Today I’m going to write about something that is breaking my
heart because I see it happening way too often, resulting in devastating
consequences in people’s lives and subsequently, for society at large. There
seems to be an epidemic involving people thinking they can have whatever they
want without paying any cost at all. I’ve succumbed to this siren song at times
in my own life so I know it’s very powerful. But I’ve learned that everything
on life has a cost. Everything. Want to be in great physical shape? You pay for
it by spending a lot of time in the gym and eating well. Want to live in a big,
beautiful house? You have to pay a lot of money. Want a good career? You have
to dedicate a lot of time to it.
What I’m describing ought to be considered a law of nature
at this point. If there were no costs, what would anything be worth? Everyone
would have the best of everything and none of it would have any meaning
whatsoever. But the world doesn’t have the resources to support that and even
if it did, we would all be living terribly unfulfilled lives. Why? Fulfillment
comes from facing challenges, overcoming them, and growing as a result. You get
none of that when you take the easy road. Imagine if you had everything you
wanted right now – a big mansion, millions of dollars, a fleet of expensive
vehicles, a beautiful and loving family, the admiration of many people, etc. Your
vision probably includes you being happy. But what happens if you stay in that
vision as the days, weeks, months, and years go by? I believe that smile is
going to fade. Why do you have all those emblems of success? Why do those
people love you? There isn’t a reason. You didn’t earn any of it. And that
element is crucial. So many people don’t understand this and it crushes them in
life. They fetishize the material rewards of success but that’s nothing but
fool’s gold. The value of success isn’t in rewards; it’s in the process of
And beyond simply depriving yourself of fulfillment, making
the easy choices in life will actually make things worse for you. By bypassing
paying the cost of something, you increase the cost you will eventually have to
pay. If you just make the minimum payment on your credit card bill today
instead of paying the full statement balance, that bill is going to come back
bigger next month. If you keep doing it, eventually you are going to drown in
credit card debt. If you skip the gym today, tomorrow you’re going to have to
work even harder just to get back to where you could have been. If you stop
going to the gym altogether, eventually you are going to have health problems
you otherwise wouldn’t have had.
Most people aren’t very future oriented and as a result,
they see substantially higher long term costs as a perfectly acceptable trade
off for somewhat lower costs today. This is how obese people are built – one bad
decision at a time. This is how people in their sixties with no choice but to
work until they drop dead got there – “I’ll start saving tomorrow.” Please do
not choose that kind of path for yourself. I highly recommend The Time Paradox
by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd. That book explains this concept brilliantly in
Think about who you would be in life if there were no limits.
Whatever that looks like, I’m here to tell you that you can have it. Maybe not
exactly what you pictured, but you can make your life look much more like that
than it does now in ways that you will never believe. But you have to start
doing the work. Not next week, not tomorrow, NOW. You are building your future
with every decision you make. Instead of what is easiest right now, think about
where you actually want to go in life and make the choice that is going to move
you in that direction. It won’t be long before those little, good decisions
will start to add up to big, positive changes and you’ll realize how important
every one of them really was. And from there, it will get easier and easier to
make more of them – and bigger ones too.
Or, you can stop working on something important because it’s
too hard. You can have a Twinkie because vegetables don’t taste as good. You
can sit on your increasingly fat ass and watch mindless garbage on tv because you
don’t feel like doing anything productive. You get the idea. But don’t blame
anyone else when you have gone nowhere in life in twenty years. Don’t demand
that successful people pay for your mistakes. Don’t try to force your
bitterness on others who have made better choices than you have. Whether or not
you want to earn anything in life, I can assure you that you will. But it might
not be an outcome you, or anyone, would want. Please choose something better
and make something out of your time on this earth.
Happy Monday, Folks! This is yet another post in my annual
expense series. I’m sorry it’s been a little boring, but we’re nearly through!
And hopefully I’ve helped you save at least some money. Today I’m going to tell
you how I keep my technology expenses much lower than most people and still get
everything I need. I’ve already written posts that address this, so this will
be a quick one as a good portion of the information is already available at the
links I will provide. Over 2017 and 2018, I averaged $500 a year on technology services.
I believe a bare minimum number could be as low as $350 a year if you were
trying to save every penny.
Step one is simple. I don’t have cable and I don’t recommend
it for anyone. Instead, if I were the type who watched tv much outside of
football season, I would simply figure out which streaming services had the
shows I liked and subscribe only to those, only when those shows were on. Or
just use Kodi. But I didn’t say that… So anyway, the only technology services I
need are internet and cell phone.
For internet, I use whichever option is cheapest. The dirty little secret of this industry (at least the one most relevant to saving money) is that you need a hell of a lot less bandwith than most people think. Unless you’re streaming video on multiple devices in your home consistently, 20 or so Mbps is plenty. Even then you could get by with it. Those 100+ plans are the internet equivalent to driving a Ferrari on a road where the speed limit is 65 anyway. Last year, I was paying about $40 a month for AT&T. The year before that, I was paying $15 a month for a very minimalist Charter (formerly Time Warner) plan in Wisconsin. This year, I’m paying $30 a month for Comcast Xfinity. I do have my own router and modem, which I spent about $100 total on and should last several years. AT&T provided their own unit and while they didn’t come out and say they were charging rent, their service was about $10 more per month than Xfinity, which means they probably were. But since they didn’t separate that out on the bill, there was also no option to not have it. However, I was able to negotiate $200 in Visa gift cards up front, which made the difference for me and got me to sign up for a year. What do I do when the “promotional pricing” period ends? This. I don’t EVER reward the shenanigans that seem to be standard practice in this industry by paying more.
That leaves cell phone service. Everyone offers unlimited talk and text for basically nothing now, knowing that data is the choke point. So how do I slay the data demon and ultimately spend so little? I know how much I actually use (very little when not on WiFi, which is almost everywhere now) and I use services that provide minimal amounts for minimal money. Previously, and for all of the years 2017 and 2018, which the average above was calculated on, I had been using Republic Wireless. But when their new pricing scheme came out, it effectively doubled the price for a minimal user like me. So I switched to Mint Mobile when I got a new phone and would have had to start participating in that pricing scheme. Either service is a much better option than the contract carriers for most people and I’ve had zero issues with either. The key is taking the time to figure out how much data you actually need. For most people, it is actually a lot less than you think once you factor in that most of it is on WiFi.
That’s it – everything you need to know to pay a small
fraction of what most people do for technology and still get everything you
I haven’t done an annual expense post in a while and the year is quickly winding down, so I need to get back on track. The next three expense categories on the list, Memberships, Other, and Supplements, are pretty uninvolved, so I’ve decided to combine them into a single post. Over 2017 and 2018, I averaged $300, $2400, and $100 in these categories, respectively.
Of the $300 I averaged on memberships, roughly $180 a year
went to my gym membership. It’s a 24 Hour Fitness membership I got from Costco.
They usually sell a two year membership for $400, but it occasionally goes on
sale for $360. And that’s when I pulled the trigger. As a bonus, based on my
research, it appears that once my membership expires, I’ll be able to repeat
the feat. The offer is only for people who are not current members at 24 Hour
Fitness. However, according to many forum posts, you can attain that “not a
current member” status in a single day. I will certainly give it a try once my
membership expires next year. 24 Hour Fitness isn’t the nicest gym I’ve ever
used. Many of the locations aren’t all that clean or well kept up. Don’t get me
wrong; they’re not terrible. I’d say they’re squarely mediocre. However, they
are cheap, they have all the necessary equipment, and they have tons of
locations all over in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio – a huge value to me given
my frequent traveling. 24 Hour Fitness also has locations in many other states
so I recommend checking them out if you’re looking for a cheap, decent gym with
The remaining $120 a year was split evenly between my AAA membership and my Costco membership. AAA seems to be a pretty decent company and as someone who travels by car a lot, I’m likely to need the service eventually. When I do, based on my research, I expect to save a significant amount of money on one roadside service or another. Even if I don’t, I appreciate having some peace of mind. I have this instead of a similar service through an insurance company because I don’t trust insurance companies and like most people, my premiums are high enough already. Maybe using the service wouldn’t be treated as a claim and everything would be fine. But I wouldn’t want to bet on that with an industry that is well known for both jacking up premiums and screwing its customers at every possible opportunity. I tend to be a little cynical for sure, but I haven’t found many more crooked industries than insurance and will do whatever I can to avoid letting it take advantage of me even more than it already has, and still does. AAA has been around a long time and has a pretty decent reputation. That’s enough for me until my experiences indicate I should change my view.
As for the Costco membership, I’ve written about my favorite store many times on this blog – in fact, it saved me money in both of the other categories in this post and no, that was not intended. I would estimate that the $60 membership pays for itself at least half a dozen times per year. It is actually likely more than that. It would be difficult to overstate the value here.
I avoid putting expenses into the Other category if I can,
opting instead to add more specific categories as necessary. When I do use it,
it’s for something I don’t expect to do often. In the case of 2017 and 2018, I made
a cross country move from Wisconsin to Houston, Texas. My employer generously
paid for most of it. However, as part of the process of recovering
psychologically from my 2016 divorce, I decided to get rid of almost everything
I owned and replace it once here in Texas. It wouldn’t have been right to ask
my employer to pay for that since it was voluntary, although they would have if
I had. It wound up costing me about $4800, mostly on some middle of the road
quality furniture, resulting in an average of $2400 over the last two years.
As for supplements, I don’t use many at this point in my
life, although I’ve used almost all of them over the years. So this category
used to be a much bigger one. Today, the vast majority of this spending is on
protein powder. And I’ve been using less and less of that in favor of ingesting
as many calories as possible in real food form. The protein powder I do buy, unsurprisingly,
comes from Costco. Their deals are normally pretty competitive, but if you wait
for their sale prices and then stock up, you will blow any other options out of
the water. And this is coming from a guy who has bought almost every supplement
and checked out almost every possible option over time.
That’s it for today. Yes, it was kind of a mundane post. But
even here, there is plenty of potential savings if you happen to be
overspending in these categories. As usual, I get everything I want, rarely
compromise on quality, and pay as little as possible. Overall, it works out to
approximately an upper middle class lifestyle for the cost of a lower middle
class one. Have a great week!
No matter what your goals are with the opposite sex, you
will probably have to play the numbers game. And since my divorce a few years
ago, I’ve done just that. Not long ago, I met a woman who seemed pretty
worthwhile at first. She was attractive and clearly intelligent. But my
assessment changed in an instantaneous and permanent manner when she said
something that absolutely appalled me. “I wouldn’t want to be with someone like
you because you clearly live a healthy lifestyle and I don’t want to feel
pressured to live that way too.”
One issue with dating women in their early to mid twenties is
that you can’t necessarily assess their lifestyle very easily. Sure, some of
them are already significantly overweight at that age and others are showing
signs of aging prematurely, both of which are indicative of consistently poor
choices in one or more areas. But many of them still look great thanks to
nothing but a combination of age and genetics. And that was clearly the case here.
She went on to describe her party girl lifestyle, which sounded like it mostly
involved staying out drinking at bars, clubs, etc until the wee hours of the
morning, rather proudly. This was clearly a woman who is well on her way to hitting
the wall head first and at full speed.
But it wasn’t even the fact that she’s squandering every resource she has – her health, her money, and the time her very life is made up of – that shocked me. I see women her age still living that way all the time. Consequently, the reason I tend to date women that age, as opposed to younger than that, is because the smarter ones tend to be starting to realize that they aren’t going to be young forever and adjusting their choices accordingly. The reason I usually avoid women thirty and above is that many of the ones who are single at that age have never made those all important adjustments, but now want kids regardless – with whoever is foolish or desperate enough to attach himself to that mess for a couple of decades at a minimum.
Anyway, don’t get me wrong. I’ve suspected plenty of women
of harboring this “I don’t want to be with someone who looks like he might have
even modest expectations” mentality. I’ve just never met one who was actually
willing to admit it before. She apparently wants to date a man with no more
drive or self discipline than she has. And the crazy part is that she went on
to talk forlornly about being single as the minutes, which started to seem like
hours, passed. Of course she is single! What kind of man would be attracted
enough to someone with an attitude like that to have anything beyond casual sex
with her? What are the odds that she herself would find a man like that
attractive? It’s amazing how self destructive people can be. But in this case,
she has an almost unbelievable combination of awareness of what she’s doing to
herself and insistence on continuing to do it.
The lesson here, of course, is to live exactly the opposite
way this woman is. Make the right choices, not the easiest ones. Surround
yourself with people who motivate you to be better in every area of your life.
Avoid people who are going to drag you down to their level with their mere presence.
I’m sure you have all heard the quote about being the average of the five
people you spend the most time with. While I don’t think it’s quite that
simple, I’m a big believer in the basic concept. Clearly the woman I met was,
too. She just had a very perplexing vision for what she wanted her “average” to
be. More power to her, I guess. But I strongly recommend you choose the best
life you can for yourself. Why would anyone want a crappy one?
Happy Tuesday, Folks! I took yesterday off since it was Columbus Day and I’ve decided to do more to make holidays special, even the more dubious ones. This post has been a long time in coming, since it happened about a month ago now, but after months of researching and deliberating, I bought my next car. As the picture shows, I replaced my 2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited with a 2015 Infiniti Q60S. This was pretty out of character for me since I ended up buying a totally different car than I had planned to and I committed some car buying sins I never would have previously considered in the process. But at least so far, I’m very happy with my decision. I’ve been buying cars for almost two decades now, and while some aspects stay the same, every purchase is also a little different. So here are the specifics from this time.
What stayed the same?
I did a ton of research before I even stepped foot on a
In this case, I found what I thought was the perfect car for
me – on paper. I was going to buy a 2015 Lexus ES 350. In addition to having
the usual bulletproof Toyota reliability, it has a venerable, naturally
aspirated engine, meaning none of the turbo related issues so many of the cars
being sold today are likely to suffer from somewhere down the line. The gas
mileage is a solid 21/31 and it doesn’t require premium gas like most luxury
cars do. It is a big, smooth, comfortable car, which is important for someone
who drives a lot as I do. The main compromise I felt I would have to make is
that like most cars today, it is not very pretty. But that’s not terribly
important and other than that, the car checked all the boxes.
Doing the research is crucial. You need to know everything
about the car you’re looking at – the fair market value, the long term
reliability, any specific problems the year/make/model is known for, the
features in different trim packages, etc. Most salesman suck at their jobs and
will not know a lot of these things, especially with used cars. This doesn’t
mean they won’t answer any questions you have; it just means you shouldn’t rely
on the answers they give you. Keep their motivation in mind and go in armed
with information from unbiased sources.
I also had financing lined up before I went to any
I decided to finance this car instead of paying cash because my credit score has suffered some since I paid off my last car years ago as a result of having no current installment debt on it and I want it back where it was. No, there isn’t much practical difference between the mid 800s and the low 800s. But this stuff is literally what I do and yes, there is also some ego element to it. Anyway, another reason I got a loan is that at today’s interest rates, a small one (just over $10k in this case) costs basically nothing. I had a sub 3% rate ready to go at a local credit union.
I walked away from
two potential cars because the deal I wanted wasn’t there.
This is extremely important. Car salesmen know how to toy
with your emotions and if you aren’t careful, they will have you feeling that
you MUST have THIS car. Or that they’re such nice people that you owe them something.
Or any number of other psychological tricks that they might play depending on
what you respond to. Any time you start feeling yourself having an emotional
response to anything involving money, it is a good practice to walk away until
it has passed. And when buying a car, if you sense that you’re at the
salesman’s limit and the numbers aren’t where you want them, that is the
perfect time to walk away anyway. If he lets you leave, you know it really was
the best he had to offer. And don’t believe any bullshit he gives you about this
being “a one time, today only offer!” I promise he’s lying. And even if he’s
not, if he was willing to give it to you, someone else will be too. If you
remember nothing else, remember this: you will never lose money by not spending
it. Think about it.
Like many of my previous car purchases, I bought a late model used car and saved a ton.
My Sonata was actually the one new car I’ve bought so far. I only bought that one because it was a demo model (6000 miles or less on it but still legally a new car) and it was selling for about an $8k discount off of its retail price of $31k. But even though I got a deal that good on that “new” car, and even though this latest car was significantly more expensive when it was new, I still paid less for this one. With options, the Infiniti retailed at just shy of $50k. But five years old and with only about 30k miles on it, I got it for $21k. I wasn’t concerned about the year/mileage imbalance affecting my resale value since I put on a ton of miles and will quickly reverse it anyway. Considering this car has a long proven, naturally aspirated engine and the Hyundai had a turbo, you could make the argument that this car’s powertrain probably has as many trouble free miles in it as the Hyundai’s did when I bought it – but this powertrain is in a considerably nicer car. And in case you think this particular model depreciates unusually quickly, there were plenty of available ES 350 options at right around $20k for that same vintage as well. Keep in mind that the secret has been out on Lexus for some time so they depreciate slower than almost anything on the road. But even there, the late model used discount is alive and well.
What was different about this purchase?
I bought my car from a “no haggle” dealership.
Most people know that Carmax is a fantastic ripoff by now. If you still don’t, compare any car on their lot with other comparable options in your area. Even without factoring in that most dealers will negotiate some on their advertised pricing, thus making it even lower, Carmax is going to be at least 10% higher than the best available options on nearly anything. They make it simple for you…to pay them an enormous premium for a car. This time around, I found a lot of dealers that appeared to be copying that business model. However, upon further inspection, I noticed something surprising. Many of their prices are actually pretty competitive and some are even exceptional. The dealership I wound up going with happened to have the exact car I wanted at the lowest price available for hundreds of miles. Could I have found a similar car for a thousand or two less somewhere else? Possibly. But it probably wouldn’t have been worth the time and effort. I only buy black cars with black leather interiors and the Q60S is a fairly rare car to begin with. This is a preference that always costs me money but one that makes me happy and thus, that I’m willing to pay a little for.
Anyway, I ended up getting a pretty decent deal on the car without the fun of negotiating, which normal people don’t seem to enjoy anyway. So don’t ignore all the “no haggle” dealerships; not all of them are ripoffs. I will, however, note that this was not one of those “delivered to your door” dealerships. I would NEVER buy a car I couldn’t inspect in person first, whether new or used, although it is significantly more important with a used one. And yes, I know they offer return policies, albeit for very short time/mileage windows. Do you want to try returning a car? I can’t imagine any scenario where that would go smoothly. For example, there will already be a loan in your name. That will have to be zeroed out or paid off. I can’t imagine that will report cleanly on your credit report. The titling process will already have been started. Do you think they refund that money? Do you think you won’t also be paying to title the second vehicle? Those are just a couple of issues off the top of my head. If you can’t inspect a car in person, don’t buy it. These aren’t tv sets; no two are alike.
I actually wound up financing through the dealer.
This particular dealer only dealt with a selected group of finance companies. Ever the cynic, I figured this meant they were going to add one or more points into my deal, which is a very common practice at dealerships and one of the main reasons to line up financing before you go. Had they tried to do that, I would have simply bought the car with cash or walked away. However, they wound up getting me a loan within a quarter point of the one I had already lined up. And with a loan as small as the one I took, I will pay basically nothing in interest anyway and a rate difference that small means nothing. Why did I take such a small loan?
I actually wound up trading my car in.
I have always sold my own cars in the past and have been very successful with it. In my experience, I’ve gotten anywhere from 20 to a whopping 50% more than dealerships were offering by doing things this way. But in this case, the dealership actually made me a pretty fair offer. I know because I did my research in advance. If I had sold the car myself, I would most likely have gotten $1-3k more for it. However, that would have involved spending time I simply don’t have and dealing with at least some people I absolutely don’t want to deal with. When you’re dealing with the public, you’re usually going to meet some assholes, some weirdos, etc. But the bigger issue was the time factor. For me, at this stage of my life, I decided it wasn’t worth squeezing every last dollar out of my car. Plus, the $10k I got for it by trading reduced my sales tax by $625 (you are only taxed on the sale price that’s in excess of your trade and the rate is 6.25% here), further reducing my motivation to sell the car on my own.
I threw my research in the trash and started over.
Like I said above, the 2015 Lexus ES 350 would have been a
nearly perfect car in my situation. So why didn’t I buy one? Because I test
drove one. I can honestly say I have never been so disappointed with a car in
my life. The car was, in fact, nearly perfect – except for one little problem.
It was the most sterile driving experience I’ve ever had. Although the stats
were pretty similar to my existing car, the performance didn’t feel like it was.
And even if it had been, it wouldn’t have mattered. I could have been in a car
as fast as the heavily modified Supra I had back in the day (you know, when they
weren’t just BMWs marketed as Supras), but so what? I couldn’t feel anything.
It was like someone set out to create a car that felt like you were floating in
it rather than driving. The car is extremely good at what it does and I thought
I would like it. But I absolutely didn’t.
By the by, this is also a strong selling point for the Hyundai. I wanted to get out of that car for two reasons – the mediocre build quality (don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t a Chrysler product or anything, but it was starting to creak and groan way too much for a car its age) and the turbo engine that would inevitably start costing me money well before I wanted to get rid of the car. I drove a car that is significantly more expensive and objectively better in almost every way and yet, it didn’t feel like much of an upgrade at all. For anyone looking for a lower priced car that still offers an awful lot, you could do a lot worse than a Hyundai. And if you get a maxed out one like mine was, you might have a harder time noticing the differences between it and a luxury car than you would expect.
Anyway, after that colossal disappointment, I decided I’m at the point in life where I can compromise a little more between financial optimization and enjoyment. I do have to drive this thing after all. The car I bought is significantly faster, sportier, and more fun in every way than the Lexus. It will not be quite as reliable over time, although it should still hold up decently, especially for being a sports car. And while the gas mileage will rarely be north of 30, again, it’s not terrible for a car this fun to drive at 19/27. And like with most cars, I’ve already been finding that it does a little better than its EPA rating in real life since I don’t beat on it. So far I’m averaging a little north of 27 with probably 75% highway driving.
And I actually love the car. It is a few years “behind the
times” in terms of technology, but I think that’s great since I want a car, not
a computer. The reason I was looking at a 2015 Lexus in the first place instead
of a 2016 or newer is that after 2015, they started adding more and more of the
self driving features I have zero interest in, at least until further notice.
In the case of the Infiniti, 2015 was also my year because Nissan caved to the
turbo trend in the next model year. It’s no race car, but it’s a sporty, fun
little car with a very nice interior and everything I want in it. I’ll do
another post on the cost of ownership between the three cars (the Hyundai, the
Lexus, and this one) but for now, suffice it to say, while this one is the most
expensive of the three, I still consider it a reasonable compromise compared to
something very sporty like a Corvette. It is certainly well within my means and
as long as you stay there, at the end of the day, I think it’s ok to enjoy
yourself a little every now and again.
Happy Friday! Here is the conclusion to Wednesday’s post.
I’ve discussed how I got here plenty over the life of this nearly year old blog so I won’t revisit that here. This would be a good post to check out if you’re interested in the cliff notes version. Over the last few years, I’ve met all sorts of people and seen all sorts of things – a whole world I never would have experienced if my old life hadn’t ended so catastrophically that I decided to start over nearly from scratch. And one thing I’ve learned is that you aren’t defined by your current circumstances. You can be anything you want to be. If you don’t like your current circumstances, change them. It will probably require making some changes to yourself, but that is possible as well.
In fact, beyond being just possible, it’s inevitable. Remember those “cool kids” from high school? The quarterback and the hottest girl, who were always at the center of everything? Well, they changed too. They got married and had kids. Now he’s fat, bald, and trapped in a crappy job he hates while she’s fat and bitter and sits at home watching daytime tv all day. Obviously, that isn’t what always happens, although I do think peaking too early in life can be disastrous. But every person on this planet will change and so will their circumstances. Winners today are definitely not guaranteed to be winners tomorrow. And blessed are the “late bloomers” among us. We had to fight through significant challenges before the sun would shine in our worlds and as a result, today it’s shining brighter than we could ever have imagined it would.
So who do you want to be and what do you want your life to look like? You do have a say in these matters. Look around you. Do you see the people you DON’T want to be? Those people had a choice too. Chances are, their attitude was that they didn’t. Life just “happened” to them. And look at them now. They didn’t decide what they wanted and force it to come into their lives, so they got the leftovers no one else wanted. Not making a choice is still a choice. I strongly suggest that if you’re a pessimist, you make changing that your first priority. I’ve recommended some great books on the subject in the past, but anything by Martin Seligman is probably the best recommendation I can possibly make.
From there, think about what you want your life to be.
Envision it. If you were who you wanted to be, and you lived exactly the life
you wanted, what would that look like? Now don’t just let it fade away like another
daydream. Write it down. Next, figure out what steps you need to take in order
to make your reality look like the one you just imagined. This may require some
research. Finally, break the necessary changes down into small, actionable
items and start doing them. Don’t get caught in the traps of perfectionism or “analysis
paralysis.” Starting imperfectly is much better than never starting at all.
That’s it. You should start to notice changes in both your
life and yourself almost immediately. Taking action is very powerful. It’s one of
the main differences between people who life “happens to” and people who mold
their lives into what they want them to be. I know someone who bought his first
rental house five years ago and now has over seventy of them and a seven figure
net worth to boot. I know someone else who has gone from a beginner sales rep
to one of the best and most successful in our company in about that same
timeframe. You really can transform your life, and in a lot less time than you
would probably guess. But it won’t happen unless you decide to make it.
The other day, I heard a song that reminded me of a very different time in my life. My then fiancé and I were both working what felt like dead end jobs with few prospects for anything better. We lived in Wisconsin, suffering through the standard six months of hellish weather on an annual basis. Everything I did in life, including staying in Wisconsin, was dedicated to her – something I now know was a terrible mistake and would have been whether or not our eventual marriage had only lasted two years. But how could I know that? I hadn’t been with many women before her, so like most men in that situation, I held on for dear life and smothered any chance of her remaining interested in me out of existence. Anyway, we lived in a decent, but modest apartment, and we each drove a 10+ year old vehicle. We had some fun, but mostly it amounted to hanging out with family and friends. Every spare dollar went to paying down our student loans. From an objective perspective, our life together wasn’t much to look at. However, I was naively happy and didn’t expect any of the fundamental parts of it to change too dramatically from there. There’s a powerful sense of security in that, albeit a false one in many cases.
But as I waited for the fancy coffee machine in the
clubhouse of the luxury apartment complex I live in to finish brewing the
amazing coffee I enjoy every morning I’m in town, I marveled at how vastly
different my life is today. While it can certainly be stressful, and is particularly
so lately given the current state of the industry, my job pays about three
times what I made back in the time I was referring to in the last paragraph. My
side business adds almost as much as I was making back then with very little
time commitment required on my part, bringing my total income to about four
times what it was. I still have friends and family, but now instead of a long
term relationship, I tend towards enjoying being with someone while it’s mutually
enjoyable, then moving on when that passes. I appreciate every experience and I
look forward to the next. I have no trouble finding women who want to spend
time with me, so there isn’t any over-committing on my part and as a result, my
relationships tend to be much better while they last. I fly planes and write
for this blog in my spare time, and enjoy both activities immensely. Oh yeah.
And I’m enjoying all of this stuff from the comfort of my favorite state, over
a thousand miles from bitter Wisconsin, and I get to spend regular time in four
of its biggest and best cities – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. Why
choose just one?
Problems that used to seriously worry me aren’t even problems at all now. I was having some trouble with my computer the other day. And while I was able to get it fixed with the help of my teacher turned IT professional mother, it occurred to me that if I had needed to replace my year and a half old computer, I could do so and I would barely have noticed the difference in cashflow that month. I’m considering going on a nice vacation early next year and it has already occurred to me that once again, I can pay for it out of monthly cashflow and not really think twice. Oh. And I just bought myself a luxury sports car – although I did stay true to my principles in the way that I did it. I’ll get into that next week; I promise this time! The point of this isn’t to brag. The point is that there is a night and day difference between these two periods in my life. I’m going to guess what you may be thinking here. There must have been a decade or more of hard work separating these two almost polar opposite chapters of my life, right? Wrong. Try six years. And if you’re going from the demise of my ill fated marriage until today, when things still weren’t dramatically different from the first paragraph above, you can make that three and a half. I have wasted much of my life so far as a pessimist. I still struggle with it. But it is much easier to challenge that way of thinking now that I’ve seen the seemingly miraculous changes that are possible in life.
The FIRE movement is everywhere these days and at times it seems like every possible related topic has been covered. But somehow, I haven’t seen a lot of discussion of the topic I want to cover today. As a finance guy, I’m all too familiar with how taxes work. When I was younger, that was one of the reasons I wasn’t too keen on getting a high paying, high commitment job – although I eventually found myself in one anyway. What my younger self saw, and what will ultimately lead to my much earlier than average exit from such a situation, is that there is a diminishing return effect. And that is especially true when you consider that in most cases, making more money requires working more hours. Those hours are literally the building blocks that make up our lives.
The more you make, the more of your money is taken away. It can
seem fairly innocuous when you’re working forty hours a week and making an
income somewhere in the average realm. In fact, all things considered, many
people are breaking even or even getting more than they put in to begin with.
But someone has to pay the bills, and if you’re working closer to eighty hours
a week and making six figures (or more), that someone is you. For some folks,
the reality is that when all taxes are considered, about half the money they
earn is gone before they ever see it. So in another way of looking at the
situation, they’re working twice as much, but only being paid for half the
Why would anyone take that deal? Sure, some people are
workaholics. Some truly love what they’re doing to such an extent that they
would be doing it even if it paid nothing. But for the vast majority of us, we
do it because we want the money because we have expensive lifestyles to pay
for. But what good is an expensive lifestyle if you’re spending well over half
your waking hours working? What good is it if you don’t even get paid for a lot
of those hours when all is said and done?
The cheaper your lifestyle, the less you have to work for
free. Let’s say you only spend about $20k a year, as my ex-wife and I did when
we were first out of school and clinging to the student lifestyle for a little
longer so we could pay off our student loans quickly. If all you needed was
$20k a year, you could work a job paying just a little more than that and live
very nearly tax free (actually, you would almost certainly be getting back more
than you paid in). In another way of speaking, your income efficiency would be
at or around 100%. If you could tolerate that lifestyle, there would be an
incredible upside in terms of having to invest very little in it. But now let’s
say you spend $50k a year, which is actually still below average for United
States households I believe. There’s no way you’re going to make that much
without paying taxes. So your income efficiency goes down and your lifestyle
costs you more of your life. And the trend continues until you’re well into the
six figures and your income efficiency gets to be as low as roughly 50%. It can
go even lower than that in places like California. And lifestyles tend to be a
tad expensive there too, so it’s no surprise that those people are fleeing to
Texas in droves.
It pays to keep your lifestyle expenses as under control as
possible – quite literally. And remember, to the extent that more money
correlates to more hours worked, you are literally paying for your lifestyle by
working more hours (in other words, giving away part of your life) for free.
This brings me back to the title of the post. How much of your life will you
spend working for free? The foundation of the answer is in the cost of your
So next time you’re considering spending money on something,
you may want to try framing the question this way. Would this purchase bring
enough value into my life to compensate me for spending even more of it working
for free than I am now? In some cases, the answer is going to be yes. Most of
us have decided that being able to drive where we want, when we want, in a safe
and reliable vehicle, is worth it. But you have to decide where to draw the line.
Most of us aren’t driving Ferraris, for example. Today my suggestion is that
you take the portion of your life you are literally giving away into account as
you make these decisions. You only get so many hours before your time is up.