Just over a decade ago, Frank Van Rycke set himself a goal: to have enough money to be able to retire within the next 10 years. In 10 jaar binnen (Lannoo), or Inside 10 Years, describes the 42-year-old's efforts to achieve that goal. “Binnen zijn” means literally “to be inside” and is also the equivalent of the phrase “home and dry” in English. We met in the leafy and luxurious surroundings of the Mariadal in Zaventem, a brasserie in a former castle, where I asked the Flemish entrepreneur and business coach what binnen zijn meant to him.
“I think people right away think of a big house and a second home in the south of France, an apartment at the coast, a boat or a yacht,” he says. “But my vision of “making it” is mainly about freedom: the freedom to do what you want, with whom you want, when you want. That’s what it signifies to me. As soon as you have that, in my opinion, you can say that you’ve made it.”
At various points in the book, you describe the effort required to achieve your goal as a sort of second job. Most people have enough with one job and a family. Is your advice really applicable to people who don’t have the enormous drive needed?
I wrote the book with the conviction that anyone reading it would be able to improve their own financial situation. Whether you go for it all the way or just pick and choose from the possibilities offered, that’s a decision for you. It all depends on the goals you set yourself. I’m convinced that some people will be able to do much better than I did myself because I didn’t have the book when I did it. Everyone has to decide what’s important for them, and, sure, if you want to make it in 10 years, that does demand a huge investment in time and energy, absolutely.
You’re experienced in sales, which gives you skills such as negotiation that an office worker, say, or a civil servant might not have.
You know what it’s about? It’s about the experience of success. And that civil servant, the next time he goes out to buy shoes, maybe he’ll dare to ask for a discount, and if he gets it, he’ll be so delighted he’ll want to do more and better. Progress comes with baby steps. I’m not out to create clones of myself. The message I’m trying to get across is: What matters is to take that first step. Dare to do, and you’ll automatically see that things start to move around you; learn from the situation and then go further.
For 10 years you worked at your job and also devoted a significant amount of time to your goal. Has your family had to go without you?
Up to a point, that’s a price you have to pay. In my experience and in the experience of people I’ve interviewed who are successful and extremely busy, you try to compensate for quantity with quality. But yes, it’s true: If I’m sitting here, then I’m not at home, and I can’t go to the playground with my children.
If I were to ask them, “What does your daddy do?”, what might they answer?
(Laughs) Well, now they’d say I write books. They know that much. I try hard to bring the little one to the crèche three times a week, for example. I’m home three days a week and gone for two; is that a lot or not? I don’t know. I think what is good is that they see how success is coupled with hard work. I think that’s a good lesson. You’re showing them what life really is, or can be. They’ve seen us succeeding, but they also saw us at a less successful moment, and that’s a living example of how it can be done. I hope so, at least.
In 10 jaar binnen began as a plan for Frank Van Rycke’s life, with a defined start and finish, and the book follows the same structured approach. The plan starts modestly: Consume less and build up a savings to allow you to move to the next step. Work with a view to maximising income and capital in the short and medium term, with a view to not having to work in the long term. Invest what you don’t spend, beginning with property. Branch out into other investments, including your own business. And finally, limit your exposure to tax as far as possible, using every (legal) means available.
Consume less, save more: Finish every month with a sum left over for savings, however small. Avoid situations where you might be tempted to spend needlessly. Make a budget, but be realistic.“It’s not your income but your spending that determines how much you have left over at the end of the month,” says Van Rycke.
Consider your job as a means, not an end: Use your paid work to build up knowledge, expertise and network contacts for later. Aim to be paid for performance rather than hours worked. “Negotiate to push up your income or push down your costs. Asking costs nothing: A ‘no’ is what you already have; a ‘yes’ is what you might get.”
Buy your own home: Renting is pure consumption, your money thrown away. Get to know the market over a small area and strike the minute an opportunity arises. “Buy with your head, not your heart. Consider this purchase as an investment. Your dream house can come later.”
Setting up in business: Make a good plan that takes account of your strengths and weaknesses. Be on the lookout for business opportunities. Don’t let setbacks get you down. “Keep on striving for improvement. That forms the basis of all success.”
Taxation: Invest in an advisor who can tailor a tax plan to your requirements. Make use of the deductions available, especially pension contributions and insurance. “The state takes on average 50% of our income, which feels like an injustice. Resist like a modern-day William Tell.”