Several years ago I had a problem. I wanted to get into shape, but I didn’t want to spend a dime on a gym membership or drop some serious coin on a home gym.
To solve this problem, I fired up Google and did a search on “building muscle without equipment,” or something to that effect. Google then introduced me to the world of body-weight training.
Body-weight training is perfect for the FIRE enthusiast. It can be done anywhere, can be as challenging as you want (just try archer push ups or pistol squats), and can be performed for a super-low cost—nothing.
One of my favorite practitioners of body-weight training is this dude from Queens, New York, named Hannibal. Here’s a clip of one of his “street” workouts.
Hannibal is a beast. And I think it’s critical to understand what he needed and didn’t need to become a beast. Here’s what he needed.
- A functioning body.
- 2000-2500 calories of food per day (or something in that vicinity).
- Rudimentary clothing (weird denim shorts and sneakers).
- A neighborhood park with some bars to grab.
And here’s what he didn’t need.
- A nutritionist.
- A trainer.
- Fancy athletic clothing and accessories.
- Hot yoga classes.
- An expensive gym membership.
- State-of-the-art training equipment.
Now call me nuts, but I suspect Hannibal would shame the majority of New Yorkers who are fortunate enough to have cool athletic gear, a trainer, and an expensive gym membership. And this isn’t a slight against New Yorkers who are “privileged” when it comes to working out. It’s just recognition of the fact that you don’t need a lot of material things to get a great body—something Hannibal proves in spectacular fashion.
Is Hannibal Onto Something?
I love Hannibal’s story. Here’s a guy with nothing who can successfully compete against those with everything. But how realistic is Hannibal’s story beyond the realm of working out? In other words, when it comes to really important matters—education, employment, retirement, etc.—can those armed with nothing more than basic tools and grit successfully compete against those armed with ample or extravagant resources?
I think they can. And to prove it, I’m going to give you a personal anecdote.
In the late 90s, I became fascinated with databases. Don’t ask me why—it’s freakin’ weird—but it’s something I wanted to get good at. And like Hannibal, I didn’t have much in the way of resources. Here’s what I had.
- Work and home computers that both had Microsoft Office Professional installed on them.
- Access (a basic database that came with Office Professional).
- Barnes & Noble and Borders to buy books on Access.
- Discipline (every day at work and every night at home I would set aside an hour or so and pore over my Access books).
And here’s what I didn’t have.
- Formal training (I studied sociology, journalism, and public administration during my various stints in college).
- A robust internet (database blogs, Khan Academy, Udemy, W3Schools, GitHub, open software, and open courseware weren’t even invented yet).
- The opportunity to work with big-league databases such as SQL Server and DB2.
- IT co-workers to bounce ideas off of and rescue me from my ignorance and confusion (the only IT people in my workplace were consultants and they were largely offsite and not very open to giving free advice).
Yet despite my meager resources, I had enough to master the fundamentals of database creation and management. When I left my government cocoon in 2007, and had to test my mettle in the rough-and-tumble private sector, my self-taught skills were polished enough to not only land a data analyst job with a national company but also to flourish at that job. By the time I retired in 2016, I was one of my company’s go-to-guys for any thorny database problem.
Okay, this is a personal finance blog, so let’s bring this notion of mine—that you don’t need a lot of material resources to succeed—into the personal finance realm. Here we go.
To see how much money a 25 year old would need to invest in an S&P 500 index fund every month to have a million dollar portfolio by the time he or she reached 65, I turned to Bankrate’s save-a-million-dollars calculator. Assuming an annualized return of 8%, our hypothetical 25 year old would need to invest $309 a month.
Think about that for a moment. The only thing separating a 25 year old from eventually becoming a millionaire is a spare $309 a month—something most young adults can get merely by giving up cable and delivering pizzas once a week.
We live in remarkable times.
In one sense, wealth has never been less critical to success. You don’t need an elite trainer and expensive gym to get a great body. You don’t need an exclusive college with tenured professors to learn a worthwhile skill. And you don’t need a prestigious money manager and a lofty income to reach retirement with a sizable nest egg.
In another sense, however, seizing upon the bountiful opportunity out there and resisting man’s natural fondness for sloth and excuse-making has never been harder. And I put the blame for this squarely on our thought leaders in education, journalism, and entertainment. Our thought leaders in these critical fields have psychologically neutered millions of Americans by equating success with a material arms race. “If someone has more—especially if it’s a lot more—then you don’t have enough.” In effect, our critical thought leaders have given the less fortunate all the intellectual cover needed to rationalize impotence and forgo some healthy soul-searching.
Look, I’m not saying that wealth isn’t important. It is. But it isn’t the be all and end all. Despite what the “privilege” mongers say, the disciplined with little can compete very successfully against the undisciplined with much. They can even hold their own against the disciplined with much. Hannibal has proved it. I have proved it. And I’m sure you know numerous people who have proved it as well.
Okay, groovy freedomist, that’s all I got. What say you? Is it all about the resources? Is it damn near impossible for those with little to make something of themselves? Or is that total BS? Let me know what you think when you get a chance.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Peace.