Origin Story: Rank and File Finance

The working class pursuit of bread and roses

On January 3rd 2019, I went to visit friends in Philadelphia. We had worked together on a union organizing campaign the previous year, but I had moved away to pursue a different job once the campaign ended. We stayed in touch and had become close friends. Through all the exhausting and grueling late nights and weekends, we had found a strong camaraderie, the sort of bond that working people know and enjoy and is solid to the core. It’s a solidarity and understanding that comes from standing side-by-side with comrades in the messy campaign trenches as you execute your job and take heat from the boss.

On this visit, one of my friends took the time to ask me about my personal financial situation. Prior to that conversation, I always took a passive approach to my finances. My political philosophy had always been, in sum, “money is the root of evil, but I need money to survive, so I will earn money and try not to go into debt.” Other than that I didn’t want to think much about money. To be clear, it’s not that I never-ever thought about money writ-large. In my work life, understanding the financial health of institutions and government from a policy perspective is an integral element of the job. But this understanding is in a macro-economic sense, personal finance was something I knew nothing about.

It turned out that my friend was asking about my own finances because she really wanted to talk about hers, as well as a new project she was mulling over. She wanted to buy a tractor-trailer and start a shipping business on the side so that she could retire in a few years. What!? What made her think she could do this? We are in our early 30s, Why would she want to exit the security of w-2 employment? What did she know about trucking or entrepreneurship? Didn’t she know she had to work as a cog in the machine and toil like the rest of us until her late 60’s?

I didn’t say any of this to her of course, instead, I politely asked probing questions about her intent. However, through my questioning, my disbelief must have been obvious. I would never have imagined my friend as an entrepreneur, and especially not in an area which, in my limited perspective, I believed to be a stodgy old-school type of business.

I thought about this on the train ride home from the city. I decided to text my friend to ask some more questions, mainly, where did she get the idea that she could retire early? She responded with glee and sent me a list of podcasts and blogs to start reading and listening to. The topic for all these blogs and podcasts: Financial Independence. I listened to one podcast, and then another, and then read a blog, and by the end of the train ride knew that I had found something worth further exploration that was bridging the gap for me personally between a dislike / distrust of money and my dislike / distrust of consumerism, of overwork, of the eroding social safety net.

In general, Financial Independence / Retire Early (FI/RE) is an individualistic approach to addressing the ballooning societal issues of student and consumer debt, of overconsumption and disregard for the environment, of over-work and increasingly stratified socioeconomic conditions. But that’s why I started this blog. I hope to share the knowledge that I’ve learned, and some of the empowerment that my friend and I feel, so that folks can redefine their relationship to money the way we have.

The path to reclaiming the dignity of work doesn’t have to be an individual one, we can walk this path together. A new way forward has arrived (it’s been here for a while actually, but I’m just waking up to it) and I want to help spread the word. In addition to talking about individual personal finance optimization, I’ll also be posting about bigger systems change ideas, universal basic income, universal healthcare, and more collectivist approaches to addressing societal issues.

How did it come to this? PPO health plans have all but disappeared to make way for high-deductible health plans, 401ks and other individualized retirement plans have replaced defined-benefit pensions, work can now be taken home with you on your smart phone and people are often expected to be accessible “off-the-clock,” but all of this doesn’t have to be a 40 year prison sentence for everyone. On this blog I will be chronicling my journey in frugal living, environmentally conscious spending, saving and investing, and I will be sharing all that I learn with you the reader.

Please feel free to message me if there is a particular subject you want to hear more about or have questions for me! organizer@rankandfilefinance.com