The Lazy Author
I'm really pleased to have a new Reader Profile for you today. Meet Ryan, an English teacher turned author.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Ryan Davis, 34 years old, from Champaign, IL, USA. I studied Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where I received my B.A. After college I got my first job as a master control operator at an ABC-affiliate TV station. I was basically the guy who hit the play button so everyone could watch Lost season 3 on Wednesday nights. I also got to direct a few news programs.
This, however, grew boring to me after a year, and I was in need of an adventure. Therefore, I applied to the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program in 2006 and was accepted for the 2007 school year. Needless to say, that was the end of my television career.
Yup, four years of university tuition down the drain...
I spent 3 years on the JET program teaching English in high schools in Iwate prefecture. Iwate is located in the northern Tohoku region and was the site of the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 (no, I wasn't there during the earthquake, but I did have several friends who were stranded in the aftermath. One of them almost starved to death on the 3rd floor of a school building surrounded by water, but her boyfriend was able to steal a boat, paddle 20 miles to her town, and save her [true story]).
In 2010, after my tenure on the JET Program, I moved to Yokohama, where I continued teaching in public schools and teaching private English lessons at night. I did this until 2013, when I found another English teaching job in Tokyo proper and have been here ever since.
2. How did you get started with personal finance?
I remember being so poor as a teacher in Yokohama that I could only afford to eat fried rice. I had to walk 2 stations to work every day because I couldn't afford to buy a train ticket (even though my company reimbursed me at the end of each month. Money was that tight.) I also had big holes in my shoes that would leak in water on rainy days, leaving my socks wet all day. If you had told me to just get new shoes, I would have replied, "With what money?"
I was living hand-to-mouth, and the only way I could make ends meet was to teach private English lessons in the evenings. But with the gaps between lessons and factoring in traveling time from station to station, cafe to cafe, I found myself working until 11pm every night.
I would get sick; I'd lose my voice.
I was wearing myself ragged.
This was not the way to live life for such little capital return. I needed to change something.
That's when I started really thinking about my future and personal finance. I started asking around about budgeting advice and how to save money better, and someone recommended a book called "The Four-Hour Workweek". I read it, and the author Tim Ferriss didn't talk about budgeting or saving at all. On the contrary, he suggests forgetting about budgeting and saving entirely and thinking more about time and money on the same plane, where the two should always balance each other out. He suggests assigning yourself an hourly rate, and if you find yourself working a job that eats up a lot of your time (thus decreasing your hourly rate) then it's better to find another more efficient way of completing the job, or find another job altogether.
While the book "The Four-Hour Workweek" shouldn't be taken as step-by-step entrepreneurial advice, it is loaded with inspiration and insight. It taught me that time is actually more valuable than money and that we should focus on managing our time better to maximize the value we take from it.
This book was a major push in the direction of making a change in my life. I ended up finding a much better job in Tokyo proper that paid 20% more with a tenth of the amount of students. My working hours were also concentrated into a 8:30am-5pm time period. Before that, my schedule was scattered all over the grid from morning until 11 at night with a lot of wasted downtime in between lessons. The new job was a much better deal.
Although I had succeeded in getting a better teaching job for the time being, my career still wasn't where it should be.
The biggest splash of cold water in the face was 4 years into the new job. By that point I had been at the school for a while, I knew all the teachers, I had seen several rounds of students graduate, but then I had the unfortunate situation of having a co-worker I didn't get along with. Not only did I not get along with her, but my desk was right next to hers, so we were no less than 10 inches away from each other for 40 hours a week! I was depressed; I thought I was going to lose my job and have to go back to the US and live in my parents' basement.
That's when I started looking at other careers and ways of making money. For my entire working life I had always counted on my job today continuing to be my job tomorrow. But in reality, people get fired---deservedly and undeservedly. Companies downsize; some even go bankrupt. One of the most important principles of finance is to diversify, and my English teaching job was my only source of income. What if I woke up tomorrow and it was all gone?
What would I do?
I didn't want to rely on one source of income anymore. It was time to diversify!
This led me to the Retire Japan blog and learning how to invest in the stock market. However, several Retire Japan posts emphasized the importance of increasing income BEFORE trying to hit the jackpot with the stock market. It took a while for this to settle in, but that's what led me to where I am today.
To start off with, the minimum enrollment period to receive retirement benefits from Japanese pension was just shortened last summer to 10 years, so I paid 5 years of back payments in one go (did I mention I'm a pretty good saver? ;) I also just today went to the immigration bureau and applied for permanent residency, and hopefully I'll find a way to use this to my advantage in the future. And finally, I have just published my first book as a means to increase and diversify my income.
3. What are you doing at the moment?
I started writing a science fiction novel in 2015 and attended a writer's workshop in Tokyo, where we read and critiqued it. I originally wanted to shop the novel around to traditional publishers, but I met a few people through the workshop and around Tokyo that taught me about self-publishing. Before I knew anything about self-publishing, I had always thought of it as a last resort move. An author gets rejected by every publishing house in the English speaking world, decides to do it all himself, throws a bunch of his own money at getting the book designed and printed, sets up a stand at his local bookstore, and hopes for the best. That certainly wasn't the case. These days there is print-on-demand technology and online marketplaces like Amazon that make your book available for purchase worldwide with just the click of a button.
I also read that Andy Weir, author of "The Martian," self-published his book as well before it was accepted by a major publisher and later made into a Hollywood film. It was the story of this author that really got me motivated to take self-publishing seriously. If Andy Weir could publish his own science fiction novel and have it eventually made into a Hollywood movie, so could I.
So that's what I'm doing now in regard to increasing my income: selling my book on Amazon.com and hoping it gets popular enough to be made into a Hollywood film.
As far as personal finance goes, I'm basically doing all that I can for the time being on an English teacher's salary. I haven't done any investing yet, but I have started paying into the Japanese pension system (kokumin nenkin) again. I have also signed up for fuka nenkin, meaning that I'm paying 400 yen extra per month for a bigger pension payout when I retire. It's also possible to save 15,640 if you pay your nenkin premiums 2 years in advance, and I think that in another year I will have enough saved up to pay 2 years in advance every 2 years.
Other than that, I'm just saving. I put 20,000 yen a month into a savings account that I've designated for retirement. I also take advantage of point systems by paying with my Japanese credit card every chance I get and utilizing point cards from convenience stores and shops I frequent. I also always over budget so that I have more money left at the end of each month than I plan for, and I do online surveys every once in a while for a 500 yen Amazon gift card.
This is basically all that I can do for the moment to stay within my means.
4. What books/websites/companies do you recommend?
Self-plug. Thank you, question number 4.
The title of my book is "Planet Lazy". It's a science fiction comedy about a fat man who travels to different planets in search of Planet Lazy, where you can have whatever you want without having to do anything.
Here is the link to the Amazon page. And here is a link to my blog.
End of self-plug.
As far as personal finance goes, I've read "The Four-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey, and "Millionaire Teacher" by Andrew Hallam.
These are really good books and have taught me things about money that I would never have picked up otherwise. I have adopted many of the principle mindsets from "The Four-Hour Workweek" to the point where they are second nature now. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" taught me that I have to have a list of goals for the day that I must accomplish or I won't be successful. This was very helpful in regard to the writing of my novel and other aspects of the publishing phase. If I hadn't have been so strict with setting goals and accomplishing them every day I probably would never have published the book. And "Millionaire Teacher" taught me about investing in low-risk index funds over having an actively managed account. Once I start making more money, I will begin the Andrew Hallam method.
5. What's your plan going forward?
For right now, I'm going to keep my job as an English teacher while I'm building an online presence and getting more books written and published. Once I am more established as an author, I'm going to dedicate more time to that while still keeping the "always diversify" mindset and doing some other kind of business on the side. The dream is to be a digital nomad.
As far as personal finance, once my permanent residency goes through, I was thinking of opening a sole proprietor business here in Japan to utilize tax write-offs, since the new Trump tax laws for Americans are making it more difficult for business owners to do this. I also plan to invest in index funds for retirement, but I don't have a clear plan for how I'm going to go about this yet. I also plan on paying the Japanese pension bills 2 years in advance until I retire to take advantage of saving 15,640 yen (roughly 650 yen per month).
Oh, and definitely not investing in cryptocurrencies anytime soon. That ship has sunk!
That's about all! Thank you for reading!
Thank you, Ryan! Good luck with the publishing career.
I think you're making a good start paying into the pension (and fuka nenkin). I would definitely recommend looking into getting started investing sooner rather than waiting: you can start with small amounts and get used to the mechanics of it before investing more in the future.
I am always happy to run genuine guest posts and Reader Profiles, so if you have something you'd be willing to write about please get in touch via the site.