046: From Oil Patch to Eco-Frugality and FIRE | Chris Istace

Happy New Year! We’re back and ready to bring you more Canadian FI content. In our inaugural episode for 2021, we’re featuring a long-awaited guest: Chris Istace, the Mindful Explorer.

Chris’s FIRE journey is particularly fascinating: he and his family went from living the high life in the oil industry to lean FIRE on Vancouver Island. Since discovering FIRE, Chris has fully embraced Mustachianism, mindfulness, and a focus on leaving a lighter footprint on our Earth.

We hope you enjoy his inspiring story!

Click to view transcript

Disclaimer: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. That means we may receive a commission if you make a purchase after clicking through our links.

Money Mechanic
Hello, listeners. Welcome to Explore FI Canada, where we sit at the roundtable with Canadians, and share their thoughts, ideas and personal journeys to financial independence.

Thanks to Matt McKeever for sponsoring Explore FI Canada. Matt is a Canadian investor, CPA, entrepreneur, and real estate expert who achieved FIRE at age 31. Do us a favour and check out his YouTube channel by searching Matt McKeever or using the link in our show notes.

Here we are, again, Chrissy. Happy New Year. Again, this is Explore FI Canada, Money Mechanic with you.

Chrissy
I’m excited to be here in this new year with you and our special guest today.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, this has been a long time coming. Chris was briefly on the show for one of the early roundtables but we haven’t had a chance to sit down and really explore his story and what’s going on with him today. So without further ado, I will let him tell his own story. Chris Istace, welcome to Explore FI Canada. The Mindful Explorer is finally here.

Chris
Thanks for having me, guys. Yeah, it has been long overdue. We’ve been chatting about it for a bit. And finally here to chat about how I fell into this whole world of financial independence or FIRE whichever way you want to look at it. I think it’s just kind of living smart as overall and just being mindful of how we spend our money. So that’s kind of where that term from my website came. But yeah, definitely been enjoying what you guys have been doing and the diversity of topics that you talk about. And yeah, last time I got to get on there was fun, and I got to chat on the same time with Court. She rocks. We are actually texting back and forth while I was just walking the dog. So you’re uniting people everywhere.

Chrissy
I forgot you were on the show previously in a roundup with Ryan. I guess the two of us weren’t there. And that’s why it slipped my mind. But it was the Playing With FIRE review, wasn’t it? Yeah,

Chris
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. That was a fun one. So I had a good time. So it was definitely nice to come back on here with you guys.

Chrissy
Yeah, it seems like we’re doing catch up with our guests now. The last one was Shaidah, where she’s been on a couple of episodes, but didn’t have her own interview. And now it’s your turn.

Chris
Yeah, no, it’s great. Yeah, no, definitely happy to be here. So yeah, I know this is for myself, this whole journey has actually been a really long time. You’ve referenced my blog, there, there Mindful Explorer, but that it’s evolved. So if somebody was to jump onto my website right now, they’re like, what the heck is all this it’s all gear reviews and tourism work and photography, and backpacking and biking, and all these things like where’s the personal finance? Well, that started back in 2013 on the blog, because I’ve been I kind of went into the deep end all the way back in starting in 2012. That’s when I discovered all of Mr. Money Mustache and, you know, stumbling across books. It’s weird. So the way the mindfulness comes into is that I stumbled across Mr. Money Mustache’s blog, a little bit of personal finance stuff. And then like, the Dalai Lama’s book, The Path to a Meaningful Life kind of all at the same time, it was just like this big total shift in life and like how you look at everything. And as it goes with most of your guests have said, and even your cells, when you’ve discovered this new way of life, and myself, I added the mindfulness to it, you go all in and it’s just like, there’s, you’re so excited. And it’s just all in and yeah, so 2012 is where it all started. And you look at we’re already here, you know, where she’s eight, eight years, seven years later, and it’s been an amazing, amazing journey to get here.

Chrissy
So you need to tell us more about where you came from. Because that to me was so striking the how you changed your life completely around from where you were like that, I think is a huge part of your story. And I’d love for you to share that with our audience.

Chris
Yeah, well right now as with yourselves I’m on the West Coast sitting here and it was a sunny plus 10 day and the beautiful west coast of BC.

Money Mechanic
Shhh… we don’t tell everybody that!

Chris
Oh we get rain all the time. I got like 15 minutes of sunshine. It’s sunny across Canada this week, that’s all. So, yeah, no so I’m out here now and you know, how did I get here while I was living in Saskatchewan and working in the oil and gas industry head down you know, just in that routine, you know, go to work, make work crazy amounts of hours non stop and just keep spending everything and you can make a big incomes. That means I need to have the big house and the big wall, the brand new trucks every year and the RV and all the dirt bikes and having just tons of stuff and how to get the new laptop and then the new flat screen every year. And, you know, I had a little bit of savings, but it was embarrassingly low. For the amount of years I had been working hard and working myself up the ladder to, you know, operations management and technical sales in the oil industry. My wife and I, we still had, we had a small business at the same time, I was a city councillor, I was just in hands in everything and just go, go, go go. And it was just the kind of like, where you just get in that, that rat race and not reflecting on what you’re doing, you know, I was happy. But just as soon as I discovered, you know, that the first bit of the Mr. Money Mustache, and then reading, you know, finding some personal finance books, I’d be sitting on oil field locations, I usually have like two hours to kill, and I started reading and go on Holy cow, and you know, start reflecting on what you’re doing and then and be like, Well, why am I scrambling paycheck to paycheck. And then, you know, from the the mindfulness side looking, it’s like, you know, at the same time was, you know, when you if you aren’t working so much, you’re calmer, you’re more relaxed. You’re, you’re happier, you’re and you find out what actually is really important. When you put the two together with what the key things in life are. So I started working towards that. And then it ended up being a trip out to the west coast. And we drove and making that drive to started, you know, my wife and I talking and thinking about where we were at and just realized that we need to change this path right now. We figured we wanted a fresh change for the kids and for ourselves. And it’s kind of funny, I jumped on the Money Mustache forums, like I said, 2013 I even saved the private message. I talked to somebody about making the move out here to BC and ask him what it’s like and doing all my research. And, you know, we talk about personal finance, geo arbitrage is a familiar word to some people, where I was at the time the economy was high, and the housing here was a little bit less than it is now. So you know, it was looking at that and places that made sense for our family where I could move from that mindset of big money you know, keeping up with the Joneses and you know, kind of the things you have and the the appearances and I wanted to break that and give our family a fresh start and then my kids a fresh start a new perspective as well. So great from that summer. So that would have been the summer of 2013 it was just one trip out here. And we actually didn’t even come to Vancouver Island where I am now. Within two months of deciding, we sold–ah, list our house–sold it, I flew out here bought a house by myself and was just texting my wife back and forth on Google Earth and she was looking at Streetview and said Yeah, that one looks good. Go ahead. My family had never even been to Vancouver Island we just made the decision.

Chrissy
Are you serious?

Chris
No I’m serious. Yeah, I flew out and and we had only ever been to Vancouver Island once but then the kids had never been here so we just decided we were gonna do it and all in hand and I had a good foundation with all the books I had been reading you know your money or your life being one just as I was making the move I really I’m still a big fan I’m not there yet because of course I have to be considered or the rest of my family but ERE Jacob

Money Mechanic
Jacob Lund Fisker.

Chris
ERE that is honestly is one of my favourite books.

Money Mechanic
That’s Early Retirement Extreme for the listeners.

Chris
Yes. Yeah. And he was actually kind of before MMM and I gave that book away because I you know, trying to get people on the same path as us so I actually gave that book away already after I read it like twice so but yeah, we made the move all the way out here. So we decided in August and by December 15 of 2013 we were living on the West Coast we sold absolutely everything sold pretty much all the furniture in our house sold our house there moved out here bought way less than I needed put as much as I could down on the mortgage. We still had an RV and a big trailer that we pulled our dirt bikes because we raced the whole family’s wheel at dirt bikes. We had brand new trucks like we sold absolutely everything got to the island realized I didn’t need new vehicles sold that bought an old SUV downgraded everything and then didn’t replace anything out here dyno through the path when you start finding that balance of knowing work and what what’s important and kind of indefinitely I know it’s not everybody can but discovering the outdoors as well the outdoors is free. So that helped you know finding different things that you enjoy that don’t have a big price tag with them. So that was a key thing and then I was very fortunate I was dead set on making the move and because gonna make it work no matter what financially, but I worked out with my employer as with that they valued me enough as an employee that they actually let me work remotely for three years.

Chrissy
Wow. So were you? Were you FI when you moved to the island?

Chris
No, no, no, I was just gonna, just gonna make it worth it. We also the other thing when personal finance we talked about is if you have a low expenses, and you don’t need to make as much, so I was gonna take whatever job I could find I wasn’t, I was finally at a point that you don’t need to worry about your status of your job is what defines you. So I was, you know, I looked around and there were things if I needed it, I did a little bit of looking, you know, from everything from working at a motorbike shop, to a car dealership to wherever I was just going to do whatever, just enjoy working. And but of course, I mean, it made sense to work out something with my existing employer at the time, and I had been with them for nearly 10 years, and they valued my work. So yeah, three years working remotely. So over those three years that I stayed with them, so I eventually left work in 2017 was May 31, 2017. So it’s been quite a while now, since I’ve had a job, the traditional job in that sense. So during that whole time, we didn’t buy anything, every single dime, I had went into savings. And when we sold the dirt bikes that went into my RRSP, when we sold the motorhome that went into my RRSP, when we sold the new truck that went into the RRSP just changing my new truck to my lower used vehicle, I saved $800 a month, you know, when you’re making good money, they’re like, Oh, that’s all the $800 a month, who cares? Well, holy cow, you know, that adds up. Once you get insurance and maintenance, that’s $10,000 a year into your RRSP. And then the kickback on that, that you’re going to get on your tax return that you can put the next year into your RRSP it just everything compounds and benefits. So everything we could sell we did and that went straight into their retirement accounts.

Chrissy
So I want to ask you something that I’m sure our listeners are now wondering, this sounds like a lot of not fun for your family! You’re into it, but how did your family feel to be completely uprooted? And how old were your kids at this time cuz weren’t they teenagers?

Chris
My wife and I have been together since I’ll say I’m 46. My wife and I have been together since Grade 10. So we’ve gone everywhere and tried everything and not being afraid to move. We lived in southern Alberta. right out of high school, we moved to Medicine Hat, lived there for a couple years and then got a job. And we jump back to where I grew up in Brooks. And that was cool and stayed there for a couple years. And then I got a job opportunity all the way across into Saskatchewan. We went for it together. And we were ready to make those changes. So we’re always supportive of each other and just kind of in tune and she’s like a rock star. So I can only do these things because my wife is so amazing. And right totally in tune she’s and I should say we’ve had this whole time too. So actually the last 17 years have had small businesses we kind of own skate shop board shop, you know that surf skate lifestyle thing. We’ve always had those small little retail stores. And that was her her thing I helped in the back end with marketing and screwing around and having fun and getting to do the the cool part of it. But she’s the real brains behind it. And she lets me do the thing with the personal finance but she’s a genius when it comes to money. She does all of our, our bookkeeping and runs the businesses. So she she understands the finance side and being smart and budgeting so she had 100% faith in me making the right decisions for the family.

Chrissy
That’s amazing.

Chris
Yeah. And my kids, they were apprehensive at first. But…

Chrissy
And how old were they at that time when you made the big move and all these changes?

Chris
Grade six and Grade eight?

Chrissy
Oh wow.

Chris
Yeah.

Chrissy
So they’re they’re getting to be stubborn teenagers.

Chris
Yeah, they were opposite. They were I think my son wasn’t too keen on and my daughter was like, Oh, that sounds exciting. And then when we got here it was the other way she was kind of wanting to go back and my son was like, Oh my God, that’s amazing here but now they’ve they’re in love with being out here and where they are. They’re both graduated now my son’s a heavy duty mechanic took advantage of the BC trades program. My daughter works full time running our store. And you know they’re at home here and they feel like this is where they they’re meant to be. So we’ve actually really lucked out well, you know being together like that’s the thing as long as you’ve got your you know you well in light of the situation in the world right now we’ve got our bubble and if you get an awesome bubble, you can do anything.

Chrissy
Yeah, yeah, that’s how we kind of feel the four of us were happy together. And even though it sucks to not see friends and family as much it’s it’s nice. When it’s just the four of us. We’re happy so we can we can survive a little longer.

Chris
Yeah, totally. So yeah, they’ve been going home with us this whole time and when we didn’t do a lot of the fun stuff we used to do. We used to go down to California every year for motocross and stay there for three weeks, because we were living in the middle of Canada and frozen and can’t ride your bikes. That’d be our break in California not doing that anymore. But we feel like where we are, we’re on kind of on a holiday year round, and found different things that we like. But definitely, it was a big shift as well, that it was even able to save more by really employing those things of looking at where you’re spending your money. And what you know, that you don’t need to waste monthly money on no debt. That was the big thing. I can’t believe back in even 10 years ago, you know, I was very lucky, I worked hard. I started at the bottom in the industry, just driving truck and worked my way up to high end technical and operations management. And I was did very well. But I can’t believe that at times is like, Wow, I can’t pay off my credit card like that just I can’t look back at that now. It’s like, oh, you’re such a fool. But I think we’ve all been there done that. And I’m trying to teach the kids that now. And they’re appreciative of not having debt. So and disclaimer on that I don’t, I’m one of those people, I’m in the don’t pay off the mortgage club expecially with mortgage rates right now. But outside of that is no debt and keeping everything low. I’m that guy that has the 17 degrees on the thermostat. And we don’t have cable and we don’t have TV, their phone lines. I don’t have collision insurance on my car because my vehicle is old and I don’t have to pay that extra bit. Because I have enough in my retirement accounts. And the kids are adults. Now I don’t have life insurance anymore. So I’m not spending that per month, there’s a bunch of things you can do is that it keeps snowballing and compounding that you can really drive down your monthly living expenses and it allows you that financial independence to make choices that just make you a little bit happier or take some stress out of your life or to even jump out there and be brave and try something new. Maybe you really just want to go work in a myself I love bikes, I could go work in a bike shop or something or whatever it is that it that you enjoy. You can you can take that opportunity for yourself.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, it sounds like you’ve really embraced the whole sort of Mustachian mantra that you came across back in 2012. And, and I’ve followed it through which I really support because I really got on board with it the beginning. But I definitely can admit that I’ve slacked off, I’ve become a little more complacent. So kudos to you for keeping that strong with that mindfulness. And and I get that from reading through your blog posts and things like that. It’s it’s a lot of dedication.

Chris
Yeah. And so and with that goes, You know, I got to that point where like, Okay, I’ve got enough that, you know, and I should fill in that one little blank too. So we did sell this, we just closed out the stores in Saskatchewan, where we were the economy kind of tapered off. So of course, you know, would have been amazing to have this big, like nest egg from selling our businesses there. But that wasn’t a reality, we just closed them and cut our losses and but at the same time, we had opened a store here in this small town because there wasn’t anything for the locals and my wife started that she’s the real entrepreneurial spirit in the family and she got rocking with that. And that was always her her small income source. Definitely. Small businesses, you don’t get rich off them, you just the joke is you work double the hours for half the pay, being a small business owner so but it’s one of those things if you love something, it isn’t about what you make. So So we still had that small bit of income coming in, she made a little bit and what I figured out from my my FI number, we were at that point in 2017 that I just you know, I my mindset had shifted being from, you know, of course working with, Chrissy was keen on was that oil and gas industry wasn’t making the changes because of course living this way and changing my mindset and mindfulness on everything we do includes in what you do for a profession is like what’s the impact? Or what’s the ethics and the morality? And, you know, for me, it was nature. So I was like, just a bit of the mindset and some parts of the oil industry weren’t being appreciative of the climate emergency we’re in. So all those things were just kept compounding so I, you know, I was able to like, okay, now’s the time, I need to step away from this, and take that leap. So I had enough to, from what my wife was making to what I’d be able to safely take out at 4% every year, my savings would have got us by that. Again, another thing just kind of worked out when you have more time for yourself, you kind of find they say your my passion was photography and hiking and biking. And those are all the things I discovered out here and those are my blog transition from talking about personal finance, into just getting outdoors and hikes and all of that. So that started getting picked up on it. People started catching on to my Instagram, my photography and my writing. So I started making a little bit of money doing that and it’s actually grown a bit now so that I only need to take about I think I’m only taken about 1.5% out of my retirement savings right now per year.

Chrissy
What?!

Chris
Yeah,

Chrissy
That’s nothing!

Chris
But it’s it is nothing but it’s also because I’ve kept our cost of living so low. Just lucked out. I don’t know what it is, we just, I can’t really explain.

Chrissy
I think you are mindful. And that’s what it is, you know, your story makes it sound like you gave up so much. But I know what your life looks like. I follow you, I watch it, see your Instagram and you live a very full life. It’s a very fulfilling life and you’re everywhere. And you’re having fun, and you’re enjoying good food. Good drinks.

Chris
Yeah.

Chrissy
You’re not depriving yourself at all.

Chris
Yeah, no, I definitely very, very fortunate every single day I’m that’s the big thing is reflecting on how lucky we’ve been. And again, I need to stress on the part of is really look at, you don’t need to deprive yourself, but really look at what you’re spending per month, and where you’re getting the highest return on that time for it’s like, you know, I just couldn’t get even just a vehicle. It’s such a simple one. To me, it’s like $400 a month, I mean, goodness that, you know that money, there’s like the most expensive bike you could buy if you took that in one year. And then you’ve got that bike and that bike last year for five years, and you’re going to go ride every day. And now because you’re riding your bike, you’re not spending money on gas. And maybe you don’t need that other vehicle, you know, it just all these things compound, when you really reflect on where you’re putting your time and your resources and your money. So all of that shift and looking at the appreciation of the outdoors turned into where my blog now actually generates a bit of revenue. And I write for some other people and do tourism work. I who would ever thought I was you know, this guy, we’re doing big electric motors and technical sales in the oil industry. And now I go out and do tourism writing on, you know how to go mountain biking in Revelstoke, or going to Medicine Hat and how to spend time out there. I was up in Hinton in Grand Prairie this year, doing different little tourism projects, talking about, you know, what do you do when you go to places and then sold a few photos and did some other gear reviews this year, I would have never thought that was possible. But it’s because now I could do it. And not not might not be for everybody, as I mentioned, there might be something that you’re really good at. And it’s like, oh, I can make a little bit of it. So that’s been been, yeah, I can’t, can’t be more thankful for those opportunities that people have given me. And if I don’t make anything, that’s, that’s fine. It just helps again, to buffer my, my savings. And that’s a big thing. So I know you’ve touched on other interviews is I was a person that wasn’t afraid of lean FI. With my mindfulness. Of course, that’s meant from a lot of the Buddhist beliefs and reading but I’ve a lot of stoic readings. And with that knowing that like we’re, our lives are finite, that isn’t a depressing thing is just knowing that we need to take advantage of it now. And we need to reflect on how we’re reacting to every single day. And it’s like, Okay, what should I be doing today? And I just knew that my time’s running out, and I’m just going to try it. There’s the worst, I think the worst failure is you just go back to work. Like how, how’s that? How’s that even a failure? It’s like, you know, so I’m coming up on four years now, since I left work, and there’s there’s been some tough things in and out of there. They look at us, like, wow, like, I’m not even making in a year what I was paying in taxes, and it’s like, wow, holy cow. And then other things, too. So you know, that even that first year or that second year, like you do, especially if you’ve made yourself up a little bit higher in a company or people really looked at you for your, your expertise or you respected in your field, you do have a bit of identity that to that and that is a bit hard. So there was days, you know, I’m walking and I laugh everybody’s like, oh, there’s Chris andhis dogs. Yeah, there’s their routine every day they do this loop, but then they do that loop and you don’t drink my coffee and relax and it’s like, but I’m like, Whoa, now I’m just like, why was somebody but it was like I was this I flew out here do this and I went to there and I put on these big meetings and presentations and now I’m just walking out so there is a bit of identity and you know, the say that you’re like, Oh, you know, it’s like people like Oh, he’s just some guy he’s driving a beater like But no, I’m somebody! Or you know, so it is weird you do get caught in that and then you just have to step back and reflect on it. Yeah,

Chrissy
Do you reveal your journey and your blogging identity or any of that? Do you reveal that to people in real life who you see just on a day to day basis?

Chris
I’ll talk to anybody about it and I’ve shared it and then my stuff’s on the blog and I’ll talk to anybody that asks about it I really my blog was more about the journey I did wasn’t you know, the isn’t like Court and Nic’s like Modern FImily they know it’s all the details are all their… mine was never about that mine was a little bit more of a the the emotional side, the mindset side, reflecting on life and what you value. So I didn’t really always put that stuff out. But as me as somebody, my name Chris, Chris is everywhere, I don’t hide anything from anybody. So because I just want to help people with anything that they need help with. And again, that’s the Mindful Explorer is exploring how you live your life, exploring how you make money, exploring how you look towards personal finance, or exploring a mountain bike trail, it’s that’s mindful on every aspect of your life, it can just take that formula and apply it to everything.

Money Mechanic
I think that’s a really big distinction here, too, is that too many people get wrapped up, when they find out about FIRE, they just get wrapped up on the money side of it, they just see that, okay, if I start saving 70%, or 50%, you know, if I start investing, if I do all this money-related stuff, then in five years, or 10 years, or whatever their number is that I’m going to be happy. But the focus needs to shift the whole psychology side of it too, because that I think, is a bigger part of this journey. And I think you encapsulate that well with the mindfulness, because too many of us don’t reflect on that, and what it’s going to look like down the road, and what choices we’re gonna make to find that, that value in that happiness,

Chris
Definitely. So let’s just not worry too much. I mean, we have to take things seriously. And we need to make sure we have a roof over our head and food on the table. And there’s so many things that are in seems to be conspiring against us. There’s the consumerism of housing, where housing now has become a commodity, and it’s so expensive for people to live now, which I’m an advocate against. I don’t I really even have I, we did some online chatting back and forth on Twitter, I’m still torn on the commodification of rentals. And being part of how it’s used in the FI side, I’m really acting ethically I’m actually a bit of against that, because that’s a mindfulness side of me going into going like you know commodification of things that should be just a necessity or necessity and a basic needs that being shelter and how the stock market and the whole mindset in North America is pulled away like there are those those struggles and things that I look at it what we’re doing, and even with my investments in I’m a Canadian Couch Potato. Being that we’re north of the border, here. We are Explore FI Canada. So I follow the Ccouch Potato from formula, and my index investing. It’s like, Well, do you Well, I think you and I have chatted. Is he looking at ESGs and starting to change my where I’m putting money in.

Money Mechanic
Yeah. So I was gonna ask you about that what your thoughts on that and have you made some changes?

Chris
I haven’t yet. And it’s you know, and that’s the same thing you get in these little bit, these moral dilemmas or ethical dilemmas is like, Well, okay, well, I need to actually do what I’m talking about, or reflect on myself on those things. So there’s those thoughts in there as well. So it makes the makes the decisions harder and how you’re going at it. But…

Money Mechanic
Yeah, it certainly does, I can relate exactly to what you went through, when you decide to leave your career because I have some moral dilemma with my own career. You know, when I, when I started 20 years ago, it wasn’t with any thoughts that my particular skill set would have really any impacts on the environment. But of course, any kind of industry that is involved in you know, construction, or oil and gas or logging or things like that does have some impacts. And even though I don’t directly control or have any of those impacts, it kind of weighs on me psychologically, and I am ready for that day when I can finally go, alright, I think I’m close enough to find that I can, I can walk away from that and sort of apply my talents and skills to to meaningful tasks, not that I don’t find those things to do. In the meantime, while I get there. And I kind of feel like you know, it’s like a little bit of that balance or a little bit of an upset but it’s definitely a struggle and I bet there’s listeners out there that are in jobs or in industries that they may not 100% agree with and that’s okay. I don’t know if you can… do you think that yours was a means to the end would you do it again that way or, you know, with with now what you’ve learned from being in that business and then now the way you live your life? Would you say? No, I’m gonna do it different from the beginning. I struggle with that. I think I would do it the same way I did. I’ve had great experiences I’ve traveled I don’t have any regrets. What do you think Chris?

Chris
I would say I’m the same path as you I I think I made good decisions in my life and made choices and we did the right things. It was just, wow, I always spent my money. You just get out there and you’re just get in that big consumer cycle and you know, how I mentioned earlier we have a retail store, you know, I’m even in that little conundrum and math. So I keep pushing down like I don’t, I don’t like to push things on people. It’s like you I want you to buy something that’s of quality that you’re going to use you’re going to appreciate and you’re going to keep doing Don’t buy just because you feel an impulse in it. So I think I can be can be a mindful retailer as well somebody who’s in that consumption cycle and I’ve had that discussion whether they’re friends online, it’s like, oh, how can how can I be doing this but you know, people will always need things that’s just you know, don’t fill your closet wall to wall I’m even though I have you know, I sell clothing, I’ve got two pairs of pants I keep I stick to that thing where it’s like, I can wear the same pair of black jeans all year long, silly stuff like that. But, you know, reflecting, you know, make sure we’re doing the right things and we’re doing it for ourselves and not for other people and not for opinion and status. But my whole path that we’ve been on I wouldn’t change it I would just would have been smart right from the get go. Like, the biggest thing looking back out of all that I kicked myself in is like, holy cow. Why did I miss out on those last years of matching RRSP? Those matching those company matched RRSPs and stuff and I’m like, Oh, my God, you You fool. What are you doing? So, you know, looking back, I think that’s the only thing I really missed out on and just keeping things longer. And always It was like a two year flip a lease, two year flip a lease one of those simple things. And I think we’ve all been guilty of that. Fortunately, I never did, but we never did buy more house than we ever needed. And we resisted that we were really good that way. I guess vehicles and accessories on vehicles and stuff like that was my crux or my weakness, I guess so. And I look back at that now and I’ve had the same vehicle since we moved here. I’ve had the same vehicle now for seven years. It’s 260,000 km on it still treats me great. I don’t owe a dime on it. It’s $100 a month insurance, no collision, it’s scratched up and love it and don’t care about it.


Chrissy
Hey, Money Mechanic, you use Passiv, right? How do you like it?

Money Mechanic
It’s great. It’s like my own personalized robo advisor. I set it up one time, then Passiv helps keep my portfolio balanced by securely connecting to Questrade.

Chrissy
Wow, sounds like Passiv saves you a lot of time.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, no more spreadsheets! And Passiv even has one-click purchasing, which makes life so much easier.

Chrissy
That sounds amazing. I also heard that Passiv added a new goal feature to help DIY investors reach their investment targets.

Money Mechanic
That’s right. The goal feature is built right in and helps you stay on track with your investments. Chrissy, did you know that Passiv is free for Questrade clients?

Chrissy
Free is good, especially when it normally costs $99! How can our listeners get in on this offer?

Money Mechanic
Just go to Passiv.com/EFIC.


One of the things I think too, is making that big sort of shift in sort of, I think it’s attitude as well and thinking about being totally accepting of you know what you have and being happy for what you have. And, you know, like you said, I just kind of laughed myself though, when you said you had only a few pairs of pants because I’m the exact same way. Like you’re the outdoor gear guy. So you understand Kuhl brand clothing, right? Okay. Yeah. All right. Well, the path that they have the Revolvr, okay, it fits me perfectly. And it’s the perfect fit, I can wear it for work. And I can wear it at home. And it’s like my everyday pant. It’s super comfortable. They’re not cheap, though. But I only own three pairs. And that’s it. Yeah, two of them go to work with me, I have one pair that I don’t wear. It’s like the maybe I have to go out and put on my better and all that. But you know what, I’d rather have three pairs of pants that I know are super durable. They last me years. And it saves a lot of mental bandwidth to in the way I think of things. If you keep your life simple and tight and you the things you own bring you value or they they do the job that you ask them to do. It saves you a lot of time having to make decisions or think about should I use that? Should I use this? Yeah, I find that helps my mindfulness you know, opens me up to have time to do other things that I want to do.

Chris
Totally, totally. Yeah, no. So it’s Yeah, reflecting on that. And the one thing I want is like my stress to people is don’t be afraid of shooting for lean FI. Just go for it, try it out and see where you’re at. Go for a year and then and test the waters to you’ll find that you you’re ready for it you’re like you know what, you’re somebody who needs structure and doesn’t mind and you you like that, you know, depending some places are really good work for have having that community feel or that’s your that’s your group and you go there and that’s your social structure and you’re you know how you do well so you know the things that you once you get out of the bubble and you’re on the outside looking back in once you’re in and you don’t have to stay that retired side because even if you are shooting for you know you say for fire, you’re not retired. I don’t like that word. Especially it’s been what I’ve found Since I’ve left work, I’m right now I’m on three Board of Directors, because I have the time to do work for the community and work for the local trail society, the local business association, some political stuff, I’ve had the time to start investing in my community. And I’ve actually through all that my mindfulness work is learning how to say no, because now I had time. And I was terrible for saying Yes, a little bit is, you know, there was that selfish side is by saying, yes, you get a bit of recognition people, you know, the praise, like, Oh, awesome, thanks for doing that. Or you want your name, or maybe by saying, yes, you’re still trying to feel relevant, because now you weren’t in a job. So there’s a bit of that mixed in there, but definitely, you’re gonna fill your time, the bit that you turn into a master gardener, or, you know, now he’s like, I never had time for a dog all these years working, and I’m home all the time. And I can have a dog and we can go trail running together, you know, we had that you wanted to go your kayaking every single day, or canoeing or wherever it is, that’s in your region, whatever the outdoor sport is, or now you’re painted, like, there’s so much stuff that’s possible, or just wanted to go have a part time job. But like, that doesn’t mean you’re not retired, like, my goodness, if you went and worked one day a week, and you’re not working to work, you’re working to just keep those social bonds or being a part of your community or meet new people go for a don’t, there’s no, you know, we keep trying to fit into all these little boxes and cubes that were supposed to fit perfectly. But I think just being very organic, and, and open to whatever comes each day, don’t worry about your past. And you know, even for us that have everything dialed to a tee and spreadsheets and everything figured out, you have no control over tomorrow, no matter take the arrogance in this thought that you have that control over tomorrow, get rid of it, you could get crushed by a semi tomorrow, make the decision today go for it. Life is finite, we just really need to understand that and make the most of it that you can. I’m going to get I’m reflective on a lot of people are, you know, there’s a lot of people suffering out there right now and trying to you know, this is I’m very fortunate to be able to speak like that. But I want to be knowing that the way society is right now a lot of people can’t make those decisions. And then you know, if we can be a do any part and maybe through ephi, I’m able to help other people make good choices down the road and get themselves ahead or move change their social position. But just do it today, just look at what you can do.

Chrissy
Yeah, that’s how I feel about FI as well that’s it frees us, but then that’s what frees us to then help other people and lift other people up and hopefully bring them to a place where they’re more financially secure and can experience some freedom in their lives. Even if it’s just something small, like being able to work one day less per week or something like that, where it gives them that extra bit of freedom to reset their mind or have more time with their kids. But each incremental step you take towards FI is huge. And it brings so much peace and happiness with it.

Chris
Oh, completely. Yeah. And you know, the money doesn’t create happiness, but being able to take negative or bad energy out of your life is where you’re gonna find that space for happiness. And knowing that we every day that you know, it’s just a matter of one decision that moves you from that life is a just a balance between negative and positive energy. And it’s there’s gonna be days that suck and days that good is just trying to make those right decisions to keep that though that those scales level each day. And I think the financial independence allows you to more time and stress with your life to to keep it tip possibly a little bit more towards the positive side.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, it’s that that’s that time factors. And if you can fit in, you know, I was very fortunate today that, you know, my wife’s working from home, I’m not at work. And like I said, it was a beautiful day. So we spent an hour walking the dogs. And just being able to do that. And the privilege of being able to do that is wonderful. And it she was stressed because she’s been known, you know, the constant Zoom meeting production when you’re working from home and getting outside getting some fresh air and getting that balance back is like you said it’s invaluable. And I noticed that with a lot of your content. Now, I am so amazed at some of the places you are traveling around the island here. You talked about a big trip you did a couple years ago, I think it was through Strathcona by yourself. And I think that’s pretty interesting how you’ve really sort of embraced that adventure, lone spirit to help with that whole sort of mindful mindfulness side that we’re talking about here.

Chris
I think a lot of people are you know, and listening to some of the stuff I you know, I listened to lots of podcasts and listening is like not being afraid to have that dialogue with ourselves. Sometimes we’re not willing to take the leap into financial independence or looking at that retiring early because We don’t want to be alone with ourselves to have that inner dialogue. And as soon as you can get out there and ride a bike or hike or be by yourself for an entire day and no cell signal, and no one around with you, I know that’s not everybody’s cup of tea being in the mountains by themselves. But it’s pretty incredible that the arguments you get in with yours, and the revelations and, you know, I’ve come back from hikes and chatted with the wife, and I’m like, there’s a camera what it was, but there was one time it stuck out, and I came back and I’m like, wow, like, you told me something last week. And I kind of went, well, why did you make that decision, I went on away on a hike and came back, I’m like, Oh, I totally clued in why you did that I didn’t even listen to you, you know, those little things you get just step back. So even if it is right now, but someone trying to make that decision on their, their path for their finances is just kind of, even if you could squirrel away, you know, eight hours in one day, leave the cell phone at home, just go for a walk in the park or just go hang out at the beach water is and just let alone with your own mind. Pretty amazing what you can, you know, strip away everything on and realize from yourself. You know, that was I love the outdoors. But it’s still allowed that opportunity to go there. Are you doing the right thing?

Chrissy
Yeah, I just wanted to get a little more actionable for our listeners, because you’re one of our few guests who is already at FI and has been for a while now. What was that transition like to this new identity without work? Did you do some work before that on transitioning? Or did you just take it as it came? And do you have any advice to make it a little less bumpy for our listeners?

Chris
That’s a tough one. Well, the hardest part I touched on a little bit earlier there was that, you know, making sure that you have a an identity outside of your work. That’s that’s the tough one. So having something you know, do you have something you kind of like that for that first little bit that can occupy yourself, so you just don’t feel lost? And having, you know, having your family and everybody there with you for that? Definitely like for myself, it was an instant off, I went from a life of having to answer emails and phone calls 24/7, 365, there was never a day off. And then finally, it’s like, wow, like, I can leave my phone at home for a day. So you do feel a little bit lost. But in a way, just have something I think that’s been said quite a few times to different people. But I would have been content going on on my own. But one part that’s helped, that is still engaged. I’m still every single day I’m on the MMM forums, I live in those forums and chatting with friends. And I’ve actually got a network of friends out here that are becoming in real life like we mountain bike together and we go and ride and visit and hang out and chat all the time have like a little support group. So it’s kind of like find your group and people you can still fall on to that people that have done it that you can chat with. So if you get like three months into it, you know, do you have someone you can maybe a mentor someone you can chat with? So we still talk and you know, I keep had a little journal and so I don’t talk on my blog, but also where I was talking about, you know, how much does he spend this month? How am I doing? You know, I still track a lot that’s, that’s fun to me. We all have fun on the the journey of building our expenses and our savings and tracking all that I still do that four years later. And it’s kind of that baby, that little OCD side or that overachieving side is like I always want to choose them. So I keep track of how much I’m saving every month and am I you know, can I start bringing down my monthly expense averages and have fun with it and try and find little challenges for yourself. You know, like, I know, Chrissy you and I had like, last Christmas had a really good time and doing with zero plastic challenges in your life. And, you know, it’s weird. When you look at little challenges like that you actually end up like, oh, wow, I’m starting to save money because I’m buying differently, or, you know, just have fun little optimizations in your life and make them fun through the journey too. So just, you know, it’s like, Can I go a week without driving, or the next month is like, I’m gonna ride my bike, I’ll drive but I’m only gonna drive to get groceries because it’s far away. Or we normally make this buy this thing every two weeks. Let’s buy it once a month now. Like just make fun challenges and get the family involved there. Have the each person in the family say, you know, each of us are going to pick a challenge that the family has to do together, those type of things. So if you’re goal oriented, which I think most people that if you fall into this world, yeah, you’re you’re a goal oriented person. So make it fun.

Money Mechanic
So you mentioned earlier in the episode that you’re shaving it down to one and a half percent, which is fantastic for your safe withdrawal. I think that’s super safe withdrawal which is nice to have a little supplementation. Just as a general sort of look at your portfolio, you’ve probably got some RRSPs, a TFSA, and probably some marginal account, what does drawdown look like for you? Do you break out a year’s worth of expenses? Is it? Does it shift and fluctuate? Can you just give us a sort of a strategy that you use for that?

Chris
Well, as I touched on earlier, I’m very fortunate that I’m making, you know, we could use the term side hustle, but you know, it’s, I guess it’s a job, you know, I make money off my freelance writing and photography. So there’s a little bit, a little bit coming in there. So I’m able to not touch as much as my savings. So with my index funds, the one account I have is XAW, it’s the world index, and they only pay that one out every six months. So what I’ve been doing is, I take, in Canada, if you keep it under $5,000, you get lower tax take out. So right now I’ve only just been doing every January and every July, because of the biannual dividend deposit. And I’ve only been pulling out my dividends. So so far, because I’m doing well, that others I’m just taking out twice a year, and I’m only touching the dividends right now. I haven’t touched any actual stocks. So that’s been helpful there on that.

Money Mechanic
So is that coming out of an RRSP account?

Chris
I’m drawing down my RRSP for right now.

Money Mechanic
That’s that’s what I figured that’s my plan. Yeah, yeah. I mean, when you’re in the lowest lowest earning, or the lowest tax bracket, that’s the ideal time to start.

Chris
Yeah, as I say, I’ve kept my monthly expenses extremely low. Everything in life happy to share this, I’m only spending $3,700 a month on average, per month. And that’s my mortgage included in my house insurance, and my car insurance and groceries and dining out and everything. So it’s really low. So you know, if you can keep how much you need to spend every month, you don’t, again, you can take that out, but I don’t feel like I’m missing it. So right now is RRSP only, and only, I only want to take out the dividends out of that. Leaving my TFSA alone. I’ve got some other RRSPs that were some stuff that I did prior to learning about index funds, it’s they used to call it market exempt stuff. It’s kind of like capital funds and stuff. Those ones I’m slowly as I can pull them out of and pulling them out and moving on to my RRSP. But yeah, right now the whole plan is just keep drawing down my RRSP. And my wife has got her RRSP still so when she’s done working, we if we need to, we’ll be pulling on her dividends. So for right now, I’m just reinvesting her dividends, my TFSA I just keep reinvesting those dividends. And then I do have a rental property that I bought that, jeez, that would have been 2011 I bought and I wouldn’t have done that that money would have been awesome in an RRSP. And and that’s just breaking even, you know, they’re your victim, you’ve never know where an economy is going to do. And where that condo is, is the economy’s dropped a bit. So that one I just breakeven, so one day I’ll I’ll sell that when the opportunity is there. If I have a little bit that can move into my RRSP is great. And then I don’t count down the road as well as 46. So I’m planning to take early right at 60. So in 15 years, because I worked so many years and did well. And then because I’m making a tiny bit of money right now I’m still paying into CPP you know, at 60 I’ll be able to pull out a nice Canada Pension Plan and there but that’s not factored into anything right now.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, yeah. Fair enough. Yeah. And I think that’s the thing that you know, a lot of us overlook is where we’re predicting our future selves and our needs and what finances are going to build for us and I think we’re also bad at recognizing how much things compound without us kind of noticing when you have that money especially sitting there reinvesting dividends and you’re not drawing a whole bunch down from it.

Chris
Yeah, and definitely you know, from pulling the trigger here and being in that I’m not working I watch everything and then when the stocks just disappeared off the face of the Earth in February but I’m looking at the numbers and right now I’m higher than it’s ever been and I’ve been pulling money out like I don’t it does work like we change I think I pulled up some numbers while I had it here and I think I and I haven’t figured out because I I do up my little spreadsheet and today would have been the day cuz I let mint do its thing because I track every my budget and mint. And so today would be the day I would look at it. And I think backup probably $150, $170,000 since the low point in March, which is crazy that it just went down that high and then now and I have more now than I did at this time last year, but I’ve taken out two withdrawals.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, that’s fantastic. That’s just time in the market and sticking with your plan, right?

Chris
Yeah, definitely. So it works. It’s all there. And yeah, just keep at it is all I can do, so…

Money Mechanic
Give yourself permission to be FI.

Chris
Yeah.

Money Mechanic
How about that?

Chris
Yeah, exactly.

Money Mechanic
That’s kind of what it sounds like. That’s a little bit of what you did. Right? You’re like you gave yourself permission to take a shot at being FI. And you you’d read ERE, you’re okay with lean FI and you just wanted to let it play out. And I like I agree with you, the worst thing that can happen is you have to go back to work full time.

Chris
Exactly. And that can be just a definitely being that, you know, you still have a cushion there, and you’re only going back to work because you don’t want to start chipping away at your main capital, your actual stocks, you could probably go back to a job that you know, you get to go to work, enjoy it. And when you’re done, you leave work, it stays there. It’s no stress job.

Money Mechanic
Exactly, no,

Chris
It’s just, even if it was, was a time, you can’t do the math quick enough here. But even if it was just a job that you only made $1,000 a month that you know, that’s $12,000. To be able to draw out $12,000, that’s a whole lot of money that you would need in your in your savings to be able to draw that much off. So it doesn’t…

Money Mechanic
Yeah, you just 25 X that and that’s what you don’t need to save anymore.

Chris
Yeah. Or do something seasonal or work one month, like crazy hours, you know, work yourself to the bone for one month and then do nothing for a living. That’s just it’s infinite. Now what we can do and what’s available out there?

Chrissy
Well, that’s why we talked about the 4% assumption how it can be very flexible. 4% is just kind of a baseline that you can start with. And there are so many factors where you can really take that down or not not really have to stick to it so strictly because there are so many options to cover yourself so that you’re still in a safe zone.

Chris
Yeah, exactly. Just so you know, I get and then that turns into being its own little challenges like, oh, how much of that capital can I preserve and just make that last and maybe hopefully one day I can loosen the strings, but I’m just, I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to little challenges, I think.

Money Mechanic
Right on Well, before we end the call here with you just let our listeners know again, exactly what your blog is where they can find you. And if and when you’re still on social media. I know you throw it away every once in a while you do a detox, but I know you’re around so let them yeah, where they can find you.

Chris
I’m I’m pretty much everywhere. But yeah, my blog is it’s chrisistace.com. Or it’s just mindfulexplorer.ca you can go to Chrissy’s blog and check every week, you can click on my name because I reply to almost every one of her posts or Court’s, but Yeah, you can. Yeah, mindfulexplorer.ca. And that’s my blog. And on there, it links to my Facebook and my Twitter. My Instagram is mostly lots of just fun outdoors that I post to my Instagram story every single day. It’s not personal finance stuff. But it’s more about just getting out there and living life in mindfulness. So it’s, that’s my main best place to follow me definitely is on Instagram, and that’s stasher_BC and Stasher’s of slang on my last name. Istace is my name and then friends just started calling me Stash and then became Stasher. So that’s where that came. And that’s been since college in 1993. So that’s where that came from that so it’s stasher_BC on Twitter and on Instagram. And then Mindful Explorer, Chris Istace Mindful Explorer on Facebook. But yeah, off my website, everything’s linked there. If you dig way back and posts under lifestyle, you’ll find a lot of the content I’ve written on personal finance mindset, but it’s more isn’t so much as your typical FI blog content. I leave it to awesome people like you, and then I link to you guys in my articles.

Money Mechanic
Well, all of that will be in the show notes and some of the articles that I reread from your blog we’ll stick in the article because you did mention the book by the Dalai Lama. Yeah, of course Your Money or Your Life and things like that. Yeah, actually, those are all in the notes. And oh, Chrissy you know what I was thinking as we’re doing this interview today.

Chrissy
What’s that?

Money Mechanic
Chris is totally fine with keeping a mortgage in his while he’s FI and he’s mentioned Court a few times and I know they were on a show together and she’s very much against keeping mortgage. But funny enough I read her post in December about her now accidentally having a rental house so we need to have a face off. Yeah, that’s Yeah.

Chrissy
And she’s quite the opposite with her withdrawals. I think she is super conservative because she’s Yeah, she’s worried about it not being enough and where Chris is on the other side like…

Chris
Yeah, but But yeah, I really I love reading her content. But what she is though, as well as what I’d said though, she is organic with everything and I’m totally open to being to pivot and shift and move towards opportunities and to pull back when needed. And I think that’s her background in sports is that very analytical and analyzing every situation and being organic with it.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, the post that I read most recently about, the accidental rental house was very numbers heavy, very analytical, and I can totally see what she’s thinking about there and going through that. And I really appreciate that because I’m a pretty analytical person, too. But it just goes to show you know, that this journey that that we’re all on towards financial independence has lots of different sides to it. And it’s it’s everybody can choose their own path. There’s no one way that’s the right way.

Chris
Yeah, yeah, there’s no there’s no right way. There’s just your way.

Money Mechanic
Yeah, that’s right. Well, much appreciated. I’m glad we finally got this chance to sit and chat with you. It was great. And I hope our listeners will enjoy your story. I think they’ll get a lot of value out of it. Chrissy?

Chrissy
Yeah, yeah. Thank you, Chris. I’m so glad you could finally come on. We’ve been trying to plan this for a while but you’re a busy guy. It’s hard to pin you down. Thanks for finally coming on.

Chris
Oh, I’m back in a taking it easy cycle. So you caught me I got a say I’m an introvert. But I’m very outgoing. And I need to, you know, pull back into myself and sneak and hide into the forest to re-energize so you’ve caught me as I’m re-energizing and willing to be on here and have a great time with you guys.

Chrissy
Perfect. Well, thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure our listeners will be very inspired and motivated by it.

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8 Replies to “046: From Oil Patch to Eco-Frugality and FIRE | Chris Istace”

    1. Ha ha, yep—that’s Chris! He’s Mustachian through and through.

      His transformation is one of my favourites in the FI community. I knew I wouldn’t be the only one who found his story inspiring!

      Thanks for listening, friend!

  1. Thank you so much for this interview. Hubby and I are on a path with uncanny parallels to Chris’ story. We’ve made the move to BC for the simpler more frugal lifestyle, and soon hubby will leave his oil sands job to become ‘spouse FI’. Chris’ reflection on his journey since moving, the lessons he learned and the mindset needed to ensure a healthy and sustainable transition will be invaluable to us as we discuss this next big decision. I have a bias for the very analytical approach to these decisions, however Chris’ perspective and experience has helped me get a little more comfortable with not having all the answers before jumping in. THANK YOU!

    1. Wow, what an amazing comment! Thank you, Mrs. Nic—you made my day!

      Congratulations on all the big shifts you’ve made, just like Chris. I couldn’t have guessed that one of our listeners would have a similar FIRE journey to Chris’s. You’re doing amazing things.

      I’m friends with Chris and he inspires me to do and be better all the time. He’s a master at personal growth, and I’m thrilled that his story seems to be resonating so strongly with our listeners.

      Thanks again for the comment and for listening! I hope you have a wonderful 2021 and that your husband enjoys his new spouse FI lifestyle! 😆

  2. Great interview. Chris’s comment about our identity tied to the job resonated with me. After working for my current company for eleven years, my response to “What do you do?” question was about my job, rather than everything else I did. Last year, launched my blog as a first step to create identity outside of work.

    Another aspect that stood is the passive income that Chris is able to generate, resulting in a very low (1.5%) Safe Withdrawal Rate. That is fantastic!

    1. Hi Shashi—it’s great that you’re already building your outside-of-work life. It seems that many retirees (whether early or traditional) don’t do this, then they reach FI and feel a little lost. You’re off to a good start already!

      I’m also impressed with Chris’s withdrawal rate. It is BEYOND safe, which is funny because he’s not necessarily a conservative guy! It just goes to show how life can lead to unexpected and wonderful situations. (Though FI certainly helps to set us up for success!)

      Thanks for listening and taking the time to comment, Shashi. It means to world to us!

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