Brandon and Jill

There’s nothing wrong with tracking your spending and saving down to the dollar. In fact, many personal finance pundits rely on detailed spreadsheets as a tool to build wealth.

That’s exactly what Brandon, aka the “Mad Fientist,” did as he was saving 70% of his after-tax income while living in rural Vermont and then Edinburgh, Scotland.

By age 34, Brandon considered himself financially independent — he left his job as a software developer to spend more time traveling, with friends and family, and working on hobbies.

Brandon recently reflected on this “third year of freedom” during an episode of his podcast, the Mad Fientist. After interviewing a financial expert and a productivity expert this year, Brandon said, one of the biggest changes he made was tracking his habits instead of his every money move.

“I finally started to relax a bit more with money,” he said. “But it’s trying to deprogram 30 years of programming because I’ve always been frugal, this is something that I don’t know where it comes from but even growing up my family would make fun of me just for being so focused on money and being so frugal.”

Brandon said he always updated his financial spreadsheet at least once a month, but a recent conversation with Ramit Sethi, a financial expert and bestselling author, inspired him to take a step back.

I do plan on updating my spreadsheet, maybe quarterly, or maybe semi-annually, or hopefully even annually one day, but at least taking the last few months off has sort of made that easier,” he said. “And I’m not simply making decisions just based on finding the lowest cost, which I don’t think is healthy. “

But Brandon hasn’t given up spreadsheets entirely — he’s shifted his focus from tracking money to tracking habits, he said. The idea came from productivity expert and bestselling author James Clear, who says the activities you perform every day become habits, which ultimately become your identity.


“So in my spreadsheet, I have columns that say, ‘Reader’, ‘Strength’, and ‘Creativity,'” Brandon said. “And in the reading column, I simply list all the books that I finished throughout the year. And in the strength column, I list how many days during the month that I went to the gym. And in the creative column, I just list all the things that I created and then published out into the world.”

Brandon said keeping a running list of all the activities he does that contribute to his goals is both “motivating” and a way to make the most of his days. He also writes down “highlights of the year” in an effort to pinpoint what makes him happiest and what he wants to dedicate even more time to.

“Although it’s maybe not as fun as updating my financial spreadsheet,” he said, “it is really rewarding to do that and try to shift my focus away from money and more on to, you know, doing things and creating things and building my new identity and post-FI life.”


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