Many successful real estate investors crank for years to achieve success, only to wake up and realize they’ve lost some of the very reasons they wanted to achieve freedom in the first place. Too often, we get hung up in working hard for the sake of working, or worse, for the sake that we need ‘more’ to make sure our families are taking care of. In the meantime, life can quickly pass us by. Steve Cook or Lifeonaire joins us today to discuss the importance of building a life you love, and not delaying the opportunity to live the life you want to some point in the future. Don’t miss this episode of the FlipNerd.com Expert Interview Show…it’s a great one!
Mike: Hey, it’s Mike Hambright with FlipNerd.com. Welcome back for another exciting Expert Interview, where I interview successful real estate investing experts and entrepreneurs in our industry to help you learn and grow. Today I’m joined by Steve Cook. Many of you probably recognize Steve as the author of the book Lifeonaire, which has spurred a huge movement towards living an abundant life and not necessarily focusing on the stuff that many of us measure our success with, especially if you have to go into debt to get it.
Steve is an investor, a speaker, a coach. He wears a number of hats, but he teaches others now on the Lifeonaire way, which has literally touched tens of thousands of lives. So that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today, how to build a life that you love to live with real estate. Before we get started though, let’s take a moment to recognize our featured sponsors.
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Please note, the views and opinions expressed by the individuals in this program do not necessarily reflect those of FlipNerd.com or any of its partners, advertisers or affiliates. Please consult professionals before making any investment or tax decisions, as real estate investing can be risky.
Hey, Steve, welcome to the show.
Steve: Hey, Mike. Thanks for having me.
Mike: Yeah, thanks for being on. As we talked about beforehand, I’ve had a number of your kind of students and followers of the Lifeonaire Way on the show, but we’re happy to have you here with us today.
Steve: I am so glad to be here. Thankful that you’re giving me the opportunity to be able to share a little bit of the message.
Mike: Yeah, it was . . . I told your partner, Shaun McCloskey, this before that when somebody recommended the book to me, and I ended up . . . I remember it was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I bought it on Amazon and I couldn’t put it down. I read it from cover to cover, but it was on my I-pad, but you know what I mean, cover to cover in one sitting. And from my perspective, we’ll talk a little about it. There were some things that didn’t . . . it was kind of hard for a real estate investor to get over the no-debt stuff, which is obviously somewhat counterintuitive to a lot of us.
But I will tell you that it sounded like it was about me, some of the things that were in there and it was just a page turner, if you will, that kind of hit home on . . . probably and hopefully a lot of people listening to this show will feel the same after they read the book that is like, you work really hard, you’ve built a great life on the outside, but are you content? Are you satisfied with the life that you’re living? Are you living it to the fullest? So thank you for sharing it with me without even knowing you were sharing it with me. But anyway, I’m excited to learn more about how that all came about today.
Steve: Well, I can tell you that I as a real estate investor got started in 1998. My goal as a real estate investor was to just become the biggest investor that I could be. I wanted to do the most deals that I could, make the most money that I could and I was doing that. I had done 105 flips in just my first two years in the business and at that time many people had started coming to me and staying, “Steve, we want to learn what you’re doing.” And they started to ask me questions. People were flying in from all over the country, buying me dinner, buying me lunch.
And I started realizing I started spending more time in restaurants answering people’s questions over dinners and lunches, that I needed to do something else to alleviate all of that demand on me to answer all these questions. So I wrote a book and that was a real estate investing book on the topic of wholesale flipping, which is what my specialty was at that time.
And I thought that I would write this book, I would answer everybody’s questions, I wouldn’t have to answer any more questions, and that was the exact opposite of what I was hoping for. Instead, the book started selling like crazy, people started asking me more questions and I got very involved in the teaching world which I had never had any intentions of doing. And I, along with many of my students, I just kept becoming more and more successful on the outside. I was doing a whole lot and I had received counsel from people on how to build my business and how to do it the right way, and I went from zero in assets to about $7 million in assets in only three years. So I was doing everything the right way.
It was following all the rules, doing everything exactly as I was supposed to do. And while this was taking place, I was watching a number of my students, particularly my most successful students, and I started seeing something that I didn’t like. I started seeing their families falling apart. I started seeing their marriages being compromised and falling apart and that’s not what was supposed to happen. They were supposed to become successful and all that was supposed to get better.
Steve: Instead what was taking place is that they were becoming so focused on their business and their success that they were forgetting about the things that were most important, the reason why they said they wanted to be successful in the first place. And I saw a little bit of that happening in my own life and that’s when I started taking a hard look at, “What am I doing? Why am I doing all of this?” Today I have so much more and I’ve got all of this stuff and I’ve got everything that everybody says you’re supposed to have. But the one thing I didn’t have was joy and peace in my life. I didn’t have the time to enjoy all of the stuff I was able to accumulate and it’s about that time when the Lifeonaire idea came to me and I realized I needed to start doing something different with the real estate investing community.
Mike: I think that’s a real common thing that happens with people. Either they’re working so hard that they can justify life . . . not living a fulfilling life because they’re trying to build something and then you’ve seen it, we know a lot of these people. We’ve both, you and I have been there as well. You just shared your story and mine is the same, in that you get to a point where well, you built it but it can’t maintain itself, so now I’ve got to keep the wheels on the bus. And you end up making sacrifices to where you’re missing family things or doing things that are the very reason why you tried to achieve that level of success was to get these freedoms, but now you’ve got to keep these wheels on the bus, right?
Steve: That’s exactly what was taking place. And as much as we try to build the business and put systems in place, I’ve come to realize that this is a business that is very difficult to systematize and let run on its own. I have still failed to find anybody who has completely systematized his business where they can walk away from it. Instead it’s a business that requires our interaction, it requires our time, it requires our effort and not only if I . . . if I could . . . when I was able to get my time back and not put the hours in, mentally I was still checked out when I was home. I was still mentally giving myself to the business and finding it very difficult just to be there, be with my family and I’ve encountered that with many students that I’ve coached over the years.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. I’ve talked about some of this before, I feel. It’d be interesting for you to share your insights on it. I know there’s a . . . especially for real estate investors because they’re high ticket items and they tend to be few and far between relative to selling pizzas or tacos or some other low ticket item. But it just seems you get into this feast or famine scenario where you’re always trying to feast because you’re worried about the famine because you’ve probably felt it before and you don’t ever want to go back. Is that part of what drives us to never stop?
Steve: Oh, there’s no question about it. I’ve shared before you and I had this interview, we talked a little bit about me going to Guatemala on mission trips, and one of the things that I shared with people there is that people in Guatemala, they work today for today’s meal. And I said one of the differences for me is, I’m working today so that I can feed my family 30 years from now because I’ve got the next 30 years taken care of. I’m still worried about how am I going to feed them 30 years and a day from now.
And so we’re always, even when we’re doing well, we’re still are going to worry about that next day or how we’re going to take care of ourselves beyond this. And when you’ve experienced that famine, you don’t ever want to go back there again and so we sort of want to set ourselves up to where we’d never have to worry about it again. And through Lifeonaire, that’s one of the big things that we address in our teaching, to not put ourselves into that situation again.
Mike: Yeah. For those that haven’t read your book or maybe this is the first time they’ve ever even heard the phrase Lifeonaire, why don’t you just share what that is? What’s your elevator page on what that means?
Steve: Well, a Lifeonaire, let’s just say it’s sort of like a millionaire except that somebody who’s experiencing an abundant life, somebody who has a lot of life. And through Lifeonaire, we teach people how to design their businesses in such a way that their business serves their life. Where most of us are taught to go build a business, build it, make it successful and then live and experience life in the time that’s left, if any.
We say no, we’re going to design our lives first, we’re going to live and we’re going to experience life and we’re going to fit our business into the time that’s left, and it forces us to take a completely different approach at the way that we look at our business. When you come to realize that if you’re going to build a business that’s going to serve your life and it needs to provide for you when you only have 15 hours a week to work, well, you’ll build your business differently than if you’re willing to give 40 or 50, 60 or 70 hours a week to it.
And so we take a little bit of a different approach and we actually design our lives first, come up with a life plan and then we design the business to suit that lifestyle. And it’s a subtle difference to what most people are doing but it makes all the difference in the world.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, and maybe talk a little bit about the, just the influence that our parents or grandparents are at . . . I grew up in a very blue collared family that you just work hard and you have this 40, 50, 60 hour mentality. And I work that much and more now but I know that its hard for people to break free from . . . you start to feel like, “I’m doing something wrong if I’m not filling up the work day.” Of course a lot of real investors are trying to escape that, but we still kind of fall into that trap of maybe some level of guilt that you’re not working during the work day.
Steve: The guilt is something that so many people struggle with trying to . . . as they try to cut back, they feel guilty. I’ll tell you what, you’ll get over the guilt in a short period of time once you start doing it. It takes about four weeks and then after that, you don’t want to go back to work. But the way that we’ve been conditioned, and we have been conditioned since we were little kids, that the way to prosper is to work hard and keep on working, keep making more.
In fact, just two nights ago, I was playing the board game Life with my son, and I hate playing that game but now I use it as a lesson with him and I use this quite frequently as an example when I’m teaching. The board game Life, the winner of the game is the person who accumulates the most wealth. And we start playing that with our children at a very young age and we’re teaching them that in order to win at the game of life, we need to accumulate the most.
We need to make the most, we need to go get the best job and in fact the major decisions, almost every major decision that we’re faced with throughout our lives even as soon as we’re coming out of high school or even before we’re even graduating, we’re faced with, “Okay, Am I going to go to college or not?” And the reason why we would go to college is so we can get a better job so we can make more money. And we’re conditioned with that just as children.
And every decision that we make is based off of how much money is it going to make us, how much money is it going to make us? And at Lifeonaire we say look, we’ve got to stop playing that game. We need to change the rules of the game and we need to decide what the winner of the game is going to be in. How different would the game of life be if the winner of the game was the person who had the best life experiences? Would we make different decisions on a day-to-day basis? Or what if the winner of the game was the person who gave the most away? Would we make different decisions?
But by default, everyone just falls into what I call the distorted American dream. Just wealth and accumulation, getting the house with a picket fence, two and a half kids, their SUVs, their college education, their retirement account and no [inaudible 00:14:09] to, “Is that what I really want [inaudible 00:14:11]?”
And it’s just [inaudible 00:14:15] into people so the moment they come out of school they’re right on that track and that’s what they’re pursuing. And sadly 5, 10 years then, many people are waking up one day and saying, “What happened to life? When am I supposed to start enjoying this?” And it’s because they’re pursuing somebody else’s vision for their life, not their own.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, and just to clarify, I know that you also don’t advocate to not have nice things and not do nice things. Kind of separate the difference between the Lifeonaire message and those that have a message of, just go live somewhere where it’s cheap and don’t spend any money and live . . . I don’t even know what you call that. But just talk about the difference between the mindset.
Steve: Well, I can sum it up in one statement and I basically just tell people there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having nice things but there’s something wrong when nice things have you.
Steve: And you know when those nice things own you and they control you, then there is a problem. But if you have done it the right way and you’re free, get all you want to have but that’s . . . and I’m glad you brought that up because a lot of people sometimes perceive that what we’re sharing is a poverty type of mentality and living a life of poverty, and that is not what we advocate at all. I like money, I like nice things, I like making money, but I never want those things to own me again. At one point in my life, all of my stuff, all of my beautiful stuff owned me and that is what dictated what I did each and every day. Today I decide what I do each and every day and I still get to enjoy the nicer things in life.
Mike: Yeah, and I know a big part of that from reading the book is the challenges with debt. And I know . . . we’ll come back to real estate debt which some people, this is a controversial subject. I’m sure you face that every day because you’re largely in the real estate space and people think that there’s a difference between good debt and bad debt. But let’s just talk about the strangle hold that people tend to live with debt on their stuff, whether its toys or cars or things like that. Real estate aside, just some of the challenges, some of the lessons that you learn, some of the lessons that you teach there.
Steve: Well, I told you that I went from zero to over seven million in assets in a little bit over three years. I was having trouble sleeping at night. I was working all the time and then there was one night when I realized how much debt I had also. I was four and a half million dollars in debt at that time and I was always worried about how I’m I going to pay this off and trying to figure out fast ways to get rid of it and how could I get this debt paid off quickly so that I could live life. And I didn’t realize how much that debt controlled me.
Every bit of my debt was what the world around us would consider to be good debt. But the fact of the matter is that debt controlled me. And so I share with people when we want to buy a house [inaudible 00:17:27] I found the house that I’d like to purchase, however I can’t afford to buy it myself. I was wondering if you could put the money up for me so that I can purchase this home.
The lender goes and they check you out. You fill out all the paper work and everything looks good and they come back to you and say, “You know what? You look like you’ll be a pretty good servant. We’ll go ahead. We’ll put that money up for you so that you can experience that home.” And we go and we sign the documents that [inaudible 00:18:02] in plain English that the document say, is that if we’re willing to faithfully serve the lender with 255 to 40% of our working hours for the next 30 years of our life, then they’ll allow us to peaceably enjoy that home. If at any point over the course of the next 30 years we fail to faithfully serve them, then they’ll throw us out of the home and sell it to somebody else. And after 30 years of faithful service, then they’ll let us keep that home.
Now, I know that that comes across as harsh when I put it that way, but the reality of the situation is that’s what it says. And when we start to take a health mortgage and then we take car loans and student loans and credit cards and you start to pile all of this up on top of one another, before long you wake up one morning and your life is not our own and you promised your future away every single time you signed a loan. And when I say the 25 to 40% of your working hours, that’s the amount of your income, the income ratio that the lender will allow you to put toward your home.
And so the moment we sign that, we just promised 25 to 40% of our working hours for the next 30 years of our life to that lender, and every time we sign a loan we promise a part of our future away. Now the good debt-bad debt, that argument, there’s the good debt is good debt when it works. It doesn’t always work. When the day that the tenant doesn’t pay or the month that the tenant doesn’t pay or the house is vacant, we can’t call the lender and say, “Well, I’m not getting paid this month, can I not make a payment to you?”
If we could do that, then it would be a much better thing. But everyone calls it good debt until the day it stops being good to them. You brought up that I probably get challenged with that all the time and I do and for me I made the decision back in 2009 that I would never borrow money again, even for my real estate investing business. And we have just had to get more creative, I’ve never had to make mortgage payments. 2010, it was January 2006 I said I’ll never borrow again. October of 2009 was when I paid off the last of that debt and that’s over four and a half million dollars in debt was gone and we’ve been free ever since.
So our rental portfolio today we own it completely free and clear. We’ve built it creatively. I don’t take the approach of . . . many people think I just had a lot of cash and that’s not how I retired that debt and it’s not how I’ve acquired my rental portfolio. We built it smart and creatively, but we are free. Our needs are very, very little today and free and clear income that we have coming in far surpasses what our needs are today. So, we’re free. We can live a great life.
Mike: That’s fantastic. Well share a little bit about, from the mindset perspective of people getting to a point where they’re comfortable with . . . I guess there’s . . . I’ll just give you some of my own personal struggles. I feel, maybe this comes with time, whenever I have free space, I have more opportunities than I can handle. I think a lot of us are that way. We tend to . . . even if I found somebody to run my business, I don’t have to do it any more and it’s running itself which doesn’t typically work. I would probably start a new business or do something else with that time. How do you get comfortable with just being and not worrying about filling it up with just more work and more ideas and more opportunities to make money and things like that?
Steve: It starts out with having your own vision for your life and knowing what it is that you want out of your life. And when I coach people today, the first thing I want to know is, “Why you are doing this? What do you want?” The majority of people will tell me that they want more money or they want to be able to retire soon or they want to be able to quit their job. But I say no, what do you want your life to look like? And that’s the first step.
We go through the four stages of financial prosperity and step one is developing your life vision and we take people through a process of developing their life and their vision. That becomes the thing that guides you from here on out. For me today, it’s much easier for me to say “no” to the opportunities that come my way because the first thing I want to know with any opportunity that somebody presents to me is, how much of my time is it going to take. Is it going to help me to live the life that I want to live or is it going to take away. And if it’s going to take away from my life vision, then I have no interest in that opportunity. But if it’s going to enhance the life that I want to live, then I’m going to do it.
The problem is most people have never done this before and just by default, we are told that life is all about accumulation. Accumulating the most, building up your retirement account for that one day you can live life. But we take a different approach and we want to live that life now, not wait till we retire, but start living and experiencing it today. And so our life vision, the Lifeonaire vision is what guides us through and we can make decisions with that as a filter rather than how much money will it make me as a filter.
Mike: Right. I know you have a process that you have people work through. Are you comfortable sharing that like the process of how people start thinking about what is my life all about? What do I want my vision to be? Can you share some of that?
Steve: Yeah, I’ll share the four stages to financial prosperity and do that as quickly as I can.
Steve: The first stage is developing your Lifeonaire vision. One of the things that we advocate there is to focus on prosperity through simplicity. If we keep things simple, it’s very easy to climb the ladder of prosperity. Most of us complicate our lives to the point where we have to work so much just to sustain our lifestyle and we bring all that complication into our life at a point when we’re really not ready for it yet. But if we could just be patient and defer some of that. So we develop our life vision and our life vision is the life that we want to live, has nothing to do with money, has nothing to do with our business. How do we want to live and experience life?
Then the interesting thing that we do is as we take people through that process, we now have them fill out their day planner as if they were living and experiencing that life. And most people will quickly find out that they work way too many hours to ever live the life that they want to live, so something has to change if you want to live and experience those things. If you want to pursue your hobbies, if you want to be available for your spouse, if you want to be there for your children and watch them grow up, and help them do things and coach their little league teams. They’re all the things that you might want to do, it all takes time. And so most of us will find that there’s usually 15 to 20 hours a week left to work if we’re living the life that we want to live.
Steve: And so we have to change. So we identify maybe within 20 hours I have to provide enough money for my family to live and experience this life. This now takes us on to Stage 2. Stage 2 is when we have to meet our needs. This is the money that we actually trade hours for. We’re trading our lives to make money, for every hour that we work, we’re getting paid for that time. And so on Stage 2, if we don’t win in this stage, we can’t possibly get to the other stages.
We have to consistently be able to meet our needs in stage 2. And so understanding that the more complicated we make life, the harder we have to work in stage 2 just to get through it. If we keep things simple, and this is where the debt free principle really comes in, if we don’t owe anybody anything, we don’t need much and we can get through to Stage 2 pretty quickly and get to the wealth building stages which are Stage 3 and Stage 4.
Steve: Stage 3 is where we begin to earn excess cash and with that excess cash, you can do whatever you want to do with it. You can blow it on vacations, you can buy stuff with it, you can invest it, you can save it, you can pay down debt with it. The one thing that we advocate or that we encourage is not to have people use that money to increase their lifestyle. We don’t want them to increase the lifestyle they’re living which would increase their needs in Stage 2 therefore making them work more.
Stage 3, the excess cash, we recommend that you invest that to Stage 4 and its free and clear income producing assets. Whether you’re putting that into businesses, real estate, whatever it might be, as long as you’re putting that money to work for you, in time, that income that is coming in there will begin to replace the income that you work for in Stage 2 and free you from having to work any longer.
And it could be the simplest little things. It’s getting disciplined to put a little bit of money to work. You don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to be in Stage 4. We have one guy who buys used musical instruments and then he rents them to high school students every year and he just keeps adding more and more instruments each year to his portfolio. But it’s a very simple thing and it’s generating a lot of income for him today in doing that. But he started off with $300 buying one instrument and then puts that to use and then over the course of a year he buys a handful of more instruments. And before long, he’s got a pretty substantial income coming in while he is putting everything else in place in his life. But he has to work much fewer hours today because of those musical instruments that work for him.
Mike: Let’s talk about . . . we’ve got how folks can learn more. Obviously we’ll add a link for Lifeonaire. We’ll add a link to pick up a book for those that are interested or don’t have it yet. But I want you to talk about . . . you’ve really kind of spurred this movement where there are people, probably all over the world, but certainly all over the country that are trying to build the life of their dreams through the Lifeonaire program, to the point where there literally are REI clubs, several REI club owners, that are running clubs that are teaching these principles and a number of other people. There are groups all over the country that are living this lifestyle and finding each other on Meetup or other ways as well. Talk about how people can get ingrained into the message that you’re trying to teach and learn more.
Steve: Well, the very first thing, Mike, that we recommend is reading the book. It does a better job of explaining what the Lifeonaire message is than I can even do here on the interview. I spent nine years writing that book before I was ready to let it go. And like you said, the comments we get most frequently is people pick it up and they see themselves in that book. Most people will tell us it’s the first book they ever read cover to cover or couldn’t put the book down.
The message is clearly coming across through the book. Couples are reading it. Both husbands and wives are reading the book and they’re sharing it with their friends because the message is so impactful. And I would highly recommend that people just pick up the book and read it.
Beyond that, ultimately it’s coming out to an Lifeonaire event, investing three days of your life into your life, into yourself. Our passion at those events is to really just give people the tools that they need to develop a vision for their lives, to set themselves up to win, to rewrite the rules of living and stop living by the rules that the world around them tells them to live by. So finally they’ll say, “No, I want to live my life. I’m going to live it the way that I want to live it.”
And so we’re really encouraging people come on out for those events. We’ll help you to write your Lifeonaire vision at those events. And you’ll walk out of there not only with a vision but an action plan on how to make it happen and how to experience that life. So that would be two key things that I would highly recommend that people do.
Mike: That’s great. We’ll add some links down below here for you. Steve, I want to throw a curve ball at you, are you ready?
Mike: All right. How do you, let’s say as a business owner, how do you go down this path of trying to build the life that you want? And let’s say you’re in a situation where you have employees that you want that for them as well, but you have work that needs to get done?
Steve: I do that for my employees. I refuse to live my lifestyle on their backs and so the maximum amount of time that I will let any of my employees work for me is 25 hours a week, and our goal is for them to all achieve full time salaries for part-time hours. Now people sit there and say, “Well, there’s just no way you could get done, you can’t make that happen.” And I will challenge that everybody who sits in an office for 40, 50 or 60 hours a week, they’re not working 40, 50, 60 hours a week. They’re just there for that much time. They’re productive time might be 15 to 20 hours a week.
And the reality is that as an employer, if I had a full staff of people that work 40 hours a week, if I walked in one Monday morning and I said, “Listen, I have a deal for everyone. If you get all your work done by tomorrow, I’ll let you take off the rest of the week and I’ll pay you for the full week.” Well, by Tuesday afternoon, every single person in there would have their work done and they would all take off the rest of the week and get their full pay.
Every one of us can be more efficient than what we are. We can be more productive than what we are and most of us will do it in a heart beat when the three-day or four-day weekend is coming up and we’re going to leave the office on Thursday and we’re not going to be in Friday. We’ll get all of our work done by Thursday so that we can enjoy our three-day weekend.
Steve: We live our lives that way knowing that if I don’t get my work done in 15 hours, I can’t live the life that I want to live. And so we encourage our employees to do the same thing. Our employees all have to come up with their vision and I’m the first one to send them home if I feel like they’re working too long and they’re all getting pretty good at it now. So I’m the only one in the office today because of this interview. No one else has been into the office today.
Steve: They’ll come on in when the work needs to be done. One rule is as long as your job is getting done, I don’t care how many hours you work. I want you to get so good at it that you can do it in an hour a week and you’ll still get paid your full time salary.
Mike: Yeah, that’s incredible. Well, Steve thanks so much for sharing your story with us today and it’s a powerful message. I encourage anybody listening to this or watching to pick up the book. We’ll add a link down below. But whether you agree with everything that’s in the book or not, like I said there are some controversial things on debt and it’s counterintuitive to the way a lot of us real estate investors are taught.
But the message is awesome in that a lot of us that are probably listening to this work really hard and to constantly question why you’re working so hard and are you getting what you . . . kind of like you said, does your job or business own you or do you own it. And I think it’s an important message and it’s an important thing for everybody listening to this to think about frequently for sure.
Steve: Well, thank you, Mike. I appreciate you having me on the show.
Mike: Thanks, Steve. Have a great day and please stay in touch.
Mike: All right.
Steve: Have a great day.
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