It’s not enough to be good at something today. You have to keep evolving over time. Imagine if you were the best reader in your fifth grade class in school but never got any better from that point on. Or more relevant to today’s post, imagine how far behind you’d be if you were still operating according to the best available health knowledge from twenty years ago – or even five years ago for that matter. I’m always reevaluating what I’m doing and trying new ways to make improve myself. I’m no science expert, but I read what I can and rely on very intelligent people in that area whose opinions I respect to help point me in the right direction. That’s why I recently started my ultimately very successful experiment with time restricted eating. And that’s why I am trying two more new things now.
First, I’ve been working on growing some organic broccoli sprouts. I’ve become convinced that sulphoraphane is a substance I very much want in my body and broccoli sprouts have it in almost incomparably high levels. I understand they don’t taste great but I’m going to toss them in the Vitamix along with everything else I put in my twice daily smoothies and hope the fruit will mask the taste, just as it does with all the other green crap I want to consume but not experience in too much detail as it goes down. I’m growing my own because it is much cheaper than buying the sprouts at a grocery store, because it is supposedly an easy process (and so far I can concur on that point), and because I thought I would enjoy the novelty of a new project. I’m loosely following these instructions, which seem to be producing good results thus far.
The sprouts in the picture are roughly three and a half days old and according to my research, they will be ready to eat in one to three more days. It has been very easy to get them to this point. I bought some organic broccoli seeds, soaked some of them in filtered water overnight, spread them in the device you see in the picture, and have rinsed them (again with the filtered water) twice a day. The seeds cost me about $50 for 2.5 pounds (I’m pretty convinced this is something I’m going to adopt long term) and the sprouting device was less than $20 (actually it was just about free because of this little trick). I believe I should be good to go for well over a year with those items purchased. I’ve invested no more than a half hour total in the project so far, not counting my initial research. Once these sprouts are ready, I’ll put them in a container in the refrigerator and start adding them to my smoothies. Then I’ll wash the sprouting device, start another batch, and keep the process going indefinitely. I’m very excited to see if I notice any results – whether in the way I feel day to day or in medical assessments/testing down the line.
My second new thing is regular sauna use. I recently read
about a study that showed measurably better long term health outcomes for
people who use saunas. And the more they did it, the better their results were.
So that was already in the back of my mind. And I decided to give it a try when
I moved to a new area and discovered that the gym here has a sauna. So far, I
must say, it feels wonderful. Since I’m at the gym four or five mornings per
week, I simply go sit in the sauna for about fifteen minutes after my workout.
Aside from feeling refreshed and more energetic afterwards, I’ve been
pleasantly surprised at just how relaxing it is. When no one else is in the
sauna with me, I’ve noticed my mind clears almost automatically and it easily
becomes a meditative experience – something that is very difficult for me to
achieve under normal circumstances. I don’t know exactly what is going on there
or why it feels that way, but I like it. And as long as the research is showing
that I’m doing a great thing for my health in the process, I’m going to keep it
Not only is it fun (ok, so maybe I’m a little unusual) and
mentally stimulating to stay on top of new research and use it to improve your
life, it is also crucial. Far too many people spend the last several years of
their lives suffering and reliant on others and not keeping themselves up to
date is a huge part of the reason. For example, middle aged people grew up in
an era where resistance training (weightlifting) wasn’t something normal people
did. If they haven’t since picked it up, they are virtually guaranteed an awful
aging process including rapidly atrophying muscular capabilities and very
strong odds of developing numerous age related diseases like Alzheimer’s. One
of my favorite goals in life is to have a workout I’m proud of on the morning
of my last day on this earth; in other words, I want to function at a high
level until the very end. Through experiments like these, combined with a
strong emphasis on physical and mental health in almost every element of my
daily routine, I hope to feel great both now and in the long term, thus
accomplishing my goal. I highly recommend that everyone do the same.
The Equity Culture: The Story of the Global Stock Market by B Mark Smith (2003)
This book was written by the same author as the classic “Toward
Rational Exuberance,” so I expected big things going in. As advertised, the
book takes a winding path through the history of stock markets around the
world, providing an in depth look at major events in each. An observant reader
of this blog will probably notice that there has been a long gap between the
last book review I posted and this one. This is because aside from a couple of
lackluster books I decided not to review and the fact that I moved into a new
apartment a little over a week ago and spent several days getting my life put
back together afterwards, this book was very dense and took a while to get through.
While interesting at times, it was mostly pretty dry and even though I was
interested in the subject matter, reading it reminded me of having to muddle my
way through some priceless work of ancient philosophy that isn’t nearly as
readable as modern analysis had me believing it would be going in.
However, because there is tremendous value in this book, I
kept going and ultimately made it through. Cultural differences were addressed
that help to explain some of the still lingering differences between, for
example, the western and Japanese stock markets. But for me, the most valuable
part was perspective. After reading about stock market after stock market going
through similar stages of development, patterns began to emerge. Just about every
different market has experienced something that appeared to be a disaster at
the time. But almost invariably, the end result of each of these events has
been greater innovation and the continued building of wealth en masse – at least
given enough time. However, there were winners and losers in each of these
situations and that point is important to keep in mind as well.
My biggest disappointment about this book is that it only
goes through the early 2000s bursting of the “dot com bubble.” It would have
been nice to have seen the author’s analysis carried through to our most recent
recession – and possibly into at least a portion of the historic bull market of
the last decade or so as well. I see that there is a 2015 edition so maybe the
author extended it. Sadly, my local library had the 2003 one so I’ll never know.
Anyway, while the 2008 recession clearly had different underlying causes than
the one we are finally beginning to see materializing now, it would have been nice
to have had the additional insight. Overall, while this author can’t
necessarily keep you on the edge of your seat for 300 pages and change, it’s
only fair to acknowledge that isn’t really a reasonable expectation when
picking up a book on the worldwide history of stock markets. It is still
valuable, well presented information and thus, it is worth reading.
It’s been about a month since I wrote about my time restricted eating experiment and maybe two months since I started so here is an update. The title really sums it up; this experiment has produced far and away the most measurable results of any of the many I’ve conducted on myself over the years. It has me rethinking a lot of what I thought I knew about my body, nutrition, and so forth. Let’s get into the details.
I’ve been pretty successful about sticking with an eight
hour eating window. I went with eight because that’s who I am; if I’m going to
do something, I’m not going to half ass it. On a typical day, I start eating
around 10:30am and stop by 6:30pm. When I know I’ll be out late – no later than
eleven for me these days and usually more like ten – I don’t start eating until a late lunch in
order to maintain the experiment (remember, any calories count and that
includes drinking anything but water). I’ve had only a few days where I slipped
and wound up around a nine hour window and one where I screwed up completely
and ended up at about twelve.
Overall, the most surprising element of this experiment has
been how easy it is. As an avid food lover, I expected to suffer miserably. But
that hasn’t transpired at all. After some modest discomfort the first week or
two, I’ve barely even had to think about what I’m doing. The habit seems to
suit me very well and it even seems to have made me noticeably more productive.
Yes, I’m consistently referred to as “very disciplined,” although my worst
critic (me) considers my discipline level to be atrocious. But nothing I’ve
experienced makes me think anyone would struggle to implement this in any
significant way. It just requires a little bit of mindfulness and a few
And the results have been more than worth the effort. The
most noticeable change has been weight loss and with this part, keep in mind
that my body is very ectomorphic by nature so unlike many people, keeping
weight on is my biggest challenge. Prior to embarking on my restricted eating
journey, I had already been down about twenty pounds from my normal weight due
to a dramatic reduction in both eating (intentional to account for a dramatic
reduction in calories being burned) and gym time/efficacy as a result of a
frustrating string of injuries I went through. I had a lean, muscular build
prior to that weight loss so there was a lot of good weight in that twenty
pounds and after losing it, I had very little fat left available to lose. Since
there is definitely a limit to how low a healthy person’s body fat percentage
can go, additional fat loss was not a goal for me.
However, I have lost about an additional five pounds since starting
time restricted eating and my body fat has, in fact, almost completely
disappeared. I believe there are two reasons for this. One, you only want to
eat so much in an eight hour window. Once I noticed my weight dropping even
further than it already had, I started forcing myself to eat more. I even
loosened up on eating lower quality foods a little bit to make things easier.
And still I’ve only managed to stop the bleeding. I’m stuck at the five pounds
down mark and am gradually eating more and more in an attempt to start putting
weight back on. Keep in mind that since I’m finally 100% physically healthy
again, I’m back working hard in the gym along with this. The second reason I
suspect is that I do almost zero snacking of any kind now. Since I seemingly
can’t eat enough, I rarely feel hungry at all. So snacking not only doesn’t
come naturally anymore, it would literally amount to an effort I would have to
make. Long story short, if you’re after weight loss, fat loss, or both, time
restricted eating seems very likely to help you.
There have been other very measurable changes as well – and much
more positive ones in my case. My resting heart rate, which used to hover
around an average of 60 bpm, now sits in the low to mid 50s. I suppose this
makes sense since my metabolic functions are only happening about half to two
thirds of the time they previously had been. That is a huge energy savings and
my guess is this is much more appropriate for my body from an evolutionary
perspective. But the most exciting change for me has been to my sleeping. I’ve
struggled in this area all my life and even employing every method I’ve ever
read about to an almost religious degree, I’ve never managed to average over
6.5 hours per night in a week outside of the occasional anomaly. However, since
not long after I started time restricted eating, I’m averaging over 7 hours a
night consistently. I don’t doubt for a second that this has made a huge
difference in my day to day life. I have no precise way to measure this, but I
feel more energetic and mentally sharper/more alert. I had been in the habit of
drinking coffee twice a day – morning and early afternoon. Now I usually only
do so once and sometimes not at all. Note that coffee isn’t harmful in any
known way. But not feeling compelled to drink it is still a very positive sign
in my book.
Overall, this has been a huge net positive for me and I’m
going to continue with it. Yes, my strength in the gym has declined somewhat.
But that can probably be almost exclusively attributed to the weight I had
already lost prior to starting this experiment and the way I lost it (both eating
and working out dramatically less). And given that my strength numbers are
still excellent for a man my size (which has itself changed), I’m not concerned
about this other than being motivated to gain back my good size in spite of the
additional challenge. And for most people, the weight loss would be viewed as a
positive. Other than that, everything has been a huge positive for me. My body
and mind both seem to work much better this way. This experiment has been a
Evening Folks! I owe you an apology for my recent unannounced disappearance. For the last few days, I’ve been moving from one apartment to another so my life has been more or less turmoil. Thankfully, I am comfortably situated in my new apartment now and so far, it is everything I had hoped it would be. But in retrospect, I should have posted something letting y’all know prior to the move. I’m still very new to the blogging thing but lesson learned. Anyway, I will resume normal posting (aiming for 3-4 posts per week) immediately. And today, I have a couple of observations from the last few days to point out.
My first observation is that most of the time, “if you want
something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Since I don’t have a truck
right now, since the quotes were surprisingly low, and yes, since I was feeling
lazy, I decided to hire a moving company for this move. It will probably be
both my first and last time doing that. My hope had been that I would get what
was advertised – experienced, hard working movers who would more or less take
care of everything from door to door, leaving me doing only the packing and
unpacking. The pricing structure was the same with every company I got a quote
from (and I only got them from highly rated companies) – a fixed trip charge of
$60-90 and an hourly rate of $90-100. The winning company quoted me two hours
and was on the low end with the trip charge, meaning I was looking at roughly
$250. For that price, I had thought why not? A Uhaul rental would cost me $100
or so when all was said and done and I don’t feel it would be right to ask
anyone to help me accomplish such a task without putting a Benjamin Franklin in
his pocket and a hearty lunch in his stomach – and that would have involved me
working too whereas this moving company didn’t just promise, but insisted, that
I wouldn’t be lifting a finger. So it seemed like a no brainer.
But you know what they say; hope for the best, plan for the worst.
Following that mantra, I had everything ready on moving day so that the movers
would have to do nothing but load, drive, and unload. I used my car to move a
large portion of my more fragile/valuable/smaller belongings in advance, I had
everything that was left in neatly stacked, organized boxes, and I had all my
furniture disassembled as necessary. And thank Jesus, Allah, Buddah, and anyone
else up there that I did!
Once the movers arrived on moving day, it didn’t take me
long to see I had been sold a bill of goods. The movers who showed up were not
the promised strapping workhorses, but a couple of twig limbed kids in their early
to mid twenties, neither of whom looked likely to score even a one on a 225
pound bench test. I hoped my assessment was wrong but sadly, it was not. One of
them was at least a halfway decent worker who seemed to know what he was doing.
The other was neither. As a result, much of what I witnessed appeared to be a training
session – and it was not going well. There was a lot of standing around waiting
for further instructions, a lot of “not like that, like THIS!”, and growing
anxiety on my part as I watched the clock race on and on with shockingly little
progress being made on the modest amount of stuff that needed to be taken and
loaded into the truck.
Foolishly taking the moving company at its word, I spent
most of the morning on the phone with customers, dealers, etc as the two
opportunistic young men milked the situation. At first, they would take a load
and be gone a reasonable ten minutes or so before returning for another. Then
the disappearances got longer. And longer. At one point I went the fifty or so
steps from my apartment to the loading dock to see what was going on. Both
movers were in the back of the truck doing who knows what and upon seeing me,
they got out and headed back towards the apartment. My second mistake, with the
first having been hiring them in the first place, was taking their
recommendation and working rather than escorting them on every single trip. I
suspect things would have gone according to plan if I had but since I didn’t,
we were well over the two quoted hours before they had even finished loading
When the truck was finally loaded, one of the movers
informed me that they would be stopping for lunch on the way but assured me
that I wouldn’t be charged for the time. After the spectacle I had witnessed
for the last three hours, I was skeptical at best. But what could I do at that
point? My stuff was in their truck and I was along for the ride at that point,
like it or not – and I wanted it to arrive safely on the other end. So I drove
to the new apartment and worked on getting the stuff I had already moved out of
the way so the additional stuff could be moved in as quickly as possible. Close
to an hour later, the truck showed up.
I watched the two gentlemen standing behind the truck
discussing something for about five minutes before I decided I’d had enough of
their game. Walking right past them, I opened the rear door of the truck and
started unloading my own stuff. When the one in charge objected, I explained in
no uncertain terms that we were already over an hour over the quoted amount of
time and that unless they were prepared to start deducting time, they were
going to have a new teammate for the remainder of this job. My tone and
expression likely made it abundantly clear that further objections would prove
futile so the three of us got to work. Unsurprisingly, it took only a half hour
to unload the truck and get the movers off the clock.
Clearly trying to take the edge off the situation, because
admittedly, I was PISSED and was making little effort to hide it by that point,
the lead mover “generously” deducted a half hour from the over four hours he
would otherwise have charged me for the no more than two hours of work that had
actually been done. As a man who has done my share of real work in life, I
couldn’t bring myself to totally stiff these two, even given the circumstances,
so I gave them each ten bucks. However, I also advised them that had the job
been completed as quoted, their tips would have been considerably more.
As I unwrapped/unpacked, I discovered the same little
mishaps that would have happened had I completed the job without hired help –
mostly little chips and scratches on furniture. Thankfully, most of these were
easily repairable with some buffing and the occasional use of a wood crayon
(seriously, if you have any chipped furniture, a wood crayon is a Godsend that will
almost effortlessly make those chips almost invisible to anyone who isn’t
looking for them!). I sent an email, complete with pictures, to the moving
company, describing the events of the day in detail and offering the
opportunity to respond before I went on a review writing campaign. I have not
received one to date. I will follow up with a call tomorrow and barring an
impressive act of after the fact customer service that would likely involve a significant
amount being refunded, I will be spending some time leaving two star reviews
(the job did eventually get done at least) with summarized versions of what I’ve
just written on every review site I can find these guys on. If it comes to
that, it will be part therapy and part public service.
But I wrote about it here to illustrate something important.
If it seems too good to be true, it almost always is. Even if the moving
service I received hadn’t come up abysmally short of what was promised, I still
would have done the majority of the work. In my opinion, the real work of
moving is the volume of packing – particularly those little, fragile things,
many of which reside in the kitchen. It is certainly the most time intensive
part. All told, best case scenario, the moving service could have done maybe a
quarter of the total work for me at best. And as I’ve described, my actual
experience was a far cry from an even acceptable scenario. Had I done things my
way (rented a Uhaul and paid someone a hundred bucks plus lunch for the small
portion I needed help with), I would have been out no more than $250 rather
than the over $400 I wound up paying for results that were most likely worse
than what I would have otherwise gotten. Slick sales pitches make outsourcing
seem like a no brainer but in reality, the end results rarely live up to them.
Maintenance/repairs on cars is another wonderful example of this concept. You
pay a substantial mark up on parts and usually around $100 an hour for often fairly
simple labor and the kicker is that by the time all is said and done, you’ve
been inconvenienced for just as long as it would have taken you to do the job
yourself in the first place. So rather than picking up the phone, roll up your
sleeves and get to work.
My second observation is hardly anything groundbreaking –
just something that grabbed my attention and forced me to think about something
important. I was at a presentation today that highlighted the outlook of a
particular company and provided an overview of the global economics of that
company’s industry in the process. It was a solid presentation but one
relatively minor point really struck me: 6000-30,000. One slide discussed the
rapidly expanding global middle class and in order to do so, it needed to
define things first. It defined a global middle class household as one with a US
dollar equivalent income of $6000-30,000 a year. I did some subsequent reading
and this appears to be right in line with most analysis that is done on the
subject. Almost everyone in that room was extremely wealthy by global
standards. Hell, there were interns present who probably make more than 30k a
Perspective is always valuable and so are reminders of
things we already know but have conveniently shoved to the back of our minds. Just
by living in the United States, we are already far better off than the vast
majority of people in the world. A good portion of the global middle class income
range is considered poverty level here. We’ve practically won the lottery just
by being born. By my calculations, there is only a roughly 4.3% chance (300
million divided by 7 billion) of that happening for any given person and it’s
actually lower than that if you factor in that tons of people had to emigrate
here. So the next time you’re frustrated about something, remember that if you
make over $30,000 a year, you are in the high income category from a global
perspective. You may not have things easy, but most people have them a hell of
a lot worse than you do.
Technology can be amazing, but it can also be amazingly expensive. Beyond the direct cost of buying it, there are numerous indirect costs – the environmental costs of devices being thrown away, the opportunity costs of the materials and labor being dedicated to production, the health costs of the time people spend interacting with screens, etc. This post probably won’t convince anyone to be a technology minimalist. But hopefully I can give you an idea or two that will help you to slash the direct cost of your technology. And just maybe we can all reduce some of those indirect ones in the process as well.
Buy last year’s
We’ve all seen people waiting in some ridiculous line for
the privilege of spending a small fortune on the latest IPhone or some other
gadget. That is pretty near the exact opposite of the behavior that’s going to
make you successful in life. Those people are guaranteed to pay more than
anyone else will for their technology and they are much more likely to have
problems with it as well, since some companies are now using their most
dedicated customers as beta testers (hell, it looks like Boeing just might be
doing it with airplanes now…). If you wait a year (or longer), you will pay
less for a product that has had most of its initial issues worked out. Plus, no
matter what any marketing department or “fanboy” tells you, you’re not missing
out on anything. When was the last time a new smart phone, tv, computer, or any
other electronic device did anything worthwhile its predecessor from the prior
year couldn’t do? Most of these are extremely mature products now and genuine
innovation is rare.
For example, Microsoft Office hasn’t changed in any meaningful
way in half the years I’ve spent on this earth. Microsoft just keeps
rearranging things, adding bullshit features 99% of people will never use, and
slapping an ever growing price tag on the resulting package. A while back, they
even decided to drop the whole charade and just start renting the software to
people so they can charge more and more, year after year, for the same thing,
without even having to pretend that’s not what they’re doing. And while this
particular scam may be totally out in the open, there are plenty of similar
ones being run by companies that aren’t quite so brazen, particularly in the
technology world. The Galaxy S27, or whatever number we’re on now, will be the
Galaxy S26 with a few new gimmicks, an even bigger screen (Soon even NBA
centers will need special tools to be able to hold the things since even their
giant hands will be woefully inadequate – but then, maybe that’s just what the
manufacturers have been working towards all along – more accessories to hawk!),
and an even bigger price tag. Some people are catching on to this but way too
many are not.
Keep it for a while.
Phones have gotten so expensive that they’re now routinely
being financed. Out of morbid interest, I once read the fine print on one of
those “offers” and unsurprisingly, it was charging a credit card level interest
rate. This is how addicted people are to having the latest, greatest thing –
and as I mentioned above, there is usually almost no practical difference at
all. If you treat your electronics like assets, as opposed to this year’s
disposable fashion statement, like so many people seem to, you’re going to pay
substantially less over time and you won’t have to enter into any financing
arrangements that should only be available from guys who deal exclusively in
cash and whose collection tactics start with thinly veiled threats and quickly
escalate to physical violence. Every month you keep something, your denominator
goes up and your average monthly cost goes down. I’d say good targets are five
years for phones, ten years for desktop computers, seven years for laptops, and
about forty years for tvs (possibly a slight exaggeration, but I do feel
entitled to expect a somewhat extended lifespan given that mine operates maybe
a couple hundred hours a year).
It definitely helps if you aren’t glued to these things 24/7,
since the life of usually non-replaceable (in theory at least) batteries is the
bottleneck with many devices and more use equals faster death. Maybe try
talking to the people around you and, I don’t know, looking them in the eyes
while you do it. Or at least give it a try while you’re driving. Seriously, have
you ever been driving down the highway and really looked around you? Even for a
cynic like me, it’s stunning how many people are staring down into their laps. You
really can’t un-see something like that. It’s even worse in public places where
people aren’t operating vehicles. It’s almost mind blowing.
Buy refurbished where
it makes sense.
I’ve had pretty good luck with this stuff. I’m typing this
on a computer I bought refurbished for roughly half what new ones with
comparable specs were selling for. I bought a refurbished tv almost seven years
ago that to my knowledge, my Mom is still using. I don’t always buy refurbished
but when I have, it has worked out well and I’ve saved a lot of money. Yes,
there is some amount of risk. But the survival rate of anything is zero on a
long enough timeline. With electronics, that timeline isn’t long (especially if
you factor in obsolescence) and most of the depreciation happens the second you
open the box. My rationale is that if a refurbished item doesn’t fail right
away, both future prospects and current value are about the same as an item that
was bought new from that point on – except the cost was significantly lower. I
tend to be a bird in the hand kind of guy. I don’t know if it still is, but
newegg.com used to be a great place to find refurbished electronics. But you
can find them just about anywhere now. I got this computer on Amazon. I always
recommend shopping around – refurbished or otherwise.
Buy when it makes
I’m no expert at this, but there are definitely better times
than others to buy electronics. The deals usually seem to be pretty good at
Black Friday and while I would sooner saw one of my legs completely off with a
rusty screwdriver (yes, you read that right; think about it – the bits of rust
become the teeth of the “saw”) than go to any retail establishment within about
a week of that day since it seems to be expanding outwards, most of the same
deals are also available online. As far as I can tell, Costco runs its
promotions for a few weeks at a time, even during that part of the year, so you
can go when it’s not so crazy. I’m no expert in this particular area since I
don’t buy this stuff very often. But it definitely pays to do your research on
this and act accordingly.
Don’t assume more
expensive means better.
I have a Moto X cell phone that I paid $300 for and a
Samsung Galaxy S7 work phone that probably cost more than twice that much. I
may be crazy, but I prefer the Moto X all day; and it’s over two years older
than the Samsung to boot. It just seems to be a more streamlined, smoother
performing phone and it has certainly aged more gracefully. As a guy who has
owned both Samsung and Vizio tvs, again, the cheaper tv was a better experience
for me. While this is an admittedly small sample size and it may only prove
that Samsung is an overrated brand, the point remains valid. The highest price isn’t
necessarily indicative of the best overall quality. Do your research and you
may find you don’t need to spend as much as you think – particularly if you
care more about core quality and longevity than what I would consider more
frivolous features that operate at the periphery of the product experience. For
example, and this is more in my wheelhouse than a lot of this stuff, a BMW is
going to offer more cutting edge technology features than a Honda, but the
Honda is going to be a far more reliable and efficient car.
In general, technology is a tool that can be used to make
life easier in specific ways. It is not a status symbol or a substitute for
genuine human interaction. If you maintain that mindset, you should avoid
throwing away a small fortune over a lifetime and it really shouldn’t involve
much sacrifice. Consider this. If you started today, and you had to have a new
IPhone every other year for the rest of your life, you could potentially spend
over $25k on this habit where someone like me spent well under 20% of that (and
no, I didn’t bother to adjust for inflation – so it will actually be worse than
this for you Apple zealots). If you really think you’re getting more than 500%
of the value I am, and you really, REALLY value this particular area of your
life, then I guess go ahead – with the knowledge that you’re going to make
sacrifices elsewhere in some form to compensate for the difference. But I
really can’t see anyone making that argument successfully if they’re being
honest with themselves. And if you follow one or more of my tips, you can cut
the expense significantly even if you feel you would die without an Apple logo
on your phone or other electronic devices.
I’ve learned enough to fill a book in my few years in sales
so far. But as a slightly intelligent guy (that would be Mr. Albert Einstein)
once said, “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
Recently I’ve been stressed out by a dramatic change in the dynamic of my
relationship with my best customer. Previously, he had always been a good
communicator and reasonably conscientious but most importantly of all, there
had been a mutual respect bordering on friendship between us that I valued very
much. We had done deals that were huge wins for both sides and had another in
the works that would have been our biggest and best yet.
But recently, that deal was derailed. My customer ran into
an unforeseen setback that was serious enough to pose a legitimate threat to
the survival of his business. To make it all the worse, it was through no fault
of his own. He experienced a substantial loss of commercial property as a
result of an apparently random criminal act. Now, if you’ve ever dealt with a
very large commercial insurance claim, you know what a nightmare it can be. In
our industry, a few month turnaround is pretty typical in a situation like
this. Given my customer’s financial position, waiting that long would have been
devastating at a minimum. And if the insurance company had screwed him on the
amount of the payout, it could have been game over.
I was not going to let him go down without a fight. Marshaling all the resources at my disposal, including my own efforts and those of people in our district office, I was able to get the insurance payout fast tracked – and that’s not all. At the end of the day, the customer got a payout so large it shocked everyone involved. And it happened in just over a month. Just like that, his business was in significantly better shape than it had been before what had looked like a terrible misfortune. It looked like things were going to be better than ever for him and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. But here is where the story takes a turn.
Suddenly awash with cash, my former favorite customer
changed into a totally different man. His payments were no longer made reliably.
The office ran into issue after issue with his account – simple things that had
never been problems before and rarely are for anyone. On my end, it became very
difficult to address any of this with him – or even to get him on the phone at
all. The part that doesn’t make sense is that while more than enough to get my
customer back on his feet, this insurance payout was nowhere near a life
changing amount of money. It wasn’t like he had just won the lottery or
anything. But nonetheless, once he had the money, it seemed that nothing else
mattered and the relationship I had enjoyed so much was replaced with one of
nearly nonstop frustration.
Through all of this, we had somehow managed to get our massive deal back on track. But whereas previously it would have been relatively smooth, it was now riddled with complications because the customer had ceased getting anything done at all on his end. Whenever I confronted him about what was going on, he was evasive and made vague excuses that usually didn’t make much sense – and again, that was if I could get him on the phone at all. I did the best I could to smooth everything over with the office while I tried to keep him from completely self-destructing. This went on for over a month but going into last week, there was still no end in sight and it was taking a significant amount of time and attention that I could have been dedicating to other activities.
Finally, I decided I had been chasing the ghost of what had been a very different relationship for too long. In this new version of it, I was treated like a tool that could be used when needed and tossed into a shed when not. And it wasn’t even producing anything. So on Monday, I resolved to conclude the deal, one way or another, by the end of the week. By Friday morning, I had made zero progress, and I realized I had had enough. I called the customer once more but there was no answer and his voicemail box, as had become the new normal, was full. So I sent him a text message that simply said “if you still want to do the deal, I need to talk to you today.” As you can probably guess, I never heard from him. And I have no intention of calling again. For most of the rest of the day, contemplations about how and why this relationship had gone so wrong were never far from the forefront of my mind.
But overnight, things crystallized and when I woke up this morning, I felt much better. I don’t know what is going on with my customer but it doesn’t matter. I’ve given him ample time and opportunity to explain it to me and he has refused to do so. And his actions have been very disrespectful in the process. For someone who is still engaged in a lifelong struggle against the scarcity mentality, it was very difficult for me to put not just a very lucrative deal, but a rewarding relationship, on the line. But I realize now that it was my only option. I couldn’t keep throwing good resources, in the form of my time, effort, and credibility with the office, after ones that had produced nothing but failure, when there was no sign that the situation would improve.
And this way, I am giving the relationship its only remaining chance to go back to its formerly mutually beneficial form. It is very possible that I will never hear from the customer again. Maybe the account will even go bad. If it happens, I will be able to say I did everything I could to avoid that outcome. If he does call me, I will tell him that while I will continue to service his existing account, I will not pursue any additional business unless three conditions are met. One, I need to hear a genuine apology for the way things have been recently. Two, I need to hear a coherent explanation. And three, I need an assurance that things will go back to the way they had been before – with the enforcement mechanism that if they get to this point again, we will be finished doing business for good. I’m not asking anyone for perfection. This is an imperfect world and a very imperfect industry. But I am demanding, not asking, for effort and basic respect. If we can’t operate that way, then we won’t.
For too long, I tried to save a previously great relationship that was already dead. But I have finally accepted that fact and begun to act accordingly. And the result? I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I have most likely lost the opportunity to make a large bonus, and likely subsequent ones. But there again, that opportunity had already been very likely gone. And even if it hadn’t been, it doesn’t matter. There is more to every single decision I make in life than money.
Respect is the real issue. I wanted my customer to continue to give it to me but by doing all I could to protect him from the consequences of doing the opposite, I wasn’t giving it to myself. It was the wrong message to be sending to him but more importantly, I was hurting myself in a very profound way. After a long hibernation, symptoms of depression have crept back into my life recently. Looking back, the timeline matches up almost perfectly with the disintegration of this relationship. I can’t control another person’s actions, but I can certainly respond more effectively than I did in this case. I fully expect that now that I have identified the real problem and taken steps towards correcting it, those symptoms will go back where they came from.
This may seem obvious to many of you, and I will admit I’m a little disappointed with myself as I type it out and realize I should have figured it out sooner. But for me, this has been a reasonably difficult, and thus valuable lesson. It could easily be applied to many scenarios – not just the specific one I’ve described. If you run into a situation like this one, learn from my mistake. You can’t expect respect from other people if you don’t give it to yourself first. I lost sight of that this time. But having had this experience and deconstructed it, it will be much easier to avoid repeating it in the future.
I completely glossed over this with yesterday’s post but I have an exciting announcement for Health, Wealth, Power. We have a new addition in the form of wonderful pictures taken by fellow Houstonian Jean-Marc Buytaert! In addition to being such a top shelf bowler that he was recruited by one of the better teams in a drinking/bowling (note the word order) league, Jean-Marc is a phenomenal photographer – and he seems to find himself in a ton of interesting places all over the world. After seeing enough of his work come across my Facebook feed and being blown away, both by the fact that someone was posting something other than their kids, memes, or political crap, and even more so by the fact that the pictures were incredible, I approached him about contributing to my fledgling personal finance/philosophy blog. We’re all very lucky he said yes because going forward, we will have eye candy like the picture above to enjoy.
I understand this is something Jean-Marc is currently doing as a hobby but that he has eventual aspirations of going pro. If you would like to see more of his work or to contact him about a potential project, you can visit either of the following:
Howdy folks! I just got back from a couple days on the road and I’m exhausted. But I wanted to write a quick post about something I wish I had handled better today. I ran into a setback. I didn’t do anything wrong to cause it and no one else did either. It was simply bad luck and it will wind up costing me around $300 when the dust settles. The nature of the setback isn’t important and that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I want to discuss my reaction to the setback and why outlook is so important.
I didn’t have an easy childhood. While we didn’t live in poverty or anywhere close, we were squarely in the lower middle class category, with emphasis on the lower part. Money was a dirty word as far as I was concerned – a word that usually meant I couldn’t have something I wanted. At the time, it felt like a terrible burden. Today, I look back and see how lucky I was. I learned that if you want something, you have to work for it. And I learned that if you have something, you had better not waste it. I’m sure those harsh, but invaluable lessons have played a huge role in allowing me to get to where I am today. A lot of kids who seemed luckier than me at the time missed out on these lessons until later in life and if the statistics have anything to say about it, it cost many of them dearly.
But my successful mindset isn’t without its costs. And today’s situation was a great example. When I realized I was going to lose $300 and there was no way around it, I was furious. As I mentioned, there really wasn’t anyone at fault for what happened, so I automatically directed my rage at the same person who usually gets it – myself. For about an hour, I was in a terrible state. And unsurprisingly, Houston’s trademark rush hour traffic didn’t help. Luckily, business hours were over, or my rotten mood could have destroyed a deal and cost me significantly more money. But a bad attitude can cost so much more than that. If you allow that kind of darkness a regular place in your life, it can cost you relationships or even your health. It certainly contributed to the failure of my marriage and there is plenty of time left for it to do the latter in my case as well. And yet, even after having paid so much, I still don’t have this under control.
But there is still hope for me. After brooding for a while
and cursing the traffic a little more than usual, I was able to use perspective
to get beyond it. $300 would be a real problem for many people. It might mean
having to choose between paying one bill or another in many cases. This could
start a downward spiral that could be difficult to pull out of. But for me,
this is an afterthought. Hell, I’m so fortunate in life that $3000 would be a
minor setback and nothing more. I save/invest more than that every single
But in my head, I’m on a treadmill 24/7/365. In front of me is the financial independence I want. Behind me is the scarcity of my childhood. In reality, it would take a serious sequence of mishaps for me to go off the back of the treadmill. It’s certainly not an impossibility but at this point, it’s unlikely at best. Claiming financial independence, on the other hand, will happen in the next three to five years, or ten at the absolute most, barring any catastrophic setbacks. And I’m much closer to thirty than to forty and only started making significant financial progress in my late twenties. So I should really just throw the treadmill in the garbage and focus on enjoying the moments of my life while making sure I stay on track with the big picture stuff behind the scenes.
For tonight, at least, the demon has been slain. I am calm
and back to being thankful for how well my life is going. But even for someone
as fortunate as I am, this can be very difficult. And it will undoubtedly be
difficult again. However, it is important to look at this in a balanced way.
There was a time when I could have gone into a tailspin of depression, anxiety,
and anger over something like what happened today. But this time it only cost
me an hour of misery. I will never fully escape my past or my tendency to
occasionally let emotion cast a dark cloud over my actually sunny reality. But I
can work at it and improve. In time, maybe I’ll get to the point of avoiding
the negativity altogether.
I really don’t understand it but Costco seems to be one of
those businesses that people either love or love to hate. I see hit pieces in
the mainstream media all the time (oddly enough, the Reader’s Digest, in
particular, seems to run one almost daily); although maybe they’re just
trolling for clicks. But how could anyone hate a company that sells mostly high
quality products for low to medium quality prices, puts service second to none,
and treats its employees as well as any retailer on the planet in the process?
I don’t see it. But today I’m going to tell you how this wonderful company has
made my life better and saved me money at the same time to give you a better
idea of whether it can help you too. And yes, I might be slightly biased, but
no, I’m not selling anything or benefiting in any direct way from anyone
deciding to shop at Costco.
Costco’s business model is pretty straightforward. Most of
the profit margin comes from selling annual memberships and credit card sign
ups. In other words, everything in the stores is sold at very close to cost.
This results in some amazing deals. Of course, no store is perfect. There are
items I don’t buy at Costco – mostly because as a one man household, I can’t
consume them fast enough to buy them in bulk without wasting them. But there
are still plenty of opportunities for the $60 annual membership to pay me back
many times over.
I could write pages and pages about all the great deals.
Clothes at Costco can be a steal and are usually high quality. For example,
I’ve bought khaki pants for under $20 that are every bit as good as pairs I’ve
paid triple for elsewhere. There are usually plenty of quality casual clothing
options offered at very competitive prices. Decent quality athletic shoes are
often $20-30, less than half of what you often pay at a shoe store. Athletic
clothes are usually a comparative bargain as well. Two important tips are that
Costco doesn’t have fitting rooms and inventory changes quickly. However, the
antidote is the amazing return policy. If you see something you like, buy any
sizes, colors, styles, etc, that you think might work for you. Try it all on in
the comfort of your home and return what you don’t want. You want to buy
anything that’s a possibility for you because it will probably be gone by the
next time you visit. It’s not an ideal system but it works and it is worth
dealing with for the awesome price/quality combination.
There is also a huge variety of other non-food bargains in the store. As a general rule, Costco won’t have everything but it will have a good option or two for a bigger variety of products than you might expect – kitchen stuff, tools/automotive/garage stuff, furniture, athletic equipment, Vitamix blenders (the best money can buy), paper products, prescriptions and other pharmacy related items, and the list goes on and on. You still have to use your head like with anything else but most of this stuff is going to be high quality and a lot of it at a better price than you can find almost anywhere else. Occasionally you will see some idiot write an article about how Costco is more expensive than Walmart. That’s like saying Cadillacs are more expensive than whatever automotive travesty Chevy replaces the Cruze with in its never ending quest to bore economy car buyers to death. In other words, these people are either trolls or they have the IQ of potatoes. Either way, their argument is way too stupid to be taken seriously.
Then you get into the food area. I’m a beer and wine guy
myself and while the beer selection is middling at best, the wine selection is
pretty extensive. As usual, the prices and quality in both categories are very
competitive and I understand the liquor offerings are similar. I actually skip
most of the produce (again, one man household) except for the organic
spinach/kale/other substances that taste more or less like grass clippings, which
I consume at a prodigious rate, after my blender has done its little trick of
course. Some of my other favorite food items are: $5 rotisserie chickens, a
variety of cheeses (shredded, block, and sliced), greek yogurt, eggs, a variety
of good quality frozen items for when I’m in a hurry, tortillas, coffee,
spices, and I could go on and on. The deli and bakery both offer great options
if you’re looking for something to bring to some sort of group event and don’t
want to be that person who brings yet another depressing casserole, only to
bring most of it home and have to suffer through it anyway (those people have
it coming by the way, trying to foist that crap on other people and then enjoy
the good food someone else brought). And believe me, if I’m buying these items,
you’re not likely to find a better deal elsewhere because I’ve looked. I could
easily justify the membership buying just a few of them over the course of the
Costco tends to be about the cheapest around on gas and
offers solid deals on tires. That said, due to their limited brand selection, I
don’t buy them. I’m a Discount Tire man and if you’re anywhere where they have
locations, you’d do well to give them a shot as well. Costco also sells cars
although for someone like me who knows the ins and outs of the dealer game
better than many of the car salesmen I enjoy playing it with, they are not a
good deal. They also sell vacations, appliances, random stuff for houses, etc,
none of which I’ve ever bought from them, and electronics, which I have. The
electronics deals tend to be about as good as anything you will find but with
the bonus of their additional warranty and amazing return policy. I don’t think
they have Black Friday deals so much as just seasonal deals, but as a guy who
bought a tv from them around that time, I can tell you mine was a phenomenal
Nothing is perfect and Costco is no exception. But it offers
products, service, and pricing that add up to an incredibly good overall value.
It is definitely a cut above Sam’s Club in at least two of those three areas
and light years ahead in my favorite area of all, which I’ve saved to highlight
last. I think this is probably the most overlooked positive factor about
Costco. At Costco, the average retail employee makes about $40k a year.
Obviously no one is getting rich off of that but when compared to the $10 an
hour or so that most retail employees make on a “work when it’s good for us”
schedule (also relevant since Costco has reasonable hours of operation), that
is amazing. You can see it on the employee’s faces. They are happy to be there
because they are treated with at least a basic level of respect by their
employer – something that is not nearly common enough. Their being happy makes
me happy, and not just because it results in better service. I’m as big a
capitalist as they come but I believe money can be made while also making the
world a better place. I believe it is very important to support things I want
to see more of by “voting with my dollar” and I am proud to do that with
Costco. The fact that I get a great, consistent value and a great customer
experience in the process is just icing on the cake.
I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea; I spend money, and plenty of it. But there are some key differences between how I spend that money and how most people do that allow me to live what I consider an upper middle class lifestyle for a lower middle class cost. One of these differences is that when I make a major purchase, I usually buy for the long term. I do a lot of research and I choose a high quality option I’m almost certain to love, both today and down the road. And then I take care of it so that I can keep it for a long time and it will stay in great condition. As a result, I’m able to own some very nice things while usually paying a lower overall cost than most people pay to own lower quality versions of them.
This is certainly my strategy with cars. It is not at all
uncommon for people to buy a new one every three to five years. But that is an
incredibly expensive form of vehicle ownership. For the last several years,
used car pricing has been so stubbornly strong that one can make a pretty good
case for buying new in many cases. I won’t argue with that and I’d be a
hypocrite if I did since that is the conclusion I came to when I bought my
current car – although even there I have some hacks – stay tuned. But
regardless of whether you buy new or used, it is pretty indisputable that in
general (there are certain exception situations), the longer you own your
average car, the lower your annual cost is going to be. I owned my last truck
for just over ten years and would probably still be driving it if I hadn’t
failed to save it from a tragic end at the hands of black ice. Thankfully, it
saved me in spite of this lack of consideration on my part. I walked away with
barely a scratch from an accident that would have rendered most of today’s cars
a pile of broken plastic, shattered glass, and twisted scrap metal. And in
fact, the truck was still driveable. Built Ford tough indeed. Anyway, I’ve had
my current car for almost five years now. However, and this is where it gets
exciting, my vehicles are usually in as good of shape, both visually and mechanically,
as just about anything else on the road and I almost never have any trouble
How do I manage this when so many people start having problems before their loan is even paid off? Step one is to do the research and buy a quality product. For example, if you buy a Dodge, I can’t help you; you’re almost certainly going to pay a fortune to keep it on the road and the body is going to start coming apart and rusting before the new car smell is gone. I believe phrases like “you can’t polish a turd” or “trying to put lipstick on a pig” apply well here. This post I did about the best and worst brands is a good place to start and I will likely write plenty more about the ins and outs of car buying before long since it is a process I enjoy very much.
But once you own a vehicle, it is crucial that you maintain
it properly. So today, at just over 60k miles, I spent a little over $400 on a
handful of services: a brake fluid flush, a transmission fluid change (note the
difference between the words “change” and “flush” here), new front brake pads,
and the resurfacing of my front rotors to go with those pads. Before my
minimalist, somewhat lazy new lifestyle, I would have done all of this myself
and spent around a quarter of that much on parts and fluids only. And if you
know how to work on cars or have an interest in learning, I highly recommend it
as an extremely profitable hobby. But the important thing is that you get this
stuff done, one way or another.
The day you buy your vehicle, I recommend you buy a repair
manual for it as well. Haynes and Chilton are good options and shouldn’t cost
more than $20-30, depending on the vehicle. If you spend even an hour or two
reading that manual, it will more than pay for itself in the form of knowledge
gained. And at a minimum, it will give you a comprehensive, realistic
maintenance schedule. Don’t rely on the dealer or even your owner’s manual for
this. The dealer will charge you substantially more than an independent shop
for work that is no better than what a quality independent shop will do. Please
note that I’m not talking about warranty/recall work here; that needs to go do
a dealer. As for the owner’s manual that comes with your car, well, many of
them now claim that transmission fluid is a “lifetime fluid.” Given that the
transmissions in most modern cars are extremely complicated pieces of machinery
that cost $5k or more to replace, I’m going to stick to changing the fluid at
traditional intervals, thank you very much.
What is the payoff for the $400 and change I spent today? My brake system is now working as well as the day I bought the car – potentially a matter of life and death when you live in close proximity to as many attempted murderers horrible drivers as I do. My transmission will continue shifting smoothly for some time to come and is much less likely to develop any problems – any of which would cost easily several times what it costs to do the maintenance I did today. And I can continue to drive hundreds of miles from home without worrying about whether I might wind up stranded somewhere. Simply put, any money you spend on competently performed, fairly priced preventative maintenance is going to be a good investment.
What other maintenance do I do on my cars? Oil changes are a
must. I am a big believer in Amsoil, ridiculously high price tag be damned. I
have never had a problem of any sort while using it and I am confident that if
I did, Amsoil is the kind of company that would stand behind its product. I
only use K&N performance engine air filters and cabin filters. Instead of
throwing them out, you clean/lube them and they will easily last the life of a
car. So the $80-100 investment pays for itself in five cleanings (or roughly
100k miles) at most and provides slightly better performance every day the
entire time you have the car. It is important to replace the coolant in your
car at proper intervals as well to keep the engine running optimally. If you
have a truck or an SUV, there is considerably more to be done – one of several reasons
I don’t have a truck right now.
As for keeping a car looking great year after year, my
program is pretty simple. I pay $20 a month for unlimited car washes at Mister
Car Wash, a high quality local option in Houston, and I run my car through
about once a week. These plans seem to be gaining popularity nationwide and can
make even more sense in a climate that attacks car finishes with a hellish
cocktail of snow, slush, salt, and more. But rather than opting for the more
expensive upgraded plan, which costs about double, I spend about a half hour
around once a month applying spray wax (any decent brand will do and it costs
no more than $5 for at least a few years’ worth) using basic microfiber cloths
(these are great to keep at home for other purposes as well since they are
reusable and do a better job than paper towels at all sorts of things). And
finally, I use those same microfiber cloths to apply Nu Finish, an awesome
polish product, once or twice a year. As a bonus, the waxing/polishing process
is a great way to routinely inspect every inch of your car for any potential
issues, which are almost always cheaper to address if they’re caught early. The
result? People often ask if my cars are new, even when they’re several years
They certainly look and run as if they were. But instead of
spending $5-10k a year on depreciation (yes, it is still an expense if it doesn’t
affect short term cash flow), I usually spend $1-3k and sometimes even less.
Over a lifetime, that will save me well over $100k compared to what the average
person does. And again, I still drive relatively nice cars. Right now I have
only one – a 2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited, which offers 274 horsepower, a synthetic
leather interior, a backup camera, blind spot monitoring, heated seats, 18 inch
rims, and much more. And while it is still occasionally mistaken for being new,
it is actually better than that since Hyundai took a tragic step backwards with
the model in 2015 in both design and mechanical engineering (2 mpg city/0
highway gained in exchange for TWENTY NINE FUCKING HORSEPOWER lost to the tune
of a 1.5 second difference in 0-60 time? If that didn’t get some people fired –
or executed if it had been North Korea instead of South – it should have).
My next car is going to be a Lexus, more than likely a certain “radical” coupe that, with the aid of a few minor corrections modifications, puts out over 500 horsepower and sounds like an unstoppable monster from hell. I will probably buy one around five years old due to the way luxury cars depreciate but I will still probably keep it close to ten years and operate the same way I always have. With the combination of legendary Toyota reliability and proper maintenance working in my favor, I believe I will do just fine. If not, I will go back to buying premium versions of regular brands like I have in the past. Either way, I’m happily driving a good quality car with almost no problems and spending much less than average to do so. Everyone is obviously going to make different choices when it comes to cars. But if you take care of yours the way I take care of mine and keep it a while, you are going to get the same kind of results.