Balancing Money and Happiness

Ben Miller, Founder of ChroniFI- Money and Happiness, Online Personal Finance Tools, Pros and Cons of Financial Planners, Colorado, Compound Interest, and More

How are money and happiness related?  Ben Miller and I recently sat down to talk about all things money and personal finance.  We even touched a bit on what it’s like living in Colorado.  

Ben Miller is the Founder of ChroniFI. He is passionate about personal finance and reallocating human capital to its highest and best use. Ben created a system to solve his own problem so he could move on from trading derivatives to helping others. ChroniFI is the system that Ben created to help others make decisions that are better aligned with their goals and values. ChroniFI helps people understand their money in terms of time.

See below for both the interview that Ben and I had on video and the transcript:

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Nicholas Cook: Hello everybody. So today my name is Nick Cook and I’m here today with Ben. Ben Miller. Is that correct?

Ben Miller: That’s correct.

Nicholas Cook: Ben and I met recently, pretty recently, and we’re just going to head over to have a conversation. Ben has I’ll let him introduce himself. He can tell a little bit about his story and what’s going on with him, but today is going to be kind of a pretty laid  back conversation. We’re just going to talk about definitely stuff related to money, but we’ll see where this goes. And Ben has a podcast, I believe, and he also has, I will let you introduce yourself. So I’ll let you say a few words about yourself and then we can jump in here.

Ben Miller: Absolutely no thank you for the entry point. So basically, as Nick mentioned, I’m Ben Miller. I’m the founder of a company called ChroniFI. And so what ChroniFI does, it’s personal finance software that helps people simplify their finances by understanding them in terms of time. And so for many people, money is this complex, opaque sort of idea to get their head around that can be abstract and difficult to understand. And by looking at things in terms of time, a lot of times the answers to people’s questions will just kind of drop right out. That net worth and expenses and all that stuff can be difficult to get your hands around. But when you understand things in terms of, hey, here’s how long I can afford to live the lifestyle that I prefer given what I’ve already saved up here’s? How long until I can retire or take a pay cut to do work that’s better aligned with my values. That’s what we’re delivering for people. And then of course, to dynamically track as those things move through time, we really focus on behavior as well, trying to lean in and help people figure out where their habits fit in against the context or the backdrop of the rest of their financial life.

Ben Miller: But yeah, with that we have a software platform as well, as Nick mentioned a podcast that is aptly named the ChroniFI Podcast. It’s kind of the companion to the application in the sense that software gives you a great handle around the numbers and the data that’s involved in these decisions, whereas there’s no replacement for a human. And just like an ability to digest the right brain side of this stuff because as much as you want to think that finance is a left-brain spreadsheet exercise, the reality is you make all your decisions emotionally in the right brain anyways. And so you got to get the entire self on board. And so that’s what we’re trying to provide for folks.

Nicholas Cook: Great. I’m intrigued by the name. How do you say ChroniFI?

Ben Miller: ChroniFI? Yeah.

Nicholas Cook: Do you have a story behind that, how you came up?

Ben Miller: Sure.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah.

Ben Miller: So, chron is from the Greek for time and then phi is a common moniker within personal finance spaces, which stands for financial independence. And so basically we see that one of the best ways to pursue financial independence with everything that that entails is to understand your finances in terms of time. So ChroniFI.

Nicholas Cook: Time is definitely something important when you’re thinking about money or making money. I know it makes me think back to compound interest and just how time is a really important element. Some of the work, I don’t know if you know this, Ben, but some of the work I do, a little bit of teaching, some part of what I am teaching, is personal finance. And so this is sticking in my head with you got these two guys, one starts when he’s like 20 and he’s saving like $500 a month or whatever it is and he stops when he’s 30 and never invests another dime. Yet your other guy, we’ll just call him Bill. Bill starts when he’s 30 and he invests the same amount of money every month from 30 to like 60, 65. And then who has more money at the end? Bill, who started when he was 30, or James when he started when he was 20. Even though James never put in another dollar past 30, he has more money in the end because I compound interest with time.

Ben Miller: Yeah, time is a huge deal, basically through the lens of compounding. Absolutely. And then I think also through the lens of intuition, it, it winds up speaking to us a lot more, a lot more than concepts of money. And so a way to get yourself on board with making the right decisions, a lot of time just has to do with perspective. Because if you tell somebody like, oh, man, this coffee habit, did you know that by the end of your life this is going to cost you $150,000? Then people are like, okay, is that a lot or a little? Because I’m not sure, it sounds like a lot of money, but over the course of a lifetime, who knows? These things add up and compounding is funky math. People aren’t set up to think about exponentials. And so the reality is if you can put that equation into terms of time and you can go like, hey, just so you know, this habit is going to delay your retirement by six months, then people pay attention because there’s no longer this like, oh, is that a lot or a little? I’m not sure. It’s like they can imagine what it’s like to walk into their cubicle for another six months at the end of their career and so they can do that mental weighing and just go like, oh, okay, this is worth it or this is not.

Ben Miller: And by the way, it’s not like those habits that cost a lot of time or a lot of money equivalently are always guilty. The fact is some people are going to look at that equation and go like, actually, I love my job. And so retiring later is not scary to me, and that morning cup of coffee is what gets me going in the day. It’s something I really look forward to and savor and treasure. And so for some people, that’s going to be worth it. Money well spent. It’s different strokes for different folks.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah. You got to also be able to enjoy life, too. Like, never take a vacation or have coffee if you like it or whatever.

Ben Miller: Exactly.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah.

Ben Miller: Tell me a little bit about what you’re up to. I want to dive into kind of the mixture between what you’re doing and what I’m up to because we ran into each other, I think it was on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear kind of the backstory about how you got into the game you’re playing right now.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah. So my first experience in the financial sector, I majored in finance back in college, way back when. And then I got into the financial services industry working as a financial advisor. So I did that for about five years, and most of the time I was with a company that did a lot of fee based planning, which I really liked because it was more just giving people what’s best for them and not no pressure to sell any products. So I did that, and then I ended up leaving, that business was going well, and and I was at that point where I was getting referrals and it was growing, but I kind of took a detour for a time. I thought about some ministry stuff, some full-time ministry stuff, and it was a hard decision, but I ended up doing that for a time and then got into teaching. And then I kind of came back around a few years ago back into have all this experience with money and business and financial planning type work. So that’s when I sort of got the idea to merge teaching and finances into one. And that’s where I came up with Money 101 Academy.

Nicholas Cook: So, yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at right now. It’s like an online platform. We have a website where people can jump on and sign up for a monthly membership, and with the membership, there’s monthly office hours. So we’ll jump on a call just like this where we can just talk about any questions people have about how’s the stock market doing or budgeting or they’re looking at life insurance options. And me as more of like, an educator share my experience or what I’ve done with clients and whatever I can do to answer their questions. And then there’s an online course on there, and then there’s like an online community as well where people can share their successes with each other. So that’s where I’m at with Money 101 Academy currently. And then I’m still doing a little bit of teaching as well. Right.

Ben Miller: It’s amazing to me, in a sense, that we live in a world where that side of things is so necessary right. Somehow, societally, we’ve gotten ourselves into a position where there’s a lot of this stuff that’s not rocket science. Right. There’s a lot of the stuff that is relatively basic and we just kind of need to know in order to operate as a full adult within our society. And yet the way that we’re set up from an educational perspective is that in many states at least, we don’t educate on this at all. It’s left to, do you have really good parents? Do you have a natural interest in this stuff? Are you reading books and blogs and kind of doing your own self-study in order to come to a place of call it financial literacy? As a society, we’re sort of like flying by the seat of our pants. It’s somehow left to private services and initiatives and things like that in order to get people to a spot where they actually can understand what these things actually mean. And so it’s an important mission to be engaged in, to help and get people set up in a place where they can actually make heads or tails of this stuff as it’s happening around them. 

Ben Miller: And add on top of that the fact that it’s only getting more complicated as time goes on. I think it’s increasingly necessary with time.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah. And I think there’s a huge group of people out there that they don’t have the money. Or they don’t have the money to pay a financial planner, and they want to do it all by themselves. Or they do need somebody to hold their hand a little bit, or they need some tools to help them. Something like ChroniFI or Money 101 Academy, whatever it is. They need some ways to help them get there. So that’s why I see kind of a place for what we do, help people shortcut things to save them five or ten years. Then they don’t have to spend $1,000 or $3,000 a year hiring professional help.

Ben Miller: Yeah, and sometimes it’s a lot more than that, basically unsurprisingly, the way that things are oftentimes set up in those institutions is on like an AUM or assets under management sort of model. And so that leaves a lot of people kind of out in the rain. Because if you don’t have a million dollars of investable assets, then for a lot of those people in those more traditional functions of financial advisory or financial planning sort of work, then it’s just like you’re not necessarily all that interesting to them as a client because you can’t afford to pay them the fees that they’re accustomed to. And they’re busy people. They’re doing a lot of important work in many cases. And so there’s a real lane to run in here for people who haven’t won the game yet, for people who are somewhere between lift-off and escape velocity in terms of getting to where they want to be financially. There are plenty of institutions that are set up to serve people who have already won the game very well. But there are a small and growing number of firms and institutions that are set up to really help people make that progress between getting their monthlies right way around and eventually getting to where they want to be financially, getting to the point where they are a client who is appealing to a traditional financial planner or advisor. 

Nicholas Cook: Yeah. You live in Colorado, right?

Ben Miller: Yeah.

Nicholas Cook: So I used to live there, too. 

Ben Miller: Yeah.

Nicholas Cook: Have you been there for a long time?

Ben Miller: Yeah. It’s a good question. We moved out here about, I guess it was like, three and a half years ago. It’s a story that’s kind of deeply embedded in the history of the company, actually. So my wife and I visited here this was four or five years ago now and just fell in love with it. And we were living on the East Coast at the time, New York and its orbit and that type of thing. And on the way home from our visit to Colorado, my wife asked me, so when are we moving? And so basically, you can look at in a certain way, you can look at ChroniFI as, like, my attempt to be a dutiful husband and code up the answer to that question, just come up with a satisfying response for that question of, like, hey, when can we afford to make this happen? When can we afford to change our lifestyle and do something that is likely going to be, at least for the near term, at a lower income level, but with a stronger balance towards family and home life and being able to participate in the lives of my kids.

Ben Miller: That’s a big part of it as well.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah. So the move there was just you guys liked the land and that was the main reason?

Ben Miller: A big part of it, yeah. For us, we wanted to have access to things to do outside natural beauty. Culture was also a big part of it for us. You know, for us, it’s very important to us that, like, we live in Fort Collins in particular. We chose Fort Collins deliberately because it’s first of all, the people are we found to be very authentic and very like, neighbors are an asset, not a liability, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing that I hadn’t experienced necessarily in other parts of the country. And on top of that, from a political perspective, it’s a very kind of purple community there as well. You’ve got the kind of leftward tilt from the university. It’s a college town. You’ve got some rightward tilt from some more traditional kind of elements around here. And for us, it was just really important. I’ve got three young kids. It was important for us that the kids didn’t grow up in an echo chamber of either variety. I want them to be able to come to their own conclusions and decisions and think for themselves. And so it’s a wonderful place to be from that aspect as well.

Ben Miller: It’s got a lot of, I would say intellectual diversity, which is, I think, a healthy part of growing up.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah, definitely.

Ben Miller: Where are you located right now?

Nicholas Cook: I’m in Missouri.

Ben Miller: Okay, cool.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah, I lived out there for about ten years. Yeah, so I know property values have climbed a lot since I moved from there. But you’re probably in an area where it’s not quite as bad. I think the suburbs right around Denver are probably some of the more expensive places. I was just back there last summer. This is my first time. I was back in a while. Yeah, it was really good to be back.

Ben Miller: Yeah, it’s a wonderful part of the country. We really did just fall in love with it a few years ago. That’s for a number of reasons. I think there’s a lot of good, kind of traditional, sort of middle America sort of values around here, which is a wonderful thing for us. And then there’s a lot of kind of mixing up and growth that’s happening around here as well. The entire Front Range has just been booming in recent years. We moved in 2019 right before COVID hit and all of that. And sadly, we’ve been renting the entire time. And so we didn’t participate in the run up in housing pricing or anything like that, but it’s kind of COVID was sort of an acceleration for dynamics that were already in play, where it’s just like, man, if you can work remote, this is a pretty sweet place to live. And it kind of matches the feeling that we had when we first visited here, which was just like, man, why does anybody not live here? It’s just got a lot going for it. I don’t know. I think it’s nice too, because with a lot of inward migration like that, there can be some problems that come along with that.

Ben Miller: The society can start to in some locations that can start to feel more transient and people are just passing through and people don’t put down roots and all that type of thing. But the nice thing is around here, it seems to be that the growth is durable. Like, people come here and then put down roots and really establish sort of like a neighborhood sort of feel. So from our perspective at least, it’s been a really great place to be, especially with three little ones. The place is all about families, and that goes a long way because where we were living before was less set up for families. I was working in Manhattan and that type of area, and so it was much more set up for adults than for kids. And here’s a little bit the other way around.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah, especially with the terrain, I think makes it kid friendly. And for me, one of the biggest surprises was the summer there because I was expecting, like, going to skiing is going to be cool. But summer is almost better for the mountains and everything than the winter. There’s so much to do in the mountains during the summer.

Ben Miller: Yeah, it’s a funny sort of dovetail with the whole finance sort of angle on things, because part of what we realized as we were kind of beginning and entering the middle of our professional careers, that is, my wife and I was just that there are more ways to get paid than money. Money is ultimately only valuable if you’re able to convert it into what you actually want out of life. And for us, a big part of what we wanted out of life was a good place to raise the kids, great things to do outside, which are, by the way, oftentimes not all that expensive. Sure, skiing is expensive, that’s for sure. But I agree with you that for me, I like the mountains more for the summer than for the winter. And best things in life are free, I guess, is part of the point. And so giving yourself access to those things is a great way to plunk down your chips and allocate your attention so that finances are not the end all, be all. They’re a vehicle. It’s an important part of the equation and something that cannot be ignored. But it’s not the only game in town, and it shouldn’t be.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah, I totally agree. Well, I know we’re kind of up here against the clock. I was interested in talking about entrepreneurship. Yeah, maybe we could pause that. Maybe we could do another conversation. I don’t know.

Ben Miller: Yeah.

Nicholas Cook: But start to wrap things up here, maybe. Question, might be good to ponder here. Anything you want to kind of leave us with? Anything important, anything at all that you want to leave with the audience here today?

Ben Miller: Yeah, sure. Thank you for that question. I think one of the things that it took me a long time to sort of figure out about finances was, well, something that I learned throughout the course of my first career, which was just that, okay, rule number one of finance is that you got to save money. Basically. You got to make more than you spend. You got to get your monthlies right way around. And once you kind of understand that and hear that gospel, then it’s like, for a lot of people, then it’s just like, okay, well, I got to do that more and more and more. I got to save, save, save, and be more and more diligent about it. And for a lot of people, that’s the right response. For me, I kind of took that too far personally. I kind of was just like caveman mentality, like saving good, spending bad, and just really treated it like it was a race, a race to retire or to achieve financial independence or whatever you want to call it. And I realized eventually that I was doing things exactly backwards. I was pursuing financial independence as soon as possible and happiness eventually.

Ben Miller: And I realized just in time that, no, that’s wrong. I should be pursuing happiness as soon as possible and financial independence eventually. And so it’s very important to keep balance in mind is I guess what I’m saying is just like, yeah, pursuing financial independence is a noble and worthy goal, but the whole point is to be able to enjoy and make the most out of your life. And so the second that pursuit of money becomes destructive to those ends, you’ve gone too far. That’s a big part of the message that I think is important to get out there personally, is just to have people realize that, look, life is about meaning. It’s not about money. And money is a useful tool in achieving meaning, but it’s not the only game in town.

Nicholas Cook: Amen. It’s a good reminder.

Ben Miller: Thank you so much for having this conversation, Nick. I’m really glad we had a chance to chance to chat today, and I’m looking forward to the next time we make it happen.

Nicholas Cook: Yeah, it was great chatting with you and seeing somebody else out there that’s doing good work online. Let’s see here. Where can people do you want to leave? Put something in the show notes where people can find you? Anything else you want to say before we do that?

Ben Miller: Sure, yeah. That’s where you can find what we’re up to. And I’m active on LinkedIn as well, and so anybody who wants to chat, this is where my head spends all its time. How do we get people working on the things that actually light them up and make them excited to get to work? And so that’s what we’re up to. We’re trying to reallocate human capital to its highest and best use. So if that sounds like something you’re interested in, I’d love to chat with you.

Nicholas Cook: Sounds good. So we will drop that in the show notes and we’ll talk about stuff. I also want to let everybody know I have a newsletter, Money 101 Newsletter. So we only really put together, really send it out and have something valuable to share. So I’m not going to flood your inbox every week or whatever. So, just when there’s something worthwhile to share with you. If you want to sign up for that, I’ll also put a link down below in the show notes. And Ben, it was great visiting with you here. We’ll look forward to maybe talk about maybe doing a part two of this, possibly.

Ben Miller: Sounds good.

Nicholas Cook: All right.

Ben Miller: Thanks a lot, Nick.

Nicholas Cook: All right, have a good one.

Ben Miller: See you. Bye.

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