I met Rob Berger for the first time just last year. He was winding down his work on Dough Roller, the website he built from the ground up way back in 2007, and I was taking over the editorial reigns. We bonded immediately over our shared passions for personal finance, publishing, and most importantly, chess.
That day I laid out a chess set. I thought this would be a great opportunity to pick his brains--how did he become so successful, what tips and tricks did he have to impart, and how could I--a 30-year-old millennial trying to make his way in the world--emulate him?
I’ll admit it, I also thought the conversation would be a great way to distract him into making suboptimal moves on the chessboard. Don’t judge–I needed every advantage I could get!
In the span of just a few short hours, in between moves, Rob shared with me bits and pieces of priceless financial wisdom. He told me about the Money Multiplier–my very own superpower that can turn me into a millionaire young; he shared his thoughts on autopilot investing and why he thinks its the simplest, most stress-free way of putting my money to work; taught me about stocks, bonds, and the right investment allocation for my personal situation.
I walked away from the chess set that day feeling like I had just lucked into the most valuable advice I could find anywhere–the kind of advice people try to get when they fork over thousands of dollars for on-the-clock meetings with expensive financial advisors. And I also walked away with the feeling that it’s too bad not everyone can experience this.
But now, it seems, everyone can. Rob’s new book, Retire Before Mom and Dad, is the extended version of the conversation I had with Rob over the chessboard that day. The book is filled with nuggets of wisdom wrapped in witty sentiment. As I knew he would, Rob has tackled the complicated subject of personal finance in a playful yet powerful way.
Oh, and before I dive deeper into the book, I figure I’ll tell you who won the chess game.
It was a draw. But to this day I have the nagging feeling that he had a winning position but let me off the hook on purpose.
How it feels reading Retire Before Mom and Dad
Right off the bat, Rob kicks off his book dispelling the myth that financial freedom is a luxury that can only be afforded by the elite few. His writing is informal, and he speaks directly to the typical American consumer, the average Joe, the you’s and me’s of the world.
The book is broken down into short, easily-digestible chapters. I’ve found that many books of this ilk are long, unnecessarily complicated, and incredibly dry. Rob’s taken pains to write a different type of book. With famous quotes at the start of every chapter to key concepts at the end, and fun little tips interspersed in between, Retire Before Mom and Dad is a surprisingly easy read.
Even the chapters that are filled with math–calculating the effects of the Money Multiplier or savings rates for emergencies–are understandable and dare I say, even fun.
I’m personally not bad with numbers–I have an MBA and I’ve worked the past few years in various financial sectors. But reading these chapters, I could imagine that even people less in tune with their quantitative side would be comfortable with the material. No small feat, really, for a personal finance book.
The Self-Help Rhetoric
Those of you who have read self-help books in the past will be familiar with the type of over-the-top rhetoric that promises a quick and easy turnaround with little to no effort. I have to say, when I read the title of Rob’s book–Retire Before Mom and Dad–I thought I might be getting more of the same. It’s the kind of title that I imagine could sell but might lack substance.
To get specific, I was worried that Rob would get stuck in the same kind of platitudes that make me roll my eyes when I read them online. Just save 50% of your income now and you’ll be a millionaire tomorrow. Invest in the market, earn a 12% return, and put up your feet, margarita in hand, before you hit 40.
Although the title of his book is ambitious, Rob doesn’t rely on the same stale advice you’re used to. He uses realistic assumptions throughout–he sets your expected rate of return on your investments at 9.3%–which is still a bit high for my liking (though that might just be because I’m a bad investor). He also plays around with hypothetical savings rates, so you can see how you’ll fare in the long run depending on how much you’re able to put away now.
The Latte Factor
Which leads me to his discussion of the Latte Factor, which I personally really connected with. Let me set the stage here: The Latte Factor explains that even small savings made early on in life can have major impacts later. The idea is that you should consider skipping your daily cup of coffee and invest the money instead. Here’s a quote:
Assuming our beverage of choice costs $5, that frees up about $150 a month to save and invest. If we earned a 9.3% return over 45 years, we’d accumulate
This concept is not new, but it is controversial. In 2017, an Australian millionaire got absolutely hammered for espousing a variation of this concept–that millennials couldn’t afford to buy homes because they spent all their money on avocado toast. The internet responded with a vengeance–what a crazy insinuation that saving $5 here or there could have any sort of meaningful impact on a person’s ability to reach important financial milestones.
But Rob has made the best case I’ve seen so far to take this concept seriously. The math he presents just doesn’t lie. Freedom first, as he says, lattes second.
Levels of Financial Freedom
Without getting into too many specifics, I want to make one more quick mention of a core concept in Rob’s book, one that is introduced at the start and accompanies the reader throughout.
In Rob’s estimation, there are 7 different levels of Financial Freedom.
There will be a broad spectrum of people buying and reading Rob’s book, all of them dealing with their own unique financial situations. Some will be dirt broke, struggling to break their bad financial habits and get themselves out of their monthly deficit. These readers will be working towards Level 1 of Financial Freedom–putting together one month’s worth of financial expenses.
Others will have hundreds of thousands in their savings and investing accounts–these readers will be working to get to Level 7 of Financial Freedom–putting together 25 years of expenses saved (don’t get spooked by that number–I promise you, Rob explains how everyone can get there with hard work and sacrifice).
Listen: Dough Roller Podcast - The Progress Principle
By breaking up Financial Freedom in this way, Rob makes the concept seem more attainable. So no matter your financial situation when you first pick up the book, Rob will describe what it takes for you to level up.
I don’t want to get too bogged down with specifics. Suffice it to say that I not only learned a lot from Rob’s book, I actually enjoyed it as well. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Rob, as I have or have listened to or watched his podcasts, you’ll enjoy the book even more. That’s because you’ll notice his little idiosyncrasies every time you flip the page.
When you read the chapters discussing financial freedom, you’ll hear the echo of Rob’s voice signing off every podcast with the familiar refrain of “and remember folks, the best thing money can buy is financial freedom.” You’ll be able to tell that although he understands the material on a much higher level than you or I ever will, he’s presenting it in a way that’s understandable because that’s the kind of guy he is–exceptionally smart but is also humble and down to earth.
And you’ll be able to feel how he genuinely wants to help you, even if he barely knows you or doesn’t know you at all. The kind of guy that would let you draw him in chess, just to get your confidence up. The kind of guy who has enough money to not work another day in his life but instead takes the time to write a book about personal finance because he wants everyone, even strangers, to succeed.
All in all, I highly recommend the book. If you’re interested in purchasing it, you can find the link here.
Yoni Dayan is the former chief editor of Dough Roller.