My Poorest Friend Is One Of The Richest People I Know

Tennis Serve At Tiburon ChallengerIt doesn’t matter what time of day I contact Jaabir to play tennis, he’s always available. Jaabir is a certifiable tennis junkie and I love him for it. It’s easy to go a little stir crazy working from home. Over the past eight months since I left corporate America, Jaabir has proven to be a wonderful outlet in the often lonely world of entrepreneurship.

You might think Jaabir has a tremendous amount of wealth to not have to work for the past three years. Skeptics might assume a rich spouse, government assistance, an inheritance, or a lottery win to provide him so much freedom. I can assure you that Jaabir is neither a self-made millionaire nor is he good looking enough to have a sugar plum. Jaabir simply found happiness by not requiring much at all.

Some would call the area where Jaabir lives, “The Projects.” Jaabir calls his place, “Paradise.” With his mother, brother, wife, and daughter all living together in their two bedroom, one bathroom, 980 square foot apartment, there’s not much quiet. No matter. There are two public tennis courts just three blocks away where Jaabir spends most of his afternoons. Not bad for a $1,200 a month rent-controlled apartment where he’s been living for the past 10 years.

One time I went over to Jaabir’s home courts to hit for three hours. During our session, eight different neighboring tennis players came and went. All of them warmly greeted Jaabir as if he were the president of the club where there are no dues. Instead of opening up a fresh can of $4 tennis balls, Jaabir kindly asks for his neighbor’s balls once they are finished. They usually say no, but one out of every three say yes.

What about income to pay for rent, food, gas, and his daughter’s education? I’ve wondered the same thing myself so I asked. Jaabir responded with a litany of things. He told me the one time he won over $30,000 playing poker in Vegas only to blow it all on “fun.” He mentioned his $50,000 falafel store he started and sold for $100,000 when he was 27, eight years ago. Jaabir also talked about his dreams of becoming a certified US Tennis Association instructor for $50 an hour, but he didn’t want to pay the $500 in instructor fees.

Where I saw Jaabir work his magic was at the Apple store when the iPhone 5 first came out last September. Jaabir dutifully got in line at 6am just for the chance of getting a ticket at 8am to buy an iPhone 5 at 10am when the store opened. After striking out several times, Jaabir decided to camp out over night. Over the course of two months, Jaabir managed to procure 24 phones and make a $4,800 cash profit. Jaabir even invited me to cut in line one morning at 7am in order to get two phones for myself to sell for $400. I was too lazy to get out of my PJ’s to stand in the cold.

With $4,800, I’m set for the next four months, easy!” Jaabir told me. With Jaabir’s daughter going to public school, free public tennis courts all around the city, and $350 a month for his portion of rent, there’s no doubt Jaabir has it made. He makes money when he needs to make money. Any more time spent working is a waste.

Jaabir’s life is not perfect, but it’s wonderful to anybody who has to work for a living. He has no boss and has the freedom to play tennis any time he wants. Jaabir drives a beat up 1996 Toyota Corolla and always seems to wear the same clothes. He doesn’t even spend money on haircuts given Jaabir answers to no one.

Work to live not live to work. In this case, how about simply live to live and never work?

Readers, do you think there is an unhealthy quest to make money for money’s sake? Isn’t happiness the most important thing? Is desire the cause of suffering

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Grayson @ Debt Roundup says

    This just shows that each person thinks of “paradise” in an entirely different way. If this is what he enjoys then good. Money does direct our paths in most cases, but we should be directed more by our passions.

  2. Ellie says

    What a refreshing story. Thinking about my own situation compared this his. I don’t know how to get off of this hamster wheel. I don’t hate my job enough to quit and I live in a decent part of town. I don’t know if I have the personal willpower to not just camp out in front of the TV all day.

    • Financial Samurai says

      The “stuck in between” feeling is interesting. It takes tremendous pain or glory to change. I felt that pain in 2009 with the world imploding, so I started this site and now it has allowed me to break free. It’s strange what pain can do. Same thing w/ having to go to work from 5:30am-7:30pm+ for two years in NYC. The pain forced me to save most of my income b/c I knew I would not last.

      • Ellie says

        The pain for me is a little more mild. The company I work for has a fantastic employer funded ESOP, so it takes some of the pressure off of retirement savings. I started putting away between 25-30% take home pay after a downsizing and massive layoff that happened in 2009 in this company. I was spared, but originally on the chopping block. That lit a fire in me to start saving even more.

  3. Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce says

    Sam, this is so awesome. I have had a very interesting go of it in this regard, and I still don’t know exactly how to explain it yet (which is probably why I started blogging). I have always done work I love in the music industry, mostly as a musician and then as an educator. Through not ever saying “no”, I have found myself doing a ton of different stuff as an educator, consultant, musician, etc., and also making more money than I ever thought. But I am not happy!!!! I actually want to get back to my roots and just PLAY TROMBONE again, but I feel a certain responsibility to contribute to our (broken) education system at the same time. I will figure it out…. However, money guided my decisions more than passion did..I am convinced. Not the way to go…Great post, man!

    • JayCeezy says

      @Tony, old joke alert:

      Q: what does a musician do when he wins $1 million in the lottery?
      A: keep on giggin ’til the money runs out!

    • Financial Samurai says

      Tony, just by starting your site and discussing your thoughts and highlighting music is a great gift you can give.

      I always admire musicians b/c I wanted to be one as well, but have no talent. To play an acoustic guitar is glorious!

  4. Mike Hunt says

    How old is Jaabir now, Sam? Does he have any goals for his family?

    A lot of people I know in SE Asia live life like Jaabir and are generally quite content.

    I think it’s great.

    -Mike

  5. Jon says

    It’s great to read about people who provide a very different perspective on life than the one we tend to grow up with. I would wish Jaabir to have great success in his future, but I’m sure my idea of success wouldn’t even cross Jaabir’s mind, and he would be perfectly happy about that.

    • Financial Samurai says

      What’s your idea of success Jon? Jaabir would like to have more money I know, but he’s also happy with what he has now. I don’t think he’d be willing to give up his freedom and tennis to make big bucks.

      • Jon says

        My opinion of what constitutes “success” is evolving, but I was referring to my rather old school view of money/career = success. Of course, I’m finding that my previous views are changing, but not to the point that they would necessarily align with Jaabir’s lifestyle.

        That is, if I had a choice between playing tennis and living decently, although with unknown and inconsistent income, verses a well-paying, career boosting job, I would still pick the job at this point in my life.

  6. Zeke says

    What did his wife think of the type of life he provided for his family? Not what he says she thinks, but what she thinks.

    • Matt says

      This is the one question that the article left me with, as well. It is one thing to realize a personal definition of a good life. But if your definition is unusual, then that makes it harder to find someone who shares it. (assuming Jaabir’s definition is unusal, for his social group) I am really curious what his various family members think. Do they share the view of paradise? Are they working hard for something else? Do they connect with each other in other ways?

      I imagine that, whatever the answer is, this is a very close family. And I would bet that the happiness level for the group as a whole is also above average.

  7. JayCeezy says

    “You can’t live in the future forever.” – Tom Waits

    I admire anyone who can live in the present, and be content. From Sam’s account, he is law-abiding and a good brother, son, husband and father. Probably has a good half-volley, too.

    “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.” – John Stuart Mill

    • Financial Samurai says

      He is all of those things… maybe he could do more parenting as he’s literally always out on the courts, but what more can you ask in this day and age? He breaks his wrist too much on volleys. I keep telling him to stiffen up and punch it.

      • JayCeezy says

        Re: breaking wrist on volley/half-volley, on occasion with seasoned players who have not mastered the proper technique, there is the possibility of an eyesight issue. That extra 6” – 12” in which the ball travels gives the player an extra split second to react, but at the expense of a crisper shot a locked wrist and contact out front would provide. Just a thought, next time you observe him play.

        • Financial Samurai says

          Sounds good. If you are ever in SF, I would love to promote a match between you guys. He plays friendly $20/match games to help with expenses. Sounds like you are an experienced player so this could be good!

        • JayCeezy says

          Thanks for the kind offer, Sam. I used to play, but not in 25+ years. Tennis is just another pursuit attempted at which I have failed.:-) But I will keep your offer in my hip pocket. Thanks!

  8. Shilpan says

    Where is he from? This story makes me nostalgic. When I was in India, I’ve know several friends and their families living life similar to Jabbir’s. It’s funny but one of my American friends just visited India, and his assessment of that country in a single line: “People don’t have much but lots of smile and everlasting happiness”.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Don’t want to say specifically, but he is from North Africa somewhere.

      Lots of smiles indeed. Nothing makes him happier than being on the courts and watching his friends and professionals play.

  9. JT says

    This sounds exactly like a friend of mine. Exactly.

    He’s undoubtedly one of the smartest people I know. Maybe not an Einstein, but he’s a practical genius…if it’s tangible, he can figure it out. He just graduated from school, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he retreats to a life in the wilderness doing odd jobs to get by and spending the balance of his time on the simple things he really enjoys.

    It’s not for me, but I think it’s great. I don’t think he’s ever, ever been truly unhappy. Not too many people can say that.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Your friend sounds a little different as Jaabir wouldn’t be considered a practical genius. I wonder how extremely bright people can maximize their potential to help the world and would find disappointment if his potential wasn’t reached.

  10. Ross says

    This doesn’t seem like your kind of philosophy. I kept waiting for you to bring down the hammer on why his life is unsustainable, and then the post ended. That’s not exactly how I’d like to live (i’m a fan of medical insurance for myself), but it’s great to see that everyone has their own definition of “paradise”. Sounds like a guy we could all learn a lot from.

  11. Kim@Eyesonthedollar says

    If he covers his expenses and his family desires nothing other than what they have, I think it’s great. Many of us certainly are to living to work and get our priorities confused. I’m sure his family enjoys his presence more than they might enjoy more “luxuries” if he were working 80 hours a week.

    However, if he is taking any form of public assistance, Medicaid, free school lunch, etc., then I don’t think taxpayers should pay for him to play tennis all day.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Well, his daughter goes to public schools, which is paid for by taxpayers, but I don’t mind.

      He’s pretty inspiring because he pays little to no taxes and is enjoying life. I never would have met Jaabir if I was still working all day. There are plenty of Jaabirs in San Francisco as I’m discovering. Doesn’t take much to live a good life, even in a city as expensive as ours.

      • Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle says

        How does he pay for health care for his daughter and wife? I know you self-employed Americans have to pay monthly premiums. Jaabirs is self-employed. Does the daughter visit the dentist regularily?

        This may seem like a bit of joy sucking from his happy life but lets see his daughter try and get a good job in the future if she has bad teeth. Jaabirs may need his daughter to get a good job in the future because he cannot be saving much for his old age.

        • Financial Samurai says

          I’ll ask and get back to you. With Universal Healthcare coming, we’ll be just like Canada soon, so not to worry. I can see many more people over the coming years not have to worry about work, healthcare, and failing now that we have a stronger government safety net.

  12. Pauline says

    I couldn’t sleep at night in his situation. I have a similar lifestyle, haven’t worked for money in three years and work a little here and a little there when I feel like it, but I could sit in a hammock for years and not have to worry about money. He looks like he could not have an emergency fund or too much money at a time. I need that safety to keep living the carefree life.

  13. Canadian Budget Binder says

    They say “you can’t miss what you don’t have or never had” so if it makes them all happy living this life than so be it. I’m not sure if it’s something I could do to that extent but he seems to not worry at all but must have some faith of where his next score of money is going to come from. The wife and I were talking the other day about how life used to be so simple when we were young. There is so much emphasis on having more, wanting more and being the best of the best. As kids we would go outside, play with out mates, collect marbles, play soccer, whatever else kids do. As teens we would hang out, watch movies etc. What’s happened to us and why has technology taken over our lives. 1- it’s all around us, even at work, 2- because we let it. Sometimes it’s a freedom to just let go, break free, go back to basics and if it’s playing tennis that gives him that freedom of being on top of the world, heck why not. Just turn off from technology for a week, all of it, and you will feel that freedom, I know I have.

    • Financial Samurai says

      You’re right. Life was so simple 20+ years ago. It’s amazing for us to live in a time before ubiquitous cellphones and now. I don’t think I could turn off my phone for one week. The curiosity of what’s going on in the world would get the best of me!

      Jaabir has an old iphone 3. Dropped it several times and has cracks all over his screens. Even though he got 24 iPhone 5s to sell, he refused to get one for himself.

  14. krantcents says

    Interesting how he does not feel the least bit stressed! I know I could not handle that lifestyle, definitely too stressful. I guess it is a matter of perspective.

  15. Untemplater says

    That’s cool how much he loves tennis and I was moved reading how he asks other players for their balls after they finish playing. I could see how some people would feel too embarrassed or perhaps even scared to ask something like that, but he shows it never hurts to ask and he knows how to be resourceful. We really don’t need a lot to be happy.

    • Financial Samurai says

      That’s another thing about Jaabir, he has no shame in asking for help or a hookup. For example, he often asks me to go play at a private club at night even though he’s not a member. I’m always hesitant b/c I’m embarrassed to just sneak on the courts late at night and get confronted by the front desk.

      I decided to go one night and play from 9:45pm to midnight. Nobody bothered us, even though the staff could see us play. I asked him about it and he said, “They all know me. They know I’m poor. They aren’t rich themselves. There are 10+ courts available indoors at this time. Why should they bother us? Let’s continue playing.”

  16. My Financial Independence Journey says

    I do not have the right personality to live like that. I am far to conscientious and future oriented not to worry about finances. If my passive income streams were fully in place that would be fine, but from the writing it sounds like he lives almost paycheck to paycheck.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Neither do I. I plan like crazy and then plan some more. Even if I finished my exam with 15 minutes to spare and feel good about it, I’ll spend the remaining 15 minutes checking over every single answer just to make sure.

      Jaabir has provided me some good perspective that there’s a really good chance I’m over planning and over thinking things. Everything will be all right in the end. Perhaps this post will help overplanners rethink their ways as well.

  17. Mike says

    Almost sounds like an idyllic life-sure there are stresses but it seems that overall he isn’t too terribly worried about them. I wish more of us were like him as a person and could realize that we don’t need a lot of things to be happy.

  18. Charles Meyer says

    This kind of reminds me of one of my friends. He lives an income based housing. Is in the National Guard, does school and have a ton of free time. He pays less than $100 for his rent. I am kind of jealous of his situation.

    I am hoping to do the same thing soon. I am currently saving up money to free up some time for 4 months. I am hoping to spend some needed time with family, travel and just not work for a bit. I am hoping to find a way to where I can live off a minimal amount of money and that gives me free time to do what I enjoy.

    • Financial Samurai says

      His next goal is to get his tennis team farther in the playoffs by finding new teammates to recruit and figuring out lineups. He’s excellent at captaining a team. I believe his goal is as gratifying as any financial goal there is, or any goal for that matter.

  19. Michael says

    I think there is an important point, and you touched on it at the end (but IMO did not give it enough emphasis)… Work to live rather than live to work. I think it’s rather noble to build the type of life you want to live, and then figure out how you’re going to support that lifestyle.

    You point out in another comment thread that you’re a planner, perhaps to the point of over-planning. I think that I’m much the same way. It must be the Engineer/Computer Scientist in me. I think for me the “light at the end of the tunnel” of all the micromanaging and planning is there (*fingers crossed*) will come a day when the results of the planning and engineering bear fruit. Will I be able to let go at that point and just live the life I’ve constructed rather than fret over the details? I cannot be totally sure, but I hope so.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Ah yes, engineers love to analyze and plan. We never know until we get there, so don’t forget to enjoy the journey. I’ve got a post discussing the pros and cons of early retirement which I’ll share in the near future.

  20. Squirrelers says

    If he’s happy, and if he’s taking care of his child and giving her a good foundation for her life, then more power to him. The idea of freedom and answering to no one is something many aspire to, but have trouble achieving. Looks like he has it.

    • Financial Samurai says

      I hope Jaabir’s story shows folks that the achievement of answering to no one is possible if the person just doesn’t require much. We do what’s best for ourselves in the long term, so those who want freedom will attain it.

  21. ristlin says

    I have an uncle like this guy. Never held a “steady” job his entire life, but somehow managed to provide for his family by taking up the odd job as a “hobbyist facilitator” (help rich people build their toys, etc.). It’s a win-win situation for him, he gets to keep some of the toys and makes money helping them build or learn how to use theirs.

    And by toys, I’m talking about motor boats, parasailing, remote controlled airplanes, etc.

    The man also thrives in any environment as he has a knack for finding ways to exploit systems to his advantage.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Now that is an occupation I’ve never heard of, and something I may pursue! I guess some might call it an “entourage?” Either way, I’m happy to partake in spending my wealthy friend’s money. No need for a salary! :)

  22. retirebyforty says

    That’s pretty awesome! Just live life as it comes. The only question I have is what happens if there is an emergency that require more money? I’m sure he’ll be able to figure it out though. He sounds like a resourceful guy and has a strong family tie which mean a good safety net.

  23. Bruce Shepley says

    I appreciate you talking about a person who has a different take on life. It reminds me of the story of the fisherman who fishes for a couple hours a day in the morning, then spends the rest of the day relaxing, playing with his kids and wife, and socializing. One day a business man sees him and says to him, why don’t you work harder, buy a boat, make more money, get more boats, hire staff, continue to grow your business until you have enough money to retire? The fisherman then asks, “then what would I do?” the business man then says, “well, you could then just fish a couple hours a day for fun, spend time with the family, and socialize”.

    Thanks for the different perspective. I find I am focused too much on work, and need to get different perspective.

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