRE faster. One of our readers was earning very little as a car salesman, but once he moved to South Korea and then to China to teach English, he managed to save more than 50% of his salary! (unthinkable if he were to do it in North America). The more flexible people are, the more options they have.

    • I agree with FIRECracker!

      Geo-arbitrage is incredible for those who can make the move (either to earn more or spend less) in many cases, it can easily cut the time to FI in half.

      Also very useful if you run into financial trouble (and need your dollar to go further).
      Our greatest weapon is indeed flexibility.

    • Geo-arbitrage is a great power. I hope to do that in about 10 years, once our kid is gone to college.
      I’ll live in Thailand part time and enjoy the lower cost of living. We’ll see how it goes.

  5. I’d say I’m pretty frugal, though I don’t know if I live on $30,000. Is that pre- or post-tax? Because my taxes alone are $22,000 a year so… $30,000 including taxes isn’t really feasible for me. But I know that I’m not out spending all of the time and really don’t buy much, plus I try to save money where I can. So I consider myself to have the frugality superpower.

  6. Hi Joe – any way to modify the financial superpower of being frugal to spending less than a % of your income rather than a dollar number such as $40,000. I consider myself to be frugal (spend less than 50% of tax home pay) but my spending is significantly above $40,000.

    Based on your financial superpower definition, I have the making more financial superpower but fall woefully short of the being frugal financial superpower.

    • I was thinking about that. Originally, I was going to use saving 50% of income, but it doesn’t make sense.
      The doctors on this list save more than 50% of their income, but still spends more than $100,000/year. That’s not frugal to me or most regular people. It’s easier to go with reasonable $ figure.
      But it works for them and you so keep at it. Saving 50% is already very difficult for anyone.

  7. I have a little bit of both. However, I much prefer though not to be the best at either one.

    Think of it like wildlife in the animal kingdom. The slowest runner gets eaten. The fastest gets challenged. I strive to be somewhere in the middle to upper middle. Enough to enjoy my life, not spend every minute working, and not be hounded by others for money. Enough to not worry about my financial security.

  8. Hey Joe,

    Most of your readers here would be having these superpowers and that is the reason they are here on your blog.

    More money along with frugality is the recipe for Financial Independence. One complements another .

    Thanks for the post.

  9. I think my wife and I have both. We spend right around $40K a year and gross income before taxes should be around $200K this year (2 incomes, 2 bonuses, 5 rental properties). We just keep recycling the difference to grow our retirement accounts, HSAs, and buy more rentals.

    I’m sure when we decide to have a child these numbers will change and I’m not sure right now when I’d feel fulfilled enough in my current career to leave my job but regardless having enough passive income to have FIRE optionality seems like the top priority.

    Also, totally would pick flight. My employers office just moved downtown (far away from my home) and I would love how fast that commute could be.

    • Wow, that’s fantastic. If you keep this up for a few more years, you’ll be able to retire in comfort. The rental properties are great. A child would make a big difference. Childcare is expensive. The alternative of having one parent at home cost even more. It’s great to have a kid around, though. The atmosphere is a lot more lively.

  10. Ok, this might be a weird one, but I think my superpower is an ability to see connections between things (maybe that would correlate to x-ray vision in the superhero world?). Seeing connections isn’t splashy, but it’s really helped me on my way toward FI. For example, I was able to see a clear connection between spending and social insecurity. Most of my frivolous spending resulted from wanting to “armor” myself from the derision or criticisms of others. Expensive car, expensive clothes — much of it was about others rather than about myself. Once I saw that connection, I was able to change the behavior. I mean, it would be pretty cool to fly too, but I guess we just have to make the best of the superpowers we’re given.

  11. My superpower is frugality which I inherit from my parents. I consider myself lucky because many folks have to learn to live with a lower budget while I have no problem cooking at home and not having a car from an early age. I make a decent but not outstanding salary. I’m trying to work more on the income side. Increasing income is more difficult in general but more worth it because there’s no upper limit to income while you can only save so much.

  12. I’d take flying too. I’m already really good at being invisible and no one noticing me. It would be really cool if I bring people with me too, but that might be asking too much.

    We’re high income like you, but we spend a little more. Some of it is the house… around 30,000 like you. We could probably cut that in half if we refinanced it to 30 years right now, but we’d rather get it out of the way.

    I’d say my true financial power is being frugal. The bigging kryptonite is spending on kids’ education.

    I don’t bother to calculate a savings rate. It’s kind of complex with rental properties. I’d also have to ask my wife to pull more financials and she’s busy enough without that. We are probably around 50%.

    I like Mr. Tako’s take on financial superpowers.

    • I guess there is only so much you can write about. We’re bound to repeat each other. 🙂
      Being happy with less is really good. I think you guys also find ways to enjoy life without spending a lot.
      That’s really helpful.

  13. Hey Joe, thanks for the mention. Making money has definitely been our superpower. Frugality, however is not. I spent last year almost as much as you made! We have been lucky to have a high income and multiple revenue streams to support our spending and still save carefully.

  14. In the world of Marvel, I would like to have the power of FIRE, as I don’t like the cold.
    In the real world, I have 2 superpowers. First, the basics of finance taught to me by my late grandfather who was a poor farmer. Those teachings I hope to pass on one day as they are the foundations to my current knowledge which I add to every day.
    Next is the art of balance. I keep my expenses low and work extra hours to earn more so that I could save more. But I have to keep in mind not to overwork myself so I do have time for other things in life. Also working extra hours means I could be too tired to cook so may eat out more often, travelling more so more fuel costs, more likely to get sick so increase in health costs and more holiday breaks to get over overworking. In the end working more may increase my costs rather than increase my savings.

  15. My superpower is laziness. I have no ambition at my job; they keep me around because I’ve been there a while and have lots of backend knowledge, and I always pitch in when someone or a group needs help. In return I get 2-4% annual raises, work from home, six weeks of vacation, and well-defined 8am-4:30pm working hours. We all seem pretty happy with that.

    Laziness works well financially too. Do I want to go to happy hour? No, I’d rather chill on my porch with my dog and a tumbler of box wine and whichever neighbors drop by. Shall we take some crazy ambitious vacation? Let’s instead spend two weeks at a reasonable Airbnb in Berlin living like locals and hanging out at Mauerpark all day Sunday. My wife’s job is going nuts — should we just go out for a $35 dinner? Nah, going to a restaurant throws a wrench in the day, it’s more fun just to cook down whatever is in the fridge so a hot meal is ready when she gets home.

    • Be careful with that. I wasn’t ambitious either and eventually, they didn’t like it. Companies always want their senior people to do more.
      Laziness in personal finance sounds good, though. 🙂

      • I was thinking of your circumstances as I wrote it! Somehow the new job title I’ve stumbled into as of January 1 does have the word ‘manager’ in it, but it’s more of cases and reports than actual living souls… so I’m alright with it. 😉

  16. Being able to able intentionally and not spend just to impress / keep up with your friends or neighbors can seem to be a superpower (as most don’t have it). Spend on what you truly care about and what really brings you joy.

  17. When I worked, our household had one of those financial superpowers but, now in early retired life, we don’t hit either. That sounds like me, living the middle of the road early retirement dream?
    And by the way, I’m not sure why, but I’d choose invisible.

    • Joe,

      An interesting, unique way to look at what it takes to FIRE. But, I have to confess that I have given up on both super powers. I’ve tried to curb spending by drawing a line on top spending and our household invariably needs the line moved up. I laughingly look back to a few years ago before I retired–retired a couple years ago at–when I thought my family of 6 could get by on $100k. I didn’t count on our 2 young adults taking the long route through college; one taking 6 years for an BA, the other heading off to grad school; big mortgage because this was my wife’s dream house, 5 cars, etc…now I’m trying to hold the line on spending to $200k after taxes. Embarrassing to say this, but I thought you all would appreciate hearing from someone who has lame frugal powers.
      On the earnings side of the equation, we can sustain $280k a year according to my best estimate with our passive incomes, between: two military pensions, annuities, and investments. So at the end of the day, I have to keep telling myself that everyone travels a different path to FIRE and there after. When I get discouraged I try to look at the big picture and see that we are doing okay, which is good since after living the good life in RE, I have 0 motivation to pursue more income.

      • Wow, your household income is very impressive. If you generate that much, you don’t need to be very frugal. Hopefully, the kids will be done with college soon. Then you can spend more on fun stuff. As long as your spending is lower than your income, you’re set.

  18. I would choose flight in a heartbeat (since xrayvision was not an option, lol).

    The financial superpowers is a tougher choice for me. I truly feel defense (savings/frugality) is the greater power as every $1 you save truly increase your net worth by $1 while every $1 you earn cannot increase your net worth by that since chunks of it get taken out because of taxes (especially at the max tax income brackets). The problem for me would be the $40k//yr spend. I consider myself quite frugal for a doctor but even that still puts me at around $115k/yr spending (private school alone is about $20k/yr).

    I am very fortunate to have an extremely high income and my savings rate after tax has been in the 65-80% range which really has jump started my net worth and FIRE track.

    • $115k/year is pretty high. I guess that’s frugal for a doctor, but it’s quite luxurious to regular people. 🙂
      Your saving rate is awesome. That’s why I said your superpower is earing more. Great job!

  19. Well, not sure I have any super-powers to talk about. Being invisible sounds really nice though, to figure out what is going on in the board-room meetings I am not invited to 😉

    Your income is really impressive. Last year, we earned a total of 95000 USD after all taxes including dividends, passive incomes and two salaries (as senior programmer and nurse respectively). Our expenses the same year was roughly 25000 USD which includes two children, villa, one car and a 4 week trip to Asia. We live a good life.

    This is in Sweden, so taxes are high, but in return we don’t have to pay much for school, healthcare, childcare and stuff like that. We try to keep expenses down to a minimum by minimizing our passive expenses (utilities, insurances, fees etc) and shop as cheap as possible by using coupons whenever possible. I also run a blog to help other people save money and invest in passive income.

    Our plan is to stop working within 5-9 years and let the dividends fill our wallets. Our live will probably be the same as it is now, only with no stressful job and much more time together as a family.

    • Your income is good too. Your spending is really good. How did you do it? $25,000 is really low. I thought Sweden is more expensive than the US! I assume you don’t have a mortgage and own your home outright. Great job and good luck! 5-9 years will fly by.

      • Thanks for replying! I have read your blog for many years but only recently started writing comments.

        Yes, it is expensive to be a tourist in Sweden, asn you might have noticed when you travelled to Iceland. Restaurants are expensive, hotels are expensive, all kinds of services are expensive (massage, taxi, carpenters, plummers etc). To live in Sweden is not so expensive, if you keep it down to the basics. We cook food by ourselves, seldom visit restaurants, and we book our trips during low cost seasons. We slop lots of stuff second hand, you will find high quality childrens clothes at say 40% normal price, good as new. We use the cheapest utilities and try to save water, electricity whenever we can. Our villa spend roughly 1000 kWh per year which is quite low. But it is a rather new villa (10 years) with good insulation, so heating costs are quite low, and we use a heat exchanger to save energy as well.

        My wife is really good at smart shopping. Almost everything she buys except fresh food is on sale (toys, clothes, trips). I hate shopping and try to do this as little as possible. Our community and church has lots of free activities for our children and we go there as often as we can. It is usually much better than the expensive “theme-parks” which are extremly noisy and everything is so expensive.

        We do have a mortgage but the interest is extremly low here now, we pay 1,2% interest per year. Also, only 40% of the value of the villa is owned by “the bank” so we have a good payment plan, meaning we can put more money on the stock marken instead of repaying the loan. When the interest go up, we can put more money on the loan instead.

        Our epmployers also provide benefits like free exercise, so we can all go swimming or spa, payed by the employer (max 350 USD per year). Entry fees to public swimpools are cheap, like 3-5 USD per person. SPA entry is 20 USD per adult.

        I guess our super power is that we live “smart”… as good as possible, but also as cheap as possible.

        • Thank you for sharing your lifestyle. That’s what I suspected when we traveled to Iceland. It’s very expensive to be a tourist, but it’s not too bad to live there. Eating out and staying in hotels were the big expenses.
          Your electricity usage is very low. We used 350kWh last month and that’s not including heating. Our home isn’t even that big.
          Keep at it!

  20. I’ve probably spent below $40k per year a couple of times in my FI journey but I don’t track it. I know I’m in that neighborhood most years. So you just informed me that I have a superpower today. It’s going to be a good day!

    • That’s pretty good, but you forgot that the threshold is $30,000 for single people. I think you’re single, right?
      It’s much easier to control your expense if you’re alone, IMO.

  21. Dear Joe, my superpower is not giving a f… Financially and profesionally, it has been the best thing I´ve ever did. My parents hate me, my in-laws hate me too, but I did not take a suicidal mortgage, or bought a car o holidays to impress people. I´m lucky my husband is more frugal than I am. I have a job below my studies and experience, but I don´t care. I´m content and looking forward to a FIRE or LIRE life in some years.
    Best regards,

  22. In a world full of “normals,” showcasing one’s superpowers can draw unwanted attention. It can make you and your family a target of jealousy and crime. That’s why I try to blend in and not stand out. However, with great power comes great responsibility, so I always wear a cape and mask when flexing my power.

    • I think you’re right. That’s why FIRE bloggers get so much hater comments whenever they’re featured on Yahoo and other bigger outlets. Most normal people just aren’t open-minded enough.

  23. Joe, I think for me, my superpowers come and go… kind of like Ironman’s suit. I used to drive some great income while I was running my IT biz, and saving 50% was pretty easy. I’ve set aside the suit for a few years to directly watch my kids grow up, but fully intend on wearing it again soon!

    • You’re right about the ups and downs. That’s life, right? We had good earning years and good frugal years, but not always. As long as you strive to get there, you’ll be better off than 90% of the population.

  24. Wow Joe I didn’t know I had super powers until reading your post. Both of those made my FI. Also I would choose reading minds because I never know what my wife is thinking at all… oh and side bonus I could probably negotiate world peace with it too.


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