My Newest Health Boosting Experiments and Why They’re Awesome

These tiny sprouts will be supercharging my immune system in just a few short days!

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 up.

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. 

My Latest Book Review

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.  

Time Restricted Eating Update: There is Definitely Something to This!

In the wild, I believe this guy would spend most of his time hungry and primed for action – not fed round the clock. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

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 adjustments.

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 huge success!

I’m Back! And I’ve Brought A Couple of Recent Observations with Me

How they managed to do that with the couch wrapped in plastic is beyond me; but there it is.

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 the truck.

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 year.

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.

And with that, I bid you all a good night!

How to Spend a Fraction of What Most People do on Electronics Without Having to Sacrifice Much

Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

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 technology.

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 sense.

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.

The Lesson I Needed to Learn by Dumping My Best Customer

Back to amateur photography for today – a duck swims on a turbulent, late winter day at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Welcome Aboard, Jean-Marc!

Midtown Park – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

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:

Instagram

Facebook

If he gets enough exposure out of this deal, I’m hoping he will stick around so check him out!

The Importance of Outlook – How I Still Struggle with the Scarcity Mentality of My Past

Navajo Bridge, Grand Canyon – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

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 month.

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.


How My Favorite Store Can Improve Your Bottom Line AND Your Life

Good riddance to the most crowded Costco I’ve ever lived near (I move next week and the one near my new place is MUCH better!)

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 year.

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 deal.

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.  

Car Maintenance Basics: Today’s $400 Investment and Why It Was a Great One

My current car having its oil changed in a freaking hanger by an absolutely fascinating man!

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 with them.

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 old.

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.