My New Diet Experiment

Up until now, most of my health/fitness effort in life has been on the exercise side with nutrition being an afterthought. Of course I know now how foolish this was but hindsight is 20/20. For years, I ate without a thought beyond that I needed a lot of protein and a lot of everything overall and my time in the gym would take care of the rest. This was obviously a terrible approach and I can only guess what it has cost me. Unfortunately, because I usually do spend a prodigious amount of time in the gym, I have always been in above average physical shape so I have never been forced to confront the nutrition side in a serious way. In my mid twenties, I started to pay a little bit of attention to nutrition, but not much. At least I started eating more fruits and vegetables but aside from that, my diet was still pretty bad. When I was married, my diet got a little bit better, but again, not much. We both spent a fair amount of time in the gym and were both in above average shape so again, we did the bare minimum with nutrition and neither of us was interested enough in breaking the cycle.

But when I got divorced, things finally changed. With no one else around to worry about pleasing and a newfound mission to prove someone very, very wrong, I started experimenting more in the kitchen. Instead of choosing a recipe I wanted to eat and then making it, possibly substituting a healthier ingredient or two but otherwise keeping it the same, I started to choose the healthiest ingredients and then find recipes that featured them. And sometimes I would simply build my own recipes from the ground up that would start out as very healthy culinary disasters but evolve over time into very healthy, edible meals – and sometimes even beyond that point. But over the last year, I’ve taken it to the next level. I’ve started paying attention to the big picture – making sure I get plenty of vegetables, a moderate amount of mostly high quality carbohydrates, a reasonable amount of protein, and less garbage. And since this year started, I’ve eaten almost no garbage and have paid for zero. As a result, my fitness level, which was probably at an 8 before, is knocking on the door of 9 – even in spite of a rash of injuries that has held me back.

Why the nutritional history? I want people to know what a flippant attitude I’ve had towards nutrition for most of my life because it’s a great example of how it’s never too late to start doing the right things. This concept applies to many areas, although today I want to talk about nutrition. Over the last year, I’ve heard more and more about intermittent fasting and recently, it reached the tipping point quite by accident. When I sprained my ankle, I wound up missing a couple weeks of doing almost any leg exercises in the gym. In an attempt to mitigate the situation as well as improve my overall efficiency, I devised a plan to eat less. I had been spending 30-40 minutes making elaborate breakfast burritos totally from scratch in the mornings.

I decided to temporarily scrap this meal to account for the dramatic reduction in calories I would be burning and get myself moving more quickly in the mornings at the same time. This is easily the healthiest meal I eat so imagine my surprise when I started feeling better without it (I have since added it back in, often as dinner since I have more time in the evenings). And it wasn’t just the way I felt. Even though I was putting in about half the work in the gym and even less than that on the cardio side, it wasn’t the all out disaster I was expecting. I did lose about twenty pounds (not a one of which I wanted to lose, mind you) and while a lot of it was muscle, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of it was also fat, to the point where my overall composition was noticeably improving.

I started researching in an effort to figure out what was going on and all roads seemed to lead to the same place. While the focus of nutrition is usually on what you are eating, there is more and more evidence that the timing of that eating is very important as well. I had inadvertently stumbled onto time restricted eating – the very same thing I had overheard so many people talking about and dismissed as “just the latest trend.” I’m still in the process of researching but I’ve learned enough to form a hypothesis and launch an experiment. In simple, general terms, the theory is that one’s metabolism can only work effectively for so many hours per day. Unfortunately, we in the western world tend to eat basically the entire time we’re awake. If you think about it, this wouldn’t have been possible for our distant ancestors and even for people a century ago, who largely wouldn’t have been able to afford such excess. Anyway, for some of those hours we’re eating, our metabolisms are struggling severely. In order for them to work optimally, it appears that eating should be restricted to twelve hours per day on the high end. And there is evidence that fewer hours will yield even better results.

As for me, I’m aiming for eight to nine hours per day. One unwelcome revelation in my research was that coffee counts, even if you only drink it black as I do, because it forces metabolic processes to start. So I’ve had to make some adjustments and here is what I’m doing now. I wake up at 6am and instead of having coffee, I head straight to the gym after chugging the 24 ounces of water I drink immediately when I wake up (your body gets dehydrated during the night). I get home between 7:30 and 8. Then I do 20-30 minutes of core work and then I do some language practice (I’m always working on improving my German and Spanish). Sometimes I also work in a chore or two around the apartment. Finally, around 9, I make coffee, drink a protein shake, and drink a smoothie of mostly leafy green vegetables with a little fruit. When the coffee is ready, I do my morning reading. From there, I get my workday going.

I eat a big lunch and a reasonable sized dinner. But the dinner (and my evening smoothie) has to happen by about 5 if I’m going to stay within my eight hour target. I will note that I’m not going to be 100% rigid. If I’m out for drinks once or twice a week, I’m not going to sit there sipping water in order to keep my fast going. However, I may consider starting the day with a late lunch; I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Lucky for me, I work out of my home, don’t travel as much as I did in the past, and am usually back home doing emails, follow ups, etc by around 4 so as to avoid as much of the stupidly insane Houston traffic as possible. Back in my office droning days, this would have taken more planning and effort. But even if I were in that position today, I would probably try something like this. For me, success in life is quality times quantity. If there is a way to improve my health and fitness level, then I’d be willing to tolerate a very high cost in both financial expense and inconvenience. There was a time when I didn’t think that way. But I’m thankful to be here today. There is absolutely nothing worth more than health.

After a while, I’ll do another post on this with both my observed results and any conclusions I come to with my research. If anyone out there wants to try this with me, I would love to compare notes!

The New Checking Account That Will Pay Me $67.50 a Year for a One Time Investment of Ten Minutes

Disclaimer: I am not selling anything, doing affiliate marketing, or any other shenanigans. In no way will I make any money if anyone follows my lead and signs up for the account I describe in this post.

I went into more details on this previously, but for a while now, I have mainly kept my cash in a combination of a credit union checking account and an online savings account. First, it would flow into the checking account from my paychecks and various other sources. I was paid 7.5% on the first $500 in the account and .2% on the rest. Each month, I would pay my bills, transfer some to investments, transfer some to my online savings account, and leave a few thousand in checking. The online savings account paid me a better rate than the .2% I would otherwise have been paid on the balance above $500 left in the checking account and of course the investments paid significantly more (at least most of the time). Today, that online savings account is paying 2.45% and if the FED would stop letting the stock market and our very stock market oriented president intimidate it, that rate would continue to go higher.

Mostly, this is a pretty awesome system. I only keep around $10k of cash on hand (any excess usually gets invested) and of that $10k, the first $500 makes $37.50 a year and the last $6500 makes $159.25 for an average ROI of 2.8% which covers inflation and just a little bit extra – not bad for my emergency/float cash. So what’s the problem? I’m getting crushed on the other $3k I usually keep in my checking account, which makes only .2%. Previously, I had simply lived with this and considered it a small price to pay to have enough cash on hand to deal with any minor to moderate issues that came along. But no mas! Introducing the SoFi Checking Account!

The SoFi Checking Account is a hybrid account with a ton to offer. First and foremost, it pays 2.25%. Second, there are basically no fees of any kind to have to dodge using direct deposit, minimum balances, an absurd number of debit card transactions each month, etc. Third, and this is a big one for some folks, there are no ATM fees – ANYWHERE. There is a little bit of weirdness as SoFi itself is not an actual bank. So it uses partner banks to actually store the money. But not to worry; all of them are FDIC insured, which makes them just as secure as any other US bank.

It’s not every day that I change primary bank accounts but today is one of them! My new setup will be as follows. I will leave $500 sitting in the existing checking account since I’m not about to give up my 7.5% rate on that money. A minimum monthly direct deposit of $250 is required to avoid a monthly maintenance fee so I will deposit that much and then move it into an investment from there on a monthly basis. But the rest of the incoming cash will be destined for this new SoFi account, meaning the $3k average balance will earn me $73.50 per year. Subtract the paltry $6 a year that money was making me before and I’m left with a profit of $67.50. And if the FED gets its head out of its ass and continues its long, slow march back towards responsible currency management, that return is likely to go up rapidly. If it increases its funds rate to a historically normal level, this payoff would more than double!

What did it cost me to get this money? About ten minutes. The account setup process was actually incredibly easy and that took about five. The other five minutes involved printing out the ol’ direct deposit change form, filling it out, and emailing it over to our payroll lady, who is accustomed to getting these from me on a fairly regular basis and I’m quite sure loves me for it. For those ten beautiful minutes, I made a cool $405 an hour! I would work that job 24/7/365 if I could. And every year this account keeps paying out at this rate, or preferably higher, those ten minutes become retroactively that much more valuable. Sweet!

Hello Darkness, My Old “Friend”

Let it never be said that I’m using this blog the way most people use social media –  presenting a highlight reel as if it accurately represented the entirety of my life and there wasn’t even a hint of a struggle anywhere. On the contrary, my struggles are the only reason I have been able to attain the highlight reel moments and the only reason I have been able to enjoy them. Yes, I’m successful in many areas of life and I want to help others attain success of their own. But I believe I would be doing a disservice if I led anyone to believe that success would come without a price or that it would mean an easy life from that day forward. There is no utopia or lasting easiness in life and if you spend your time wishing for it, you will ruin your opportunities to enjoy the happiness that is actually possible.

In a recent post, I mentioned that I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life and that while the situation has improved dramatically, I’ve accepted that the disease will always be a part of me. And as it so happens, I’m contending with it today. It started early yesterday evening during a real estate investing webinar (that is my side business; as it progresses I may write about it here). It had been a very solid day. I wound up crossing literally every item off of my to do list, something that rarely happens because I aim very high. Just about every aspect of the day had gone well. Sure, there are some storms lurking on the horizon for me and yes, a couple of them are almost certain to get very ugly. But this is nothing out of the ordinary in my profession; with great privilege comes great responsibility.

I ended last night the way I always try to. I got to bed reasonably close to on schedule, I hit every point on my checklist, and my last thoughts before I fell asleep were about events of the day I was thankful for. It isn’t uncommon for me to get depressed at night but usually my regular routine, which is designed largely for this purpose, is enough to ensure that I wake up feeling back to normal. But this morning, the depression was still very noticeably present, pressing down on every inch of me like a giant, invisible lead vest. This is far from my first rodeo so I know what usually works. I ignored the feelings and worked through my routine, confident that by the time I finished my morning workout, momentum would have built and pulled me through. But again I was wrong. I had a good, solid workout. No personal records were set but it was a little over an hour very well spent. And yet, I still didn’t feel any better.

At that point, I decided I needed to take the situation more seriously. One of my favorite depression fighting techniques is called a thought record. Basically, it involves systematically pinpointing the thoughts that are causing the depression and weighing the evidence for and against them. Usually, I am able to conclude that the thoughts are not an accurate reflection of reality and disregard them, and usually the negative feelings dissipate pretty quickly. In this case, I put a lot of effort in, but it ultimately became clear that I was already thinking in a balanced way. There are plenty of legitimate concerns in my world right now and I am neither exaggerating, nor minimizing/overlooking them. For anyone who thinks life is easy once you’re doing very well financially, I can tell you that it isn’t. Yes, things get easier financially, although there is a strong diminishing return effect due to the progressive nature of our tax code. But the reality is that you’re being compensated for taking on additional stress. There is a great saying about this; if it was easy, everyone would do it. Only you can determine what makes the most sense for you, but many people choose to have less money and less stress and I’m pretty sure I will turn back in that direction in my own life eventually.

But as I said, I work in a high stress job and this is not new. On any given day, I’m likely to be at odds with customers, dealers, various service providing entities, and maybe most of all, people in my office. Conflict and high pressure comprise the medium in which most of our business gets done. Many people can’t handle it and in fact, my job was only open in this territory because the last man to hold it had a very public nervous breakdown. And that is not uncommon in this line of work; tons of people wash out. But the point is, I’ve learned to handle ongoing conflicts of varying intensity and I can’t remember too many times over the last few years when I’ve had none to speak of. It could be a situation where a long enough duration of fighting has worn me down to the point where I can’t handle any more, but I don’t think so. I don’t feel like I’m in that place or anywhere near it. I’ve been feeling consistently great lately, in fact. So while I can’t rule it out as a cause, I doubt my current bout of depression is coming from this particular source, even if it does appear to be the simplest and most logical explanation.

And that’s where I’m at now. I’m about to head downstairs for my evening cardio and certainly there is a possibility I will feel better after that. But it’s also very possible that I won’t and that it could take me a few more days, or even weeks, to get through this fog. I know a number of things that help me – exercise, fresh air, sunlight, doing the right things and building momentum to truck right through it, analyzing my thought patterns and challenging their logic as objectively as possible, and talking to people I love. I tried most of these methods during the course of today and I will continue to pursue them because the continuation of this particular episode of depression is not a foregone conclusion, like a minimum number of years to be served on a prison sentence. I can break out of this at any moment and at some point in the near future, I will. But sometimes the answers don’t come immediately and rather than present this as a problem that is easy to solve with a systematic approach, I wanted to use my present circumstances as an example of how it can be more complex than that. Just like anything else worth doing, breaking out of depression doesn’t always come easily, even if you have a lot of experience doing it. Be well, my friends.

Awesome Books I Recommend – 2nd Edition

As I’ve mentioned previously, I can’t overstate the importance of continuing your lifelong education. And reading books (or listening to audio books if you don’t like to sit and read) is a great way to contribute to that. Here are my thoughts on a couple of books I’ve enjoyed recently.

Borrow: The American Way of Debt (2012) by Louis Hyman

Full disclosure: I love both history and economics so your mileage may vary on this one. With that out of the way, I loved this book! It chronicles the history of the use of credit in the United States from prior to the Great Depression all the way up until 2012 when it was published. Credit is as old as agriculture (how do procure the necessary equipment, supplies, labor, etc until harvest time when you finally get paid?) and it has played a huge role in the growth of the most powerful economy in the history of mankind to date. Basically, credit to the American economy is PED use to professional athletes. If you use none at all, you’re ordinary and probably unsuccessful. If you use too much, you run into problems – for example, a failed drug test or an early death as a result of your organs more or less crushing your heart against your rib cage until it explodes. But with just the right balance (think vintage Arnold versus today’s bodybuilders), legends are born.

The analogy is mine; I don’t believe this book mentions steroids or even sports for that matter. But it does paint a balanced picture of how credit has both hurt us and benefited us as a nation. It also illustrates the patterns in the way the economy cycles, which can be very valuable knowledge to have. Unfortunately, the author closes it abruptly and in rather shallow fashion with a quick and superficial admonishment about how more government oversight would fix the biggest problems. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his assertion, it’s disappointing to see someone paint such a vivid, thorough picture and then wrap it up like a professor who just realized he’s gone over on his lecture and everyone is getting up to leave. I would have enjoyed seeing him form his argument and present evidence for it but instead he basically just stated it and promptly left the room.

Weak conclusion aside, this was a very worthwhile book to read. It really helped me to round things out and I already had a pretty solid base in both American history and economics. To someone who has neither of those, it would probably be even more helpful. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever heard someone say “back in my day, people would have never dreamed of borrowing money.” You have probably always known deep down that unless that guy stepped out of a time machine before he said that, he was full of shit. But if you read this book, you will have the facts to back it up.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016) by Sebastian Junger

This is a special book that has a lot to say. It was so profound that there were several times when I put the book down and found myself deep in thought about what I had just read and the way it relates to issues in our society today. What’s more, it manages to present its message in an extremely succinct fashion – something the author of this blog could certainly take a lesson on at times! The book is just over a hundred pages and yet, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it.

If I had to summarize the message of this book, I would say that victory has made us weak. We in the western world have gotten so far beyond the subsistence based existence of most of humanity’s past that we now have obese people with devices containing the entire world’s knowledge in the palm of their hands who genuinely believe they are poor. But in the process of getting here, we have lost sight of something crucial. Today, we are the wealthiest collection of people that has ever existed but we are also much more disconnected from one another than almost any of our ancestors were. Each of us lives an incredibly isolated life by historical standards and the author posits that this is the cause of the epidemic of mental health issues we collectively struggle against. All of this is very well researched and put together.

This book won’t take anyone more than a few hours to read and I promise it will change you in some way. It is for anyone from extreme liberal to extreme conservative and anywhere in between. It explains so much of what we see every day and how we might be able to make this world a better place if we would just pay attention to what is really important. This author has a gift and I would definitely read another book based on nothing more than his name being on the cover.

The Opportunities in Life’s Challenges – Part 2

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may be aware that I sprained my ankle and wound up on crutches a while back. I’m happy to report that last week, I was able to start walking without the crutches and for the last few days, I’ve been walking with no limp at all and have resumed my regular workout schedule – albeit carefully! I am very happy and excited to get back to full throttle in the gym and all other areas of my life very soon.

Over the years, I’ve been through a lot of these situations but I haven’t always handled them very well. This time, my attitude was much better than ever before and it really helped. For one thing, it made the whole experience feel like much less of an inconvenience. But also, while I certainly can’t prove this, may even have helped to speed up my healing process. This was a serious ankle sprain; we’re talking about a joint being in the wrong position when it hit the floor, going much further in that direction, and causing immediate and fairly severe pain. I was on crutches over a month as a result of a previous sprain of similar severity. The mind can be incredibly powerful and this has been documented plenty of times in medical contexts. In this case, I believe that by having mine in a good, healthy state, I put it to work on healing my ankle faster.

Whether or not that is true, the whole episode has been a great reminder for me. Each and every one of us has so much to be thankful for in life. It can be very easy to focus on negative things that appear more significant in the moment and ignore the positives. Believe me, I have spent far too much of my life looking at things that way. But when you lose something fundamental – like the ability to walk – you suddenly realize the fallacy in this. Or at least I do. There are plenty of people who would give almost anything just to be able to walk ever again. Temporarily experiencing a taste of their reality for myself gave me a valuable dose of perspective. Every morning, when I got out of bed and realized I would need the crutches to progress any further, I got a fresh reminder. Thankfully, this condition didn’t last long enough for it to stop surprising me when I woke up!

Of course this experience will fade to some deep, dark corner of my memory bank before too long. But this time around, my goal is to slow down that process. Remember my challenge from a few posts ago? It would make it much easier to get started and to excel at it if the threshold were as low as being thankful to be able to walk, run, jump, work out, etc. And why not set it that low? Gratitude can enrich anyone’s life to an almost infinite degree and if you can get the ball rolling, even just a little bit, you’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t matter how you do it.

This is where I have to call myself out. As disappointing as it is, I’ve allowed myself to get bogged down with some frustrations in my work over the last week or so. I’m doing all I can to improve the realities of these few situations and while I wait for my efforts to hopefully produce results, writing this post is helping me to refocus on what’s most important. Writing this blog often does, which is a big part of why I enjoy doing it. And to keep that going, I’m going to lay out a new challenge for myself and for anyone who would like to join me.

The next time I get frustrated with a situation, I’m going to look at it as an opportunity to improve myself – because that is exactly what any problem is. My goal is to avoid reacting rashly and instead, to think about the situation logically – starting with taking responsibility, which is so crucial. What actions of mine led me here? What could I have done differently? What can I do now that is likely to make things better? Once I have a game plan for both current and future improvement, I can focus on executing it. This process will be much more effective than letting emotions take over and complaining about it. Of course, like so many worthwhile things in life, this is a simple concept that will be difficult to implement. I’m going to try my best to be up to the challenge – whenever I do get my next opportunity. Hopefully you will as well if you choose to do this with me!

How to Choose a Car: The Best and Worst Brands

There is no getting around it. If it has four wheels and an engine, I love it! From a finance perspective, this can be a dangerous area. But a little knowledge goes a long way towards solving that problem. I could write at least one book on this subject but I think I’m going to approach it one topic per post. In this one, I’m going to talk about which brands are best and worst from a financial perspective. I’m not going to cover every single brand that exists – only the more common ones that are either at the top of the heap or the bottom. I will touch on cars and trucks here but I will not talk about SUVs simply because I know nothing about them. Why not? I’m a finance guy and approach everything from that perspective. So in my world, SUVs basically don’t exist. As you will notice as this post progresses, you need to look beyond the brand name because those get bought and sold all the time. Who actually does the manufacturing is much more important than the logo they’re slapping on the product.

With cars, I have to start with Toyota/Lexus. They are simply the best of the best. It starts with their manufacturing process. These guys are absolutely obsessive about efficiency and quality control and it shows in everything they produce. They have very few misses. Almost any of their cars are very reliable, efficient, and refined, and as a result, the cost of ownership is low. That said, they are not perfect. While they’ve gained ground in recent years, especially with the Lexus brand, they are a little weak on the design side, both interior and exterior. And as a former Supra owner, I am horrified and disgusted at the way the name is being bastardized today. That car appears to be more BMW than Toyota and bears little resemblance to the legend it shares its name with. That said, I’m sure it will sell very well; just not to those of us who loved the original for what it was – a beautiful, relatively reliable, extremely modifiable, high performance machine at a surprisingly low price.

While not quite up to Toyota’s standard, Honda/Acura is a solid choice as well. Originally a motorcycle manufacturer, Honda is a little more performance oriented than Toyota. Their reliability and efficiency are also great although both are a definite step below Toyota’s. In my opinion, their design is hideous – especially with their Acura brand – but I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One other Asian manufacturer that deserves a mention is Hyundai/Kia/Genesis. These cars were much maligned years ago but they have come a long way. Today they are nearly competitive with Toyota and Honda on reliability and efficiency. And as a bonus, because they are still working through their reputation struggles of the past, they are very value oriented. They tend to offer features you normally don’t see at their price points. I would expect Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury brand to continue that trend and offer a very competitive value relative to that of its competition.

On the truck side, things are a little simpler; get a Ford. The F150 has been outselling the competition for a very long time and with good reason. It is the best truck, period. There are plenty of good competitors here – the Silverado/Sierra and the Tundra at full size and the Ridgeline, Tacoma, and Colorado/Canyon at mid size. That is the smallest trucks go these days unless you want a Nissan Frontier, which is the lone small, cheap truck left in existence (sadly, the legend in this category, the Ranger, is coming back as an F150 Light, a similar bastardization to that of the Supra). In general, I don’t recommend Nissan as it is a middle of the pack manufacturer but in this case, it is the only option. Trucks are very expensive so I would only advocate buying one if you genuinely need it. But if you are going to use a truck as a truck, a Ford is a no brainer.

Those are the best brands. Which ones should you stay away from? If we’re talking about cars, anything American is a pass. The big three (Ford, GM, Fiat/Chrysler) have huge legacy costs that go into every vehicle they produce. With big, expensive vehicles like trucks, they can make it work. With cars, it simply handicaps them too much. The best evidence of this is their reliability. With the better Asian brands, you can usually get the odometer to six digits without doing much more than changing oil, brakes, etc. If you pull that off with an American car, count yourself lucky and sell it soon because that luck won’t last forever. That trend only accelerates as the mileage gets higher.

And please don’t be fooled by Chevy’s incredibly irritating JD Power commercials. They are flat out bullshit. A lot of money changes hands when it comes to using JD Power awards in marketing and they are dubious at best anyway. In fact, some other manufacturers took Chevy to task on this recently, pointing out some of the most blatant lies and threatening to take legal action. While refusing to admit to anything, Chevy wisely pulled the ads in question, tacitly revealing the reality of the situation in the process. It shouldn’t have had to come to that but it’s a great example of how low the standard for truth in advertising actually is. I ignore 99% of it in all forms and I highly recommend you adopt that policy as well if you haven’t already.

Aside from American branded cars, I don’t recommend anything German because of reliability issues and overall high cost of ownership. They manufacture everything with very tight tolerances and the result is that while the quality of the better brands (BMW and Mercedes Benz) is very high at first, it goes downhill quickly from there and maintenance/repairs are not cheap. Volkswagen (including Audi, Porsche, and some other brands under the same ownership) is on the automatic pass list. I don’t recommend anything British (or formerly British brands like Jaguar) as their reliability is atrocious, particularly when it comes to electrical issues. And finally, while Fiat/Chrysler vehicles (Dodge, Jeep, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and a handful of other brands are included under this banner) are usually cheaper than their competition, there is a good reason for that. They are simply some of the worst vehicles on the road. Efficiency and build quality are usually poor while reliability is worse. This was the case long before Fiat got involved and it hasn’t changed. And let’s not forget that the Ram logo is literally a vagina. You can’t make this stuff up.

To sum this all up, if you’re looking for a car, you want Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura, or Hyundai/Kia/Genesis. If you’re actually going to use a truck, stick with Ford. If I didn’t mention a particular brand or group of brands (ie German cars), that means it is somewhere in the middle – not among the worst but not among the best either. And who wants to pay good money for something average? Obviously you still want to research individual models but in general, if you stick to the best brands I’ve listed here AND take care of whatever you buy, you are very likely to come out ahead.

My FIRE Problem and Why It Doesn’t Matter – At Least Not Right Now

More and more folks have likely heard of the FIRE movement. Lately it seems to be a popular target for potshots from mainstream media personal finance hacks who want the average person to keep reading their recycled bullshit advice and fueling their viewer/reader numbers without ever being able to graduate to something better. And FIRE advocates have “fired” right back. Sorry, it had to be done. FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. You might be surprised to learn that I am not 100% on board. I had been at one time. But my perspective has evolved a little over the last few years.

I love the FI in FIRE. In the richest society in the history of the world, we can all aspire to be financially independent if it is a high enough priority. Sadly, it will never happen for most people because shiny objects, slick sales pitches, lifestyles they feel obligated to live or provide, neighbors that have to be kept up with, etc, always seem to be more important. But for anyone who ever wishes he could say no at work with zero fear of potential consequences, financial independence would make it possible. For anyone who wants to go on vacation without planning it months in advance or having money be a limiting factor, same thing. I could keep going but I think you get the idea. There is nothing you can buy on this planet that is quite as satisfying as knowing you will never again have to make a decision based on such a crass factor as money. Or put another way, if you can think about money for long enough, you can reach the point where you never need to again. The FIRE movement is mostly about reaching that day as soon as possible so you can enjoy the rest of them more.

I think most people can agree that financial independence is a worthwhile goal. But many seem to object to the RE part. There is even a lot of disagreement about the exact definition of the term. Some FIRE detractors say it’s cheating if you work in any way, shape, or form after retiring early. Others say it’s not worth “living like you’re poor” your whole life just so you can retire at a young age. My take is that the term can be useful to anyone regardless of exactly how you choose to define it. If it makes sense, you can think of it as “retiring” from money being the most important factor in what you do – or a factor at all, for that matter. I would also say that your living standard is your choice and no one else’s. If you are happy and you aren’t hurting anyone, tell them to go pound sand. The FIRE community welcomes people all along the spectrum, from one extremely disciplined, analytical blogger who lives on about $7k a year all the way to another rather neurotic one (I mean that with love, Sam – and yes, it takes one to know one!) who seems to fear that even the $200k+ his investments earn annually, combined with his incredible intellect, might somehow not be quite enough.

Bottom line, FIRE can be whatever you want it to be. Unlike with religion, where it could be considered a little hypocritical to be on the ala carte plan, this is a very open and welcoming school of thought. Take what you like and use it to make your life better; ignore what you don’t. I enjoy hanging out with a local FIRE group and some of them take frugal to a level I would never want to approach. Others seem to live higher on the hog than a man of my humble origins is likely to ever want to – although I reserve the right to change my mind on that point. It doesn’t matter. Everyone brings something to the table and everyone benefits from both building relationships with similar minded people and from being exposed to a wide range of ideas and insights.

What is my personal FIRE struggle? At some point in your life, a guidance counselor probably asked you what you would do if money didn’t matter at all. That’s it for me, right there. Unless I veer pretty far from my current path, I’ll reach financial independence in the next five to ten years but I have absolutely no fucking clue what to do with my life when I get there. My job has its tough moments but it is also incredibly rewarding on many levels. Should I keep doing it and simply start finding ways to spend more money? I suppose a mansion or two, a garage full of high end vehicles, or any number of possible luxuries might grow on me. Or if I didn’t want to spend the unstoppable excess on myself, I could give it to causes I care about. Altruistic or not, that could be a great way to maximize the financial value of my life and put that value into whatever I want to impact most. After all, the argument could be made that if you can make a lot of money and benefit humanity in some way in the process, you should. Or maybe I should tell the boss I’m retiring when I’m roughly twenty years his junior and still younger than the vast majority of people who do my job in any territory, or at any company for that matter. I don’t hate the man by a long shot but something inside me wants to correct him and say “no, I’m not resigning; I’m retiring” and demand a gold watch, or at least a cake. And of course, there are a few choice people within the company who I would absolutely love to see turn some shade of green at my party.

But what would I do then? Sure, this is a good problem to have and I am immensely grateful for it. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes it feels like a personal failing that I have a difficult time deciding on a way to spend roughly half of my life without money being a factor. Sure, I could go lay on a beach and drink beer somewhere or I could travel the world and see all kinds of amazing things. But I have a feeling I would get bored pretty quickly. And I’m not alone. Studies regularly show that this can be a problem for lots of people – even at more traditional retirement ages. One’s sense of purpose tends to get a little wrapped up in something if you spend half your waking hours doing it year after year. And I think that’s to be expected. If I had to guess, I’d say that there are probably a lot more mes out there than there are Elon Musks. And a sense of purpose is an enormous part of what makes life worth living, no matter who you are.

So I wrestle with that problem all the time and until I get it figured out, I’d be lying if I said I don’t use it as an excuse to justify the occasional large expense. After all, there’s no sense rushing to get to a destination if you don’t know if you will like what you find when you get there. This was a lot easier when I was in love with someone and genuinely wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, no matter what we were doing. Even if I meet someone who means just as much to me somewhere down the line, I don’t think I can ever put that much stock in another human being again – and that’s a good thing. But it’s only one more thing I’ve realized does not answer what will probably ultimately be the most important question of my existence.

But all that said, my general financial philosophy is currently that as long as I stay on the path to be financially independent by 40 at the latest, I doubt it will lead anywhere bad. I consider staying open minded, especially about trying new things, to be a crucial investment in my future. My advice to anyone else is really about the same. I’ll end this post with an excellent quote from Martin Luther King, Jr: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”