You Can Do Better than a One Sided Relationship

Since this blog is supposed to be written to the children I will never have, I want to write about an important lesson I’ve learned much too slowly in life. It has recently become relevant again with someone who was a close friend years ago but has long since drifted away. This is one of those things that can really hurt until you figure it out and feels like a weight being lifted off of your shoulders when you do. It may seem obvious to some folks but it didn’t come all that easily to me so in a way, I’m writing it as a reminder to myself. If it helps someone else, all the better.

There are so many things in life that are difficult to let go of but that require just that. Relationships can fall under that category as well and do for many of us. We all have that friend who only responds and never initiates. Sometimes even that can be too much to ask. Calls aren’t answered, text messages aren’t returned, plans you try to make never seem to be taken seriously. If called out on the behavior, these people will typically make all kinds of excuses about how busy they are.

For years of my life I let this kind of interaction bother me, especially since there are usually legitimate reasons I’m drawn to this person. Maybe she’s a lot of fun to get a drink with, maybe he gets exactly why I like a certain kind of music, maybe you have great memories together. But for whatever reason, there is less and less interaction or it’s consistently one sided. This situation used to really frustrate me and even occasionally had me questioning what about me was causing it. This usually resulted in me trying even harder to interact in a meaningful way. But thankfully, now I have a very different approach to these people. Fuck ‘em.

Here’s the thing. We’re all busy. I run from 6am to usually around 10pm with fairly few breaks in between. I have one very demanding job that often involves travel and a growing side business to run. I enjoy a long list of activities outside of my income generating pursuits. I have friends and family to keep up with. No matter what I’m doing, I’m choosing to prioritize that activity because I value it more highly than any other alternative at that moment. And that’s the only way anything gets done by anyone – if it is viewed as worthy of being prioritized. So when that “friend” tells you he is busy, he hasn’t finished the sentence. The completed version is: “I’m busy – with activities I prioritize higher than interacting with you.” Sorry, but it’s reality.

There are plenty of people on this earth. If one person isn’t willing to invest even close to as much in you as you are in them, there are over 7 billion others you can give it a shot with. I’ll bet everything I have that you haven’t met them all yet. So why are you trying so hard to make it work with someone who obviously cares less than you do? Rather than trying to shoehorn that person into your life or vice versa, you could be investing that time and energy into a mutually positive relationship with someone who truly values what you bring to the table.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying you should disown someone if a single call isn’t returned. What I am saying is that if there is enough of a pattern that it bothers you, it means you are trying to force something that isn’t there. You can try bringing it up with the person if you want. But you will probably find that any changes that result from the conversation won’t last long if it yields any at all. The reality is that whatever the person is doing without your intervention is what he is choosing to do and that is very unlikely to change if he is made aware that you prefer he do something different.

The good news is that you don’t have to have a falling out or a big confrontation with anyone. You can simply let nature take its course. If someone isn’t responding to you, divert your efforts to someone who is. If the first person cares, you will hear from her and you can resume the relationship. If she doesn’t, then you haven’t lost anything because there was no relationship to lose. Regularly look for new people to add to your circle – but only in cases where it truly makes sense. You will know without having to think about it because the interaction will make you feel good. And remember that people change and relationships change with them. Two people can be great friends at one time and have too little in common to support a relationship at another. And there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s the way life works.

While Facebook would have you believe differently, people are not items that can be collected. They are individuals who think and act however they choose to. You can’t simply decide who you want to “let in.” It has to be a mutual decision that comes from both of you or it will be exactly the kind of one sided relationship you want to avoid. If you try to collect people, you will become one of those people whose efforts are spread far too thin. You will have hundreds of Facebook “friends” and no interactions more meaningful than “happy birthday!” with anyone. I would much rather have ten truly good friends than ten thousand happy birthday messages from people I don’t legitimately know. So double down on the good investments and cut your losses on the rest. This is somewhat different from financial investing, mind you, but that’s another post for another day.

Credit Card Fun

Well that was harsh. I lost both my adopted team and my long-time favorite in back to back playoff games. On the upside, they both had better seasons than I expected and at least in the case of the Seahawks, they are a young team again so they should be back even better next year. And they played a pretty good, entertaining game. Not so much the Texans. They came out flat and stayed that way. Also, I don’t hate the Cowboys. I just didn’t want to beat the Seahawks. Anyway, on to today’s post.

Today I will literally put money in some people’s pockets but I have to start off with a very important disclaimer. This information is strictly for people who use credit cards responsibly. Responsible credit card use is charging only what you have the cash to pay for and paying the full statement balance on time every month. If you ever fail to follow this, even once, then you absolutely should not be using credit cards because they will cost you far more than they will benefit you. I cannot stress this enough. With credit cards, you are playing a very dangerous game so if you can’t or won’t handle them responsibly, then don’t handle them at all. That said, if you choose to ignore my warning and those of so many other finance people, thank you. Without people like you fattening up the banks, those same banks wouldn’t be doing what I’m about to describe for people like me.

One more small disclaimer I should make is that most, if not all of the credit cards I’m about to mention require a credit score of 750+. If you don’t have a score above that, you will have to work on improving it before you can make much money with your credit cards. I will write a post about how to do that another day.

Credit card churning is very popular these days. Too popular in fact. If you don’t know what it is, it’s when people game the sign up bonus system. Step one, sign up for a card with a high bonus offer and a high annual fee, which is often waived for the first year. Step two, charge the minimum amount required to get the bonus in the first three months. Step three, get the bonus and close the account prior to having to pay an annual fee. Step four, enjoy your bonus – usually $500+ or 2+ round trip flights. And no, this is not taxable income; the IRS considers it a purchase rebate. Note that this is not the case when you play a similar game with bank accounts as those bonuses are paid out in the form of interest income. But the bank account version of this hasn’t been worthwhile for a while now, save for the occasional credit union giveaway that is only available to people who are eligible for membership.

Anyway, the banks are losing their appetite for the credit card churning game as more and more of us hop on the gravy train. American Express has made churning virtually impossible for those who aren’t willing to get absurdly creative and even Chase, the longtime favorite of every churner, has started to make things more difficult. I could write an entire book on just the ins and outs of credit card churning at this moment but by the time I finished it, half of it would probably be obsolete. The rules change rapidly in this game. So I don’t play it to the extent I did in the past. During the golden age, $3-5k was a fairly attainable annual goal. Today, that would take more dedication to accomplish than I feel it is worth.

These days I keep things simple and usually only churn two cards a year. That keeps me from running afoul of Chase’s infamous 5/24 rule (open more than 5 cards in 24 months and you will automatically be declined) and still allows me $1000+ in annual churning income. If you do want to get into churning more, I suggest exploring the business side. The restrictions are lighter and the profit potential is higher. But that is another post for another day.

In 2018 I churned Capital One Venture ($500) and started churning Amegy Amazing Cash ($550 when combined with a checking account and money market account for 90 days). I will be cancelling the Capital One card soon but I won’t need to do that with the Amegy card because it doesn’t have an annual fee. However, it’s a “sock drawer card,” meaning it isn’t for regular use. This is because it only pays 1%. I will also note that this was one of those oddball local bank deals – Texans only in this case.

My next one will be the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite. It lives up to that fancy name with a generous $700 bonus – although the $5000 minimum spend requirement means it will take some planning even for an expense report beneficiary like me. If you have trouble meeting the minimums, I recommend timing your account openings to coincide with major expenses like annual insurance renewals, vacations, furniture purchases, etc. If you still can’t meet the minimums, enlist the help of a friend you trust who doesn’t care about credit card rewards. I’ve been working the non-Chase cards lately because you can only churn each one every other year. Of those, Chase Sapphire ($625) and Southwest Rapid Rewards (2-3 round trip flights) are my usual choices. I see they have a United Airlines one too now for folks who don’t care even a tiny bit about customer service when they fly. But watch your details with any churning because all the banks have been making cutbacks and increasing hoops that need to be jumped through.

The Southwest card in particular has a sign up bonus that fluctuates a lot throughout the year so make sure it is at least 50k points when you do it. One more important point on the Southwest card is that you can get the companion pass pretty easily if you use both a business and personal card. This allows you to book a second person on any flight for free for up to nearly two years if you do it right. I don’t have a consistent companion and don’t plan to ever again but for those who do, this can be quite the golden goose, especially when you consider that you can alternate with your spouse and have a companion pass between you basically all the time. There are other churning cards as well but I’ve mentioned all the ones I regularly use now that American Express cards aren’t worth the hassle anymore. At two a year I don’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel the way I used to.

Other than churning cards, I use non annual fee cards and I rarely change those up. Right now, my wallet has the following weapons in it: American Express Blue Cash, Citi Double Cash, Bank of America Cash, Chase Freedom, Target Redcard, and Bank of America Better Balance. American Express Blue Cash pays me 3% on groceries. Citi Double Cash pays me 2% on any purchases I can’t get a higher rate on. Bank of America Cash pays me 3% on gas and 2% at Costco (I need this to get my minimum 2% because Costco only accepts Visa right now and Citi Double Cash is a Mastercard). Chase Freedom pays me 5% on categories that change quarterly. Right now those are gas and tolls meaning until the end of March, I’m buying gas with this card and my tolls are being charged to it instead of the Citi card I regularly use. The Target card pays me 5% instantly on Target purchases on the rare occasion I still go there. And last but not least, the Bank of America Better Balance card pays me a flat $120 a year for making one small charge a month. I won’t bother going into the details of that one because it isn’t available anymore; you can probably guess why.

This may sound like a lot to keep track of but it doesn’t have to be. I have a little chart that shows me which card to use for each type of purchase. I rarely have to look at it now unless something changes which is rare outside of churning. When I’m churning, I just divert as much of my 2% spending as necessary until I’ve met the minimum. And the payoff for doing this? I average around 3% back on anything I can pay for with a credit card. Combine that with what I get from churning two cards and it comes to around $2k a year in non-taxable gifts from the banking industry. Not bad for a hobby that takes up maybe an hour or two of my time per year.

A Happy Night of Insomnia

The McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont, TX

It’s 2am and in spite of the very comfortable bed in my hotel room, I woke up and can’t get back to sleep. Insomnia is nothing new to me but it is unusual lately which has been a wonderful improvement. But the cause is even more unusual. I can’t seem to stop my mind from racing out of sheer joyful awe. This is going to get pretty personal so if you don’t want to humanize me, stop reading right now.

The last few years have been a whirlwind for me. In 2016, my marriage fell apart in catastrophic, but sadly fairly typical fashion. I lost most of what I loved and cared about in life. For at least a year after, I went through a tunnel of depression, terrible decisions, and little noticeable improvement. Not only had I lost my wife, I had also made a major job change soon after. It was a dramatic step up in both challenge and compensation but at a time when my personal stakes were already very elevated and my mental state was volatile at best. I had lost almost any sense of security exactly when I needed it most. Of course security is mostly an illusion so I wasn’t really any worse off. But it certainly felt that way and I nearly broke on numerous occasions.

And the situation got worse before it got better. One enterprising soul used my weakened emotional state as an opportunity to manipulate and take advantage of me for personal gain. I’ve forgiven this person but also discontinued any form of relationship as I believe any prudent person would have. I am not mentioning this to disparage anyone, but simply to illustrate my story more effectively. Anyway, it sounds strange but this sequence of events seemed to hammer home lessons I somehow hadn’t fully learned from the divorce. This was all very painful at the time but I certainly wouldn’t want to give any of it back now as the incredible value of the experience is mine for the rest of my life. Today I probably err on the side of being too guarded but at the advantage of being much less likely to be an emotional plaything for anyone. Most importantly, I got through it all. And two primary factors allowed me to do it.  

First, I had some amazing people in my corner. They are all flawed human beings like anyone else but they were instrumental to my recovery. So much love flowed from this group. I don’t come from a warm family of people and that’s nothing against any of them, it’s just the way they are. But for that reason, this overwhelming outpouring of nearly unconditional love was like nothing I had ever known before. It came from a variety of sources including people I hadn’t even known long and it was exactly what I needed to remind me that the person in the previous paragraph was the exception and not the rule.

Second, I took responsibility for my own health and success. The pity party had to end for a full recovery to be possible and it had only continued so long because I had developed the bad habit of leaning on people’s sympathy. Consequently, this is exactly how I had become an easy mark for someone masquerading as a sympathetic figure. Fully embracing this new total responsibility to myself was a crucial turning point. Ever since then, my mental health and stability have been reaching new heights on a regular basis and I have even been able to pay forward some of the support I received.

This brings me back to my insomnia. Where am I today that such a rush of positive sentiment is keeping me awake? Right now I’m on a short business trip. I’ve been accomplishing all my big picture goals one way or another but I’m also taking a little time tomorrow (ok, today now) to tour a historic mansion. I expect I will love it and go home richer for the experience in a way money can’t buy. I’m also eating delicious food, getting decent road workouts in, and generally enjoying myself in the process of this trip. When I go home, I will enjoy a weekend full of great football (that is as long as the Seahawks and the Texans win, fingers crossed) and spending some time with great friends. A somewhat disappointing December on the business side has turned into a January that is suddenly on the brink of success early on. Overall, I don’t believe I have ever been this happy.

I’m not a religious man but I can’t help but notice the parallels with the old testament story of Job. I lost everything not long ago but I have gained back much more than I had in the first place. I thought I was happy but it turns out I didn’t even have a clue what happiness could be. Life has a way of clearing out what doesn’t belong to make room for what does. It certainly didn’t feel that way at the time but that is exactly what happened for me. I decided to take a little break from my tossing and turning to attempt to record the genuine euphoria of this moment. I don’t know if I will ever be this happy again but I do know I’m going to make the most of it while I can. Be well, folks. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some sleep now.

Update: I was not able to. But I got through the day and managed to be creative and patient enough to overcome a big setback to salvage half of a profitable deal against fairly long odds.

Happy New Year!

Can you believe this blog survived 2018? Of course you can’t; you don’t exist because there is no one reading this. That’s all right. Did you have a good New Year’s? I know I did! For a few years running now, my celebration is always great. No, I don’t leave home for it. As wonderful as crowds of increasingly drunken fools, cover charges at bars that don’t normally charge them, and cops everywhere (seriously, it’s their damn super bowl) may be, I manage to resist. Why? I can go out and have a good time literally any of 364 days a year; I will leave this one for the amateurs. And there are always more than enough of them out there to make paying a huge premium over any other night a huge waste. Today I want to talk about what I do on New Year’s Eve because whether you like to take the night off or not, these are very important activities that can really help kickstart (that term didn’t used to mean online panhandling, sigh) your financial goals in the new year.

Throughout the year, I record my expenses, investments, and any other transactions. This can be done very simply using Mint or one of what I’m sure are many available apps. Or it can be done with somewhat more of a hassle but also the advantage of not connecting many financial accounts to a single online source if you’re like me and trust no one. Whatever method you choose, New Year’s Eve, or whatever day you do this, is the day it all comes together. So you want to be thinking about that end goal when you set this all up in the first place.

Anyway, while many people are out having one last hurrah before they swear off everything fun for at least the week or two their resolutions survive, I’m at home reviewing what I did over the course of the outgoing year and setting new goals for the new one. All those transactions get aggregated into a handful of spreadsheets, which I use for both direct analysis and creating financial statements – at least my lazy man’s set of financial statements – an income statement and a balance sheet. Screw you, cashflow statement and statement of owner’s (or stockholders’) equity!

The income statement puts all my income sources and expense categories in one place, making it very easy to see where I did well and where I didn’t. This year, there was plenty in both categories. My balance sheet shows me where I stand with everything right now – all my assets and any debts I would have if I were someone who did. These statements are especially useful when comparing them to last year’s versions so this exercise really needs to be done for at least two years to see the full value.

Why do I do this? Sure, part of it is because there is something wrong with my brain. I’d be lying if I said I don’t write a little executive summary and then read it to myself in a poor imitation of a CEO on an earnings call at the end. I do. But it amuses me. And I believe that at least a basic version of this process will help anyone. Not only do you get to see exactly where you stand financially, but if there are any concerns, you can go back and see the exact transactions that got you here. I can’t imagine a more effective way to look back at your year, set goals for the next one, and have a great picture in mind of exactly what it will take to meet them while doing it.

After all, fail to plan, plan to fail. And the information gathering stage is a vital part of planning. If your life is a ship, you’re the captain. How crazy would it be for a captain to care neither where he intends to go or even where he is now? If you want to improve your finances over the next year, and I think we all do, my New Year’s process is a great way to start moving in that direction. And no, you don’t have to do it on New Year’s. After all, if you do it a couple months later, you won’t have to go back and make updates when you have your final tax figures in hand like I do. But then again, your year will also be less fresh in your mind and I think you will lose some of the effect of punctuating one year and outlining the next. Everything is a trade off.

If you don’t know how to create an income statement or a balance sheet, I will outline the process – although before I do that, I will recommend that you learn the basics of accounting. It is a horrible field to work in. Horrible. I know because I did it for a while. But it is a very valuable skillset whether you want to gain insight into a publicly traded company you’re considering investing in or simply trying to understand why things are the way they are at work and how you can get ahead. With all the ways we waste time, I think it’s a crime not to invest some in educating ourselves on an ongoing basis. And accounting is a highly recommended area to do that.  

A balance sheet is simply an expansion of the basic accounting equation: assets minus liabilities equals equity. This equation really is the key to life. Think about it. It could just as easily be calories taken in minus calories expended equals live or die and then it literally applies to everything alive. So first you list your assets –  bank accounts, investments, vehicles, real estate, etc. These are the total values mind you – not the equity you have in them. Then you list your liabilities – any loans, credit card balances (hopefully not!) IOUs to your Mom, anything you owe anyone. Finally, you subtract total liabilities from total assets and you have your net worth. Some folks think you shouldn’t include your primary residence in that but let’s not split hairs. The point is to have a big picture view of your financial life and a basis for comparing one year to another. Oh. Every balance should be as of a specific date – December 31 in this case.

An income statement is a whole year statement as opposed to a snapshot at a specific point in time like a balance sheet. It looks a lot like a balance sheet but instead of assets, you start with income sources – employment income, business income, investment income, credit cards (yes, that’s in my income section ONLY; I’ll post a guide to doing that soon), and so on. Then you list your expense categories – housing, gas, food, insurance, taxes, everything, however you want to break it all up. Total income minus total expenses gives you your net income for the year. Bonus points if that amount for 2018 equals the difference between the 2017 net worth and your 2018 net worth from your balance sheets. Full disclosure: mine was off this year and I don’t care. It was by less than $1000 and even my insanity has limits.

Questions? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. Oh, that’s right. No one is reading this. Oh well. My net worth is soaring, even in a bad year which 2018 certainly was for a handful of reasons (but now I know the how and why and I can work on making the necessary adjustments), and my New Year’s exercise not only contributes to that indirectly by getting me in the right mindset, but it documents the whole thing for me. Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2019 for everyone!

TV Shows I’ve Enjoyed Recently

I don’t watch too much TV but I do enjoy an occasional binge. And since we’ve been running high temperatures in the 50s (also known as leave home ONLY if necessary weather) fairly regularly here recently, I’ve been watching more TV than usual in response. Here are my reviews of a couple of shows I’ve devoured way too quickly and really enjoyed. 

Dynasties (BBC)

Please note that this series is not complete yet so you may want to wait until all the episodes are available if your TV habits mirror mine (watch a ton for a day or two, then none for months). I’m a sucker for nature documentaries, especially when they’re about animals. The BBC does some of the best ones I’ve seen and this is no exception. The narration by Sir David Attenborough (yes, he is THAT good) is excellent, providing insightful explanations of what you’re seeing, dramatic personification, and delightful British flair. For example, Dynasties becomes DINasties and hilarious “Queen’s English” phrasing is sprinkled in liberally. The footage is excellent and in case there were any doubt about how much effort, patience, and commitment went into getting it, that notion is dispelled by the behind the scenes portion near the end of each episode. Entire crews of people are literally spending a year or more of their lives in places like Africa and Antarctica, living as amongst nature as possible to make this happen. Their sacrifice is paying enormous dividends for all of us although I imagine they would reject it being characterized as a sacrifice at all and are probably coming away far richer for their experiences. I highly recommend this series to anyone who wants to learn more about our incredible world and some of its inhabitants, who by the way have enough human qualities to give even the most fervent denier of evolution some pause.

F is for Family – Season 3 (Netflix)

This show is just phenomenal and the fact that I know so few people who watch it is both an indictment of my networking abilities and a fair criticism of society as a whole. Set in the 70s against the backdrop of a middle class neighborhood somewhere on the east coast (I don’t believe an exact location is given and context clues seem inconclusive so perhaps it is an amalgamation of places), the show is a portrayal of American family life at that time from Bill Burr’s perspective that is sometimes funny, occasionally heartwarming, and always brutally honest. It can get extremely dark and that is probably one reason more people don’t watch it. With an “absolutely everyone is full of shit” ethos permeating almost everything that happens, I can easily see this being a little too real for plenty of people, all of whom are in fact full of shit but few of whom are willing to admit it. And please don’t think I’m implying this doesn’t apply to me as well. We are ALL full of shit and the only attribute that separates us is how honest we are about it with ourselves and others.

Not since Moral Orel have I seen a cartoon show that did such an incredible job of reeling the viewer in with unabashed, irreverent hilarity and then barreling deep down the rabbit hole of the dark side of American society and the inner sanctum of the family in particular, in such a remorseless, visceral manner. Morel Orel started with shots at organized Christianity and branched out from there in a fairly exponential manner whereas the social commentary of F is for Family is much broader and pretty much full throttle from the word go.

Along with continuing to develop the plot lines from season two, season three also introduces some new ones, particularly in the form of some new neighbors. This season plumbs slightly deeper than the series has previously, culminating in some very soul crushing moments. As always, some episodes are weaker than others and there were times when I began to wonder if maybe an optimistic moment or two could have provided enough of a respite to prevent total desensitization taking away from appreciation of what the show does best. But it was still an excellent social commentary with plenty of side splitting jokes and I was left feeling that this show is still firing on all cylinders. That will be difficult to maintain with a concept like this one as there are only so many facets of society to deflower and jokes will get stale if repeated but for now, it is still a strong recommend from me to anyone with a strong enough constitution to appreciate the beauty in the ugliness of something as frank as this.

Take Advantage of the Easy Opportunities

About a week ago at the grocery store, the cashier handed me three coupons. Most of the time coupons are worthless to me. Some have too many contingencies, others are for something I would never buy, and still others are for stores or service providers that aren’t the best options in the first place. But I always take a quick look anyway and it turned out these coupons were amazing. One was $5 off a $30 total purchase, one was $3 off a $5 purchase of produce, and one was for a free pound of ground beef. I could use each one of these and they were for HEB, the best and cheapest grocery store in my area. Not only that, there were zero restrictions of any kind meaning they could all be used together. I barely had to modify my next shopping trip at all to take advantage of the more than $10 HEB had decided to hand me.

That opportunity fell into my lap but not all of them will. Sometimes it takes just a little bit of hunting. For example, when I set up this website earlier this week, I took one extra step before checking out. I googled “wordpress coupon code.” After trying a couple that didn’t work, I happened upon one that did and it saved me around $15. And just today, I got the notice that it’s time to renew the registration on my car. Here in Texas, an inspection is required as part of the process. The state sets the price of this inspection at $25.50 but just for the hell of it, I gave Google a shot at helping out again. Within seconds, I found a coupon for 25% off, saving me over $6 on this useless but mandatory service.

For those who are keeping score, that’s over $30 I’ve saved just this week – all on things I would have paid for anyway. Since I invested a total of no more than five minutes of extra effort in making this happen, that means I was paid more than $360 an hour for my “trouble.” As a bonus, our friends at the IRS haven’t found a way to tax money that isn’t spent yet, although I’m sure they’re working diligently on it. So that brings my hourly pay up to over $600 for these activities.

Taking advantage of opportunities like these may seem obvious and absolutely everyone has them but it’s amazing how many people don’t do so. I bet over half of the people who were handed those same coupons threw them out without even looking at them. I bet the same percentage or more don’t do a quick google check for coupon codes when they’re shopping online. And furthermore, I bet that many of these are the same people who claim they can’t afford to save for retirement or even for a rainy day.

I can easily afford those things and more. But a huge part of what got me here was taking advantage of the opportunities that were either in front of me or easy to find from where I was. I’m not talking about working my ass off to find more customers or to hammer out a deal that is both attractive to someone and profitable for me. I’m not even talking about spending ten minutes gathering up coupons and planning a shopping trip. That is more of a time investment than I am willing to make on that even though I do know people who make an excellent hourly rate doing it. I’m not talking about taking a girl out with a promotion that I have to use right in front of her or something else potentially embarrassing. I’m talking about the six-inch putt, the extra point (before they moved them back in the NFL), the gift that is available to anyone willing to simply unwrap it. I’m still taking advantage of these today and still will long after my net worth crosses from six figures to seven.

Folks, life is hard and sometimes opportunities are scarce or difficult to take advantage of. I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight hard because you are very unlikely to succeed if you don’t. I simply want to remind you not to neglect the easy stuff because it is there for the taking and often more profitable than you might expect.

Everyone Is a Business

You’re probably thinking the title of this post is crazy. I can practically hear you saying “I’m not a business!” In the technical sense, you’re correct. You probably don’t have Inc or LLC after your name. But in the practical sense, you’re wrong. A business is simply an entity that attempts to make a profit from its activities. Do you want to make a profit from your activities? If you don’t, not only are you looking at a rough retirement, you’re looking at a rough present if you ever lose your job or face any unexpected expenses.

Profit is simply the difference between revenue and expenses and if you don’t make any, then your bank account is empty at the end of the month – or worse. As crazy as this sounds, around half of Americans (residents of the richest country on earth) can’t come up with $500 cash to deal with an emergency. And $500 isn’t even much of an emergency. You could easily eclipse that number with something as ordinary as replacing the tires or a moderately expensive repair on your car. An emergency is getting in a serious car accident and winding up in the hospital for a week. Sure, insurance is going to cover the lion’s share if you have it but what about lost wages, deductibles, and other random items you don’t necessarily think about until you’re in the situation? You are almost guaranteed to be out at least a few thousand one way or another in that scenario. And what about a job loss? I’ve never taken unemployment but I’ve never heard anyone say it paid as much as the job it replaced, which means you’re losing money there too. You really don’t have the choice of not being a business; your only choice is whether to be a successful one or a failure. And the failure option is going to be a very difficult, stressful existence.

But not to worry. Being a successful business really isn’t that difficult. Revenue minus expenses equals net income. If net income is positive, your bank account or other assets are growing. If it is negative, you need to make major changes RIGHT NOW.

Once you start thinking about your business, you are already off to a good start. Most people don’t even do that. They just kind of exist and hope everything will work out. The stat I mentioned earlier about the $500 emergency is only one of many that illustrate what an ineffective strategy that is. Revenue is going to be mostly employment income for most people – especially early on. Increasing that is possible but it usually takes time. I’m going to write a post where I talk about as many ways to do that as I can think of at some point so stay tuned. But in the short term, you’re going to have much more success attacking your expenses. I’m going to write tons of posts about ways to do that.

Budgeting works very well even if it is unpopular. I don’t personally do it but that’s because I’m automatic at this point. I have annual targets and monthly targets for everything I do. All of it is in spreadsheet form but most of it is also in the back of my mind all the time. And it translates into me doing things in ways that automatically move me towards my targets. For example, if I go shopping, it is for a particular item or list of items and without even consciously thinking about it, I find the best intersection of price and quality and milk every portion of the transaction. Overall, I likely spend around half of what the average person does for the exact same products and services. You won’t get there overnight and if you aren’t as crazy as I am, it may never happen. But budgeting is very likely to help you move in the right direction if you aren’t already where you want to be.

If you’re ever trying to solve a problem, the first step is to figure out exactly where you stand now. This isn’t fun but keep track of all your expenses for a month – or preferably longer. Excel makes it pretty easy but if you want it to be easier, there are sites like Mint that can probably help. Once you have a month’s worth of data, you can start gleaning information from it. Total all the expenses and then compare that number to your total revenue for the month or whatever other period of time you’re looking at. This is your starting point. Categorize your expenses and you will be able to see where your money is going. Focus on the biggest numbers, look at the specific things you are buying/paying for, and start looking into ways to make the numbers smaller.   

The end goal is to have the biggest possible difference between your total revenue and total expenses. This is the foundation of all financial success. Once you’re achieving it consistently, that difference will start accumulating and you will be ready to start working on putting your money to work for you. This will help you on the revenue side and increase your net income even further. No matter where you are now, you can work on moving in this direction and your situation will at least be improving. And improvement has a way of turning into real results if you can keep making it happen.

Introduction

In the eyes of many people, I am a failure. And worse, a failure by choice. I have a relatively fulfilling career that allows me to live quite comfortably while still saving and investing roughly the median household income of the United States. If that isn’t enough, I’m working on ramping up a fledgling side business that appears to have a reasonable chance to become a high paying, low effort semi-retirement occupation one day. My health is great and my physical fitness level is very high. I make friends and “more than friends” almost at will and have as many treasured relationships as I have time for. I got a good education from good schools and ultimately a world class university, I have wide ranging interests, and since I love to learn, my knowledge base is always growing. I am happy and healthy in almost every way someone could be and I do what I can to give back and make the world a little better place to live in.

So how am I a failure? In the “survival of the fittest” sense. I will never reproduce and thus, my exact set of genes will not be passed on to the next generation. Or from a more common perspective, my life will always be missing that fundamental checklist item; you know – a loving spouse, a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 children, a dog, a boat…

I don’t hate children or anything. I simply don’t want any of my own. As expensive as they are, I could certainly afford them so that isn’t my reason. There are plenty of other drawbacks in my view but again, no one is my reason to opt out. I won’t do it because it is an all or nothing decision. Children aren’t like a favorite board game you can take out and play with when you want to and then put it back on the shelf until next time. They are there 24/7/365 until the day either you die or they do. By deciding not to have them, I am simply being honest about the fact that there is absolutely nothing on earth I want to do THAT much. So I feel I owe it to myself, my unborn children, and the world they would inhabit, to not reproduce given my strong reluctance to make this most serious of commitments. After all, we have more than enough half assed parents in this world. If you don’t believe me, just turn on the news and watch for as long as you can stand to.

But just because I don’t want to go all in on reproduction, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to contribute. One aspect of having kids I acknowledge I will miss out on is the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience in an effort to help someone grow up and become a worthwhile human being. And one day while we were talking, a good friend told me I should start a blog. I told him that’s become such a cliché and no one would read it. But he told me he would and that’s good enough for me. And it brings this introduction full circle. By doing this, I hope some folks will consider me less of a failure since I will be passing on the most valuable part of myself to anyone willing to read it. Just kidding. I don’t care what other people think of me. And you shouldn’t either. It is very difficult to be happy or successful that way. And that is as good a first lesson as any.

So anyway, why should you read this? I can’t answer that since only you are qualified to make decisions about how you spend your time. Are you sensing a theme yet? But to help inform that decision, here is a little about what you can expect to read here. I am a finance man by trade and most of what I write will be about that area of life either directly or indirectly. I consider myself a financial hacker in that I evaluate everything myself and reject anything that does not pass my standard of optimum. If you want to get rich, I can certainly give you the information you need to do it. Of course that information is widely available already and without adding time, effort, and capability to the equation, you will accomplish little with it. I enjoy sports, cars, women, several types of art, and learning about all sorts of things so I will probably work a little of everything in. But in general, I’m going to write whatever the hell I want about whatever the hell I want. Read it or don’t.


One disclaimer. I believe in tough love. I want to help people but coddling is rarely the way to do it. Usually if someone needs help, it is because there are changes that need to be made. If you want coddling, go talk to your mom. This blog is for people who want to do very well in life and understand that like anything else, that has a cost. Those who want to be comfortable at all times should re-evaluate that desire as it is very unlikely to lead to any form of success.