Why You Want to Make the Big Bucks

Plenty of money in Dallas. And such a great skyline too. Too bad I could only capture little pieces of it in any of my very amateur pictures.

Happy Friday! This is the follow up post to Wednesday’s. In that one, I talked about the downsides to having a high paying job. Today, I’m going to end the week on a positive note by talking about the opposite. It may seem a little ridiculous to write a post about reasons someone would want a high paying job. But I’m going to try to stay away from the obvious and go into the aspects someone who hasn’t had the experience might not think of. Let’s get this going.

  • You will face huge challenges that will force you to grow in ways you may never have otherwise.

I’m talking about great big, existential challenges here. As in how do I make something happen over an extended period of time that my employer claims to want (and bases my pay and continued employment on) but seems to do everything in its power to prevent from happening? This may sound like a negative, and on its face, it is. But nothing worth having comes easily. In this case, you’re stepping up to face some things that have the potential to break you, and often will come close to doing just that. However, if you’re up to the challenge, you will come away with something far better than money. In my mind, there is no greater reward than going into every subsequent life experience being able to look back at the incredible things you’ve been able to accomplish against the odds and knowing that there is very little on this planet that can stop you when you’re at your best.

  • You will learn how to deal with people more effectively than you ever would have thought possible.

We’ve all met those difficult people in life. You know, the ones that make you wish you never had to interact with them in any way. The ones who have you thinking “his poor wife!” The higher you rise in your career, the more difficult personalities you’re going to encounter. The upper echelons, at least in the business world, are mostly populated by people who were just too stubborn of assholes to allow anyone to stop them from getting there. The egos are enormous and manipulation, bullying, threatening, belittling, etc are all everyday tactics. These are people who don’t have to worry about HR since they often own their own companies or are the most powerful people in them if they don’t. Avoiding these people is not an option. And neither is failing to get results while dealing with them. For a while, you will hate it. Then, one day, you will wake up and realize that there is almost nothing left in this world that can intimidate you. The hotter the fire, the tougher the resulting metal that was forged in it.

  • You will make tons of powerful friends.

When I started out in my career, networking was always a dirty word in my mind. This was mostly because I knew very few people who could do anything for me, which made it feel like all I could do was beg for help. Not a fun feeling. But once you’re in the club of people who eat, sleep, and breathe work, most of your interactions are with people who control all kinds of different decisions – both within your company and in others. Just like in any other job, you naturally make friends, and enemies, in the process of your day to day activities. And suddenly, networking is easy.

  • You, yourself, will become powerful.

Most of us spent at least the first several years of our careers feeling trapped in dead end situations. In my case, no matter how hard I worked, it didn’t seem like it made any difference. But over time, if you’re highly capable and you work hard, it does. And one day, probably sooner than you would have expected, you find yourself in a position where almost everything you do makes a difference. And while that comes with a ton of risk and responsibility, it’s also a pretty nice feeling at times to look at a situation and realize that you made it happen through sheer force of will.

  • You will enjoy yourself at work – at least some of the time.

One of the reasons I ultimately decided not to go to law school is that law is an incredibly competitive industry where about half the people simply don’t make it and eighty hour work weeks are pretty much the norm. At the time, I couldn’t fathom working that much or that hard. But fast forward less than a decade and here I am working in the incredibly competitive finance industry, where a high percentage of people don’t make it and I’m basically working most of the time I’m awake. If you’re not already in it, that may sound like a nightmare. It certainly did to me. But somewhere along the line, I think I realized that I could either have a mediocre, unsatisfying career or I could put everything I had into a good one. Sometimes people manage to find that sweet spot in between the two, but those situations are pretty rare and typically don’t last. Our economy is just too competitive now and where there is inefficiency, it will usually be discovered and destroyed – one way or another. Going “all in” is the only option I found that allowed me to truly make an impact. And in that way, I feel I gained something rather than lost it. Instead of spending forty hours a week doing something that feels pointless and barely pays the bills, I’m spending significantly more hours than that, but I’m doing meaningful work and the bills are not a concern at all. Of course, that last part also has a lot to do with keeping lifestyle inflation in check. Don’t ever forget that you can outspend any income.

  • When you become valuable to a company, the way it spends money on and around you changes.

I still remember when I was booking my first flight in my current job. I was talking to my then new boss about a couple of possible options. One was cheaper than the other, but involved a layover. “Don’t forget the value of your time,” he told me. And it’s true. If you think about what the company pays me in a typical hour, it doesn’t make sense for me to spend a significant part of my day sitting at some airport in Detroit or some other God forsaken hellhole because the airfare was a hundred bucks cheaper. And it doesn’t stop there. Customers need to be entertained and the only rule I was ever given was to “use your judgment.” Lunches, dinners, football games, golf outings, etc are regular parts of my working life now. My recent college graduate self wouldn’t have believed the expense reports I routinely turn in today. Obviously, I do try to keep things within reason. After all, we’re running a business. But even with the company and the industry going through a very difficult time, no one has suggested cutting these kinds of expenses. They understand that if that needs to happen, we may as well just close the doors because if we don’t make our customers feel great about doing business with us, someone else will.

I think that in a lot of areas of life, you really do get what you put in. A high paying job is definitely not for everyone, because you will have no choice but to make it your top priority in everything you do. I went into that and several other drawbacks in Wednesday’s post because I think it is very important to understand the reality of what you’re getting into. But if you’re willing to pay the very high cost, a high paying job will at least give you a lot back in return. I don’t know how long I will dedicate my life to working this way. But the good news is that as time goes on, because of the work I’ve already done and the way I’ve managed my money, I should have an ever widening range of options available to me. Have a wonderful weekend!

Why You Don’t Want to Make the Big Bucks

Sure, these guys make a lot of money. But they have to take enormous risks and literally mortgage their health, both physical and mental, for the remainder of their lives to do it. And those are just some of the obvious costs.

I don’t want to send the wrong message. I’ve chosen the path I’m on, I take full responsibility for it, and knowing what I know now, there is a good chance I would still do it again. But if you’re frustrated with your income, I want to pull back the curtain and give you a taste of what it really costs to make six figures and up. I don’t want to trivialize your situation. I spent years of my life in circumstances of scarcity to the point where I still struggle with strange personality quirks that are probably rooted in those experiences. I don’t want to go back there. So in the interest of presenting both sides as fairly as I can, I’m going to write a second post to follow this one called “Why You Want to Make the Big Bucks.” But today, we’re looking at why you wouldn’t want to. Here are my reasons, in no particular order.

  • You will have very few friends at work.

Sure, people might act friendly to your face. But nothing happens in a vacuum these days. They may not know the exact amount you make, but they know it’s a lot more than they do. And jealousy can definitely make people treat you differently. You may even have people trying to take you out in an attempt to get what you have for themselves. Additionally, in order to survive in a very high income position, you have to do unpopular things. If you’re in management, you will have to fire people, you will have to tell people NO all the time, and you will have to choose between options that seem terrible to everyone below you while ignoring the options they prefer because they simply aren’t feasible. If you’re in sales, you will have to fight for your deals. Hard. You can do all you want to try to maintain a relationship with an office employee. But when he is standing between you and payday, you’re going to roll over him or go over his head. If you don’t, you not only won’t make money, but you’ll eventually be fired for lack of production. Having more power may appear to give you more options. But once you have it, you realize that those options are limited by factors people on the outside rarely see.

  • You will have a difficult time knowing if you have friends at all.

I have some wealthy friends who you would never think have more money than anyone else. If you were to meet one of them in a day to day situation, you’d see someone driving a normal car, wearing normal clothes, living in a normal house, etc. This isn’t just an effort to save money, or even to live modestly out of personal preference. It’s also an effort to hide. Lottery winners and sports heroes often don’t have that option and that is one reason so many of them wind up broke. They’re human beings just like anyone else, and they want to have normal relationships in their lives. But bad actors know that and they work their way in, taking advantage of any trust that is placed in them. Of course, there is a big difference between Adrian Peterson, who everyone knows has (or had) tens of millions to his name, and someone who has a mere one or two million in the bank. But the concept works similarly for both. Is that new girlfriend with you because she likes you and enjoys spending time with you, or is it because she can smell a payday if she can only get herself married, pregnant, etc? You want to trust her. But it is very difficult to know if you should. Often you won’t find out for sure until it’s too late.  

  • You will have a huge target on your back.

Like most companies in our industry, my employer has been under serious financial stress recently. Cost cutting has become necessary. And guess what? Firing highly compensated employees is a much quicker method of accomplishing that than firing low or average paid ones. I’m not saying people in the latter group will never lose their jobs. But if you make a lot of money and you’re not an elite level performer, you’re definitely the low hanging fruit. Even some of our most successful sales people are feeling the heat now.

  • You will be in high demand…until you’re not.

I wrote about how a lot fewer people than you think make big money just last week. That means that especially within a particular industry, most people near the top will at least be aware of each other. If you’re fired, word will get out quickly along with all sorts of rumors and theories about why it happened. If you want to move to a different company, you will probably wind up working with people you know from the past. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing. But in a world where even the nicest people have to do some pretty ugly things to get to the top, it is bad more often than it’s good. And if you lose your job as a result of your industry tanking, it’s going to be very difficult to find another one because the other companies that could best utilize your skillset probably aren’t hiring. There are plenty of those people in my life right now, whether they’ve been fired or are just at the point where they feel a switch is their best option.

  • You will be expected to give absolutely everything you have and it will never be enough.

There is no clocking out when you make six figures. You can’t really even go on vacation. You would basically just be working from home, except from a different place. If you have a family, friends, or other personal commitments, they will come second more often than not. The other option is to find another job. And remember, you’re a highly compensated employee. So when you succeed, well, of course you did. That’s what we pay you for and frankly, you still should have somehow done better. And when you don’t, you’re crucified – whether it was a result of factors under your control or not. Simply put, you’re paid to win, that’s expected, and anything less is a failure even if you did the best job you possibly could have.

  • You will make a lot less money than you think.

Political pandering aside, the reality is that unless you’re part of a small fraction of the top 1% of income earners, you don’t have access to most of the accounting tricks that allow the truly rich to avoid some of their tax liability. And even if you are, the numbers don’t lie. In 2016, the top 1% of income earners made just shy of 20% of income in the US, but paid nearly 40% of the taxes. For the top 10% of earners, those numbers were about 50% and 70%, respectively. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% made almost 12% of the income, but paid only 3% of the taxes. Keep in mind that these statistics are just for federal income taxes. Making a lot of money is very expensive just about anywhere the government is involved. Long story short, the more you make on paper, the less of your income is actually yours.

When people talk about money, they tend to focus on the benefits and ignore most of the costs. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as they say, but things are never quite as easy or wonderful when you make the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and view them objectively. Like I said at the beginning of the post, my personal verdict is that I’ll take the money – at least for now. But everything has its cost. Plenty of people would be capable of making very high incomes, but they choose not to make the sacrifices required. And that’s fine – perhaps even admirable. There are definitely more important things in life than money and the higher you go on the income ladder, the less of any of them you tend to have. The most effective decisions in life are made when all costs and benefits are factored in. If I’ve given you a window into the costs of something very few people actually get to personally experience, then I accomplished my goal with this post. And it isn’t all bad by any means. Stay tuned…

How I Saved $35 on a Recent Purchase and Some Other Odds and Ends

Now if that isn’t one of the stupidest things I’ve seen in a while – think about it… – Spotted in a hotel room I recently stayed in while hustling my ass off as described in this post

Happy Monday, ya’ll! I decided to take a break from my Annual Expenses series of posts as the concept was feeling a little stale. I’ll probably pick it back up next week. But for today, I want to tell you about a recent purchase, give you a general update, and do one other thing I had said I would but forgot about until now. Let’s get to it!

Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a trend where “deals” pop up when I’m looking at my online accounts with different banks. Usually, it’s in the form of “spend x dollars at a particular store, get a y dollar reward.” I haven’t messed with them until now because I’ve been busy, the offers usually didn’t apply to anything I particularly wanted to buy, and the dollar amounts didn’t entice me to do things differently. But recently, I saw one with American Express that changed all that: spend $25 at an office supply store, get a $5 reward. Toner cartridges for my printer cost way more than that and I have to replace them every pretty routinely, so I went to the local Office Depot. The cartridge I needed seemed a little pricier than usual at $90, so I checked online. The first option I saw was $60 – and interestingly enough, it was at Officedepot.com! I asked one of the clerks if they would price match their website, it turned out they would, and just like that, I had saved $30. Tack on the $5 from the good people at American Express and the cartridge was $35 off.

The lessons here are pretty obvious, but bear repeating as a reminder. First, keep your eyes open for easy opportunities. It took me less than thirty seconds to read over the Amex offer, come up with a plan to take advantage of it, and click it. Second, a price is not set in stone. It was a little shocking in this case that Office Depot’s brick and mortar location was substantially more expensive than its website (and no, the online price did not say it was a “sale price”), but even when it’s someone else’s website, a lot of stores will price match now since if they don’t, they will probably fall victim to “showrooming.” Third, regardless of the situation, it never hurts to ask and you can’t get what you don’t ask for. ‘Nuff said.

My current career situation could be described as “frustrated and angry, but opportunistic.” In the throes of panic mode, my employer is making life incredibly difficult for those of us out in the field with a seemingly impossible double standard. Their words say “we want tons and tons of business.” Their actions say “we’re not going to let you do any business unless we absolutely have to.” And some other actions have already made it clear that “if you don’t do tons and tons of business, you’re fired.” It seems infuriatingly disingenuous, particularly when you consider that numerous firings have already happened and not one of the people left employed appears to be safe. But then you remember that these management guys are likely facing similarly impossible double standards that have been set by the guys above them and the whole thing just kind of becomes a shared nightmare for all.

The only thing that’s certain is that it’s time to put up or shut up. As a result, I’ve been busting ass like never before and thankfully, succeeding like never before in spite of terrible market conditions. In fact, not only have I become one of the higher performers in the entire country, but of the handful of people who have been hired in my division over the last five years or so, I’m literally the only one left standing. I’m damn proud of that, even as I feel for those who didn’t make it. There are two ways to look at this situation. Sure, it’s difficult and in many cases unfair. But life hasn’t been fair since the kid in preschool took the toy from you without asking, you pushed him, and the teacher only saw the second part. Or even before that when one kid was born into almost unimaginable wealth and opportunity in the US by world standards, while another was born into almost guaranteed poverty.

Bottom line, there is opportunity in everything, even when things look extremely bleak. I do my share of bitching, no doubt. I need to work on not letting things phase me as much. But at the end of the day, I’m the guy who’s out there in all out attack mode when many others are retreating. I may go down swinging anyway, but that’s virtually guaranteed if I don’t try. In the mean time, I’m making more money than ever and building on what had already been a pretty promising career. This terrible period could be the one that takes me from pretty successful to extremely successful. Someone has to come out on top, right? As many people who have gone on to give the best performances of their lives have said, why not me, why not now?

Like it or not, few entities have more data on us and our finances than the credit bureaus. We can either waste our time being angry about that, which will change nothing, or we can use the opportunity to indulge our inner data geeks and glean some valuable insights.  Recently, someone from Experian emailed me about a post on their blog. It is a comparison of mortgage debt held by different generations and since typing the word “millennial” is basically page view gold, it of course approaches the topic from that perspective. I think the data is presented in some pretty interesting ways. Of course, if you go to their blog, they’re hoping you will click on something else and buy something. But the post is free. And full disclosure, I’m not getting anything from linking to it other than to help a fellow blogger out. Check it out here.

That’s all for today, folks. Have a great Monday and an even better week!

My Best Efforts to Keep the Insurance Industry From Robbing Me Blind

This expense is one dragon even I cannot slay.

Happy Monday, ya’ll! Here is the latest post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, you can check it out here. I’ve been going into detail on one category each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $3000 per year on insurance. To be honest, this category makes me sick since I don’t like betting against myself and have literally never received even close to what I’ve paid in premiums. Not one single year. There is a lot to discuss on this since it includes three subcategories: auto, homeowner/renter, and health/dental. And it is a highly variable expense category since insurance is based on personal factors. But I believe a minimal annual expense would be about $2000. And this is a great topic to go into since my annual auto/renter policy renews in early October and I’m going to be shopping around to try to get just a little bit closer to a reasonable amount – if that is even possible anymore.

I’ll start with health insurance since it is the most important. I’m very fortunate to have a solid plan through my employer that has a very low required contribution of less than $1000 total per year – and that’s pretax. Our dental insurance is less generous and as a result, I even went without it one year. But dentist appointments seem to be much more expensive than they are in the Midwest – about $300 on average versus about half that – so I got back on it. Anyway, admittedly, my minimum annual insurance number above requires an employee friendly setup because if I didn’t have that, it appears I would be paying about $4k total per year for fairly minimal individual health coverage. However, I would then have the advantage of being eligible to contribute to an HSA (health savings account), assuming I chose the right plan. An HSA is the add on you want. A FSA (flexible spending account) is only useful for those who have medical expenses that are both high AND predictable. Unlike an HSA, which is basically a bank account you own (but can only use for medical expenses), a FSA is a tax advantaged, but “use it or lose it” account. So only contribute what you KNOW you will spend or you could easily lose money instead of saving any.

The key with health insurance is really to stay as healthy as possible. It’s not going to be cheap no matter what you do, but if you have high medical costs, it’s going to be a lot worse. This is one of the reasons I said investing in your health is the best investment you could possibly make in one of my very first posts on this blog. This is also one of those areas where you’re going to pay through the nose for having kids, but that’s a whole other topic. Long story short on health insurance, go through your employer if they offer a decent plan and live the healthiest life you can so you can use it as little as possible. Frankly, if this industry doesn’t see dramatic changes over the next decade or so, this country is going to be bankrupt. So I don’t know how in depth it even pays to go into this. It is simply going to be a moving target for a while.

On auto insurance, I’m paying a bit over $1500 a year for a single vehicle, which makes me sick given that I paid just over half that much for two in Wisconsin (and not much more than that for three when I was married). But you only have to spend a day on Houston’s roads to see that the drivers here more than justify that difference. Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin haven’t been much better in my experience, so it’s possible that sky high insurance costs are simply a Texas thing and a well justified one at that. Anyway, nearly half of that is for collision, which you should only have if your vehicle is objectively worth at least $10k in my opinion, and the rest is for liability, comprehensive, and so forth. I have a 100/300 policy and I’m actually likely to increase that and add umbrella coverage in the near future since as my net worth skyrockets, so does my potential loss if I somehow hit one of these aristocrats who drive $400k Bentleys in an area with roads that are about one step above a war zone. And it wouldn’t even need to be a car that expensive. Sending someone to the hospital could cost far more than that very quickly, especially if they sue. And if it’s major, that’s probably more likely than not. It’s a calculation you need to make for yourself. If the vast majority of your assets are in retirement assets, which are typically protected in the event of bankruptcy, then you can probably afford to gamble a little by having the state minimum level of required liability coverage. However, if the opposite is true, then you’re probably going to have to pay for higher coverage limits as I do and be thankful that it’s necessary.

As far as saving on auto insurance, there are at least some things you can do. First and foremost, have good credit and a clean driving record. If you get a ticket, fight it. The ticket itself may only cost a hundred or two, but the increased insurance premiums could cost more than that on an annual basis for five years or more. Some states are better than others for this. I know people in states where they’ve been able to lawyer up and get out of anything and everything up to and including alcohol related stuff. In other states, it’s not even worth trying. Do your research and find out which your state is and act accordingly.

Definitely shop around with your policy. The rule of thumb is to do it every other year, but with as much as I’m paying, I’m doing it every single year until further notice. Loyalty definitely doesn’t seem to be rewarded at all as most insurers raise your rates each and every year now. About the only exception I’m aware of is USAA. If you are eligible to do business with them, thank your lucky stars and do so! I’ve heard nothing but good things. I’ve also heard good things about Amica, although every time I’ve gotten a quote from them it’s been way out of the ballpark so who knows. But most insurance companies are the same basic “charge sky high premiums, then forget your wallet when it comes time to pay the bill” scams operations.

At least by shopping around, you know you’re not getting totally screwed. Ask for the longest term you can get (usually it’s either a year or six months) since if you don’t, you’re effectively financing your annual premium and the interest rate is not low. Also, you can raise your deductibles to the max. Usually it’s only $1000 though, which limits the premium difference it makes. My attitude is that most accidents involve replacing a bumper, which is going to cost about $1000. I’m not going to make a claim and send my premiums into the stratosphere so the insurance company will hem and haw and finally grudgingly pay out five hundred bucks. No thanks. So I’d be paying the first thousand regardless in the event of a serious accident.

That’s another thing to keep in mind with insurance. Don’t make a claim if you don’t have to. Much like with buying extended warranties, you are extremely unlikely to come out ahead in the long run. If you do, you’re one of the lucky (although also extremely unlucky in another way of thinking) few. Think about it. If the insurance company (and warranties are sold by them as well) pays out more than it takes in, it goes out of business. So in most cases, you’re going to have to fight for every dollar. If the scope of the situation gets big, make sure the insurance company knows you will involve an attorney if you need to. And don’t be afraid to follow through with that either. Someone needs to keep the bastards honest. 

I saved the least important type of insurance for last, at least if you’re a renter. Most renters insurance I’ve ever had has included roughly $30k for personal property, which is enough for almost any apartment dweller, and has cost about a hundred bucks a year – yes, even in the insurance hell that is Houston. Usually I just get it as an add on with whatever auto insurance company I’m going with that year. Of course, it is much more significant if you are getting homeowners insurance since you’re insuring the exterior of the building as well. And if you live in a hurricane area like Houston, suck it up and pay for the flood insurance. In case you haven’t been paying attention for many years now, new storms “make history” on a very regular basis. Don’t assume you are safe just because the flooding didn’t reach your area in the past. People have literally lost their homes for doing exactly that.

If it hasn’t come through in the tone of this post, I fucking hate insurance. It is one of the only industries besides politics that makes finance look ethically upstanding. I get that there are problem customers like in anything else, but for the vast majority of us, this is going to amount to decades and decades of donating money to for profit entities. But if you keep an eye on them, both when making sure you’re paying a competitive premium, and when actually making claims, you can at least keep the bleeding from turning into hemorrhaging.

Sorry For the Lack of Posts This Week

I know I’ve been a little quiet. If I were Elon Musk, I would tell you I’m currently in “production hell.” However, I’m not an eccentric billionaire doing all I can to change the world. I’m just your garden variety finance guy working as hard as I can to mitigate the damage of the early, but already devastating stages of our latest and long overdue recession while also trying to somehow continue to find and close new business, run my growing side business, continue my flying lessons, and do what I can to be there for some very dear friends who are going through some difficult times in their lives. These are all such high priorities that I’m not willing to compromise on any of them. So it has been all I can do to keep up this week and I’ve chosen to let this blog slip over losing sleep or letting my workout schedule be affected.

However, I’m going to do all I can to get back on top of everything this weekend and free up some time to get back to my regular posting schedule next week. For anyone who has been following my blog, I appreciate your interest and patience during this chaotic time. I’ve committed myself to keeping this blog going for at least a full year and I have no intention of going back on that. See ya’ll soon!

Don’t Be House Poor: How to Tame Housing Expenses

This is what a normally beautiful resort style pool area looks like when it floods during hurricane season. But one advantage of renting is that I didn’t have to lift a finger; the mess was cleaned up automatically.

Happy Monday, ya’ll! Here is the latest post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, you can check it out here. I’ve been going into detail on one category each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $12,600 per year on my housing expenses. Please note that this only includes rent – not utilities, maintenance (I pay zero since I rent), or any other associated expenses. And that is actually trending upwards. This is the largest annual expense for most people and I’ve made tons of financial progress over the years by being very conservative with it. I still am in some ways, but I’ve definitely moved a significant distance along the cost/quality spectrum in 2018 and 2019.

What does that look like? For the last two years, I’ve lived in what I’d call medium-high end luxury apartment complexes. But I’ve also had one bedroom apartments, as much to maintain the more minimalist lifestyle I’ve learned I prefer as it is to save money. It’s hard to buy too much crap you don’t need when you only have 700 square feet to put it in. So I avoid clutter but also get to enjoy premium features in my unit, beautiful landscaping, great amenities, and a safe, quiet location. But even in the relatively reasonable Houston market, I’m spending more than I was in most of 2017 in the Milwaukee suburbs, which skewed the average down.

This year, I’ll have spent over $15k when all is said and done. I’ve allowed this form of lifestyle inflation to happen because I genuinely enjoy where I’m living and because it is still at an extremely manageable level relative to my total income. The conventional wisdom is to spend a maximum of 30% of your gross income on rent. My preference is no more than 10%, and grudgingly 15% if you’re paying a mortgage instead of renting (more on that later). I acknowledge this would be much more difficult with an income at or below the average range. But there are ways to do it, and without compromising on essentials like safety. And that is why I said I believe this expense can be reasonably kept to $6-10k.

How? For starters, by viewing things from a more traditional perspective. As individuals in today’s world, we are more isolated than at any previous time in the short history of our species. Only a few generations ago, someone living alone as I do was not only fairly rare, but seen as pretty unfortunate and even embarrassing. I think humanity has lost a lot in the process of abandoning our collectivist roots. And I say that as a man you can probably correctly guess is a pretty strong fiscal conservative. Long story short, live with someone. It requires careful relationship management, particularly if you choose to live with a romantic partner, but it can be done. I believe there are likely psychological advantages, even for someone like me who doesn’t need to do things that way for financial reasons. And with two (or more) people kicking in, it’s pretty easy to keep your annual rent expense below $10k in all but the most ridiculous markets, like New York City or San Francisco.

From there, follow the same process I always talk about. Think about what your needs truly are. If you don’t have a fancy car, you probably don’t need to pay more for a place with a garage. If you aren’t going to use a fancy resort style pool area, a gym, a spa, etc, very often, don’t rent somewhere where you’re paying for those things. If you want to be a hardcore personal finance warrior like the legendary MMM, consider paying more to be close enough to work to walk, bike, etc, and see if you can cut car ownership, the second largest expense for most people, out of your life entirely for a year or two. If you don’t care about hardwood floors and granite countertops, well, I think you get the idea.

What if you own your home instead of renting? Theoretically, it should be cheaper then, since with renting you’re paying for someone else to do all the maintenance as well as to have the option to leave on short notice. But in the reality of today’s hyper-inflated housing market, that’s often not the case. So my first advice in this area is not to buy something overpriced. Mark my words, eventually, even the mighty US housing market is going to get a dose of painful reality. Those who have been patient will be the beneficiaries when it finally happens. However, there is an argument for building equity (just don’t overestimate this factor or try to have any financial discussion whatsoever with your average real estate agent, who is desperate enough to say anything and knows/cares very little about economics or your financial well being), having a more permanent situation, fewer neighbors in close proximity, etc. So to allow for that value, which is certainly real in some cases, I would sign off on paying up to 15% of your income on a mortgage – preferably with a twenty year max term so you aren’t paying a fortune in interest or buying way more than you can truly afford. If you can’t do that, buy a less expensive house, rent another year, or look into renting out a room in the house. There are always options; never forget that.

Keeping your housing expenses well in check really only requires thinking a little bit outside of the box. Just because other people do things a certain way, that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. There are way, way too many people out there who are “house poor” – in other words, their finances are unnecessarily constrained because they are paying way too much for their residence. P.S. If you want to live in Silicon Valley, ask yourself if you can get a job there that will pay you several times what a job in a reasonable housing market will. Keep in mind that the higher the income, the greater the diminishing return effect due to higher marginal tax rates. And spoiler alert, unless you’re a CEO or something pretty close to that, and you couldn’t get that kind of job anywhere else, the answer is going to be no.

The Most Accessible Thing Jordan Peterson Has Ever Said

The bottling room at St Arnold Brewing Company – Houston, TX. Breweries have to be very clean to keep their precious product safe and delicious!

“Clean your room.” Such a simple concept, but so chock full of brilliance. I wouldn’t call myself a Jordan Peterson disciple. While I regularly find myself almost wanting to scream “get to the damn point, man!”, I agree with him a lot of the time, especially when he’s talking about using personal responsibility and discipline to improve yourself and the world around you. But I can’t abide his stated view that this personal responsibility must also extend to having children and that it is impossible to reach self actualization without doing so.

First, I believe we already have plenty of people on this planet to pose a serious threat to its continued support of us as a life form. The changing of Earth’s climate at a more rapid pace than has ever been previously recorded, war in all its forms, hatred, chronic and unnecessary freeloading, and many other problems seem to be progressing well enough without the help of even more people to further intensify the constant, and often brutal competition for the limited available resources. So I’m not sure that more procreating is the answer. Second, I believe one benefit of this sentience thing we’ve evolved is that we can make lifestyle choices for reasons other than biological urges alone. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the right to have children, provided they have the resources necessary to take care of them and the intention of doing so. But I feel I can live a full, meaningful life and contribute almost anything I want to the world around me without ever reproducing. I guess we’re going to find out in any case. Frankly, my genetics seem to be average at best and ya’ll should probably be thanking me. But I digress. The man has a lot of very important things to say and “clean your room” is one of them. Why?

A lot of people dismiss Peterson’s call to action as too obvious or not enough to move the needle. But that’s the point. It’s an easy step one. Look around you, figure out a way you can make your surroundings better in about ten minutes, and do it. I believe that is closer to the exact words he used. And anyone who has ever dealt with depression understands exactly why we’re starting small. Sometimes anything more seems like an unscalable mountain and then the end result is the same inaction that has already been taking place. But just clean up a little in the room you’re already sitting in? That seems pretty doable.

A funny thing happens once you make that small improvement. Even in the depths of whatever you’re going through, you suddenly feel something different – a tiny sense of accomplishment. You took ten minutes you could have wasted and instead, you used them to impact the world in a positive way. Suddenly you notice something else that could use doing. It’ll take a little longer than the first thing, but those first ten minutes didn’t turn out to be a waste, so what the hell? Twenty minutes later, you look around your home and realize you’re really getting somewhere. That feeling gets addictive and before you know it, your whole house is clean and it didn’t take nearly as long as you would have guessed from your favorite spot on the couch.

But this isn’t just for people who have let things go a little at home. You can apply this concept to any part of your life. Let’s say your career seems to be going nowhere. You would love to take the next step in your career, but it would require you to go back to school and finish your degree, plus putting in a bunch of overtime, plus the position you want isn’t even open at your company. That is a big pile of obstacles and if you only look at it that way, you might rot in your crappy job for the rest of what will likely be a pretty crappy life.

But then you remember “clean your room.” What if you just went and asked the boss if there is anything extra you could do to help out? It would be a simple enough conversation and there is almost no chance of an adverse result, so you give it a try. The boss gives you some extra grunt work and you do it. You realize it wasn’t so bad and it actually made the day go by just a little quicker. So you do the same thing the next day. And the next. Eventually, the extra grunt work turns into something a little more challenging. You find yourself learning a new skill. Once again, it isn’t so bad and this time you even enjoy yourself a little. Fast forward a few months and the guy in the job above you leaves. Your boss approaches you about taking over the job. Sure, you would have to take some classes, but it turns out the company has a tuition reimbursement program and some of the classes can even be done on your lunch hour. Now you’re getting somewhere. But it never would have happened if you didn’t take that simple first step and discover in the process that it was easier than you thought.

Regardless of what you think of him, it is pretty indisputable that Jordan Peterson is a very well read, insightful man. He doesn’t just understand psychology, he knows how to apply it to your life effectively. I believe just about anyone could learn something from him. Yes, he is long winded and meandering at times. And yes, his voice might sound just a little like that of Kermit the Frog. But I’ve learned that valuable information can come from just about anywhere. And it can certainly come from this somehow controversial Canadian gentleman. It has for me in any case. If you’re struggling to get things moving in the right direction in your life, you may want to check him out and actually listen to what he says. You may be surprised.

Happy Friday, folks!

What Do You Think of This Book?

Seriously, I’m asking. After reading The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. Given the mostly dry subject matter, I thought it was a very readable book. But I also felt like it started off strong but couldn’t keep it going to the end. I definitely learned a lot. For example, I have a much better understanding of weather forecasting now. And I suppose the same goes for the baseball analysis, although you would literally have to pay me to get me to watch a game from start to finish.

In general, this book seems to be an effort to help the general public understand just how difficult it actually is to make a prediction successfully. It also seeks to define what predictions are and what they are not. When the weather forecast says there is a 60% chance of rain, that means that out of a hundred possible scenarios, it rains in sixty of them. In other words, there is plenty that isn’t KNOWN and in reality, there is still a pretty strong chance that it won’t rain. And when Nate Silver gave Donald Trump a 29% chance of becoming president, that means he still saw scenarios where it would happen, even if he believed it was less likely than the alternative outcome. And to be fair, the vast majority of the mainstream media gave the current president virtually no chance to win so against that backdrop, Silver’s prediction looks much better. After all, he does what he does largely by aggregating the same polls everyone else was using and when polling proves to be less than reliable, it’s a garbage in, garbage out scenario. He actually assessed that and accounted for it more effectively than almost anyone else in his field. And no, this isn’t discussed in the book. It was published in 2012.

Anyway, The Signal and the Noise seems to be more a collection of borrowed ideas than a discussion of anything original. It’s at its best when talking about Silver’s personal experiences, at its worst when making conclusions that are debatable at best and presenting them as established fact (and no, I’m not talking about the global warming chapter, I’m talking about random comments that are occasionally peppered in throughout the book; I thought the global warming chapter did a pretty good job of explaining what is and is not considered consensus at this point), and somewhere in the middle most of the time. But Silver clearly did a ton of research and does a great job of presenting a fairly eclectic range of sophisticated concepts in an accessible way.

But at the end, I think this book could have done a little more to tie everything together than to simply repeat a summary of what was talked about throughout. It wasn’t a bad book or a boring one to read; I simply think it could have said more. In any case, I think it was worth my time because it got me thinking creatively about a broad range of topics.