Personal finance is a very personal thing, and so exposing yourself to various viewpoints on different money matters is the best way to come to your own conclusions.
MEDIA 7: EconoMe 2021, all set to be held on November 13th and 14th at The University of Cincinnati, explores the concept of reclaiming the American Dream. What inspired you to create EconoMe LLC which shares the idea of financial independence with your audience?
DIANIA MERRIAM: The EconoMe Conference is the first large-scale event rooted in the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early). I created this event because the discovery of the FIRE movement completely changed my life over the last 6 years: I got out of $30k of debt in 11 months, started saving/investing 60% of my income, bought a house, was able to take a 2-month sabbatical from work to walk the Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile trek across Spain), and self-fund my business. EconoMe originated from me asking myself the question, “What would I do with my time if I no longer needed to work for money?”. I decided I wanted to create a party about money! This was something I thought I would do once I reached financial independence, but I got so excited about it that I couldn’t wait. I’m a huge fan of in-person events, and often when I attend an inspirational event, I leave feeling like my life is so full of possibility. I wanted to create something that would allow other people to feel that way about their money.
The EconoMe Conference is not a stuffy financial workshop, we strive to be as entertaining as we are informed. We have an incredible lineup of mainstage speakers that address tactical topics like how to address student loan debt, the cost of healthcare, and side hustles. We also have more inspirational speakers that share their personal experiences of reaching financial independence. But what really sets us apart is that we recognize the power of community, physically being together, and connecting with others who are willing to discuss the taboo topic of money. There are a ton of resources online that can help you learn what you need to know about personal finance. And there are also a ton of online communities where you can digitally connect with others. I’ve seen in my own life that nothing can replace the magic that happens when you meet in person. This is why it’s more fun to watch a movie with a big crowd vs. watching it alone at home. The energy in the room can make it a totally different experience. And that’s what we’re striving for at EconoMe… it’s a VIBE… down to every detail: the music, the lighting, the space, the activities, and the endless opportunities to connect with others.
M7: The EconoMe conference aspires to help people claim their right to a new American Dream. Can you tell us more about this vision and how it is different from the concept we have been familiar with?
DM: The American Dream originated as an idea where every person has the right to pursue his or her own unique version of happiness. But over time, it devolved into a set of societal expectations rooted in consumerism and upheld by the lack of autonomy that occurs when you work a typical 9 to 5 until you are 65. The financial independence community recognizes that money can buy time and freedom from the rat race just as much as it can buy stuff. We believe happiness comes from freedom, creativity, and community. We want more self-directed time, more mental space, and more connection with the people we love. At EconoMe, we come together to question our assumptions about happiness, freedom, and prosperity through the lens of personal finance. And we recognize that building wealth is one of the best ways to reclaim autonomy over our time.
I believe it all starts with awareness: get a clear understanding of where you are now financially so that you can come up with a plan to save and invest more.
M7: Can you please briefly tell us about the FIRE movement and its growing importance today?
DM: The FIRE movement is a lifestyle movement with the goal of financial freedom. I think what sets FIRE apart from general personal finance is the aggressiveness in which it applies basic principles, it’s like financial literacy on steroids. For example, a pillar of good money management is to spend less than you earn. Proponents of FIRE will discuss endless ways to increase income and reduce expenses in order to make the funds available for saving and investing as high as possible. While most financial advisors will recommend saving 10-20% of income for retirement, those pursuing FIRE will typically save/invest 50% or more. What sets FIRE followers apart is not the type of investments: many are DIY investors in low fee total market index funds or real estate.
The key differentiator between those pursuing financial independence and early retirement vs. anyone who ever wants to retire is the savings rate. The pursuit of FI is a worthy endeavor even for people who have no interest in retiring early, because it’s the intentional process of separating your finances from your work. Financial stability not tied to employment is a powerful safety net that creates many options: early retirement is just one of them.
M7: In your podcast ‘Optimal Finance Daily’, you bring to your readers inspirational and relevant information on a variety of topics like personal development, finance and more. How do you choose topics that are most informative for your listeners?
DM: Optimal Finance Daily is a narration-style podcast where I read from some of the best personal finance blogs on the planet, sometimes a little too enthusiastically, in 10 minutes or less every single day. We cover a broad range of topics from money mindset, saving, getting out of debt, frugality, investing, and so much more. It’s as if all these brilliant bloggers wrote these great songs, and I get to perform the covers! The show is perfect for people who want to get broad exposure to personal finance topics but don’t want to keep up with the hundreds of blogs that are available. Personal finance is a very personal thing, and so exposing yourself to various viewpoints on different money matters is the best way to come to your own conclusions. For example, some personal finance experts believe renting is throwing away money while others believe that home ownership is not a good investment. Depending on specific circumstances and context, they both could be right!
Financial stability not tied to employment is a powerful safety net that creates many options: early retirement is just one of them.
M7: According to you, how should an average person begin their journey to financial independence?
DM: I believe it all starts with awareness: get a clear understanding of where you are now financially so that you can come up with a plan to save and invest more. I began by running a credit report on myself and fully understanding my collective debt. I then began tracking all my spending and looking at ways I could easily reduce my expenses without it feeling like deprivation. From there, I developed a realistic budget that I could track against and fine-tune. Once I got a handle on where my money was going (rather than wondering where it went), I could see that I wasn’t getting a lot of value out of my mindless spending. I reallocated that money by aggressively throwing it at my debt. I used a debt reduction calculator to plan out how I would attack my debt by focusing on the highest interest rate debt first. After digging out of debt and building a comfortable emergency fund, I started investing aggressively and focused first on fully funding my tax-advantaged retirement vehicles (401k, Roth IRA, and HSA).
M7: When you are not working, what are you seen doing? Would you like to share your hobbies with us?
DM: Most weekends I can be found doing some long-distance hiking at the many trails around Cincinnati. I also cook almost every meal I eat, host dinner parties often, and love to read. My 80 lb lab shepard mix named Buddy is always at my side!